3. Expand

Studies in Isaiah 54: 3. Expand!

Isa 54:2,3 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”

Wow!  As I said yesterday, how easy it is to just skim read scripture and fail to let the Lord speak through it. I have a list of seven expressions of unbelief in the Christian life and shallow reading of Scripture expecting nothing of it, is one of them. these present verses leave me pondering: “Think big”. I wonder how many of us never think big, how many of us, just settle for normality, ordinariness, no change, and have no vision for the future.  Take these verses with verse one, “barren woman, you who never bore a child…. you who were never in labour … desolate woman,” and you have an amazing picture.

Hope: It’s like Isaiah says, “I know you are barren; I know all the hopes and dreams have come to nought, of you becoming a nation that would impact and change the world as it revealed the goodness and glory of the Lord to the world; I know that the wonder and excitement of that one time when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon with such promise, has now evaporated so that much of the time the glory of the Lord is unseen through you; I know that is how it is, but get ready, God is about to change all that so that you will have plenty of ‘children’, plenty of those who will come into the family of God, many who will encounter Him, know Him, be called His children – because of you.

The Big Tent: When you are a childless couple you need very little accommodation and, in their time, a small tent, and so when he talks of enlarging your tent, lengthening cords, driving in bigger stakes, it is conveying a picture of an expanding family, it is the picture of growth & blessing, it is a picture of utter transformation. That is what this is all about. Now there are two things about this, as we read these verses: first, how we respond to them and, second, what do they actually mean, how were they fulfilled?

Our Responses: I asked earlier how many of us never think big, how many of us never have a vision for growth and change in the future?  The trouble is that when ‘barrenness’ is all you have ever known, it is very difficult to have a change of thinking. In our changeable climate in the UK, I have watched in the past when days have stretched into weeks when the sky is grey and it continues to rain – and it is summer! It becomes almost impossible to believe that tomorrow the sun might shine; we settle into a ‘more rain’ mentality.  I’ve also noticed it in respect of the neighbours when overtures of friendship have been rebuffed time and again, and so we now have little expectation of any possible change with them.  But I remember one couple for whom this was true and the years went by with the ‘woman next door’ always looking grumpy, never responding to a cheery, ‘Good morning!’, never giving any indication of wanting to make contact with anyone, let alone you. But then suddenly, one day, with no warning at all, she simply stopped and started talking over the fence and everything changed.  I can remember people who have appeared totally hard against the Lord for years, and then suddenly, again with no warning whatsoever, suddenly they turned, started asking questions and then came to the Lord.

But how do you respond when God speaks – whether it is through the preacher on Sunday morning or through someone bringing you ‘a word’. Is the response, “Oh, that’s nice” or is it, “Wow, God has spoken to me!”  With Isaiah, I wonder how people responded to this? “Oh well, at least it’s not one of his ‘gloom and doom’ prophecies.” You bet it’s not, it’s an incredible hope-inspiring word, a bit like a word that comes early morning, “Get up, the sun is about to rise!” What do we do? Get up, get out there and watch the sky changing until that red fire gradually appears over the horizon and transforms the dark landscape. Do we watch the people around us in life, for signs of the Lord moving and speaking to them, preparing them for you to speak to? If God says, “You will have a child,” do you prepare a nursery? When He speaks words of vision about extending your home, do you start drawing up the plans?  When He says “enlarge the place of your tent,” do you start thinking big and asking, “What do I need to do, Lord?”

Fulfillment? We said the second thing to consider is just how this word was fulfilled. Well there was little sign of it in the following centuries; in fact, life got worse in Israel and eventually came the Exile, after which the spiritual life of Israel still seemed to do little to impact the wider world. If was only when Jesus came and left and then the Holy Spirit was poured out that suddenly there were new children of God in abundance – and it did come through the family of Israel, for all the first Christians were Jews. Since that time the kingdom of God has continued to expand, the family of God has continued to grow, mostly through the Gentiles. Yet there are indications in Scripture that at the end the Jews will be used to bring a further harvest and truly their ‘household’ will require a ‘bigger tent’.

Overcomers: But there is another dimension to this transformation that goes far beyond mere growth. Look: “For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (54:3) There are many verses in the prophetic scriptures that indicate that God’s intentions for Israel are that, instead of being the underdogs they will be the overcomers. In fact it was right back there in the Law: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. …. (Deut 28:1) … “enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (v.7) “Dispossess nations” has echoes or reminders of the taking of Canaan at the original Exodus. God did it for them then, He can do it again in the future. “Settle in their desolate cities” suggests that when the ways of the Gentiles fail, Israel will step in and show God’s alternative way.

Surely within these things, for us in the present, there is the suggestion that we who are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:20, 2:6) while he rules in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1), are to know the same enabling in the Lord whereby we conquer sin and, working with Christ, triumph over his enemies that he will one day put under his feet completely (1 Cor 15:25). Our enemies are not physical but spiritual or moral or ethical. His enemies (1 Cor 15:25) are anything that is contrary to, in rebellion against, or detracting from, the will of God. His intent is that ‘in Christ’ we reign over such things. Dare we believe that? Dare we work for that? May it be so.

59. Overcomers

Meditations in 1 John : 59 : Overcomers

1 John  5:3-5    This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

In the start of these verses John repeats what he’s said before and what we’ve considered before: “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”  In fact we’ve said it so many times in these studies that it almost becomes repetitious but, as we’ve said, it is vitally important. Truth is important and it is important that we face the truth about ourselves. If we say we love God, are we doing all that we find are His commands throughout the New Testament?  If there are things that we come across in the New Testament that we balk at, we must question our love for God.

Look, says John, “his commands are not burdensome”. Let’s take a random selection of verses. Are these ‘burdensome’?  Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually.” (1 Thess 5:13-17)  What is burdensome, heavy or hard about these ‘commands’?  Yes, of course we need the grace of God to live out these things but actually when we do we find it is a good life, an enjoyable life we’re living. When we find ourselves living in harmony with the instructions we find in the New Testament (or the Ten Commandments for that matter) we find we are living in peace and security and it is good.

Consider for a moment what is found so often in ‘the world’, the community of people living outside the kingdom of God, living under the dominion of Satan, see it through some of the things we’re warned against in the New Testament, for example, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…. anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.” (Col 3:5,8)  Which sort of community is it best to be living in, that one or one that is described as with, “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive … put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:12-14) It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it!

Now the truth is that in the background of life there is Satan and there is Sin and there are temptations to disregard all that God does, and do you own self-destructive thing. That is how ‘the world’ lives, but when we were born again, we turned our backs on all of that. I recently came across a description of what often happened in the early church in respect of baptism. It is worth recording: “Perhaps the most crucial feature of the rite, however occurred before descent into the font: at the bishop’s direction, he or she would turn to face the west (the land of evening, and so symbolically the realm of all darkness, cosmic and spiritual), submit to a rather forcibly phrased exor­cism, and then clearly renounce—indeed, revile and, quite literally, spit at—the devil and the devil’s ministers. Then he or she would turn to face the east (the land of morning and of light) to confess total faith in, and promise complete allegiance to, Christ.” That was a really vivid renouncing of the world, Satan, Sin and temptations of the world, and giving over to Christ. However we may have done it, in this way we thus ‘overcome the world’.

How have we done this? “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”  We have done this as an act of faith, and faith, we know, is built on what we have heard. Thus John goes on to say, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”   This ‘overcoming’ took place when we believed in Jesus as the Son of God who came and died for ME. When I turned my back on my old life and surrendered to God, I rejected the ways of the world that we saw earlier and opted to live under Christ’s lordship, so that the other way of life would now be my way under the guidance, direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and as I continue to let Him do that in and through me, so I continue to ‘overcome the world’ so that no longer the ways of the world and the direction of Satan will have a place in my life. Now, I am filled with God’s presence and filled with His love and I live out His ‘commands’ – and it’s great! Hallelujah!