Take Courage. Fear Not.

I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so just how relevant the various books of prophecy are. Some of them seem as if they could have been written about contemporary America. So I was not surprised when I came upon a verse that speaks to many in today’s climate of . . . worry.

I don’t know how else to say it, but there are small businesses that have had to close their doors; people who have lost their jobs; others who are worried about finding the paper products they need, when they need them; people who are concerned about getting sick or wearing masks or getting a vaccine or not getting a vaccine.

Isaiah comes along in chapter 35 and says

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
“Take courage, fear not. (vv 3-4a)

Interestingly, the passage starts out by announcing a reason for nature to be glad and to rejoice: “They will see the glory of the LORD/The majesty of our God.”

Essentially Isaiah is describing how things will be when Messiah comes again. He will set things right—bring His vengeance on those who deserve vengeance, save those who trust in Him, provide a “Highway of Holiness” to the redeemed, to enable gladness and joy to the ransomed of the LORD, to chase away sorrow and sighing.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it a relief, refreshing, to hear good news. Not only that, this passage reinforces the fact that God is in control, even when circumstances seem so far from what we imagined or hoped for.

For instance, I grew up in the era which taught that the US is a melting pot. We all have one thing in common: we have come from somewhere else, whether recently or in the distant past, and we have come together, blending our identities into Americans. It’s a wonderful ideal.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see the day when students are taught “Critical Race Theory,” such that they had to identify which racial, religious, economic, gender, sexual preference oppressed group they belonged to. Those who could not, were part of the oppressors. In other words, these ideas are Marxist and they are the antithesis of the American ideal based on the creed that all people are created equal.

That idea is clearly one embedded in the Bible. God loves the whole world, for instance, and promised a blessing through Abraham for all the world. Paul specifically said all the divisions of ethnicity, gender, economics melted away at the foot of the cross. In the Church, made up of those who are reconciled to God through the sacrifice, the payment for sin, which Jesus provided, there are no distinctions.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24–emphasis mine)

So in the face of the many difficulties in 2020, our hope does not lie in a change in the calendar. I know a lot of people are talking about how they can’t wait to be done with 2020, as if the covid virus will disappear at midnight New Year’s Eve. Or jobs will suddenly come back and restaurants will miraculously open or racial tension will vanish or any number of other problems this year has uncovered, will suddenly be solved.

The change of calendar is not the answer, but the knowledge that Jesus, our Savior, will indeed come to reign as our King eternal, heaping gladness and joy on our heads and driving sorrow and sighing away, gives us a reason to take courage, to fear not.

God will handle the problems. He will set things right. It’s in the bank, a done deal. And we have His word on it.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18)

So now we can ask—are we in the company of those who have taken refuge in the promise of God? If so, Scripture gives us strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Which means we can take courage. We can fear not.

Published in: on December 29, 2020 at 5:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Can Grasshoppers Judge Humans?

At one point in his prophecy, Isaiah compared people and God, concluding that we are like grasshoppers in His eyes. That got me thinking about the vast disparity there is between humans and grasshoppers.

Let’s pretend, for the moment, that grasshoppers are thinking, reasoning beings. Would that change their ability to judge humans or even determine our existence? How could it? They are simply too small. They could never apprehend an entire human, let alone our plans for one hour or one day. They wouldn’t understand why we charge cell phones, for example. They wouldn’t know what happened to us, if they could conceive of us at all, when we get into our cars and go to work. They wouldn’t understand about building houses or putting money into a bank or reading a book or spending time on the internet.

In fact, grasshoppers would be in no position whatever to judge humans. Is that human good? I mean he’s cutting back our habitat so that predators can more easily see us. Or something is. Because it’s only rumored that humans exist.

But what if a human captured a grasshopper, placed it in a secure place away from birds and other predators, fed it, and then one day released it. Perhaps that grasshopper could go back to his fellow grasshoppers and report his experience with this mysterious, massive being who cared for him. Would the other grasshoppers believe him?

No, they might say, we have never seen such a being—even though humans walk by the flower bed where they live every day.

The point is, the grasshoppers would be too small to identify the many humans in their world. Unless a human “appeared” to the grasshopper. Unless he revealed himself.

What if a human went one step further. What if he had the power to become a grasshopper so that he could let all the other grasshoppers know about humans. What if he wanted to steer them away from flowers in formal gardens so that they wouldn’t be in danger of insecticide that gardeners often use? What if he wanted to inform them about the habits of birds so that they would know how to keep themselves safe?

Would the other grasshoppers believe him?

Some might. But a lot of others could easily say, there’s no evidence for these humans. We’ve never seen a human. Your experience is no more valid than the experiences of all these other grasshoppers. But what if the human-turned-grasshopper could point to places and ways that the garden had been cared for, to things like sprinklers that had been provided to produce water? What if he would tell them about the shadow humans make when they pass by? Surely some would believe the truth.

Why not all?

Probably some would trust their own senses more than they trust the experience of the grasshopper who claimed to have been a human, who in fact said he would become a human again, who said he’d only become a grasshopper because he wanted to tell them ways to care for themselves. What if he said he loved them?

Loved a grasshopper?

How could a grasshopper ever know a human loved him unless the human told him and showed him?

And what if the grasshopper didn’t believe what that human said or did?

What if the grasshopper persisted in believing that humans didn’t even exist?

I’d suggest, the grasshopper would not avoid the places the gardener would spray with insecticide. They would not stay out of sight when birds were searching for food. In other words, they’d put themselves at risk in the very ways the human wanted to save them from.

Yes, Isaiah, we are very much like grasshoppers in God’s eyes. Too bad more people don’t see how crazy it is for a grasshopper to judge a human, let alone, to judge God.

– – – – –

Photo by Tudsaput Eusawas from Pexels

Published in: on January 11, 2019 at 5:44 pm  Comments (6)  
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Refusing To Listen


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.

So said Isaiah to the people of Israel when their nation was facing a crisis (30:9-10). But his assessment of God’s chosen people sounds uncomfortably similar to the things people are saying today about and to pastors and teachers:

Don’t talk about sin and especially don’t go on about hell, that imaginary place a bunch of sadistic legalists invented. No one wants to hear that outmoded “fire and brimstone” preaching. After all, people shouldn’t be scared into accepting Jesus. That’s a horrible tactic. Cruel. Kids will have nightmares. Why, it borders on abuse. They should outlaw such preaching.

Tell us instead how God wants us to be healthy and wealthy and how everyone is going to heaven. That’s what we want to hear. Tell us how good we are to try so hard to be good. Tell us how we’re all winners. Tell us that we can do it, we can do it, we can, we can. That if we just look inside ourselves, we’ll find we’ve had the strength all along to be the best we, we can be.

Sadly, that kind of false teaching is becoming the basis of our culture’s belief system, and religious leaders—pastors, priests, evangelists, itinerant preachers seminary profs, authors—have smoothed the road, if they haven’t marched at the front of the line.

The truth is, we don’t want to hear the hard things of Scripture. We don’t like the verses that tell us God is wrathful, even vengeful. Or jealous. Our culture has told us that tolerance and love are the highest values, so of course we expect God to exhibit those qualities too, all the time. He’s patient; he’s kind. He teaches love for your enemies.

So don’t go on about punishment, about judgment, about God separating goats from sheep and wheat from weeds. God is a uniter, not a divider.

Uh, not according to the Bible.

Of course Scripture does say God is love; but it also says He is a just Judge who brings people under his judgment

Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place;
Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke;
His lips are filled with indignation
And His tongue is like a consuming fire;
His breath is like an overflowing torrent,
Which reaches to the neck,
To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve,
And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin. (Isaiah 30:27-28)

In the same way that the people in Isaiah’s day wanted to hear only pleasant words, people today don’t want to hear such harsh words about God’s indignation and burning anger. The result is, people have built an idol they worship—a caricature of God, not the Holy God whose ways are not our ways.

With idols firmly in place, people today have no need of a Savior. They have no need of forgiveness. They’ve been told all their lives that they are extraordinary, that they can do whatever they set their minds to, that they are winners. They’ve been schooled in tolerance and politically correct speech. So certainly they don’t want to be told that the wages of sin is death, that no one is righteous, not even one, that Jesus is the way, the Truth (what is truth anyway?), and the life.

Hear no evil_gargoyle_06Stop with the negative gobbledygook. We don’t want to hear recriminations and accusations. We’re okay and they’re okay, so why aren’t you religious freaks okay? And if you MUST believe your nonsense, just don’t shove it down our throats.

So no more of this hate preaching—telling people they’re destined for hell. You all are haters and you believe in a hateful god-God, but we don’t have to listen to your list of what’s right and what’s wrong. In fact, why don’t you just stop speaking! That’s what we really want.

Yes, Isaiah tends to say it like it is, and that makes some people want to cut his book out of the Bible. It’s already been deconstructed and discredited by scholars who dismiss the idea of God inspiring the prophets. Which makes it easier to ignore.

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.

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on Refusing To Listen  
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Grace That Is Greater

A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551There’s a hymn entitled “Marvelous Grace” that ends with the line “Grace that is greater than all my sin.” It’s a good reminder. No matter what sins I might see, whether in my culture, my church, or my heart, God’s grace is greater.

The Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to put the spotlight on sin a good deal of the time, and I notice more and more parallels between what the people and nations did those ages ago and what we are doing today.

God was clear about His response to such things as idol worship and greed and self-righteousness and neglect of the poor and helpless. He condemned those who turned their backs on Him by following their own path and neglecting His.

But Isaiah is also full of Messianic passages. I can’t help but imagine that when Jesus was explaining the law and the prophets to the two men on the Emmaus road, He spent a significant amount of time explaining Isaiah.

After all, the Jews believed in the coming Messiah, but they didn’t understand He would be a suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And he will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

The disciples, in turn, taught others what Jesus had taught them. And the Holy Spirit guided them in all truth, so the four writers of the Gospels recorded the ways in which Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His death, and the Apostle Paul wrote such things as, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

When I see the pieces all fit in place, I am amazed by what a great God we have. On one hand He shows us how egregious sin is, how offensive it is to Him, then He turns around and shows us the extent of His love. Not by changing His mind and overlooking sin or pretending it really isn’t so bad after all.

He simply trumps it with His grace. Grace that is greater, and will always be greater. No one can out-sin God’s grace simply because He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin requires death, and He died. My debt is paid by His greater grace.

So, yeah, I might be perturbed by my culture and even by many who call themselves Christians, but rather than being disheartened, I see the need as greater for those of us who know the truth about God’s grace to broadcast the good news. Because we all long to hear good news, and the truth about God’s grace is the best.

Apart from some minor editing, this post originally appeared here in March 2009

Published in: on March 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Grace That Is Greater  
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Just Not Me

Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen 😉 ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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What about the Church?

The Church doesn’t have a good reputation in society. Christians don’t as a general rule. And that would be okay if society found us offensive because we were preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

Unfortunately, the truth is, Christians and the Church are often slammed as unloving, bigoted, legalistic, shallow, self-righteous, controlling, money-grubbing … need I go on? These are not the kinds of qualities people associated with Christ, and I suspect they aren’t ones He’s happy to see others connect with us.

Certainly there are exaggerations and some of these caricatures have developed as a result of false teachers claiming the name of Christ when in fact they are far from Him. But an honest assessment also says a lot of people who love God and believe in His Son Jesus still have spent most of their time and effort making life more comfortable and easier for … them and their families.

We teach the importance of family, don’t we? So what could be wrong with a dad or a mom who puts a high priority in making a safe and secure and nurturing environment for their loved ones?

Nothing’s wrong, it’s just that it’s not complete. How we’re to balance it all, I can’t say, but Scripture is clear that we are to look beyond ourselves. In the New Testament, believers are authorized to “make disciples.” We are told we are to be salt to the world, we are to be light in the darkness. And we are told others will know we are Christians by how we love each other.

What does salty living look like? The Old Testament gives us a window to understanding what God expects. In Isaiah, God rebukes His people:

Is this not the fast which I [the LORD] choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And to bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn.
– Isaiah 58:6-8a

I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people …
A people who continually provoke Me to My face …
Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me,
For I am holier than you!’
– Isaiah 65:2-5

I don’t know about you, but … ouch!

Those words sting me because I have been caught up in my own stuff for too long. How different would our culture look if we Christians took seriously our call to sacrificially love those we rub shoulders with day after day. If we carried our enemy’s bag an extra mile instead of playing the gotcha game. If we stopped walking to the opposite side of the road when sinners came along and realized instead that nothing separates me from them except the blood of Christ.

What if we all took the money we normally spend for Easter eggs or candy or new clothes or cards and did something selfless with it instead? What if there was so much giving in a time of recession the news media would have to cover it and viewers would be scratching their heads wondering why millions of us suddenly cared more for others than we did for ourselves. Now wouldn’t that shed some light?

Published in: on March 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm  Comments (7)  
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I’m Perturbed

Fair warning—this is a rant. The thing is, I’m bothered by so much, I’m not sure where to start. It’s what we’re doing in this culture that is getting to me.

For instance, last year’s winner of Celebrity Apprentice did some promotional clips in which he says, Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. Then you turn to the news and there is Bernie Madhoff being hauled into court and vilified. I’m thinking, Wait a minute. Wasn’t he just trying to win?

So we teach a whole generation of people—everyone who first heard Oakland Raider owner Al Davis say, Just win, baby, and believed it—that nice guys finish last and that it’s not personal, just business. And we laugh at lines from the upcoming movie that says a business lie isn’t the same as a life lie, then wonder how those AIG execs could take million dollar bonuses.

Excuse me? They could because we taught them that winning is the only thing that matters. Who cares who you fleece?

And that’s just where the philosophy is at its most obvious. Look a little further into our consumer culture and you’ll see how doctors, who used to be held up as selfless and sacrificial, are now part of why our health care is in such deep trouble. Teachers who once were all about the needs of children are now ready to man the picket line and fight for their share of the pie. Attorneys who once were the advocates of the defenseless are now manipulators of the system. And politicians who once were servants of the people are now petty, bickering, self-serving megalomaniacs.

All the while, the majority of people are looking for little beyond comfort and ease and a little pleasure. Like getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day or drugged out during Spring break. (Curse those drug lords for making Mexico so unsafe. How could they!)

One recent email forward (I hardly ever read them—please don’t add me to your list!) had it right. The Bible prophesies against those who call good evil and evil good, yet that’s exactly what we do:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink,

Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

– Isa 5:20-23

Lo and behold, our culture is right there. We call abortion, choice. We call pornography, free speech. We call homosexual sin, gay rights.

And now there’s a movement afoot here in California to legalize drugs so they can be taxed (solve our budget problem and stop all the gang activity, the theory goes). That must have gotten the pols thinking, because they also want to add a tax on patrons of strip joints.

Let’s see, the idea isn’t to dissuade men from patronizing the places. It’s to make money off them. So, how many zoning laws will change if local governments realize there is money to make in hosting such places?

We are in a financial crisis in America, but instead of getting down on our knees and begging God to forgive us for turning our faces from Him, we’re packing our bags, ready to head off to Egypt.

And it’s not just non-Christians. Believers aren’t far behind. But I’ll rant about that another day.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm  Comments (17)  
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