Ruthlessness and the Lord’s renown

Today’s readings are From Isaiah 25-26 and Acts 20:13-38

It doesn’t take much to observe evil in our world today. Evil has been around since Adam was a boy (or a young man at least…). Each generation not only has to deal with this significant life issue, but also with the manifestation of evil in our world.

Living where we do, at the time we do, we have the blessing of living free of many types of evil. However, as much as our culture wants to tell us that we can live in some evil free utopia, we know that it is not true. Evil finds a way to manifest itself. Lately, I have been noticing evil rear it’s head in ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness is seen by some as a good thing. Business decisions get made, profits can soar and concerns for anything outside of myself and (perhaps) my relational sphere become unnecessary. Yet the lack of compassion that stems from ruthlessness is as evil as the dropping of bombs. The ruthless have no need to care for the weak, to provide for the poor or defend the marginalised. Whether it be in politics, business or even in morality, a new ruthless edge has been rising in our culture. The new moral majority (with a very different morality to the moral majority of 30 years ago) are ruthless in crucifying anyone who does not fit in to their idea of how the world should run.

Both our readings today remind us of how to approach ruthlessness. Paul gives the summary of our response in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s aim isn’t to attack evil – whether it be ruthlessness or the hardships and injustices that will face him in Jerusalem (v23). His aim is to testify to the good news of God’s grace. In testifying to God’s grace though, evil is attacked. Paul says later (v35):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Testifying to God’s grace will result in compassion, and the overturning of evil. It will have this effect because that is what God is doing in the world through his people. Isaiah (25:1-5) picks up the same ideas. In his faithfulness, God has overcome the ruthless. God has overcome evil.

Toward the end of our Isaiah reading (26:4-6) we read:

Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
    he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
    and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
    the feet of the oppressed,
    the footsteps of the poor.

The imagery in Isaiah 25-26 if of God making things that are evil and bad, good again. There is much worthy of quoting, but in the context of Ruthlessness, I think verse 6 speaks loudly. While the ruthless trample on others in this day, another day is coming where justice will come for the ruthless. God is not putting up with evil, he is overcoming evil.

We know, as Paul did, that he has overcome evil through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so, in the midst of evil, whether it be ruthlessness or some other kind, we get on with the task of testifying to God’s grace and trusting that he is making all things good again.

In his letter to the Romans (12:21), Paul reminded them:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The people of Israel trusted what God was doing:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,[b]
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    in the morning my spirit longs for you.

May our desire also be for the name and renown of the Lord God.

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Wait…. what?

Todays FDR is Isaiah 19-20 and Acts 19:1-22

Our Old Testament reading today continues with a range of messages (prophecies) to the nations, today Isaiah moves on to address Egypt. I found this chapter to be quite powerful, the might of the  Lord is revealed against Egypt, bringing down their cities, crops, rivers, livelihoods, intellect and rulers. It is a dire scene of judgement that ‘makes Egypt stagger as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit’ (v14).

And yet, that is not the end of the story… God somehow, miraculously, turns judgement into healing. The Egyptians in their weakened state ‘will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them’ (v22).

And yet STILL it is not the end of the story…. Perhaps most baffling and miraculous of all, God not only heals Egypt but subsequently blesses them…’Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’. These are the nations that oppressed the nation Israel, sold her into slavery, waged war upon her and systematically destroyed her… yet here is the Lord, including them as equals! What a stark and wonderful vision of God’s intent to reconcile even gentiles into his salvation plan! God’s plan of salvation history reconciles his enemies (us!) through Christ’s death.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)

This is indeed foolishness to the world’s way of thinking, yet that very ‘foolishness’ – the wisdom of God –  brings us life!

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18)

This is the eternal message of salvation – demonstrated throughout the millennia. Let us rejoice in Christ’s victory and the wonderful, ‘foolish’ grace of God!

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In our New Testament reading today, the gospel continues to spread out across ‘all the residents of Asia’ (v10). In some places this brings extraordinary miracles and change of life and in other places extraordinary imitation and deception… and through it all ‘the word of the Lord continue to increase and prevail mightily‘ (v20)

As we read through the word each day, may we ask God to change our lives and allow his word to prevail mightily!

Here Comes the Son

Isaiah 4:2-5:30

I feel for our farmers. Many, many hours of hard, physical work in all weather conditions. Timing of annual events to ensure the highest quality of the final product. Waiting…. Waiting…. watching for crops to become plump, colourful, healthy and these changes totally dependent on the weather. Drought, flood, hail, dust, gales, greedy insects, the list goes on.

In our reading from Isaiah there are many references to the agricultural world. Everything looks bleak. But then the sun comes out, the approaching good news is mentioned. In this passage there are many references  to the coming of Jesus about which a large number of learned people have written copious words. I like this quote from Matthew Henry: The success of the gospel is the fruit of the branch of the Lord; all the graces and comforts of the gospel spring from Christ. With God’s perfect timing there is no angst here waiting for the best climatic conditions. We thankfully acknowledge Christ’s presence, growing us, shaping us to be the best version of ourselves, transformed to His likeness and not subject to weather conditions but changed in God’s perfect timing.

Acts 11:19-30

As we read in previous chapters in Acts, the first Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire only preached to Jews. In the immoral city of Antioch, the gentiles were included in the evangelistic talks. Verse 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Great fruit, produced again in God’s perfect timing.

We read of Barnabus, one of the leaders, previously known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28) being sent to the fledgling church in Antioch. As a respected leader of the church God used Barnabus’ presence to grow and encourage His people.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Two reminders: that any changes in the hearts of people are brought about only by the grace of God and it’s a great idea to encourage each other.

What a great difference it makes to have leaders who are full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. They are the ones who teach, plant seeds, nurture and encourage people to produce great fruit. We can be thankful for our leaders here at Figtree and must remember to prayerfully, and personally, encourage them in their faithful, everyday walk as they remain strong in the Lord.

May we all be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He continues to ripen and grow us into people with hearts like Jesus.

 

Longing

Todays passages are Isaiah 40:1-5 and Luke 1:67-80.

With just two more sleeps till Christmas, some of us will be full of anxious anticipation as what is coming while others are racing around making sure that something will be coming on Christmas morning. At some point in life we transition from the childhood longing for Christmas to the Adult who becomes responsible for making the things children long for come to fruition. We look forward to Christmas in different ways… and we look forward to different things.  I’m looking forward to the marriage of my son in about 6 months time. I anticipate a great day of joy and celebration when the wedding day arrives.

We pick up Isaiah at the start of Chapter 40, conscious of the chapters prior which have talked about the distress coming to Jerusalem due to the rebellion of the people against God. A time of great exile is coming for Israel. The tone changes quickly in Chapter 40, with words of comfort, not judgement, for Jerusalem. Another day will come when

A voice of one calling:
In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God…

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed

The exile will not be the end. Another great day will come where Jerusalem will be comforted and the glory of God revealed.

We know when Christmas is coming. I know the day my son will be married. We wait, but with a definite timeline. The Israelites waited in hope not knowing when this great day would come.

Fast forward 700 years or so years later. After living in this great anticipation and expectation, trusting that God would come to his people and reveal his glory again we find a Father full of joy at the birth of his child:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
 He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:68-69)

The Lord has come to his people.

The Lord has redeemed his people.

The time of exile is over.

The glory of God will be revealed.

Who is this child? Luke makes it clear in Luke 3:4-6 (notice the similarities and the difference in the Isaiah quote). He is the one preparing the way for the Lord’s salvation.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas, may we long for the coming of God in the lives of those around us; and may we be filled with praise to God for what he has done in freeing his people from captivity.

May you have a Happy and Blessed Christmas

A King acts in Faith and Instructions for Christians.

Today’s FDR (Mo 03/10/2016) is Isaiah 36:1-37:20 and  2 Timothy 2:14-19 and can be read through this link.

This Isaiah 36:1–37:20 passage describes King Hezekiah’s actions under threat of the King of Assyria’s annihilation as a mark of Hezekiah’s reliance on God.

Chapter 36 and part of 37 account for the terrible retribution King Sennacherib of Assyria rendered on those of his vassal states that rebelled and were supported by Egypt.  His field commander, in trying to bully King Hezekiah and his people, into capitulating to the Assyrian forces, lists the names of states and kings already destroyed before reaching Jerusalem.  The commander does so with great emphasis on the lack of intervention from the gods of these states.

Hezekiah dons sackcloth and ashes and goes to the Temple to seek God.  Meanwhile he sends his senior staff to the prophet of God, Isaiah, to seek advice about how God will have them act.  Isaiah makes it clear that God will turn the Assyrians away and Hezekiah and his people should not be afraid.

The Assyrians turn their attention elsewhere to deal with another revolt and Sennacherib sends a threatening letter to Hezekiah that they will return to destroy them and the God of Jerusalem will not stop their destruction.  This letter also lists many of the kings who have been annihilated by the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah is not controlled by these threats but rather more faithful and more confident to approach God directly in His Temple, this second time, and seek His support (vv 14-20).  So in the face of increased threats and reminders of who appears to be the strongest and most brutal Hezekiah takes his problem to God.

What do we do when we face apparently insurmountable challenges or problems?

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

The 2 Timothy 2:14-19 passage has a number of things to say to us as God’s people and God’s ambassadors.  Firstly Paul presents the prime tasks; continuing to present  to God’s people, the points that he, Paul, has already mentioned and that quarrelling over words is of no value except ruining those who hear. (v14)

Secondly, we can see profiles of both the good workman (vv 15-16) and the bad workman being identified (vv17-18).  (Yes, that means both women and men.)

  • For the good workman, the work is hard, teaching and witnessing in words, as the product of our labours are invisible and the subject is controversial as the Word of God is life to some and death to others.  Yet this same workman must be God-centred and careful and accurate in their teaching.  Why?  So that those in our hearing, or reading, or watching, may be given a straight path to follow by our God–centred teaching and witnessing.

  • For the bad workman, this work is easy as we can present false pictures of God’s words for us with the result that people are lead do death.  If we do this we teach and witness to beliefs and words that are not God-centred and a disease breaks out among our people,  A disease like gangrene that spreads through the body, or the church, without being halted or cured.

Here too Paul is not leaving room for today’s relativism as he shouts for Timothy (and us) that there is one true path and there is a false path; aim for the true path!  Just as a archer aims for the bullseye on the target.

Finally, Paul encourages us who encounter false teaching to avoid it and stay on the one true path, revealed in Holy Scripture (v19).  He ads, for our benefit, two encouragements also found in this verse; that the Lord knows us and we should turn away from our wickedness.  Here though the reference to foundation is more likely a reference to the church founded in God himself.  Our sure foundation.

A prayer – Lord and Father, as this week continues on its path, may I do and say all that I can to present you to my brothers and sisters and to those who do not know you,  accurately and carefully  to represent the saving grace of Your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Christ’s name, Amen.

If you have a spare five minutes you might enjoy joining in this worship song*;

In Christ alone

Yours in His service,

Glenn.

* Music video provided by youtube.com

 

In that day

One of my favourite themes in the Bible is that of God as gardener which is also found in today’s reading for Isaiah 27 and 28.

Once evil, represented by the Leviathan has been vanquished (27:1), and the judgement on the vineyard that failed to yield a crop (announced in chapter 5) handed down, a new vineyard will grow to take its place (v2-5). It is something to rejoice over because the Lord himself tends it and keeps it well watered.

Even if weeds and thorns should grow there – they will soon be removed and thrown into the fire.

The days are coming when Jacob
    shall put down roots,
Israel blossom and grow fresh branches,
    and fill the world with its fruit.

God has a plan that embraces all nations and Israel is central to it, but only after it has been cleansed (v7-11). When the judgement is over, the precious grains will be gathered up one by one – these grains will not be destroyed with the chaff. The great trumpet will announce the calling home of the exiles from captivity to come and worship God on the holy mountain, Jerusalem (also see Isaiah 66:22-23 and Revelation).

Chapter 28 pours scorn on leaders  – in the northern kingdom (28:1-13) and their southern counterparts (14-22) – who because of their arrogance and self-indulgence fail to heed the warnings given by the prophets. It is the simple farmer who is far wiser than the nation’s rulers because God instructs him and teaches him the right way (23-29).

26They know exactly what to do and when to do it.
    Their God is their teacher. 27-29 And at the harvest, the delicate herbs and spices,
    the dill and cumin, are treated delicately.
On the other hand, wheat is threshed and milled, but still not endlessly.
    The farmer knows how to treat each kind of grain.
He’s learned it all from God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
    who knows everything about when and how and where.

Throw down your guns!

Todays readings are Isaiah 9:1-7 and Luke 1:56-80

While the title of this post rips off lyrics from an Aussie Crawl song, the post has less to do with recklessness and more to do with peace. I do however remember being mesmerised by those particular lyrics. Throw down your guns… such a brave act leaving you defenceless while at the same time making a clear and bold declaration of peace. The act says “I’m not going to fight anymore.”

Today’s reading from Isaiah obviously crescendos in verse 6-7. Take some time to reflect on the words of the first 5 verses. They are bold and Beautiful, and display v6-7 in stark contrast to other alternatives.

Note the following:

  • no more gloom for those in distress (v1)
  • A time of rejoicing when a great battle has been won (v2-3)
  • A destruction of the weapons of battle (v5)

Here’s the thing. Isaiah tells us about the victory before he tells us how the victory is won. By the end of verse 5, we know there’s hope and reason to rejoice, but we don’t know how. So, he goes on:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given

Wait. What? Hang on, maybe we need to settle on the rejoicing. Perhaps we need to pick up the guns? A child? A son? Victory?

In the birth of the Christ Child, God simultaneously declares victory and peace. There’s no need for war weapons anymore because:

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Praise God that his Zeal has accomplished peace now and forever through King Jesus. May you be caused to look afresh to Jesus this Christmas, and to pursue the justice, righteousness and peace that he has brought and continues to bring with his kingdom.

Have a blessed and wonderful Christmas. May God’s peace rest on you,

Ron