Hearing and Acting (Isaiah 59:1)

Behold, the LORDS hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.

Isaiah 59:1

There is a tendency for believers to have a certain amount of confidence in God’s power and to lose confidence at the end of that. Worse, we have a tendency to think that God fails to hear us.

There are probably more root causes of these issues than I will ever know. I think that the ones I most often hear, though, are that we doubt His power because we do not see it employed and active in the world around us and that we think He does not hear because He does not answer. In both cases, we operate under a wrong supposition: we suppose that God behaves the way people do.

We expect that God would always use His power because people who have power are wont to do exactly that: use their power. We suppose that God is held to the same operating principles as fallen men. And He is not. God does not use His power for whatever reason makes sense to Him. It may be, as seems to be indicated in portions of the gospels, that we lack faith and thus limit His ability to work. It may be that He does work and that we chalk it up to coincidence or the law of averages or some other way of explaining away what is legitimately miraculous. Science keeps trying to do that with the plagues of Egypt. It may also be that He is not working because He is waiting for the right moment to step in — the moment when it is impossible apart from His intervention. He did exactly that with Lazarus. It may be any of a host of reasons that simply do not occur to me. One thing is certain: God is not lacking power to accomplish the things that concern me.

We also suppose that God’s silence is indicative of failing to hear. There is more than one thing at work here. There is God’s actual silences and there are those times when He answers and we do not want to hear that answer and so conclude that God has not answered. There are probably more, but those are the ones that happen most often in my own life. God’s actual silences are not indicative of His not hearing me. To think this is to ascribe human limitations to God. He is not encumbered by anything so paltry as physical ears that can only register so many sounds at once or by time that limits the opportunity to hear something spoken. He is outside of time and He is not a man to be subjected to man’s limitations. He is abundantly able to hear every word spoken and every prayer uttered. If He is silent, then He is not yet ready to speak or, perhaps, I am not yet ready to hear and understand the answer. Sometimes, I think that God withholds answers from me because I would not understand them if He gave them. So He brings me through things that give me the necessary framework to understand the answer and then responds to me. It is like a teacher not directly answering a student’s question, but taking them the long way around through related concepts and necessary context in order to fully comprehend the answer when they receive it. God is the greatest Teacher in the history of teaching. Sometimes, I think that God remains silent because the answer is time-bound and needs to be given at an exact moment in time in order to be useful. Like knowing who to marry or what job to take. Knowing that I would be a technical writer today would have changed the arc of my learning and early employment, but that also would have changed whether or not I arrived at this point in life. I might never have become a technical writer had I set out to become one. I actually set out to become a teacher and landed in technical writing. Knowing where I would be today would actually have hurt my chances at being here today. Sometimes, answers are like that.

Part of my faith; my trust in God is and must be to trust that He hears me when I call to Him and that He operates to bring about good for me. He has promised to both hear me and act on my behalf. To trust Him is to accept that His silence has a reason and that His inaction may be an action unto itself.

Advertisements

Higher (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

I often hear these verses quoted and I will examine the usual application of them, but I thought it fascinating that these verses appear immediately following God’s invitation to seek Him while He is near and to forsake our wickedness that He will pardon. It is almost as if God were setting up a comparison. People can be hard to find when we have wronged them — they tend to avoid us — but God, Whom we wrong daily (sometimes hourly), is near and can be found easily. People may hold a grudge over a wrong suffered, even when the one who did the wrong has made efforts to change and made good progress in those efforts. God, Who has every reason to hold a grudge against us, wants to pardon us and to have compassion the very moment we turn from the wrong we have been doing. With that in mind, God says that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. And He is oh so right.

In context, it would appear that God set up those who hear these verses to understand something. We hold grudges and look for reasons to condemn. God looks for ways to pardon and wants to show compassion. His thoughts are of how to pardon and be compassionate toward us and to restore us to fellowship with Him. Our thoughts are not so.

The common application of these verses is to remind believers that God is operating on a whole different plane than us. Even if He could explain what He is doing and why He is doing it, He could not understand it for us. We would remain confused. Not because He was unwilling or unable to explain, but because it would be like a chess grand master trying to explain her game strategy to a child just learning how to move knights around the board. The grand master thinks in terms of the game being won before the first piece is moved. The child is still trying to understand how the knight’s L-shaped movement makes any sense at all. God is operating on a higher plane; a higher set of principles than we can fathom. I am certain He would love to explain to me what He is doing and why. I am equally certain it would end in frustration for us both.

How to apply this? Couple things. First, I need to not second-guess what God is doing. His actions are beyond my comprehension. There is nothing wrong with asking Him to explain what I can wrap my mind around, but I need to remember that He is operating on a whole other plane; a higher plane. Second, I need to remember that I am operating most like my God when I look for ways to have compassion on those who wrong me and to pardon them. I come nearest the higher plane when I seek to do the things that are right in God’s eyes.

The Servant Then and Now (Isaiah 53:3)

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53:3

What was true of The Servant — Jesus — at His coming remains true today. When Jesus was here, He fulfilled this prophecy. The Jewish leadership of the time hated Him and conspired to deliver Him up to Rome for execution. Rome did not care much for Him one way or another — even their historians only mention Him in passing. His half-siblings and His own mother thought He was a lunatic.

But there were those who saw Him. There were those who followed Him. There were those who believed; who trusted what He said and banked their lives on it.

The choice made then remains the choice that must be made now. I can respond to Jesus as the Jewish leadership of the day and actively resent Him for His claims.The Jewish leadership viewed Him as a liar. More than once they took up stones to stone Him for His claims to divinity.

I can respond the way that the Roman government did and shrug off everything He said and did. I can respond with ambivalence and apathy. The Roman government was unconcerned with whether or not He was Who He claimed He was, they worshiped other gods entirely. Moderns have much in common with ancient Rome. Their gods were the gods of sky and ocean and life and death and so on. Moderns’ are given names like astronomy and ecology and biology and so on. The modern pantheon seems reasonable to moderns, just as the Roman pantheon seemed reasonable to Romans. In both cases, the limits of the pantheon can point to the limitlessness of God or can distract from Him. Either way, God is ignored.

I can respond the way Jesus’ family did and write Him off as a lunatic. In more than one instance and recorded in more than one gospel, Jesus’ family came to try to take Him home and get Him the help He needs as it were.

C.S. Lewis wrote what has become one of the best ways of viewing the claims of Christ. Either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. Either He deceived people, in which case He was better than even our best politicians; or He was a madman who thought He was God in human flesh; or He was and is exactly Who He claimed to be.

There is one thing I cannot do. I cannot respond by half measures. If I would hate Him, then the hate will grow to be all-consuming. If I am ambivalent toward Him or choose to worship other gods, then my ambivalence will grow to apathy and eventually to disdain. If I would write Him off as a lunatic, then I will discount everything He says as the ravings of a madman. But I cannot take some of what He says and discard some. He did not leave me with that option. He demanded total commitment.

Of note, what was true of The Servant with capital letters may also be true of the servant without capitals. If I choose to follow Christ, then it is entirely possible that I may be despised. I may be thought a liar or a lunatic. I may be little esteemed or esteemed not at all by the world at large.

The modern world, by and large, fulfills the substance of this verse. They despise Jesus and do not esteem Him. How will I respond?

Jesus, thank You for being despised and forsaken so that I can be loved and accepted by Your Father. Thank You for enduring the ignominy of the life You lived. Please teach me to take up my cross and follow You as You deserve, knowing that my life may be similarly despised and esteemed not at all by the world.

The Servant (Isaiah 52:13)

Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13

I have heard verses like this (and this one, itself) before, but this caught my attention this morning. The thing that gave me pause was the question of what the verbs used in this verse might mean. I know that the verse was written in Hebrew and that English and Hebrew do not always correlate directly, so I went to the concordance and had a look through the verbs.

Prosper is one of several meanings that verb can take in the form used. It can mean that God’s Servant will prosper or have success. The King James renders the verb as shall deal prudently, and that jives, too. It could also mean that He will teach or cause people to stop and think or that He will consider things on His own. The verb, it seems, is rich in potential meaning. That He will be high in terms of station seems to be the one of two verbs can really be understood when conjugated as it is, so I smile and accept that one. That he will be lifted up is rendered extolled in the King James. What is fascinating to me is that it could also mean risen up, borne or carried, or taken away. And greatly exalted works as-is.

So why is this so fascinating to me? Because God’s servant is a reference to Jesus Christ — the Messiah, if you prefer — and the alternative meanings create a fuller and richer picture of what might have been said or meant. That Jesus is successful in His mission to redeem people is a given. But that He deals prudently is often overlooked. In the psalms (I think), one of the writers says that God shows Himself shrewd with the twisty folk. God is more shrewd and a better business person than the best we have to offer. He is better at working with Law than any lawyer ever to walk the Earth. That He deals prudently is important, because I need to remember that He will deal prudently with me. God’s servant being lifted up could be a double meaning as Jesus is both exalted and was lifted up when He was crucified. In point of fact, Jesus said that He would draw men to Himself is He was “lifted up” and that was in reference to His crucifixion. Before this paragraph becomes a Wall of Text, let me just re-render the verse in one of the alternate ways of understanding the verbs contained within it.

Behold, My Servant will teach and give insight,
He will be lifted up from the earth in crucifixion, risen up from the grave, and praised.

It is food for thought.

Jesus is, for me as a believer, the template; the pattern I am to follow. This means that I should be giving insight when I have it to share and that I should be living prudently, not just doing things willy-nilly. It means that I will, whether I like it or not, be held up as an example — whether good or bad is determined by my life. It means that I am carried by God, because I cannot live the life God calls me to without God carrying me through. And any praise I receive will come from God — I hope to hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” and find myself in the august company of The Servant Whose Name is applied to my faith.

Identity and Defense (Isaiah 49:16)

Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms [of My hands];
Your walls are continually before Me.

Isaiah 49:16

This is one of my favorite verses. In context, God is speaking to Israel, but the verse spoke to me.

In context, God is promising Israel that He will never forget them and that He will be their protection. These same promises are made by Jesus Christ to Christians, so it is no stretch at all to cross-apply this verse.

First, the not forgetting part. The King James renders the verb is something that seems more appropriate and says I have graven thee upon the palms of [My] hands. But the word that means palms of the hands could also mean soles of the feet. Why is that so significant to me? Because Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced through when He was crucified for my sin. Because I am told that Jesus’ scars remain; that the disciples were able to see and touch the scars on Jesus. Even in Heaven; even in eternity yet to come, Jesus will bear the scars that saved me — even then, He will have my name graven in the palm of His hand or the sole of His foot. God will never forget me. And that is a beautiful reminder.

Second, the defense. I find the term amusing since God speaks of Israel’s walls being continually before Him. Walls are defensive in nature. When they work, they keep out the things we want kept out. God says, in essence, “Your protection is important enough that I always have it in mind.” In that, too, there is comfort. There is news that fellow believers are laying down their lives for their faith. Cities fall and armies fail to protect, but there are stories of believers singing hymns of praise before they are ushered into God’s presence. Clearly, God protected what was most important: their souls. And God’s promise is that He is ever vigilant to address the protection of His own.

Today, in the wake of receiving some difficult news yesterday, I am reminded that my name is engraved on my Savior; that He knows me; and that engraving my name is a permanent  state. If my name is engraved there once, it remains for all eternity. I am also reminded that God cares about my protection and defense. Not only from physical threats, but from the less visible and harder-to-defend-against threats as well — emotional damage and mental scars and spiritual warfare. My gates are continually before Him. He has named Himself my Defender. And there is great comfort in that.

Commandments (Isaiah 48:18)

If only you had paid attention to My commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:18

These words are from God to Israel, but I think they could just as well be said by God of some Christians.

We have a tendency to pick and choose which scriptures we are going to pay attention to and the non-believers notice this. If we had a ready answer for those who ask why we apply some portions of The Law — prohibitions on sexual immorality, for example — and not others — say, the prohibition against wearing garments of mixed fabric — then we would be in a much better place. But we do not often have that answer. And non-believers notice.

Worse, we bicker over a question answered by the apostles not long after Jesus ascended into Heaven. And non-believers notice.

In reality, I can either take the whole counsel of God or none of it. I cannot pick and choose which passages I will apply to my life, no matter how much I might like to. There is, however, consolation in that complete application. God promises that paying attention to His commandments results in peace … like a river, And … righteousness like the waves of the sea. If I take the whole counsel of God, I am promised peace and that I will be righteous. How? The whole counsel of God points to Jesus. He is woven into every book of The Bible. Having read The Bible cover to cover multiple times, I can say that with confidence. I could not say that if I had not paid attention to [God’s] commandments.

My alternative, since I should examine all options, is no peace. God says, in verse 22, that there is no peace for the wicked. It is a contrast between the blessings that fall on those who are mindful of God’s commandments and the lack of blessing that meets those who spurn God’s instruction. If I want peace — real, bone-deep, spiritual peace — then I must pay attention to God’s commandments.

By commandments, I am not talking about the Decalog; the Ten Commandments, nor am I speaking of the book of Leviticus or even Deuteronomy. Jesus said that all of that content is summarized in two commandments: (1) Love the LORD, my God, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and (2) Love my neighbor as myself. I have not arrived on either commandment, but I try to be mindful and to repent when I fail and to rely on God’s grace and strength to do what needs to be done to bring me to the place where I fulfill these commandments. Or, as Paul wrote, forgetting what lies behind, I press forward in the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. When I actually do live out God’s commandments, the non-believers notice that, too.

Father God, let me not take only the commandments that are easy. Let me, instead, take all of Your commandments to heart. Please pour Your Spirit into me so that I might walk in them.

Unchanging (Isaiah 45:22)

“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:22

I was on social media this morning and read over the same old vitriol spewed by the same old sources in the same old ways. One person says one thing and another replies and before you know it a civil conversation has spun out of control into a  full-blown flame war.  What is interesting to me — and part of the comfort of this verse — is that the messages never change. God’s message is the one in this morning’s verse: “Turn to Me (God) and be saved; there is no other God and so no one else who can save.” God’s opponents’ message is the same: “Did God really say that? That cannot be/is not really true. God does not want that sort of thing for you.”

One day, I might learn not to view social media before I have finished my first cup of coffee. Today was, apparently, not that day.

The comfort is that the message never changes. God’s message to Adam and Eve after sin entered the picture started with “I will…” — the onus is on God to do something. God tells Eve that He (God) will put enmity between her Seed and the seed of the serpent and that her Seed would be victorious. Third chapter of The Bible and the Savior has been promised. And the message never changed. It went from a very general statement — seed of the woman … which, realistically, could have meant just about anyone — to a man born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth and entering Jerusalem on a donkey on a specific day then being crucified. All of this is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the OT. Information portioned out bit by tantalizing bit until the fulfillment arrived. The message never changed because God never changed and His plan never changed.

While the enemy’s attacks never change — and they do grow wearisome — neither does God’s message. God does not change. His message does not change. And the offer of salvation — open to any and all who would avail themselves of it — never changes. Turn to God and be saved. He is the only God and therefore the only One Who can save.