New Site Launch: Seven-Word Devotions

May 14, 2009

Between blogging and Facebook and Twitter, many people have turned to the internet to express themselves in very personal yet very public ways.  Chances are good that you are doing this in some way yourself.  Yet what do we really wind up saying?  What we’re eating?  Where we are going?  How our favorite sports team is doing and why that dramatically impacts our ability to cope with life?  With all the possible avenues of communicating, in the end we often wind up saying very little.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

In his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper talks about how Christians use their emotions.  Prevailing wisdom today says that our expression needs to be raw and unchecked if it is going to display authentic feeling.  However, the most powerfully emotional book in the Bible, Lamentations, literally the book of mourning or wailing, is also one of the most formally constructed.  In its 5 chapters, each consists of 22 stanzas, and the first four chapters use a literary device known as an acrostic.  To put it mildly, this book is anything but raw and unchecked, and yet it does not fail to pour out with genuine, authentic emotion.

So, here is the idea: let’s take the accessibility of our social networking capabilities and combine that with the thought provoking formality of Lamentations to create a site where we can reflect on the glory of God Almighty within the constraints of 7-words.  Call it Seven-Word Devotions, using seven short words to praise God’s character, to pray to him in hope or fear or doubt or sadness, to declare his majesty to the nations.  An example we see in Scripture is when the prophet Isaiah is standing in the throne room before God and cries out, “Woe is me!  For I am lost!”  Only seven words, but it conveys so much. That is what I propose we do.  It doesn’t even have to be original.  It could be a song lyric or a quote from the Bible or just anything that causes you to reflect on the glory of God and the marvelous works of his hands.  Seven words to express our hearts.

If you are interested in becoming a regular contributor to Seven-Word Devotions, please contact me at tburus@msn.com and I can set you up with access to post.  If you would rather post your devotions as a visitor, you can simply add them as a comment to any of the posts already up on the site.  Then before too long, we will have a site filled with short prayers of consecration directed to God, singing praises to his glorious name, and hopefully giving each other glimpses of his beauty that we may never have experienced on our own.

Please, join us in worshipping our great and wonderful God!


Instead of a Show- What God Seeks and Has Always Sought from His People

May 1, 2009

In my lessons for Sunday School I have finally come to the end of Isaiah (no, I didn’t teach the whole thing.  We’re on the LifeWay plan which only covers about 10 chapters) and this week will be teaching out of Isaiah 66.  As I read through this I was immediately struck by the first four verses and decided that was where I would camp out for the week.  Here’s what it says:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”

The first thing we need to remember in looking at this passage is the context.  It is being delivered as a prophecy through Isaiah to a collection of Old Testament Jews.  These were Jews who both had the temple in front of them and were fiercely committed to the Levitical law.  Then armed with that information, standing in the sandals of 8th century B.C. Israelites, to hear God say, essentially, that the temple is foolishness and those who make sacrifices are wretched must come off as quite a shock.  It doesn’t take much searching to find the places in Scripture where God actually ordained these things in the first place (cf. 2 Samuel 7.12-13 and Leviticus 1-7 resp.).  So, what gives?  Why do we now find the same God who instituted the temple and the sacrifical offerings calling them out as inadequate and evil?

The key of course comes in what is said at the end of verse 2:

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

In this verse God is giving us the (new?) criteria by which he judges the works of our hands.  He will not accept them unless proffered by those coming in humility and contrition (specifically in light of their personal sin and unrighteousness).  We see this same thought echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God area broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51.16-17)

Still, in light of the fact that we understand why he says this now (in Isaiah 66), the question remains over the seeming about face from earlier in his commands.  Does God now (in the Old Testament) not only seek offerings but also seek the right spirit in offering them?  Well, yes and no.  To some extent this is new, but to another it is the way things were always meant to be and through God’s progressive revelation of the truth it just took time for it to be expressed physically, even though it was always expected.

Most importantly, it points them forward to the New Testament and the final sacrifice for sins that will eternally satisfy God– that being the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 10.1-7 speaks loud and clear about this event and how it was shadowed by the instructions for the Old Testament period.  Thus, it is an abomination for us to perform sacrifices for iniquity by our own hands since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10.4), yet this is exactly what the offering of Christ on the cross accomplished.

But still there is something remaining.  Christ satisfies the sin and guilt and peace offerings (cf. 1 John 2.2, Colossians 2.13-14 and Romans 5.1-7 resp.), but there is one sacrifice which is left for us to perform: the thanksgiving sacrifice (Leviticus 7.12-15).  This is our responsibility to offer as mentioned in Romans 12.1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Of course, the same restriction applies.  We must bring forth our offering in humility and contrite spirit for it to be acceptable to God; yet this is exactly what we can and will do “by the mercies of God,” who gives us hearts which can see beyond the darkness of ourselves and into the light of his glory.

Looking at this I am excited by the language of the Old Testament and the pictures it leaves which now, on the other side of the cross, we can look upon and see what God had intended through their use all along.  There can be no doubt that God is sovereign over all creation and has divinely appointed all the times and seasons from before the foundation of the earth when one looks at how clearly God’s heart for his people in the New Testament was revealed to those under the law in prior days.  God is good!

I will close by leaving for you guys a video of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman singing a very appropriate song entitled “Instead of a Show.”


Good Friday- An Event 1400 Years in the Making

April 10, 2009

This past week I taught on Isaiah 53 in my Sunday School class and about how it is the bridge for us between two very important texts regarding our salvation– Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9.  

Leviticus 16 describes for us the Day of Atonement, that day that the people of Israel came together and had their sins atoned for by the intercession of the high priest making sacrifice for them and sending out the scapegoat to remove their iniquity.  This chapter ends by saying,

And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. (Leviticus 16.29-34)

Continuing into Isaiah 53 we find the picture of the suffering servant, a man afflicted by God, and here is what we are told of him:

Surely he has borne our griefs
     and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
     smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
     we have turned-every one-to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
     the iniquity of us all
. (Isaiah 53.4-6)

Finally, Hebrews 9 shows us that in dying on the cross, Jesus Christ, our great high priest, served to fulfill the requirements of the Day of Atonement and to make an end of the sacrifices necessary for us to be justified and able to stand in the presence of the Almighty God.  It tells us that, 

[W]hen Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9.11-14)

So, we see, just in brief, the story told to us throughout the Bible, of a need for sacrifice, of a suffering servant who is to come and bear our iniquities, and finally of the one who completed this work.  This Good Friday let’s celebrate the greatness both of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and of a God who loved us so much he orchestrated the whole of history to lead to our redemption.  

Glory be to God forever!  Amen.


There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Corporate’- Recovering a Biblical View of Repentance for the Church

March 21, 2009

For this week’s Sunday School lesson I have been studying chapters 29 and 30 of the book of Isaiah.  In these passages we see various warnings and condemnations directed at the people of Israel.  I particularly found myself keying in on verses 12 through 14 of chapter 30:

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,”Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

The accusal of despising God’s instruction (cf. 30.9) through relying on “oppression and perverseness”  really hit me as a horrific charge, and the subsequent images of a pregnant, forbodeing wall crashing down and a dish being obliterated made this all the more moving.  If there is anything that Christians today major in it is trusting in oppression and perverseness in place of a right regard for the Word of God, and to be able to open a discussion of this on Sunday morning should certainly generate plenty of thought as to just how we are guilty of this.

However, as I continued working on the lesson, I knew that I wanted to wrap up with how we should respond.  Of course, the typical idea for response would be to present the gospel and present Christ as the eternal, unchanging savior who died once for all to pay for our sins– this is correct certainly.  But, thinking about the recent emphasis in my life on working through our issues in a true covenant community, I noticed something else about the charge: it is directed to “a rebellious people.”  This is not just the failing of one person, some ostracized screw up out of the people of God; this is an indictment of the whole nation.  Yet even that isn’t such a great revelation, as we know so much in the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, is an acknowledgment and warning over the failings of the whole people.  What really struck me was this: if the condemnation fell against the whole people, then how were they supposed to respond?  As individuals?  No.  They were supposed to correct it as a whole people as well!

The perfect picture of this would be the response of post-exilic Israel in Nehemiah 9.  Following a renewal of understanding in the law and of the transgressions which they had committed leading to their exile from Jerusalem, this is what Nehemiah says about their response:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9.1-3)

These people stood, confronted with their sins, with the years of rebellion and following the ways of the world right before them, and corporately they rallied together, opened God’s Word, and confessed their sins.  As a people, they separated themselves from those outside the covenant and confessed together where they had gone wrong.

Likewise, why should we not join with the others in the church, all of us who have in one way or another despised what God has commanded, and be in repentance together?  Sure we have examples of personal sin and personal repentance (see David in 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51), and we are all responsible for our own individual sin (Ezekiel 18.20), but we also  frequently see the people repenting as a whole because they were all guilty of some sin that had crept into their collective,  accepted way of life.  So are we, so is the church.  We are all guilty.  We are all complicit in rebellion together.  Yet never do we call for corporate repentance for what we’ve done wrong.  

It is my belief that we will see a greater, quicker, and more lasting change in the church, in all of Christianity, if we were to learn how to do this.  How to not sit back every Sunday and pretend like we’ve got it all together.  Like we did not in some way despise God’s Word this week, did not rely on oppression and perverseness instead.  No, we just sit around and wait until someone is caught in “unacceptable” sins and then harass them into individual repentance; which only serves to make us more self-righteous and smug as we continue strolling down the road of rebellion ourselves.  We must confront the sins that we are all guilty of– self-sufficiency, pride, slander, materialism.  It’s all there, we know it is.  But every Sunday it is just the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

God charged the whole nation for their  sins, and it took the whole nation joining back together in recognition of their corporate failings to rightly repent and return the people to their God.  Can we embrace this idea as well?


Confronted by Glory- Two Practical Questions from the Experience of Isaiah

March 9, 2009

Yesterday I recounted for us the story of Isaiah’s vision in chapter six of his prophetic writings and discussed how this illustrates for us the basic process of salvation for an individual, particularly giving legs to the middle events described in Romans 8.30 (i.e. the effectual call and justification).  When I closed it I said that we were left with two important questions, which is where I want to focus today.

The first question I asked was if a person can be confronted with the glory of God and yet not be led to repentance and a saving belief?  Is it possible that someone could see God for what he really is and walk away without being saved?  I think the first place to approach this from would be specifically from the account of people being confronted with the person of Christ during his incarnation on earth.  In John 14.8-9 we see this exchange between Philip and Christ:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

So, from this exchange, one would seemingly take it to mean that whoever has seen Christ (incarnate in the flesh) has seen the Father.  And, if the account in Isaiah, as well as with Moses, are true, then to see the Father would be to see his glory.  But what are we told in John 6.66?  ”After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”  Thus, it appears that there were many who saw Christ, and by extension saw the glory of God, and yet were not compelled to follow him in repentance and belief.

Not so fast though.  Look what Paul says in his second epistle to the Corinthians:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4.3-6)

We see that there are those who “the god of this world has blinded [their] minds . . . to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  So, some have been blinded by Satan, kept from seeing the glory of God.  It is these who could walk with Christ, see him in the flesh, and yet still trun away.  They saw him but did not see the glory of God because Satan had blinded their minds.  And what is the word attached here to those who are blind to God’s glory?  ”Unbelievers.”  It is “the minds of the unbelievers” which have been blinded from seeing God’s glory, which in turn means that those who are not blind, those who are able to see the glory of God, are believers.  There is no room to accomodate an unbeliever who is not blinded, who has been confronted with the glory of God and simply chosen to walk away.

(Note, this would seem to accord with the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, that all those whom God has chosen he will reveal himself to and they will unerringly follow him in repentance and belief– the human part of our salvation.)

The second question we have arising from our analysis of Isaiah 6 is whether it is possible for one to truly repent and believe who has never been confronted with the glory of God?  Before we get into it I want to discuss the practical significance of this question.  If one can repent and believe without having been confronted with God’s glory, then it is reasonable to assume that I might convince them to come to salvation myself, wholly apart from the work of God.  However, if it turns out that being convicted through an encounter with the Holy God is necessary for true repentance and belief, then no matter what I do, I have no power to save a man apart from the special work of the Spirit in that persons life.  This distinction means the world in how we practice evangelism and what we try to attain by it.

That said, let’s look at this.  A passage that seems to emphasize what the person does without referencing an encounter with God is Romans 10.9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  It is not a stretch to say this shows human action apart from divine intervention.  But, on the other side, look back at the 2 Corinthians passage from above and see that it says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” which appears to imply that first God revealed his glory and then the gospel was unveiled (v.3), without which unveiling we would never have truly known to repent and believe.

To settle this matter, I would turn back to John 6, this time in verse 44.  Here it says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  Again in verse 65, “And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”  This ‘drawing’ or ‘granting’, in light of what we have already said, I would argue must be taken to be God’s confronting us with his glory.  God grants that we can come to him by showing off his glory to us, by showing us our own moral repugnance and deservedness of condemnation in contraposition to his holiness.  Peter spells this out even more when he says we are “a people for [God's] own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  That marvelous light is his glory, is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and is what allows us to demonstrate true repentance and belief that coincide with salvation.

Therefore, we have concluded that no man may truly repent and belief unless he has been confronted with the holiness of God in opposition to his own filth, and that any man who is confronted in such a way will surely be led to repentance and belief.  Such is the wonderful God we serve!


Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation

March 8, 2009

People are always curious what we Christians mean by salvation.  And by this I don’t mean the gospel– though surely they are curious about that as well– but genuinely what do we mean by salvation?  What does it look like?  How does it proceed?  How does it begin (ah, the Calvinism question)?  

When faced with this question, my gut reaction is always to turn them to Romans 8.30– “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  This seems about as straightforward as possible, but in reality it leaves many more questions to be answered.  Specifically we are left with what all these terms like “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” mean themselves, and so, unless the person is well read already, this isn’t actually the most illuminating of verses.  

However, another place I am learning to turn to is in Isaiah 6, verses 1 through 7:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Though Isaiah 6 leaves much shrouded in mystery (at least at the time of its writing) about who made the atonement, I do not believe we have a more vivid depiction of the process of salvation anywhere else in Scripture.  

So, how does it begin?  Well, we aren’t really told.  We are introduced to this vision rather bluntly: “Someone died and I saw Lord on his throne.”  Not much information there.  Is this a waking vision or hallucination? a sleeping vision (dream)?  was Isaiah physically there or spiritually?  Not much is really offered.  But, in the end, I don’t think it matters.  

What we should focus on instead is what he sees, namely the glory of God.  There is the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ?  Again, not really important for what we are looking at), and he is seated on his throne, “high and lifted up.”  He is wearing a robe and “the train of his robe filled the temple.”  And he is surrounded by six-winged angels, all singing his praises to one another.  There is smoke and there are earthquakes caused by a calling.  This is the glory of God.  The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”  The Lord is holy, and the visible manifestation of his holiness is his glory; this is what Isaiah is confronted with in this great scene.

So then, how does Isaiah respond to this glory which now stands before him?  ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v.5).  Isaiah is so overcome by what he sees that he pronounces condemnation on himself.  ”Woe is me.”  This vision of God’s glory makes Isaiah supremely aware of the fact that he himself is not glorious, that he is filthy, that he is “a man of unclean lips” from “a people of unclean lips,” and thus only deserving of death.  Yet this is his confession.  He is not worthy to be here.  He has great sin in his life which should force God, who he recognizes as Lord, to separate from him.

But what does happen?  It tells us that one of the seraphim carried a coal from the altar to Isaiah and pressed it to the prophets lips to remove his guilt and atone for his sin.  Check that.  Isaiah repents of his sin, confesses that the Lord (Christ) is Lord, and the atonement earned by a sacrifice which was already made is now applied to his sin, cleansing him from it, making him acceptable to God. This IS salvation!

Now, let’s take it from the top once more: Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God, with the utter holiness of the Lord of hosts.  This in turn leads him to repent of his own sins– which are surely to damn him in light of the revelation of God’s holiness– and to confess the Lordship of the Lord of hosts.  Instead of being damned however, Isaiah is reconciled with God through the application of the atonement already made for his sins.  At the most basic level, without any idea of penal substitution or imputed righteousness or what not, this is what salvation looks like.

Then practically we are left with the following questions, which we will pick up on tomorrow.  First, notice how Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God and from there seems to be compelled to repent and believe.  Is this always the case?  Or is it possible that someone could be confronted by the glory of God and not be led to repentance and belief in him?  Second, is it possible that someone may exercise true repentance and belief without first having been confronted with the glory of God?  I believe these are both crucial questions to answer and play a large role in how we carry out the practice of sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.


Navigating the Darkness- Dr. Lloyd-Jones on the Believer Suffering in Depression

March 3, 2009

Last September I was first introduced to Pastor Paul David Tripp by watching him speak at John Piper’s Desiring God 2008 conference in Minneapolis, MN.  Ever since that night his ministry has been twisting on my heart.  Tripp, by education, is a not just a pastor, but is also a certified biblical counsellor.  This intrigued me.  Up until this point I really had no opinion on biblical counselling.  (Not that I felt poorly towards it; I simply didn’t feel anything.)  However, the more I learn and the more I reflect on the difficulties that I have dealt with in my own life and Christian development, the more I am coming to appreciate the need for strong biblical counselling-counselling that is beyond just a psychologist who happens to be a Christian- in supporting the ministry of the church.

As I learn, I am preparing for a Bible study I will be presenting shortly concerning physical and spiritual depression.  To go further on the side of spiritual depression, one thing I have done is to pick up the book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones bearing the same name, Spiritual Depression: Its’ Causes and Cure.  Reading through this, I came across a thought that really struck me.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones, after discussing how it may come to pass that a believer can be controlled by his emotions to the point that it drags him into a miserable, depressed state, offers up the following encouragement for them:

Yes, [Pastor] J. C. Philpot was right at that point, the child of the light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking.  He does not sit down and commiserate with himself- that is the thing- the child of light walking in darkness.  He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but he knows that He is there; so he goes on. [p.117, emphasis added]

This is our hope.  Some may say that a person’s hope is lost if they walk in darkness, that they’re salvation is in question for being depressed to begin with.  But the good doctor offers that it is not the constant walking in light that defines the believer; it is the constant understanding that the face of the Lord is there, shining the light of the knowledge of the glory of God out for us to see, and that, even if it is not visible for a moment, it has not ceased being there for us to strive towards.

This idea is based off of the tenth verse of the fiftieth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, which says, 

Who among you fears the LORD
     and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
     and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
     and rely on his God.

Let us not be deceived by the health-wealth-prosperity folks who would condemn us for ever being downtrodden.  The Lord knew this would occur, and so in his foreknowing of it, spoke to it in his Word.  It happens.  Depression and dejectedness and remorse happen.  Yet this is not to be a moment of questioning our salvation- if anything that will lead to a deeper depression- but instead it is to be a moment of exercising even greater faith, trusting that God will navigate us through the darkness as we seek to once again be basking in his light.


Bitter Wine from the Well-Kept Vineyard- Analyzing Isaiah 5.1-7 in the Western Church

February 26, 2009

This week, according to the wonderful plans provided by LifeWay, I am supposed to be teaching Isaiah 5 to my Sunday School class.  This is an interesting passage, and when I read it for the first time that was just what I thought, “This is interesting,” but that was about it.  I did notice that it had the best verse against frat boys in it (v.22, “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink.”), but as far as something worthwhile for my class, initially I was at a loss.  However, as I kept reading, I decided to cut out all of the “Woes” directed at the men of Judah and focused in on vv.1-7.  Here’s what they say:

Let me sing for my beloved
     my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
     on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
     and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
     and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
     but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
     and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
     that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
     why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
     what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
     and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
     and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
     it shall not be pruned or hoed,
     and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
     that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
     is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
     are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
     but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
     but behold, an outcry!
(Isaiah 5.1-7)

As we read, this starts as a poem from Isaiah to his beloved, God, and then crosses over to be a poem from God to the “inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah.”  In it, both Isaiah and God lament a vineyard which had been prepared by the Lord, cleared of all debris and hindrances to growth, planted and cared for with full provision, and yet nonetheless the fruit of the vines is a bitter product, bringing judgment and destruction upon the vines.  In reading this, the one verse that really struck me was v.4,

What more was there to do for my vineyard,
     that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
     why did it yield wild grapes?

Here God is saying, what else could I have done?  What more could you have asked for?  What was lacking that the vines needed to produce good fruit? and yet they didn’t.  Has God been negligent?  Has God not provided what is necessary for his vines to grow up into healthy plants?  Surely not.  Then why do they fail?

I read this and the first thing that jumped out to me was how convictingly accurate this idea is when pressed against the situation of Western Christianity.  I particularly viewed it in light of myself and my own church, thinking how on Sunday morning we get up and head to padded chairs in a climate-controlled building with locks on the doors and coffee on the table, only to complain about how noisy it gets while we try and have Sunday School or how crowded our classes are or how cheesy the music is.  And then, when we go out from that place, we act as if we were never there to begin with and shed the “Jesus Freak” persona until the same time next week.  We pass the time between Sundays without living out our calling, without sharing our faith or living in a manner that is honorable around non-believers (1 Peter 2.11-12).  We chase after the desires of our hearts and claim “Christian liberty” for indulging in all the vices of the flesh which have controlled us since before we came under grace.  

And all the while, God is sitting back saying, “What more was there to do for my church, that I have not done in it?”  We have no need.  We are not under fear of persecution.  But somehow this makes no difference.  Though we lack not, we still seem to be producing wild grapes that make a bitter wine.  

I am just as guilty of this as all of us.  I could share my faith with anybody I want, anybody I see out in the day-to-day world I live in, without anything to fear but possibly rejection.  But I don’t.  I bide my time, saying, “That person seems busy, they don’t want a religious nut intruding on them,” “They’re probably already a Christian; look at that cross they’re wearing,” “I shouldn’t share with that person, I really don’t have time to get wrapped up in a big discussion.”  What is that?  Where does that come from?  There is no freer place in the world to share the gospel than in my context, the American South, and yet I balk at it all the time.  Why?

We are so unaware of what God has given us, or aware but unmoved by it, and in the end what it leads to is wasted fruit, grapes that are pleasing to no one, not worthy of being pressed into wine, only to be thrown out and trambled on the ground.  What will it take for this to convict us?  Will it fall short of the destruction brought upon Judah, or have we already gone too far?


The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.12

December 28, 2008

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors
.” -Isaiah 53.12

Isaiah 53 closes with one last reminder of why Jesus came: to “[bear] the sin of many” and to “[make] intercession for the transgressors.”

The child was promised to be king, and after doing what no other man could do, he was exalted as such by his Father in heaven (Acts 2.32-33, Ephesians 1.20-23).  The child given gifts by the Magi, is now given gifts by God, and in his majesty he has decided to share that gift, that royal inheritance, with those who are called by his name (Romans 8.12-17, Galatians 3.26, 1 Peter 1.3-5).

This is the good news.  This is the Gospel.  This is the reason for the season.


The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.11

December 28, 2008

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities
.” -Isaiah 53.11

At Christmas the focus is on gifts.  And inevitably someone will get cliche and remark that the greatest gift of all is the one God gave to Mary: Jesus.  Is that true?  Is that the good news?  That Jesus was born in a manger?  Why is a baby born in a horse stall supposed to be good news to me?

It’s not.  Plain and simple, if all Jesus did was to be born in a manger, that’s no good news for anybody but his parents.  And that’s certainly no greatest gift.

God’s gift was not given as Christmas, it was given at the cross, where the record of our sin debt to him was nailed up with Jesus to be atoned for (Colossians 2.13-15).  The good news is that by Christ’s death, those who believe in him may have his own righteousness “accounted” to them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.21).

We must not truncate the well-known verse, saying just, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”  If that’s all we have then we are in no less sorry of a condition than we were before this so-called “greatest gift.”  Thanks be to God that it’s not.