In God Alone: Everything Else Is An Imitation

None of us belong, and all of us belong. We all have done wrong, treated each other improperly, and allowed sinful thoughts to affect our actions and lives. However, we have all been called to the foot of the cross, welcomed by the Almighty, to salvation. Our previous shortcomings, our current sins, nor our future problems do not withhold the grace found at the cross. Before we proceed with anything involving the church, we must affirm that our faith and salvation comes from no other place than the Almighty God, which did not consider sending Christ Jesus to Earth an act beneath the Creator. Therefore, because Christ pulls us out of sin, we cannot think that any of us is too perfect or too far gone for God’s salvation.

The church can never become a gatekeeper for salvation but must embody the sacrificial love that God has for followers of Christ. We must let go of our notions about who belongs and who doesn’t belong because we must all recognize that we are all lawbreakers and deserve death, but because of God’s mercy, we are saved by grace. The church gathers rule breakers and fugitives. For God calls us all to put down all of our idols and names and come before the cross, laying EVERYTHING down before Christ. Any idea that we carry any other identity other than a child of the Almighty God is foolish and idolatrous.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NIV)

20“Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.

21Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord ? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.

22“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

23By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.

24They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’ ” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

25But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him.

God Is Our Guide: Respond With Faith Over Fear

Fear often grasps ahold of our hearts, especially in uncertainty. However, God has established that our trust should be completely given over to Him at all times. The enticement of fear that calls out to us in the midst of any disorder or chaos is paralyzing and leads us toward destruction. The antidote to inaction and fear is faith in God. We must firmly place our eyes upon God, even when the floodwaters rise or when the flames look like they will consume us. God does not allow the world to consume us, but rather he will go to the greatest lengths to save us. He even sent Jesus, His only Son, to guide us into faith and away from fear. Jesus went to the cross to defeat death and bring hope, peace, and grace to us. Therefore, we must place our faith in Christ to carry us out of our current troubles.

ISAIAH 43:1-7

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

No, It Isn’t.

I have been approached by more than a few asking about the vaccine and the mark of the beast. I want to just say, “No, it isn’t.” Part of me thinks it is a fear tactic, and another ploy by many Christians to undermine the medical community. However, we must address these matters with sincerity and a desire to understand and adequately discern the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. We must guard against the mindless chatter and indulging of things meant to divide us from one another. God knows his children, and we should put on the clothing that shows the fruits of the Spirit.

Some may think that I am granting too much credence to the conspiracy theories, and I may be doing just that, but I feel compelled to give at least my thoughts on the matter.

In the second chapter of 2 Timothy, it states:

14Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and correctly handles the word of truth. 16Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”  

How do you feel about vaccines in general? This vaccine is no different than any other vaccine in many respects. 

We should be careful when making some broad proclamations about this situation. Many conspiracy theorists will exacerbate our fears and point to the imagery contained within John’s Revelation. The Revelation of John is apocalyptic literature. We need to look at the reason for this type of literature and what we can understand about what God is instructing us through this scripture. John called pointed out the mark of the beast as something that people did to proclaim allegiance to the world in opposition to our devotion to Christ.

The mark of the beast has been claimed about many things throughout the history of the world. In the last several decades, it has been attributed to identification (driver’s licenses and such), credit cards, cell phones, or anything broadly used in society. In each of these interpretations, they interpreted the mark of the beast as something that you need to interact with commerce in society, and without it, you cannot engage in trade. However, none of these things are asking us to pledge our allegiance to human institutions; they are used to keep order in society. None of them ask you to renounce your devotion to Christ to receive them; therefore, they do not pass the mark of the beast test.

Similarly, many things have been said about this vaccine, many of which are untrue. Two of the vaccines that have been approved are mRNA vaccines; therefore, people have stated that they change your DNA, which is patently false, and a 101 level of biology would help understand how messenger RNA works. They give the instructions to the body, which help promote an immune response without ever having the SARS-Cov-2 virus in our bodies. The development of such a vaccine is quite a marvel about how God creates humans to understand and figure this out and help destroy the virus’s effects on our society, which is a reason to give thanks to God and not for fear. 

Another aspect of the anti-vaccine is the worry of a tracking microchip. While they do have microchips as small as 3 nanometers, it would simply be impractical to place a chip in anything like this. Further, since many of the vaccines are being transported in vials that contain multiple doses, it would require the ability to ensure that there was a chip in each dose. This is an absurd assertion, especially since many people carry a device with a camera and a microphone that tracks our location and internet history. There is absolutely no reason for any need for a tracking microchip.

The vaccine has undergone extensive testing that has was verified through peer review and the FDA. These are of course human institutions and are thus fallible, so ultimately it would require you to prayerfully consider if you trust those institutions.

With all of the reasons above, I have zero qualms about taking the vaccine, and will proudly recommend that any person that is healthy and not allergic to the vaccine ingredients to get the vaccine, as no one is asking you to renounce your faith to take it. Further, my faith instructs me God has created and guided the people that have developed this vaccine. Lastly, God has called us to care for others, and my willingness to take the vaccine protects the people I come across from contracting this disease that has killed many people throughout the world, and that God calls us to love one another and that the best way we can love one another at this time is to protect each other from a deadly illness.

In short, the vaccine is not the mark of the beast, and if you can take it I would recommend it, and I will take it as soon as I can.

Our Praise Needs To Be New, and Our Loyalty Needs To Be Undivided

Isaiah 42:10-17

God’s entrance into the world is a reason for rejoicing and proclaiming His wondrous deeds. God will triumph, and we must give Him the praise and honor, and all things of this world will pass away, but God and His Kingdom are eternal; therefore, we must keep ourselves from putting anything above God in our hearts and minds.

New Year, New Praise

Just as we talked about New Years’ and New Resolutions last week, the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that our praise and devotion must be made new daily, even in the cycle of life. Often, we allow our praises and prayer to become routine and rote. However, we must remember that the God we serve is worthy of our prayers, and just as we have new experiences and new reasons for prayer and praise, we must incorporate that into our worship life and not hold anything back. The purpose of worship and praise is to honor God and not only check items off the to-do list. Therefore worship must be an expression of our utmost devotion, and we must have undivided loyalty to God. Isaiah warns Judah of the results of divided loyalty and that the people must always serve God far above and beyond any other objects or items clamoring for our devotion.

Isaiah 42:10-17

10 Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. 11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. 12 Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands. 13 The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout, he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies. 14 “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. 16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 17 But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.

Bring Praise Everywhere We Go

Just as God goes everywhere with us, we must bring our praises for God everywhere. These cannot merely be the same prayers that we have said repeatedly, but rather these praises must be authentic, bringing our experiences, thoughts, and feelings to God in worship. Many things are pulling us to veer our gaze away from what the Almighty is doing in our hearts. Still, the faith we have in God, the praise we bring to God must be new and continually being renewed in the face of the hurts and fears and in the presence of all the things that grab our attention and pull us away from God.

As we look at the world’s events, temptation leads us to react out of an abundance of hurt and pain, but it depends on us to remain focused upon God. We must rededicate our hearts to worship and praise of God and a renewed spirit of prayer that lead us to where God would have our hearts, our minds, and our focus. If we trust in God and praise God new, then we understand that God wants our hearts even in our pain. We cannot condone the ways of this world that depend on hurting and violent acts, but instead, we must ask God to leads us in teaching the world to love people, give hope to all people, and be the peacemakers that Jesus calls blessed.

God Conquers All

We do not need to focus on being the traditional warrior because God is the warrior. God calls us to serve, and our Service to God must be our paramount focus. Service is antithetical to a call to pick up arms and is preferably a call to place our faith in God. We must firmly believe that God can conquer anything in this world or outside of this world. Trust in God renews our faith, and we must continuously act toward renewing our faith in God daily. When we live with a renewed confidence that God conquers all of His enemies, then we can focus more fervently on how God wants us to act and behave in our world. If we live our lives in such a way that speaks anything other than serving an all-conquering God, then we must re-devote our hearts to God.

However, we should sit back and ignore what is going on, but instead, it is an opportunity for Christians to stand up for God’s truth in the world. That truth calls the church to bring God’s love in all we say and do, to embody God’s hope and share it with others, and to ensure all people are made whole, and that we strive after peace. Otherwise, we follow the world into destructive practices that God will ultimately conquer and destroy.

Be Led By God and Not Idols

If we listen and pray and read scripture with a mind toward renewal, God promises to lead us, even if we are blind. This type of renewal is like you are reading scripture for the first time. Many people look upon the Word of God and have the audacity to think that they don’t have anything more to learn from a particular passage. In reality, our arrogance and previous readings blind us to God’s light. We must look to God when we read any scripture and ask God to show us and lead us to the truth, and if we are faithful, God will lead us, bringing light where our previous knowledge may have left us in the dark.

Anything can become an idol. Previous teachers, pastors, church leaders, political figures, sports figures, celebrities, kings and queens, ideologies, and countries all become idols and threaten to pull us away from God. None from the previous list will be able to save you. Many of the people at the time of Christ looked for their salvation in things of the world. They looked to politicians, to warriors seeking to throw out Rome, to kings with false lineage, teachers, and even the church for salvation, but God brought salvation in an unorthodox way. Jesus came, and people called him by many of the names shown above. However, God brought Christ to lead the people through sacrificial love and through the Holy Spirit’s power that is far above the power of this world.

Devotion to anything or anybody other than God is idolatry, and we must be careful in all that we say and do to give our allegiance to God and God alone. Our lead must come from God and not from man. Only then can our praise and our faith be made new.

The Promise Fulfilled, A Hope Realized, and Love Expressed

A Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

Advent is the beginning of the calendar, and every year, although different, is a cycle that does not end, and the wreath before us is a circle with no beginning and no end. Just as the calendar comes around every year, there are changes throughout the year, and there are differences around the wreath, but God is the same, and God is present with us at all times. As we turn to the wreath this Christmas Eve, we turn our gaze upon the light brought into the world through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Hope

Several weeks ago, we began with a reflection upon focusing our hearts, our minds, and our bodies for the coming of the King. With our hearts and minds, we recall the prophets speaking about the coming Messiah, which would liberate and free His people, the incarnate Holy God that would usher in His Kingdom, and a new age for God’s people. The prophet Isaiah instructs us through his prophecy, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:2,6) With this perspective, we see that God has embodied hope through the sending of His Son.

Preparation

In response to the hope, we prepare for the coming of Jesus. In our hearts, we work for the cause of justice and peace in our world, preparing for Christ’s return, when he will establish justice and PEACE for all the world. God sent His messengers to invite us to prepare for Christ’s coming by working for God’s Peace for everyone. The prophet Micah was one of those that foretold of the coming PEACE that Jesus Christ would bring, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:4) We are invited to join with the prophets of the past and participate in preparation for the future coming of the Lord.

Joy

With our eager anticipation of God’s advent, we embrace the JOY we have been given and respond with worship. Even in our hard times, we rest in the knowledge that Christ came to the Earth, bringing Joy to all humankind. “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Luke 1:46-49). Today we follow Mary’s lead and allow our hearts to be filled with JOY and wonder as we contemplate what our loving God has done for us.

Love

We love God, but it is because God first loved us. We have been called to follow the example of God’s LOVE, demonstrated through the self-sacrificial example of Jesus Christ embodying God’s merciful grace. May we remember that God calls us to show one another LOVE through kind acts, compassionate giving, and abundant grace this season. This LOVE puts others above self and reflects the LOVE of God shown upon this world. John reminds us, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11). Today, we seek to demonstrate God’s love for the world, and we look to the story of how Jesus was born.

The Birth of Jesus as told in Luke

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Has Come to Earth

Advent has led up to this moment, this time and place. A place dictated by the government, fulfilling the prophecy, and carried out by two obedient servants. Bethlehem, a town meaning the house of bread, would become the place where God would bring his nourishing grace into the world. However, this place was not a place where the world would recognize as a seat of honor, but rather the accommodations were lowly and underwhelming.

However, Jesus was given the care of a mother, wrapped in cloths, swaddled, given security, even in the conditions where they had only a modest place to stay. They used what they had, a manger, to help give Jesus a safe place to sleep. Mary and Joseph’s love for Jesus was apparent even if they did not have the room they required on that night more than 2000 years ago.

This was not a night just for this small family; it was a night for the world. The angels announced to the world that the Savior of all humanity was born in Bethlehem. This night is a night for singing, for rejoicing, for proclaiming the embodied love of God for all humanity. The shepherds came to witness what the angels had declared, and their hearts were changed because God’s love for humanity was expressed clearly with the birth of His Son.

Tonight, we come, gathering around an Advent Wreath, lighting candles, and singing God’s praise. May our hearts and lives be changed because Jesus Christ, Savior of humanity, and Son of God, has fulfilled the promise of God, as a realization of the Hope we have waited for and an expression of the loving grace of God.

Instead of Anger or Fear, We Respond With Prayer

We survived another election. Our newspapers, social media sites, and televisions displayed messages based on our greatest fears in the lead-up to the election. Election advertising relies heavily upon frightening us into voting one way or another. We are familiar with the screen that turns black and white and displays something that we should really be afraid of happening. The sight of boarded-up buildings prepares our minds for violence and invokes fear in our hearts. With division, we turn to fear, and these are divided and frightening times.

With all elections, there are winners and losers. You may be pleased with the results, you may be displeased with the results, or you may be in a wait-and-see position with what might still happen. Still, no matter how you feel about the victors or the victors-to-be, your trust must be firmly planted in the Lord, and not in our worldly leaders, because only God can bring us peace and deliver us from our fears.

The Fear In Jerusalem

Turning to Isaiah and how they responded to their circumstances, they had a rationale for their fright. The enemy was literally at the gates of Jerusalem, and Isaiah is telling us about a threatening letter sent from the Assyrian leader to Hezekiah, Judah’s king. This letter taunted Hezekiah and reminded him of the Assyrians’ great military successes, and resistance was futile. They can either comply or face destruction. Sennacherib, Assyria’s king, even went as far as telling the people of Judah that the gods of the surrounding nations could not put down the assaults of their nation. In the eyes of this Assyrian king, faith was futile and powerless to stand up to their great military might.

Isaiah 37:14-20 (NIV)

14Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 

16“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 18“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Hezekiah’s Response To Sennacherib

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Our Response to Fear

Naturally, we may want to lash out or get angry at the ways of the world, but without first relenting to being the person that God wants us to be in all situations, then we mistake the dangers of the world as being equal to or greater than God. This is how fear encourages us to act. However, when things look menacing or attempting to bring you to a place where you are just going to yield to fear, our first reaction must be to look to God and pray. As Hezekiah’s response guides us, lay everything out before God, and allow God to instruct us on our behavior, let God calm our hearts, and let God bring peace in response to the turmoil. 

1. All news: good, bad, or indifferent; must be presented to God in prayer.

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Hezekiah’s example reminds us that when we encounter any news, instead of being overly jubilant or worried, we must take all news before the Lord in prayer. We are taught by his example that, when pressured, God calls us to cast our burdens upon Him. Any other response will be less than effective and any other methods of relief will be fruitless. God doesn’t require our prayers, nor tears, nor complaints to know what we need; for he “knows our wants and needs before we ask anything from him.” (Matt. 6:8.) By laying out our burdens before God, we acknowledge that God knows what we need and we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and give us what we need at this time.

In our divided state right now, there is a lot of trepidation and fear about what will happen in our country and the world based on our election results. Worry and fear will drive us to react in unpredictable ways; it will trigger fight or flight mechanisms in our brains. God, instead of reacting to the situation with our own response, asks us to lay them down before Him and let go of the fear and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. Instead of grumbling at the state of the world, we respond with thanksgiving in our hearts that God has given us this opportunity to serve His Kingdom at this point in history. The world has been filled with good leaders and bad leaders, but none of them has taken control away from the Lord.

2. Recognize that God is greater than anything we encounter.

As Hezekiah begins this prayer, he proclaims God’s greatness and details the character of the one to whom he prays. Instead of starting his prayer with his problems, Hezekiah acknowledges that God is greater than his current circumstance and places his confidence in God instead of merely whining at God. His prayer begins with worship. Hezekiah proclaims the following: God Almighty, Lord over all Israel, the enthroned King over all the Earth, and the Creator of All. With this opening to prayer, Hezekiah acknowledges that God can change this based on God’s character. From that point, Hezekiah can then turn his prayer to acknowledging that this God can hear and see the predicament in which Israel finds itself. That the threats of Assyria threaten and insult Israel, which is a direct affront to God. Hezekiah’s heart and mind become affixed upon worship and not simple pleading for aid, which serves as a guide to how we ought to pray; not with simple pleading, but with worship filled hearts.

When we start our prayers with worship, we set our minds upon the one to whom we pray instead of focusing upon ourselves and our problems. Oftentimes we look to our concerns, and the enormity of God could swallow them up. Christians for ages have been praying The Lord’s Prayer, and it too starts with, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…” This prayer also starts with the focus upon God. There is nothing that we encounter in this life that is greater than God. Disease, violence, war, pestilence, poverty, and strife all plague our world, but God is greater than all those problems. Even if we look at our current mood, no matter how any election results may lead us to dismay or rejoicing, God is still greater than any leader in any country, including the United States. Therefore, as we pray, we need to remember to whom we pray and that God will hear our prayers, and God will see us; therefore, we must place our trust and hope solely upon the Almighty God.

3. Acknowledge the circumstances and ask God to guide our thoughts and behavior.

Hezekiah did not turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the Assyrians; instead, he gave them over to God. You look at the path of destruction that Assyria had followed, and there is reason to hear the words of Sennacherib and be afraid. However, as he prays out the path of destruction, the words out of his mouth turn their path of destruction showed that the Assyrians had conquered gods made by man and not the one true God. When looking at the circumstances of attackers at their gates, breathing threats against him, Hezekiah is turning to God that cannot be defeated by this force, no matter the results of any battle. However, Hezekiah asks for God’s aid, not for the people’s sake, but for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

There are people and things in our world that are scary and have damaged lives, and when we encounter them, we cannot ignore them or diminish the dangers. How many people have died from cancer? How many people have succumbed to COVID? How many people have died from the results of any of the world’s wars? The world is a dangerous place, and many things are sending their letters of threats to our lives. Hezekiah’s prayer shows us that instead of ignoring the dangers, we must acknowledge them and put them before God in our prayers. It isn’t because God doesn’t understand that there is danger, but rather God wants us to trust that He will take care of all of these concerns. Acknowledgment of the danger, allows our hearts to let God’s voice speak to the source of our fear, and redirect our minds to the power of God in our world. 

Our response to the election could lead us toward fear or rallying behind the topics we support, but as we read Isaiah, we are shown that Hezekiah gives a great example of how we are to pray about our nation and our world. We must lay out the results before God and pray. God knows more than we know about the result of our elections, but we need to let go of our feelings and allow God to instruct our hearts. As we lay down the results before God, we then acknowledge that God is the true King of the world and that we are called to pray that our leaders acknowledge God’s power to heal the pain in our world. We then acknowledge that no matter the threats our world faces, God is in control and has the power to bring grace into our circumstances. There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders, but God is always in control, and we need to humble ourselves to ask God to guide us no matter what.

God’s Kingdom Prevails Over All

In a few days roughly half the population will rejoice, while the other half will feel some sort of dismay about the results of the election in the United States. However, no matter the results of the election God’s Kingdom will prevail, because God cannot be thwarted by the acts of man. Israel in the face of humiliation and conquering would have to understand that God would prevail over the conquering nations, and that God’s grace would provide relief in the face of despair.

When we look to the world for help, we will not find what we need, or even what we want. Help from the world often falls short, and at best is only temporary. Our politicians, no matter their party, Republican, Democrat, or even Birthday, are evidence of empty promises that fulfill their purposes, but when we place our faith in God, we are not disappointed, but rather we find fulfillment, and grace. God’s grace will prevail over any circumstance, and we are called to embrace it by placing our faith FIRMLY in God.

As we turn to Isaiah 33, we see God warning the nations that even though they think they have control and superior to those that they had vanquished, but God reminds them that He is in control, and will conquer them.

Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. 3 At the uproar of your army, the peoples flee; when you rise up, the nations scatter. 4 Your plunder, O nations, is harvested as by young locusts; like a swarm of locusts people pounce on it. 5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness. 6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah 33:2-6 (NIV)

To ask for grace is to confess that all human effort has proven futile and no human merit can warrant salvation. From foolish trust in tribute to Assyria, the king and his people put total trust in the Lord of hosts. Like a convicted criminal, they throw themselves on the mercy of the highest court. In this is the confession that they hold no alternative except total dependence on the power of God to save them. Trust then opens their eyes to see the Lord plundering the plunderer and tricking the treacherous into utter confusion and shameful flight. By waiting upon the Lord with penitent spirit, Hezekiah and his people got a confirming glimpse into the vision of God that Isaiah had already seen. God is exalted in His majesty, His justice, and His righteousness. His ways and the knowledge of His Word are acknowledged as the only source of stability and strength for the nation. As for the future, the “fear of the Lord” will be a treasure of hope.

Our sin leads to judgment, separation, and destruction.

Over and over again in Isaiah and in our lives, we repeat the sequence of judgment and comfort. God provides for us an expression of justice and peace, and our sin needs to be dealt with and God’s judgment took care of that for Israel, but Jesus takes care of it in ours, stepping into history to break the cycle. When we sin, when we fall short of God’s glory, we allow our hearts to be guided and instructed by something other than the Gospel. This has an adverse reaction in our lives, we separate ourselves from God, and from each other. Because of this separation, we are vulnerable to attacks and destruction. If we look at our life, if we find ourselves separating from one another, we need to ensure that we are not causing division, but rather ask God to come close to us and bring us closer to His Kingdom and mission in the world.

We cannot allow our faith to rely upon our circumstances.

Judah sought peace with their invaders through bribes and tributes, but the invaders took the tribute, and scoffed at it, and continued to march against Jerusalem. They put their faith in objects to keep the peace, but they failed. We need to make sure that we don’t put our faith in things to lead us to peace, because only God is able to bring peace to the world. God’s peace overwhelms the world. God’s justice fills the temple and churches. Therefore, our faith must be in the Almighty, no matter what is happening all around us.

God is ready to use us, by calling us out of sin and into faith.

Worship provides Judah with stability in the midst of trouble. For God uses chaotic events are understood to serve God’s purposes. They will promote justice and righteousness which are not adequately served in our world. If we are able to step out of the chaos and trust God wants us to let go of all allegiances and follow Him, then we will rise above the conquerors and bring forth God’s Kingdom into the world. We are God’s treasure, there is no election result, no circumstance in life, nothing that separates us from God’s love. God is calling to us to be his servant in this world. 

God’s fulfilling mission is never a random act, but rather God enacting justice and grace in the world. This is executing the purpose of God into a world that is moving counter God’s mission and Kingdom. But the episode turns from the scene of chaotic defeat and plunder to celebrate Yahweh’s place in and above it all. God is in history. He determines its critical changes. There is even purpose in apparent chaos. Beyond that, God provides his most precious treasures in the sanctuary where one celebrates “the abundance of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and fear of Yahweh,” that is, the total spiritual and worship benefits which faith makes possible for those who know themselves to belong to him.

The fact that we continue to sin reminds us that we still are products of the world. This Sunday is known as Reformation Sunday, which points to the divisions within the church. Our lives must work toward remembering that our faith must guide us away from the powers of this world into the power of the Holy Spirit. If we focus upon the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses us to bring peace, righteousness, wholeness, and grace to the world.

Called From The People To The People

For many years, we have been attending church without realizing that our calling goes beyond just attending church, but instead, to be the church. Being the church requires us to recognize who we are, recognize our sin, and recognize that our humanity is an asset as we approach our community with the Gospel.

As we look through the first five chapters of Isaiah, we see that God admonishes Israel for not being any different than the world around them, and, unfortunately, this will lead to consequences. Judah will fall into the hands of its oppressors, and invaders will cast the people into exile. When we speak with people, we mustn’t do so thinking we’re better than the world. We are equals with the world, we are sinful, we are guilty, and it is Jesus Christ that came and took away our guilt; therefore, our salvation does not come from self-righteousness but the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah, like us, was among the people he sought to reach with God’s message. He brought the message of hope in the face of the disruption, and a promise that God’s message will withstand any challenge in the presence of exile and an earthly conquering force. Turning to Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet describes the experience of God calling him to his prophetic ministry and how God uses this fallible human to share an infallible truth to the world. In this chapter, God calls us to focus our eyes upon whom the King of Kings calls and how that calling establishes us as the perfect instrument to play the message of God’s grace for the world.

Isaiah 6:1-13

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; 

the whole earth is full of his glory.” 

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” 

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: 

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; 

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; 

make their ears dull 

and close their eyes.  

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 

hear with their ears, 

understand with their hearts, 

and turn and be healed.” 

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” 

And he answered: 

“Until the cities lie ruined 

and without inhabitant, 

until the houses are left deserted 

and the fields ruined and ravaged, 

12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away 

and the land is utterly forsaken. 

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, 

it will again be laid waste. 

But as the terebinth and oak 

leave stumps when they are cut down, 

so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

While it may seem odd that Isaiah puts this personal narrative in the sixth chapter, Isaiah is ensuring that the emphasis is on the prophecy, or message from God, not on the prophet or messenger. The passage opens up by describing when Isaiah received the call from God, at King Uzziah’s death, the earthly King of Judah. Isaiah has to deal with an image of the King of Kings filling the temple. In this place, the heavenly beings are praising the triune God, and their praises shook and filled the temple. When in the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah recognizes his wanting. Every sin, every slight, every way he is not worthy in God’s presence, becomes abundantly clear. With clarity, Isaiah confesses not only his sin, but the sin of the people, and they all are desperately in need of God’s cleansing. The cleansing begins with Isaiah’s mouth, to prepare him to deliver and speak God’s Word to the people. 

After making Isaiah clean, the Triune God gives the call to speak God’s message to the people, which Isaiah answers in the affirmative. However, this chapter doesn’t end here; instead, it goes on to speak judgment against a people that have heard about what God wanted from them, but instead, they ignored God’s message, and because of this, Judah will be ravaged and left in ruins. However, this is not the final judgment, and Judah can find solace in the fact that after this judgment, God will have a portion that will stand up and be a Holy seed for the Lord. The remnant exemplifies God’s promise that they are not forsaken and left to remain in ruins, but rather He will restore His Kingdom, even out of the stumps.

There is no King except for God!

The death of a king, time for a transition of power, is the perfect setting for this encounter with the Holy Triune God. Isaiah enters the temple and sees God sitting on the throne. This vision immediately points to the King of Kings and a reminder that the Hebrew people rejected God as their King and asked God to give them an earthly king. There is an opportunity for Israel to repent from the rejection of God, because this image of God is unmistakably much greater than any human King, and the heavenly beings recognize that the triune God is Holy Holy Holy, unlike any other being.

The temptation to become a king is dangerous. Satan knew this and offered Jesus kingdoms in exchange for worship. However, Jesus called his followers to submit their worship only to God; by doing this, we do not put anything in front of God, and instead, we allow God alone on the throne.

The danger to us is worshipping our creation, but this worship is incongruent with worshipping God. The power the world offers is intriguing; it provides us comfort, importance, and glory. Nothing we worship could compare to the Almighty God, as they could not cause the heavenly beings to hide their face and feet and bow down, proclaiming the Holiness of God. Therefore, we must actively set everything aside to give our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Almighty, and crown Him the KING over us.

God chooses us because God is Holy, not because we are perfect.

The holiness of God guided Isaiah toward understanding and confessing his sin and confessing that he is a product of Judah’s iniquity. Nothing Isaiah could have done would make him worthy of God’s call, and his recognition of his corruption allowed God to provide holiness and purity to Isaiah. Cleansing of Isaiah’s mouth prepares his mouth for sharing God’s message with the people.

Similarly, when calling his disciples, he recognized that they were not perfect, made abundantly clear as we hear their stories throughout the New Testament. Thus when Christ calls to His disciples, He acknowledges and knows that there is nothing they can do to make themselves holy, but they needed God to intervene, and Christ makes the disciples holy through His death and resurrection. Even at Pentecost, Jesus fulfills His promise through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ’s followers, God calls us to serve, while flawed, broken, and full of sin. God demonstrates His holiness by using imperfect vessels and making them perfect for His mission in the world. However, the first things we need to do are confess that alone we are not worthy and that we need Christ’s salvation to save us. Once we submit to the cleansing of God, then we are ready to echo Isaiah and respond to God with our preparation to serve the Kingdom of God. 

We share the Gospel, but the Gospel is not always easy to share.

The message Isaiah brought to Judah was not going just to be a blessing, but instead, it tells the people that even when they were looking right at God, they were not going to recognize him. It didn’t matter how clear the message was going to be; sin hardened the people’s hearts against the mission of God. The people needed cleansing, and God would clean them up, but the cleansing required the destruction of their norms. Isaiah found this a difficult message to deliver and asked God to clarify. However, the grace is found through God’s remnant, as the ultimate salvation will come from the surviving stumps.

Jesus comes from the remnant and springs forth to guide the church toward a ministry. However, the disciples did not understand that ultimately God’s Gospel required the death of Christ. Christ spoke this Gospel message through parables, and the message had to be broken down into stories to connect to the lives of the people so that they may see the Gospel more clearly. 

It is hard to share the Gospel because the Gospel’s values are often contrary to the values we find around us. The quest for power, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the message of the Gospel. Therefore, asking our neighbors to change is not easy; asking the world to submit to a power outside the world is challenging; however, Christ calls the world to become obedient and worship the Almighty God. Many will object to this call, but God still calls us to deliver His message.

When we acknowledge that God is greater than all the things we have given a voice in our lives, then we are called to respond with confession and submission to God’s mission in the world. We cannot make ourselves good enough, but God makes us clean, so He can use us to carry out His call in our lives. However, that will is not easy, but we must share even when the world rejects the message.

Through Christ’s death, we are made Holy, but we must frequently submit to the call. We must understand that we come from the world, and there are many things we do that reflect that we are a product of our worlds. We are human; therefore, we are not immune to the problems that the world has to deal with, which makes us the perfect witness to God’s saving grace.

The church must make ourselves aware that we have made idols out of our traditions. It is hard to give up old traditions because these are the things we have done and seen God move through these traditions; therefore, we cling to that experience. However, when the tradition gets worshipped above the Almighty, we shut down the outward ministry and turn the church inward, contrary to God’s mission for the world.

As people from the world, God wants to use us to bring His Word into the world. We must remember that God’s ministry is not ours and that we must humble ourselves to what God desires of us. Ministry begins with worship and giving entirely of ourselves to whatever God desires, because often God’s desires may not always align with what we want. Therefore, when our actions align with Christ, we humbly share the Gospel with the world.

God Doesn’t Give Up On Us

A question we may ask when looking at our nation; Is this even worth redeeming? How should the church look at our surrounding world? We see hatred and violence; we see a world with rampant problems with justice, corruption, greed, and violence. As we look at the world, we wonder, is it worth saving? As Isaiah looked at Israel, he was dismayed at the injustice, the lack of desire to serve God, the casting aside the orphans and widows, and selfishness that Israel had been practicing. He urgently wanted to get their attention that they needed to REPENT and turn back to the way God had established for them.

One word defines our time, DIVISION. People are at odds with one another because they worship, dress, cook, or work differently. If there is more than one way of doing something, there will be an argument over it; as a people, we fight with one another over everything, even what ride is the best at Disney will cause people to argue in earnest. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our politics are as contentious as they are. The power of the world thrives on division, but God calls us to unity, so we may be dismayed that we are far from where God wants us to be. Still, God reminds us that He loved the world enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and that we can be a part of God bringing peace and unity back to the world. 

Isaiah had this hope and reminded Israel that God would bring hope, peace, and His pure love to the world. God will clean up the filth and make it beautiful again. Let us turn to Isaiah, chapter four, to look at Isaiah proclaiming this over Israel.

Isaiah 4:2-6

2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. 5 Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything, the glory will be a canopy. 6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain. 

The previous chapter in Isaiah details the sin of Judah and the results of that sin, as it will lead to the destruction of the nation. The nation that God set apart, or made HOLY, had become full of corruption and injustice. The country had turned away from God. In this passage, Isaiah echoes Isaiah 2:2-5, where he tells those that remain faithful to God will serve as a sign to the world that sin cannot thwart God’s mission, but rather God will redeem the world through His people, through His Holy Nation, through His Church. God cleans the nation of its iniquity and protects from the storms that come.

God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

God has not changed His redemptive purpose for Israel’s children, and Isaiah has not lost this hope for his people. So, as he began this series of prophecies with God’s original vision for the house of the Lord (2:2–5), he ends the series with God’s vision for Judah and Jerusalem after their suffering in conquest, and their exile has passed. While our current circumstances may lead us to doubt God, God will remain by our side, God is going to guide us through the darkest night, and His ultimate message to us is to have HOPE. The effects of sin cloud our vision of God’s providence, however through God’s grace, the power of love and peace break through the darkness and show us that God desires us to place our faith and trust in Him.

Although God protects us, we are not immune to the painful results of sin.

The cost of sin, which is rebellion against God, is exile and facing conquering at their neighbors’ hands. Judah could not escape the fact that the nation was facing expulsion because of their fighting with God and would not eat the land’s good. While they remained God’s People, they still had to face the results of their sin. The wages of sin is death; Paul reminds us. Jesus Christ gave His life on our behalf that we may not suffer the ultimate consequences of our sin, but we are not immune to the results of our faithlessness or turning our backs on God’s calling in our lives. Sin is a deadly disease, far more lethal than CoViD-19. Even though God rescued us from the fatal consequences, our bodies, minds, and actions are still affected and show symptoms of our infection. So too, many in our world are showing signs of infection and are desperately in need of the cure, the healing that can only exist in Christ Jesus. What are we prepared to do to bring those around us into the shelter provided by God?

As the church, we aren’t just survivors but are glorified by God to be His light amid the world’s darkness.

The survivors or remnant of Israel and Jerusalem demonstrate to the world that they were not just survivors, but that God could pull them through their circumstance. They were thriving in a post-exile life, not to become what they were before, but instead, they would grow into a nation that establishes justice and embraces God’s holy mission for them in the future. The world is full of danger, and the storms will surround us. Some want to prevent the mission of the church from moving forward. We cannot be afraid of confronting the dangers because we remember our hurt, but instead, we must be willing to put our mission out into the world, with complete knowledge of God’s protection. The early church grew unafraid of the circumstances of the first century, facing persecution from Rome. They went out into the world, knowing that God’s grace was upon them. GOD’S grace didn’t make them immune from deadly circumstances, like Stephen, but they knew God had made them secure eternally. Horizon will emerge from our current circumstance, which can feel like an exile at times. We will once again have in-person services. However, we do not know when we know that the God we serve is preparing us for something that will be life-giving in the midst of death. Right now, as a church, we need to prepare our hearts and souls for walking in God’s glorious light and going out into the world to bring God’s grace to our community.

God did not prevent Judah’s exile, for the results of their sin led to tragedy and being driven from their land. However, God used exile to prepare the nation to fulfill a greater calling to bring light to the world. God is also calling His Church to share the Gospel message with the world, to share the light given to us through the saving power of Christ Jesus, with the world. It may seem dark and that we live in a merely irredeemable world, but God, who is infinitely just, wants his Church to bring light into the darkness. For into the darkness, God sent His Son to redeem us, while we were worthy of death, saved us from death, and brought us new life. Therefore, since God sought to redeem us from our sins, we must be willing to go out into the world and be His light in the darkness.