Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Devotional: Isa. 58:13-14

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
If you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
Then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

We love to ride on the heights.

Oh, we know there are times of trials and struggles in the valley. But let's be honest ... it's a lot more fun to reflect back on the valley from the mountaintop than it is to struggle through the reality of life. No wonder Peter wanted to build tents on the mount of transfiguration.

The beauty of Scripture is that it's okay to want the heights. Joy is a great pursuit, and feasting is encouraged! Yet as so often happens, Scripture turns upside down the ways we are to get those things. It's not by financial success, fame, or power. It's not by the number of people in our church or the sales of our Christian self-help books. We don't get to the heights by being invited to speak at more churches than the next gal.

Instead, this Scripture tells us that the way to find joy, ride on the heights, and feast on all God has intended us to inherit, is through ... the Sabbath.

The Sabbath? Wow, that's not what I would have expected. At the end of this oracle about helping others, God suddenly pulls out the 4th Commandment...and takes it much further. He tells us we are to delight in it, find it honorable, and significantly - not do our own thing. Ah, there's the rub - and the link to the rest of the chapter.

Basically, Isa. 58 says to get over the idea that your religious observances are about you. They're not. They are about truly drawing near to God and seeking Him, as evidenced in our relationships with other human beings ... other people made in His image ... others with whom we are in community. And always, always, it's about Him. Does He know our deepest needs? ABSOLUTELY! No one knows them better. Yet He also knows they will never be met until we look up and look out. Up at Him, out at others.

Now, as New Testament believers it is legitimate to ask what we do with these verses about the Sabbath. Are they mere window dressing while we focus on the remaining 12 verses? Do we take them literally? It is only Sunday (or Saturday, if you prefer) that we should honor?

There is room for differences on this point (see Rom. 14:5), but my perspective based on Heb. 4:9-10 is that in Christ we enter a "sabbath rest" and we live "in the Sabbath". Paul repeatedly tells us that we should glorify God in all things at all times ... so we don't get a "day off" from a day that should be holy to God. Think about it in context of verse 13: For a Christian is there ever a day that we should say "OK today, I'm going to do as I please, go my own way, and speak idle words." I can't say that there is.

Now, I don't hesitate to say that I see the wisdom in a day set aside for worship, prayer, and rest. God knows we can't go 24/7 ... He made the "sabbath" for us, because we are human and frail. All I'm saying is that in the context of this passage, I see it most accurately applied to life. If I say, "OK, I want to have joy, ride on the heights, and feast on all God has for me to inherit, what do I do" the answer will come back "quit doing what you please; treat the days God gives you as honorable and delight in doing what He wants instead of going your own way." (And frankly, I'll hear "watch those idle words" more than once.)

The reality is, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so the real path to experience the fullness of Isa. 58:13-14 is not to try harder to enjoy serving God, it's to be filled with more of His Spirit. Ezekiel 36:26-27 tells us that when God puts His Spirit within us, we want to walk in His ways. More than that, He gives us the love for God that we need. Scripture says we love because He first loved us. So as His Spirit fills us, we love Him more and find ourselves pursuing Him harder with each passing year. "Doing as we please" becomes less appealing.

So from the perspective the full counsel of God's Word, I think I can safely say that if you struggle with "your part" of this passage - the part that delights in God's holy day, the part that rejects selfish ways - then the answer is more of His Spirit. Because as Galatians 5 teaches, the Spirit and the flesh are set against each other. They can't occupy the same space! Something has to give. In submission to Him, we can experience the reality the His Spirit is greater than our flesh.

And that puts me on the heights, indeed!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Devotional: Isa. 58:9b-12

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
With the pointing finger and malicious talk,
And if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry,
And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
Then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land,
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins,
and will raise up age-old foundations;
You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of streets with dwellings.

Making a difference. For those of us with activist hearts, it's more than the mantra of the current era ... it's our heartcry. Once we "awaken" to the full-orbed teaching of Scripture we see that God's priority on the spiritual doesn't mean he ignores the temporal. In fact, there are plenty of Scriptures to show us that He doesn't want us to ignore the "stuff of earth" either. As Francis Chan observes in "Crazy Love", sometimes God's answer to our question, "Why are people starving?" might be to turn around and ask us that question.

That's why this is one of my favorite sections of this passage. The results of the actions God prescribes will bring light into darkness and restoration into brokenness. And that's pretty cool.

Let's break this down. It's basically a big if-then statement, some cause-and-effect relationships:

If we ...
1) Stop oppressing others (through legalism, or mistreatment, or unfair wages, or any other number of ways.)
2) Stop gossipy, malicious conversation (wounding words)
3) Pour ourselves out for the hungry (the Hebrew translated "spend yourselves" means to "cause to come out from the spirit/soul" ... the KJV says closely "draw out thy soul"). This signifies a meeting of others' needs that comes from deep within our being.
4) and satisfy the needs of the oppressed ("satisfy" meaning to provide more than enough - to fill, to overflow even; and "oppressed" meaning afflicted, humiliated - the same word is used for "rape" in some places in the OT) ...

Then - the effect will be profound.
1) Light in dark places, so much so that night is like noonday;
2) Guidance from God;
3) Satisfaction of our own needs in the midst of a dry place;
4) Physical strength;
5) An inward "watering" that keeps us flourishing and fruitful (reminiscient of the "river of life" Jesus spoke of);
6) Corporate restoration of brokenness - including making unliveable places liveable again!

As we've discussed before, it's easy to spiritualize these verses. Sure, it is referencing spiritual freedom and healing. But again, I go back to the fact that God is chiding them in part for being ONLY focused on spiritual ritual and not the effect their religion should have "where the rubber meets the road". It says a lot to me that in many Third World countries where life conditions are much closer to the culture of the Bible than our own Western "advanced" society, Christians don't hesitate to apply these things very literally. Believers in Israel/Palestine who long for peace, believers in Sudan who are on the run, believers in Pakistan who live in secrecy ... all see these verses and others like them as very practical ways to change their society. They know Christ will come again and make all things new. But they want to experience glimpses of His kingdom on earth ... His will on earth as it is in heaven.

So I've been giving some thought to this as I've worked on memorizing this section. Why does God connect these things? Why this cause-and-effect relationship?

I think part of it simply goes back to the principle of the Great Commission. He promised His presence always as we go. That doesn't mean that just because we are about His business we will never suffer. It does mean that if we are focused on His work, then He will clear obstacles until He has a different plan for our lives or our service is complete. So those personal "cause-and-effect" relationships center on His kingdom purposes - a key distinction missed by prosperity gospel teachers. Significantly, the ones mentioned here whose needs will be met and whose frame will be strengthened are the very ones who in the depth of their souls want to meet the needs of others - not themselves.

The effect on those around us - on the "darkness" in which we live - is another way God's kingdom is revealed on earth as it is in heaven. I think the reason "light in the darkness" is part of the "cause and effect" of these verses is reflected in Jesus words of the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:16: "Let your light shine before men, so they will see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven". If you are in a dark environment, you know the impact of light. It's noticeable. And it's for His glory. So when God tells us our actions will have the effect of making our light brighter and push back the darkness - it's all about His glory.

Finally, the corporate opportunity to rebuild, raise up, restore ... all is part of the Hebrew concept of "shalom" which is much more than peace ... it is wholeness. Verse 12 is a beautiful example of what shalom can look like in the life of a nation - or a church - or a family. We forget, so easily, that even though God allows for our human failures and weaknesses - for example, by allowing that governments have the "sword" to protect good against evil - He also has a perfect will that He wants to see on earth as it is in heaven. He uses everything for His purposes ... but that doesn't mean He doesn't want to see some of the bad things reversed. Shalom is the state that results when those things are reversed and we get a glimpse of His kingdom.

Thomas Merton captured this concept beautifully in his poem, Senescente Mundo:
I hear a sovereign talking in my arteries,
Reversing, with His promises,
All things that now go on with fire and thunder.

His truth is greater than disaster,
His peace imposes silence on the evidence against us.

We get that, personally and spiritually. What I hear in God's word through Isaiah is that it can also be true on a very practical level. And the actions we take fueled by a heart that has been filled with His Spirit and changed to be in line with His purposes can be part of that incredible process, for His glory.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Isa. 58:5

(Sorry I just now realized I failed to post this!I)

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
Only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

What sticks out to me here is the repetition of the word "only". God isn't telling them NOT to physically fast ... He is just saying there is more to it than that!

We know God doesn't abhor sackcloth and ashes - Job clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes as an expression of his mourning, and he was called righteous. What God DOES abhor is the heart-set that says this is sufficient, I have fulfilled my religious duty. In fact, I think "duty" is one of the worst words we can use in relationship to God. Throughout Scripture one of the words He seems to love using is "delight".

He wants us to "delight" in Him. He wants our relationships to be characterized by love and joyous service. Matthew 25 records people helping others in such a natural way that they don't even realize that they have served Christ ... they are just overflowing their love to "the least of these".

There is a place for fasting and external positions of humility. But they are worthless when they reflect manipulation, duty, or legalism. What God wants is delight in Him ... a new heart that loves to draw near to Him as much as it desires Him to draw near.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Devotional: Isa. 58:8-9A

"Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
Then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I."

Promises. I love 'em! I love that Jesus is the "yes" to all God's promises. I also love that God lets us know when it's okay to want something.

It's okay to want to have a light that shines! It's okay to want healing and righteousness. It's okay to desire answered prayers. It's OKAY!

But the path to getting those things is the path of other-centeredness discussed in verses 6-7. Only "then" (3 times repeated) will we experience the promises of God. We tend to get spiritual when we really need something. This passages says that such times might be when we need to get off our knees and start serving instead.

I'm not demeaning prayer - it's crucial. I'm just saying that in this context, God says that we experience these answers as we minister. I don't think God is saying NOT to pray ... verse 5 indicates that He is concerned with people "only" focusing on spiritual rituals. What I envision is God teaching us to pray and even fast, then get up and start serving ... and we will find answers.

We will have a light in the darkness of our community. We will experience healing in areas of struggle or even health issues. We will walk more righteously and God's glory will be apparent in what we do. And our prayers will be answered. His presence will be with us.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with the promise that Jesus will be with us always. But the context is conditional: "As you are going"... to fulfill the Great Commission. I think Isa. 58 says something similar: "as you are serving" ... He will be working. Like the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, He will make far more out of what we bring to Him. We'll get answers to prayers we never knew to pray. The divine "if-then" effect will define our lives.

Devotional: Isa. 58:6-7

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
When you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood."

God's patience amazes me! He is giving the Israelites - and us - through Isaiah and very strong message ... one He wants proclaimed loudly. He doesn't hesitate to declare the errors of their - and our - ways. And yet if you look at the chapter, the majority of the content addresses what is RIGHT and GOOD ... what should be done. He is teaching them - and us - the way out of pathetic self-centeredness. What patience.

If you're like me, you look around at the world and especially our culture and despair at the selfish individualism. It's easy to think we are so steeped in it that there is no way out. Yet God reveals through these verses and the ones to follow that there IS a way out. It's to become other-centered through practical acts of servant love.

It's interesting that even secular psychology recognizes now that morbid introspection is not the way out of depression and other such issues. Where the problem is not clinical in nature, "do something for someone else" has become a common prescription. God knew this a long time ago and these verse reflect a shift of thought that will ultimately remove the root of self-centeredness and as we will soon see, result in true wholeness.

The first thing that struck me was how much of this passage references freedom. Loosing chains, untying cords, setting free, and breaking yokes are all freedom-centered phrases. I think of Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)" ... truly His amazing love and grace sets us free. But what God says through Isaiah is that we play a role in such freedom! True fasting isn't just about spiritual rituals but about practical actions. It's about having an agenda that promotes freedom.

How can we do this? Spiritualizing this passage is easy - and we can and should pray for spiritual freedom from the enemy's bondage. That is the priority. Yet this passage is such a contrast to the spiritual rituals preceding it, and comes in conjunction with such practical ministries as feeding, clothing, and sheltering, that I can't help but see God intending this in very practical ways.

When we keep Isa. 58:6 on a spiritual shelf, to be taken down and prayed fervently over a wayward child in spiritual darkness, we see some results - but miss the full impact of the verse. Passages like this fueled the anti-slavery movement. They encouraged those fighting against apartheid. They convicted Christians to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

What injustices do you see? What oppressions have stirred your heart? What yokes do you long to see broken after the cords are untied? Maybe, just maybe, God would use this passage to stir you to get involved in a practical way IN ADDITION TO praying for those chains to be broken.

For example, based on this and numerous other passages, I can say unequivocally that God does not want children trafficked in sex slavery. Sure, He wants them saved. But He also wants them FREE. He wants the judges of this world to line up with His justice to end this horrific injustice. So I look for ways to raise awareness of this issue; bills that might make it easier to bring these people to justice; and missionaries who are going to areas where this is a special problem that need to be supported and prayed for. I can honestly say that if I found out a trafficking house was in my area I would be contacting every law enforcement person I could find, rallying women I know to help meet the needs of the girls when they are rescued, and lobbying for asylum so they wouldn't be shipped back to their countries only to be cast aside or sold again.

What stirs you? Maybe it's freedom from drug addiction. Perhaps it's fighting for the unborn. You might cry yourself to sleep thinking of hungry kids on the street. Take what stirs you to God, and see what action steps He might give you to be part of His freedom agenda.

Verse 7 is one of those easy to interpret, hard to apply passages.
+ Share your food. When you have an abundance, Paul teaches in 2 Cor. 8-9, it's to share with others.
+ "Provide shelter to the poor wanderer" - some translations read "homeless person". The KJV captures the sense of "refugee" in the phrase "cast out". The word is not used much in the Old Testament but comes from a root word meaning wandering, in the sense of maltreatment. Basically, it's someone who is both poor and homeless, probably due to someone else's mistreatment.
+ "When you see the naked, clothe him." Provide basic needs - that's the heart of this message.
+ Don't "turn away from your own flesh and blood". "Turn away" can also be translated "hide yourself" or "look the other way". Paul wrote that true ministry begins at home - widows with families were to be cared for by them, partly so they could learn how to minister! (That puts a whole different light on our treatment of the elderly, doesn't it.) He also said failure to provide for one's household makes a man worse than an infidel. In a society without any private or public health insurance, where believers were frequently outcast and expendable. these commands were crucial. The group - Israel here, the church in Paul's day - relied heavily on families to do what was right. Thus, in such a group-oriented society, turning away from one's family was dumping responsibility somewhere else and failing to follow basic commands of Scripture. We can't minister well until we learn to minister to our families.

Upside down thinking. We hear traces of the Sermon on the Mount in this brief but deep passage. But the resulting fruitfulness will be beyond compare!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Characteristics of God's Anointed Work

Recently, I blogged here about the concept of "anointed" work. When I wrote that, I was in the midst of an in-depth study of the concept of anointing as seen in the lives of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. I thought I would share some of the things that I learned from that season of studying their narratives. Specifically, I wanted to learn what characterizes God's anointed work - how does it look in the stuff of life. Here are some of the principles I saw in the lives of these three workers for God's purposes:

God's anointed work is characterized by ...
  • A real context. Each book occurs in a specific historical and situational context. Esther 1 outlines a lot of the background of the context of Esther's rise to the throne. But the context is not the point. Instead, the context is merely the canvas on which God paints His purpose.
  • A mind or spirit stirred in a certain direction (Ezra 1:5). Along with this comes an open door, in God's timing, consistent with the direction we are stirred (vv. 1-4), and provision for the work (vv. 6-11). This stirring can look different for each of us, but Daniel 9 gives one possible way it might happen - through God giving us information consistent with Scripture we are reading at the time. Nehemiah 1:1-4 also illustrates how God can give a call where we are, building on our heartfelt concerns.
  • Preparation (Esther 2; Neh. 1). Esther had to prepare to meet the king. Nehemiah had to prepare to broach the subject to the king. One preparation is practical; the other is spiritual. Both are important. An anointed work requires that we be prepared for the nitty-gritty of the job as well as for the spiritual aspects of the task.
  • The efforts of multiple people with different roles (Ezra 2) . No one person gets the glory - it belongs to God alone! Each person fulfills his or her appropriate role voluntarily. Giving is not compelled. Ezra 8:15-20 shows Ezra even intentionally seeking out those gifts needed but missing within the group. Nehemiah 3 reflects the same concept. Neh. 11:1-2 gives us a picture of different logistical placements being supported and blessed. Esther enlisted others for support before taking a major step (Est. 4:15-17).
  • Responsiveness to God's Word with an authentic, open response to challenges and divine intervention when needed (Ezra 5). Ezra 7:10 reveals that understanding of God's Word is given as we seek it. Nehemiah 8 shows the work as being centered on God's word as foundational, and obedience to what was taught as essential.
  • Authenticity. Ezra 8:24-34 underscores the place that trustworthiness and accountability have in work God anoints. Esther responded openly and authentically when the time was right (Est. 7:3-4).
  • A clear view of good and evil. Nehemiah was very concerned with God's holiness (Neh. 13) and led people in confession of sin (Neh. 9). Esther didn't hesitate to call evil by its name (Est. 7).
  • Confirmation by the facts (Ezra 6:1-2), favor by authorities (6:3-12), perseverance by the people (6:13-15), and finally, celebration upon completion (6:16-22).
  • A plan that understands the way the "real world" works. (Neh. 2). Remember we are talking about God anointing work in the stuff of life. Nehemiah couldn't give his king a spiritual "when the Lord leads" answer. He had to trust God to give him a plan that would meet the needs of his boss to know when he would be back. So, he presented the solution after gathering the facts, respecting the structure he worked within.
  • Hard work. Building a city wall wasn't easy! Nehemiah and the people had to sweat and labor and toil, even though it was a God-given task. Along the same lines, commitment is required to complete the task (Neh. 9-10). This commitment is enhanced by God-centered priorities and the remembrance of God's grace and mercy.
  • Faces reality. None of our protagonists ignored the reality of the situation. Esther 4 poignantly records Esther and Mordecai's conversation about just what could happen. In the context of reality, though, God's anointed work is characterized by the ability to see a larger perspecftive regarding the purpose of our individual roles. We see ourselves on that canvas of life, painted in by God for a specific purpose.
  • Dependence upon God (Ezra 8:21-23). Radical humility and trust in God are key factors in a work that He anoints. Nehemiah exemplifies this as he diligently and intentionally sought God in prayer before approaching the king (Neh. 1:5-11). In fact, Esther 6:1-2 shows that divine intervention in even the smallest of details can occur when He anoints a task.
  • Moving forward despite fear (Ezra 3). Rather than wait on feelings, the person engaged in God's anointed work makes an effort to follow God's Word, giving worshipful support and exuberant praise!
  • Opposition that tries to deceive, discourage, distract, and destroy (Ezra 4). Nehemiah 4 also illustrates examples of challenges that could make us lose heart and shows us that sometimes a position of guardedness is necessary while the work continues.Esther 3 also reveals that these challenges will be intentional.
  • Focus in the face of distractions (Neh. 6). We have to stay where we are placed by HIM. We can expect the enemy to deceive, posture, and attempt to instill fear. In the midst of that, we can regain focus by having a renewal of God's equipping strength (6:9).
  • Others-oriented (Est. 8). Mordecai and Esther could have stopped with their personal victory. However, Esther pressed on to the corporate victory. They weren't just trying to elevate Mordecai; they wanted to see their people victorious. Esther and later Mordecai (Ch. 10) used their positions for purpose, advocating on behalf of others.
  • Joy that is shared with others. Worship, praise, and celebration permeate the successes in each of the three books I reviewed. Neh. 12:31-47 is an especially beautiful picture of delightful praise! Esther 9 records that God's anointed work should be remembered!
What I have learned is that God's anointed work far surpasses the strictly spiritual interpretation I held for years. In fact, my eyes have been so opened to this understanding that it has really expanded my view of work and of the role of Christians in our society. I see my job and my interactions with family and neighbors in a whole new light. I also see that I can't do everything - so I'm learning to identify what God has anointed ME to do on a given day or in a given setting. How is He going to use my gifts; what passions has He placed on my heart; what strengths seem "innate" but are really from Him? These are the questions I am asking to sort out what is "expected" versus what is "anointed".

I want to learn to walk in that anointing! I want my life to be characterized by a firm conviction that this moment, this task is God's place for me right now. I want to be careful not to volunteer for things that He hasn't anointed me to do. And I never want this to be an excuse for inaction - instead, I want to focus on what I am TO DO versus what I am not to do. For example, I am not anointed for children's ministry. That has been confirmed over 3 years in two different settings. However, there are areas where I do sense God's anointing. Some are obviously ministry-related; others are in the stuff of life. That is where I want to give my time and energy, knowing that He has painted me into the portrait on the canvas for His purpose. Based on Neh. 2:18, I want to know that I have the good hand of my God on me for a task HE has given.

Devotional: Isa. 58:3-4

'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.


In Isaiah 58: 3-4, God's people haven't gotten the indications they expected that God heard them. From their perspective, they are doing what is right - fasting and humbling themselves. They just don't get it! Sounds painfully familiar to me. What seems to jump out from this to me is that their approach seems designed to get attention, versus seek God. I'm reminded that the previous verses told us 3 times that their apparent seeking is illusory!

Getting God's attention versus seeking Him. What a difference. Again, we see the man-centered versus God-centered approach. When we seek God's attention, we want what He can give; we want the "feeling" that comes from His presence; we want results. This is not unlike the attention-getting behavior exhibited by the prophets of Baal in the encounter on Mt. Carmel. They tried everything possible to get their god's attention to no avail. But seeking God - being willing to hear Him in a still small voice as much as a whirlwind - means we want HIM more than any answer or result. But God, in His grace, teaches them where they are wrong. Specifically, He spells out three wrongs they do even while fasting:

* Doing as they please
* Exploiting workers
* Engaging in verbal and physical conflict

Doing as they please - the NET translates this "fulfilling selfish desires". When we pursue God, we go in the direction AWAY from our selfish desires. Gal. 5 makes it clear that the Spirit and the flesh cannot go in the same direction. They are opposed to each other. This tells me that a good test for whether my motives are truly God-centered is how much selfish desire - doing what I please - is present. Of course there will always be a mixture - we are not perfect - but it is a good exercise to start learning to sort them out!

Exploiting workers - this is an interesting use of language. The word used here for "exploit" is the exact word used in Exodus 3-5 to describe the treatment of the Israelites by the Egyptians. God had warned them to allow that experience to positively affect their relations with others - Deut. 24:14-15 spells out specific ways this should impact relationships with workers:

"Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin."

The chapter ends with an admonition to keep all the commands included, because of their understanding of the slave experience in Egypt. This makes their exploitation of workers especially repugnant from a Godward perspective.

There are a number of ways workers are exploited today. Whether through unfair wages, unrealistic expectations, or even outright abuse, the reality exists in our society as much as the sweatshops of China. This passage is a good reminder to ask ourselves in any work situation - especially if we are in any kind of supervisory or decision-making position - how we are treating employees. However, even non-supervisors have the opportunity to treat employees differently because of God's presence in us. I remember a story from the University. Custodial staff in a certain building were asked not to drink out of the fountains in the very building they cleaned! We can treat service workers with love and compassion regardless of our position at work - and likewise, we can exploit others even without formal authority.

Engaging in verbal and physical conflict - God makes clear in other passages that he hates violence against the innocent. Isa. 59:6-8 underscores this perspective by calling such violence evil. In Malachi 3:16, God places his hatred of violence on the same level as His disdain for divorce. In fact, the passage in context is an admonition to husbands who are mistreating their wives and then wanting to divorce them. Reading the Gospels, it is hard to imagine that the New Testament personal ethic is anything less than non-violence. And yet on the same day they "seek" God through fasting, they are engaging in verbal and physical conflict.

Few of us in this group are likely to engage in direct physical conflict - but what about that sharp tongue that produces quarreling and strife. The classic example for this is the person who gets irritable and snaps at a family member for interrupting her quiet time! (Ouch ... that one hurt me!!!) The possibilities for quarrel and strife are endless; the opportunities for peaceful conversation will demonstrate a difference in us that can only be due to the Holy Spirit.

God ends this passage by addressing the reality: this action will never get their prayers answered. I'm reminded of David, who said if we regard iniquity in our hearts, God won't hear us. "Regard" means to treasure it, hold on to it. It's that sin we secretly hope God never asks us to give up. That's the very one we have to lay down to get an answer, because that's the sin that is the source of our rebellion.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Isa. 58:1-2: Further Reflections

I have loved reflecting on these verses as I memorize them. One thing that I noticed this morning is the connection between verse 2 and verse 1. The message about their rebellion and sins comes because of something they are doing - it is in a specific context. Isn't that true of all God's revelation to us - it comes in the context of a specific situation? That's why it is so personal. We have that consistent "logos" - the entire word of God - but have that personal "rhema" that he speaks into our specific situations. That's why a verse might jump out at you that you have missed for years. That's the beauty of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

But in this context, the word given to Isaiah to make clear to Israel is based on a specific context: their worship. God sees them seeking Him daily - these were people that didn't miss their quiet times! He sees them looking eager to know His ways, seeming to want Him to come near. They want just decisions. They seem to be doing everything right.

But that's the problem - it's an illusion. They "seem eager" - that phrase is repeated twice in one verse. "as if" is another key phrase. They are acting one way, but their actions are different. "As if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God" indicates that well, they are not what they seem.

So "For" - the connecting word of these two verses - for this reason, God sends a message about rebellion and sin.

What would this look like in my life?? "Rosa is having her quiet times every day; she's acting like she wants to know me and have me come near her. She really advocates for justice - why just look at her Facebook page! She's acting as if she does what is right. She is acting like she hasn't forsaken My commands." It's called hypocrisy, and God hates it.

It's easy to hide rebellion and sin - from others and from ourselves - behind religious activity. Thankfully God loves us enough to declare to us - loudly if necessary - our rebellion and sins.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Isaiah 58: 1-2

Wow - it's been a long time! I am working on a graduate research paper (basically a thesis) and capstone project for school, so unfortunately this blog has taken a temporary back seat. However, I am currently memorizing Isa. 58 with a group of ladies and sharing devotional thoughts on each section we work on - so I thought I would cut and paste them here. Today's thought is on Isa. 58:1-2:

1 "Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

God makes it clear: Isaiah is to deliver this prophetic word to His people, Israel. Furthermore, he is to deliver this message loudly! I don't know if Isaiah literally shouted this message, or if this is God's way of saying hey - don't miss this one. It's crucial. Regardless, the significance of the message is obvious.

These verses really serve as a summary of what God will address in the oracle to follow. Specifically, He will address issues of:
* Rebellion
* Sin
* Forsaking God's commands
* Seeking Him for guidance, justice, and nearness without living righteously

As I thought about this oracle, I wondered "what audience does this most apply to today?" It's easy to look at the word "nation" and immediately start thinking about our own country. It's easy to criticize modern-day Jews who still reject Messiah, since the passage is addressed to Israel. But the audience that I believe should hear this message first and foremost today is ... the church.

If we look at the scope of much of the Old Testament, we see it's not about only one people group or political nation. Instead, we see that it is the story of God's dealings with His people. Israel, the chosen people of God. Israel, blessed to be a blessing. Israel, from whom the Messiah would come. Israel, who was supposed to influence other nations rather than be influenced by them. Israel, who was supposed to show to the world the difference a relationship with God could make.

Who does that call go out to today? Not the United States. Not Jewish people. The church. We are the people of God, blessed to be a blessing. We are to influence those around us and show the difference a relationship with God can make.

So, I am studying Isa. 58 as a message to the church, corporately, and to me, specifically. Here are some questions I'm asking from verses 1-2:

* Where am I in rebellion?
* What sins do I need to confess?
* What commands have I forsaken?
* What do I expect from God that I want to receive without living righteously - "doing what is right"?
* Can I truly seek Him and His ways if I'm not willing to do the right thing when He reveals it?
* How can I help my church pursue what is right corporately, so that as we seek God's guidance, justice, and nearness, we are doing so from the right posture?

Tough questions - ones that make me so appreciate of the grace of God in my life. But grace is never an excuse for laziness. Titus 2:11-14 tells me that God's grace TEACHES me to deny ungodliness and live righteously. So as I read Isa. 58, what is He by His grace trying to teach me? That is the heart of my reflection on these first two verses.