Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Isaiah 56 and the Holocaust

The name of the Holocaust Museum in Israel, Yad Vashem, literally means "a memorial and a name," and is taken from the phrase in Isaiah 56:5. No doubt the name is indicative of the purpose: to preserve a memory. [You can see some of the museum at www.yadvashem.org.]

However, when God uses the phrase, he is referring to something far bigger than just preserving a memory. He is talking about redeeming a people, even people not originally Jewish by nature. But that's just how personal he is -- he establishes covenant relationships that are even closer and more personal than what we know on earth. WOW! That's a personal God, eh? And that's what he is up to -- bringing together a people from all languages, tribes, nations, and tongues who will shout his glory and spead his fame. Truly, He gives us his name so we can declare his!

Drawing Close

One of our readers (and now fellow blogger!) asked, "What are some ways to practically draw close to God?" In other words, we know he's close and personal; what can we do on our end to access that? Ater all, the first half of James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God..."

In a word, obey! Yep, that's the simple answer, and a very biblical one, too. Read Isaiah 56 and notice all the ways Isaiah asks for the foreigners and eunichs to obey. That's how God determined their seriousness.

Specificlly, it was in regards to the Sabbath, but the principle is clear: Obedience is the best way to show God you are serious about drawing close. Whether it be by praying as he instructs, reading and studying his Word , meditating and memorizing Scripture, witnessing to others, giving of our resources, confessing our sins, etc, etc...obeying God competely and unconditionally speaks the loudest.

Wanna draw close? Do the next right thing --obey! -- and God is there.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why the Sabbath Emphasis in Is. 56?

Even a quick reading of Isaiah 56 reveals that, as God is displaying his personal and "familial" nature to the Jew, as well as to the foreigner and eunich, the Sabbath plays a critical role in this chapter. Why? Is it for today? Are we required to obey it?

Succintly, no! Here's a bit of explanation. The sabbath was strictly a sign for the Jews given to them as part of the Mosaic law. It was never given to the Gentiles, except for here in Isaiah 56. And why here? Because as their return to Jerusalem and Jewish worship was prophesied, God was asking all who were part of his people to return to his commandments as given to his people. This was important when they returned to rebuild the walls and the temple (Nehemiah and Ezra), and it will be important in the New Jerusalem (Millennium an afterwards) when God reigns visibly from the Holy City. At that point, I believe those in the New Jerusalem will once again return to worshipping on the sabbath (partly based on Is. 56). But for now, it is not in play as Jewish worship has not been reinstated during this parenthetical time of the church.

And this makes sense, especially knowing that sabbath means "last day." Truly, in heaven we will finally be 'resting' from all our earthly serving and working and finally able to completely and fully worship God -- and only God! What a 'rest' that will be, eh? Till then, we find our rest in him. When that day comes, we'll find our rest with him.

His Two-Pronged Faithfulness

It's a common verse we preachers use -- Isaiah 55:11. Two words in this verse help me understand what really happens when God's Word goes out. The words are "accomplish" and "achieve," and they speak of different aspects of "success" of God's Word.

"Accomplish" contains the idea of producing something; of manufacturing a product. No doubt God is bringing us to a place of completion (i.e., maturity), a place where we are recognized as his handiwork and masterpiece. For instance, when an old habit is broken because of God's Word, it has 'accomplished' something in us. This speaks to the task at hand.

But God's Word also "achieves" something in that it makes progress; it 'carries on' and furthers the work it is doing. For instance, when Christ-like attitudes are deepened, such as selflesness and service, then our 'journey' of sanctification has taken a good turn; we've taken steps on the path towards godliness. This speaks of the journey we're on.

Either way, you can bank on this: When God's Word is involved , it will do what it is designed to do. Whether stopping sinful things, producing godly things, or continuing a pattern of holy living, God and his Word is at the root of it all. And he will make sure his Word always produces (“accomplish”) what it needs to and always makes the progress (“achieve”) it needs to. Why? Because that’s the nature of our God: faithful! Completely consistent! Undeniably reliant!

No Bait and Switch with God

Isaiah 55 opens with an astounding invitation. -- "COME!" In fact, 18 verbs are used to say the same thing -- invite all to come! Why? Because only God can really deliver on the promise of lasting satisfaction. In the openeing verses Isaiah talks about how other offers fail and pale, but Jehovah's invitation actually delivers true fulfillment. That's divine "customer service" that is perfectly consistent with every client.

Of course, to some people, this invitation sounds too good to be true; like maybe they're staring at a spiritual “bait and switch”… not at all! That’s what others do for sure! But not God!

Truth is, you know why we wonder that? Because we see the invitation through man’s character, not God’s. Perhaps that's why Isaiah contrasts the two different natures in play -- man's and God's. (55:8-9 "my ways are not your ways...my thoughts are not your thoughts")

You see, consistency is exactly what God is – and exactly what man isn’t! So if trusting him and his invitation seems risky, it’s only because you are viewing God more like a human than the divine and holy Creator who cannot fail. God is not like us – people who break promises and fail to deliver. No, God keeps his Word every time. He is perfectly consistent and faithful. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Personal God

Seems everyone knows God these days. Haven't you heard the phrase of choice from television celebraties, media moguls, and sports stars? Here it is -- "O my God!" (emphasis added)

Yep, looks like people everywhere are laying claim to God. A better question is, "Does God lay claim to us?" According to Isaiah 55-56, he is close enough to do exactly that ("he can be found" and "salvation is close at hand"). That's the correct understanding of God's personal nature -- not that we found him, but that he found us, knows us, is close to us, and calls us by name.

To cement this, Isaiah lays out a beautiful picture of God's personal nature towards us in 56:5 when he says God will give "a memorial and a name" that is better than that which sons and daughters have. Ther is a lot more here contextually that I will explain in a future blog, but suffuce it for now to say that being known by God is even more intimate and personal than how your parents know you. WOW...that's personal! But that's God -- close and nearby! What a spirital Daddy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

God's Faithful Nature

Reading Isaiah 55 has left me with a simple word that best describes God's faithful character: He is consistent! Granted -- that word hasn't been the first word to roll of my tongue when I'm thinking about faithfulness, but it may well be more in line with the biblical concept of faithfulness.

For instance, in verses 1-7, God is consistent in his call to all peoples. He urged us to "Call", "Seek", "turn", and "forsake" (as well as other strong verbs). And it has been this way since he estabished his covenant, which he actually describes as "everlasting" and "faithful" in 55:3.

Additionally, as the rest of the chapter unfolds, God's consistency is contrasted against man's inconsistency. "His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways" (Is. 55:9), as well as the fact that his "word will never return empty" (Is. 55:11), are just two examples of how consistent his way and his word are -- perfectly! Guarenteed! Impeccable!

The result? A future kingdom city forever faithful -- consistent! -- with God's eternal purposes! That's what verse 13 states when it says, "This [i.e., the new Jerusalem] will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed." All that he has promised will be finally realized one day and it will forever remain that way. Now that's consistency. That's faithfulness. That's God!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

God's Jealousy Understood Simply

Let me see if I can help us understand God's jealousy in a simple way. Essentially, he is not jealous of someone, but jealous for something. And that something, though it involves us in various aspects, is all glory and worship. Remember what he said -- "I will not share my glory with another."

Granted -- he receives his worship from his creatures (that's us!), and it is his plan to keep his covenant with Israel so that eventually all the rest of the world will worship him. So from that angle we are involved -- we're the worshippers! But the end focus/goal of his "jealous" nature and activity is not us, but ultimate and final worship. He's not jealous of us at all! But he is correctly jealous for our worship, and one day he will lay an exclusive claim to it from every tongue and knee.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

God's Exclusive Nature and Oprah

God's exclusive nature doesn't settle well with those who only want a benign, passive God. Why? Because exclusivity means possessiveness. And rightly so! Any covenant relationship that doesn't have a bibically correct view of fierce loyalty (i.e., "jealousy") isn't a covenant relationship at all. It's just an idolatrous pretense.

But God is rightly jealous. Fiercly loyal. Correctly possessive. Exclusively committed. Oprah may not like that fact, as expressed in her recent Web classes and on her show often, but changing God's nature isn't an option. "Reinventing" God as less exclusive and more equal is not an acceptable alternative. It is unbiblical and illogical from an argument's standpoint, and deceitfully dangerous and damning from a personal standpoint. God's exclusive, jealous nature must be correctly understood and properly taught. And Isaiah does that well, not only in chapter 49, but in much of the last half of the book (40-66). His jealousy is just, proof positve that he does operate consistently within his covenant towards his creatures.

Pray for Oprah to repent and come to a true, saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Pray she will see God as he really is. Pray against her "new earth church." Pray that their message will be thwarted, their eyes opened, and minds renewed. Intercede for those headed towards damnation with hearts of compassionate mercy, wills of divine steel, and minds of biblical conviction (Jude 17-23). Truly, Romans 1 is happening before our eyes -- "supressing the truth" ... "exchanging the glory of the immortal God" ... "worshipping the created things." God help us to stand strong against error with the unfailing truth of sound doctrine.

God's Exclusive Nature...He Alone Owns Me!

As we think about God's exclusive nature in Isaiah 49, keep in mind that we are not talking about his exclusivity in regards to himself (his holiness...i.e., he is intrinsically different), nor are we talking about his exclusivity in regards to the world (his sovereignty). Instead, we are talking about his exclusivity in regards to his creatures -- he alone owns us! He has sole rights to lay claim to our life, and it is his sole decision to do whatever it takes to bring us/them back to himself. God displayed that type of exclusive ownership with Jersualem, especially in Isaiah 49. It was evident that he owned them by creation and by covenant, so he could rightly lay claim to them. Exclusive claim. Sole rights. He doesn't need permission or a vote of cofidence. He's God, the exclusive owner of all things.