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Archive for May, 2017

leader

My husband mentioned he’d been listening to the book of Philemon the other night and he turned it on for our family to listen to yesterday.  It’s been some time since I have read this one chapter book of the Bible and there is a lot of great wisdom here.

Paul writes this book to Philemon.  He was a slave owner who also had a church meeting in his house.  The first thing Paul does is offer encouragement to Philemon.  He then proceeds to make a somewhat forceful request.  He tells Philemon that he could command him but he prefers to appeal.  What is Paul asking for?

Paul ran into a slave that had belonged to Philemon while he was in prison in Rome.  He became close to this man – like a father even.  His name was Onesimus.

Paul had been given the opportunity to share the gospel with Onesimus.  He had been converted to Christ through Paul’s preaching and become like a son to him.  This man was very dear to Paul and he had been helping and serving Paul as he was in prison for a time.

There was only one problem.  Onesimus was not a free man.  He was a runaway slave.  Though free in Christ, Onesimus had done wrong by leaving his master.

Consider this situation.

Philemon had been wronged.  Onesimus’ bad behavior had caused him to lose his worker and his wages.  The man who was under obligation to serve him had deserted.  Onesimus somehow runs into Paul in Rome when Paul is in prison.  Onesimus becomes a Christian through Paul’s ministry and serves him faithfully.  Take close note of what Paul does.

Paul allows some time to pass and doubtless personally disciples this runaway. Making sure his faith is real, he experiences first hand the love and obedience Onesimus’ conversion wrought.  Then, he does something that only a great man of integrity would even consider doing. Paul surrenders the personal help and comfort that this man is giving to him in prison and he sends him back to his rightful owner.

There was nothing in it for Paul except the satisfaction of Onesimus making right on his wrong and having the opportunity to watch Philemon accept him back not as a slave, but as a brother.  Paul gave up personal comfort and help and risked his friendship with Philemon and his church by forcefully appealing to him about what he ought to do with his former slave.

In other words, Paul is basically telling a man who has suffered wrong through no fault of his own to forgive – and not only to forgive, but to welcome this man as a brother rather than putting him back to work as a slave – something he could have done by justice.

Notice how Paul conveys his “suggestion.”

 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. ~Philemon 1:10

Firstly, Paul appeals on the basis of his own frailty.  He’s an old man sitting in prison.  Clearly, he is doing this for the good of all – for love’s sake, not self.

(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) ~Philemon 1:11

Secondly, he appeals by making the point that Onesimus is of much more value and help now, as a brother in Christ, than he was as a trying to escape worker.

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. ~Philemon 1:12

Finally, he appeals on the basis of love.  Paul makes his true love and concern for this former wrongdoer very clear.

 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. ~Philemon 1:13-14

Lastly, Paul makes the case that he is returning this man in order to prove Philemon faithful to the law of grace and mercy – not by force, but by giving him the opportunity to choose for himself to do what is right.

Paul is trusting.  He is trusting Onesimus to go back to the very situation he likely risked his own life to run away from.  Paul is trusting Philemon to forgive a man he has every right and reason to demand justice from.  Paul is trusting both men to do what is right for the sake of the gospel.  Then, he is taking his hands off of both men and allowing them each to decide for themselves whether they will do what is right in this mess.  He is asking both men to do something that would have been very difficult on both ends and that is to trust each other as well.  Paul is also trusting Philemon’s church and the members of his household to forgive and trust the runaway, too.  Ultimately, Paul is trusting God and giving men every opportunity to prove faithful.  Good leaders like Paul know that they must give responsibility to their children/followers/disciples in order to see them become responsible.

Notice what else Paul does to diffuse the situation and make it easier for both men to choose the right thing.  Paul says this:

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. ~Philemon 1:17-20

Paul vouches for Onesimus.  He puts his proverbial arms around this rebel and he says, “This is my son; my guy; my friend; my help; my brother. Receive him as if he were me.”  This is so important!  Paul knows that this is what it is going to take to soften the hearts of those who were mad at Onesimus in this household.  Paul uses his authority to influence those under him to love one another sacrificially.  That is a leader we can follow.

Not only that, but how much confidence and love must Onesimus have felt knowing Paul was willing to stand next to him this way.  Paul knows what to do to encourage him because once upon a time he needed someone to vouch for his changed character, too.  Remember when the church was afraid of Paul because he was a murderer?  When he got converted Barnabas stood next to him and did what his is here doing for Onesimus.  Good leaders never forget where they came from.

Furthermore, Paul owns the rebel’s debt.  He tells the man who has been wronged (Philemon) that he will repay any and all debt or lost wages accrued on account of Onesimus’ departure.  He then reminds Philemon of the fact that even though he, too, owes Paul his very life for the salvation he’d brought to him, he is willing to overlook that fact and is more than willing to pay back any debt Onesimus owes Philemon.

In reality both men owe Paul their lives for the grace his gospel preaching had given to them.  Both were converted to Christ by Paul’s ministry.  Yet Paul says I won’t even mention that.  Tell me what I owe you and I’m more than willing to pay for Christ’s sake and the love and unity of his church.

Lastly, Paul encourages Philemon by telling him that he believes in him.  He reminds him that he trusts him.  He reminds him also that he can’t wait to see him.

Wow.  What a leader.  Paul was a man who could look at a situation with a bird’s eye view and navigate it rightly.  In this short book we see just how important righting our wrongs and forgiving our debtors really is.  Paul makes it clear that neither is for the sake of self but both are for the sake of the gospel.

Go and do likewise.

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accident

Following my weekly Walmart adventure, I rounded my children and prepared to depart from the magic land of the rough and tough and extra stuff.  Just as I reach for my keys, I noticed a small container of cake sprinkles the had somehow landed in my purse.  In horror, I sat for several minutes genuinely considering how they may have gotten there.

“Beautiful, angel children,” I called out over the boisterous commotion already resuming inside my still parked vehicle, “Did one of you put these in my purse?”

I showed them the sprinkles.  A simultaneous, “No!” and a couple subsequent, “I didn’ts,” were enough to convince me the fault was not theirs.  Surely they just fell in there after I bought them, right?  They fell out of the bag into my purse…maybe…  They were a dollar twenty-eight, Lori.  You have a gaggle of hyperactive gremlins who just buckled up.  Just go.  

I pulled my keys out and my most annoying conscience started screaming at me.  “You accidentally stole those.  You better go pay for them.”  “I am not going back in there.  I’m not.  NO.”  “Yes you are.  You’re going to pay for those.”  “FINE!!!  I will go dutifully back in and pay for these unfortunate specs of birthday cheer but I am not going to be happy.”  “Yes you are.  This is your fault, not the worker at the register.”

Back into the Walmart wonderland I went to pay again.  My last remaining hope was that no one else would ask if I was expecting during my stay in line.  With that, I thought for a moment about the nature of accidental wrongdoing.

I did not mean to buy five bags full of party flair and then decide I was entitled to free sprinkles for being such a great customer.   I managed to use my frazzled mom superpowers and steal them by absolute accident.

The thing about accidental injuries is that they are most annoying.  I mean who wants to finally load up and go to leave only to be sent directly back to the line of late-making and legal acquisitions?  Not this not-expecting mom of merry-making grocery trips.  Nope.  Not me.  But, this is the price one pays for finding out her fault in a matter in which she failed to realize she was the lead actor.  Still, this misadventure sent me back in more ways than one.

When I was a little girl I remember a lecture I received from my aunt.  I had been dancing around the room and she was my audience of one.  At some point during my routine, I managed to knock her glasses right off her face.  Afterward, I simply kept going, pretending not to notice what my carelessness had done to the one who I should have been most careful of catering to – my only fan, if you will.  This was the singular person I had to pay attention to and be careful of when flailing around aimlessly pretending to know how to dance.

I chose instead to offend her by my carelessness and then pretend I did not realize what I had done.  Accident or no accident, I was wrong.  I was being a total brat and she knew it.  The truth was I just wanted to see what she would do.  She was very strict with her kids and my mom was not.  I was used to getting away with my bad behavior and I was testing her.  So, she sat me down and she asked me, “Do you know what you just did?”  I looked at her blankly hoping she didn’t know what I just did.  “What?”  “You knocked my glasses off.  Did you do it on purpose? Or was it an accident?”  “Accident.”  “Well, when something is an accident, you say you’re sorry.”  “Sorry.”  She continued to lecture me for what felt like three days but what I am sure was at least a full five minutes on what a real apology looked, felt, and sounded like.  I deserved it and she was right.  When something is truly an accident – an unintentional injury or offense – there is a genuineness about the attitude and the apology to follow.

When I reentered the supermarket, my grumbling was only over my own stupidity in accidentally stealing a one dollar item.  My grumbling was not about how small the item was and how easily it fell into my purse.  It wasn’t about how distracting my kids were or how discouraged the, “Are you expecting again?” comments made this two-workout a day mom feel.  It was my careless fault and none of my excuses for it would hold up had I actually been caught stealing.  The truth is that even when fault is accidental it is our job to make it right no matter what the personal cost.

I would never slam my little girl’s fingers in the door purposefully.  I might do it accidentally, though.  If that ever happened, my grief and my love toward her in her pain at my fault would be much more obvious and extravagant than her cries of comfort-seeking.  The reason is because I love her and I would likely hurt even more than she did if I unintentionally caused such a painful injury to one of my own.  What if I did it again the next week, after she was already black and blue?  How much worse would I feel?  How much more would I seek to comfort?  Much, much more.  Love hurts for the other when it accidentally injures.  There is no room for rolling eyes and flippant “sorrys” when love seeks forgiveness.

If we injure unintentionally, we are responsible to make amends.  If its truly an accident, we say we’re sorry in an appropriate way with an affectionate attitude for wrong done.  If we don’t, that accident is rightly reclassified as purposeful.  Ask the police.  Ask my aunt.  Ask my kids.  The proof is often found in the apology.

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. ~1 Corinthians 4:4

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In Jeremiah 36, God gave Jeremiah a message for his people.  It was not a happy message.  Jeremiah’s message was a warning of judgement.  The reason given for this warning was so that God’s people would repent and be saved from the coming judgement. (36:3)

At this point Jeremiah was already so unpopular with the religious authorities that he was banned from the temple. (36:5)  For this reason, he calls his friend, Baruch, to listen to the message, write it down on a scroll and read it in the hearing of the people in his stead.

Again, the reason is stated by God in Jeremiah 36:3 and again by Jeremiah in 36:7. It was so that they would repent.

All the people fasted and Baruch read the words of impending judgement.  Afterward, some men went and told the princes and Baruch was sent for to read his message again to them.  He does so and then is told to hide – both he and Jeremiah because they know repercussions for an unhappy message are severe.

A page is sent for to read the scroll to the king.  As he reads it, the king (Zedekiah) burns it in the fire piece by piece in arrogant defiance of its truth.

God is not finished yet, though.  God has Jeremiah write it down again!  Can you even imagine?  Jeremiah is already banned from the temple.  He is already in hiding for his life.  He has already obeyed and all the people, all the princes, and the king have all heard the true words for themselves.  Still – God says it again.  Jeremiah – write another scroll.  (36:28)  This one has even more reasons for their dire need to repent – but as the prophecy said, “they would not hear.” (36:33) and “But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.” (37:2)

Still, the king asked for prayer.  When Jeremiah went to God, he gives him yet more bad news to take back to the king.  Hey, king!  Even if you win the battle, the wounded men will rise up and burn down your city!

For this, Jeremiah is put in prison.  (37:15)  He stays until the king inquires again of God.  At that point Jeremiah simply asks, “What have I done to your your servants or this people that you have put me in prison?”  (37:18)

Here’s Jeremiah’s chance to speak niceties and be politically correct.  Here’s his chance to stop all the doom and gloom and pretend favor to save his own skin.  Nope.  Not this guy!

Jeremiah is surrendered to say only that which God has truly spoken.  (38:2-6)

The people accuse Jeremiah of being a traitor; a deserter; a troublemaker for them – just the opposite of what he actually was!  He was seeking their good by warning that if they would not repent these things would indeed happen!

Jeremiah was rescued by a stranger and delivered by God only to be sent back to the king and repeat his warnings AGAIN!

Doesn’t this guy ever learn?  They’re going to kill you, Jeremiah!  No.  He is not worried about his own life.  He is surrendered to God’s will and speaking Gods true words.

The king sends for Jeremiah again – this time privately.  Jeremiah, again warns him.  (38:17-18)

Does the king listen?  He asked for Jeremiah’s word from God, yet he is not willing to heed it.  (38:19-23)

He held Jeremiah to a vow of secrecy that they’d even spoken.  He did not repent, obey, or trust God.  In the next chapter, God judges his own people.  In the next chapter, Jeremiah 39, King Zedekiah is bound, his eyes are plucked out, his city walls are broken, and it was burned down.  Jeremiah and the man who rescued him were delivered.  (38:15-18)

Herein we find the results of trusting in the Lord as well as the consequences of trusting in men.

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knowing
In the most famous sermon Jesus – or anyone – ever preached, we find some very uncomfortable things.  Love for our enemies, the guilt of lust, and the implication that followers have great responsibilities to pray, fast, and love others genuinely are just a few things he taught here.

There is a section of the Sermon on the Mount that has been nagging my heart for quite a while now, though.  It is Matthew 7:21-23.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (emphasis mine)

This section is subtitled, “I Never Knew You.”

I have thought and thought and thought about those words.  I have considered what they mean personally as well as what they would mean should Jesus say them to me.  Let me just begin on a human level.

There are many people in life whom we meet, and yet, do not really ever know.  We can be acquainted with literally hundreds or even thousands of people whom we truly do not know from Adam.  We may know a few facts or a few details about a person but knowing them – that’s something very different.  Knowing a person involves more than mere knowledge of a few likes and dislikes.  Knowing a person is a lifelong process of mutual, willing revelation and discovery.

As I considered this, my heart hurt.  I thought of many people who I wanted to know and who I thought would want to know me.  I thought of many times where I sought to reveal and discover only to be held at a distance and avoided.  I thought of what it feels like for two people to come to a place where they realize they’ve known one another’s names for a dozen years and still do not know the first things about who the other even is at all.  I thought of the brokenness, the pain, and the loss that one feels when that situation becomes their reality.

And then I thought of Christ.  I thought of how Christ came down for the expressed purpose of knowing us and being known by us.  I thought of Christ and his commission to his disciples.  I thought about how He came and then he sent those he knew best to make him known.  But listen to what He tells them:

“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” ~Matthew 10:11-14

When Jesus sent his followers out, he did so, in his great mercy, for the purpose of making himself known.  He did so with a warning.  The warning to those men was that if they were not received or listened to, they must leave.

In these two passages we find a great reciprocating similarity.  In this latter one, he tells his ambassadors that if they find themselves in a place where they are not received or listened to regarding his truthful words, that they must not continue in that place.  Jesus instructs them not merely to leave, but to make it very clear that they are leaving for a reason and with an act of open rebuke.

On the converse, when these same kind of people pretend to be following him, using his rhetoric, and even doing good works in his name, a time will come when he will no longer be sending men to teach them the truth.  Instead, he will tell them plainly, I never knew you.  And just as he instructed his followers to leave them, he will now command them to leave him.

Jesus Christ is not in the business of superficial pretense and external religion.  He is not worried about how good a person or a group of people look doing outward works in his Name.  Jesus Christ is most concerned with two things – knowing his people and his people knowing him.  That’s the goal he sends his disciples out to accomplish.  It is the purpose he came to earth for.  That is why he gave only two commands – love God and love others.

Jesus knew doing the one would result in doing the other – genuinely, not falsely.  If we know and love God truly, we will know and love others truly.

There is great pain involved in loving people who refuse to be known.  Just ask Jesus.

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troll
I thought it would be fun if I wrote as Mom today since we are so close to Mother’s Day. I will share a part of what we read in school this morning.

This is an excerpt from a book of fairy tales. This particular story is about a very beautiful, poor peasant girl who came from nothing. She was given away in exchange for riches for her entire family. She was confined to a life of loneliness where she lived with a bear by day and a Prince whom she could never see for the darkness at night.

Finally, she disobeyed the Prince’s best advice and was able to cast light upon him rightly, but it resulted, as he had warned her, in much misery for them both.

They were separated for quite a time and after searching to the ends of the earth by the help of the four winds, she finally found him again.  Unfortunately, he was by then unwillingly engaged to be married to a troll princess whom he did not love. The troll princess poisoned him each night and caused him to go into a deep slumber wherein he could not see or hear his love who has so painstakingly come to him. There are Christians who are also imprisoned under her spells who can see and hear his love trying desperately to wake him and they manage to secretly inform him after his beloved is removed by the deceitful troll princess.

He challenges the troll princess to clean his shirt because he knows she cannot do it.  His beloved can because she alone knows the secret of how to make the shirt as white as freshly fallen snow.

That is the context of the following:

“ ‘I have a fine shirt which I want to wear as my wedding shirt, but three drops of tallow have got upon it which I want to have washed off, and I have vowed to marry no one but the woman who is able to do it. If she cannot do that, she is not worth having.’

Well, that was a very small matter, they thought, and agreed to do it. The Princess with the long nose began to wash as well as she could, but, the more she washed and rubbed, the larger the spots grew. ‘Ah! You can’t wash at all,’ said the old troll-hag, who was her mother. ‘Give it to me.’ But she too had not had the shirt very long in her hands before it looked worse still, and, the more she washed it and rubbed it, the larger and blacker grew the spots.

So the other trolls had to come and wash, but, the more they did, the blacker and uglier grew the shirt, until at length it was as black as if it had been up the chimney. ‘Oh,’ cried the Prince, ‘not one of you is good for anything at all! There is a beggar girl sitting outside the window, and I’ll be bound that she can wash better than any of you! Come in, you girl, there!’ he cried. ‘Oh! I don’t know, ‘ she said; ‘but I will try.’ And no sooner had she taken the shirt and dipped it in the water than it was white as driven snow, and even whiter than that. ‘I will marry you,’ said the Prince.’

Then the old troll-hag flew into such a rage that she burst, and the Princess with the long nose and all the little trolls must have burst too, for they have never been heard of since. The Prince and his bride set free all the Christian folk who were imprisoned there, and took away with them all the gold and silver that they could carry, and moved far away from the castle which lay east of the sun and west of the moon.” – East of the Sun and West of the Moon, The Blue Fairy Book

Herein, we find forgiveness, rescue, and redemption because Christians recognized the injustice of manipulative isolation, forceful separation of kindred souls, and emotional bondage by misuse of power and they did something about it. It was the Christian bystanders that insisted on saving the righteous and punishing evil by the power of personally expensive, courageous love.

…and the moral of the story today, kids, is this:

Watching evil manipulate, control, deceive, and destroy goodness is not an option for Christians. Even if we are not directly involved, to not stand up for the truth and for righteousness in the face of wrongdoing is to participate in it. The end.

Love, Mom

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renew

I awoke yesterday with a scripture repeating in my mind.  It was not a verse I’d been studying or had even read recently, so I recognized it as the Lord’s voice.  The verse was 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

I studied out the passage and this is what I found:

Starting at the beginning of chapter four, Paul writes, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

Paul says “therefore” here because, in the preceding chapter he has just elaborated on the power of the Holy Spirit.  He has just given reason as to why he has not, will not, and that his readers should not give up hope.  He’s like, “Hey guys, we’ve all been given a ministry.  We’ve been delivered by the power of God.  He has given us life through His Spirit.  He gave us the job of spreading his gospel throughout the entire world!  The glory coming with His Spirit to us is more than enough to give us both the boldness and the freedom necessary to both carry on and carry out the ministry he has given to us.  We are being transformed into the image of Christ.

Therefore.  Therefore, because of this very reason, because we have this ministry by none other than God’s great and glorious mercy, we do not lose heart.  The reason we do not and will not give up is because we know the power and glory of the Spirit we have been given.

He goes on in chapter four verse 2 to say, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.  We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

Paul is not bragging.  He is not tooting his own horn.  He knows far better than to make any part of what God is doing about himself personally and we have the rest of the New Testament to prove as much.  So why does Paul say this?

Paul’s opponents were tampering with the gospel.  They were excluding people, hurting the witness of the church, and preaching a different gospel by both word and deed.  They only succeeded in doing so by first discrediting and maligning Paul himself in order to keep the others over whom they were trying to gain control from knowing and believing the truth.

These are the underhanded and disgraceful ways Paul is speaking of in verse two.  This is why Paul feels the need to commend himself – he is not bragging or trying to throw his weight around.  Paul is defending his God, his gospel, and the truth in this statement.  Further proof of this is in verse five, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake.”  

He’s saying, “Hey.  This is not about us, guys.  This is about God’s glory and we are nothing more than His servants and your servants.  That’s the reason we are telling you this.

He goes on into a discourse about this great ministry of the Holy Spirit – the gospel! –  that they’ve all been given and he calls it a “treasure.”  A treasure in jars of clay (verse seven.)

We are merely clay.  He is the potter and we have the amazing and unbelievable privilege of carrying around this treasure that belongs solely to God and not to us personally.  You want to hear about us?  We’re afflicted in every way but, because of this treasure, we are not crushed.  We’re perplexed but, because of this treasure, we are not driven to despair.  We’re persecuted but, because of this treasure, we are not forsaken.  We’re struck down but, because of this treasure, we are not destroyed.  We always carry the death of Christ.  “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is a work in us, but life in you.”  ~2 Corinthians 4:11-12

All of these things are happening to us in these underhanded and disgraceful ways, these afflictions, this persecution, being perplexed, carrying our crosses, all of these things happening to us are for you.  Death is working out through our lives for the sake of life to work out in yours!

“For it is all for your sake so that as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” ~2 Corinthians 4:15

As the gospel spread by our affliction and suffering proving a real life example of Christ on earth, more people get saved, we are more thankful despite the suffering and affliction because God’s glory is being put on display through us – his treasure through earthen, broken vessels of mere clay.

And here’s God’s word to me as I lay in bed listening to the verse repeat, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” ~Corinthians 4:16

The context of the verse I was given by the Spirit when I awoke was courage and patience in many trials.  Death is at work in us, but, through it, life in you.  My dying to self and my willingness to accept those afflictions and courageously and patiently bear up under them results in life for others – just how Jesus’ death and resurrection made new life possible for me.

Amen and amen.  God give us the strength and the wisdom to recognize your Spirit and your good and perfect plan for us in the trials and afflictions we suffer for your name’s sake.  Save, Lord.  Save many through them.  Give us grace, courage, and patience to endure that you might be glorified.  Amen.

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fire

Isaiah was sent as a prophet to God’s people.  What he saw was a time of great difficulty wherein God’s people would be exiled and surrounded by – even participating in – idolatry.

Fortunately, Isaiah sees the solution, too.  In chapter 42, Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah.  Great hope is given here including Christ’s sure and coming justice, his strength, his might, his righteousness, and his mercy for his people.

With so many great and glorious promises given for the good of God’s people, a great joy and expectation was given to them.  What a beautiful gift this was going to be for a people oppressed!  What a merciful God to send such a servant to them!  What a glorious display of his great love and care for them particularly!

Verses 1-17 paint a picture of great hope in a mighty God.   Verses 18-25 remind us of the reason He had to come.

18 Hear, you deaf,
    and look, you blind, that you may see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
    or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
    or blind as the servant of the Lord?
20 He sees many things, but does not observe them;
    his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21 The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted;
    they are all of them trapped in holes
    and hidden in prisons;
they have become plunder with none to rescue,
    spoil with none to say, “Restore!”
23 Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?
24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
    in whose ways they would not walk,
    and whose law they would not obey?
25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.

These verses reveal the tragic disobedience and obstinance of the unbelieving Jews.  These are none other than God’s specially chosen people.  If anyone should have recognized His Grace, it was these guys, but, as we know, “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him.”  How sad to be the ones who reject such a glorious gift.

Isaiah begins this portion by commanding the rebels to do the impossible.  Deaf men cannot hear and blind men cannot see, yet, it is just that which he commands them to do.  Just when we think he’s speaking to the Gentiles, Isaiah makes sure we know that, no, these are my very own people; my own men who are rejecting my greatest gift – their own Savior.

Because of their true rejection of God’s chosen servant to them and because of their willful blindness and deafness, Isaiah elaborates on God’s pleasure in executing justice upon them.  They have become plunder.  There is no more anyone crying out for restoration.  (Isaiah 42:22)

Just there the prophet stops.  He pauses in his discourse and he says, who’s listening to me?  Is anybody out there?  I’m telling you the truth.  This is coming.  For the sake of your future, who is listening?  (Isaiah 42:23)

“Those who are not humbled by less judgments must expect greater; for when God judges he will overcome.” Matthew Henry

Isaiah goes on to remind them of who it was that brought affliction and exile upon them.  It was not their enemies.  It was the Lord whom they had forsaken and failed to obey.  (Isaiah 42:24)

So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. ~Isaiah 42:45

Even the harsh and horrible judgments that the Lord placed upon his own people did not suffice to stop their sin.  Everything around these guys is literally burning down to the ground by the very hand of God.  They themselves were on fire.  Judgment was ablaze in their houses and every house in their neighborhood, yet they did not understand.  They did not take it to heart.

This is truly amazing.  But not when you remember that blind men really cannot see and deaf men really cannot hear.

If ever there was a people in need of redemption, these are they.  We are they.  Thank God there’s another chapter.

Most Merciful God, may the fire you set upon us not be the fire of judgement and wrath.  Though we deserve nothing but your anger and punishment for our rebellion and pride, please have mercy on us.  Daddy, please save us from the sin we have willfully and arrogantly committed daily against you and our brothers and sisters.  Let the fire you set upon us be the fire of repentance.  Let the fire you set upon us be the fire of your Holy Spirit, of forgiveness, of unity, of mercy.  Let the fire you set upon us be the fire of redeeming grace.  No one has ever needed redemption as desperately as we do today.  Have mercy on us, Father, that we may have mercy on one another.  Set your house ablaze with the fire of love, of kindness, of justice, of truth.  Set your house on fire with Holy Spirit revival even today, Lord.  In Christ’s Holy and Powerful Name, Amen.

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