Sunday, June 22, 2008

Root Out of Dry Ground

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not. (Isa. 53:2-3)

Isaiah had already written of the glory and majesty of the future Kingdom, so this description of the future King must have seemed incongruous to those who would later read his words. And nearly three-thousand years later, I will admit that I am as amazed as they must have been. This picture of the Son of God on earth is so far removed from what He was in eternity past, and what He will be in eternity future, that it defies comparison.

Verse two says of Him that He would seem to be simply "a root out of dry ground"; His mother and "father," common folk, who added neither prestige to His station in life or beauty to His features. Isaiah tells us frankly that there would be no beauty in Him that would inspire anyone to desire Him. God, Who created all beauty, chose not to clothe Himself with it; and those who were impressed only with beauty were not impressed with Him. In fact, they hid their faces from Him. He was not only "rejected," but worse, "despised." No wonder He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." No one ever lived Who deserved more acceptance than He, yet no one experienced more rejection. (Jno.1:11).

Verse eight asks, "Who shall declare his generation?" What could come of such a plain looking, despised, and rejected Man? Well, for one thing, says Isaiah, God would one day see "the travail of His soul" on Calvary, and be satisfied. So much so that it would result in the justification of many (v.11).

One day, the world will discover that the One Who appeared to be only "a root out of dry ground" was, in reality, "the Root of David" (Rev.5:5). And on that day when He returns King of kings and Lord of lords, I, who am one of those justified ones, shall see His face, and make no mistake; to me it will be beautiful.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't Forget the Hole

“[L]ook unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” (Isa.51:1b)

Tracing one’s family tree has become a popular activity, and it can be very time consuming and even expensive, if taken seriously enough. If it is used to validate who we are now, it seems of little use; but if it serves to remind us that we are a chapter in a long story of survival, meant to play our part in the plan of God, then it can be illuminating. Though, as anyone who has undertaken a genealogical search will tell you, it’s usually a mixed bag, with some noteworthy entries, and some you would just as soon pass over!

Isaiah reminds Israel in this chapter of their rich spiritual heritage, going all the way back to father Abraham and his wife Sarah (v.2). Nor should they forget, he continued, the LORD of hosts had put His words in their mouths and covered them in the shadow of His hand (v.15-16). They could look back on a long history of God’s provision and protection.

At the same time, Isaiah strikes a needed balance by cautioning them not just to look back as far as the Patriarchs, but to squint their eyes till they could see all the way back to “the hole of the pit” they had been dug from. They may rightly claim a rich heritage, but, at the end of the day, they still came from a hole in the ground! Even Moses told them:

“The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you…” (Deut.7:7).

In other words, God loved them, simply because He loved them. They were not chosen because they were special; they were special because they were chosen.
And it is the same way with you and me. We, too, have a rich spiritual heritage. We come from a long line of great saints, martyrs, theologians, and commonplace heroes, who, as Hebrews says, make up a “great cloud of witnesses.” Their God is our God, and we need not cower before any man. But, again like Israel, we have this wonderful heritage, and this great salvation, not because we were worthy, but because of the mercy of God. You and I, my Christian friend, were in a pit every bit as deep and dark as the nation of Israel was.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead I sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) (Eph.2:4-5)

Look back with both pride and humility. Remember your heritage; but don’t forget the hole.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Tongue of the Learned

"The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary..." (Isa.50:4a)

A good mind is a gift from God, but the ability to communicate well is a learned trait. Both carry with them an awesome responsibility. If, as the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword, only a fool would take this verbal advantage lightly. I see two simple but important guidelines for us in this verse from Isaiah.

First, it is important to realize that words are like tomatoes; they can be gotten most any time, but they're much better "in season." Truth is always truth, but it isn't always pertinent. Giving accurate, but dismal, cancer statistics to a woman waiting on the results of a biopsy could hardly be considered "a word fitly spoken" (Prov.25:11). Even sharing insight you may feel God has given you on spiritual matters must fall under the same guideline. For as Paul attests in 1 Corinthians 3:2, some "are not able to bear it." A word of edification or encouragement shared at the proper time, place, and situation, however, can be meat to a hungry soul and a balm to "him that is weary." Which leads me to the second guideline.

In the final analysis, what we say should ease burdens, not add to them. This is not to say that reproof and instruction are never necessary or appropriate. On the contrary, helping a friend weighed down with unconfessed sin find a place of forgiveness, lifts the heaviest of all burdens. But it is easy to make a hobby of this, if we’re not careful, so that every real (or supposed) lapse of faith is pounced on with eloquent pseudo-piety. This helps no one and is a major waste of a good vocabulary!

I love words—passionately. It is one of the ways God has chosen to reveal Himself to us, along with His Creation and Jesus Christ. In fact, it just happens to be one of His names (John 1). We should do all we can to learn to speak well, because we have Someone so wonderful to speak of. To the end, says Isaiah, that we may “speak a word in season to him that is weary.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Treasures of Darkness

"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel." (Isa.45:3)

Those dark times...had any lately? We all have them. Usually it is circumstances that open these floodgates of misery—sickness, bereavement, failure, disappointment, etc. However, one of the "beauties" of this phenomenon is its self-generating ability. There is not always a justifiable motivation. It can exist without rhyme, reason, or reality, having what would seem to be a life of its own. What we make of these times is the same choice we are given with any of life’s distresses: we can ignore them, much as a Christian Science advocate might seek to deny the existence of sickness; we can endure them, making sure those around us are conscious of what we're going through; or we can choose to go treasure hunting.

God says there is a treasure somewhere in our darknesses, "hidden riches" in some secret place. A place, He says, where one can find who God really is and realize that you and He are on a first-name basis. This is not the only verse that tells us to look for God in the darkness. You will find it in Exodus 20:21, and again in 2 Chronicles 6:1, where we read, The LORD hath said that he would dwell in the thick darkness." This may seem to be a contradiction for the God who is Light, but the One who would "enlighten my darkness" (Psl.18:28), must first enter into it.

I read once that the man with no experience in the dark has nothing to communicate in the light; and no doubt this is true, for Jesus said, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light" (Matt.10:27). Obviously, God did not mean for us to live our lives in the dark times, or He would have left Elijah under the juniper tree (1 Kings 19) and Jonah under the gourd (Jonah 4). To linger in the darkness longer than God intended, is to show we have learned nothing.
When we allow God to invade our dark times, we discover the "deep things” (Job 12:22a)—the hidden treasures of darkness.


I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!

— Robert Browning Hamilton

Friday, June 13, 2008


"Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing..." (Isa.43:18-19a)

Here I come again, warning against making too much of the past. This time with the prophet Isaiah. Of course, ignoring it completely will make us susceptible to the seductive trap of removing "ancient land marks" (Prov. 22:28), reducing life to a clumsy exercise of trial and error. But it is also true that the past (even if it was painful) can become a comfort zone, a measuring rod for everything that happens today. And, more importantly, romanticizing experiences in the past can end up trivializing what God is doing in the present.

It would be easy for my husband and me to reminisce our way through our declining years, dwelling on great victories we have seen in our own and others’ lives, recalling things we may have accomplished for the Lord. But if those memories prevent us from allowing God to do "a new thing" in our lives today, then those precious memories become roadblocks in our (on going) Christian journey.

God doesn't mean for us to just forget about what we have seen Him do, and cease to praise Him for His past goodness, one of Israel's great sins. But He does say in Isaiah 42:9, "Behold, the former things are come to pass [not to stay!] and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them."

I wonder; is God trying to tell you some "new things?" But are you so hung-up in the past that you just can't get there? In that case, you are in danger of stagnating and finally drying up. And what a shame to dry up spiritually when God has said in the latter half of Isaiah 43:19 that part of the "new thing" He has planned for you is "a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."

God will not do a new thing in our lives if we’re always looking for the old things.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Just Call Him "LORD"

"I am the LORD: that is my name…” (Isa.42:8a)

God has many names, but, according this verse, this is the one He prefers. Probably because, if spoken in sincerity, it indicates not only a personal relationship with Him, but an acknowledgment of chosen obedience to Him. Romans 10 tells us that our confession of Him in salvation should include recognition of His Lordship (10:9). Salvation is not just an exchange of our sins for His righteousness; it's a surrender of our will to His.

My husband sometimes compares the Lordship of Christ in our lives to a woman's promise at the marriage altar to love, honor, and obey her husband (for those who even do that anymore). She may not fulfill her commitment at all times, but that does not nullify the vow she made. In the same way, I took Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord many years ago, and that sealed forever our relationship as Father and child. Through the years, I have not always lived up to that commitment, and that has altered our fellowship from time to time; but it has never once put our relationship in jeopardy.

Someone or something is always going to have ultimate control in our lives. Even those who pride themselves as always playing by their own rules got those rules from someone else. Many people who think they are in the driver's seat, are really being maneuvered by peer or media pressure. But one way of the other, a life that is not under the control of God is in a state of futile rebellion against Omnipotence. According to Philippians 2:9-11 and Romans 14:11, eventually every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD. Personally, I have chosen to confess Him here and now as the LORD of Heaven and earth...and, more importantly, the LORD of me.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Strength Training

"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Isa.40:29-31)

Forgive my lengthy opening text, but we needed it. There is something in these verses for young and old alike. As it says, even the young and most fit among us are not immune from periods of sheer exhaustion. But there is more than one kind of strength, and in today's world, it appears to me that moral strength can wane before physical strength has petered out, and with far greater consequences.

When Joseph outran Potiphar's seductive wife (Gen.39), it was not physical strength that gave him the edge, but moral muscle. On the other hand, Samson had enough stamina to slay a thousand men with the "jawbone of an ass" (Judg.15:15); but he didn't have enough moral fortitude to withstand the pressure of a whining woman. Moral strength can pick up when physical potency is running low to carry one beyond what seems humanly possible. But when moral integrity has been allowed to grow flabby, no amount of physical vitality can take up the slack. That's why, spiritually speaking, it is possible, as the verse says, for older people to walk, run, and even "mount up with wings as eagles," when young folks around them have grown weary, become faint, and fallen.

The secret to both physical and moral stamina is "strength training," something widely touted in today's body-conscious society. We should strengthen our bodies, by all means, but if we're more faithful to physical exercise than Biblical exhortation, it is easy to see which part of our lives will be stronger. And make no mistake; there are times when no amount of strong will and determination will win the victory. Only those who are spiritually fit can hope to overcome; and only those with well developed moral muscle will be spiritually fit.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"My Days" Kind of People

"Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days." (Isa.39:8)

What was this "word of the Lord" that Hezekiah considered as being so "good?" Would you believe the loss of all his possessions and the castration of all his sons (v.6-7)? It would appear, Hezekiah, considered one of Israel's good kings, was somehow gratified by Isaiah's dire prediction of the future, on the basis that when these things came to pass, he would be dead and gone. All that mattered to him was that there be "peace and truth" in his own days. Hezekiah was a prime example of a "my days" kind of person.

The king had brought all these pronouncements upon himself (and his children) by simply seeking to glorify God by showing and telling the heathen how good He had been to him (v.2). At least, that is what he would have said was his motive. You and I, however, might be tempted to suspect pride could be involved here, as well; because, to the heathen, the one who looked good here (and prime for pilfering) was not God, but Hezekiah. No doubt, this is the kind of thing Jesus had in mind when He admonished: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matt.7:6). Practically speaking, it is easy to make the blessings of God appear to be an end in themselves, giving our children and others the idea that they are more to be desired than God Himself. This makes them—and us—easy prey for this heathen, materialistic world.

I have said that it is important to "live in the moment”; and that's very true. But this does not mean we should be unaware of the past and inattentive to the future. Sad to say, some people's knowledge of history begins with the day they were born, and their perspective for the future ends with the day of their death. Sometimes “peace” for the future of our children means war today, and insuring that “truth” persists in the next generation may mean that time and energy we would claim for ourselves must be invested in the lives of the young. Because, if we, like Hezekiah, live only for “our days,” our children may one day curse them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blessing or Curse: Which?

"Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap." (Psl.69:22)

Something given for our welfare, says David, is capable of becoming, instead, a pernicious trap. In this Psalm, he reminds God of the wrongs done to him by his enemies then suggests ways the Almighty might employ to avenge him. And this is his first recommendation: "Let his table become a snare to him." Let his means of sustenance become a means of sabotage. Who would deny that food and/or drink have been the downfall of more than one person? There are those whose health has been impaired, whose lives have been cut short, or even ruined, by either what they have eaten or drunk or how much they have consumed.

Other things come to mind, as well, that fall into the category of blessings capable of morphing into curses. For instance, the gift of sex can be so twisted and abused that all its intimate beauty is turned into salacious ugliness. Not only that, friends who should be a joy and help to us can become tools of the devil to lead us astray from God. Then there is government, that which God surely meant for our welfare, but which has, unfortunately, morphed into a body of all-knowing, intrusive “benefactors.” And, contrary to what you may think, service to God can be a snare, if it becomes a substitute for fellowship with Him, since it can leave one especially unsuspecting of sin.

These were only the first four that came to mind immediately. There are many others you could add to the list, now that I've gotten you to thinking; which, incidentally, is what I meant to do. Ask God to show you if there is a blessing in your own life in danger of becoming a curse. It is such a destructive possibility that David chose to wish it upon his worst enemies.

Blessings and curses sometimes dress alike; so look deeper.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Creator of Opposites

"The north and the south thou hast created them..." (Psl.89:12a)

God did not merely decide what represented north and south; He actually created them. They did not exist until He brought them into being. As far as our Earth is concerned, north and south (and especially north) are the determinants of east and west. The latter two are variables. That’s why there is no West or East Pole.

The logo for our son Andrew's foundation, Center for Cultural Leadership, emphasizes the premise that the only direction essential to our world is God's North. It's the only perspective that makes the other three true. Man, a fallen creature, is prone to live his life east to west, from a situational perspective, with the edges of his moral and ethical thinking becoming blurred and indistinct and circular. ("I'm right because I think like the majority; but the majority is only right because it thinks like me...blah, blah, blah.") But God created north and south—opposites—and they are poles apart. He has also created other opposites. Up is not down; black is not white; true is not false; and evil is not good. God has a word for those who reason and judge from this flawed perspective: woe. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa.5:20). And that is exactly what someone who chooses to ignore God's directives and His directions can expect to experience…woe.

The sincere child of God will find the Truth as surely as a compass finds the true north.

Monday, June 2, 2008

First-Hand Faith

"The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all here alive this day." (Deut.5:3)

In striving to understand a text in the light of its historical setting, we are tempted to just leave it there. There are at least two dangers in this, I think. First, there are certain principles and standards of behavior that time and culture have no bearing upon. Second, there are general promises (whether conditional or unconditional) which are made to people of God, in whatever age. One thing can be said of the Word of God: from the time it was written until this very day, whether speaking directly to us or is relevant.

When you read great Christian biographies, as I have, you soon discover that although their accomplishments may have been diverse, and the obstacles they overcame were varied, the common denominator in every case was the reality of God within a man or woman. And this is the constant that spans generations.

In our text, Moses tells this second generation of Israelites that the covenant God made with their fathers when they left Egypt was not made with them alone. On the contrary, he says, this covenant was made "with us, even us, who are all here alive this day." He was concerned that they understand the significance of God's promises in their own personal lives. We like to sing, "Faith of Our Fathers"; but, understand this: if those fathers had not made the Faith of their fathers, their own, there would have been none to pass along to us. The seed of faith (Matt.17:20)—especially, the Faith—can only be planted. After that, it must be individually germinated and be cultivated before it can, in turn, be propagated. Just because one has been blessed with a "goodly heritage" (Psl.16:6 ) does not mean he or she is obliged to accept it or act upon it.

Religion may be second-hand, but Bible Faith comes first-hand...or not at all.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lookin' Good, Kid!

"Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments...Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." (Deut.4:5-6)

We all like to look good and appear smarter than we actually are. For instance, when someone asks if I've lost weight when I wear a certain outfit, you can bet your life you'll be seeing me in that outfit a lot! And, if I relate something I've just seen or read that causes those around me to snap to attention, don't be surprised if the next group I'm with hears the same bit of information.

God, who created human nature, obviously knew of our innate desire for appreciation when He told the Israelites that if they would live by His statutes and judgments, the heathen nations around them would consider them wise. After all, the wisdom of God is so far superior than man's that 1 Corinthians 2:25 says even His foolishness is wiser than their "great" understanding. (I love that!) The longer I pour over the pages of this amazing Book, and allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate it for me, the more I am convinced that every bit of wisdom needed for life is found within it. Especially after I read what men and women have tried to offer in its place. The self-help, self-exalting books that line the shelves of bookstores are only man's feeble effort to "de-Christianize" many of the principles found in the Word of God, to make them more palatable to so-called "New-Agers" (Read: “old pagans”).

You and I, on the other hand, can assimilate the very mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16) by reading (and accepting) His living, breathing Words. The wisdom that framed the universe and set our world in motion, may lie within your reach at this very moment. You have only to open and read. And, who knows, they may soon be saying of you, "Surely this is a wise and understanding... woman!"