Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The structural arrangement of the Bible is not commonly discussed, except in the most scholarly of venues; but there is oneunfortunate consequence which must be diligently avoided: modern readers have a tendency to treat each book as a discrete story, more like an anthology rather than chapters within one narrative. This causes us to miss the simultaneous occurrence of some key events in God’s history with His people. The ministry of the Old Testament  prophets is a good example. In the previous post, for instance, we saw Isaiah speaking the Word of God to King Hezekiah; but that was only one of four kings during whose reigns he served The Lord (Ussiah, Jotham, and Ahaz came before), and other biblical prophets  – Amos, Hosea, and Micah – were his contemporaries. These facts make the stubbornness of the people, their refusal to repent, all the more damning…they could not claim ignorance, the news was on every channel!

The Book of Isaiah is by far the longest and most extensive passage of prophecy we have in Scripture, and the most revealing of Jesus. I have seen some commentators call this book “the Gospel of Isaiah”, so accurate are the details about the coming Messiah. Yet about the man himself we see very few details. The title above is used nearly every time he is introduced; this sparse answer to the questions, “Who are you, what is your job, where did you come from?” is apparently all the information we need; much like John the Baptist, who quotes this prophet when asked to identify himself, Isaiah is content to be nothing more than –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”

So many preachers today (in my opinion) make themselves the center of attention. I live in Houston, Texas: home to three of the ten largest “mega” churches in this country, and I can tell you far more about their senior pastors than any of their ministries; their names and photographs are on all the billboards and websites (often with a link to their newest books), but sometimes you have to scroll around or read a little to find the name of Jesus…and I have to wonder at that. Isaiah and the other prophets lived to speak God’s words to God’s people, or anyone else who would listen, for that matter; it was not in the least about themselves – how far we have strayed in these days!

In an earlier Challenge post, I referenced the fact that at times I have been guilty of “lightly” reading the Scriptures, i.e. turning the pages but only skimming the text; not really paying attention to passages (or books, in some cases) that did not seem relevant to me. As I also said, we do ourselves a gave injustice when we undervalue the Word of God.

Another example I have recently unearthed regards the parallel books of Kings and Chronicles (and portions from several of the prophets), which detail the history of the twin nations of Israel and Judah, following the division which arises from the sins of God’s people, in general, and King Solomon in particular. Solomon prayed for and received an enormous gift of wisdom, to lead the people and prosper as their king, as well as carrying out the commission of building the Temple. Yet, he married incessantly and politically, drawing wives from all surrounding nations (in conflict with God’s commandments) and as a consequence being led to compromise his worship, going after other gods as the behest of his wives.

Once the kingdom has divided, it seems the decline into unrepentant sin becomes irreversible…so much that the northern Kingdom is carried away into captivity, and Judah is attacked and threatened repeatedly; King Ahaz goes so far as to begin worshiping the gods of his enemies, in an attempt to fend off disaster. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) He goes so far off the plan of God that his own subjects cannot bring themselves to bury him with the kings of old when he dies; instead he rests in the tombs with the common people, and the throne passes to his son, Hezekiah.

According to the account in 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah wastes no time putting things right. He orders the Temple to be cleansed and re-consecrated; he finds priests and Levites worthy to serve before the Lord; and he restores sacrificial worship, making sin offerings and burnt offerings on behalf of the people; once again Passover is observed, which (according to the story) had not taken place since the time of Solomon, a span of twelve generations. I cannot imagine how they could let such an important practice lapse…or can I? Perhaps I have been equally negligent in some aspect of my own worship, and have suffered an equal decline? Have I fallen out of fellowship with other believers, or spent insufficient time reading and studying the Bible, or allowed my prayer life to grow stale? Perhaps you have as well?

The good news, both for us and for Hezekiah, is that we serve a God of second chances; and third chances; and thirty-third chances, if necessary. The title of this post appears 8 times in Scripture, and every time Hezekiah prays to God, he is answered with something positive: rescue from his enemies, forgiveness for his people, even a reprieve from death. Likewise, God yearns that we would pray to Him, call on His name in our distress, and trust that He will save us, bless us, preserve us. The way God treated with His people in the Old Testament is the same way He will treat with us…we know this to be true, because He is the same…yesterday, today, and forever, AMEN!

There is a great amount of pop-culture hoo-hah surrounding angels…there are movies, books, TV shows, and an infinite universe of knick-knacks, statuettes, posters, wall hangings, etc. A Google search for “angels” returns hundreds upon hundreds of images of female figures with soft faces, pale skin, flowing white or pastel gowns…and, of course, delicate white wings. I wonder sometimes where the artists received their inspiration? Because Biblical angels don’t seem to bear any resemblance to these icons.

The creatures known as angels are depicted as warriors, battling on behalf of the people of God (see Elisha’s revealed vision in 2 Kings); or lone executors of God’s will (the Angel of Death, as seen in the final plague in Egypt, and as a reprimand to David for his arrogance in ordering an unauthorized census); or as worshipers in the courts of heaven, praising God night and day. Some others serve as messengers, bringing the Word of God to Balaam, sitting on his donkey; to the shepherds outside Bethlehem one starry night; to the women at an empty tomb on Sunday morning, to name just a few.

The Christian canon of Scripture gives proper names to only two beings described as “angels” – Michael and Gabriel. Both appear in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament; Michael, (a warrior) is named in Jude and Revelation, while Gabriel (a messenger) famously delivers the news of the coming birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, and of Jesus to the virgin Mary. (I do not include the naming of “Lucifer” in Isaiah, as this word appears only that one time, and in context is as likely to refer to the king of Babylon as any other person; nor do I include “Raphael”, listed in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. There are also extra-Biblical lists of angels, but I am not qualified to discuss this material, so I won’t – I mention it only in an effort to be complete.)

I feel that sometimes modern believers allow themselves to be distracted by these vague, modern, decidedly romanticized ideas about angels – watching over us as guardians; interceding for us by carrying our prayers to heaven; intervening in the affairs of humans to prevent “bad things” from happening. While God certainly could use them for some of these purposes (and probably does at certain times), they are only another tool at His disposal. These beings, when they appear in Scripture, consistently discourage and actively prevent any adoration of themselves, redirecting it instead to the only One who is worthy. Maybe we would be better served to pay a little less attention to the messengers, and a little more to the message, and the Author?

In Genesis, the book of Beginnings, we see the continuing development of the covenant between God and Abraham, Issac, and Jacob; in each generation, the promises made by God to the father are repeated, renewed, and refined for the son, in the form of a blessing at the end of each father’s life. Traditionally, the father’s blessing would confer favor to the eldest son above any younger brothers – yet God remains sovereign in the affairs of humans, and will overrule our conventions for His purposes, despite what we think or do about it – let’s look at the record.

When Abraham tried to provide his own heir by lying with Hagar and fathering Ishmael, God superseded him by giving Issac to Sarah; Abraham recognized this by sending the older boy away and placing his blessing upon the younger. In his turn, Issac fathered twins, Esau and Jacob; Esau was the firstborn, but even in the womb the Lord had promised that Jacob would inherit the promise; this came to pass when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, and then it was sealed when Rebekah assisted Jacob in deceiving Issac, so that he received his father’s blessing – just as God intended.

When Jacob, now renamed Israel, came to the end of his life and prepared to pronounce his blessing upon his sons, the same pattern repeats itself, with one unique and significant exception – there are two sets of blessings delivered, foretelling the two nations which would arise later. In Gen 48, Jacob calls Joseph, his favorite son, to his side to make his dying request, that he not be buried in Egypt, but returned to the land of Canaan.  He then blesses Joseph’s sons, Manasseh (the elder) and Ephraim (the younger), even before blessing his own sons (see Gen 49, and notice that the three oldest are likewise passed over in favor of Judah, from whom our Savior Jesus is promised), crossing his arms to place his right hand upon the head of Ephraim when he does so. Joseph tried to switch the blessings, believing that his older son should receive the greater promise, but Jacob demurred, insisting that he knew what he was doing; this was obviously so, for in fact the descendants of Ephraim became the kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while the sons of Judah ruled over the southern Kingdom, following the line of David. In all the acts of men, we must remember that God has see the end from the beginning, and His will shall always prevail – if you ever wonder what the “will of God” was in any historical event, just look at what happened…you will see exactly that which God intended.

Cain rose up…

Posted: April 3, 2013 in A to Z Challenge
Tags: , , , ,

Many times in the Old Testament, characters and themes are introduced with little fanfare, and often dispatched just as quickly; the “trick” is to discern the meaning inherent in even these briefest of encounters. We see one such example in Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, who appears and is gone in less than 20 verses. Yet, there is a wealth of truth revealed in this scant space – let us examine this together.

Some context: Genesis 3 ends with the “first family” being driven from Eden after their Fall into the knowledge of sin and death. Chapter 4 begins with the birth of their son Cain, whose name can be translated as “Here he is”; perhaps Eve considered this child to be the fulfillment of the promise made by God in Gen 3:15 of a Seed, One to deliver them from their doom. He is quickly followed by his brother Abel (breath, something transitory, quickly dissipated…names have significant meaning in Hebrew) We fast forward to find them mature and working hard at their professions: Cain is a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd; at some point, they bring their respective offerings to God, and it is here that we find the lesson.

Scripture tells us that God accepted Abel’s offering, but Cain…not so much. We are not given any specific reasons for this, (there may be some clues in the description of their offerings) but I think it is more significant to examine the reaction that Cain has to God, and to his brother, and to then attempt to relate it to ourselves. This is, I believe, one of the primary purposes of Scripture – to reveal the nature of God to His creation, and then by this illumination, point to where we deviate from His design, that we may know best how to pray for His grace and forgiveness. (Sorry, I’ll get off the soapbox now.)

Cain reacts with anger and disappointment at the fact that his offering was not accepted; at no point does he inquire about the nature of his shortcoming – instead, it seems that he is offended; after all, he brought an offering…isn’t that enough? God isn’t having any of it, and calls Cain down for this rebellious self-righteousness, warning him where his attitude will lead him, but Cain cannot hear – he is too filled with his pride to listen…echoes of how God warned Adam and Eve about the consequences of thinking of themselves more than of God. Sure enough, Cain’s anger leads him to commit the first recorded murder, and suffer his own consequence, becoming an outcast among outcasts, and fathering a legacy based on vengeance for slights real and imagined (see Lamech in Gen 4:23-24).

So where is the parallel, what in us does this light of truth shine upon? What, indeed? I would venture that the vast majority of conflict among humanity is rooted in the notion that anything I offer to another should be deemed worthy because I gave it; any failure in this relationship is a reflection on them, not on me. The “problem” is that God is worthy to be worshiped, and anything offered to Him must be worthy of Him; He is the standard, not me. Cain had a problem with that, and it cost him. Guess what? I have a problem with that, too, and so do you; that problem is original sin – when Adam ate the fruit, and learned what right and wrong were, he took that knowledge with him out of the Garden, and passed it down to all of us, along with the overwhelming tendency to choose wrongly.

We are blessed that the same love that God showed when he promised Eve a Seed is still in effect; that Seed is Jesus, who became the new Adam, and overcame that first wrong choice – He chose to obey God, and every act He does is worthy of the Father. In Him, we can find acceptance; by submitting to His Lordship, we can find peace, and once again have intimate fellowship with God, in the cool of the evening.

In the book of Ruth, we meet two people listed in the genealogy of Jesus, as detailed in the first chapter of Matthew: Ruth and Boaz. Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, whose husband and sons had died while residing in Moab. This circumstance had forced Naomi to return home to her family in search of support, as the culture of the times held little hope for widows with no sons to care for them. Ruth had been married to one of Naomi’s sons, and in a rare display of loyalty, had left everything she had known and returned to Judah with Naomi.

Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s husband, and he was a wealthy landowner and respected member of the community. As a means of supporting herself and Naomi, Ruth asks for and receives permission to glean the fields belonging to Boaz, as provided by Jewish law. But Boaz, upon learning who this young woman is, and hearing her back story, makes extraordinary provisions for her well-being. When Ruth reports this to Naomi, she identifies Boaz as a relative, and “one of our redeemers.”  A redeemer was a person who had the right and obligation to re-purchase a parcel of land that had been sold away from a clan by its rightful owner. Naomi’s husband had indeed sold his land, and the deadline for repurchase, or redemption was drawing near. Naomi sends Ruth back to Boaz to request that he perform this duty on her behalf, which she does. Boaz tells her that he is blessed by her request, but there is another with a better claim, who must be appealed to first. He goes the next day to present this appeal.

When he learns of the opportunity to acquire the land, this other man is eager, but there is a catch: if he takes the land, he also must take the responsibility of caring for the deceased man’s women, including giving them an heir – passing all the privileges on, and sacrificing his own rights in the process. While the short term gain is inviting, he has no interest in getting a wife and losing his own fortune in the process. He defers the honor to Boaz, who promptly accepts, receiving both the land, which he really did not need or want, and Ruth, which was his entire desire; in a sense, he bought the land to gain the woman. They are married, and the child Ruth bears is Obed: father of Jesse, grandfather of Israel’s great King David.

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus relates a parable which mirrors this story:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

For Boaz, Ruth is the great treasure hidden in the field, and he gives up his inheritance – “all that he has” – to get her. So how does this apply to us? To Jesus, we are the treasure hidden in the field of the world. Our field was sold to Satan when Adam chose sin over obedience to God; but Jesus comes to repurchase the land, by paying the price for our sin with His blood; and in the process, we are redeemed. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and has no need of the earth, but as it says in Rev 5:9-10:

“Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer, paying the price to buy us back from sin and death; Boaz serves a type of Jesus, an example to aid in our understanding of the eternal plan of God to save His people. Blessed are we to be covered by the blood of the Lamb!

Most of us are  familiar with this guy: according to the bible, he and his wife Eve were the prototypes for the human race, created by God in His image and His likeness (and yes, those are two different things – one speaks to appearance, the other to characteristics, but that is a topic for another time).  Sometimes Christians can be harsh and judgmental towards this “first couple”, which is a shame; in truth we are not really very different, and certainly not any better!

The bible tells us that from the very beginning, God’s plan was that His creatures were integral elements of His plan; as we read the first two chapters of Genesis we see that Adam and Eve lived together in this perfect world, with all their physical needs met; their roles and purposes established; and enjoying the companionship of their Creator. So what went wrong? Adam did, that’s all…he did what came naturally to him, even though he knew better.

Adam was given power, and authority, and above all else, the one thing that separates humanity from the animals: free will. With this gift came an opportunity to either succeed or fail, of his own volition; to submit himself to the commandment and intentions given to him by God (remember, at this point there was only one explicit prohibition – to not eat the fruit of one particular tree), or to set out on his own path, contrary to the wishes of the One who made him. We know which path Adam chose, and the consequences of that decision, and it is easy to blame him for all that has happened since – I have heard more than one person joke that the first thing they wanted to do upon reaching heaven was to kick Adam in the shin! But what makes us think we would have done any differently? How many of us have been given everything we ever wanted or needed, at the cost of simple obedience, and yet cannot maintain this minimum standard? No wonder we needed a Savior, a new Adam to replace the original and restore humanity to the original purpose, free from original sin.

Jesus, in His incarnation, was also given power, and authority, and the same free will as Adam – yet He consistently chose to submit His will to the will of the Father; there are dozens of verses, but allow me to quote one of my favorites – John 6:38-40:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

As we approach Easter, I am reminded again that I am grateful that Jesus came to be the New Adam, and that by Him, we have opportunity to be restored to our original place and purpose in God’s plan. This wonderful gift is available to any who will acknowledge the grace of God which supplies our need, and accept the words of Christ right above,  and receive eternal life.

My friend did indeed respond, but the nature of his answer pointed out some defects with the scope and structure of my arguments; here is his response, followed by my attempt to correct and re-orient the conversation.

Well Nick, I see what you’re saying.
But Where exactly are you getting this information from? The “let there be light” comparison you’ve made..
You’re defining my nature or science as a “god” and I guess if you want to say that maybe I’m observing the nature of god, instead of the god of nature(which I guess can define religion).

But I don’t see the proof of god anywhere. Nor has any scientist. But in all fairness here, nor can we rule it out. Nor can we rule out any other god that ever existed for that matter.
The burden of proof lies on religion. You can’t win any court case without evidence being provided. If I make the claim on something then I must follow the scientific method in proving that. And that’s where religion fails. Its faith based.
And if there was a god that created the heavens, the hell, the universe and everything in between… I don’t see why’d he be so concerned about what I do or who I have sex with.. As if he doesn’t have anything else better to do. What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

I cannot say what’s after this life.. But I have been studying this stuff called astral projecting. I’m new at it and I don’t know much- but if you do, feel free to correct me.
Basically it’s a spiritual thing. Astral projection is the separation of your spirit from your body. You’re fully aware and everything is actually happening. As crazy as this may sound, I’ve been reading people’s stories about this and what they say really influences me to want to try it. It has nothin to do with religion or god or any of that. But they say it does indeed answer some of life’s big questions. There’s testimonies where people can visit absolutely anywhere at anytime. France, Germany, ocean floors and even space. But what really gets me is when they say they visit other dimensions… They say there’s a higher state of mind at higher frequencies. A serenity- a tranquility. Most call it the heavens, or whatever you classify it as.. It’s there. And everyone can experience it. They also say higher beings with a higher conscience exist- and most call them angles, guardians or spirit guides. And again, it’s nothing to do with religion. It’s actually a new type of science. Now, I’m not sure how true this is, nor am I saying that this is the answer.. But you have to approach it with an open mind. I am doing some research on it. I watch some of these videos on YouTube where a guy talks about this.. And he breaks it down a lot. He gives resources about what he’s saying and really goes into depth with it. His videos are actually animated so to me, they seem less boring lol. I’ll give you a link to his first video.. He breaks the episodes down into chapters. It’s very interesting and he does point out many religions, including Christianity and the bible. Again, I’m not saying this is the answer.. But I think it should be considered ya know.

Here’s the link:

I have not included the link, because it is not germane, as I point out below; if anyone does want to see it, reply in the comments and I will post it for you. Anyway, here is my reply:

OK, this is a very interesting response. I do believe that I see one common error we are both making, and that is that we are over-generalizing, and this is causing the waters to get a little murky…I first defined “religion” as “the response of humans to the concept of a personal creator God”, and then later tried to apply the same term to atheists – obviously I cannot have it both ways, so let me rather use the term “theistic worldview”, and narrow that down to include only those who believe the universe was created by an intelligent, personal Being; the actual nature of that Being may differ from one school of thought to another, but those are differences of style, not of kind. You seem to be using “religion” to mean collectively, all schools of thought which believe in a personal creator God, and that term would better describe the response of a particular “style group” within the larger “theistic” set; because the way any “religion” answers the questions of life will vary according to their particular interpretation of the nature of the Being. A better term for the opposite view to a “theistic worldview” is obviously “atheistic worldview”, which we can then define as “those who deny the existence of any personal Being as the universal creator”; this leaves an equal amount of room for differences of style within the same kind, and a variety of ways to answer those questions of life, which you rightly point out are universal to all humanity. I have a theistic worldview, and within that I have a series of truth statements I use to further make rational distinctions to answer some of the questions of life. I think that you are claiming an atheistic worldview, and you also have a series of truth statements that you use to make rational distinctions about the questions of life. What I am working towards is trying to understand your worldview, not disprove it…so my questions are directed, first to see if I have an accurate understanding of your general worldview, and then towards the nature of your truth statements. I will be happy to reciprocate, but only if you are asking real questions, not making belittling attacks against what you think I believe, and then only if you are willing to answer my questions…a fair dialogue can enhance both our understandings, anything else is a pointless waste of both our time, wouldn’t you agree? I think we should settle these basic questions, before we go off on tangents (like the “Spirit science” videos you link to, or my particular thoughts on morality, as from the previous thread). Let’s deal with one level of our beliefs at a time, OK?

What follows is a Facebook post I made to a young man who once attended church with us, until roughly around the time he graduated high school. Shortly after, he began proclaiming publicly that he had become an atheist, and how glad he was that he no longer had to suffer under the lies and mythology of Christianity;  in essence, he has taken whole-heartedly to the cause of the New Atheists; often cut-and-pasting large swaths of text directly from some leading atheistic websites to his Facebook feed. We had the conversation I refer to, spanning a couple of days, after he posted some particularly offensive (to me) and inflammatory comments concerning the Immaculate Conception; my intent was to try to get him to think about the logical inconsistencies inherent to a relativistic view of morality. (I did not succeed… he has become quite adept at re-direction, avoiding the question, and setting up straw-man arguments to swat down and proclaim “victory” over, when there was not a battle going on in the first place.)

I posted this to his page, and I’m waiting to see how he responds, indeed if he does. I thought I might post it here as well…can anyone suggest how I could improve my position? Reply in the comments, I can always use some help.

(name withheld), I was re-reading the conversation from the other day, and I realized something…we actually have the same basic belief system…only the nature of the creator is different, and thus the logical conclusions we separately arrive at. Let me explain…

My God is benevolent, personal, and intimately involved with His creation; creation was a deliberate act of His will. Despite our indifference to Him, or reluctance to acknowledge Him, He still loves us enough to hold us accountable for our decisions, because we have the free will to choose to respond to Him or not; this process is what many call “religion”, in all it’s many forms. There is more to the world than the merely physical, but I do not expect to understand all of it; I admit that I am not omniscient, and I must trust in a higher intelligence than my own to administer how it works. There is something waiting for us after this phase of existence is over, which gives me reason to hope.

Your god is random chance: indifferent, irresponsible, and impersonal. The creation was an accident (and how does the “big bang” look or function any differently than “Let there be..and there was”, except in the form of intent?); everything since then is either predictable by chemistry and physics, or random occurrences, which may or may not endure; the “religion” of an atheist appears to be either science, mysticism, or some combination: either nothing exists beyond what can be measured, or things exist which we cannot measure, but must nonetheless admit are there, however irrational that may appear, so we must make up stories to explain them. At the end of life is only entropy and nothingness…a most hopeless and bleak prospect: however “good” or “bad” a life you live, by whatever standard you choose to measure that by, it all comes to naught.

Have I been inaccurate in any of this? Can you point out my logical fallacies without bringing in other irrelevancies? I am very interested in your response, please take the time to think it through, and choose your words well…I did.

Looking forward to the New Year, I present to you the text of the message I delivered this week. I hope and pray that you receive the same encouragement; and, rather than “happiness”, which is fleeting and quickly fades, you find blessings instead, which endure in spite of circumstances.

Well, well, well…we’ve come to the end of another year; and what a year 2012 has been, amen? We have seen the entire range of human experience in twelve months, from the sublime to the ridiculous: around the world we saw Olympic glory and royal weddings; we also saw regime changes, and the infamous “Arab Spring”, fueled and fostered in large part for the first time by the vastly interconnected world of social media. America has seen a President re-elected; one war brought to an end, and a timeline for ending another; while we spent untold billions of dollars landing a robot go-kart on Mars. We’ve seen uncertain economies cause unrest across Europe, Asia, and America alike, while dumbfounded citizens in more nations than I care to list wonder what exactly their elected leaders are doing about it. That is, those that are paying attention at all: Internet sites have set unbelievable records for the most traffic ever – the “Gangham Style” music video has passed one billion views on YouTube, while Facebook is viewed well over 550 billion times per month, more than the next 99 sites on the list combined. Those include Twitter at #15, Amazon at #24, and eBay at #26; even the weather comes in at #63. (Sadly, there is not a Christian website, or any other religion, for that matter, anywhere in the top 1000… and we wonder at the condition of the world today.)

Here closer to home, new babies have been born, while old friends and loved ones have gone on to glory; new brothers and sisters have joined us in serving the Lord, while others have been called to serve in other ways and other places. The end of the year is always a time to reflect, remember the good and the bad, and hope that the future will be better than the past. This hope takes many forms, and expresses itself in many ways – many of us will make or have made our list of resolutions for the New Year. I am no exception…those of you who read my blog already know; for those who don’t, I have decided that this is the time to finally walk away from the ball-and-chain I’ve been dragging behind me for thirty years… and give up cigarettes. (And if you thought I was talking about my wife Karen, shame on you!) I covet your prayers for success and God’s peace during the struggle.

Now, I’m not going into this half-hearted or blindly…I have done some research, and have learned that the people who succeed best are those who find a good substitute for the habits they want to break, something to take the place of what they are giving up – to take their minds off of it, and avoid the sense of being deprived of something. I have chosen to take up running as my substitute, and it’s not as crazy as it might sound…at my job, I work – long days of hard, physical labor that has kept me in fairly decent shape in spite of myself; I can still sprint up four floors of stairs and speak in complete sentences at the top! To help me achieve this resolution, I found a reasonable, safe, well-recommended training plan that can take you from the couch to a 5K race in ten weeks, and I’m starting tomorrow! My long term goal is to enter…and finish…the Chevron Houston Marathon in January 2014, one year from now, so please continue me in prayer for this, and from time to time, ask me how I’m doing! The accountability will be good for me, and I will be happy to do the same for you, to help you with keeping your resolutions, whatever they may be. (Shameless self-promotional note: Follow my other blog for updates on race preparations!)

This idea of giving up bad things and putting something better in their place is an echo of the words that God gave to Jeremiah, which we heard just a few minutes ago. (Jeremiah 31:27-34) The people had turned away from God, and broken His first covenant, the one He made when He brought them out of captivity, gave them the Ten Commandments, and declared Himself to be “the LORD your God”. The people had failed their end of the deal, though, and had fallen away; they had allowed their hearts to become filled with pride, with selfishness and greed, with lust and desire for the habits and practices of the other nations around them, and they were a mess. But God is faithful, even when His people are not, and so He made them a new promise, you could say He made a resolution – He would break their bad habits, and give them new ones in their place. Instead of the law written on stone tablets, He would write it on their hearts; instead of emptiness and despair, He would fill them with His Spirit. Instead of His righteous wrath in judgment, He would substitute forgiveness, and remember their sins no more. He did not expect them to repent in a vacuum… He would provide a means to accomplish all this by His own grace and love. That is the kind of resolution you can believe in: when God says He will do it, take that to the bank! And that assurance is what leads me to title today’s message, “Better Days Are Here”…because we know that what is future for us, God has already seen; we can take is as current fact, even while it’s in the process. God is not waiting for things to happen, He has already done it, the victory is already won, we are just watching the dust settle!

I have shown you the resolution that God has made, and we know that He keeps His word, praise be His name for that. We can know this because He has spoken through other prophets, and shown us that He has a plan that He is using to make it happen. Where do you think I got the inspiration to find a plan to help me keep my resolutions? I know who I am…I remember all the times I have tried to make changes on a whim, and I remember when it got hard, all the reasons excuses I made up for myself to get off the hook, and allow myself to fall back into the very habits I so desperately wanted to give up. No, to succeed I needed a plan, a way to ensure that I could persevere through the difficulty, and find victory on the other side. My anchor text for today is just one of those revelations, one example where the Lord explains how His plan will surely succeed, and what that will look like once it happens. He does this to encourage us, so that when we see it happening, we will be able to endure until the plan comes to its conclusion, and not lose hope before we get there. Today I want to examine how we can use this knowledge of God’s plan to help us realize our own resolutions…what steps can we take to be active participants with Him. Turn with me, if you will, to the book of Isaiah, in chapter 62. To provide some context: Isaiah’s prophesies cover both the period of Assyrian conquest of the Northern kingdom of Israel, and the later exile of both Israel and Judah into Babylon. The last half of Isaiah is known as the “Book of Comfort”, where Isaiah looks beyond the current events and into the coming redemption of God’s people, the second time He brings them out of captivity, using the Persian king Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and accomplish His purposes; Chapter 62 is subtitled “Zion’s Restoration and Glory”. Let’s read together, as God speaks through Isaiah – we will read the entire chapter, and then go back and look at it more slowly. I’m reading from the English Standard version, so if yours is different, you can follow along on the screen, so you don’t get lost…this translation doesn’t give the Hebrew, only the translated names, so it will seem very different if yours does…it doesn’t change the meaning, this is just easier to read.

(Isaiah 62, ESV)

May we be blessed by the hearing of the Word of God. So, let’s step through the text, and see what we can discern. In verse 1, Isaiah proclaims his commitment to the plan. Look at his words, “I will not keep silent…I will not be quiet.” The words of a true prophet were usually not well received in the Old Testament, were they? Jewish tradition tells us that Isaiah was killed by being sawn in half, because he would not stop proclaiming the Word of God. People generally don’t like to hear what is good for them, even if they are unhappy in their current situation; often because it means they must admit they are in the wrong and need to make a change if they wish to improve. We see both these themes echoed in the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4 –

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 

See Paul stressing the dedication that Timothy (or any other Christ-follower) must have; now for the resistance:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Isaiah is saying he will stick to the plan – to keep on doing what God has commanded him to do, to keep on proclaiming the truth of the coming Savior, and calling for the people to have faith that God will do all that He has promised. The people probably had a pretty hard time believing him, you must admit – after all, Israel had already been taken over by Assyria, and Judah was only spared that by making a “deal with the devil”…problem is, he eventually collects on the bargain, doesn’t he? Judah later fell to Babylon and suffered greatly, because they were in cahoots with Assyria over their brothers in the North; the “short cut to salvation” they sought after took them the long way around instead. They weren’t committed to the plan, and took off on their own direction, instead of staying the course; and in the end, that lack of commitment was the cause of much greater harm.

Now we are going to jump around in this passage a bit, and look at the next two parts of how we can use God’s truth to make our resolutions into reality – there is a need for community and consistency in the plan. Look with me at verses 6-7:

“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.”

The prophet here demonstrates what we already know – we cannot do it alone. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians, at last not very good ones, I would say. Humans are created for community, because we are created in God’s image and likeness, and He exists in perfect community among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Genesis, after the creation is complete, God declares it all “very good”, until we get to 2:18, where He says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Isaiah demonstrates his understanding of this when he announces that he has helpers…he calls them watchmen…who are there to assist him. And look at what they are charged to do – to pray to God day and night, without ceasing, taking no rest and giving God no rest. Now, that’s a bold thing, isn’t it, to give God no rest? Have you ever felt that you had prayed so much about something that were beginning to feel you were annoying God? Like a pestering child tugging at your belt, “Please, please, please,pleasepleasepleeeeeeease…” trying to wear you down until they get what they want? This passage tells us that God wants us to be persistent, He wants us to keep asking, He wants us to stay consistent in our petitions…that is, if we are praying for His plan, not ours; if we are praying for the fulfillment of His promises, not the satisfaction of our own desires. The begging child is not after you what you want for them, they only care for their own satisfaction. Then notice, Isaiah says You who put the Lord in remembrance”…that means all of us, not just the preachers and pastors and Sunday school teachers and TV evangelists. It is our job to keep God in the minds and hearts of the world, it is our job to proclaim His glory and righteous, it is our job to encourage others to believe He will do all that He has said. James 5:16 says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Imagine how that works when multiplied by the number of men and women doing the praying! There’s a whole lot of availing, that’s available to us!

So, we have commitment to the plan, added to community in the plan, with consistency through the plan…what’s left? The best part of having a plan is what’s left – the wonderful consequences of the plan. The rest of this chapter is devoted to describing what will come about, the reward we shall receive once the plan is completed…which, remember, I said God has already seen the end, so He is the absolute best position to tell us what the outcome will be. Look with me at the end of the chapter, verses 11-12, which sums it all up and gives us hope to cling to –

“Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your Salvation comes; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” ‘ And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”

Our Salvation has come, and His name is Jesus. Do you want to know how we fit into this? Let me tell you: WE are His reward, brothers and sisters…WE are His recompense, the work that He came to do; the reason God sent Him to the earth. WE are called the Holy People, set apart for God. WE have been redeemed by His blood, shed on the cross. WE have been sought out, WE have not been forsaken. THIS is the outcome of God’s plan, THIS is what God has resolved to do. So I ask you, brothers and sisters, as we stand and worship…how will you respond today? Do you have a resolution you need to make? Do you have a burden you need to be freed from? Have you been living apart from the Lord, and need to return to Him? Have you never made a decision to follow Him, and today you want to change that? If any of that fits you, come on down, let us pray for you and with you; let us stand beside you as we give God no rest, until all that He has planned comes true…come on down, and surrender all to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, to Jesus Christ…won’t you come?