OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Feb 28]--The Fifth Kingdom

Daniel 2:24-45

           On a "housecleaning" note, I apologize, but I don't have a devotional for the 29th. I'll be back on the 1st. 
            I grew up on the stories in Daniel, and if you grew up in the church you undoubtedly did as well. They lend themselves to children’s story time: They’re easy to remember, they’re exciting, and they have great lessons for believers of all ages.
            I think it’s a shame, however, to only think of Daniel in terms of the narrative portions. There’s a reason why it’s listed in the prophetic literature. Fully half of it is devoted entirely to prophecy, and even the narrative parts have some prophecy in them, as we see in today’s reading.
            In case you’re not familiar with the context, here it is. Daniel and his friends were kidnapped along with others from noble families and taken as captives into Babylon. Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, was the 900-lb gorilla of that time. It conquered whatever it wanted, and it seemed like nothing could ever resist it, much less replace it as the transnational empire of the region.
            That’s one of the main points of the book of Daniel, something we need to remember in crazy and chaotic times, when it seems like the bad guys are in charge and God’s people are on the ropes. God is in charge. He is in control. The kings of the earth are under his authority and sovereignty, and he raises them up, uses them for his purposes, and disposes of them when their purpose is served.  
            The king had a dream, and it troubled him. He sent for his dream specialists, but he put an unusual condition on them: To prove that they actually had supernatural insight, they'd have to recount his dream back to him without him first telling them. Of course, they all balked at this, and in a rage he ordered all his spiritual advisors to be killed. Daniel heard about this, prayed, and then announced that he could recount the dream and provide an interpretation straight from the Almighty.
            What an image! A statue with a head of gold, a torso of silver, a thigh and legs of bronze, and feet of clay (yes, that’s where we get the phrase from) appeared in the dream. Daniel told him that the head was the Babylonian Empire, then his empire would be succeeded by three more empires. We now know that these represented the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and the Roman Empire respectively. As a rather humorous side-note, this is why a lot of Biblical “scholars” assert that Daniel could not possibly have written the book that bears his name, since he predicts with such intricate accuracy the succession of empires over the next few hundred years. It must've been written by a later author. Otherwise, we might have to admit that the Bible was written by a Divine source instead of just men!
        But then something (or Someone) comes and break the cycle once and for all. This Rock comes and strikes the statue at the point of the feet of clay, and we can read the result: “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”
That Rock, of course, is the Messiah. He's the One who smashes (or smashed) the world systems and replaces them with his own. Now, was this when he came the first time, or is it referring to when he returns? I think it’s both. I think the process started when he came the first time, and it’ll be completed when he comes back.
I think there are two lessons we need to glean from this. First, the statue is the way the world works. It’s all glittery and majestic and imposing and impressive and intimidating. One kingdom comes after another after another after another. People think the new kingdom will be much better than the last one, and they end up disappointed (at best). But ah, when the Fifth Kingdom arrives, then we see a change! The Old Order is obliterated and the New Order has come!
The question is, “Am I part of the Fifth Kingdom, or am I a citizen of this world?” And if I do belong to the Fifth Kingdom, do I act like it?

Lord Jesus, I can’t wait until you return to complete the setup of your glorious Kingdom. Or can I? Is that something I really want, or is it something that would upset my little order of things? Whether now or later, my little personal kingdom has got to fall. Let’s do this the easy way, shall we?

[Feb 27]--The Lord Our Righteousness

            Today we’re continuing our brief overview of what the prophets say about the coming Messiah. I do need to note a couple of things here before we move forward.
            First, the prophets have a lot to say about his second coming, probably more than about his first arrival. However, those passages tend not to be conducive to a devotional. I could do a study of them, but to do so I’d have to get into my personal eschatology, which is really beyond the purview of what we’re doing here. This is a devotional, not a commentary.
            Second, if you want a much clearer picture of our Savior, don’t forget the Psalms. I did a study of what we find out about Jesus in the Psalms last year, and it was one of the most personally rewarding (for me, at least) studies I’ve ever done. Every major aspect of the Lord Jesus’ life: his incarnation, his ministry, Passion, resurrection, ascension, etc., are all laid out for us in the Psalter. Don’t miss that huge chunk of prophecy.
            Now we come to a really meaningful passage for us, and it predicts an amazing aspect of our Savior’s work on our behalf. The Messiah, a descendant of David (that’s what “branch” means) will come and rescue Israel. The last part of the verse gives us a name (or rather, a title) by which he will be called: “The Lord our righteousness.”
            Now, you might have noticed that I didn’t quote from the NIV as usual. Instead I quoted from the NASB, a more literal version. The latest update of the NIV as of this writing has a different rendition of the Hebrew phrase Yahweh Tsidkenu. They might render it as “The Lord Our Righteous Savior” or something similar. But literally that is what it is: “The Lord our Righteousness” or “The Lord is our Righteousness.” Let me tell you why I prefer the literal translation, and why it’s important.
           Moses told the people of Israel as he gave them the Law that “if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” That’s the essence of the Torah, the basis of the Old Covenant: Your righteousness, your standing before God was based on your performance. If you obeyed, you were blessed. If you disobeyed, you were cursed. Now we also know that in an ultimate sense, God’s people have always had their relationship with God based upon grace through faith; Paul made this clear in Romans chapter four.
            But there’s a reason why we have an “Old Covenant” and a “New Covenant,” or “Old Testament” and a “New Testament” (yes, that’s where we get the words from). Jesus came to institute a new covenant, written in his blood. It's different. The New Covenant is not just an improvement on the Old. It’s based on a completely different foundation. Moses said that under the Law their obedience would be their righteousness. Our righteousness is based on something else.
            1 Cor. 1:30 is the key verse here. Paul tells us that Jesus has become for us our righteousness and our holiness. He is our righteousness. There’s a reason he didn’t just die for our sins in the crib. He lived a perfect life for 33 years—not just sinless, but perfectly righteous and in perfect obedience to the Father. Then when he died, God transferred that perfect righteousness over to my “account” as he placed my sin upon the back of his Son.
           That’s why one of the titles for Messiah here is The Lord our Righteousness. I claim no other righteousness. I have no other righteousness worth claiming.
           The Good News? That righteousness is all I’ll ever need.

Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness. I claim no other. I’d be a fool to claim my own. You are perfect, you are holy, you have pleased the Father on my behalf. Thank you.

[Feb 26]--Phase One and Two

Isaiah  61:1-7; Luke 4:14-30

            OK, I was going to move on to what other prophets had to say about the Messiah, but I need to spend one more day in Isaiah, since it illustrates some very important points and can aid our understanding of Old Testament prophecy.

            As you read Isaiah and other prophetic books, sometimes it’s not entirely clear as to when this was fulfilled or will be. I tend to take the “partially fulfilled in the time of Christ, totally fulfilled when he returns” motif. If you look at a lot of passages, however, it could get pretty confusing. The passage in Isaiah from today’s reading, or at least some of it, was fulfilled during the ministry of Jesus. He said so in Luke’s reading.

            What can help us is a grasp of what Bible scholars sometimes call the “mountaintop view.” Imagine you’re at the base of a mountain, and you see the top of the mountain in front of you. There’s another mountain directly behind it, with a valley in between them. That valley might be incredibly deep. But you can’t tell how deep it is: All you can see are the two mountain peaks.

            That’s often the view of the prophets, as illustrated by today’s readings.

            Jesus was in front of an audience from his hometown. As tradition led, they pulled out a scroll and had the “Rabbi” read the portion of Scripture to them. He read Isaiah 61 verse one, and then part of verse two, and stops midway. Then he paused and said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Not someday. Today.

            He paused right in the middle of verse two and stopped reading. Why did he stop? Because the second half of the verse was not being fulfilled right in front of them, like the portion he'd read was. He’d been anointed by the Spirit, and was proclaiming the Good News. He was binding up the brokenhearted, announcing freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, and that the time of God’s favor had come. We were entering a new era of grace.

            The second half of that verse, before the ink was dry on the first part, is talking about the Second Coming. When he comes, he’s bringing wrath. That’s not a word we hear very often in this touchy-feely time, but it’s one we need to relearn.

            You see? The first half was talking about Phase One, and the second half was talking about Phase Two. And in between those two phases we’ve had at least 2,000 years. Quite a valley between the two mountains.

            So besides helping our understanding of O.T. prophecy, is there a more practical lesson we can carry away from this? Why, yes there is!

            Jesus was speaking the truth (obviously) when he said that verse one and the second half of verse two were being fulfilled right in front of them. But don’t I carry on his work? He said that we would, that we’d even—in some sense—surpass the work he started. I guess a better word than “surpassed” would be “build upon” or “expand.” He’d been anointed by the Spirit, and in a lesser sense so have we. He was proclaiming the Good News to the poor, and that’s our job as well. Binding up the brokenhearted, announcing freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, and that the time of God’s favor has come? Check, check, check.

            Yes, we do have a job to do, don’t we?

Father God, help me to interpret your word correctly. I don’t want to examine your word so much as I want your word to examine me. And yes, I do understand that I and we have a job to do, carrying on the work of your Son in this dark world. By your grace, we’re going to do it.

]Feb 25]--Suffering Servant, Part Four

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

            So now we come to the last of the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah. They've helped us complete the picture of our Savior, and anything that does that should be precious to us. This is by no means the last words that the prophets have about the Messiah. After today, we’re going to spend a few days on some of the more obvious passages.
            This is by far the most famous of the Servant Songs, and the very valuable to the writers of the N.T. Depending on how you count it, this is either #1 or #2 for the “quoted most times in the N.T.” prize (Psalm 110 is the only other contender). Interestingly, Jesus never explicitly applied it to himself in public: he just lived it.
            I need to say a word here about this and traditional Jewish teaching. I wrote for over a week about our relationship with the Jewish people, and I hope I made clear my enormous respect for them. We owe them a debt we can never repay. Having said that, how they handle this passage is a textbook case of letting your personal bias get in the way of what the Scriptures transparently say. I remember reading the testimony of a Jewish girl who attended synagogue regularly. Every Sabbath morning they'd have a reading of the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures, as they like to call them), and they were on a reading plan to read it all the way through. When they came to Isaiah 53, however, they skipped it. She asked the rabbi about it, and he told her “That is for the Gentiles, not us.” She was confused by his answer, did some research on it, and ended up becoming a believer in Yeshua.
            Jewish scholars have—as we say in my family—gone from Dallas to Fort Worth by way of Houston in order to come to the obvious conclusion that this cannot be referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Absolutely not! It’s referring to national Israel! Or whatever! Whatever it means, it cannot possibly be referring to Jesus of Nazareth!!! They’ve come to a conclusion beforehand, and nothing is going to change their mind. Paul said that when the Scriptures are read to them every Saturday morning, a veil is over their eyes. Only the Lord can remove it.
            I’ve written about this before, but I want to reiterate one major point: The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is taught in this passage like in no other. That’s the teaching that Jesus’ death is a substitution for our own. Our sins—and thus the punishment due us—were placed upon him on the cross. Our righteousness is filthy rags in his sight. Not the bad things we do—our righteousness. Jesus, the sinless, perfectly righteous One, came along, and our sins were “credited” to his “account.” Then his righteousness was "credited" to ours. Here’s my count, just in case you think this is something I’m overemphasizing:

• Surely he took up our pain
• and bore our suffering
• But he was pierced for our transgressions
• he was crushed for our iniquities
• the punishment that brought us peace was on him
• and by his wounds we are healed
• and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all
• for the transgression of my people he was punished
• and he will bear their iniquities
• For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors

            But I want to point out something: With all our emphasis on how this predicts the suffering of the Servant, that’s not the end of the story! Because of what he did in obedience to the Father, this Servant will be exalted beyond all measure. Kings will “shut their mouths” in astonishment.  After his death, he will see the “light of life” (be resurrected) and be satisfied with what he accomplished. In verse 12 the Lord will grant him what we would call the “lion’s share” as a reward. What this says in part, the New Testament says clearly: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him].” The Father has placed all things under his feet. We don’t worship or memorialize a dead Savior. We worship and revere and serve the risen and exalted Lord of Heaven and Earth. Let’s not forget that, shall we?

Lord Jesus, I join the chorus of heaven and earth right now: You are Lord of all, and you deserve to be. For what you did, you deserve it all. All I can say is “Thank you,” and “I’m yours.”

[Feb 24]--Suffering Servant, Part Three

Isaiah 50:4-9

            I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again: If the only things you know about your Savior are what come from the New Testament, your knowledge of him is so inadequate. Isaiah--and the rest of the prophets--paint such a glorious portrait of the Messiah that I can’t help but gaze in awe of him.

            First off, with all due respect to all the Jewish interpreters out there who insist that this is describing national Israel, whom are you trying to kid? How can anyone who’s at all familiar with the history of national Israel believe for one second that the obedient "Servant" in this passage is referring to that bunch of disobedient, rebellious ingrates?  

            So what do I see here about my Savior? What does this passage tell me about him?

            First, I see an intimate relationship with the Father that seems so far out of my reach. Here’s the image for us: Every morning when Jesus woke from sleep, these were the first thoughts that he consciously chose to think: “Good morning Father. What do you have for me today? I’m listening. Oh, so that’s what you want me to do? Done.”

That brings me to the second aspect, the conjoined twin of the first: Unquestioning obedience. The Father told him, through the work of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus was going to do that day. The Father told him what to say and how exactly to say it. He told him where he was going to go.

The third aspect, linked to the first two, is trusting the Father in the midst of rejection and suffering. It would come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the culture of that time that Jesus was undoubtedly bearded. See what I was talking about before? The N.T. has no physical description of our Savior as he walked the world. The closest thing you’ll get to that is in the Old Testament, not the New. How do we know about the beard? Because the Servant’s tormentors tore it out. The Gospels don’t give us much of a description of the physical brutality of what happened to Jesus, but the prophets (and Psalms) do.

And what was (or from Isaiah’s perspective, will be) the response of the Messiah to this abuse? Trust in the Lord. He didn’t speak a word in his own defense at his trial. Why not? Well, among other reasons, he felt no need to. His Father, at the right time and in the right way, would vindicate him, would prove him right. To all human appearances, Jesus was abandoned by God and was an absolute failure. You don’t get much lower than a naked man hanging on a cross as all his enemies hurl insults at him and mock him publicly. But the time would come when every one of the Messiah’s enemies would realize that he was right and they were so very very very wrong.

So what about us? What can we draw from this? Well, just off the top of my head I can come up with at least two applications. Please read this carefully—I don’t want to be accused of heresy because of a misunderstanding: What Jesus had as a man, I can have and should have, as far as his relationship with the Father is concerned. The incredible intimacy of the Father and Son is supposed to be a model and standard for the Church, so it’s not much of a stretch that that’s supposed to be what I have as an individual believer. Jesus had the Holy Spirit upon him and in him, and that was the means by which the Father led him and guided him. I have the Spirit in me as well, right? The Spirit empowered him--in his life as a man--to follow the Father, right? So what’s the difference between Jesus and me, as far as his humanity goes? That’s a good question.  I have a sinful nature, and he didn’t. But is that a worthy excuse? I don’t think so.

Also, this is a great reminder that it’s not really my job to defend myself, especially when it comes to my reputation. Jesus was falsely accused and physically abused over and over and over and over. He steadfastly refused to defend his own “honor.” He left that up to the Father. Because he knew that in the end it would be worth it all. Have I learned that yet?

Lord Jesus, I am so quick to defend myself. How’s about I let you do that for me? I’ll concentrate on what I’m supposed to do, and I’ll let you concern yourself with what you’ve promised. Sounds like a plan to me.

[Feb 23]--Secret Servant, Part Two

Isaiah 49:1-7

            Before we get into the specifics of today’s passage, I need to make a few notes about the term “Servant” that’s mentioned here and elsewhere.

            First, we need to recognize that although the term is often linked with the humble (and humiliating) aspects of the Messiah’s work, it’s not intrinsically such in and of itself. The word “servant” was repeatedly used of a right-hand subordinate of a king. Moses was called the “servant of the Lord,” as well as others, so it’s not a bad thing or lowly concept. To be called a “servant of the Lord,” as Job was, was a badge of honor and a vindication before his accusatory “friends.”

            Also, we need to recognize, in fairness, that when God calls someone his “servant” in these passages, it’s not always clear that he’s referring to Jesus. To add to the confusion, the Servant is specifically called “Israel” in vs. 3. Lots of traditional Jewish interpreters have latched onto this to claim that the Servant is not Jesus, but national Israel.

            They might even have a point, except for the fact that the Servant says that part of his mission is bring Israel/Jacob back to the Lord in vs. 5. The Servant can’t be national Israel (in this passage, at least) if his job is to bring Israel back to God’s embrace. How do we explain it? How can “Israel” bring “Israel” back to the Lord?

            We’ve talked about this before. The reason is that Jesus is the true Israel. Not that national Israel was “fake” or anything like that. But God had given them the Law and a mission: To be a kingdom of priests. That means that they were supposed to represent God to the nations and the nations before God. And if you’re familiar at all with the stories of the Old Testament, you know very well they failed miserably. They never really lived up to their calling, and more often than not they flagrantly disobeyed his explicit instructions and rejected his revelation.

            But Jesus came forward, hidden up to that point in God’s “hand,” concealed in the Lord’s “quiver” to be “fired” at just the right moment. And everything national Israel was supposed to be and failed, he succeeded in being and doing.

            What’s the first part of verse 4 talking about, by the way? In what sense did Jesus ever say something like “Well, I guess I’ve just been wasting my time. I’ve been serving the Lord faithfully, and it’s all been for nothing.” Well, if we’re taking this passage to be referring to the Messiah, then how can we interpret it?

            I can’t get around the fact that this is the Messiah talking. Not the people around him, not the disciples, not the religious leaders, but he himself is quoted here. There are different explanations, but I think that this was a thought that he was tempted with. Not that he ever gave into it, not for an instant. But from his human perspective, this is what he felt like at some point during the Passion. This is an open honest expression of how he felt, just like his cry of abandonment from the Cross. What we feel or the thoughts that come into our head are not our responsibility. What we do with them is. That’s where the issue of sin or obedience comes into play.

            He didn’t give into that despair for an instant. In the same verse, he immediately refocused on what awaited him after the Cross: his glorious reward from the Father’s hand. In the Father’s timing, he would ultimately be exalted beyond all measure.

            And what would the Father give as his reward? Gold? Money? Land? Well, of course that all belonged to him anyway. What did the Father give to him that Jesus really valued over all else? Worship from redeemed souls. Not just Jewish souls, those of national Israel. No, the Father won’t be satisfied, and the Messiah won’t be either, until people from all different nations and ethnic backgrounds and tribes and tongues proclaim the praises of the Servant. “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Can’t wait.

No Lord Jesus, I really can’t wait. I’m not going to. I want a taste of that right here and now. I’m not going to wait for kings and princes. I’m going to bow down, both with my body and my spirit, before your glorious presence. You deserve it. All of it.

[Feb 22]--Secret Servant

Isaiah 42:1-9

            If you’ve studied the Bible for any length of time, you might have noticed a huge gap in our studies of Isaiah so far. The question might have come up in your mind: “Where’s Jesus? Didn’t Isaiah and the other prophets predict some stuff about him?” The answer is “Of course they did.” But I wanted to gather most of the material about the Messiah into one series, so I’ve pretty much avoided specific prophecies about Jesus’ first coming up until now.

            I got the title as a take off a practice we used to do at my old job at a pest control company. Every year in the month of December, many in our office would sign up for a “Secret Santa.” I would get someone else’s name, then give that person several non-expensive gifts over the next few weeks, and they wouldn’t find out who was giving them these little presents until the office Christmas party. And of course someone would be my Secret Santa as well.

            But Messiah is not Santa Claus. He’s not the Secret Santa; he’s the Secret Servant. Isaiah described him, but we didn’t know his name until long after Isaiah went to his reward.

            Let’s talk a bit about the term “Servant.” This and three other sections in Isaiah are called the “Suffering Servant” passages. They give pretty detailed descriptions about what the Messiah will act like, and what his mission will be. But this is the puzzle: It’s almost like there are two Messiahs, which was a theory among some Rabbis. The reason for the mystery is because on one hand the Messiah is sometimes presented as a conquering warrior who will defeat all of God’s enemies by force and who will enforce a reign of righteousness all over the world. On the other hand, we have here and in other passages the “suffering” aspect of Messiah’s work.

            Here he’s as gentle as a whisper. Matthew actually quoted this passage in describing Jesus’ earthly ministry, and how gentle he was with the down-and-outs and cast-offs of the world, which we’ve studied in this blog before.

            My friend, I’m sorry for sounding like a broken record, but I have to do it. I’m going to make one more appeal for reading the Old Testament of the Bible. If the only parts of the Bible you read are in the New Testament, you are missing so much. If the only things you know about Jesus are in the Gospels, then you have such an incomplete picture of him. If you really want to know his mind and heart, then you must read what the Old Testament says about him. Today’s passage, for example, parts the curtain for us and reveals a very intimate conversation between Jesus and the Father. You’ll only find this insight into that divine relationship here, not anywhere else.

            The Father said that he would take Jesus by the hand (since Jesus had given up some of his privileges as Son) and would lead him. Look and see what the Father would accomplish through him: He would make him a covenant and a light among all the nations (not just the Jews) and would use him to open the eyes of the blind, free captives from prison, and bring light to people  trapped in darkness. I think this was partially fulfilled when he was on earth, is being fulfilled more in the present day, and will be completely fulfilled when he returns.

            So what does this mean to me? Well, I can think of one way: Jesus is not an integral part of God’s plan for wrapping up history as we know it. He is the plan. He didn’t come to just set up a new covenant (or solemn agreement) between us and the Father. He is the new covenant. The Father and the Son (and the Spirit) worked this all out before the first moment of time, and we ain’t seen nothing yet. He hasn’t shared all the details with us yet, but we know enough. And as we read more from Isaiah in the next few days, we’ll see more than we could've ever dreamed.

Father God, your plan is perfect. You don’t share any glory with any creature, and that’s the way it should be. All praise, honor, glory, and thanksgiving belongs to you, and that means none of it belongs to me. May my life reflect that.

[Feb 21]--The Agenda

Isaiah 66:18-24

           So now we come to the last words of Isaiah the prophet. Regarding the man, we should note that according to tradition, he was sawn in two by King Manasseh, dying a martyr’s death. He comforted others with his words from the Almighty; we can only hope they were a comfort to him as well.
          If you’re familiar with Isaiah’s work, then you might have missed something from our study: Where’s Jesus? The prophet had a lot to say about the first coming of the Messiah, so why haven’t we looked at that? We’re going to. Over the next week or so we’re going to see what Isaiah and other prophets had to say about the first arrival of the Messiah. But that starts tomorrow.
          Before the prophet left this earth, he had a few more words to say to us about God’s ultimate plan. Lots of people wonder what the Lord's will is for their lives, and a few people actually claim to know it: “God told me to tell you this.  . .” I myself am very careful about phrases like that, since God takes a rather dim view of anyone who speaks in his name who’s not authorized to do so. The Bible’s last verses have a stern warning to anyone who adds to it.
          However, where God makes his agenda and will plain for us from his word, we’re remiss if we don’t tell people about it. You want to know what his will is for your life? I can tell you right now. Listen very carefully, lean down close so I can whisper it in your ear—His will for your life is. . . to glorify his name through your life. What’s his plan for the nations? You guessed it: To glorify his name among all the different peoples, cultures, societies, etc.
          Now, you might be asking, how exactly is he going to work all that out, either in your personal life or on the international scene? Let’s take it on the personal level first. We know he wants to bring glory to his name through your life, and he will, one way or the other. But what about the details? That’s different for every person. Ask for his guidance and wisdom, obey what he’s made clear from his word, seek counsel from godly siblings if you need it, then go forward with what you desire. As long as you keep the “main thing” the “main thing,” you’ll be fine.
          How do we interpret passages like today as far the “big picture” goes? Are they completely fulfilled now by the work of the Church, or will they literally be fulfilled when he returns? Good Christians debate that issue. I have my interpretation of it, but does it really matter? He’s made his ultimate purpose clear. If it is literally fulfilled later, does that let us off the hook from trying to recruit worshippers right here and now? Of course not.
          Jesus' last instructions for us before he returned to his Father leave no wiggle room: “[Go] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” I don’t care how you interpret the book of Revelation, that’s not rocket science or brain surgery. Someone once said “It’s not the parts of the Bible that are hard to understand that bother me. It’s the parts which are crystal clear which disturb me the most.”
          And based on Isaiah’s very last words to us, I have to present a warning. He describes in dreadful detail what happens to those who end up on the wrong side of history from God’s perspective. If this sounds like a description of Hell, it is. Someone might read this and say “Oh, it’s not talking about eternal torment. It just says that the worms and fire never die.” Let me ask you something. Who’s a better interpreter of Scripture: Some guy with letters behind his name, or Jesus? He quoted these exact verses when describing hell. He wasn’t kidding about it.
          I’m not doing this to depress you. Am I mentioning it to frighten you? Well, that depends. If you don’t belong to Christ, then you should be scared. You have every reason to be scared. Why not do something about it?

Father God, I know what your will is, at least the important parts. It’s not knowledge that’s the problem. It’s doing what I know I need to do, what you’ve made crystal clear. By your grace, I want to do it.

[Feb 20]--What’s Impressive To God?

Isaiah 66:1-2

          I remember several years ago when I was a church planter working in Wills Point, Texas. My partner and I visited several pastors of churches in the area, mostly to ensure they weren’t threatened by us in the community. I distinctly recall meeting one pastor, and he was really friendly with us. He took us to the new sanctuary they had just finished constructing, and was obviously very. . . does the word “proud” fit? I’m trying to be charitable here, but there’s no way getting around my conclusion that he was bragging about the magnificence of his new building. And I came close—oh, so very close—to responding by saying “This really is a beautiful building. Too bad it’s all going to be dust and ashes some day.” The missed opportunities!
          I think of that story every time I read today’s passage and others like it. What do I mean by other passages? Well, look at the dedication of the original temple. The builder of the original temple, King Solomon, had no illusions about his magnificent structure: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
          Even during the time of the Old Covenant, during the time when God met people inside of buildings, and you could actually point to a structure and say “That’s the ‘dwelling place,’” the most insightful believers knew that God doesn’t really live inside a building. As Solomon said, the heavens can’t contain him. As Isaiah said in today’s reading, Heaven is his throne, and earth is his footstool. The idea of men building a “house” for God is pretty laughable.
          What about the New Covenant? Does God have a temple today? Of course he does! It’s the Body of Christ collectively and each believer individually. The word “church” in all the New Testament always refers to a group of believers, never to a physical building.
          Now, does this mean that I’m against church buildings, or sanctuaries? No. We have to meet somewhere, and a church building is as good a place as any. I'm not opposed to it.
          But am I in favor of spending a lot of money on a building which will be dust and ashes someday? Well, I can’t find any Scripture against it as such, so I’m not going to judge other believers on stuff which the Spirit failed to mention in his word. But I’m not too comfortable with going overboard with it. Where that line is, is something I’d have to think about.
          I do know this for sure, however. As today’s passage makes clear, God is—and always has been—impressed with things that we aren’t. We’re impressed by an imposing and beautiful building, while he’s impressed with “those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at [his] word.” The nobody, the “has-been” or “never was” can easily be someone who catches his blessed attention. All they have to be is someone who’s humble, contrite (sorry about their sin), and who trembles at his word. And friend, let me tell you something: If someone trembles at God’s word, they won’t tremble at the sight of a building, or much else for that matter.
          I think all of us need to examine our priorities, and reexamine them on a regular basis, especially if we live in a rich country like America. Are my priorities his? Forget a moment about being negative about worship centers. Are you humble? Do you have a keen sense of who God is and who you are in comparison? Are you mourning the sin in your life? Do you tremble at his word?

Well, Father? What about it?

[Feb 19]--Grace and Amnesia

Isaiah 63:7-14

            I thoroughly believe that the cruelest disease in the world is Alzheimer’s. I realize that cancer is a strong contender for that title. But the very thought of losing my memory, my thoughts, my love for my friends and family, my very self slipping away is pretty frightening. I don’t know if my grandfather was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but he did experience dementia to some degree. During my childhood I was raised between my Mom (who was working) and my grandparents who babysat me constantly. Every day I came home and kissed my grandpa who sitting in his chair. Although I was really young, my intuition knew something was wrong  with him. Only later I found out that after I had kissed him and walked out of the room, he asked my grandmother, “Who was that?” with tears rolling down his cheeks.
            Dennis Prager, one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, is frequently pointing out how important keeping memories alive really is. He participates every year in the Passover, a 3000 year old ritual which keeps in the forefront of the minds of the next generation a central event in Jewish history. His contention—and I agree with him—that to lose one’s memory is to lose one’s self.
            That’s the type of amnesia which Isaiah was decrying in today’s passage. He starts out by bringing forward the hero and star of this story: God Almighty. The Lord set his sights on a man and made that man into a nation. He didn’t do this because they deserved it: On the contrary, he did it “according to his compassion and many kindnesses,” certainly not according to how righteous they were. He showered them with blessings, love, forgiveness, mercy, provision, and protection. The picture here is not one of a God who sits up in Heaven merely manipulating events and people—Notice the extremely moving phrase “in all their distress he too was distressed.” When they suffered, he suffered with them. Even before the Incarnation, he was a God who is right here with his people when they’re undergoing hardship; after the coming of Christ, of course, that “nearness” aspect from verse is all the more poignant.
            And what was their reaction to his treatment of them? Gratitude? Obedience? Submission? Trust? Zeal for his glory?
            If you know anything about your Old Testament, you don't even have to read verse 10 to answer that question.
            They rebelled. They complained. They turned to other gods so fast you could barely mark the transition. And notice, once again, the pathos of the verb used here: They grieved him. He wasn’t just a judge who was rendering a verdict. He was a judge and a Father forced to render a verdict on his own child.
            But then, they remembered. They recalled what he had done for them. By his grace, they called back to mind what he'd done in the time of Moses, when their nation had been founded. They thought about the miracles of the Red Sea and how he'd provided for them in the wilderness. But even more than the physical miracles, he'd set his presence among them. That’s what the verse is talking about when it mentions that he had “set his Holy Spirit among them.” Nothing else he did or could have done physically would compare with that.
            What about us? As believers, is it possible for us to have spiritual amnesia? Well, why do you think the Lord instituted communion for us? Because it’s so easy for us to forget.  As we mature as Christians, it’s easy to forget what he saved us from. It’s easy to judge others, because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be lost.
             So what do you need to remember?

Lord Jesus, as the old hymn goes, may I never outlive my love to Thee. When I start to forget your goodness to me, wake me from my amnesia. Whatever it takes.

[Feb 18]--Salvation

Isaiah 61:10-11

            When I get to Heaven, I actually sort of hope that there’s a way of reviewing our life and see what happened to us “behind the scenes.” There’s so much going on in the spiritual realm that we don’t know anything about. This side of the Great Divide, that’s probably a good thing. If I had any clue about the angelic/demonic struggles going on around me all the time, I’d probably hide under the bed.
            But the one thing I desperately want to see is what happens in the spiritual realm when someone receives Christ for salvation. Think about it, imagine it with me for a moment.
            Elsewhere Isaiah tells us that we’re filthy in God’s sight in our own righteousness. Not just misguided or mistaken. In fact, the verse above says that our “righteous acts” are filthy in his sight. Never mind all the sins in which we participate. The best part of you is filthy in his sight.
            But then that person believes in Jesus. In some mysterious way, the blood which Christ shed on the cross is applied to that person, and he’s forgiven.
            But there’s more to it than that. He does more.
            That’s where today’s passage comes in. Isaiah tells us that he is rejoicing in the Lord because of something God had done for him. The Almighty had come along and “clothed [him] with garments of salvation and arrayed [him] in a robe of his righteousness.”
            See that’s the difference between all the religions of the world and what the Bible presents to us as the Good News. Our first parents sinned, and they tried to cover their nakedness with something that they came up with themselves—fig leaves. Ever since then, everyone has been trying to cover themselves up from the shame. But to God they’re not beautiful garments—we’ve already seen what he thinks of our own righteousness.
            We need an “alien” righteousness, a foreign righteousness, an outside righteousness that doesn’t come from us. That’s what Isaiah is talking about: A “robe of his righteousness.”        
            You see, our salvation is more than just forgiveness. I'm clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. When angels look at me, I suspect they have trouble seeing through the blinding glare. Because I'm covered in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
            Do you see why I’d like to view someone experiencing the moment of belief from the “other side” one day? One moment, the person is covered in filthy, stinking, rotten sinfulness. The next moment, all that is wiped away and the person is covered in head to toe in the glorious righteousness of Christ.
            If you’re reading this and you haven’t experienced this, what are you waiting for? Check this out.
            If you’re reading this and you’re a redeemed child of God, I want you to bask in this glorious truth for a few moments. You're covered in the righteousness of Christ. Forever. All the sins that you’ve ever committed and all that you ever will commit are gone. Forever. When the Father sees you, he sees you through the “rose-colored glasses” of his perfect Son.

Lord Jesus, to say I’m not worthy of this is. . . well, that’s really the point, isn’t it? Now that I’m covered, I want to please you more and more. By your grace, change me please to be what I am.

[Feb 17]--Intervention

Isaiah 59:15-21

            Boy, the Bible can get pretty depressing at times, can’t it? Someone might try to claim that the Bible is filled with “fairy tales,” but I think a lot of people have it turned around. Anyone who believes that humanity is basically good and that sin is no big deal are indulging in a fairy tale which is far more delusional than anything Disney ever presented. The Bible is starkly honest, to the point of bluntness, about our dire situation.
            But there’s a reason why the term “Gospel” means “good news.” First you have to confront the bad news, then you’re ready for the second half. The Bible doesn’t present us as being left on our own in the mess we created.
            In America we value our independence: In fact, that’s the name of our founding document, the public declaration of which we celebrate in July every year. We tell stories about someone pulling themselves up “by their own bootstraps.” That might be admirable in the business or political world, but in the spiritual realm, it’s disaster.
            Have you heard the saying “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself”? That pretty much sums up today’s reading, doesn’t it? If the Lord had waited for us to solve our problem ourselves, he would've waited forever. We were in a “worst case scenario,” and there was no way we could ever pull ourselves out of it. All the religions in the world, all the philosophers in history, all the great thinkers could never taken us one inch out of our dilemma.
            So he had to intervene. Now, we need to think carefully here. By all appearances, today’s reading is mainly talking about the second appearance of Jesus, not his first. Isaiah had plenty to say about his first arrival, which we’ll see in a few days, but this passage is referring to when he returns.
            But the principle still remains, since you can’t have his 2nd coming without his first. But when the Lord has finally had enough of earth’s rebellion, he'll come back and set up his kingdom for all to see. We can have all types of disagreements over the details, but that’s way beyond the purview of this devotional.
            This is a picture of the Lord dressed for combat. He’s going to war here, and you can pity his enemies. The image seems to be the same as that of Revelation 19. This is not a humble carpenter who’s meekly submitting to a horrible death. He’s coming to kick. . . well, you know, and to take names.
            And what will be the result of this? All the world will follow him and obey him and “fear” him. Just remember that “fear” in the Old Testament, as regards to fearing God, is not talking about being afraid of him. It’s mainly talking about a reverent worship, shorthand for having a right relationship with him.
            Who will be involved in this? People all over the world, from every tribe and community and nation, will see what God has done and worship him.
            “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.” That’s the key. He’s coming in power and glory for those who turn away from doing things their way towards doing things his way. And my friend, you’re either in one group—his enemies, or you’re in the second group—his redeemed children.
            The interesting thing is that’s already started in a sense. Yes, I think he will come again in power and glory, but I also think that this was started in his first coming. He saw our plight and knew that if he didn’t intervene, we were sunk. He came down and conquered the spiritual forces arrayed against us, and he offers each of us a choice. Which group will we be in? It all starts with restoring the broken relationship we have with him. Once we step into this “covenant” he’s referring to, then his Spirit will live within us, and his word will be on our lips.
            You don’t have to wait for him to come on the clouds for this to happen, at least in your personal life. You can have his Spirit right now. You can have a right relationship with him right now. Do you have it? If not, why not?

Lord Jesus, I long for the day  when I see you face to face. I can’t wait to see every knee bow down before you and acknowledge you as Lord. But until then, I will drink of your Spirit and have your word on my lips. I’m not waiting.

[Feb 16]--Consequences

Isaiah 59:1-14

            I don’t know who it was who first presented this concept to me, but I certainly can’t claim credit: One of the surest marks of a more mature Christian versus a less mature Christian is how seriously they view sin. What’s their reaction to the ongoing sin in their own life? Do they laugh it off? Do they flirt with it like an ex-girlfriend with whom they might want to get back together someday? Or do they treat it like a mortal enemy? I’m a comic book geek, but I recognize that most people aren’t, so I won’t use examples like Superman and Lex Luthor, or Batman and the Joker.
            How’s about this one—The hardcore Israelis and the hardcore Palestinians. Think about what those two groups think of one another. Do they trade any love notes with each other? Dear reader, those guys are BFF’s with each other compared to how we’re to regard sin.
            Why? Why is this so important? Isaiah (with the Spirit directing him) gives us several reasons.
·         First and foremost, it separates us from God. If you’re not a believer in Christ, then this final separation from the Lord will be in a place called Hell. If you are a believer, then you need to know that sin will keep you from experiencing joy, peace, a sense of purpose in Christ, assurance of salvation, and a host of other wonderful benefits of being a child of God.
·         Second, sin tends to spread. I always wonder whenever I hear doctors talk about a “malignant” tumor. Is there a “benevolent” kind? I know, I know. There are good reasons they have for using that terminology.
But sin, like cancer, doesn’t keep to itself. It starts off with a separation from God, then that effect will work itself out into things like your tongue. For example, have you ever spoken a lie or a malicious rumor and think to yourself “Where did that come from?” Well, Jesus said that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” If there’s sin that’s not dealt with in a decisive way, then that will spread to other areas of your life.
·         Third, the spreading doesn’t stop with individuals. It never ceases to amaze me when people lament about the state of society. Certainly there’s injustice in this world. There’s racism, legal injustice, crime and other horrible things which people do to one another. But they’re just symptoms of a much greater and deadlier disease. People are separated from God, and this state will work itself out into public injustice. If people aren’t right with the Lord, then of course eventually that will be demonstrated publically.
·         And finally it ends in darkness. People stumble around and trip over things and hurt themselves and others because they can’t see what’s right in front of them. And that darkness—if the sin issue is not solved—will become eternal. As in never ending. Ever.

But thank God, the message of the Bible doesn’t end on this sour note. The One who created us and who revealed himself to Abraham didn’t leave us in this sorry state. We could never do anything about this, but he did. And that’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, you could have left us in this mess. We deserve it, and we put ourselves here in the first place. But you didn’t. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

[Feb 15]--Priorities

Isaiah 58:1-10

            If you’re really in love with someone (like your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse), then don’t you want to know them? Wouldn’t you be interested in what they like and dislike? Wouldn’t you care to know what their priorities in life are?
            That’s one of the main purposes of the Law, by the way, and a good way of applying it to our lives as N.T. believers. By reading the Torah (the books of Moses), you can see for yourself what God’s priorities are. If you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, I'd think this would be important.
            That’s why passages like today are important. They show God’s priorities. He values some things over other things.
            Taken on the face of it, it looks like God values taking care of people over ritual. Imagine an observant Jew of Isaiah’s time. He fasts when it’s time to fast, and he’s careful to follow the rules down to the smallest detail. He tithes scrupulously. He goes to corporate worship on a regular basis. But the Lord says that the “fast” which really impresses him is taking the chains of oppression off of hurting people. He says that the “fast” that he really wants to see is giving to the poor and other needy.
            Now, we need to be cautious. What’s my key word in studying Scripture? I have three words which really help me keep perspective and steer clear of fuzzy thinking: context, context, and context. The rest of the Bible has listed rituals which the Almighty God of Israel instituted. He gave Moses the fast days. He gave Moses instructions on tithing. He gave the rules concerning the Sabbath. Is God contradicting himself here? We might disagree about how (or if) N.T. believers are expected to do things like tithing or observing the Sabbath. But these are Old Testament believers. They were still under the Mosaic Law. There'd been no word that the Lord was abrogating his earlier instructions.
            So what are we to make of this? Although God might consider religious ritual and public observance to be less important than how we deal with people made in his image, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important at all and that you shouldn’t observe them.
            Let’s take church attendance as an example. We’re commanded by the writer of Hebrews (a N.T. writer) to gather together on a regular basis as a local body of believers to encourage and challenge each other. Now, let’s say that on my way to church I see someone on the side of the road who has a flat tire. Which is more important to God: That I make it to church on time, or that I help that person in the name of Christ?
            Let’s take another example, one which might hit closer to home than my “church or flat tire” example, one which you’re unlikely to encounter anyway. Lots of professing believers would never consider missing a Sunday church service or even a Wednesday night prayer meeting, but they think nothing of being rude to their server in a restaurant or to the guy trying to get into their lane.
            Now again, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that church attendance or giving to the church isn’t important. I don’t say that, and God doesn’t say that. But just like the Israelites in today’s reading, our attendance to ritual might be overshadowed by how we treat people who are made in our Creator’s image.
            Let me be perfectly frank here. If you go to a restaurant for Sunday lunch right after a worship service, and you don’t overtip and are not especially kind to your server, something is desperately wrong.
            Your Lord has priorities. He thinks some things are more important than others. Are you getting in sync?

Father, I want to be. I desperately want to be. Where your thoughts are different from my thoughts and your ways different from my ways, it’s me that needs to change. Please help.

[Feb 14]--Paradox and Peace

Isaiah 57:15 -21

            I apologize if you’re sick of hearing about this, but I have to assume that there are some folks just joining us. I love what I call “tension” verses and passages. These are verses that contain within them a perfect balance for us as believers. Martin Luther compared humanity to a drunk man on a horse, who falls off one side, brushes himself off, gets back on the horse determined not to fall off that side again, who then proceeds to fall off the other side. A perfect example of this is Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” To those who trust in their own building activities and guarding efforts, the psalmist tells us that it’s all useless unless the Lord is behind it. But to anyone who just wants to sit back and “let God take care of it,” this verse reminds us that he has to bless the work that we do. He won’t build your house for you, and he expects that you’ll put guards in place.
            Today’s passage contains one of the most profound and moving verses I’ve ever read in the Bible. There’s a tension between believers of different stripes, and this verse can remedy much of that. Look at how the Lord is described in the first half: He is the “high and exalted One. . .whose name is holy.” What does the word “holy” mean? It means “separate,” or “different.” When we call him the Holy One, we mean that he’s utterly unique in the universe. There is nothing like him in all creation. He's different from us and everything else you can imagine. He’s not your buddy. He’s not your pal. He’s not a peer. He's so high and exalted that there are angels flying around the throne who dare not look directly at his face.
            Quite frankly, American Christians are just about the only ones in the world who’ve seriously needed this corrective. In fact, most people throughout history—believers or pagan—would not need to be convinced that the Lord of the universe is holy and unique and can’t be approached any old way we please. It’s wouldn’t shock them at all that the Creator of everything is the high and exalted One. But the second half of the verse would be a shock to them. He lives in a high and holy place, but he has another dwelling as well. He also lives and indwells the person who's “contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” For someone who acknowledges their sin and utter moral bankruptcy before him, he’s right there. If we’re “lowly” enough to recognize that he’s God and we’re not, then he’s right there. If we belong to him, and we feel crushed by the burdens of life, then he’s right there: As close as a heartbeat, as close as the breath on our lips.
            Of course, the full paradox and seeming contradiction was made flesh and dwelt among us. One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel, remember? Within that one name—meaning “God with us,” is contained all the mystery of what we’re talking about. He’s God—with all that entails—but he’s God with us. He identified with us as sinners, he lived among us for 33 years and experienced all that we experience (without sin): loneliness, fear, hunger, thirst, anger, frustration, pain, tiredness, humiliation, etc. And he identifies with us still, even at this very moment.
            But again, we must not take this mercy and grace and “with us”-ness for granted. He offers us peace, but if we reject it, there’s no other source out there. People often wonder why world peace seems so elusive. The answer’s pretty simple, and it’s strongly hinted at in the last verse of today’s reading: “There is no peace. . . for the wicked.” Where people are doing things God’s way, there’s going to be as much peace as we can find in this world. As long as there are people out there who insist on doing things their own way instead of his, there won’t be any lasting peace. So if you’re waiting and yearning for world peace, you’re going to have to keep waiting until our Lord returns and sets up a Kingdom in which his word is obeyed eagerly and without question.
            Until that happens, we’re going to have to concentrate on doing things his way in our personal lives and in our families and in our churches. And we can add to that peace by calling upon people to submit to him in faith and obedience. Wherever the Prince of Peace reigns in undisputed authority, you’ll see what you’re yearning to see. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Lord Jesus, I can’t bring peace to the world, but I can bring peace to my life and home. It starts by doing things your way. Pretty easy to say, rough to do. But by your grace, I want to see it.

[Feb 13]--Foreigners and Outsiders

            As I write this, a debate has been raging for years about the effects of illegal immigration on our country. There are people on both extremes of the political spectrum who disagree with others about how to deal with the problem, or even the extent of the danger. For example, the editors of the Wall Street Journal opinion page (usually on the conservative side) favor some type of immigration reform by which illegal immigrants can become legalized and get on the path to citizenship. Other hard-core conservative elements vehemently oppose what they call “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, claiming that they take jobs away from citizens and keep wages low.
            Every nation in history that has some prosperity has had immigrants attempt to make a good living within its borders. And just as frequently, those immigrants have been treated less than kindly. Double-standards before the law or even outright persecution is the norm rather than tolerance.
            Obviously every nation must have control over its borders, but the Lord never ever ever sanctioned or condoned poor treatment of immigrants within the borders of Israel. On the contrary, he repeated warned his people that he had special concern for the “foreigner,” another term for immigrant. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think that these verses are telling us to throw open our borders to anyone who wants to come in. But it does tell us that God condemns any persecution or double-standard, which was (and is) the norm.
            So why do I bring it up, then? Because that “alien,” the foreigner that Isaiah is talking about? That’s you and me. Unless you’re Jewish, then God took you as a “wild” (non-native) olive branch and grafted you into the “vine” of his Kingdom.
            Now again, we need understanding. Right here and now, Gentiles are not “grafted” into God’s Kingdom by observing the Sabbath and other Mosaic laws. We’re saved by placing our faith in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). So what is the passage saying?
            According to the Law given to Moses, certain foreigners, while not mistreated, were still forbidden from fully participating in the worship at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). The same went for eunuchs. But God here says that his ultimate plan will be for the door to be opened for anyone to enter. I personally think that there’s a “now and not yet” aspect to this, just like with a lot of predictions. I believe that God was announcing during the time of Isaiah that the doors were opened for anyone who was willing to do things “God’s way” during that time. If someone joined the Lord's people and expressed that solidarity by following the Law of Moses, then he'd accept him. No national or racial or ethnic background could keep someone out of the Kingdom if they were willing to do things God’s way.
            The complete fulfillment was brought by the Messiah, and the same principle still applies, actually more than ever. In Christ, there’s no Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free. Your skin pigmentation or national background didn’t matter to God during the time of Isaiah, so it matters even less now. The only requirement, just like then, was that you get in by doing things God’s way. We’re brought in by simply placing our faith in Jesus.
            One of the reasons why this is so important is that we sometimes need a reminder that it’s always been God’s ultimate plan to bring in people from all types of backgrounds into his redeemed family. Does the phrase in vs. 7 “house of prayer for all nations” sound familiar at all? It should. Jesus quoted this phrase as he drove the money changers out of the temple area of the Gentiles. The temple of his time had an open courtyard which was supposed to be for Gentile worshippers to come and make sacrifices and learn about the God of Israel. But the temple leaders had turned it into a marketplace, making it virtually impossible for Gentiles to worship the one true God in the one place officially set aside for them. That’s what made Jesus so angry that—for the only time in his earthly life—he resorted to physical violence. You want to make Jesus angry? Get between him and an outsider who’s seeking him out.
            So are you in tune with God’s heart? Are you looking for opportunities to share his love with an “outsider”? He wants that person not to perish, but to come to repentance. Are you in sync with that? Why not?

Yes, Father, I want to be in sync with your heart. I want to bring people into your Kingdom, both here and across the world. Pour me out, break me in half, whatever it takes.