Saturday, 31 December 2011

Great and mighty things in 2012

Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the prison, saying, “Thus says the LORD who made it, the LORD who formed it to establish it (the LORD is His name): ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ – Jeremiah 33v1-3

What a great way to close 2011 even though, as we look forward for 2012, there is not a whole lot to get excited about.  

We hear reviews of the past year and predictions for the next every year’s end. At the close of this year neither had much good news. Tragedies, terrorism, and economic disasters are at the forefront and nobody seems to have an answer as to how to solve in in the year to come.

We think this is bad, but in Jeremiah’s day it was even worse. Jeremiah knew that his nation was doomed. God told him that from the very start.

And yet, in the midst of that we read ‘Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things that you do not know.’

How can that be? How can God say that when there was only bad news about?

The truth is that God doesn’t depend on circumstances or the news to do great and mighty things. He does His great and mighty things in the midst of all that. As we enter 2012 it may be more important than ever to call in the Lord and wait for Him to do great and mighty things in the midst of the trouble.

No matter what happens next year lets be ready to call on Him and watch Him do the great and mighty things! 

Friday, 30 December 2011

Everlasting love

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. – Jeremiah 31v3

The word ‘love’ is an interesting one. It is a shame that we only have one word for love in English. We miss a lot of the nuances of the Bible languages and I don’t know enough about them to dig them out. I do know that in English love can mean anything from ‘I love bacon and cabbage’ to ‘I love my wife’ to ‘I love God.’

Maybe that is why God said this the way He did. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’

The Hebrew word here apparently refers to a deep love, like that of a man for his wife. I think that is why Paul writes about the relationship between husband and wife as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church.

Though society has redefined marital love, and some countries are even allowing short term marital contracts, God view of marital love hasn’t changed. It is a choice that is supposed to last ‘as long as ye both shall live.’

The great thing is that God’s everlasting live is that it does last forever. It is not hampered by human frailties and weaknesses. God loves with an everlasting love and that love allows His to reach out to draw people to Him.

I am glad that He loves with an everlasting love. I certainly don’t deserve it. I want my life to reflect that kind of love to those in my life as well. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The oracle of the Lord?

Thus every one of you shall say to his neighbor, and every one to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' and, 'What has the LORD spoken?' And the oracle of the LORD you shall mention no more. For every man's word will be his oracle, for you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. Thus you shall say to the prophet, 'What has the LORD answered you?' and, 'What has the LORD spoken?' But since you say, 'The oracle of the LORD!' therefore thus says the LORD: 'Because you say this word, "The oracle of the LORD!" and I have sent to you, saying, "Do not say, 'The oracle of the LORD!' " therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and will cast you out of My presence. And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.' " – Jeremiah 23v35-40

Of all the bad stuff going on in Jeremiah’s day one of the worst were the actions of the preachers. When people asked what God had to say about a situation they forgot what God said, but instead made ‘every man's word will be his oracle, for you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God.’

We don’t use that word ‘oracle’ much anymore. The problem was in replacing God’s word with their opinions and their agendas. They equated and even elevated their words above God’s.

It would easy to sit back and say, ‘Well, that was then, this is now. We have the written word of God. We don’t have to depend on His oracles anymore. Surely that does not apply to anyone today?’

Doesn’t it?

What happens when we have an opinion or a view that we really think others should share? Perhaps it is something that the word of God does not deal directly with, but we are sure that we have it right. We search the scriptures but can’t find any solid support for our view, but does that stop us?

Sadly, no.

I think at some point or another all of us preachers have fallen into the trap of stretching the word of God to fit our viewpoint. We take some passage of scripture, sometimes even out of context, and use it to suit our agenda.

Is this really any better that replacing the ‘oracle of God with our own oracle’ and in doing so perverting the word of God.

The word of God is powerful enough on its own. It does not need your or my stretching, moulding, or perverting. Let’s be careful that we let God’s word do its work.

And this is not only for preachers. All believers need to be careful that when we say the Bible says something it really does say it.

Come on, isn’t God smart enough to deal with those situations we face?

Preach the word. Full stop! 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A hammer and a fire

"Is not My word like a fire?" says the LORD, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? – Jeremiah 23v29

It sure doesn’t seem like there is much hope, does it? Evil is progressing at such a rate that it seems like we have no hope and nothing to stem the vicious tide of wickedness.

Jeremiah lived in day a lot like this. He knew that he would have no visible success because God told him that would be the case. He was going to live and preach and minister but it was not going to do any good as far as stemming the tide of societal destruction.

If all we looked at was what is going on in society we might as well give up. We might as well quit. If we are going to let the world pick our battles and contend in those battles with their weapons we are always going to lose.

But God says that we have another more important battle to fight. He says we have a more important weapon in our warfare. ‘Isn’t my word like a fire? Isn’t it like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’

We have a weapon in the warfare that is truly important. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, they are spiritual. We have been caught up in trying to fight a spiritual battle with carnal weapons.

We have a much more important battle to fight. We have the weapons. We have the right Commander. We have the battle plans. Let’s get to it, shall we? 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Jehovah Tsidkenu

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. – Jeremiah 23v5-6

Religion is almost always an attempt to figure out what we need to do to make ourselves acceptable to God. People try all kinds of things to do that. People try self-flagellation and even crucifixion in order to try and find righteousness. Folks make pilgrimages and pay fortunes to make God happy with them.

The last Sunday in July here is called ‘Reek Sunday.’ It is called that because Croagh Patrick is nicknamed ‘The Reek.’ Legend has it that St Patrick fasted there for 40 days in the 5th century. Pilgrims have been making their way there since at least the 11th century. Roughly 15,000 make the trip every year now.

Folks come to climb the stony path to the top in order to experience something of St Patrick. Not everyone does it for religious reasons now, but many do. Some climb the sharp stony path barefoot in order to experience some sort of penance for their sins. Their desire is that maybe, by this religious experience they might get close to God.

We look at these things and wonder how people can be so foolish as to think they can achieve some level of righteousness by such actions.

And yet, sometimes we get caught in the same trap. We can think that if we ‘touch not, taste not, handle not’ the wrong things we can make God happy with our righteous living. Do this and don’t do that and you are going to be okay. Go here, don’t go there, wear this, don’t wear that and you are going to be spiritual.

Sorry, but righteousness does not work that way. All of my best efforts at righteousness are not but filthy rags. I know that, and if are honest with ourselves we all know that.

But there is hope. God sent a righteous Branch, Jesus Christ as the only hope for righteousness. It is His righteousness imputed to me that makes me righteousness. No amount of pilgrimages or religious acts or penance or ‘do this don’t do that’ can achieve it, because our only righteousness is found in The Lord Our Righteousness, our Jehovah Tsidkenu

Monday, 26 December 2011

Go with your heart?

"The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? – Jeremiah 17v9

‘Go with your heart! You can’t go wrong!’ That is the kind of advice that we hear all the time. ‘If you go with your heart you can’t go wrong.’

That sounds pretty good. After all nobody knows more about me than me, right? I know me and therefore my ‘gut feeling’ should be the thing to follow.

The only problem is that I cannot trust me. I know that deep down. I know that whenever I trust me I end up getting into trouble. The reason is pretty simple. When I trust my heart I am trusting something that is both wicked and deceitful.

I am not a young man anymore. If I look back honestly I know how many times my heart has let me down. I think about the trouble I have gotten into because I trusted my feelings.

Sure, God gives us feeling and emotions and ideas, but we need make sure that we compare those things to the only real source of truth. We need to check our feelings out with the advice that never fails.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. The word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword.

Which one is worthy of my trust? 

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The cure for man’s neighings - a Christmas message

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil. "Therefore I will scatter them like stubble That passes away by the wind of the wilderness. This is your lot, The portion of your measures from Me," says the LORD, "Because you have forgotten Me And trusted in falsehood. Therefore I will uncover your skirts over your face, That your shame may appear. I have seen your adulteries And your lustful neighings, The lewdness of your harlotry, Your abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! Will you still not be made clean?" – Jeremiah 13v23-27

What a dreadful picture Jeremiah paints here. Man is a sinner and nothing can change that. No sooner can a man change the colour of his skin or a leopard change his spots than man can change his proclivity to sin. God sees it. Man is like a horse in the starting gate snorting and neighing and whinnying to get started. That is how man goes after his lusts and nothing he can do is going to change it.

That is why I am grateful that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son to redeem us and to adopt us as His children. Today is ‘Christmas.’ I don’t necessarily like what that name implies. I wish we called today ‘Incarnation Day.’ But today is the day that we celebrate the hope of deliverance from man’s lustful neighings that came when the incarnate Christ appeared on earth in His deity as a babe in a manger. Man can have freedom from his mad pursuit of sin.

I cannot express it any better than Charles Wesley so I won’t even try. His marvellous hymn ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ expresses perfectly man’s hope for deliverance for the dilemma posed in Jeremiah 13v23-27.

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored

Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Praise God that the newborn King was born that men may escape those lustful neighing and change those wicked spots! 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Dull hearted shepherds

For the shepherds have become dull-hearted, And have not sought the LORD; Therefore they shall not prosper, And all their flocks shall be scattered. – Jeremiah 10v21

This morning’s little thought is a challenge to any of us who minister the word of God to others. Spiritual leaders and teachers have a special responsibility to make sure that we are prepared ourselves so that we can shepherd them.

Here the spiritual leaders had neglected to keep themselves sharp to the things of God. They did things their own way. They did not seek the Lord. As a result they became dull-hearted and when they became dull-hearted the nation could not prosper and the flocks were scattered.

We often forget that our walk with God is not just for us. Everyone has someone to spiritually shepherd. It may be a church, a youth group, a Sunday school class, or a Bible club. It might also be a wife and children or maybe a younger brother or sister. It might be that friend or co-worker. But we all have someone to shepherd.

Because if that it is vital that we spend time with God and constantly seek Him. The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and we need to keep our hearts sharp by spending time there.

Let’s remember that our walk with God is more than just us. Let’s keep our hearts sharp so that we can be a blessing to others. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Glory in this

But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD.  – Jeremiah 9v24

Jeremiah is what you might call a prophet of doom. He writes about the worst time in Judah’s history. Their sin and wickedness has brought them to the point where the nation is about to be destroyed. Things were rotten and there was little for God’s people to glory in.

That sounds like today for many of us. It seems like we are fighting a losing battle. Our societies are becoming more and more wicked. Stuff that wasn’t even spoken of a few years ago is everyday news today. Pure evil is all around us. The world seems to have all the power and resources and strength and it seems that we are just spinning our wheels.

That is not much to glory in.

But Jeremiah writes that there is something for us to glory in. We understand and know God. We know that He exercises lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness and that is what He delights in. We can glory in the fact that no matter what else changes, those things don’t.

Paul uses this passage to focus our thoughts when we feel like we are getting nowhere and that we are too weak and feeble to do anything about all that is going on.

‘For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, "He who glories let him glory in the Lord."

I don’t have much to glory in Lord – thank you that I can glory in You! 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

When people forget how to blush

Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time I punish them, They shall be cast down," says the LORD. – Jeremiah 6v15

We all know of course that the things Jeremiah writes about are meant specifically for a certain time and place. We can’t take everything and apply to our lives. We can however take principles from the way God deals with people and remember that He is unchanging. What was wrong then is wrong now.

Here is an example. The people had come to the point where they were no longer ashamed about their sin. They were not embarrassed. They did not even know how to blush.

That last line is pretty desperate. ‘Nor did they know how to blush.’

But then I think about today and wonder if those same words might very well be said about us.

Even in the church I think we have come to the point where we don’t like to be thought about as a prude. We don’t like it when people poke fun at us because we are embarrassed about situations which arise. We have no problem speaking about the shameful things that the wicked do in secret so that we can be accepted by the crowd.

It seems like nobody, especially men, know how to blush. Instead we give a nudge, express a chuckle, wink our eye, and carry along so no one thinks that we are innocent about sin. We can be more embarrassed about not knowing a vulgarity than we are about using one.

How tragic it is if we have forgotten how to blush about sin. Lord, remind us how to blush over wickedness. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The prophets become wind

They have lied about the LORD, And said, "It is not He. Neither will evil come upon us, Nor shall we see sword or famine. And the prophets become wind, For the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them." – Jeremiah 5v12-13

What a mess the nation had on their hands. Jeremiah’s report just kept getting worse and worse. Not only were they not giving God credit for the things they had, they also thought nothing bad would happen to them and their preachers were no longer proclaiming the word of God.

It sounds a lot like our society today doesn’t it? Folks are quick to blame God for the bad, but never want to credit Him for the good. There is no fear of God. So many preachers ignore the word of God to preach their own agenda.

We might expect the world to do that. It looks pretty clear that those things don’t change.

It becomes a problem when we get sucked into that way of thinking.

I guess the thing concerns me most is the little phrase about the prophets becoming wind because ‘the word of God is not in them.’

This is something that we all need to watch out for, whether we proclaim God’s word from behind the pulpit or across the table. We had better be sure that God’s word is in what we say. We have become so accustomed to saying things and making proclamations based on out agendas or thoughts that we can leave the word of God out of it.

In order to avoid being ‘wind’ let’s make sure that we preach ‘thus saith the Lord’ instead of ‘thus saith me!’ 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Silly people

"For My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge." – Jeremiah 4v22

‘Silly’ is not a word we come across very often in the Scriptures. The more reliable English translations only use it 2-3 times if at all. We all know that the word means today. We often talk about our young children being silly or admonish people with ‘stop being silly’ and get serious. In my mind it means acting without thinking or being so caught up in having fun that we don’t think clearly about the consequences. That is why the word is so often applied to children.

The development of the word ‘silly’ is an interesting one. The website  says that the word developed from "blessed" to "pious," to "innocent" (c.1200), to "harmless," to "pitiable" (late 13c.), to "weak" (c.1300), to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish" (1570s).’

So what is the silliness among God’s people that He talks about here? ‘They know how to do evil, but they don’t know how to do good.’

Even though this was written to about the nation of Israel it really describes how Christians act at times. We are like those kids who get out of control and forget the importance of what we are doing. With kids things get knocked off and broken who someone ends up crying. With adults we just really can mess things up with our silliness.

I really don’t like the idea that I am a silly Christian. Lord, remind me of my silliness and help to know more how to good and less how to do evil. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Vain hope

Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, And from the multitude of mountains; Truly, in the LORD our God Is the salvation of Israel. Jeremiah 3v23

People hope in all kinds of stuff. At times like this it is easy to try and find solutions for all the difficulties that we face. As Israel looked vainly to the hills and the mountains for someone to come and deliver them we often find ourselves looking vainly to our governments, world leaders, and economic advisors for a deliverance from the economic situation we find ourselves in.

But that is just symptomatic of a greater problem. We think that if we elect the right leaders to public office they are going to take care of us and solve all the moral issues that we face on our society.

The problem is that no matter how much we trust in them they always let us down. We tend to be so focused on our physical and material challenges that we forget that we do have real hope.

Later on in his second book, Lamentations, Jeremiah is going to put it clearly – ‘"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I hope in Him!’

There is hope folks. We need to keep that in mind and stop being discouraged when false hope keeps failing us. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Come on back

"They say, 'If a man divorces his wife, And she goes from him And becomes another man's, May he return to her again?' Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me," says the LORD.  – Jeremiah 3v1

There are many blessings to serving the God we serve. One of the greatest is to see His desire for His people to return to Him when they fall away or even turn away from Him. That is one thing that gives me great hope when I err, or stumble, or fall, ore wander off track.

Old Testament language can be very descriptive. Here God uses two pictures. The first is of a man who divorces his wife, she gets married, and then he wants to take her back. The second is of a woman who acts like a prostitute with many lovers and then wants to return to her husband.

The questions here verge on the rhetorical. It would be difficult, if not humanly impossible to accept a spouse back after those kinds of adventures. The answer could almost just be a resounding ‘no.’

And yet God says to His people, even though guilty of playing the harlot with Him, ‘Yet, return to Me.’

I love that we have a ‘come on back’ Saviour. This is not just an Old Testament concept. We think of the prodigal son where the father waits with open arms for his erring son to repent and come home.

I am glad that God sees me through my dumb mistakes and stupid choices. May God give me the grace and patience to pray for others while they wander. He invites them to return. So should I. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

They will not prevail

"Therefore prepare yourself and arise, And speak to them all that I command you. Do not be dismayed before their faces, Lest I dismay you before them. For behold, I have made you this day A fortified city and an iron pillar, And bronze walls against the whole land— Against the kings of Judah, Against its princes, Against its priests, And against the people of the land. They will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you," says the LORD, "to deliver you." – Jeremiah 1v17-19

Nobody ever said that life was going to be easy. It is kind of like what Westley told Buttercup in ‘The Princess Bride,’ ‘Life is pain, Highness, anybody who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.’

Some preachers will stand in the pulpit and tell us that once we get saved and give our lives to God everything is going to be fine and dandy. They tell us that we have enough faith everything is going to be great. They say that if we send them a few bob in faith God will pour at the blessings and we will be on the easy road.

To use an old word – balderdash. Life is tough and salvation doesn’t change that.

If there was any doubt God makes it clear to Jeremiah. God tells him to get going. He describes all that He is going to do to protect Jeremiah, then he clearly says ‘they will fight against you.’ But ‘don’t be dismayed’ he says because they ‘will not prevail against you because I am with you to deliver you!’

This weekend’s fear and hard times and difficulties are not going away. They battles of 2012 are going to come. But rest assured that we don’t have to face them alone. When we are in the battle let’s be sure to remember that we are not alone. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Trying to reason with God

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth." But the LORD said to me: "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. – Jeremiah 1v5-9

I like the fact that our Bible heroes are revealed to be people like us. We get to see their flaws and fears. We get to see that they are not perfect.

Two of our heroes, Moses and Jeremiah, had similar experiences when God called them out to serve Him. Both of them tried to reason with God as to why they were not qualified to serve Him. Moses used his stammer as an excuse. Jeremiah used his youth.

Here we see Jeremiah. ‘I cannot speak! I am just a kid!’

‘Don’t tell me you are just a kid’ God responded, ‘you will go where I send you and say what I tell you.’

Scary stuff, huh?

But God didn’t leave it there. ‘Don’t be afraid, I am with you. I will deliver you.’

This is the comfort we need when doing God’s work. It is scary. We will never feel qualified. We will never feel able and the truth us that we are not qualified or able.

But God is able. He is with us. And finally, as He told Jeremiah – ‘I have put my words in your mouth.’

We don’t need to be afraid or intimidated because of our youth, our experience, or our weaknesses. God is with us. He will give us what we need to say.

Let’s stop the excuses and get busy. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Motherly comfort

As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." – Isaiah 66v13

In yesterday’s thought we saw God portrayed as our Father Potter moulding and shaping and forming us into what He wants us to be. That sounds a lot like a dad, doesn’t it? Dads seem to be the ones who take on the role of smoothing the rough edges and applying the pressure to come up with a finished product.

God does not just take on that fatherly moulding role. He also, in a mysterious way, takes on the comforting role of a mother.

Imagine that. I know after parenting for almost 33 years and even as a relatively new grandparent (8 years) how this plays out. I have found that indeed I have done the majority of the ‘pottering.’ I am the one who has tended to do the part that seems tough. It is a hard, but needed role.

But the focus today is on God’s comforting role. He comforts us like a mother comforts her children.

What a precious picture this is. Through all these years the kids have always gone to Mom for comfort. I am not talking about checking out an injury of applying a pastor. I am talking about climbing up in a lap and getting a cuddle and being assured that it is okay. Our children are way beyond that stage now, but I find that they still go to mom to be reassured or comforted during hard times.

I love the fact that God can deal with us as a potter, moulding and shaping, while at the same time treating us a mother, providing that special comfort.

Sometimes I still need to crawl up to my God and get that motherly comfort. Thank God that He still gives it. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Father potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. – Isaiah 64v8

Of course whenever I see this verse I remember the great old hymn by Adelaid A. Pollard. The chorus goes Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mould me and make me after Thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.’  

It is a lovely song of submission to the Master Potter as He shapes and moulds and forms us to His will. When we think about a lump of clay on the master’s will we see the extent of the submission. That lump of clay is pushed and shoved. It is needed and punched. It is pinched and prodded. Chunks are ripped out and thrown to the ground. Moulding surely would not be comfortable from the perspective of the clay.

Yet there is a word of comfort here as well. We are not exactly like that physical lump of clay on the wheel. God is the potter, but He is also our Father.

That changes the picture a bit. Our potter is also our Father. All the shaping and moulding He does is out of love and is designed to form us into the masterpiece He wants us to be. His shaping is with love and compassion. Even when it may not be comfortable we can rest assured that we are being shaped by the One who loves and cherishes us as His child.

Praise God that He is my Father-Potter. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Filthy righteousness

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. – Isaiah 64v6

You know what? Sometimes we can think we are pretty good. This is especially those of us who are Christians and have been for a good long time. We go to church, we don’t battle with the ‘big’ sins, we are nice to people, we love other believers, we read our Bibles, we tithe, we go to church work days, we try to witness, and on and on and on.

With all that being said God is pretty lucky to have us around, dontcha think?

We get pretty satisfied with our own righteousness. After all, I am not as bad as so and so, right?

The truth is not a pretty picture. As soon as we start thinking that our righteousness does anything we are in big trouble. Isaiah tells us about our righteousness. He reminds that all of our own righteousnesses are nothing more than filthy rags. I know that there are all kinds of ideas as to what ‘filthy’ is, but there is no doubt that filthy means, well, filthy, dirty, stinking, rotten, etc.

We are kind of like that child making those first attempts to wash up and comes to say ‘All clean mommy!’ while still covered with play-grime.

Nothing we do, no matter how great has any impact on our righteousness.

Praise God then that we are no dependent on our righteousness. It is only by the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, not infused in us, that gives us a claim of righteousness. Faith in His righteousness alone is our hope.

Let us never get the idea that we, in ourselves, are wearing filthy rags when we try to walk in our own righteousness. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Messiah’s message

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; - Isaiah 61v1

I always pause when I get to this passage because it is the one scripture that Jesus used in the synagogue to reveal to the Jews that He was the one prophesied by Isaiah. After standing in before the crowd Jesus ‘… closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

His statement was quite a shock to His hearers. They all knew Isaiah. They knew this was referencing Messiah, and yet here Jesus, the son of a carpenter, was claiming that He was the one fulfilling this ancient prophecy.

I am intrigued by the message He chose. Of all the things He could have said He chose one that was full of hope and healing. He could have talked about wrath and judgement. Instead He talked about preaching good tidings to the poor, healing the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty, and opening prison doors.

Jesus’ focus was on those we so often forget. His message was for all, but here He focuses on those we often forget. His message was for the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, and the bound.

Why is it that the people Jesus focused on are often so far down our priority list? 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Not short handed

Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. – Isaiah 59v1

There is a phrase that businesses and organisations often use to describe why they can’t get things done or meet deadlines. ‘We’re sorry, but we are running a little behind because we are short-handed this week.’

We use that phrase today in a specific way referring to a lack of staff or workers, but the idea is that there are not enough resources to complete the required task. It is a great word picture. I think about the times that, due to my shortness, I have not been able to quite reach something. While decorating the tree yesterday I was short-handed to do the lights and ornaments near the top of the tree. My resources were not adequate.

In the context here in Isaiah the people were facing judgement. They had sinned and turned from God. It seemed like it was hopeless.

God is making it clear here that the situation is that it is not God’s fault. It is man’s fault. God is not short-handed when it comes to solving the situation. His ear is not so deaf that He cannot hear.

There is still hope. God is never short-handed to do what needs to be done. He is never so deaf that He can’t hear.

Why aren’t we seeking Him more? 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Another view of fasting

"Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? – Isaiah 58v6-7

I remember the first time I preached a message on this passage. I was in a mid-week service in a town that had just suffered a devastating tornado. Many were dead and hundreds were homeless. The city was asking for temporary shelters. This church had a large sports hall with full kitchen facilities. However the topic never came up. Nobody mentioned helping these people. I had, of course, already prepared the message. And yet, as I preached, God changed the message.

The words were written to a people who did all their religious works properly. They cried out to God about why He wasn't blessing them. They were even fasting with no results.

God told them that the fasting and the rest of their religious works were not enough. 'Here is the fast I have chosen' said God. He then goes on to tell how God's people really evidence their faith.

There are two aspects, spiritual and physical.

The spiritual aspects are clear - 'To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke.' Though we fall far short we all at least know the importance of this aspect. Even if we don't do it like we should, we know they truth that the gospel message will do all these things. We know that we need to do them.

But the second half really spoke to my heart that night and has ever since. There is more to it than just the spiritual. The kind of fast that God requires also means that we 'share our bread with the hungry, and that we bring to our house the poor who are cast out; and when you we the naked, that we cover him,'

The particular setting that night was obvious. People were homeless, the had missed their dinner, some only had the clothes on their backs. And yet we sat in our comfortable pews, with the means to feed and temporarily house scores of people. And we did – nothing, nothing at all.

That was just the start of it. As I have looked around through the years since then I have seen how little we do to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor and needy. As I have studied through the years I have learned that God never rescinds these instructions. His commands to do this things are just as clear in the New Testament as they were in the Old.

Even as I sit here now knowing what I know and with the changes I have made in my perspective and actions I am still convicted.

If we really want to please God we have to do more than just fast and pray. He have to do more than just preach the liberating gospel. We need to remember to do the rest. We need to shelter the homeless, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. We need, as Jesus said, to give that cup of water. For in doing that we show how we really feel about Jesus. 

Friday, 9 December 2011


"I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near," Says the LORD, "And I will heal him." But the wicked are like the troubled sea, When it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt. "There is no peace," Says my God, "for the wicked." – Isaiah 57v19-21

‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ We all immediately recognise that refrain from the angels’ proclamation at Messiah’s birth. Before His earthly ministry ended Jesus reiterated that promise when He said ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,’ and ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’

Here is Isaiah God promises to give peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. One of the titles for Messiah given earlier in Isaiah is ‘Prince of Peace.’

It is obvious that part of God’s plan for His people is real peace. God is a God of peace. He draws His enemies to peace with Him and He gives His peace to all who will trust Him. His peace is far superior to the temporary peace that the world offers.

The warning is clear – there is no peace for the wicked. No matter how much man tries for peace apart from God he will not find it. God is the source of the only true peace.

Those of us who are saved have that peace available to us. He tells us in His word how to have the peace of God reigning.

But the world doesn’t have that hope. They need the Prince of Peace and we have His message. What are we doing with it? 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Threefold holiness

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, And the souls which I have made. – Isaiah 57v15-16

I have to thank my good friend and former ‘boss’ for bringing this to my attention. I was flying someplace while reading the book ‘Be Ye Holy’ by Fred Moritz when I saw his comments on this verse and that spurred me on to further study. It is an amazing concept. Dr Moritz pointed out here the three-fold holiness of God in this one verse. He writes that God reveals His 1)intrinsic holiness, 2) transcendent holiness, and 3) His immanent holiness.

The concept that is almost incomprehensible is that the God Who is holy by His very nature, and Who is unique in His holiness condescend to bring that holiness to man. Pardon a bit of vernacular, but that just blows me away!

I remember sitting on that plane and putting the book down just to stop and think about it. The perfectly holy God, whose very name is holy and the One who lives in the high and lofty place is not content to live there. Instead He was willing to bring that holiness to a sin filled and sin cursed world.


I don’t know what else to say. Praise God that in His love the One whose name is Holy is willing to come and live with me! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Go out with joy

"For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." – Isaiah 55v12-13

I just started a sermon series in Philippians. I mentioned in the introductory message that we don’t live in very joyful days. There just doesn’t seem to be much to ‘joy’ about today.

This is especially true in a spiritual realm. For some of us we preach and pray and teach and share and we only see the smallest visible results. It can be hard to take joy when all we see are ‘little victories.’

But we saw something earlier in this chapter. God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are not my thoughts. His word will never return void. It is do what He wants it to do.

If I can just keep that in mind we can go out into His work with joy, no matter what we see. When we allow Him to be in control we see things from a different perspective. When we ‘get it’ we go out with joy. We are led forth with peace. We can do all this because we have the eternal perspective in mind when ‘all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’

Lord, help me to keep my mind on things above. Help me to look on the unseen. Help me, as I learn to trust You and Your ways, to go out with great joy! 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

God’s word – God’s purpose

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55v11

I can get discouraged sometimes at a lack of results and lack of response to God’s word. It seems like we can preach and teach and share and that nothing ever really seems to happen as a result. If we are not careful we may end up asking ourselves why we even bother.

When these thoughts some I need to remind myself of something. God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are not my thoughts. His word is not going to accomplish what I want it to do, but it will do what He wants it to do.

God promises that His word will not return to Him void or wasted. Proclaiming God’s word is never a waste. Not matter what we see going on God is at work.

God’s word goes out, He trusts us to proclaim it. All we have to do then is leave the actual results with Him.

His word won’t return void. It will accomplish all that He wants done. It will prosper in the way that He wants it to prosper.

It is not about me and what I get to see done. It is all about Him and His purpose. Trust Him. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Higher thoughts and higher ways

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55v8-9

Sometimes I can’t figure it out? ‘Can’t figure what out?’ you might ask. ‘IT, I can’t figure it out. Any of it. Why does stuff happen the way it does? Why can’t things just go the way I think they should? I don’t want much; I just want things to go my way! I want what I want, the way I want it, and I want it now!

Hmm, does that sound familiar parents? Have you ever heard anyone say or express those thoughts.

Of course we have. It sounds like our children (or grandchildren now in some cases). We set up boundaries and rules for the kids. There are thing that cannot do and things we don’t give them. They rarely understand it. We just them to obey us and trust, for the time being that we know best.

Hopefully we do. We know what happens when children play with fire. We know that knives cut. We know that the cooker is hot. We know that eating too many sweets is not good for you. We know that medicines can kill.

Children don’t always know that. They want to play with the pretty fire. They think those shiny colourful pills look yummy. We know that cars on the road our dangerous. Our thoughts are above their thoughts. Our ways are above theirs.

And we so we go back to my perception of what is right and just and proper. Why don’t things go my way? Why don’t things work out the way I think they should?

Because I don’t understand it all. I don’t know everything. There is Someone who does. His ways are high above my ways. His thoughts are high above my thoughts.

We ask our children to trust us in these situations. Why can’t we trust our Father to do best? 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Seek the Lord

Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. – Isaiah 55v6-7

If yesterday’s invitation was a bit vague and general, today’s call makes it very, very clear. While the first couple of verse invited everyone who is thirsty to come and partake without any money of their own, these verses make it very clear what is on offer.

I am not going to go into all the detail about what Isaiah is writing about, but instead focus on the character of God seen here.

Men often get themselves in a mess. Because of sin and pride and lusts and self-reliance man often finds himself in a dry and barren land. He finds himself in misery and woe. He finds himself in a situation when there is no joy and no refreshment.

Here God has an answer. I think the answer is to the lost wandering in sin and to God’s children who have wandered.

Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on the Lord while He is near. Forsake wickedness. Forsake unrighteous thoughts. Return to the Lord.

And what will happen?

The Lord will have mercy. God will abundantly pardon.

When we find ourselves in that dry and barren land there is hope. God has not turned His back. He is still there. Like the father of the prodigal son when we come back He is waiting with open arms.

If you are not in a prodigal state today, pray for those who are that they would come home to their Father who is waiting to forgive them. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ho! Everyone…

"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance – Isaiah 55v1-2

I certainly don’t understand how God’s sovereignty and man’s free will work together. I just don’t see in my puny little mind how they fit. I don’t fight this battle. As soon as I think I have come to a conclusion I see something else in scripture that makes me think again.

Verses like this are a part of the ‘problem.’ ‘Ho! Everything who thirsts, come to the water…’ ‘Everyone’ that is what catches my eye here. Instead of digging into that old debate I think I will just make the application here.

Street merchants have always been around. Though it has died off quite a bit I remember the old Moore Street Market in Dublin. From all up and down that little street we would hear – ‘Oranges, five for a pound!’ ‘Bananas!’ ‘Apples, six for a pound!’ I also remember a flea market back in Chattanooga when a guy selling egg rolls would yell out – ‘Egg Roll Yummies, good for your tummy. But one get one free, buy two get two free, but six get seven free!’

But here we have a different kind of street market. ‘Ho! Everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters! Even if you don’t have any money come and buy and eat and drink.’ The egg roll yummy guy may have offered buy one get one free, but he never said ‘buy none get one free.’

The key thing about God’s offer in Isaiah, as we will see, is that His offer is free. No one has the money to buy the drink or the food that is necessary for salvation. No one has the money to pay for soul-satisfaction.

But if man comes, and listens to what God has to say he will find that his soul can delight itself in fullness and fatness.

The challenge to me is whether I am doing my part to shout out that free offer to a world that needs salvation. Am I the one standing in the market shouting out ‘Listen, everyone, come and hear about God’s offer of salvation’? 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Wandering sheep…and a lamb led to slaughter

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
(Isa 53:6-7)

‘All of us, every one of us, are like sheep which have wandered astray. We have all, every one of us, turned to go our own way.’

That certainly describes the world doesn’t it? It is man’s nature. When there was no king in Israel what did man do? ‘Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.’ What a mess man is. When Jesus looked over Jerusalem He wept for the multitudes of people because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

So what happened? What was the result of the wandering? Was and is there any hope for a world wandering aimlessly?

Praise God that there is. ‘The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’

I can’t get my head around that. Here is a world wandering without hope because of their own sin and the Lord laid the sin on the shoulders of Messiah, Jesus Christ.

What was the result? He, not me was oppressed and afflicted. He, not me, was lead like a lamb to the slaughter.

And what did the King of Kings and Lord of Lords do in response? He could have wiped them all out with a single breath, but what did He do?

He was silent. He let Himself be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

The One, the only One, who did it right bore the price for the all who do it wrong.

As we approach this Christmas season and remember the wonderful coming of our Saviour to earth as a Babe in a manger, let us also remember Him as the Lamb who was led to the slaughter for our wanderings.