The Heaven Remain Intact

The holy city had become a wilderness, Jerusalem but a desolation. The once holy and beautiful house of praise had been burned by fire. The pleasant places were in ruins (Isa. 64:10-11). And so the cry went up.

Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence–as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil–to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence!

(Isaiah 64:1-2 ESV)

Rend the heavens and come down!

They were looking for a big entrance. An epic arrival. Cue the trumpets! Array an angelic army! And, with guns blazing, rescue us O Lord!

Should God look down from heaven, His holy and beautiful habitation (63:15), and decide to intervene, the collective imagination was that it would happen with the skies being torn open, the mountains trembling, the sea fleeing as it had during Moses’ great deliverance. The waters might go red, the sun might grow dark, and God’s visible manifestation that He had left His throne to intervene in the affairs of man might again be seen in a pillar of fire by night and a tower of cloud by day. When God would come everybody would know, and the nations would tremble.

What wasn’t expected was that, while God would one day rend the heavens, His initial rescue mission would be birthed–literally–through the womb of a virgin. Far from splitting the skies, His entrance was, to say the least, understated. Other than an angelic announcement to some shepherds in a field at night, there were no mountains shaking, no waters churning, no heavens rending. Just a baby crying.

And as I sit back and chew afresh on how we’d expect God to enter our realm versus how He actually determined to visit His creation, awe is re-kindled.

Coming not as a warrior, but as a Good Shepherd. Brandishing not a sword to engage His enemies, but willing to bear a cross that our enemy, the devil, might be defeated. Targeting not physical chains of bondage with physical weapons of warfare, instead destroying the bondage of sin by offering Himself once for all as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for the debt of slavery we could never pay.

To be sure, there is coming a day when the heavens will be torn from top to bottom, and the glory will be manifest. That day when the Son of Man, the One called Faithful and True, on whom the name is written, “King of kings and Lord of lords,” will return in might and power (Rev. 19:11-16). When justice will rule the day and an accounting will be demanded.

In the mean time, the heavens stay intact (though we don’t know for how much longer) as His people carry the good news of His salvation to all who will receive it and believe it. The skies remain whole as His Spirit moves to rescue and redeem souls often imperceptibly. And heaven comes down as the kingdom is quietly established.

All by His amazing grace. Only for His everlasting glory.

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Righteousness and Praise

Some things just go together. Where you find one, you expect to find the other. For example, peanut butter and jam. And you can probably fill in the blanks on some others: hammer and ____; needle and _____; knife and _____; shoes and ____; nuts and _____. You get the idea. Where there’s salt, you’re gotta find pepper.

After reading in Isaiah this morning, I want to suggest there’s another pairing that should be added to the list.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, . . . For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

(Isaiah 61:10a-11 ESV)

Righteousness and praise. Don’t know how you find one without the other.

Isaiah looks to a future day when Israel’s Messiah reigns. A day marked not only by national revival but a world-wide acknowledgment of their God and they as His people. A day foreshadowed by our current age of grace. This time period in which the Lord’s anointed, Jesus, has come to bring good news to the poor, offering liberty to those captive to sin’s bondage, proclaiming the time of the LORD’s favor (Isa. 61:1-3).

And the harvest reaped through the sowing of the seeds of the LORD’s favor? A people clothed with garments of salvation and covered with robes of righteousness. A righteousness acquired not through man’s best efforts at being holy, but by faith.  Not some tier-2 righteousness that you might expect from mortal men and women, but perfect righteousness, the righteousness of God, imputed to all who believe through God’s own Son.

And where such righteousness is found, I’m suggesting that Isaiah’s suggesting, you’re gonna find praise as well.

. . . that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

(Isaiah 61:3b ESV)

A people clothed in the spotless beauty of Another. On display before heavenly realms as a majestic forest of righteousness. Planted by Another. Raised up in holiness for His glory. Their righteousness evoking His praise.

When those rescued from bondage grasp the fullness of their redemption, when they comprehend something of the degree of their declared righteousness, there can only be the unquenchable urge to worship.

so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up

Songless saints reveal something is amiss. They may not have been taught of the garments they have been freely given through Christ’s finished work–their sins not only forgiven, but His righteousness credited to their account. Or, they may find it hard to believe that such garments are really for them as they hear the accuser’s voice trying to convince them that their sin is really beyond the full gospel and such an all-encompassing salvation. Or, their lack of desire to offer sacrifices of praise, the fruit of their lips, might be reflective of the fact that they really stand in their own righteousness–somehow believing they have merited His unmerited favor.

But some things just gotta go together. Peanut butter and jam. Hammer and nails. Needle and thread. Knife and fork. Shoes and socks. Nuts and bolts.

Righteousness and praise.

Because of His grace. Only for His glory.

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In All the Scriptures

It’s a story that easily captures the imagination. Three men walking away from Jerusalem. Two were neighbors from Emmaus, the Third they didn’t recognize. The two were talking about the crucifixion, the Other had been crucified. The two in confused dismay as to what had happened to the mighty prophet from Nazareth, the One they had hoped would be the redeemer of Israel. The Third, well, He was the Redeemer.

Two speculating as to how the body could have been removed from the tomb and what manner of delirium had caused the woman to think they had seen angels. Their walking companion being the One who had walked out of the tomb, having conquered sin and death and rising again in power. Two slow of heart to believe. The Third ready to become their teacher.

And He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

(Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

Sometimes we forget that the bible of the first century was what we now refer to as the Old Testament. That the church was birthed without the gospels or the letters, but was founded on the ancient writings of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. They contained the promises. They spoke of redemption. They revealed the nature and work of the Messiah.

And yet, I venture to guess, that most of us spend relatively little time reading Moses or the Prophets. It’s easier, in a sense, to hang out in the New Testament where the Old Testament is revealed. But there is a depth of understanding, and a degree of awe, that comes only from reading in the Old and seeing how within it the New is concealed.

It’s in the writings of Moses that we find the promise of blessing for all nations through the Seed of a chosen people. There that we first find faith as the basis for God to declare one righteous. There that a great deliverance is foreshadowed. There that God’s desire to live in the midst of a chosen people is revealed. And there that a great foe is identified–stiff necks and hard hearts.

While the prophets give insight to the just demands of holiness, they also identify how God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. How a just God could justify those who were unable to pay the debt their sin demanded. How a Servant would be raised up to bear their sin and to heal their diseased sin natures. How the God of creation would re-create hardened hearts. How the God of light would bring understanding to darkened minds through His illuminating Spirit. How the God who desired communion in the garden would one day fulfill that reality on a new earth.

It’s all there. Gotta dig a bit. Need to be patient. Might take numerous readings over many years to uncover some of the gems. But the treasure is worth the hunt.

The experience of the dynamic of the Spirit opening your understanding would be prize enough. But then to see the Savior foretold and realize afresh He has always been God’s promised Seed of blessing . . . and to wonder anew at the patience, the compassion, and the love of God as He brings a people to Himself . . . can’t help but stir the heart.

Awe rises. Worship flows. And the multi-faceted beauty of the Savior is experienced.

Oh the joy of seeing the things concerning Himself . . .  in all the Scriptures.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Abundantly Pardoned!

It’s one of those passages of Scripture that is known by almost everyone who’s been around the Bible for any length of time. Might not know much about Isaiah’s prophecy, but this they know. Not only do I believe it is widely known, I regularly hear it broadly applied. One of those foundational truths that can be cited on those many diverse occasions when the logic of what is happening just doesn’t compute within our finite, mortal brains.

The principle? His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares 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 55:8-9 ESV)

True statement. God wouldn’t be God if we could figure Him out. Not much of a deity if, rather than us being created in His image and being but a dull reflection of His being, He actually thinks and operates after our cognitive abilities and our natural capabilities.

But what invoked the awe factor this morning was the context of these well known verses.

They are penned as part of plea. An appeal to the thirsty. An exhortation to those bound by poverty. An invitation to come to the waters. To come and buy and eat, though they have no money. To listen diligently to Him. To incline their ears, so that they might hear Him whisper anew His everlasting covenant made with His people for the sake of David.

To not only come, and listen, but to seek the LORD while He may be found. To call upon Him and to return to Him.

And all this spoken to a spiritually adulterous people. Thirsty because they had purposed to drink from cisterns hewn by their own hands. Without means because their sin had left them morally bankrupt. People of promise but with hearts of rebellion. To such as these, the God of heaven pleads, Come! Buy with money! Incline your ear! Seek Me! Return to Me!

“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, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

(Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV)

For He will abundantly pardon! That’s the specific context for considering the incomprehensibility of the thoughts and the ways of our God.

Makes no sense that a God who has received only the backs of His people, would so earnestly contend for their faces. After such prolonged and determined rejection of His ways, our finite, flawed hearts are inclined to declare, “Enough! Done with you! Have your own way!” But our infinite, eternal God is ready to pardon–and pardon abundantly.

Not only ready to pardon, but willing and able. Having orchestrated the means of deliverance. Having provided the sacrifice upon which an exceedingly great pardon could be, with justice, granted to all who would respond to the call and come and buy and eat.

No sin too sinful. No shame too shameful. No brokenness and dysfunction too broken or too dysfunctional. The cross was enough! The cross was enough!

No matter how we apply the principle of thoughts greater than our thoughts, and ways higher than our ways, none compare, really, to the lofty and heavenly thoughts of a Redeemer God towards a people in desperate need of redemption. None comes close to the ways of the Holy Son of God who gave Himself freely for the sin of a wayward world on a cruel cross.

Abundantly pardoned!

By His grace! For His glory!

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There Is No Other

As a people they had experienced it all. Having been delivered from bondage by God’s mighty hand, they experienced what it was to live under the cloud of His presence by day and the pillar of His light by night. Then, once they were in the land of plenty, they started exalting themselves, taking credit for the blessings of land, cities, and harvest as if it were the result of their own doing. But things went south fast as everyone lived to do what was right in their own eyes. And so, God used the peoples around them to discipline them.

Then they decided that what was needed was a king like the nations around them in order to defend their borders. Political structure, they thought, would be the answer. Not so much. Under the kings there was division and a growing “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality. Thus the wooden and metal gods of the nations surrounding Israel became the idols of the people within Israel. Spiritual arrogance gave way to spiritual adultery.

And God will not share His glory with any other thing–whether that thing be wood, metal, or human in nature. Thus judgment. Thus the prophets. Thus Isaiah.

But the tone shifts dramatically in Isaiah when you hit chapter forty. Warnings of judgment shift to pleas for repentance. Though God would judge, though His people would find their beloved Zion in ruins and many of them would be sitting in Babylon, yet through His prophet, God calls them to return. And the heart of that call, at least based on my current readings in Isaiah, is an appeal to remember something. And that something is that there is no other.

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose . . . ‘”

(Isaiah 46:8-10 ESV)

Repeatedly throughout Isaiah 44, 45, and 46 the call for clarity echoes:

“I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no God”  (44:6b)

“Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”  (44:8b)

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (45:7)

“There is no god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior, there is none besides me.”  (45:21b)

To a people created to worship and prone to worship everything but the Creator, God cries out, “Give your head a shake! See the fruit of your self-worship. Behold the waste of following the world’s lead. Look at the emptiness of your idol worship. And return to Me. For there is no other.”

And it’s in remembering this that we stand firm. In recalling this that we maintain equilibrium. In believing this that we keep on keepin’ on.

To be sure we’re prone to wander. And equally to be sure storms of trial and suffering have a way of blowing us off course. But when we remember that there is no other God but our god it has a way of drawing the wandering heart back to heaven. A way of directing the wayward ship toward safe harbor.

My heart stirred this morning, my soul calmed, as I’m reminded that He is God, and there is no other.

Because of His grace. Only for His glory.

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Done Deal But Not Done Dealing

Ours is a faith of holy tensions. Many of our foundations and principles for navigating life as Christians are not just either/or, but rather both/and. For example, God is sovereign and we have free will. Jesus will build His church but we are to go and make disciples. We are to honor the king even though our citizenship in heaven. All things are permissible, yet all things are not beneficial. And the list goes on. You get the idea.

Came across another this morning in my reading in Hebrews. A reminder that while “It is finished,” it too is still going on. Though our salvation is a done deal, our Savior is not yet done dealing with us.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

(Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV)

He has made complete those who are being consecrated. He has made perfect those who are being purified. He has forever brought to fulfillment those who are still being formed. That’s the holy tension we live in.

Every morning we can awake with full assurance of our salvation. Knowing that the work really is finished. That God really can love us no more than He already has through the demonstration of the cross. That our adoption is not pending while we prove ourselves in some foster care scenario, but that we have already been given the seal of the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). And thus, we know that we are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). So much so, He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11). In Him we really are complete (Col. 2:10 NKJV).

For by a single offering He has perfected us.

And yet, we awake so many mornings aware of our imperfection. Conscious of our need for confession. Weary of our weakness. Feeling like failures. Flooded with the intimate knowledge that while He may have perfected us, we are far from perfect. Sinners saved by grace, but still being saved from sin.

Having been set apart we are now being sanctified. Though the work is finished, Christ, through His Spirit, is finishing the work He has begun in us. That while we already possess His fullness, His desire is that we would also bear His likeness.

The weakness, the failure, the struggles, all contributing to form a crucible which brings the dross to the surface so that it might be removed. That what He declare as precious might, in actuality, increasingly be purified. And this, all through the dynamic of a Savior who, though being seated at the right hand of God, having completed the work through His once for all sacrifice for sin, yet is active on our behalf as He makes intercession for His saints so that He might save them to the uttermost (Heb.7:25).

Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way;
Search me and try me, Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way;
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray.
Power, all power, surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way;
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.

~ Adelaide Addison Pollard (1862-1934)

Done deal but not done dealing.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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A New Thing

It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. And who can’t think of cases where that has been true? Instances where someone made an amazing first impression, but the more you got to know them and their shortcomings, the more you realized that they too were just human. At the least, the shine wore off, and the esteem you initially held them in faded. At worst, what you once liked about them, you eventually found distasteful.

But not everything we’re used to do we necessarily grow to disrespect. More often it’s that someone or something becomes commonplace, old hat, familiar territory–less about breeding contempt, more about being subject to complacency.

And the problem quite often isn’t with the object of our initial affection, but with our tendency towards the erosion of awe. For example, the first time you see Mt. Rainier it takes away your breath. But live in its shadow day after day, and more often than not you barely notice it. Not necessarily holding it in contempt, but certainly cooling to its grandeur and majesty.

Same can be true of our salvation. Same can happen to our awe of the Savior. Something I read this morning in Isaiah has me chewing on that.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

(Isaiah 43:19a ESV)

Amid Isaiah’s prophetic warnings are scattered promises of redemption. To a people who were determined to give their back to God, God says I’m still prepared to let My face shine upon you. And says, the Lord, I’ll do it in a new way. In a way you didn’t see coming.

Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in whom My soul delights . . .

(Isaiah 42:1a ESV)

Though eventually Messiah will reign with justice as King over all the earth, initially He would come as God’s Servant. Meek and lowly. Not crying aloud. Not raising His voice. Not breaking the bruised read nor quenching the faintly burning wick (42:1-3). But quietly, humbly, coming to bring redemption. To open eyes once blind, to free prisoners from their bondage, to bring into light those used to wandering around in darkness (42:7).

And this, He declared, would be done in a new way. An unexpected way. Really, an unimagined way. A way described in my reading in Hebrews this morning.

For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant . . .

(Hebrews 9:13-15a ESV)

Behold I am doing a new thing. An unimagined thing. An outrageous thing. A thing so far off the charts that for many it is too much to be believed.

Behold My Servant. The mediator of a new way, based on a new promise, giving new life, and founded on a new work–the likes of which conceived of only in heavenly realms.

The way opened through the offering of Himself. Through the shedding of His own blood. Through the giving of His own incarnate life as the once for all payment for the debt of sin we could never pay.

Not only redeeming us, but renewing us as well. Regenerating us. Birthing us anew into life, true life. Freed from dead works that we might be able to serve the living God!

Behold I am doing a new thing!

Every morning, He is doing a new thing. The work begun, being completed. The promises made, being fulfilled. The hope set before us, getting ever closer.

This isn’t some ho-hum, blah-blah-blah, go through the motions religious regurgitation. Behold this is a new thing.

Oh Father, keep me from complacency. May the wonder of Your mercy never become commonplace. May the glory of Your Son never become familiar. Keep me from contempt.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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