The difference between God and us?…

MANHATTAN

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God Seeks After Broken Hearts

broken_heart

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of 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 for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.

For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.

I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.

Isaiah 57:15-18

In this chapter the Lord is continuing this theme of mercy that goes back to at least chapter 55. He invites the thirsty to come and drink and then, in chapter 56, shows us that His mercy is not just for the Jews but also for men of all nations, peoples, and tongues. Here we see that He is the God of the contrite.

As Jesus said, He came not for the healthy but for the sick. But until a sick person is willing to admit that they need help they will not listen to doctors nor seek their aid. The Lord cannot do anything for, or with, a person who is not humble enough to realize that they need God’s healing. We will not experience the power of God in our lives as long as we believe we are healthy, as the Pharisees believed.

There is a lie from the Devil that is quite pervasive and it leads us to believe that God is harsh and oppressive, if not apathetic about our plight. When we believe the lie we think that the Lord is uncaring and has no interest in helping us. He is like a instructor in basic training who is always yelling at us and telling us we are doing it all wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth and we can thank God the revelation of His compassion and mercy throughout the scriptures.

David understood that God was after those who were broken and contrite. We read in Psalm 51:17:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

In Psalm 34:18 we read:

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

In Isaiah 66:1,2 we read:

Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

Going to the gospels, in Luke 7:47-48, we read:

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

The woman who was a sinner had brought her alabaster box full of perfume to anoint Jesus and to wash His feet with her tears. Our Lord perfectly explains that such a heart is so pleasing to God because it draws us to Him in gratitude, appreciation, and love. We are no good to God and His kingdom if we have not been forgiven much because then there is not much love in us. The greatest servants in the kingdom know that God has freed them from a tremendous burden. It is for that reason that they have so much love for the Lord and His people.

If you want to do great things for God then never forget the work of redemption He did in your life. God can do great things through you when you are broken because that is when your heart is soft and malleable. When you are soft then He will mold you into the image of Christ, and that is the beginning of a powerful ministry.

His Ways Are Higher Than Our Ways

Illustration - your way my way street signs

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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

One of the most insightful and motivational elements of studying scripture is when learn the meaning of a popular scripture, like the one above, in its context. Sometimes you realize that the way it is often repeated, or the way you always understood it, is either inaccurate or truncated. This is the difference between studying the meaning of scripture versus using it to come up with life applications.

I have never read this verse in light of the prior verses which provide the context. This chapter has God’s invitation for sinners to come and seek His mercy and enter into an everlasting covenant.

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.

Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:1-7

When I read the word “for” in verses eight and nine it made me realize that this may be a reason for what God says in the beginning of the chapter. That is, the Lord calls sinners to forgiveness and repentance because it is His manner of doing things. And since His ways are not our ways (being higher) then that means that mercy and forgiveness are not our ways.

And when we look at scripture we see that whereas God is willing to forgive men are quick to do impose judgment. I think of the parable Jesus tells to explain to Peter how often we are supposed to forgive others.

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

Matthew 18:28-30

Forgiveness is a very difficult thing for us to attain and we struggle with it our whole lives. It is where the enemy can be very effective in accusing us and creating divisions within the church. We can hold a grudge for decades over the smallest offense and end up spiritually impotent. Forgiveness is a manifestation of the power of God and when we forgive others we witness to that power and use it for their benefit.

The skeptic has been successful in creating this misperception of God as a harsh, angry tyrant who is looking for an excuse to condemn us. That is nothing more than a lie that we must refute. God is the one who is compassionate and it is men are the cruel, evil seekers of destruction. We would not know what real grace and mercy was if we did not have it revealed to us in the scriptures.

We are evil and our hearts are bent towards wickedness. Retaliation, anger, and judgment are our ways. But grace, mercy, and forgiveness are the Lord’s ways and His ways are certainly higher and more righteous than ours.

God Will Have Mercy, Not Sacrifice

les miz forgiveness

Thus saith thy Lord the lord, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of His people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.

Isaiah 51:22

Note: I wasn’t able to get some time in to study in the morning so here is the aforementioned thoughts I had promised last night on the Facebook page. If you haven’t been there please check it out: https://www.facebook.com/bibliablogger. You’ll see all of the posts here on the webpage but also extra good stuff that is not on the blog. There you will see links to interesting articles I find from around the web, among other things.

I think understanding this part of Isaiah was as much of a challenge for the people in Isaiah’s lifetime as it is in ours. For them this was the unthinkable, the worst case scenario. For us, it is an obscure historical reference that is so distant it does not seem relevant. Its meaning was significant to the Jews living in exile.

This message is as much for those who were in Babylon when they read this as it is for anyone. They needed the reminder that God knew this would happen and that He is in control even in the most desperate of times. They also needed the hope that His promise of deliverance would bring.

He threatened to punish the people for their disobedience and He did exactly that. Being the merciful God that He is, now the promise is to take the cup that His people drank from and give it to their oppressors. I believe that God does this, in part, because He does not get glory from destroying His people but from showing that He has the power to deliver them who trust in Him.

Jesus quotes Hosea 6 in Matthew 12 when He tells the Pharisees that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. As long as we draw breath God’s hand of redemption is stretched out. Religious people think they do not need God’s help but those who truly know Him know that He wants them to take His hand. We are restored when we remember God’s nature and put our lives into His hands, as did the prodigal son with his father.

It is only a matter of time before you find yourself away from God’s presence. The funny thing is that we do everything we can to deal with the guilt and shame before we finally give up and repent from it. We can save ourselves the heartache by remembering that the Lord wants us to immediately turn back to Him.

The Lord is already running to meet us with open arms. He is not waiting or expecting us to fix ourselves up before we go back to Him. Never forget that He is pleased with us for Christ’s sake and not because of our own merit. We do not have to earn His favor because we already have it.

Justified: In Real Life

bible-and-gavel

He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.

Isaiah 50:8

In this chapter we see a contrast between sinful Israel and the obedient Servant of the Lord. One of the differences is that the Servant, who is Jesus, knows His standing with God. He completely trusts in the Lord.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Romans 8:1

This confidence in God’s grace and justification extends to followers of Christ. We now have the same privilege of being acceptable in God’s eyes because of Christ’s righteousness. This is absolutely crucial to remember if we are going to resist the accuser of the brethren.

We must also keep in mind that God desires to justify us and bring us near to Him. He is not looking for a way to trip us up and cause us to fail. He is not stern and mean like some grumpy old man. He is fierce to the wicked but He is tender to any who call on His name. He keeps no one at arm’s length but He does welcome us with open arms.

God Is Not Finished With You

Hanging

Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Isaiah 50:1

God’s faithfulness is a source of comfort and hope and a reason why we praise Him. It is also a very difficult and painful lesson to learn. The reason it is so painful is because you realize how much God will allow you to endure and it will be more than you ever considered.

He will take you through the worst case scenario and let you spend more time in it than you want. You will go past what you think is your breaking point and then some. All the while, though, God is making His arrangements for you. Soon enough you see His hand at work through a major breakthrough.

This part of the prophecy in Isaiah is for Israel in exile but was written when they were still in the land and dwelled carelessly. They did not trust God and they had yet to go through the painful lesson to learn that God is faithful. For the Jews in Babylon who were desperate for a reason to be hopeful this was a prophecy that was too good to be true. It sounded nice but it was just unbelievable.

Nevertheless the prophet was hopeful and his faith was based on the passage in Psalm 22:27-29. God comforts those who are being scorned as they continue to serve Him faithfully, as did the remnant under Babylonian rule. He reminds them, and us, that He will have the last laugh and we will be rewarded for enduring to the end.

You will know you’re trusting God because it feels like your life is unraveling. Nothing is happening the way you had planned or hoped. You may even be greatly suffering. God has not forgotten you and, in fact, He is preparing something glorious for you. As with Daniel in chapter 10 of his book, there may be a delay in answering the prayer that was immediately heard but it’s only a delay. The more bitter the pain the more sweet the victory.

You Can’t Impress God

open arms

At the heart of the gospel is salvation by grace alone. God redeems us for His sake and not because of our own merits. It is an amazing grace that fills me with tremendous gratitude and comfort. It is reassuring to know that I do not have to perform for God. This isn’t a job with a performance review at the end of a probationary period. Yet, I often abuse that grace and try to make up for it by earning God’s favor rather than asking for forgiveness and repenting.

This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.

Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense.

Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.

I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.

Isaiah 43:21-25

Israel is a perfect example but we can substitute ourselves to clearly see the problem. They are God’s chosen people to be His witness to the world but they do not acknowledge Him as their king. When the Lord says that He has not burdened them with sacrifices He is referring to their 70-year exile during which they did not make such offerings. However, He says that Israel burdened Him with their iniquities. It’s a raw deal for God, always. He wants their heart but they keep Him at arm’s length and abandon Him. They continually forget that He wants to bless them. They also forget that He didn’t choose them because they were so impressive but because it pleased Him.

We can easily bring this down to a personal level. God has created me for His glory and praise and yet I often fail to remember His grace towards me. I often betray Him by going off and doing what I want to do and ignoring Him. That line in the hymn says it perfectly: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I am so easily beset by sin and tempted to remove my guilt by doing something to deserve God’s grace again. But God isn’t interested because He blots out my sins for His own sake. He made that choice on His own, not because I was able to sweet-talk him.

There is a risk that people will pervert this truth by using it as a license to sin and Paul explains why that’s wrong in Romans 6. We don’t have to sin in order to experience the wonder of God’s grace. The longer you live the more humble you become as you realize how many transgressions God has forgotten. It fills you with wonder to know that the Lord is so willing and eager to forgive and move forward.

Wells Of Living Water

Jesus and Woman at the well

As I’m working my way through Isaiah I went back to chapter 12 for a review in which I came across these verses, 3 and 4:

Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.

When I read about the wells of salvation my mind immediately went to the story of the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman in John 4. He said that the water He has to offer is “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (verse 14). The woman and the rest of the town where she lived realized that Jesus was the Savior that they anticipated. His salvation was unto eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

The woman’s immediate reaction after her first conversation with Jesus was to witness to her town that the messiah had arrived and they came and saw for themselves that what she said was true. Verse 39 reads:

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.

She definitely praised Jesus for His gift of prophecy and the eternal waters of life that He offered to anyone who would ask. The whole town came to believe in Jesus and know who He truly was, their Lord and Savior.

Although Isaiah was probably prophesying about a different time I can’t help but think that, in one sense, his prophecy was fulfilled there in that Samaritan town. Jesus is the well from which we draw water that quenches our thirst for good and He was called upon by the town to fellowship with them, teach them, and bless them with His gospel. His name was most certainly exalted those days.

Your Biblical Worldview

When religions marry

As one might expect, there are many reasons for the rise of interfaith marriage. They range from the ever-greater frequency of children going off to college—an experience that brings Americans from diverse backgrounds together—to the growing power of American individualism, which puts a premium on choice over collective identity. In recent years, Ms. Riley notes, what might be called the “soul mate” model of marriage has grown more popular as well, increasing the possibility of people from different faiths choosing to make a life together. According to this model, marriage is primarily an expressive connection rather than an institution that bundles romantic love, children, religious faith and mutual aid (material and social).

Basketball Theology

I’m sorely tempted to draw a parallel between Smart/his coaching and ministry/the Christian life. (Basketball connection to theology in 3…2…1…) We can’t expect to thrive spiritually if we don’t possess “gospel discipline,” our own version of “frenetic discipline.” We have two problems in this area of theology today: 1) we think discipline equals legalism, and 2) we expect God to zap us and make us holy. Frankly speaking, this is nonsense. In reality, we are profoundly empowered by the gospel of grace in order to be disciplined in holiness (read 1 Timothy 4:7 if you don’t believe me). That’s what the gospel does. It doesn’t save us to sit on the couch and expect mystical transformation.

Biblical vs. cultural forgiveness

Note that the simple process of church discipline is enough to contradict the common misconception that forgiveness is a subjective psychological exercise by which one merely releases hurt or “chang[es] old beliefs and patterns and actions that are driven by our bitterness.” If forgiveness were so easily accomplished, there would be no need for a command to confront the offending brother (Matt. 18:15), no need to involve the church (vv. 16-17), and certainly no need to remove the offender from the local fellowship (v. 17). The believer simply could subjectively “forgive” or “release his hurt” and walk away. But genuine forgiveness is not a subjective experience related to mental health. It is an objective transaction in which one party accepts responsibility for wrongdoing and another party willingly reconciles despite the harm suffered (vv. 15–17). It is the objective reality of healing relationships in such a way as to demonstrate the mercy and love of God to others by modeling His willingness to forgive us despite the infinite harm caused to His glory by man’s sin (Matt. 18:23–35). Therefore, if forgiveness is either sought or offered and the other party refuses to respond appropriately, such failure to accomplish the objectively measurable transaction of repentance followed by forgiveness and reconciliation demands that church discipline be enforced.

Will the real C.S. Lewis stand up

C. S. Lewis is chiefly remembered because he told great stories. He was the creator of worlds and realms outside of our own that taught us more about the one in which we live. He produced good art, first and foremost. He didn’t set out to create an alternate “religious version” of something secular artists were doing. He told stories that he felt compelled to tell. These stories began in his creative mind–a mind fueled and informed by his love of things like medieval literature and history, as well as his Christian faith.

Let women be priests

Catholic priests say that the call to be a priest comes from God. As a young priest, I began to ask myself and my fellow priests: “Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not?” Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest? Let’s face it. The problem is not with God, but with an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men. Though I am not optimistic, I pray that the newly elected Pope Francis will rethink this antiquated and unholy doctrine.

Evangelism in the Roman church

An interview with George Weigel on his book Evangelical Catholicism. From a review of his book in The Weekly Standard: “Weigel believes that understanding our cultural moment will prompt reforms within the church, and he outlines a detailed plan of action for renewal: (1) Priests, bishops, and popes should more fully embrace their identity as alteri Christi and their role as heirs to the apostles to teach, govern, and sanctify; (2) Catholic liturgy should form a sacred space in a counter-cultural time, allowing beauty to serve as a special on-ramp to friendship with Christ; (3) lay Catholics should embrace vocations in the world but not of it, joyously live out Christian marriages, and “take possession of their unique responsibility as lay agents of the church’s mission to the world”; (4) Catholic scholars should embrace the symphony of truths of faith and reason, to think with the church; and (5) Catholic public officials should allow these saving truths about God and man to guide their policy decisions, remaining sensitive to the difference between first principles and prudential considerations.”