Isaiah 59-60

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull that, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” (59:1-2)

It’s not Him, it’s us. Here lies a poetic account of the gospel story.

“We hope for light, but behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” (59:9)

Verses 1-15 are a big “for example” of our inability to save ourselves or judge between right and wrong. We want peace and goodness, but we don’t know which way is up.

“The LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.” (59:15b)

He took matters into His own hands and followed it up with the gift of His Spirit, so He can live inside us, drawing us toward truth. And you know what? His Salvation doesn’t end there, He makes us a beacon of hope, a conduit of His glory shown to others:

“the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” (60:2)

He is good. He is powerful, able, willing, glorious. How can He see past our fits of rage to intervene and lift us up? 

“He has made you beautiful.” (60:9)

We’ve only begun to see the fulfillment of these things, but our first taste is delicious. Consider the contrast between His way and our way. Here’s something I notice: Our individual efforts and personal opinions create a corporate mess, but His designs are a blessing to everyone. What a smart, endlessly good God.

-Bethany

Isaiah 57-58

 

“Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not  hide from relatives who need your help.”

Nothing about this is consumeristic, self-focused or personally rewarding, which I think a lot of the times is exactly how we behave in Christianity. We stick out our hand wanting to receive, when God is putting his hand on our shoulders, turning us around and saying “go, love, serve”. This will tell people more about him than binging on sermon podcasts, attending four Bible studies a week, always having your nose in a new theology book or blogging behind a computer (gulp). Are those things bad? No. I just don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it says to spend time on yourself in that quantity. Jesus ducked out of the crowds long enough to pray, meditate and rest. Sabbathing is straight up in the ten commandments, and as we see in chapter 58 here, a discipline we are to take seriously. So resting is mandatory. Self-care is required. But only consuming? Fasting to please ourselves? Not in the play book. (Embrace the sports reference, it’s almost football season.)

This morning I made a list of spiritual things I do that benefit me vs. that benefit others and it was…uneven, to say the least. I encourage you to take a minute and do it as well.

These chapters call me to keep it simple. Read God’s word, put it into action, serve other people. The Bible says it best:

“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing stream.” 58:10-11

The plants in my garden are heavy with fruit right now, a testimony to how much I’ve tended to them. Fed them, removed the weeds from around them, watered them and check on them daily. God is not a task-driven slave driver, but a gardener. He doesn’t tell us not to focus on ourselves because we’re unimportant, but because he takes perfect care of us. 

 

-Carly

 

 

Isaiah 55-56

“Everyone who thirsts come to the waters.”

The LORD is the hiding place of deep satisfaction. “Why do you spend money on what does not satisfy?” He asks. We don’t know. It is so easy to maintain our provencial lives, running around with our side blinders, seeing what we want to see.  He remains unintimidated and continues to gently call.

I love 56. 

Do you know how disqualified from worshiping in the temple courts I would have been during this moment in history? I am a foreign, unmarried women. No children. I would be way outside. 

I would lament, “the LORD will surely separate me from His people. I have no hope for family.” (56:3)

But the LORD says, “Don’t say that. I will give you My name, a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name that can’t fizzle out. Come, minister before me, I will bring you to My holy mountain. For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (56:3-7 paraphrased)

Hallelujah!! He has made a way for us to know Him and be His!! Rejoice with me about this today. Thank the LORD for His higher ways and our inclusion into His family.

-Bethany

Isaiah 53-54

Here we get a really detailed prophecy of the Messiah. ‘Despised, rejected, nothing beautiful about him’ (whoever illustrated Jesus as a blue-eyed, flawless blonde missed this). Who would believe that God would intentionally save humanity with a humble, suffering servant? Well, Israel didn’t. Historically, they rejected this idea continually and expected to succeed through military power at the hand of a glorious, powerful king.

Often times in the New Testament, when it’s recorded that Jesus performed a miracle, it’s followed by “don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen”. I find this weird (so did William Wrede, who dubbed this the messianic secret in 1901). Why wouldn’t he want his power proclaimed? His name anchored to the miracles being performed?

Because the gospel is upside down.

The gospel embraces suffering, even finds joy in it, while humanity tries to find a remedy for even the slightest discomfort. The gospel says your belongings don’t matter, they will break, get stolen or rust. Culture tells us we are what we own. The gospel is Jesus winning, by losing.

In John 13, it reads: “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel he had around him”.

All power and authority is bestowed upon him, and he gets up from his last meal with his beloved friends, crouches onto the floor, and washes the bottom of their feet with his bare hands.

I read this and I realize how often I get it backwards.

The gospel is not:

Insisting on your own way. Outward beauty. Arguing. Jockeying for power. Idolizing authority. Wanting to win. Loving possessions. Serving yourself.

The gospel is:

Putting others first. Letting God defend you instead of defending yourself. Humility. Prioritizing the poor. Loving your enemies.

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is when George Constanza’s life drastically changes for the good because he does the complete opposite of his first instinct. Excuse the crass comparison, but maybe there’s something to grab from this.

My instincts are often the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us. But the more time I spend in the Bible, the more I understand who God is and who he wants us to be.

Today, hesitate before acting on your first instinct and evaluate it. Does it line up with the gospel? (Enter: 1990’s WWJD bracelets)

 

-Carly

This post is highly inspired by a conversation I had with my husband over breakfast this morning, before he even had a sip of coffee. Thanks, love! 

 

Isaiah 51-52

The LORD says look at me.

“Look at the rock from which you were hewn…” (51:1) God started it all with one man and women: Abraham and Sarah. The promise made to them over 4,000 years ago is still being fulfilled.

“My righteousness will be forever and My salvation to all generations.” (51:8b)

He has done it all from the beginning and will continue His work into eternity. His salvation has come and He is thorough! Every generation!

For Israel, it was salvation from the foreign oppressor. For us, it’s salvation from the slavery of our sins. He says “Don’t forget the story: who I am, what I’ve done, who I’ve made you to be. Good news is coming on beautiful feet.”

This verse about beautiful feet is repeated in Romans 10:15, which reminds us that the work of bringing the good news of salvation everywhere is a partnership between us and the Lord. He does it for us, with us, through us. 

I go back and forth about whether or not I should read the news. It is so gravely depressing and hopeless! God says, look at me! I am working! 

Here’s a for example of some good news, that hits real close to home for me. Through my travels, I’ve become very close with a few people from this nation and my heart has not been the same since I became aware of their situation and the state of their country. Salvation can reach everyone everywhere because “the Lord has bared His holy arm” (52:10)

Pray for the church of Persia. Please, I beg you! And while you’re at it, lay before Him everything else that feels impossible, because look at Him. He can totally do it.

-Bethany

Isaiah 49-50

“He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.’ I replied, ‘But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I will leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.’ “49:3-4

You’ve been there. You’ve committed yourself to good work. To hard work. And it seems so useless. Maybe it’s a person you’re trying to love well. You pour yourself out to them continually, sacrificing your time, energy and latte budget for the sake of their well-being and you find yourself getting no where.

I’ve been there often. I frequently find myself in circumstances where God invites me into something, puts me to work and the results don’t roll in the way I expect. My first memory of this was sitting down with a friend several times and addressing their addiction. I think I was hoping they’d throw their arms around me and immediately agree or perhaps maintain an on-going stream of thank you letters. But instead, they stubbornly pushed back, our deep friendship immediately ended and they never looked back. It felt so useless.

I could greatly discourage you with a long list of circumstances similar to that one, and I’m sure you could share some war stories too. Because sometimes we don’t get to see the rewards of our work. Or worse, sometimes the results just don’t happen.

Luckily, God isn’t measuring our work by results. He, yet again, is interested in our heart towards him. He graciously invites us in to his plan and along the way reveals his glory, sovereignty and unfailing love. If I feel discouraged or want to give up on something God has me working on, it’s usually because I’m working for the wrong reason, or the wrong person. Here’s some self-talk I do when I’m ready to give up:

What are you working for? If the answer isn’t immediately “loving and obeying God”, it’s time to step back and reevaluate my involvement. For example, when Bethany and I started this blog, we mutually agreed we wouldn’t worry about how many people read it. If our goal is to point to God and not to ourselves, it eliminates the temptation to find identity or value in what we’re doing. (We are, however, delighted by our readership and thankful you guys join us!)

Who are you working for? A good friend of mine use to ask me this when we worked at summer camp. I would be getting all worked up about something, questioning my character and earthly value, and he would remind me that A. I am referring to a kickball tournament and B. I ultimately work for the Lord, not for camp directors. When I feel run down by expectations from my boss, pastor, husband, etc, it’s exclusively because I am trying to perform for mankind instead of trying to serve the Lord.

The author of the verses above sets a great example: trust God and leave matters into his hands. This doesn’t mean we are to give up. Keep reaching out to that person God put on your heart. Continue working on that seemingly dead-end project. Your work is not in vain!

 

-Carly

 

Isaiah 47-48

“Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells.”
This single day is recorded in Daniel 5. It’s a pretty crazy story and truly underlines how found-less our pride is, as described in Isaiah. Go check it out. Even the richest, most secure, powerful empire in history can be brought to its knees in a moment. God is in charge. Pride is laughable on any level.

All these details, outlining a play by play of the exile before it happened, is purposed in chapter 48: 

“Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’”

‭‭God knows His people and their tendency to credit all His power elsewhere, but He’s cutting them off at the pass. He won’t be outdone.

Likewise, every good thing we have and experience is a gift from God (Psalm 16:2). How often do I acknowledge it though? Like Carly eluded to yesterday, we make it pretty easy to idolize ourselves. “Every good thing is a result of my hard work, financial planning, discipline, shrewd business practices, my glowing personality and charm, etc etc.” I’m sorry, but that’s a lie. It’s very American to feel like we’ve earned all our good fortune, but have we? I think maybe we’re closer to identifying with Babylon, about to flip our skirts. 

Thankfully, God has accounted for all our tendencies and has planned ahead.

He won’t be sharing His glory and His most impressive move will be reconciling our mess to Himself, through Christ. Hiding our lives in His life.

I know I’m a bit of a broken record, but let’s thank God today for every good thing we can think of. Also, I will be repenting of my dumb ego. It gets in the way of a lot and hurts me instead of helping me 10 times out of 10. Thank you Jesus for this Mercy, and for staying so patient and in control throughout history. Thank you for the innumerable good things you’ve so graciously given me. I love you.

-Bethany