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

Isaiah 45-46

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime-until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” 46:3-4

I love this beautiful contrast God makes to Israel. In the verses above, he points out that the Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo are meaningless. These gods, completely lifeless and manmade, both required child sacrifice as a part of their worship ceremonies.

Yet our God sends his only son to take our place as a sacrifice for our sin.  He tells us “I will carry you out of the wilderness like a father carries his son” (Deut. 1:31).  In these chapters, he reminds us over and over again that there is no one like him. I love how he paints himself here as a loving expectant mother, carrying us before we were born and loving us the entirety of our lives.

Sometimes when I read verses about idols, like these, I feel removed from it. It doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have statutes, I don’t physically bow down to things and it just seems irrelevant. Plus how could these dummies possibly worship something shiny and manmade when the living, holy God that rescued them is at their fingertips?  And then I spend the next forty-five minutes thinking about myself. Or maybe mindlessly scroll through social media and covet the heck out of everyone I know (primarily people with access to In N Out Burger or with exceptionally clean kitchens) and realize I am constantly idolizing myself. Or worshiping a five inch electronic device in the palm of my hand. How could I possibly worship something shiny and manmade when the living, holy God that rescued me is at my fingertips?

Ask yourself what your idols are and look for verses in today’s chapters that refute them. I love 46:5-8 where God challenges Babylon’s gods, pointing out that they don’t answer prayers or rescue anyone from trouble.

“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God and there is none like me.” 46:9

Amen!

 

-Carly

Isaiah 43-44

I really want to hear your thoughts on these chapters because they are truly astounding and I think we could all say something about them.

  1. God’s deep incredible love is the source, fuel, motivation, inspiration for everything. He is love and thereby approaches His people, wooing them by His love. Your Creator says, 43:1-7
  2. God’s perfered method of reaching the world is the glowing report of a bride gushing about her Husband. How can they know there is no other Salvation unless His people sing of His glorious Salvation? 43:8-13
  3. He knows the faults of His people, but He wipes them out for the sake of His reputation. 43:25
  4. He’s not giving up, He will continue to pursue every generation. 44:3
  5. Idolatry is what slows down the salvation of the world, which is infuriating, because idolatry is about the dumbest thing in history. 44:9-20
  6. But even if we are idolatrous, we are not lost causes. Do not get stuck in your shame!! Your Husband is calling, “Return to Me, for I have redeemed you!” 44:22
  7. He is the One who does it. 44:24. Let us respond to the gracious, powerful, beautiful, redeeming, unrelenting love of the LORD!

Praise Him today!! And sing His praises to someone who doesn’t know Him!

-Bethany

Isaiah 41-42

So here we are, in the second half of Isaiah where the people of Israel are given an announcement of hope. Exile is over! Revisit Bethany’s post from yesterday and watch the Bible Project video on this if you didn’t yesterday, they are so helpful! (I swear we aren’t sponsoring them, we just love their work…) I gain so much more understanding of God’s word when I’m reading it in context. ANYWAY, back to the chapters:

This jumped out to me today:

“Who has stirred up this king from the east, rightly calling him to God’s service? Who gives this man victory over many nations and permits him to trample their kings underfoot? 41:2

This ‘king from the east’ is Cyrus II of Persia, who will become king within a century, conquer Babylon and help release the exiled Jews and bring them back to Jerusalem. God, sovereign over world politics, uses a pagan ruler to execute his plan. God is exceedingly sovereign over the hands of man, no matter their earthly position. (Good news for all: the American presidential election doesn’t impact God’s standings.)

“Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the Lord, the First and the Last. I alone am he.” 41:4

I love what my commentary has to say about this verse: “Each generation gets caught up in its own problems, but God’s plan embraces all generations. When your grandparents lived, God worked personally in the lives of his people. When your great-grandchildren live, God will still work personally in the lives of his people. He is the only one who sees 100 years from now as clearly as 100 years ago. When you are concerned about the future, talk with God, who knows the generations of the future as well as he knows the generations of the past.”

If you want a good perspective shaper: talk to someone from an older generation. Grab a grandparent or an older friend at church and get them talking about what they’ve seen God do over their lifetime. It’s humbling, encouraging and life-giving to everyone involved.

 

-Carly