What Kills a Relationship

They have forsaken Yahweh, spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned themselves back into foreigners. Isaiah 1:4

A big blowup in a relationship is not what usually kills it. People argue. Some fight passionately. But if both are committed to the each other and also committed to truth, there is understanding and restoration. What is deadly to any relationship, however, is a gradual deadening of the heart. A slow death is much more difficult to turn around.

You’ve heard the phrase, “I feel like I don’t know you anymore.” A ‘foreigner’ is a good description. It is saying, ‘You are acting so strangely that I don’t even recognize you. You may as well have come from a foreign land.’

Amazing that what can be intimate can grow so deeply estranged. In a spiritual sense, this is what happens, more than not, to the children of God toward their Heavenly Father. No wonder there are so many songs about returning to your first love, about stirring the cold embers of your heart. Erosion can happen so slowly that the gradual decline is inconspicuous.

To make sure that it doesn’t happen to me, I want to think about this more intently this morning. What would happen that might show I’ve turned my face away from God to tiptoe in the other direction?

  • I fail to take the sins of my heart seriously.
  • I keep the reading of the Word technically and intellectually.
  • I lose the lump in my throat when I talk about Jesus.
  • The mercy He showed to me becomes a casual thought.
  • God’s wooing is easily ignored.
  • I play it safe to live in unbelief instead of by faith.

I used to believe that some ‘thing’ would happen that would kill my faith. I guess I was wrong. Nothing can do that for me. Isaiah says that God’s children have turned themselves back into foreigners. Circumstances don’t make or break a relationship. It’s whether two people choose to walk together or not. It’s commitment. It’s nurturing the love that exists and never allowing any other priority to eclipse it.

Oh, that I might always say that we are intimate. Amen

The River Of Peace Is Polluted

If you had only paid attention to my commands, Your peace would have been like a river and your righteousness like the rollers of the sea.  Isaiah 48:18 

There are two kinds of peace; peace with God and peace in our hearts.  The tragedy is that we have the first and are meant to have the second as well.  Sometimes, God’s children have neither.

From God’s perspective, because Christ came and finished His mission, I am at peace with Him.  His wrath was spent on Jesus, not on me.  When He thinks of me, it is with deep affection.  All is well.  I am forgiven, loved and secure.  How sad is it when God thinks of me this way, but I live as though I’m not loved, forgiven, and secure?  My belief that all is well with God dangles like a thread. The liar suggests that I have failed God or God has failed me.  The Gospel satisfies both misgivings.

There is also circumstantial peace.  My peace with God may be intact but I still lack peace in my heart because of the times in which I’m living.  God spoke through Isaiah to reveal that there is a peace that flows like a river.  It emerges from my inner world as a rippling stream, coursing through the ever-changing scenes of life.  In a storm, the river is raging.  On a lazy summer day, it trickles and calms.  There may be green meadows at one bend, children playing at another, dangerous rapids around the next curve, but the river continues nonetheless.  Today, I may be thriving; tomorrow, in want.  Today I may feel healthy and strong; tomorrow, sick in bed and wracked with pain.  Today, I may be praised and encouraged by others; tomorrow, the target of ridicule.  Peace is not threatened by any of these changes.

My river of peace can be clogged and polluted by unbelief.  The Gospel is about believing God.  I believe him for my salvation, but I also believe, and then act on, every promise He has made to me.  The liar is a promise stealer.  As soon as I listen to his voice, the one that undermines God’s credibility, my river of peace dries up.  If I don’t feel peaceful today, what promises have I stopped believing?  What ones will I re-affirm and then walk them out to give evidence of my faith? God brings the sound of water to the deserts of desperate mankind.

I embrace your commandments all over again and walk in Your promises.  Amen

He’s Going With Me

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  Isaiah 43:2

The power of this promise makes little sense if I fail to understand the sinister nature of water in scripture.  It’s hard to see the sea as something negative if I love the beach and the sound of waves lapping up on shore.  But to the ancient Jew, the sea meant something else entirely  It was a symbol for something ominous and life-threatening. In Semitic mythology, a sea monster was synonymous with chaos and evil.  With that in mind, these verses paint a more complete picture.

  • Isaiah said that the wicked were like a tossing sea. Isaiah 57:20
  • A psalmist said that God divided the sea by His might and broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. Psalm 74:13-14
  • David said that God’s vicious waves had swept over him like an angry ocean. Psalm 42:7
  • And in John’s revelation, it’s most interesting that the Beast arises from the sea. (Revelation 13)

When God promises to accompany me through the waters, it is clear that He goes with me into the deepest chaos, evil, turbulence, and even death.  God doesn’t promise to take me around the sea, to keep me on dry land.  Just like the days we are living now, we find ourselves in deep waters.  The darkness is thick, life-threatening, and it’s comforting to be assured that we’re not alone.

Think about it.  How very fitting that Jesus walked on water!  The symbol of that is not lost on me.  He was not overcome by evil, not knocked around by the chaos of the waves, not swallowed up by the deep.  In the worst of storms, he walked on the waves.  Calmly, with no need to yell, He spoke to His disciples.  His voice penetrated the roar of the storm.

It makes me think of Ephesians 1 and I Corinthians 15.  “And He put all things under His feet.”   There is no evil He has not conquered.  There is no virus He cannot heal.  There is no chaos He can not order.  There is no life, for a saint, that will not triumph in life – and in death.  Through all the passages of life, often with the roar of the waves in my ears, my Captain is not afraid.  Everything, no matter how ominous, is subject to His authority.

You are Lord over all the elements and I am never out of Your care.  Amen

The Voice of the Future

It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’  And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’  Isaiah 44:28

As we continue to watch current events, it’s instinctive to ask God where He is in all of it.  Oh, how Isaiah’s voice reassures us in our fears.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he predicted the coming of Cyrus to deliver God’s people from exile.  At the time of this writing, Cyrus was not even born yet.  It would be another 200 years before he arrived on the scene to do precisely what God said He would. 

God had predicted Israel’s defeat and capture before they were carried off into captivity.  God had predicted, with great detail, what exile would be like and how they were to survive it.  Now through Isaiah, God predicted their deliverance through a foreign ruler the likes of Cyrus.  He had always been their God and He is still waiting to fulfill more prophecies concerning future events. 

No one changes the courses of God’s Word.  This inspires holy fear, respect, and worship for who He is.  His prediction of Cyrus comforts us since life has taken a turn and our immediate future is uncertain.  Just as surely as I’m writing this, He knows the nature of our exiles and deliverances.  The names of those who will shape our future are already pre-chosen. All is on schedule to lead us to glory. 

Just as God has foreknowledge of the main characters which comprise the leadership of world governments, He also has foreknowledge of every single detail which comprise our lives.  He spoke our name long before we existed, called us by name at our moment of re-birth, and will speak our name again when He welcomes us home.  Our past, present, and future was written with red ink and not one step (though uncertain as it may seem for us) causes Him to worry about us. 

He is the God who dismantles and the God who re-builds.  He is the God who wounds and the God who comforts.  He is the God of the faithful and the God of the exiles.  In these days when anger and fear make up our global emotional climate, we trust a Father who whispers, “Don’t be afraid.”  Our life does not begin and end with deliberate, even erratic actions, of powerful people.  God’s scepter of justice holds them in check. 

Your people are written, prophetically, into these days.  Let us rise up to carry out the work of an ambassador with confidence and joy.  Amen

Living Life In The ‘Not Yet’

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.  Isaiah 40:30

In WWII, Japan surrendered to American forces and yet the news of the surrender took weeks and months to reach isolated Japanese garrisons.  Soldiers continued to fight.  Men continued to die.  Those who were ignorant of Japan’s surrender were caught in the ‘not yet’.

I have often been confused by the promises of God.  He is my healer.  Does that mean that I will never know a sick period?  He is my deliverer.  Does that mean that I will never know a season of oppression?  He is the God who avenges.  Does that mean that He will settle all scores on the heels of wrongdoing?  He is my strength.  Does that mean that I will never languish in seasons of weakness?  He is my shield.  Does that mean that I will never be wounded by fiery arrows?  He is my comfort.  Does that mean that I will never feel alone or forsaken?  I can get tripped up when I’m in a prolonged ‘not yet’ period.

Solomon said it another way in his well-known discourse.  “There is an appointed time for everything.  A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.  A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up.”  Ecclesiastes 3

Without listening to God, I cannot guess which season I am in.  I can easily become an agent that works against God’s purposes.  I’ll try to preserve what God is dismantling.  I’ll try to bring something to a close when it’s ready to be launched into a new fruitfulness. I’ll comfort when I should exhort.  The Christian life is a faith-walk and we live against the backdrop of human need and impaired spiritual vision.  

Lord, you strengthen the fiber of my faith in the ‘not yet’.  I ‘know that I know’ that You will fulfill every promise when the time is right. Amen

What Convinces Me?

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”  Isaiah 43:10

What is that that convinces me that God is God and there is no other God but Him?  Will someone else’s testimony do it?  Perhaps temporarily.  Will exhaustive study of the scriptures do it?  Not really, though study of the Word will be the doorway to my faith.  

The truth is ~ I must experience that ‘God is God and there is no other’ in my own life.  I can’t coast on secondhand faith, on the stories of my father and mother, on the narratives of past heroes of the faith.  God has to be larger than life to me!  How does that happen?  Only as I have need of Him.  Only as other gods leave me empty.  Only when stakes are high and impossible odds are staring me in the face will I look for God to move personal mountains.  When He does, the passion of my own testimony is born. 

A long life spent with Jesus has birthed many God-stories.  If you’ve gotten these devotionals over the course of years, you know some of them.  The more times He saved me, the more I was convinced of whom I believed.  The greater the deliverance, the more my faith grew.  And it’s a good thing.  The faith tests just get steeper and steeper the older I get.  What I trusted God for at 40 does not resemble what I have to trust God for today.  The way home to glory is an upward climb. 

The stunning thing about this scripture is that God chose me to be a witness to His power and glory.  Because I was hand-picked (as you were if you’re reading this), my personal story is being crafted to bring about great need.  There is mystery in all of this.  With every need, I might assume that there is a heavenly fix.  I can easily look to God to instantly repair everything that breaks.  Sometimes He does.  Sometimes, He defers the answer until glory.  What do I get in its place?  HIM!  Love, compassion, and grace.  And in this broken world, perhaps the latter is the strength of my witness.  I need God more than I need His power to fix the messes of my life.  The real dilemma always is this ~ when God withholds the breakthrough but gives me more of Himself, do I see Him as the greater gift?  

Yes. Amen