Be Reasonable!

Please read Isaiah 1:15-20 in your Bible.

Be Reasonable_final (1)Author Gordon MacDonald provided some insight into the term repentance: “’Repentance’ is not basically a religious word. It comes from a culture where people were essentially nomadic and lived in a world with no maps or street signs. It’s easy to get lost walking through the desert. You become aware that the country side is strange. You finally say to yourself, I’m going in the wrong direction. That’s the first act of repentance. The second act of repentance is to go in an alternate direction. It implies that you not only do this but you admit it to your companions.” https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Repentance/200130/

My family will tell you I have a real dislike for turning around and going back the way I came.  This comes up especially on family trips where we’ve ended up going in an unintended direction.  I prefer moving forward so thoroughly that I will go out of my way and/or figure out an alternate route rather than go backwards.

That kind of stubbornness is deadly when it is manifest in one’s spiritual life.  Sin turns us around; it puts us on a course away from God.  When that happens we need to be quick to repent which involves doing an about-face and returning to God.

CONTEXT: God spoke through Isaiah to address the sin of His people Judah.  Verse four of this chapter sets the stage by utterly condemning the people of Judah for having turned their backs to God.  Isaiah has been empowered to tell them to turn to Him.

True repentance is required for godly living.  It is a paradox of faith that godly living is both something you do for God and something God does for you.

  1. Godly living is something you do for God. (vs. 15-17)

Be warned: God does not acknowledge the prayers of hypocrites. (v. 15)  It is human nature to want to be in control.  One place this desire is evidenced is in religion.  We hope to exercise control of God by putting in our time and expecting His blessing in return.  We fall into hypocrisy, legalism, and merely external religious acts.  Though we would never say so, we believe God ought to be grateful for what we give Him.

Historically, we see this cycle: the Lord gives humanity a revelation/does a new thing.  Then, over the centuries, we paint layers of formality over it until the original becomes difficult to recognize.

Even the Old Testament system of formal religion was not given to be observed merely outwardly.  The sacrifices were to be a means of approaching God to receive inner cleansing from sin.  But according to Isaiah, the people of Judah – if they made the sacrifices at all – did it outwardly without any inner commitment to God.  The sacrificed without repenting.

Their hands were FULL OF BLOOD in two ways identified in this chapter.  There is a reference to THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND LAMBS AND GOATS in verse eleven.  These were the animals they sacrificed in their legalistic/hypocritical pretense of worship.  Religion that is not spiritual as well as material is powerless to save anyone.

In verse eighteen it is written their SINS were LIKE SCARLET, RED AS CRIMSON, the colors of freshly-spilled blood.

In their practice of prayer, hands were raised to God, palms up, not folded as is our practice.  This, then, is a graphic image of blood-red palms being uplifted in prayer, an obvious act of gross hypocrisy.

As “bloody hands” need washing, we must sincerely repent. Verses fifteen to seventeen tell us to WASH AND MAKE YOURSELVES CLEAN.  This expression represents regret over our sins.  What have we done for which we ought to feel regret?  If nothing else, we ought to regret the consequences of our sins, which distance us from God, from one another, and have toxic effects on our health and circumstances.  Washing was required in the Law of Moses as a means of preparation for worship and for meals.  It was a big deal in their faith; the Pharisees faulted Jesus and His disciples for not washing in Mark 7:1 ff.

After regret, repentance requires us to turn away from sin and toward God.  As is often the case in the prophets (i.e., Hosea 6:6-10, Amos 5:1-5; Micah 3:9 ff), turning toward God is revealed more in acts of justice than in conformity to the Law of Moses. Isaiah gives three examples of God-ward directions in life.

TAKE YOUR EVIL DEEDS OUT OF MY SIGHT!  The most complete repentance involves a hatred of the sin that we had committed.

STOP DOING WRONG, LEARN TO DO RIGHT!  We study the Bible to learn God’s moral code so we know what is right and what is wrong.

SEEK JUSTICE, ENCOURAGE THE OPPRESSED…

FATHERLESS… WIDOW.  Seeking JUSTICE requires actively looking for opportunities to come to the assistance of disadvantaged persons.

It takes humility to admit you are wrong and moral courage to ask for forgiveness: this is no less true in our relationship with God than in our relationships with one another.

Notice this section of Isaiah is full of verbs: WASH… TAKE… STOP… LEARN… SEEK… ENCOURAGE) so we need a reminder that we do these things as we are repenting.  We do not do these things in an attempt to earn God’s favor, but out of love and gratitude.

  1. Godly living is also something God does for you. (vs. 18-20)

Use your head – reason is a path to godliness. (18)  There are several court room expressions used in this passage.  The word picture is that of Judah being on trial for her sins.  REASON is supposed to be the means of reaching just decisions in court.

Rely on God to forgive your sin and cleanse you completely.  (18)  Don’t make the mistake of allowing regret to lead you into attempting to make amends.

The contrast of colors conveys the completeness of God’s forgiveness.  SCARLET to WHITE AS SNOW is the same language used in Psalm 51:7.  CRIMSON to WOOL (white).  The red dye used at that time was absolutely colorfast, so the prophet is saying that God can make white what is humanly impossible.

Obedience is required on our end of partnership with God. (19-20)  This passage holds each person responsible for their outcome.  We cannot blame God for our sins or their consequences.  If we, by faith, choose obedience, a full and abundant life is the outcome.  If we choose any way other than God’s, death is the outcome.

Blessings are promised to those who obey God. (19)  In this case, the blessing takes the form of a promise of a full belly: YOU WILL EAT THE BEST FROM THE LAND.  This has a symbolic side to it: it is not only materialistic, but is symbolic of spiritual and material prosperity.

Curses are threatened on those who RESIST God and REBEL against Him. (20)  In this case, the curse is the threat of a violent death: YOU WILL BE DEVOURED BY THE SWORD.  As with the blessing, this should be taken generally and symbolically but also seriously.  As Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH.

This combination of blessings and curses are found frequently in Proverbs (2:21) and elsewhere in the OT.  They are positive and negative incentives to seek God and do right by Him.

These truths did not come from Isaiah; the LORD HAS SPOKEN. (20)  This assurance is one final incentive to obey, as the Lord’s warning is not to be taken lightly, nor are His promises.  He will do as He says.

2) Historically, we know that these curses did come to pass because the people of Judah refused to repent.

True repentance is required for godly living.

I’ve been reading a book entitled Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid.  It’s a summary of the teaching of John Newton – the pastor who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Newton believed that a maturing believer took responsibility for his or her own sins, but was never paralyzed by guilt.  We can be encouraged to know that God’s grace is so powerful he can use even our sins to bring about increased spiritual maturity.  Specifically, he identified three virtues typical to a maturing believer’s life.

Humility – True humility is an accurate view of self.  People who ignore their guilt and people who obsess over it are both being self-centered & mistaken.

Tenderness – Seeing one’s self honestly allows one to see others in a true light and show mercy on their human weakness.  As Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-4, tenderness is seeing the speck one’s own eye before fussing over the log in another’s.  In a word, not legalistic.

Spirituality – This virtue can be confused with being religious, but it is actually not putting one’s affections or trust in anything or anyone in this world.  Spirituality is a matter of focus.  Our focus should be on Jesus.

To the degree that these three things are true of any of us, we are receiving the spiritual maturity God wants of us.  Duguid’s point is that God’s grace is not going to be thwarted by our sin.  As Isaiah made plain, sin has serious consequences, but frustrating God’s plan is not among them.  This truth should cause us to both relax and be more vigilant at the same time.  In this life we continue to struggle against sin.  We can relax in the sense that there is no sin a believer can commit that will cause a loss of salvation.  We want to be more vigilant because we love the Lord and one another as we love ourselves and sin does cause a separation from those we love.  So we prefer the virtues of humility, kindness, and spirituality to all the vices the world has to offer.  Find happiness in being virtuous.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, Isaiah, Vol. 1, John F. A. Sawyer

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, G. W. Grogan

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David F. Payne

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer

Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid

A New Year’s Resolution: Yes AND No

Please read Titus 2:11-15 in your Bible.  Me?  I use the NIV.

A lifetime of godly change is a sign of salvation.

Many years ago an accomplished organist was giving a concert.  His music was so masterfully made, it seemed to come from heaven itself.  In spite of his usual better judgment, the organist was excited by his own performance and the audience’s enthusiastic appreciation.  Departing from his usual method, he addressed the people and spoke at some length about his giftedness, experience, and mastery of the organ.  With a triumphant smile, he said, “And now I shall play for you my final number, my magnificent opus!”

With a flourish and to applause, he seated himself on the organ bench.  He adjusted his music, then the stops, and finally struck the keys and pedals.  Nothing happened.  The organ was silent.

He repeated this process, all of it, with the same result.  His face was red with embarrassment as he called out a name angrily, “George!”

In those days pipe organs were powered by a backstage assistant who pumped large bellows.  This voice of this assistant, George, was heard from behind the organ, “Say ‘WE!’”

After the organist made this concession to teamwork, the mighty pipe organ thundered through the final number.

And so it is with each church.  All God’s people serve God’s purpose.  He has called us out of the lonely, divided world to become a cooperative people of faith.

  1. Say “Yes!” to God’s offer of salvation (11+14).

Though God’s offer of salvation is universal, acceptance of it is limited (11).  Paul’s letter reveals three parts to God’s offer.

First, the word APPEARED, which may also translated as “offered.”  This word points specifically at Jesus’ life offered up on the cross and generally to His Incarnation.  It is translated from the Greek word epiphanea, from which we get “Epiphany,” which means “to become visible or apparent.”  This word has been used as the name for the wise men/magi’s visit to the infant Jesus.  January 6th is Epiphany day.

Second, the word GRACE.  GRACE is defined as “unmerited favor” and may be remembered as an acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and His victorious Resurrection are the supreme examples of God’s GRACE.

Paul wrote that this GRACE has APPEARED TO ALL PEOPLE.  That is true in a spiritual sense; when we witness to our faith in word and deed, the GRACE of God makes yet another appearance in us.

Third, the phrase TO ALL PEOPLE.  The word “for” may be a better translation of the Greek; FOR the benefit of ALL PEOPLE.  As the New Testament affirms in other places, SALVATION is offered universally (FOR ALL PEOPLE), but it is not accepted by all people.  Those who refuse it are self-condemned.

Salvation changes us from putrification and petrification to purification (14).

“Putrification” is a process of decay.  Generally, living things decay when after death.  Those who refuse God’s grace are decaying spiritually but unaware of it.

“Petrification” is a process of fossilization or turning to “stone.”  If you go to the Petrified Gardens in Kadoka, you won’t find anything growing there but the grass; everything else has turned to stone.  This is a picture of a person who resorts to legalism and works in a mistaken attempt to earn salvation.

Paul explanation of purification is two-fold.

It is redemption.  He wrote that God offers SALVATION to REDEEM US FROM ALL WICKEDNESS.  Redemption speaks to freeing slaves by buying them from their current master.  In the case of persons who have not yet accepted Jesus, they are mastered by their sin nature.  In the case of persons who have put their trust in Jesus, they have to power to gain mastery over sin (see RMS 6:14).  The word WICKEDNESS can also be translated as “lawlessness,” defying God’s commands.

It is identification: we are identified as the children of God.  Paul explained that God intends to PURIFY FOR HIMSELF A PEOPLE WHO ARE HIS VERY OWN.  To PURIFY someone is to wipe away every trace of the dirty mark of guilt which every lawless person deserves.  Biblically, this is all of us.  God is pure & His people must also be pure.  The problem is, we can’t achieve that purity by will or by law, so God graciously gives it to all who will repent and trust His salvation.  This gift entitles us to be His people: HIS VERY OWN people.  This word means “reserved for himself” and referred to the spoils of war that the king reserved for his treasury.  (Think of it!  You are a treasured possession!)

  1. Say “Yes!” to good and “No” to evil (12+13).

God’s salvation TEACHES US (12).  The word “teach” refers to training or bringing up a child.  In the Greek it describes an ongoing process.  We always have more to learn.  It is also comprehensive of all methods of teaching; instruction, encouragement, discipline, correction.  The term is further defined in 2:1, where it is written that true teaching must be IN ACCORD WITH SOUND DOCTRINE.

But this training is not just about learning doctrine and Scripture; it must result in an improved moral life and in good works.  We do not do good works in order to be saved, but we do good works because we are saved.  There are two general responsibilities that accompany salvation.  They are our new year’s resolution: to say “YES!” and “NO!”

First, we must say “NO!” to evil.

– Say “NO!” to UNGODLINESS, which begins with a lack of respect or reverence for God.

– Say “NO!” to WORLDLY PASSIONS; caring more about material things than we care about God and/or His people.

Second, we must say “YES!” to good.

– Say “YES!” to being SELF-CONTROLLED.  This is an inwardly-directed mandate.  It is to be in control of one’s passions and attitudes.

– Say “YES!” to being UPRIGHT.  This is an outwardly-directed mandate.  It is to be in control of one’s words and deeds.

– Say “YES!” to being GODLY.  This is an upwardly-directed mandate.  It is to look to God for direction and strength in our daily living.  We don’t do good on our own, we do it by the Holy Spirit and prayer.

In fact, we must be EAGER to do good (14).  The word EAGER can be translated as “zealot” or “enthusiast.”  We ought to feel grateful for God’s grace and demonstrate our gratitude by our eagerness to do good.  This means we aren’t content to sit around waiting for opportunities to come to us, we look and pray for opportunities to do good and make it happen.  Verse twelve described three aspects of good deeds; self-control, uprightness, and godliness.

Paul addressed another motive: anticipating Jesus’ Second Coming = WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE BLESSED HOPE (13).  We are to say “NO!” to evil and “YES!” to good while we are awaiting Jesus’ second and final return to earth.  Any day now Jesus will appear and call His people to His side.  Having this hope means we want to

be found doing good when He appears, that we want to please Him, and earn rewards that we can return to Him in triumphant worship on that greatest occasion.

  1. Say “Yes!” to godly leadership (15).

Leaders are to exercise authority and followers respect authority.  In verse fifteen Paul summed up the teaching of 1:1-2:14 by commanding young pastor Titus to TEACH, ENCOURAGE, and REBUKE WITH ALL AUTHORITY.  As Titus was in the right, his leadership was to direct his church to right living.  In the Church, authority is to be invested in the elders who lead t church, including the pastor.

Paul gave command DO NOT LET ANYONE DESPISE YOU because despising godly leaders and refusing to follow direction, are signs of a heart not committed to Christ.  As we conclude, allow me to offer some advice on the care and feeding of church leaders.

Be a friend.  Influence without intimacy is merely intimidation.  Get to know the leaders of our church by spending time with them on a person-to-person level.

Be a cheerleader, not a “jeer-leader.”  There’s no place for negativity in this relationship.  Use constructive criticism if criticism must be used at all.  It takes 10 compliments to offset a single critique; earn the right to criticize by doing ten positive/uplifting things first.

Be the right kind of volunteer.  Don’t volunteer unsolicited advice, pass on criticisms, or insistence on following the “good ol’ days.”  Instead, volunteer your time and other practical means of support.

Be a brother/sister in Christ.  Pray daily for our leaders.  Encourage them in their service.  Share Scripture with them.  If it is hard to respect the person, at least respect the office.

Feed them.  We all appreciate being appreciated.  Small tokens and treats that express our thanks mean a lot to a leader.

Protect them.  Show some discernment.  Not all complaints or concerns need to be passed on.  In fact, if it’s something you can fix on your own, do it yourself.  As Jesus said, “Your Father sees what you do in secret and He will reward you accordingly.  Protect the leader’s reputation by not sharing in gossip or slander.

Let us be resolved to say “YES!” to God and “NO!” to Satan.

Do You Love Surprises?

(Please read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.)

Jesus’ Second Coming motivates us to be prepared.

You may have heard there is a football game today.  The winner will take a place among football immortality, the loser scorned.  I can tell you that from personal experience, having backed Super Bowl losers eight times.

Still, I don’t suppose the losing team at today’s game with have to bear the scorn that one college football coach suffered at the hands of the alumni after a few losing seasons and a particularly embarrassing loss to their traditional rival.   He received a text the next day which read, THE NEXT BUS OUT OF TOWN LEAVES IN AN HOUR.  BE UNDER IT!

Obviously, that is not the kind of message we who believe ought to be sending one another.  Throwing one another under the bus is behavior best left alone.

God commands us to do just the opposite, to encourage and build each other up.  Church families are functional families when we put each other in a greater priority one another than ourselves.

Love is to be the chief motive for this behavior, but in this passage Paul offers another powerful motive.  Jesus is coming again.  He will appear at any time and He wants to find His people following His commands.  Since His coming can happen at any time, we want to be ready NOW.

  1. Somebody’s going to be surprised. (1-3)

But it wasn’t going to be the Thessalonians.  They understood the TIMES and DATES.  Paul had confidence that they didn’t “need” a reminder.  He knew they were looking forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and were preparing for it.  The words he chose have particular meaning: TIMES meant indefinite chronological eras, like a king who was currently reigning.  When would his reign end?  Who knew?  DATES to us would refer to appointments on our calendars, but in the Greek, it was “opportune moments.”

Paul was sure the believers in Thessalonica had spiritual maturity to see the signs of the times and take advantage of opportune moments as they occurred.  This is the same kind of message expressed in Hebrews 10:25: we are to increase our encouragement of one another as we SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.

The expression THE DAY OF THE LORD references the Second Coming of Jesus.  The phrase is primarily found in the Old Testament; it appears just five times in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, it looks ahead to the Messiah; to His overthrow of God’s enemies, the persecutors of His people, and the establishing of His eternal kingdom on earth.  Sound familiar?

The Jews believed there were two TIMES that divided human history.  The present, evil age would come to an end when the Messiah appeared and a new, golden age would replace it.  This concept carried over into the New Testament writers (understandably; it was written mostly by Jews) who saw Jesus as the Messiah and associated the DAY OF THE LORD with the Second Coming of Jesus.  (As – for example – Paul does here.)

Though we’ve been warned, it will happen suddenly.  The warning is in advance, but not immediately before.  For example, there will be no countdown, like on New Year’s Eve.

Paul uses an image of suddenness that will catch some surprised and unprepared: Jesus’ Second Coming will be like “a thief in the night.”  The emphasis here is on suddenness, not on illegality or stealth. His Second Coming will begin the Day of Judgment, the ultimate legal proceeding, judging the entire human race.  His Second Coming will not be stealthy, it will be obvious and every person, world-wide, will know who He is and why He has come.  Those who are prepared will react with praise.  Those who are unprepared will react with horror.  We are to wake each morning and live each day as if it were our last because there are two immanent and sudden events: death and the Second Coming.

The other part of the THIEF image is that even though one doesn’t usually know when a thief will come, one can prepare for him in the daylight and in advance.  For example, in our time, we can do things to our homes to deter and discourage thievery.  From something simple like locking our doors to something complex like a security alarm, we can do stuff to protect ourselves.  Americans are expected to spend more than 35 billion dollars on home security in 2017!

This illustrates preparedness without knowing the moment will occur.  That is how we think about the Second Coming.  We will not be surprised that it happens because we have been preparing for the moment every day of our life.

  1. Somebody’s going to be prepared.

Paul contrasts those who are prepared with those who are unprepared for the Second Coming.

Prepared (Believers)       Unprepared (Unbelievers)

Children o/t Light.                        Belonging to the Darkness.

– Know & accept the truth.       – Reject the truth.

– Do good.                                       – Do evil.

Children of the Day.                     Belonging to the Night.

– Good reputation,                          – Bad reputation, based

based on godly char.                       sinful character.

– Things are seen.                            – Things are hidden.

Alert.                                                  Asleep and drunk.

– Accurate view of self.                   – Purposely ignorant of self.

– High moral ambition.                   – Low/no moral ambition.

– Spiritual sensitivity.                     – Worldly sensitivity.

Self-controlled.                              Drunk.

– Practices self-denial.                    – Practices self-indulgence.

– Priorities in order.                          – Disordered priorities.

– Takes responsibility.                      – Makes excuses.

Those who are prepared exercise their preparations daily.  Prepared people put on spiritual armor (8).  In our passage, the armor pieces listed are the BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE and the HELMET OF THE HOPE OF SALVATION.  See Ephesians 6 for a more complete use of this imagery.  Why armor?  Because God wants to protect us from the enemy’s attacks and help us to stand on the day of trial.

Prepared people encourage each other in order to build up our shared faith (11).  There’s an entire message to be had there!

Finally, let us claim the promises to the prepared.  First, GOD DID NOT APPOINT US TO SUFFER WRATH BUT TO RECEIVE SALVATION (v. 9).  Second, whether we are AWAKE OR ASLEEP (alive or dead) WE MAY LIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM (10).  Eternal life is the prize awaiting the prepared.

We don’t all like surprises, do we?  They frequently they end up blowing up in the face of the person plotting the surprise.  For example, in May of last year, college student McKenna Pilling’s mom wanted to surprise her by breaking into her dorm room and laying on the bed. She got into the room, laid down on the bed and took a selfie.  She texted this picture to her daughter with the text, “Guess where I am.  Where are you?”

Her daughter tweeted back, “Don’t tell me you are in the wrong dorm room.”  It was then that her mother realized she’d broken into the wrong room.

McKenna later wrote, “She came to surprise me from New York City to help clean out my dorm and apparently walked in the wrong dorm.  No one was in there so she laid down for five minutes in the wrong bed and decided to send me a picture as a surprise.”

McKenna’s tweet has been retweeted a total of over 13,000 times and favorited over 28,000 times.   In this information age, news of our failed surprises can become world-wide news!

As bad as that was, it is a much more serious fail to be caught unprepared for the second coming of Jesus.  By accepting Him as Savior and living for Him as Lord can you avoid the worst surprise ever; being unprepared for the Savior’s appearing.  There will be worse consequences to that surprise than world-wide embarrassment.