Isaiah 30:9-11 and Wanting Lies Instead of Truth

lies4Generally speaking, most people would want the truth over lies. This would seem to be self-evident, and in theory it works. Reality is something quite different. Very often people will prefer lies over the truth if the truth means telling them they are wrong. Look at this passage from Isaiah:

These are rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the Lord’s teaching, who say to the seers, “Don’t foresee,” and to the visionaries, “Don’t report truthful visions; tell us flattering things; envision deceptions; get out of the way; step off the path; let’s have no more ‘holy one of Israel.’”

The people of Jerusalem did not want to hear the truth from Isaiah because it would mean facing up to the fact that they had been idolatrous and had turned away from the Lord. Instead, they preferred to hear that they were doing fine and had no problems at all. In fact, they wanted to be praised for the lives they were living–lives that were running completely contrary to the will of God.

Because of this fact, Isaiah is filled with images of judgment and destruction. These messages are given as warnings to the people to repent and return to the Lord, the holy one of Israel, so that the disaster will not befall them. Isaiah also has a lot of images of restoration and renewal because God allowed him to see a time when people would return to the Lord and they would live faithful and faith-filled lives. Nevertheless, even with the images of a bright future, the Jewish people of Isaiah’s day had to stop trading the truth for lies.

We can still fall into this trap today. People want truth, but they also want their lives to benefit them and make them feel better about themselves. If the truth is going to tell them they are wrong, that is not welcome. This is especially true if the sinful behavior or action is profitable or pleasurable. If it makes money or feels good, people do not want to be denied it. “If it feels good it must be good” is a typical attitude in this present culture, and yet that is contrary to four thousand years of God’s involvement with humanity from Abraham through today (even longer ago if we look at the stories prior to Abraham in the Old Testament).

Truth is true no matter what my opinion of it is. Truth is true no matter anyone else’s opinion of it is. Truth is true even if the whole world decides reality should be another way. This is because truth comes from God and God is beyond us. We cannot change truth any more than we can change the size of the universe. As human beings in a world that God created and in which God is very interested and involved, our responsibility is to learn the truth, accept the truth, and live by the truth as completely as we can with God’s help. We are not allowed to redefine truth, renegotiate truth, or simply seek lies in place of the truth because the lies are more fun, more profitable, or more pleasurable. This is the route Israel tried to take, and they were judged for it.

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Isaiah 19:18-25 and Good News

800px-Flickr_-_Bakar_88_-_St.Mark_Church,_Cairo,_Egypt

St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Heliopolis

God’s judgements, when they are truly from God and not someone simply declaring they are from God, are not punitive, but disciplinary. In other words, God does not punish for the sake of punishing, but does so in order that we would recognize our errors and repent. Throughout Isaiah (and all the prophets) there are numerous oracles of judgment about different nations and the Jewish people. This passage of Isaiah, though, shows that those judgments are not in order to wipe these nations off the map, but to create a better future for them:

18 On that day, there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear loyalty to the Lord of heavenly forces. One of them will be called “the city of the sun.” 19 On that day, there will be an altar to the Lord within the land of Egypt, and a standing stone for the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of heavenly forces in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of oppressors, God will send them a savior and defender to rescue them. 21 The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day. They will worship with sacrifices and offerings, making solemn promises to the Lord and fulfilling them. 22 The Lord will strike Egypt; striking and then healing. They will return to the Lord, who will hear their pleas and heal them. 23 On that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will come to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria; and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. 24 On that day, Israel will be the third along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing at the center of the world. 25 The Lord of heavenly forces will pronounce this blessing: Bless Egypt my people, and Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

God wants even Egypt and Assyria to be a part of his people. This prophecy came to fruition with the creation of the Church and the spread of Christianity throughout the world. There are churches in all of these parts of the world today, including Heliopolis (city of the sun), a suburb of Cairo. This is Good News!

Isaiah 16:13-14 and Prophecy

1406930192985It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina struck the US. I was living in the Florida Keys when it hit. The storm track had it going up into the Atlantic Ocean, so my family and I went to bed that night. When we woke up the next morning, Katrina was passing right over us. That was one of the first unexpected events of that hurricane. I also remember after it had made landfall, and after the world began seeing the aftermath of the storm, I remember so many preachers saying that Katrina was “God’s punishment on New Orleans and the gambling boats in Mississippi.”

I have a problem with this statement. This passage from Isaiah shows why:

This is the word that the Lord had spoken concerning Moab long ago. But now the Lord has said: In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab, with all its great multitude, will dwindle. The small remnant will be few and feeble.

Notice when a prophecy of God’s judgment comes–Before the event. Even with a general prophecy of coming destruction, there was still a very direct statement of when this would take place in the future, namely within three years.

The problem with all of the armchair prophets that saw God’s righteous judgment in Katrina is that they said so after the fact. It is easy to declare something after it has happened, but if God is going to do something and receive credit for it, he will pronounce it before it happens. He will use a chosen vessel, like Isaiah, to let everyone who will be affected know that judgment is coming. In this way people will have time to repent and avert the judgment.

As events continue to happen (because we are still living and life can be adventurous), there will be people who will try to declare that a disaster was God’s judgment after it happened. Do not listen to those people. They are not prophets; they are people who are trying to capitalize on the sadness and terror of others to prove a point. There will be other people who will try to predict events. Just think of all the books in the vein of The Late Great Planet Earth or Eighty-eight Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 or Ninety-nine Reasons the World Will End in 1999 or Four Blood Moons or the like. When these prophecies do not come true, that leaves the self-proclaimed prophet in only one category–false prophet. Do not listen to those people, either.

If God has a prophetic message for people, it will be unambiguous, direct, meaningful, and with enough time for people to repent. This was the pattern here in Isaiah. It will also be the pattern for all of the other prophets. It is still true today.

Isaiah 12:1-2 and Grace Upon Grace

praise1The Good News is that God is not angry with us, loves us, and wants to be in relationship with us. It is up to us to accept this reality and live into it. This hymn in Isaiah is wonderful at explaining this:

You will say on that day:
“I thank you, Lord.
Though you were angry with me,
    your anger turned away and you comforted me.
God is indeed my salvation;
    I will trust and won’t be afraid.
Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my shield;
    he has become my salvation.”

There may be estrangement now, and God may be angry with our sins now, but when we choose to be in relationship with him through Jesus Christ, this is our hymn!

Isaiah 6:1-8 and What God’s Transformation Does

isaiah angel coalThere is a lot of talk about what conversion can do to people, from being judged not guilty to being free in Christ. I like to look at the transformation that can happen. Isaiah is a wonderful example of this truth:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!
All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

At the beginning of this vision Isaiah is so overwhelmed with the glory of the Lord that he thinks he is going to die. He rightly recognizes that he is in no place of standing before the Holy God of the Universe and cries out such. But look at what happens after he is cleansed by the coal from the altar–he boldly stands up and cries out, “Here I am. Send me.”

This is the transformation we have when we become God’s. We can move from an unholy fear to confidence that we can stand before God. Thanks be to God.

Isaiah 5:20 and The Present Situation

bigstock-Man-with-Good-and-Evil-fak-30668819I am not usually a doom and gloom kind of person, nor am I usually one to point out what other people are doing. I have no clue what is happening in other people’s lives or how God is at work in their lives, so I try not to make judgments. After all, God does not judge until the end of the world, so why would I not only take his role in judging, but even do so before he will?

That goes for individuals. When groups, organizations, and denominations start making decisions and policy or position statements, then there is a bit of testing the spirits that can happen. Keep this in mind as you read this verse from Isaiah:

Doom to those who call evil good and good evil,
    who present darkness as light and light as darkness,
    who make bitterness sweet and sweetness bitter.

Of course, in order to deal with this verse one has to define evil and good. Evil is that which is against God and what he has revealed in his special revelation of Scripture as it has been understood throughout the life of the Church for the last 2000 years. If the Holy Spirit has been truly guiding the Church since its inception as Jesus promised, then we cannot discount the entirety of our history by saying that those who went before us just didn’t understand what we do now. We are talking about God’s illumination and inspiration–what people understood or did not understand is irrelevant.

Any organization or denomination that celebrates what the Church has universally understood as wrong over 2000 years, through countless cultures and languages, may need to take a second look at Isaiah.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 and The Key to Accomplishing Any Task

sharpen-the-axeThroughout life we are confronted with many jobs, tasks, and projects we have to accomplish. No matter what the extent of them are, there is one key to completing any of them: preparation. If we prepare well, it makes the task so much easier. Ecclesiastes has a proverb within it that gets to the heart of this idea:

If an ax is dull and one doesn’t sharpen it first, then one must exert more force.

This saying is also known in its reverse format, and popularly attributed to Abraham Lincoln (although the evidence shows he never said it) like this:

If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.

When we prepare for whatever job we have to accomplish, it makes the job so much easier. Whether it is school, work, or even some task of enjoyment in life, a proper amount of preparation before we begin will, many times, mean the difference between finishing the job and quitting or the difference between finishing the job in a reasonable amount of time and working too hard on it.