The Beautiful City Of God (Isaiah 33)

As I read God’s word today, a hymn I have not sung in many years began running through my head. Isaac Watts wrote this hymn, “We’re Marching To Zion,” in the 1600’s!

Come, we that love the Lord, And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord, Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne, And thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King, But children of the heavenly King,
May speak their joys abroad, May speak their joys abroad.

The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heavenly fields, Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets, Or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound and every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, We’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high, To fairer worlds on high.

CHORUS:
We’re marching to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful Zion
We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

Isaiah talked about this beautiful city, my future home:

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. (33:5-6)

I’m thinking about Zion this morning. That peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved…

There the Lord will be our Mighty One. It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams. (33:21a)

Isaiah told us in verse 6 that the key to this treasure is in fearing God. Fearing Him. Scripture often tells us that fearing God involves respecting Him, taking Him seriously, obeying Him, longing for Him, seeking Him, humbling ourselves before Him.

Are you marching to Zion? Not just drifting, not just wandering blindly. Are you marching with purpose, clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and donned with the armor of God?

Left. Right. Left. Right. Keep marching toward that beautiful city of God where we will spend eternity in the Presence of our Creator, our Savior!

 

Just Stop Talking! (Isaiah 30)

My mother underlined the following from verses in this chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. (vs 15)

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him. (vs 18)

How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. (19)

This is the way. Walk in it. (vs 21)

I just watched a briefing conducted by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She was answering a question posed by a reporter who continued to talk during the answer. At one point you could hear the reporter ask, “Why aren’t you answering my question?” to which the Press Secretary replied something like, “You obviously are not interested in hearing my answer when you continue to talk over me.”

Now I wonder if we don’t do the same thing to God. The verses Mom underlined remind me that God answers prayer. He does tell us exactly what we need to know. When we cry for help, He always answers.

But sometimes we don’t want to hear the answers so we just keep on talking, keep on praying, keep on asking questions already answered. Sometimes we are so busy telling God what we think the answers should be, we stop listening to what the answers are.

These verses remind me there is strength and trust in quietness. It reminds me that if I am paying attention, God will always say: “Here is the way. Walk in it.” It encourages me to wait for Him because He longs to be gracious to me.

If only I would learn to be quiet, to just stop talking, and listen.

 

You Can’t Have Children (Hosea)

When I started to read the book of Hosea today, my mind went immediately to the Church in 2020. It’s easy to see the connection between Israel and the Church; blessed yet unfaithful, ignoring God’s laws yet claiming to be His children.

But I didn’t get very far before I felt God nudge me. “I have something to say to you today, Connie, about your own walk with Me. This is not about “them.” I’m talking to you.”

Reading Hosea’s words is not fun when you look at it like that. It speaks to me about my own fickleness. It points out my tendency to listen to other voices besides God’s, to get along with the world rather than obeying Him. I remember times I sowed “the wind and reap(ed) the whirlwind.” There is a lot, sadly, in the lives of the Jews during Hosea’s time that I can see in me.

But what stood out to me this morning is found in 9:11-13. Verse 10 is such a tender expression of love. I hear God say that when He looks at me it’s like finding a grape in the desert, early fruit on a fig tree. It’s that “apple of His eye” thing. God adores me.

But then He challenges my commitment to Him. Israel flat out worshiped Baal. I don’t flat out deny God. Yet there are times when I don’t block out the call of the world, times when I might ignore a sin, or rationalize a sin (which are forms of idolatry and adultery in my relationship with Him).

And God tells me if that is the case, my glory will fly away. No births, no pregnancy, no conception.

No problem! I’m way beyond child-bearing years. But that’s not what He’s talking about. And what He is talking about should drive me to my knees.

God is speaking to me about spiritual children, those I could introduce to their Savior.  Read this chapter in that light and I think it will break your heart.

I have known women who long for children, who go to desperate measures to conceive. And I’ve seen the agony when time after time, their greatest desire is not realized. I’ve seen the crushing blow hit when they are told they will never have their own children. It’s a pain that is often inconsolable.

Now God is telling me I’ll never have children. If I allow my relationship with Him to weaken, my glory, my ability to shine the light of Jesus will fly away, and I will not have any part in the salvation of another soul. Does my reaction to that news mirror that of a woman unable to conceive a child? Am I inconsolably devastated at the idea of never leading someone to Jesus?

I should be. And so should you.

Exactly! (2 Chronicles 30)

God was very clear about how the Old Testament Jew was to approach Him. There were strict laws to follow, including a very important purification ceremony. They were not to participate in the Passover unless they first went through the process of purification spelled out by God Himself. These rituals were important and pointed to God and the coming Messiah.

So when a bunch of Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate the first Passover since the Temple had been restored, they got there too late to do the purification thing. They jumped right into celebrating the feast without going through the prerequisites. Not good.

So King Hezekiah prayed God would forgive “everyone who sets his heart on seeking God… even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” (verses 19-20)

I had to stop and think about that because God has made it pretty clear that He has set the rules and His rules stand. You don’t just get a free pass if you are sincere. Yet these people seem to have been given a free pass because of their sincerity.

Is that what I should take from this? Does God accept any and all worship if a heart is sincere? NO! That is not the lesson here at all.

As I was thinking and praying about this, God brought to mind an example in my own life. Years ago I was the choir director at a Christian Church where salvation through baptism was preached. In fact, there were some dear people in that congregation who firmly believed heaven was being prepared for people of that denominational affiliation only.

Anyway, one Sunday I was shocked when, after the invitation during the morning worship service, two teenage boys went forward to pray to receive Jesus and be baptized. (The baptismal was always full and ready to go.) The pastor got on his knees with the boys at the altar and quietly prayed with them. He took a minute or so to have a private conversation with them, then stood up to face the congregation.

Now this is what shocked me: he announced to the congregation that the boys agreed to come back to be baptized during the evening service instead of right then at the end of the morning service. We sang a hymn, and the service ended.

I spoke with the paster after church. He had plans that afternoon and didn’t feel like he had time to baptize the boys and get to where he needed to be on time. I asked him if that wasn’t a bit hypocritical, seeing he preached you can’t be saved unless you’ve been baptized. What if the boys die this afternoon without being baptized?

He answered, “Well, then God will judge their hearts.”

EXACTLY!!!

I feel God brought that memory to mind today to emphases that fact. I think in the case of the Jews for whom Hezekiah prayed, God is giving a glimpse of the New Covenant, His rules after the cross. Salvation is NOT found in religion, or in religious activities, not in sacrifices, not in baptism, or church attendance, or reciting prayers, or doing things like carrying a Bible, abstaining from alcohol, not shopping on Sunday, or whatever else one thinks looks Christian.

God judges the heart.

Here’s the other thing, though. The Jews in these verses weren’t sincerely worshiping Baal or some other figment of imagination. They were sincerely worshiping the God of the Bible. Not religion. God.

The point is, God sees the heart. He alone knows which of us have confessed our sins and accepted the gift of grace through the blood of Jesus. That is salvation. Whosoever believes. (John 3:16) If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

It’s not a religion. It’s not a ceremony. It isn’t even praying a certain prayer. Hezekiah prayed for everyone who “sets his heart on seeking God.” It’s all about God.

So I ask you: Are you sincerely seeking God? If you are, you will have to look into His Word, seek Him as He revealed Himself in those pages of the Bible. You might have to give up your preconceived notions of ceremony or the rules of the sanctuary or denomination you attend.

But God promises that if you seek Him with all your heart you WILL find Him. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13, among others) He isn’t hiding or playing games here. He wants you to know Him. And He wants to forgive your sins if you’d just ask.

Let’s not get so caught up in religion that we miss the most important thing: our hearts’ condition before a Holy God. He knows what is in there. And He will judge us accordingly.

 

Do You Hear It? (Isaiah 27)

Isaiah continues to talk about God’s judgment on sin. But he also reminds us God will protect His children from the outcome His enemies will face. I love this picture:

“Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it.” (2b-3a)

I am part of that vineyard, God’s Church, through the blood of Jesus. God says He protects it, waters it, guards it against harm. I know that a healthy vineyard goes through pruning, and harvest, and that’s not always comfortable. But God assures us He’s got our backs even when we face the trails of life. It gives me such peace to know the One who cares for me.

Then God says something that I need to remember. Listen to verse 4:

“I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire.”

This verse should terrify some. God will pass judgment on anything and anyone who tries to harm His Church. And it will not be a gentle tap on the wrist. The idea of God going to battle against anyone, or condemning someone to that fire should throw fear into hearts. But God is not motivated by anger. He is motivated by love, and here’s how I know that:

“Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.” (verse 5)

Do you hear God’s heart? I do. God’s will is that no one die without Him. He WANTS everyone to come to Him, to accept what He died to give. He WANTS to protect and defend and nurture and ultimately to spend eternity with each and every one of us.

Some people will go to hell. But that’s not what God’s heart wants.

Do you hear the tenderness in verse 5? He says He will destroy His enemies, but He’d would rather not. “Let them make peace with me.”

Have you ever heard the words, “I love you,” from that special person in your life? Those three words can bring such joy when you know the sentiment is true. What happens then, when that special someone repeats those precious words a second time? Maybe slower, softer, emphasizing each word?

“I love you. I. Love. You.”

That’s what I hear in God’s voice as He said these words in verse 5, as He talks about people who position themselves as His enemies. As He readies to go to war against them, to mete out that final judgment, His heart still cries out:

“Make peace with me. Oh, make peace with me!”

Is there someone I know who needs to make peace with God? May I hear the anguish in the heart of my Savior as He pleads with them to come to Him. May I be faithful to tell them how they can do exactly that, to introduce them to the Savior who loves them so much.

But sharing Jesus isn’t just about helping someone avoid hell. It’s about hearing God’s heart. Do you hear it?

 

 

Twilight (Isaiah 21)

The world was out of control in Isaiah’s day. Nations rose to power only to be overthrown by nations that had previously been defeated by them. People worshiped idols, then they worshiped God, then they returned to idols, and sometimes tried to worship everything at the same time. Isaiah knew, because God had revealed it to him, that the world was on a downward spiral plunging toward destruction.

The prophet longed for peace. We who have lived on this earth for more decades than we sometimes care to admit, can relate. We worked our whole lives. We raised children through lean years, rebellious years, through the laughter and tears. We helped with homework, drove to games, sat through recitals, planned birthday parties, cooked and cleaned and bandaged boo-boos.

We served in our churches joyfully and tirelessly, teaching Sunday School, working in the nursery, serving on committees, visiting the sick, caring for widows. We sacrificed ourselves for the good of others. And we were glad to do it!

But now we are tired. We long for the peace and comfort of twilight, that time of day when things slow down, when the sun sinks in the west amid the purples and pinks and oranges of sunset, when the birds sing their final song of the day, and life slows down. But for some of us, like Isaiah, that twilight has become a horror. (verse 4)

I could sit here and list the many horrific things many of us are facing in the twilight of our years. We all know what’s going on. But I want to point you to the watchman in verses 11-12. The news isn’t all bad, or all good.

Yes, there are times of trouble. But there are also times of blessing. There is night. And there is day. Satan would love nothing more than to have us sit and fret about our current conditions, to worry about the “what ifs,” to be angry if people don’t see things the way we do. Our enemy wants us to live in turmoil.

God wants better for us. Let’s, like the watchman, be on the lookout. Morning is coming, but also the night. God is still in the business of blessing His obedient children. He is still the powerful, loving, just God who hasn’t forgotten us.

Keep your eyes on the sky, your heart in tune with your Creator.  There is joy today. There is peace today. There is hope today. Yes, there are challenges and heartaches and sickness and injustice. But never forget that time marches on. What we face today will be ancient history tomorrow. Morning is coming, but also the night.

I love twilight. Most of the pictures I choose to put as my heading on this blog are of sunsets. The one I’m using currently was taken a few weeks ago when my family and I went on a sunset dolphin cruise. After a hectic day of chasing the kids around, of going to the beach, of putting out little fires when someone had the iPad too long, this boat ride was a time to unwind and take in God’s amazing creation. It was peaceful and absolutely beautiful. A perfect end to a wonderfully chaotic day.

There is every reason to praise God today and every day. Watch for it!

God’s World (Isaiah 13-17)

We who know God through His Word understand that this is His world. It’s His creation. And He makes the rules. He has made it plain that he demands and blesses obedience. His judgment on disobedience is without mercy.

But here’s what touched my heart today. In the midst of warning the nations about the upcoming judgment on their sin, God says this:

My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth. (16:11)

God grieves when anyone has to pay the price for sin. Because no one has to! That account is already paid in full. God has done everything He can, short of taking away our ability to choose, in order that no one need pay for their sin.

And He hurts when we don’t accept what He offers.

It must be a little like loving an addict, sitting by while you helplessly watch them give in to their addiction, knowing you’d do anything to make them whole, yet having no control over their choices. You know there is an answer. But the choice to accept the help has to be their’s. You can’t force them.

Friend, God loves you. He wants to have a relationship with you, but it has to be on His terms. He has done everything He can to make that possible, to heal you from your addiction to sin. In fact, He paid your death penalty. But He won’t force you to accept it.

God grieves every time any of us reject Him. He laments from His inmost being, an anguish that is unspeakable. He certainly doesn’t take pleasure in meting out judgment on we who are created in His image.

This is God’s world. You are His creation. And He loves you enough to die for you. Will you bring Him joy today? Or grieve Him by rejecting Him?

I’m praying for you.

Unrecognizable (2 Kings 16)

I am shocked at the nerve King Ahaz had in regard to the Temple of the Lord. He had been to Damascus, and liked their place of worship (which, by the way, was a pagan temple). So he went home to Jerusalem and had an exact copy of the Damascus altar built, put it right next to the altar of God, and proceeded to offer the “right” sacrifices upon it. He ordered the priests to use both altars.

The king didn’t stop there. Do you remember how carefully God had given the blueprints for His Temple? No detail was too insignificant in His design, and the Temple had been built according to God’s specifications.

Ahaz decided to make changes. He redecorated the Temple and removed much of what God had placed there. Read about it. It’s appalling.

And here is what has my blood boiling today. Ahaz did all this, “in deference to the king of Assyria.” (verse 18)

I haven’t stood on my soapbox much lately, but my blood is boiling. As shocking as what Ahaz did, we’ve done the same.

Now, I know God didn’t ordain order-of-worship, or worship styles. But let’s look at what we’ve done in our own remodeling of the Church. We removed hymns, taken crosses off the walls. We no longer have altars, we have stages. We’ve thrown organs into the trash, and removed the word “sin” from our vocabulary. We’ve taken steeples off our buildings, and given our fellowships cutsie names to hide our denominational affiliation. We’ve removed “Reverend” in front of our pastors’ names and encouraged them to come to church in ripped jeans and dirty sneakers. We no longer have Sunday evening or Wednesday worship services, and many churches have removed the choir loft.

I had a teenager tell me that her peers did not come to services on Sunday because they didn’t like the name “Sunday School.” Her parents agreed with her. Let’s change that hour to “Life Groups.” That’ll bring in the kids! Really?

Why all these changes? Were they done in deference to God? Hardly! The God who told us we have to be set apart, cannot be honored when we try to fit in. The God who is serious about sin cannot be honored when we refuse to talk about it.

These changes were done in deference to unsaved and unchurched people, like Ahaz making changes in deference to a pagan king. And none of the changes made in the last thirty years has done anything to strengthen the Church.

Growing up, church was the single most important activity in my life. We arranged our weekly schedules around our church’s schedule, not the other way around. Our priorities were: Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Youth Group an hour before Sunday evening worship, Bible quiz practice an hour before Wednesday evening Bible study and prayer time. Does any young person devote half that time to God these days? Do any adults?

No. Church, for many, is nothing more than another social gathering, no more than an hour or two a week, and only if there isn’t something better to do like baseball games and fishing trips. The Church that once was is unrecognizable today.

That makes me angry, and sad. I can only imagine how God views the redecorating of His Church.

 

Seriously? (Isaiah 5-8)

Do we really think we have better ideas than God’s? Are we foolish enough to believe our plans are good and fair, and God needs to get on board?  We can fight our own battles, but Isaiah warns us that we will be fighting against God. Do we honestly think we’ll win?

God has a solution for all the bad things in the world. He has the means for turning evil hearts into holy hearts. He’s provided a way to change hate into love:

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (7:14)

God with us!

God has the answer to all that is wrong in our world. He sent His Son to BE the answer!

If I have a medical question, I don’t go to a two-year-old for answers. If I need advice I don’t ask an infant what he thinks I should do. Yet we are acting equally irresponsible when we listen to the advice and follow the plans of our fellow, fallen, sinful man. Whether it’s the CDC, Black Lives Matter, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Lebron James, or any number of “experts” in all that is wrong with the world, we are asking two-year-olds to solve our problems.

There is only one answer. There is only one plan that will see success. There is only one person’s advice that is worth listening to.

Read your Bible. Get to know the Answer. Follow His Plan. Obey God and see our world change.

Do you think you have a better idea? Seriously?

 

What About Today? (2 Chronicles 26)

I don’t care who you are, or how kind and giving you’ve been, or even if you have done great things in the name of the Lord. Sin is sin. And all sin comes with consequences. My sin. Your sin.

We see King Uzziah, a good king who obeyed God. During his reign Judah was blessed because of their obedience as they followed the king. People had jobs, the building industry was booming, the army was strong and well equipped, and Uzziah’s fame spread far and wide.

But as so often happens with us humans, Uzziah’s pride led to his downfall. Instead of being humbled by God’s blessings, the king became proud. And his sin led him to be unfaithful to God. I hope you’ll read God’s Word today and see what happened to him.

God didn’t give Uzziah a free pass just because he had obeyed God in the past. Uzziah sinned. And God punished the sin.

I was at a friend’s house yesterday and she had a plate of fresh fruit for us to nibble on. Colorful melons, plump, juicy grapes, tangy apples, berries that popped with flavor in my mouth. It was so refreshing on a 92 degree day in Pennsylvania.

Today I thought about that fresh fruit. It came at the hard work of farmers who planted and nourished and weeded and then harvested each melon, each bunch of grapes, each berry. Someone washed, then pealed, and cut the fruit she’d bought and displayed them on a serving platter. The end result of all that work was not only beautiful, it was so good!

But if you hid one rotten grape in the midst, one imperfect apple, one molded berry, it wouldn’t take long for that fresh fruit to rot, too. All the good work of those farmers wouldn’t prevent the fresh fruit from being ruined by just one rotten grape.

It’s interesting that if you put a healthy apple in a barrel of rotten ones, the barrel doesn’t become healthy. But if you put a rotten apple in a barrel of healthy ones, you’ll have a barrel of rotten apples in no time.

That’s like sin. The good things we did in our past, the times we were obedient to the Lord, brought us blessings at that time. Those blessings might still be felt years later. That’s how God works. But if you sin today, if you don’t obey God today, July 8, 2020, you will have put a rotten apple in your barrel of blessings.

The good king, Uzziah, died a leper. He was excluded from worshiping in God’s House toward the rest of his life, and couldn’t even be buried with the other kings because he’d been unclean. God did not give him a free pass just because he had been obedient in the past. Uzziah sinned that day, and didn’t deal with his sin.

So God did.

The same is true for each of us. My prayer is that all of us will deal with our sin problem today. Every time God brings a sin to our awareness, I pray we will fall on our knees and ask Him to forgive us. I pray that we will never be satisfied living with a sin, even just one.  Because one sin not confessed is a rotten apple that cannot help but spread.

You’ve been obedient in the past? Good! What about today?