Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 4)

3. The consequences of trusting ourselves and of trusting God.

Who is among you that fears the LORD,
That obeys the voice of His servant,
That walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with firebrands,
Walk in the light of your fire
And among the brands you have set ablaze.
This you will have from My hand;
And you will lie down in torment.

- Isaiah 50:10, 11

These verses exhibit the parallelism characteristic of Hebrew poetry. Verse ten deals with the consequences for he who trusts in God, and verse 11 the consequences for he who trusts in himself.

The excuses we often use for trusting in our own efforts or our own devices are rooted in the circumstances we find ourselves. “I can’t trust God, I’m a practical man!”,“I have no time for prayer.”, “I’m a man of action!”. “The night is so dark and I am so frightened, I will do anything I can to keep the darkness at bay.” Yet our verse shows that just when we are most likely to trust in our own efforts and wisdom is the time to trust in God. We trust in God not despite the darkness, but because of the darkness. We trust in God in the darkness because we know kindling a fire and encircling ourselves with flames and walking by the light of our own fire are all insufficient. Instead, we rely on God, because we know we are unreliable. We lean on God, because we know, we need something to lean on.

One common complaint about Christians is that we think we are better than everyone else. What an indictment! Believers are no better than anyone else. We follow God because we know we’re no better, because we know on our own we are weak and powerless and selfish. Perhaps is we could learn to trust in God more, if we could stop trying to rely on ourselves to solve our problems or “be good”, the critics would be silenced by the recognition that we walk by faith, not by sight, just as the Servant of God did.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 3)

2. What we can learn about trusting in God from the example of Jesus.

The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.

The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient,
Nor did I turn back.

I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.

For the Lord GOD helps Me,
Therefore, I am not disgraced;
Therefore, I have set My face like flint,
And I know that I shall not be ashamed.

He who vindicates Me is near;
Who will contend with Me?
Let us stand up to each other;
Who has a case against Me?
Let him draw near to Me.

Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me;
Who is he who condemns Me?
Behold, they will all wear out like a garment;
The moth will eat them.
- Isaiah 50:4-9

These verses are written from the point of view of the Servant of God (in this case, referring to the Messiah) and saw fulfillment when Jesus was handed over to be crucified.

We sometimes think that Jesus, the suffering but obedient servant of God, actually did not have a hard time understanding the Lord’s will or having the courage to be obedient because He is God and has always been God. To think in such a way however, betrays a poor grasp of the incarnation and the persons of the Godhead. Jesus, though wholly God, is also obedient to the Father and submissive to His will. Verses 4,5 show Him taking on the role of obedient disciple of God, who inclines His ear to the Lord’s instructions. The servant learns and grows, and we know that Jesus too grew and increased in stature with God and man.

Not only was Jesus attentive to the Lord God, but He was obedient. He did not merely look at the Word and so deceive Himself, He did what it says (James 1:22-25). And this obedience continued despite suffering and shame (vs. 6) greater than that which Israel has yet endured. In both these ways, Jesus not only sets us an example, but robs us of any excuse for our own disobedience! He remaned faithful, despite suffering.

The result, of course, was God helping Him, vindicating Him, removing condemnation and shame, restoring confidence (not in self, but in God). So too, we can have confidence and freedom from condemnation, we can live in forgiveness (Romans 8) when God comes to our aid.

So, what do we learn from the Servant about trusting in God? We learn that the very thing that invites the suffering (being a disciple vv. 4,5) is also the thing that gives us strength, confidence, and vindication. The answer lies in living the life of a disciple, listening to God day by day, inclining our ear as a disciple and giving a word in season to others. May God help us faithfully serve Him and listen to His Word.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trusting in God (Isaiah 50) - Part 2

Why we fail to trust in God.

Thus says the LORD, "Where is the certificate of divorce By which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, And for your transgressions your mother was sent away.

"Why was there no man when I came? When I called, why was there none to answer? Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink for lack of water And die of thirst.

I clothe the heavens with blackness, And make sackcloth their covering."
- Isaiah 50:1-3

When God seems far off, or we suffer calamities of many kinds, or we lack a genuine love for others, we sometimes ask why God is causing these things, or allowing them to happen. There are many different reasons, but in verse one, it’s clear in the context of our passage that God (temporarily) abandons Israel leaves her to her own devices, not because God no longer cares, or is unable, or unwilling to help, but because of their sin.

It is worth noting that though we often think that if our sin or failure to trust God has any effect, it is only on us. But here God declares that there is a residual effect of sin on those around (both you and “your mother”). For us as a family, this means that sin never happens in isolation or has no influence or effect on the harmony and happiness of the rest of the family. So, we are learning to seek God and depend upon Him, not just because He commands it, and not just for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those we mingle with.

In this instance, what was their sin? It was failing to trust God. He came near to ransom, but they had already turned elsewhere, as though God were incapable of helping, or as if He who controls Creation, has power over seas and rivers or any necessities of life is powerless to help or to deliver.

As with many truths about God, this is two-edged. He who has power to deliver also has power to discipline. Verse 3 uses strongly apocalyptic language (echoes of which are heard in Revelation 6:12) and the suggestion seems to be that if trust is insufficient motivation to lean upon the Lord, perhaps fear is.

So, why do we fail to trust God? When faced with a problem, why do we seek our help in friends, books, counsellors, our own skills, money, intelligence or countless other false securities? Perhaps pride (“I don’t need God’s help”), or convenience (“Oh, I know how to solve this problem! I’ll just do such and such..”, or flat out rebellion (“I won’t submit to His autocratic manipulation!”, or unthinking ignorance (“Oh yeah, perhaps I should have turned to God there.” The bottom-line is, such failure to trust in God and lean upon His mercy is sinful and, at some level, idolatry: elevating something above God.

Next time, we’ll consider how we can learn to trust God by following the example of Jesus.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 1)

One of the things we appreciate about Grimsby Bible Church is the desire to study and submit to the entirety of the Bible. One of the ways we have tried to do that is by systematically studying entire books of the Bible expositionally. The Wednesday night Bible Study group at Grimsby has been going through the book of Isaiah for the past several months and I recently led the group through a brief look at Isaiah 50.

Isaiah 50 is near the beginning of the section of Isaiah (chapters 49-55) that deals with the “Servant of God”. These chapters are among the most frequently cited of Isaiah, but are none-the-less difficult to interpret properly for two main reasons. The Servant sometimes refers to Israel and sometimes to the Messiah and the difference is seldom explicit so we need to infer from the context which meaning is being used. Secondly, as in all of Isaiah (and most Biblical prophecy), the point of view of the narrative shifts frequently (sometimes God is speaking, sometimes Israel, sometimes Isaiah) and there are sometimes very few markers in the text to help us identify the transitions.

In the case of Isaiah 50, the Servant refers to the Messiah and vv 1-3 have God speaking, vv 4- 9 have the Messiah speaking and it concludes in vv 10, 11 with the prophet Isaiah proclaiming.

With that in mind, I outlined Isaiah 50 thus:
1. Why we fail to trust in God.
2. How we can learn to trust Him.
3. The consequences of trusting God and of trusting ourselves.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Written on Our Hearts

Hebrews 8:10

In the Marsh house we have been committed to having a near-daily Worship Time for several years now (I capitalize it to distinquish it from our other teaching times and daily, informal discipling). We have tried different formats, times and frequencies and, while some approaches have been more successful than others, we are grateful that God’s given us sufficient grace to continue on.

Our goal has been to teach our children that the worship of God is an integral part of our daily lives and of who we are as a family. To that end, our times of worship involve singing songs of praise to God, memorizing Scripture, praying and teaching from the Bible, and we try to make it a priority above other activities.

As the chidren have aged, we have changed the emphasis of our Worship Times. While they were very, very young and not yet professing believers, we spent much time giving factual information about God and the faith. Now that two of them are believers, we are spending more and more time working on practical applications of what they have learned. Through it all, I have often forgotten that what is important is not how I will mould and modify my children’s behaviour, but how God will change their hearts, and thereby modify their behaviour.

What is true of them, is equally true of me, and of all who follow Christ. While studying the Scriptures and looking to the truth of God are vital, may we never forget that it is God who writes His Law on our hearts and minds, and God who conforms us to the image of His beloved Son.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

New Name, New Banner

So, I hope everyone likes the new banner. It took me long enough to make it (I know, it doesn’t look like it, but that just shows how technically inept I am).

When we started this blog, it seemed like a good idea to focus on the ten commandments, to keep it from becoming too wide ranging and unfocused. However, as time went by, I increasingly found that what I really wanted to write about wasn’t the ten commandments specifically, but the manner in which we, as a family, are growing and striving to be more obedient to the Lord. In other words, how we Marshes fulfill John 15:14 together. Hence, the new name: 15:14 for Six: John 15:14 as it applies to the six Marshes.

One way we try to learn to serve the Lord more faithfully is through our family worship times: hence the new banner showing us singing together recently. In a future post, I will write about how we structure our worship times and what we have gained from them.