Pastor Mark’s Devotions, September 17

Devotion #101

“Shalom”

“You will keep in perfect peace (shalom), those whose mind is steadfast, because they trust in you.     Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3-4

 

 Yes, the prophet, Isaiah, uses the personal name for God, “Yahweh”, 3 times in one verse – verse 4 of chapter 26. Whenever you see the term “LORD” spelled with all capital letters, the writer is referring to God’s personal name, which God first revealed to Moses in the wilderness. In later years, God’s name was considered so holy and reverent that the Jewish people were sworn never to speak it. Instead, they were to use the name “Adonai” (a kind of holy nickname) whenever referring to their holy God.

The prophet, Isaiah uses God’s name 3 times because he wants to pound a punctuation mark upon the place people were to find peace. Not only peace, but the word is translated “perfect peace”. The Hebrew word for this “perfect peace” is “shalom”. The term, “shalom” took on many meanings. It was used as a general greeting, perhaps like the Hawaiian word “aloha”. It was used as a blessing, hope for success, and comfort. On a deeper level, “shalom” is to denote a deep state of peacefulness and well-being, both internally and externally. King David picks up on this nuance in Psalm 4:8 when he writes, “I will lie down and sleep in “shalom” (peace), for you alone, Yahweh (O LORD), make me dwell in safety.”

It is important that we understand the context in which Isaiah wrote these words. Isaiah ministered for 40 years during the reign of four Judean kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (roughly 800 years before Christ). He lived during a time of relative peace and prosperity. But he also lived in a time when people were spiritually destitute and a mighty storm with hurricane destructive force would blow through their lives at the hands of an Assyrian army. Lives would be lost, homes would be crushed, hopes and dreams dismayed, a future uncertain, and those left alive, carried away into exile.

In the midst of the world crashing in on them, Yahweh extended a call to Isaiah to bring a word of hope in the midst of hellish circumstances. Isaiah was caught up in a holy vision when Yahweh calls, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (6:8). Isaiah responds to the Call and says, “Here I am. Send me!”

Isaiah’s name means “The LORD saves” or “The LORD is Savior”. The book of Isaiah contains more prophecies about the coming Messiah (God’s Anointed One) than any other book in the Old Testament. Salvation is revealed so comprehensively in Isaiah’s writings that Augustine called the book the “Fifth Gospel”. It has also been referred to as “the Bible in miniature” because it contains 66 chapters – as the Bible contains a total of 66 books. In the midst of storms raging and in the middle of his writing, Isaiah points us to the place of peace.

A few weeks ago, Isaiah, my son, and I were hunkered down in the wilderness feeling the effects of a wind storm that felt like a freight train, roaring in the distance and eventually hitting us broad side. It felt like it was determined to flip our tent fly and tear our tent apart.

Before we left on our trip, Ed Snowden and I replaced the roof on my little guest house. Each time I look out my window, I feel such satisfaction that there will be no more leaks, and it will be safe for another forty years. But isn’t that a false sense of security! We have been watching as people have experienced their roofs completely ripped up and torn off their homes. We have witnessed flames of wildfires, show no mercy, and consume homes and belongings like matchsticks and paper money.

With all of this, we certainly are not the first ones to experience destructive forces. The Jews have a whole historic heritage of destruction, displacement and difficulty. Recently, after WWII, the Jewish people, and Europe as a whole had lost everything known to them. The Jews were a people without a home and without a country. Do you think, at some point, a rabbi pointed to the prophet Isaiah and reminded them that even in their nation’s moments in exile, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.”

But even though people have been displaced in the past, today is our reality, and no one has lived this time before. This morning, I tried to review from whence we’ve come – over these past six months – and recount the upheaval. It truly is quite astounding.

We have suffered a global pandemic that has included sickness, death and unprecedented strains on our medical communities. Isolation, food and supply shortages, business closures and unemployment. Work from home, virtual meetings and schools online. Furloughs, financial hardships, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fears. Frustrations over responses and reactions from government and the public. Divisions and disagreements. Protest, police and racial tensions. Elections and voter uncertainty. Natural disasters that include tornadoes, mega fires, hurricanes, storm surges and flooding. Roads, bridges, homes, and businesses ripped to shreds. Storms that are generating their own climate within the tempest. Smoke, smog and the worst air quality in the world found right here in Portland and Seattle. And perhaps the greatest threats are the smoke signals from Siberia and the melting of the perma-frost. The smoke has still not cleared and we still are uncertain of the road ahead. But the road, in this life, will always remain a bit uncertain. Last week, my crown broke that will require a visit to the dentist. Last week, my washer flooded that will require a visit from a repairman. Last week, I sliced my finger with a utility blade that will require time and healing. Do those count? Of course they do, they all count. All your day to day struggles count. Day to day we do not know what life will deliver.

But let us return to Isaiah, the one Called by God and who responded. The one who declares without confusion or uncertainty, that God has a plan of salvation through his Anointed One and He WILL deliver.

Listen once again to Isaiah’s words, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose mind in steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.”

Let us draw near to this ROCK. He will guide us through these uncertain times today and on into eternity.

P.S. There have already been 18 storms on the seas that have been given names this season. 3 weeks earlier than ever before. The only English name left in the alphabet is, “Wilfred”. After that, the names of the storms will move to the Greek alphabet – alpha, beta, gamma, etc. As the storms continue to hit,  Yahweh continues to declare (in Revelation 21:6), “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

P.S.S. – Did you notice that I repeated Isaiah 26:3-4 – three times? No, it was not a mistake. It was meant to pound a punctuation mark upon your soul and point to the place of peace.

Shalom!    Pastor Mark 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 9

“Isaiah 55”

So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me void, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

 

Devotion day 55 has led me to Isaiah 55. The prophet records powerful words that we need to hear today. I’m going to include the entire chapter below so that you can breathe in this Word of God for yourselves.

In Isaiah 55:8, I love the reminder that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. This word means that I must re-orient my thinking and re-evaluate my actions. Left to my own thoughts and decision making, my conclusions will not align with God’s will. This word demands that I  listen for God’s Word and understand the language of the Spirit in which He speaks. This is not a natural response. It requires a determination of my will to surrender to Him and open my heart to follow his lead. God needs to initiate and we are to obey in order to walk within His will.

Jesus knew this word. In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” He goes on, “The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus demonstrated his greatest love for his Father as he walked in obedience to his will. Jesus’ human thoughts led him to consider walking away from the cross. But it was his sacrificial love and obedience to his Father’s word that would guide him as a suffering servant and become the Way of salvation for all.

I also love Isaiah 55:11. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return void, but will accomplish what I desire.” If God’s Word is spoken, it will enact change! The one thing that God’s Word will not do is leave conditions status quo. If our church or our personal lives remain status quo, it means we have not received his Word – spoken from his mouth. Sometimes Christians make the mistake believing it is enough to put the words of the Bible in their brains. If the words of Scripture are not combined with the Spirit, the word can easily return empty. It is the power of the Spirit that enacts change. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, believed that the Law was God. So also, some Christians mistakenly believe the Bible to be God. This belief will quickly turn Christians into Pharisees. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” (John 5:37-38) He continues, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39)

God spoke His Word into the writers of Scriptures. They recorded his Word for us and the world. But His Word must also be written upon our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings God’s Word alive to us today. When the Spirit is moving, the Scriptures explode with wisdom, revelation and truth! If we do not have a relationship with Christ, the Gospel truth can quickly be converted into legalism and Law. Without knowing it, we can find ourselves to simply be a new version of a New Testament Pharisee. How do we guard against “Phariseeism”? We check our hearts and determine whether we are living in LOVE or living in JUDGMENT of others. A Pharisee stands in the place of God to judge others. A Follower of Christ stands in the gap to love others and surrenders judgment to God.

Most of Jesus’ words bounced off the hearts of the Pharisees. But the Bible records Jesus speaking many words that exploded with power, revealing Him to be the Son of God. In Matthew 8:1, Jesus spoke to a leper, “Be Clean!”, and he was cleansed. In Mark 4:39, Jesus spoke to the waves, “Quiet, Be Still!” and they died down. In Mark 5:8, Jesus spoke to demons in a possessed man, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”, and they fled. In Matthew 9:6, Jesus spoke to a paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home!”, and he went home. In Luke 8:54, Jesus spoke to a 12-year old child who had died, “My child, get up!”, and she arose. In Matthew 21:19, Jesus spoke to a fig tree, “May you never bear fruit again!”, and it never did.

In John 11:43, Jesus spoke to Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, “Lazarus, come out!”, and he walked out of the tomb. In John 20:16, Jesus spoke to Mary on the morning of his resurrection. He spoke her name, “Mary!”, and her life would never be the same.

Do you think God’s Word speaks today? Do you think God’s Word speaks TO YOU today?

As Peter confessed the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that they were witnesses of that fact. Today, I confess to you today, that I am a witness to the fact that Jesus still speaks! If you have not heard his voice in your heart, something wonderful is awaiting you. It is not an audible voice. But our hearts need to be tuned into his frequency. He is speaking; often we just are not tuned in. Ask him to speak. Invite him to reveal His Word to you. Jesus promised in John 10:2-3, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

Jesus speaks in, with, and under the Scriptures. Just as Jesus is in, with, and under the elements of Holy Communion, so too in His Word. More than that, He can speak at any moment. His Word will always confirm the words of Scripture.

Years ago, I remember a young adult standing at the altar of our church. He was waiting to receive communion. He was the son of a member in the congregation. As is typical of young people, he had drifted away from the faith. Little did I know, in that moment, the Spirit of God would speak to Matt and leave him changed. In coming years, he felt the call to overseas missions. He packed up his family, moved to Africa, and has never felt more fulfilled.

God is not going to call all of us to Africa. But the Spirit of God is going to call us in ways that are not our own ways, nor will they be our thoughts. But his Word will leave us changed, knowing that He still speaks today.

Let us surrender our thoughts and ways to the Lord. Let us go forth, listening, learning, receiving, waiting, looking, anticipating God to speak – and then wait for him to speak again.

On this beautiful, 80 degree day – Let the full force of God’s Word wash over you and speak:

Invitation to the Thirsty

55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

 

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark