Sunday, September 21, 2014

THE COST OF REJECTING GOD



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also. In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats. And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.

The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

The Lord spoke to me again:

“Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!”

Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.

Isaiah 7:18-25, 8:1-10

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Rejection. No one likes it.

I think we learn this at a very early age. I remember one such instance when I was among a group of other children and it was one of those situations where teams were being picked by two kids designated team captains. Typically, these two children were kids considered the best at the game being played and they would choose their team one person at a time, alternating picks during the process. And so it would go, one child picked after the other and if you were left unselected for awhile, rejected by the person choosing, it had a tendency to hurt you a little because it sent the message that you weren’t as good as the others or were being left out because you didn’t quite fit in socially with everyone else.

Yes, rejection is not a pleasant experience. And I started to really dislike it early on. That dislike would grow as I grew older and experienced it again.

This time, I was in my teens, a senior in high school who was looking for a date to the school prom. It was an expectation that if you went to this event, you didn’t go alone, a clear sign that you were a social outcast in your peer group. And so I had a girl I felt liked me, one I would feel comfortable going with, and so one day I asked her if she would be willing to be my date and she said “no” because she already had a date.

Rejection again.

My last memorable rejection encounter came when I was in the latter stages of my Navy career. I was a Senior Chief Petty Officer, just one step away from reaching the most senior rank in the enlisted community. My first opportunity for advancement came in 1999 but I was not selected. That’s alright I thought, most people don’t get picked their first look. But then 2000 came and I was not selected again. This time the rejection hurt more. I started to wonder if I had maybe topped out in my career and would not have the opportunity to move to the top. That thought would be dashed the next year as I was selected and advanced. It was a big relief for me for a lot of reasons, one of which being that I would not have to deal with the rejection that comes with not being advanced again.

Maybe you have a few rejection stories of your own. I think we all do and that goes for God too we’re going to see in our scripture passage today. Look at these words and see how much God hates being rejected, something we would be well served to keep in mind.

In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also. In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats. And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.

The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

The Lord spoke to me again:

“Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!”

Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.  Isaiah 7:18-25, 8:1-10

The main theme of these final verses of Isaiah Chapter 7 and opening verses of Chapter 8 is judgment, God’s judgment on the Israelites. The instrument of that judgment was the nation of Assyria who scripture tells us was summoned by God to attack and devastate first Israel in the north before heading south to Judah. The imagery of this judgment was telling for the armies of Assyria would flow into the promised land like floodwaters, swirling through the land of Israel and Judah passing through and placing the people at a point where the “water” would be up to their necks. In other words, they would be placed in a precarious, perilous situation where their very lives would be threatened.

Think about floodwaters for a minute. When they come, they don’t discriminate where they go. Rather, they fill whatever area will receive them, going into every possible crack and crevice possible as it flows through areas. It does not distinguish one home from another nor does it turn away from fields or vineyards that produce valuable crops and fruits. No, floodwaters come and lay waste everywhere, displacing people while leaving behind destruction and ruin in their wake. Such was what was about to come when the Assyrians invaded, the promised land stripped and left bare, like when hair is shaved off the body of a person from the top of their head, their beard, and even their private parts.  

All this can be summed up with one statement.

There is a cost for rejecting God, a very steep cost.

How do we know that the people’s rejection is at the core of the judgment?

We see it in the passage, embedded within the particulars:

“Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah.”

Note again the water imagery used here. The Lord offered a life like no other, a life of consistent blessing and protection, a sustaining life that would bring peace and productivity like gently flowing waters. It was this life that the people turned from, choosing instead to worship other gods and reject the God who had always watched over them, delivered them, and kept them in His care. They traded in the gentle flowing waters of living in the favor of the Lord for the flood of consequences that come from His wrath and punishment.

Where do you stand in your relationship with God today? Have you rejected Him, asking for the flood of hardship to be sent upon your life? Or have you fully accepted the Lord, seeking to honor Him with the way you live, thankful for the guidance and protection He renders out of His deep love for you?

My prayer is that you are in good standing, living in His favor and not His judgment.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

A PERFECT HOPE



Can I pray for you in any way? Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com.

In Christ, Mark
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
** Like posts and send friend requests to the author of The Christian Walk, Mark Cummings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mark.cummings.733?ref=tn_tnmn
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when He knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—He will bring the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 7:14-17

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

I think I can be safe in saying that everyone in life desires some sense of hope. It’s the essence of what brings us peace and comfort, relief from the pressures this life can bring upon us.

Hope brings us anticipation that something is going to happen and make our life better in some way. Hope buoys us up in excitement and expectation. Hope is a sense of confidence and trust in someone or something that will make situations turn out for the best.

If you have hope, your spirit is lifted up as you wait in faith for things to change for the good. Lose it and you will sink into the depths of despair and worry and stress and fear, all emotions that are the anti-hope, all emotions that Satan would love to manifest in every man and woman.

Satan wants to steal away all our joy and optimism in life. And he succeeds unless people know that they have a perfect hope that can never been taken.

What is that perfect hope?   

Let’s look at today’s scripture from Isaiah, Chapter 7:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when He knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—He will bring the king of Assyria.” vv. 14-17

Let me start at the end of this passage and work my way backwards. For earlier in this chapter, we read about how Ahaz and the Judeans were afraid due to attacks that were being waged against Jerusalem by the armies of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel. You’ll recall that God intervened to dispel the fears of the Judeans, telling them that the Arameans and Israelites would not gain any victory over Judah and Jerusalem. In fact, those two groups would face their own demise sooner rather than later. That had to be quite a reassurance to the Judeans but as we see in this passage, they weren’t out of the woods, not by a long shot. For it wasn’t that God was withdrawing His judgment on His people for their willing sinfulness through false worship practices, He was just using another nation to do His judgment work. In this instance, that group would be the Assyrians who would be followed by the Babylonians who would finish the job.

Yes, there were bad days ahead for the people of God in the way of penalties they fully deserved due to their disobedience and disrespect toward God. But this didn’t mean that there wasn’t hope. For those who would be taken away to a foreign land were left with words that had to reassure them that there would be better days ahead after exile and those better days would be so because of a perfect hope God was going to send.

Look again at the words that brought so much promise to the Judeans and in turn to all of mankind – past, present, and future:

The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when He knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.  

The Lord, a Lord of justice in judgment, is also a Lord of redemption and forgiveness and hope, all given to mankind perfectly out of the deep love the Father has for His creation. No greater expression of that love can be found than in Jesus, His only Son who God sent to live among us and ultimately die to save us from our sins, defeating death and the grave before being resurrected in power to dwell with God in heaven. This set the stage for the perfect hope that everyone has in Jesus today. For in Him, anyone who believes and trusts He is Savior will be a victorious person, free from the penalty of death and entitled to have the perfect hope of eternal life. Death no longer becomes the end but rather stepping stone to life forever with God the Father and Jesus His Son.

This all began with a sign, a virgin named Mary who conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the One who would save the world, the One who even from His youngest days was righteousness personified because He carried a name that identified who He was, the name Immanuel or God with us. This is what puts the Christ into Christmas every year. It’s not about a tree and presents. It’s about the perfect hope that came to us in the form of a tiny baby born in a humble manger in Bethlehem, a baby who would grow up to bring us salvation.

Do you know Jesus? Have you embraced the perfect hope He brings?

If so, then every day becomes a day to rejoice and be glad in. For no matter what life brings, the best is still yet to come.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Friday, September 19, 2014

ACCEPT GOD’S GIFTS WITH GRATITUDE



Can I pray for you in any way? Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com.

In Christ, Mark
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
** Like posts and send friend requests to the author of The Christian Walk, Mark Cummings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mark.cummings.733?ref=tn_tnmn
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?”

Isaiah 7:10-13

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Let me ask you a question. If God were to offer you something, would you accept it?

The answer is a no brainer, right? You would receive His offer and do it with gratitude. For if God wants to give us something, He doesn’t expect a rejection and certainly He should never get one.

I said He SHOULD never get one. As we will see today, there are people in the world foolish enough to turn down an offer from God and Exhibit A is Ahaz and the people of Judah.

You’ll recall from yesterday’s devotion that Ahaz, the king of Judah, and his fellow Judeans had been under siege from the Arameans and the northern kingdom of Israel. Despite the attempts of the attacking forces, they couldn’t overthrow the holy city of Jerusalem but this didn’t stop the Judeans from being captivated by their fear, a fear that stole away their faith and led them to forget that God was in control.

You would think that the Judeans would have rekindled their faith in God after He told them they had nothing to fear because those besieging the city would not accomplish what they sought to do. You would think that they would reestablish their trust in the God who had shown over and over again that He was with them and for them. You would think they would thankfully take any blessing He would propose without hesitation.

Of course, you would think that the Israelites would never choose to disrespect God and worship false gods and idols over and over and over again, daring God to do something about it, but they did and as we have seen through the opening chapters of Isaiah, God was fed up and was sending a judgment that would not just last for a season but rather for a lifetime because the 70 years of exile prescribed by God as punishment would be a lifetime for the generation taken away to Babylon. Many taken away would never see the Promised Land again.

Today’s verses, of course, cover a time before that judgment but in them we find just one other thing done by the Israelites that would get under the skin of God. Look again at this word of God:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Isaiah 7:10-13

The Lord was speaking to Ahaz. Not some messenger. Not some prophet. Not an angel. No, it was God Himself speaking and asking Ahaz for a sign. Note here that God was not really giving Ahaz an option. The Lord didn’t say, “If you desire, ask me for a sign” or “If you’re interested in seeing a sign, just ask Me” or “Hey Ahaz! Want me to show you a sign?” No, Ahaz was told to ask for a sign.

Friends, wouldn’t you agree with me that if God tells us to do something, we are to do it with no questions asked?

There’s no question that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” but apparently Ahaz didn’t get the memo because as we read his reply to God, we know he clearly didn’t understand that when God commands, man is to obey, no matter their status, king or otherwise. We know this because Ahaz flat out disobeyed God’s order and boldly declared that he would not ask for sign, justifying his decision by suggesting that he would be testing God by asking.

Question: Would God ever set us up for failure?

I think you would agree He wouldn’t. He sets us up to succeed in carrying out His will to further His purposes. Period. And so, if God was telling Ahaz to ask for a sign, obeying that command would not be disrespecting God in any way for that would be a sin and God would never command us to sin. It simply would (and will) never happen. This is what makes Ahaz’s response utter nonsense and foolishness.

Isaiah certainly saw it that way because before God rebuked Ahaz, he did so asking not just Ahaz but all of Judah (referred to as the house of David), “Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Indeed, the behavioral pattern of the Israelites would test the patience of anyone who carried an expectation of righteous behavior from a people who were God’s chosen ones, especially God Himself. And trust me when I say, the patience of God continues to be trusted today for believers, as we have studied prior, are repeating the mistakes of the past.

How long will it take until we get it? How long until we figure out that God deserves our unreserved and unquestionable honor, glory, faith, and trust? How long will we go on disrespecting and disregarding Him?

The message from the scriptures for us today is crystal clear. When God offers to do something for us, whether it is to offer a sign or anything else, the only right response is “Yes, Lord”, delivered with the fullest measure of thanksgiving and gratitude. He deserves nothing less.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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