For My Welfare?

Isaiah 38:10-20

By John Grimm

For my welfare?  We think we know what is best for ourselves.  We plan, we maneuver, and we make connections so that we can have the best life possible.  Then troubles come our way and we are at a loss.  Getting through the troubles strains us.

We then ask ourselves, is the trouble because of my own sins?  Are we the ones who caused our own souls to be bitter?  Or is the truth that someone else caused our misfortune and our problems?  Is it not that since we live godly lives, we can escape such bitterness?

When we know that we have caused our own bitterness, then we repent of our ways.  We confess our sin to God and he restores us.  We may even eventually see that God had been protecting us, despite our willful rebellion against him.  As soon as we recognize the good God was keeping us for, we thank him that he did not allow us to be punished for all time because of our rebellion. 

When we do not know the source of the bitterness in our life, we should keep turning to God.  It is through Jesus that we find salvation, even in the midst of bitterness.  It is during these times that we catch a glimpse of how much evil that God has kept from us.  Yes, going through the bitterness was for our welfare!

It is by living through bitterness brought on by our own sin or someone else’s sin that we can praise God!  Then we get to be in the sanctuary with other believers to sing and praise God for his work in our lives.  What a witness we have when those around us know of the bitterness of our souls and they get to hear us praise God.  Maybe it is during this pandemic that the bitterness of our souls is for our welfare.  It seems like a good time to praise God for getting us through these days.  What better way to shrug off bitterness than to be in the house of the Lord, thanking God for our deliverance?

God, we know who and what has caused bitterness in our souls.  It was not you.  We allowed that bitterness to grow.  Yet, you are using the state of our souls so that we may see how you are working to deliver us.  As we become content in your faithfulness, may we see the bitterness washing away and hear chords of praise coming from our lungs.  It is in Jesus’ name that we thank you for making a way for our welfare even when we could not grasp what was happening.  Amen.  And Amen!

The Lord Is Waiting

Isaiah 30:15-18  (NRSV)

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused and said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”—
    therefore you shall flee!
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”—
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
until you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

To whom do we go for advice? From whom do we gain insight for how to live in this sin-sick world? From whom do we learn how to get through the trouble of our lives?

The rebellious children of Israel sought out Egypt during Isaiah’s life. To counter the approaching trouble from the Babylonians, Israel wanted the strength of Egypt’s horses and armies. These rebellious children did not wait for the Lord. These rebellious children sent donkey- and camel-loads of wealth to Egypt to buy security. It did not work, for Jerusalem and Judah fell in 586 B.C.

How do we answer these questions? Are we spending our wealth to purchase security that we will find only when wait upon the Lord? We might be left as the flagstaff on a hill when troubles pursue us. We will be left as a signal on a hill. Unless we wait on the Lord.

God is ready to be gracious to us. God has wisdom for us. God has insight for us to live while in this sin-sick world. God has mercy so we can get through the troubles of our lives. God will bring justice to us if we wait for him.

God, you are the one for whom we can wait. Charging ahead with our own counsel will give us trouble. It is by your mercy that we live. The only means we have of seeking your grace and justice is to wait for you. We are calming ourselves so that we may know the blessings you have in store for us. Only by trusting in you through Jesus Christ will we receive the blessings you have for us. Thank you for Jesus and the justice you have for us. Amen.

A Time for True Repentance

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, which prepares us for Easter. Let’s focus on a traditional Ash Wednesday Scripture, Isaiah 58:1-12, considering it in sections. (I’m using the New Living Translation today.) Throughout, Isaiah is speaking directly for the Lord.

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!"

God wanted his people to recognize and be aware of their sins, calling upon his prophets to look to the Law and declare where the Israelites had strayed. There is no doubt God wants us to continue to recognize where we deviate from God’s will, first and foremost using the Bible as our guide.

   "Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’"

Religion, the system of living built around the worship of God, is a good and wonderful thing. But like any gift from God, religion can be abused. People can become so caught up in form that they forget function. The function of religion is to draw us into a closer relationship with God and better understand how God would have us relate to each other. This was true in Isaiah’s day, and it’s just as true now.

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help."

God expects us to treat each other equitably, to use the resources we have to lift each other up! We who are free spiritually, economically and in other ways should live so that others may be free, too. The season of Lent is a wonderful time to look around and find the places where we can make a difference.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes."

Yes, there are benefits to living a life with God—properly repenting of our sins, trusting Jesus Christ as our savior and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us to holy actions we would not have considered before. Repentance opens the door to salvation and salvation gives us hope.

God is simply asking that we share that hope with others!

Lord, may this season of Lent be a proper time of reflection, repentance and renewal, and may what happens in us change the lives of others. Amen.

A Joy to Behold

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 96

Let’s close out the work week with a psalm, hoping its words will enhance our weekend worship. (The link above will take you to the full psalm.)

Followers of Christ have a basic, biblically inspired vision and mission for their lives and churches, and vision and mission interact in this psalm.

When we speak of “vision,” we’re talking about how we believe events in heaven and earth will play out one day. In short, we see a future where the world will conform to the happy truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

In the words of Romans 14:11, which is quoting Isaiah 49:18, ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’ “

The vision naturally inspires us as we go about our day-to-day mission. We let the Holy Spirit work through us so new disciples of Christ are made. Implicit in all of this is our need to grow as disciples so we can be more effective in our work.

Psalm 96 brings out one particular aspect of vision and mission. In living them out, there is great joy.

We worship a loving, glorious God, and he wants to put a new song in our hearts!

Lord, where our vision has grown dim and we have strayed from our mission, forgive us, please. Give us new light and understanding so we may better serve your kingdom. Amen.