Hope for the Future

Day 273

Prayer for the day

Almighty God, my heavenly Father: I have sinned against you, through my own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what I have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me all my offences; and grant that I may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Scripture for the day

Isaiah 9-10, Ephesians 3

Reading the book of Isaiah (or any of the prophetic books) can seem a bit daunting, and not a little bit depressing. The people of Israel have seriously grieved their God, and much of the book is dedicated to helping them understand the consequences of that grief (see “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised”).

The consequence of the sin of Israel is brutal, but is in keeping with how they have treated their God. Yet even in His anger and wrath, God is not finished with His people. God still offers them what must have seemed an impossibility in their situation: hope for the future. God says through Isaiah that life is not over, that His love for them has not run dry as it may seem. No, His love continues, and there will be something left after the discipline is enacted.

Paul is blessed to convey that hope to the rest of the world in his letter to the church in Ephesus. The hope that God promised to the children of Israel had come in the person of Jesus Christ and the good news associated with him. Now Paul was able to broaden the hope of the Israelites into a hope for the world: God is here, says Paul, and He wants you. He wants you to be a part of His kingdom, regardless of where you’re from or who your ancestors are.

Hope is here, and it’s opened its arms wide. Let us find that secure embrace.

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Signs

Day 272

Prayer for the day

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Scripture for the day

Isaiah 7-8, Ephesians 2

Every once in awhile, the scriptures chronicle the call of God on a prophet to enact a prophetic act. The prophet is called to do something that will stand as a sign to the people of God or to other nations, speaking in metaphor about what God is doing or will do.

Isaiah is called to name a child. The child is not yet even conceived when the LORD asks Isaiah to write down the name of the child, and after doing so, Isaiah conceives the child with the prophetess. The child is named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. “Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey” is the name of the child, a child who stands as a witness to the coming destruction. God is going to use the Assyrians to sweep through the nation and to enact his justice.

It is easy in this situation to forget that this is an actual child, loved and cared for, and that this child does not exist simply as a sign. It cannot be forgotten, however, that this child’s primary purpose was to be a sign. Isaiah understands this, and states that even he exists largely to point to the God who acts.

Paul makes a similar statement in the Second Testament when he refers to the choice and work of God in his life and in the lives of the various people with whom he works. Paul recognizes that the choice of God is not because of his incredible worthiness, but is reliant on God, and that God’s choice is enacted to glorify God, to point to God, and to see people turn to God. In short, the choice of God in Paul is designed not merely to benefit Paul but to act as a signpost to the God who chose.

May you point well.

Chosen and Open

Day 271

Prayer for the day

Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

Scripture for the day

Isaiah 5-6, Ephesians 1

The theme of God choosing runs right throughout the scriptures. People down through the history of the church have argued whether God chooses who He will save, or chooses how the saved will be incorporated into the kingdom, or both. I don’t think it’s nearly as important as the discussion about what happens to the chosen.

Isaiah is one of the chosen. He is one of the people of Israel, chosen by God to bring his message of love and care to the people of the world, to demonstrate to them the life that God has in store for them. Isaiah is to lead these people in the charge once God has worked through the purging that has to happen in the nation in order to “right the ship.” God has chosen the people, but that does not allow them to be irresponsible with His choice. They are still responsible to fulfill the call He has placed on them.

Paul clarifies for us the purpose of God’s choice: not so that we might boast in how special we are, but so that God might be glorified in us as we live out the life he has determined for us.

Both Paul and Isaiah are insistent that once chosen, we will see things differently. Paul prays that the eyes of the hearts of the Ephesians will be opened to see the good things of God, and Isaiah desires the same thing for himself and for his people.

We also need the eyes of our hearts to be opened to the glory of God’s choice to make us holy. May they be so for you.

What Counts

Day 270

Prayer for the day

For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him.

Scripture for the day

Isaiah 3-4, Galatians 6

Ever notice how we get hung up on the wrong thing so often? Humanity seems uniquely gifted when it comes to majoring on the minors. It’s a concern for Paul and it’s a concern for Isaiah. Both of these say it’s a concern for God, so it seems like something we ought to pay attention to.

For Isaiah, the people of Israel have been focusing on their personal wealth, on their appearance, on the frivolous things of life that do not bring righteousness or even lasting happiness. They have focused on their hair, on their jewelry, on their clothing and on finery, while they have neglected the important things of God: caring for the less fortunate, worshipping God honestly and truly. They have traded the important for the futile, and they have revelled in the transaction.

Isaiah calls the people of Israel to account, helping them to understand the tragedy of what will befall them because of their lack of attention. They have sinned grievously, and will be punished in kind.

Paul has a similar concern for the Galatians. Instead of wealth and finery, they have cared for the minutiae of the law in order to avoid persecution. They have focused on safety to the neglect of obedience, and in this, they also have sinned. Circumcision, all those little marks of adherence to the law, are not important to Paul in the long run/. What is important, says Paul, is the New Creation. New Creation is what counts. Not a simple mutilation or transformation of the skin, but a complete overhaul.

For Paul, as for Isaiah, lip service is insufficient. If God is our God, then God is fully God, and we are fully bound to him, not simply in the minutiae, and not by lip service only.

May we focus on what counts.

Now and Then

Day 269

Prayer for the day

Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments.

Scripture for the day

Isaiah 1-2, Galatians 5

Being a Christian is hard sometimes! We live in the present, but live also for the future. We live in evil times, looking forward to the times that are good. We live in the tension of the kingdom of God that is present, yet not fully present. And we wait.

While we wait, it is important that we continue to live with an eye to what things will be like. Isaiah’s charge to the people of Israel is that they have forgotten their goal. They were supposed to be the people of God, spreading his love and desire to the entire world. Instead, they have forgotten their God and chased gods made by their own hands. They have forsaken the worship of the true and only God for fleeting pleasures and unreflective, idolatrous lives. They need to be living according to the vision of the future that Isaiah has seen, the vision of equality, the vision of peace and shalom that God will bring about at the end.

Paul cares for the same kind of living as he speaks to the Galatians. He tell them that once they knew the truth and lived according to it, but now they have become idolaters of the flesh, in a sense, as they move toward worshipping the law rather than the giver.

Their failure to live according to their purpose leads them to all kinds of errors, including life in the flesh, doing things according to their fleshly desires rather than according to the will of God. These kinds of actions will keep the doer away from the kingdom, warns Paul, while life in the Spirit, a life lived with an eye to the end, will bring life.

May we live a life of life, toward life, a life in the Spirit.

Devoted

Day 268

Prayer for the day

Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust.

Scripture for the day

Song of solomon 6-8, Galatians 4

We’ve already talked about the nature of the relationship of the lovers in the Song of Solomon. They are deeply in love, they are devoted, they are smitten with one another. Those of us who have had the experience of this kind of love know that it is not a simple infatuation or a sexual longing, but that it is much deeper than that. This kind of love, this kind of devotion, is consuming. It envelopes the mind and the soul, and drives out any thought of anything that would be an impediment to this kind of love.

This feeling, however, is not the foundation for relationship. It is an outworking of the relationship, a wonderful side-effect of the true centre of the relationship, that is, God’s love enacted.

Paul evinces this kind of care for his fellow believers in the church at Galatia as he tries to preach the truth to them. He constantly refers to them as the children of God, but also as his children, because of the way he “birthed” them through the preaching of the gospel, leading them to Christ.

Paul’s care for his “children” is revealed in the way he chastises and disciplines them. He loves them so much that he can’t stand to see them buying into error, reverting to previous unnecessary practices because they’ve been led astray from the gospel he had formerly preached to them.

Paul’s relationship with the Galatians, while not a lover’s relationship, is one based on devotion to the love of God in Christ, a devotion based not on their worthiness, but on God’s goodness to them through Christ.

The lovers and the father/children relationship bear this striking resemblance: they want the best for the other.

My prayer today is that you would know that God wants the best for you.

All One

Day 267

Prayer for the day

Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust.

Scripture for the day

Song of Solomon 4-5, Galatians 3

I watched a documentary recently about a soap-maker who was also an amateur philosopher and spiritual guide, and one of the tenets of this man’s belief system was the connection of all humanity. He said we are “all one.”

This is not a unique belief. There are many who espouse the idea of a universal human connectedness, a consciousness that we all share. This consciousness is supposedly the root of our being, the way that we are all webbed together.

Paul certainly uses the same kind of language to define humanity, but he does so only in the context of the creation of God and redemption in Christ. He says that once we are redeemed, once we are saved, we are all adopted and connected. The differences that divide us prior to Christ are done away. We are not made all the same, but we all share the same status: we are the children of God.

This connectedness is shown in a particular way in the Song of Solomon, as the man and the woman are deeply connected to each other, living out the mystery of “one flesh” the scriptures so beautifully explain. The couple express almost painful longing for each other, the kind of longing that comes from belonging to one another so entirely that one’s identity almost seems to meld into the other. They are changing, transforming from being two people into a couple, joined by God through his mighty power and connected so closely that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

This is not some strange universal consciousness. This is simply the work of God transforming people, putting them on the same footing, and allowing them to recognize their “child-hood.” May we equally recognize our childness.