Thoughts and Ways

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.”

Isaiah 55:6-13 (NIV)

Each of us establishes an approach to life over time. Our thoughts and behaviors develop out of our experiences, our context and our culture. An understanding of relationships, family and marriage is a prime example of this. We define family according to what we have witnessed within our own family. The manner in which we treat others is influenced by how we have been treated and observed others being treated. In marriage, the type of mate we choose along with the roles and behaviors once we are married are products of the experiences and definitions which have been presented to us. We then project these thoughts and behaviors upon others, assuming they think and behave exactly as we do.

The reading for today begins with the instruction to seek the Lord. As part of this quest, we are told to abandon our ways and thoughts while turning to the Lord who will show mercy and pardon us. Once we have found the Lord, we discover that God’s thoughts and ways are different than our own. The Lord’s thoughts will produce and bring forth goodness for all creation. This discovery will lead to us experiencing joy and peace. Our response will include songs in concert with all of creation.

Often we attempt to project our thoughts and behaviors upon the Lord. We assume God will act and behave exactly as we would in any giving situation. The definitions and responses we utilize in our daily interactions are presumed by us to be the same ones utilized by the Lord. Today’s passage points out the error in these thoughts and assumptions.

We must first seek the Lord. In doing so, it is necessary for us to leave all preconceptions behind. When we spend time in Scripture and prayer, we will discover that some of our understanding of who God is needs to change. We cannot translate our approach to life into being the Lord’s approach. Instead we must strive to adopt the Lord’s ways and thoughts. Then God can produce positive results for us and all within the world.

Good News

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10 (NIV)

These days there seems to be an endless amount of bad news to be shared. Throughout the day my phone gives me notifications of new posts from news sources and social media which contain accounts of negative events in the world. Turning on the local news at night also reminds me how bad situations are in my community. I am reminded of times during my life when watching a news broadcast carried a running count of trouble; Vietnam War deaths, Iranian hostage days, World Trade Center deaths, and soldiers killed in the Middle East. Now we hear each day the number of infected people and deaths connected to the pandemic. All sobering reminders of how difficult our world can be at times. But even in the midst of all the bad news, there is good news to be shared.

Isaiah speaks of the sharing of good news in today’s passage. He shares how beautiful are the ones who bring good news to the people. Here Isaiah is referring to God’s messengers who tell the people that they will experience God’s presence in their midst. This is the God who has redeemed them after years of submission to others. God will comfort the people. Joy will fill the people again. All of the people in the world are going to see God’s power and salvation. After years of struggle and sadness, the people will shout for joy.

Today we may struggle to see good news in our situation. Many people only see the illness, death, destruction, division, and economic crisis surrounding them. Each day people lose hope. Yet in the midst of all this, the good news of which Isaiah speaks remains and has been increased. God is still very present with us. Through Jesus Christ, God has redeemed the world and brought salvation to all. We are the ones who have the beautiful feet to bring the Good News, the Gospel, to the world. You and I can, and must, share the message of the Lord with a world of people searching for hope.

A New Thing

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

Isaiah 43:16-21 (NIV)

During the winter months, I long for spring as most people do. Winter is when the earth takes a rest. The trees are without leaves. The ground is dry and lifeless. Most of the flowering plants sit idle and without their beautiful blooms. Some animals either hide away in warm shelters or leave for the opposite hemisphere which has warmth. A longing for new life grows each month through the winter season.

New life is the theme of Isaiah’s words today. God announces that there is now a new thing coming into being. Just as in spring when we see sprouts coming out of the ground and buds form on the trees, something new is bursting out. God asks if we perceive it. In anticipation of spring, one must keep watch to see glimpses of new life in creation. The things which happened before are no longer like leaves which fell to the ground in the fall. But on the same branches which held last year’s leaves, buds are forming, a sign of life. God will provide the necessities for life to be sustained in this new thing. Creation responds with praise and gratitude.

What is the new thing the Lord is doing in your life? How is the Lord preparing the way for you? Is the Lord providing you the essentials to make this new thing happen? How are you responding?

“See I am doing a new thing!” says the Lord.

“Do you not perceive it?”

Strength and Power

25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:25-31 (NIV)

The ability of long-distance and marathon runners to complete such long runs truly amazes me. I have never been an athlete or a runner of any type. How these athletes are able to go such distances without quitting or falling to the ground after a mile is beyond my understanding. To be able to complete a race takes strength, training and endurance. Similar qualities which can be necessary for times in one’s life.

The passage from Isaiah speaks of the qualities which I just ascribed to successful long-distance runners. First, Isaiah points out that God never is tired or weary. Then he speaks of the Lord providing the needed strength and power to the weary and weak. God understands the needs we have and is able to meet these needs. The tired are not only renewed but given so much that they are able to soar like eagles.

What truly comforting and encouraging words are shared in our passage today. Each of us has times in our lives when we are unsure that we can go forward one more hour, or even one more day. Life can beat us down and lead us to lose hope. Here we are reminded to place our hope in the Lord, the one who never grows tired or weary. God will not only carry us through difficult times but restore to overflowing the strength and energy for the next step in life. Imagine having so much that you are unstoppable in your soaring. It is possible if you turn to the Lord.

The Announcement

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NIV)

Whenever someone of great importance arrives for an appearance or a speech, someone usually makes an announcement over the public address system as an introduction of the individual. When the Queen of England is arriving, there is either a trumpet fanfare or verbal announcement or both. Prior to the entrance of the President of the United States to a joint session of Congress, the Sergeant of Arms of the House says, “Ms. (Mr.) Speaker, the president of the United States.” Similar customs are followed in many nations throughout the world. If you have ever had the privilege of witnessing such an event, you know how everything seems to come to a halt when such an announcement is made.

The words we find in Isaiah this day has a similar, life-halting impact. We read here of God choosing to comfort the people and making an important announcement. God has chosen a heralder to prepare the people for the arrival of the Lord. While people and their works fade away, the promise of God endures forever. The announcement tells the people that the coming Lord will rule with power and gently lead the people. We understand this in light of the arrival of John, the baptizer, who introduces Jesus at the start of Jesus’s ministry.

For us who live on the other side of the fulfillment of what we see in Isaiah’s words, we know of the power and gentleness of the Lord. We see these things in the Gospel story of Jesus’s life and ministry. Yet this announcement still has purpose today. Upon hearing of the Lord’s arrival, we make the decision whether to welcome him into our lives or not. Do we allow the Lord to gently lead us? Are we welcoming the power of the Lord to enter our lives? If we have welcomed the Lord after hearing the announcement, then we become the heralders of the Lord for others.

The announcement has been made. God’s promise has been fulfilled. The Lord has arrived. Have you welcomed the Lord into your life? Are you now the one sharing the announcement of the Lord’s arrival with others?

A Celebration

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
    the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
    cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
    is like a storm driving against a wall
    and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
    as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:1-9 (NIV)

This is the time of year when we are engaged in a lot of celebrating with a lot of food. The year in which we are in  has seen a lot more modification to our celebrations due to the pandemic. Still, many reports indicate that people are making a lot of food at home this year. Celebrations have moved from public venues to more intimate and private gatherings in homes. Either way, the celebrations continue.

Isaiah speaks of the greatest celebration yet to come. He shares how the Lord has broken down the ruthless powers of the world. The manner in which God has looked out for the disadvantaged is recalled. All of this leads up to the time when the Lord will prepare a massive celebration. Isaiah tells us that at this banquet, the best food and drink possible will be set before us. The party favors include the destruction of death and the end of sorrow. All will be honored and lifted up. He tells us that at this celebration the Lord’s saving actions will lead to great rejoicing.

Many of us long for an end of the pandemic. I am sure that when the virus finally is under control, there will be celebrations to the magnitude which have not been seen since the day World War II ended. Yet, even as large and impressive as our celebrating might be on that day, there is no comparison to the celebration of which Isaiah foretells. Try to envision singing and dancing of all people together without any conflict or animosity.  Let your mind taste the richness of the food and drinks of which you will partake. Imagine never having to fear illness, grief or death ever again. These are the promises of the Lord. Your invitation to the party is waiting.

A Light

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NIV)

I am not one who has ever had an issue with the dark. Sure there have been a few occasions when I have been spooked while in the dark but generally it has not been one of my fears. The issue which I have experienced in regard to darkness is the practical aspect of how it makes it easier to run into unseen objects or trip due to changes in the  landscape. These days most of us carry a flashlight in our pockets because our smartphones have built-in flashlights. So if I am in the dark in an unfamiliar location, I turn on my phone’s light to avoid injuring myself.

The people of Israel had been living in a spiritual darkness because of their sins. When Isaiah speaks the passage which we read for today, this darkness has led the Israelites to stumble and wander aimlessly. Isaiah makes the announcement that God has brought a light into their darkness. This light comes in the form of a person who will resume the leadership of the people, leadership like that of King David. Isaiah lists titles for the new leader which reveal the characteristics of his leadership. God will increase Israel and bring joy to the people. The new leader will restore justice and righteousness. God has brought an everlasting light into the lives of the people.

This passage is often read in many of the worship services this time of year. I especially enjoy reading this passage when we are in the days of the year which have fewer hours of sunlight. I am reminded that in the times of my own spiritual darkness, the Lord shines a light into my life which ends my stumbling and leads me safely to a new period of life. The darkness cannot last forever because the Lord’s light lasts forever. As you consider Isaiah’s words today, remember the light which shines in your life. Remember this light has come from the Lord and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Stand Firm

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘It will not take place,
    it will not happen,
for the head of Aram is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
    you will not stand at all.’”

Isaiah 7:1-9 (NIV)

Life can bring some challenges which appear extremely overwhelming. We can look at a big challenge with great fear. A sense that we are going to be unable to overcome this challenge can overtake us. When these types of challenges confront us, we may choose to flee from it rather than stand our ground. In some situations retreat is the wise survival choice. At other times, we are called to stand firm and push our way through the challenge.

Our passage from Isaiah presents a challenger for the king and people of Israel. They learn that King Rezin and Pekah are planning to attack them. Naturally, fear quickly overcomes King Ahaz and the Israelites. God sends Isaiah and his son to tell Ahaz to not be afraid. Isaiah tells the king to remain firm in his faith because the Lord will not allow them to be successfully attacked.

Isaiah’s message is good for us when we may feel attacked or are facing a difficult challenge. Encouragement to remain standing in our faith can assist us in overcoming our fear. Knowing that we have a Lord who will overcome whatever we face provides strength during a challenging time. While the outcome of each battle may not appear successful to us, the final outcome will be successful because the Lord is in control. So stand firm in your faith during life’s challenges for the Lord has already made you victor in the most important battle.

Imagine

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1-4 (NIV)

In 1971, former Beatles member John Lennon released the song, Imagine, which he had co-written with Yoko Ono. The song seems to respond to the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a soft ballad which speaks of a much different world. As you listen, you are invited into what feels like a daydream, a hope that all which divides the human race and leads to violence would be gone. Throughout history there has always been a longing for the end of division and violence. Lennon and Ono’s words have been uttered in some form by every generation. Even today, we have the same longing which seems out of our reach. However, this longing will be fulfilled just not by human hands.

The passage from Isaiah addresses this longing and the path toward its fulfilment. In these words, Israel and we are told that the Lord will establish a temple at the highest visible point on earth. All people will be drawn to this temple because it is there where God will teach all God’s way, a very different approach than what humanity has followed. Here God will settle the disputes which humans have with one another. The end of conflict which the Lord establishes will bring about a time when instruments and skills of war will become unnecessary. Instead the tools necessary to care for the needs of humanity will become the priority. All of this sounds a lot like the song of Lennon and Oko.

Isaiah, Lennon and Ono invite us to join them in a vision, a daydream. This vision is one of harmony which can only be fully established by the Lord. While we daily strive for the elements of this vision, it is only possible if we learn and adopt the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way focuses on love which is demonstrated in our actionis and words. A love which overcomes the conflicts in our lives.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.”

Lyric from Imagine by Lennon/Ono