Sunday, February 16, 2014

Do You Live According to God's Truth? - Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18

Do You Live According to God's Truth? - Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 16, 2014 AM

Many folks in our day and age think they are okay with God. So much so in fact, that they would deny they need Him at all! Ray Comfort has a great way of confronting folks who think this way. He asks them a series of questions. “Would you consider yourself a good person?” Most answer, “Yes.” Then he asks, “Have you ever told a lie?” Most answer, “Yes.” “What does that make you?” “A liar”, is the usual response. “Have you ever stolen something?” he continues. “Yes.” “What does that make you?” “A thief”, they respond. “Have you ever looked at someone else with lust?” And, of course most answer in the affirmative. He then blandly remarks, “Well, by your own admission, you’re a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart and not a good person at all!”

Some who claim Christ do not fair much better. We like to think that if we say we love Jesus, this is enough, but let me ask you, “Do you live according to God’s truth?” Jesus said the greatest command of God was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV) Now, be very careful in your response because Jesus also reminds us, “Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you--and even more.” (Mark 4:24 NIV) Isaiah began asking the nation of Judah if they also lived according to God’s truth. In what Isaiah shares with Judah we can be reminded of how we are to live according to God’s truth as well. Let’s see how…

READ: Isaiah 28:14-18; 30:12-18

Isaiah’s message to Israel of destruction by foreign invaders was also for Judah. Though Judah would not be completely destroyed, because Jerusalem would not be taken, Judah would face a lot of suffering. The people of the Southern Kingdom had much the same attitude as their Northern brothers. They too were scoffing at God’s revelation through Isaiah. They needed to…

I. Reject Self-Deception (Isa. 28:14-15)

  1. Isaiah had condemned the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s drunken priests and prophets and had prophesied their doom (Isa. 28:1-13). “Therefore” connects the fate of Judah’s political leaders to the fate of Israel’s religious leaders. Judah’s leaders should be able to look at what was happening in the north and draw conclusions regarding the consequences of their own sinful actions. Isaiah referred to Judah’s political leaders as “scoffers who rule this people”, the Old Testament’s strongest term to describe wicked folks. Scripture tells us that a mocker “behaves with overweening pride.” (Proverbs 21:24) Rejecting correction, they acted contrary to God’s law and delighted in leading others away from God into evil. These scoffers of God and His truth ruled Judah. When national leaders live opposed to God, the nation’s populace assume they can also. Those who seek to follow God soon discover maintaining their faith and devotion to God becomes very difficult. Judah’s leaders cared nothing for God or the tradition of faith in Jerusalem, believing they knew better than God Himself. Faced with choosing life or death, Judah’s leaders had decided not to trust patiently in God and experience life but to trust in Egypt’s military might and in a covenant with Death. Isaiah tells them, “We have entered into a covenant with death; with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.” Even today, nations and people experience and fall prey to the temptation to trust in human solutions and power. As with Iran, Syria, or Egypt today we may trust more in politicians rather than what God desires we do as a nation. We cannot save ourselves no matter how clever we think we are. God actively works in His creation; and when we ignore His work and reject His truth, we deceive ourselves. Rather than concocting our self-serving schemes, we need to allow God to guide us. We must reject self-deception!

  EXAMPLE: Psychologists have often pondered if the likes of an Adolf Hitler or a Charles Manson considered themselves as good people. The answer of course is yes they did and do. Why would those who are such evil folks consider themselves to be good? Paul gives us the reason, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:10-11, 23 NIV) And this should bring us up short in how we deceive ourselves into thinking we are good people as well. We are at heart sinful. We do not want to think of ourselves as being “evil”. We forget while we may be saved, we still delude ourselves into thinking we are good people when in fact we may not be that great at all. Isaiah teaches us rather than concocting our self-serving schemes, we need to allow God to guide us. We must reject self-deception!

In the Ugaritic pantheon, death was personified as the god of the underworld. The Jerusalem leaders were trusting in other gods to save them from the coming scourge, the Assyrian invasion. However, to trust in false gods was futile. They needed to…

II. Rely on God’s Foundation (Isa. 28:16-18)

  1. God reminds Judah, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation,” in fact, “the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Judah’s leaders had trusted in human alliances rather than God, believing military forces offered better protection than quiet trust in God. God would show His power by laying a stone in Zion. This stone would provide a sure foundation for building a life and a nation. For those who rejected God and His way, the stone would cause them to stumble and suffer punishment. Jesus’ parable regarding the choice of the proper foundation for a house reminds us, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) As a house built on a solid rock foundation endures the elements, so a life based on God provides peace, serenity, and joy no matter what happens. A life based on human wisdom and strength results only in feverish activity and temporary happiness and eventually crumbles under the events of life; like a house built on sand collapses in a powerful storm. Trusting in God does not guarantee worldly success but provides lasting peace and satisfaction. Those who continued to trust in their own plans and power would face destruction. Contrary to the world’s wisdom, God remarks, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line!” We all want justice when others are guilty, but when we are guilty of breaking God’s law we want mercy instead! The shifting sands of scheming instead of trusting God would “sweep away (Judah’s) refuge, the lie, and water will overflow (their) hiding place. (Judah’s) covenant with death will be annulled; (their) agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, (Judah) will be beaten down by it!” Just when Assyria posed its greatest threat, Egypt would renege on its agreement with Judah, leaving Judah to become debris flattened and washed away by a flood. Judah’s leaders staked the future of their nation on trust in human power and schemes rather than relying on God’s firm foundation for their lives. We often face temptations to do the same. We must rely on God’s foundation!

  EXAMPLE: Denise and I lived in a house in Portland that was built right before WWII. It was a cozy little home, but it had one flaw. The foundation was crumbling. Many of the prewar builders, in order to cut corners and save money, went down to the Columbia River, dug up river sand to mix with their concrete. It worked for the short term but as the weather, the heat and cold, and moisture worked on its molecular structure it began to deteriorate. You could take your finger and slowly poke holes clear through the basement wall! Paul reminds us, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NIV) And that, “Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV) Judah’s leaders staked the future of their nation on trust in human power and schemes rather than relying on God’s firm foundation for their lives. We often face temptations to do the same. We must rely on God’s foundation!

Relying on God proves difficult sometimes because we cannot always see how God is working or will work. Trusting in God provides the only way to experience a quality of life that transcends all difficulties and brings deep satisfaction and joy. We need to…

III. Receive God’s Message by Resting in His Grace! (Isa. 30:12-18)

  1. God called His own chosen a “rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD's instruction!” (v. 9) they no longer wanted to see or hear from God or His prophets! In fact, like spoiled brats, they sarcastically declared, “Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (v. 11) Wow! Can you imagine God’s folks doing such a thing? “Therefore” Isaiah tells them, “this is what the Holy One of Israel says: ‘Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.” There would be no protection for God’s obstinate folks! They ignored their sin, but God did not. A crack may take years to bring down a wall, but unless someone notices the problem early and fixes it, the wall will crumble! The wall’s collapse would be as total as the smashing of a pottery vessel into tiny, unusable shards, “It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.” Sadly, often those who are in sin refuse to recognize their sin! Like pigheaded Judah, we can be just as stubborn in our ungodliness. Isaiah’s words therefore ring true, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” We falsely think we can solve our sin problem by either ignoring it or running from it, “You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’” But the consequence of our sin always catches us, “You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore, your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.” All that is left from a life ignoring sin and God’s devotion is a lonely reminder of what once was -- a forlorn banner fluttering in the wind on a hill! In fact, that flag would become a warning for others not to do what God’s people did in forsaking Him! Is your life like that? However, in the midst of rebellion, Isaiah reminds Judah and us, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” The answer for our sin condition is to receive God’s message by resting in His grace!

  EXAMPLE: The Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and burned more than 18,000 acres. It was 100-percent contained when perimeter lines were built around the entire area of the blaze. It was confined to a defined area until it could be fully extinguished. Officials warned residents that they might continue to see smoke in the burn area because although the fire was fully contained it was not out. When we are rocked by tragic events and evil acts, we may long for the day when evil is destroyed and God’s kingdom established. Until that time, however, God gives us His grace. He gives us His grace and strength to endure the trials of life as we look forward to His return. Isaiah reminds Judah and us, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” The answer for our sin condition is to receive God’s message by resting in His grace!

We can live according to God’s truth when we reject self-deception, when we rely on God’s foundation, and receive God’s message by resting in His grace!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Do You Think You Are Unaccountable? - Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7

Do You Think You Are Unaccountable? - Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 2, 2014 AM

There are many in our day think they are unaccountable to anyone for what they say or do. This is simply misguided. Our choices affect not only our lives but the lives of others as well. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks found this to be true much to his chagrin and the embarrassment of his teammates. Sherman made some wild comments following the NFC Championship Game in the heat of the moment and now is the focus instead of his team. When God's people decide to circumnavigate God's command, others, like family or friends, will be affected by our ungodly choices.

Some folks are continually sorry for the outcome of their actions, but their sorrow never leads them to change their lives. They blame others, family, society, income, education, physical or emotional disabilities. God’s people need to take responsibility for their lives. God wants to work in His people’s lives to transform them into a faithful followers, and this is what the church should be a part of helping folks to do. Let me ask, “Do you think you are unaccountable?” Let’s see what Isaiah teaches us…

READ: Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7

Isaiah prophesied against foreign nations primarily for the benefit of Judah. Judah trusted more in military alliances than in God’s protection. In fact, they seemed more willing to worship the false gods of other nations than God Himself. Isaiah hoped if his people knew God would destroy the faithless nations on whom they depended and feared, Judah might return to God. Babylon, Assyria, Israel to the north, Cush, and Egypt would all be destroyed. Isaiah teaches us whether great or small, even…

I. The Powerful Are Accountable! (Isaiah 17:1-3)

  1. Like the prophecy to King Ahaz, Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Damascus (Syria’s capital) dates to 734 B.C. The two major roads connecting Mesopotamia to Egypt (the Via Maris or coastal road and the King’s Highway or interior road) both passed through Damascus. The strategic location of Damascus enabled the city to exercise influence far beyond its size. Isaiah's prophecy of the complete destruction of Damascus came true remarkably quickly. In 732 B.C. the Assyrians captured Damascus, carrying many of its inhabitants into exile. For most of Old Testament history, Israel and Damascus experienced an uneasy relationship. One or the other dominated the other. Isaiah proclaimed God would create peace between the two nations, not by healing old wounds but by destroying both lands! “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites.” The folks who had aligned themselves with Damascus, Moabites and others would be “deserted and left to flocks” all the way from the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) to Damascus! Their fortified cities would disappear and the royal court would be gone! Isaiah sarcastically compared the remnant of Damascus after its destruction to the faded splendor of Israel after its destruction. Assyria conquered Damascus in 732 B.C. and Israel ten years later, reducing both kingdoms to mere shadows of their former greatness. Those who think they are powerful and important today are so much dust tomorrow! Isaiah’s inclusion of Israel in his prophecies against foreign nations implied their rebellion against God had placed the nation among those who had never known God! Syria and Israel trusted in their power instead of God. God holds us accountable for our lives and our decisions! Isaiah teaches us that the powerful are accountable!

  EXAMPLE: We see people like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus using their fame and ungodly actions in order to gain financially and have greater personal recognition. Then there are those in politics who think they can continually fool people by promising them what they want to hear but not following through with their promises. The Bible teaches us that even the powerful are accountable to God!

Both Syria and Israel trusted in their power, believing they had no accountability before God. Their power did not exempt them and could not save them from God’s judgment. If we think position in the community or in church exempts us from accountability to God, we are mistaken. God holds us accountable for our lives and our decisions. In fact, Isaiah teaches us…

II. The Privileged Are Accountable! (Isaiah 17:7-9)

  1. God’s people had turned away from Him to such a degree that the designation of God as the “Holy One of Israel” emphasized the great separation between God and His people. God is pure, but they were sinful. Israel had rejected its “Maker”. As Creator, God had made all things and all peoples, but He also had made Israel, His people, into a nation (Exodus 19:4-6). Israel had forgotten its birthright! God’s judgment of Israel had a positive goal. God hoped in difficult times His people would look to Him rather than to false gods. They had fallen so much that they had begun to stare intently at false gods, things, and the works of their own hands to save them instead of the Living God! Isaiah reminds them, “They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.” God desired Israel to focus on Him and experience life, but accomplishing His goal required the drastic measure of punishing Israel for its rebellion. God will do the same in the life of Christians who continually reject His teaching and instead depend upon themselves and the ungodly world to live their lives! This is why over and over Scripture reminds us that God will not be mocked. God’s judgment would accomplish His goal. Israel would turn from false gods and to the true God. Israel had altars to many false gods, choosing to worship what they made rather than their Maker. “In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.” Asherah and her husband El served as their highest gods, with Asherah being the important fertility goddess. Asherah supposedly gave birth to 70 gods, including Baal, who demanded child sacrifice! Worship sites often featured Asherah groves or poles erected at high places. God’s punishment would prove Asherah had no power to provide life. God had chosen the Israelites to be His special people, but as the years passed both Israel and Judah abandoned their faith in God. In response, God sent judgment to punish His people for their sin. Their privilege did not remove their accountability before God. Chillingly, in the following verse we read, “You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.” This should remind us as believers; even the privileged are accountable to God!

  EXAMPLE: There are believers who think that because they have placed their faith in Christ, they can live their lives on the edge of disobedience. There is no such thing as minor disobedience in God’s kingdom because if you are disobedient in what you consider minor things, you are still disobedient! Thinking we can do whatever we want in our personal lives without consequence is dangerous thinking. Jesus taught, “That men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 NIV) and that, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16 NIV) This should remind us as believers; even the privileged are accountable to God!

God sent judgment to punish His people for their sin but even more to encourage them to return to faith in Him. Being a member of the church today also does not exempt us from accountability before God. Having taken the name of Christ, we need to grow in faith and let our words and deeds match our commitment. Isaiah teaches us that…

III. All People Are Accountable! (Isaiah 18:1-7)

  1. God says there will be “woe” to all people who ignore His promise. In fact, God tells His people to send, “swift messengers, to a people tall and smooth-skinned, to a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers.” His people were to take His message to every corner of the world! Just as in all four gospels and the Book of Acts where we are commanded to “go therefore into all the earth”! God’s judgment would come and “All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.” Cush wanted Judah to join them and promised help if Assyria attacked. When the Assyrians moved against Judah Cush quickly retreated, leaving Judah to suffer the consequences. Judah sinned by trusting in human alliances rather than God. Judah willingly went to the ends of the earth to secure help but refused to turn to God. Isaiah appealed to all people to notice the hand of God at work and to turn to Him. God told Isaiah, “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” Nothing escapes God, including any opportunity to call His people back to Himself. Even though we may not see action, God is at work watching and waiting. However, “before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches.” God would act before the fruit of their disobedience could fully form! “They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter!” Corpses would fill the fields and scavengers would enjoy a year-round feast because not enough people would remain to bury the dead! Where Israel failed, Cush would understand God’s actions as indicating His sovereignty over all people and their accountability to Him. Cush would journey to Jerusalem bringing a gift to God, “At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned.” Do you understand what God is telling Isaiah? Those who were not originally the chosen people would recognize God! They would understand all people are accountable to God!

  EXAMPLE: As Sovereign Lord of the world, God justly holds all people, including Christians accountable. God does not excuse believers from accountability; but like a loving Father, He judges our rebellion and seeks to guide us along a better path. Accountability functions positively to lead us away from a destructive lifestyle separated from God so we can live for God, blessing others and guiding them to find faith and life in Christ.


The powerful, the privileged, and all of us are accountable to God!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.