The vineyard God made

My sister-in-law’s husband was a farmer. He’s retired now and only raises a small number of cattle, but he owned and worked thousands of acres of land.

While many people think farming is haphazard, Dwight’s brand of agriculture was scientific. He knew exactly how deep to plant the seed. He knew how much seed would go into the ground per acre and he calculated the amount of corn or soybeans he could expect to harvest for each acre.

Most years, Dwight’s efforts resulted in excellent yields and a good income. Since farming relies on the right conditions and since those conditions are unpredictable, there are years in which returns are less than expected. In times of drought, disaster is always a possibility. Then, there can be a grave disappointment.

God told the prophet Isaiah about the vineyard he had built. He built it on the best soil, prepared the ground well on a lush hill and removed its stones. He made improvements to the land and built a vat for the juice he hoped to produce. He expected the best grapes to come from that vineyard, but instead when the harvest came found the worst.

What a disappointment! What more could he have done? Where had he failed?

The vineyard God built was the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7). God expected Israel to become a nation of righteousness, but the people had other ideas. Israel failed to honor its God. It should have become a light to others. It wasn’t God’s fault that Israel chose the wrong road. He had done everything he could to protect and provide for his people. They just walked away from him. God had done all he could to help Israel. He hadn’t failed, the people had.

God’s words of woe to Israel are instructive to us today. Many of the mistakes Israel made and the consequences it suffered are things of which people are currently guilty. Israel was fond of alcohol (Isaiah 5:11). It became a nation of liars (Isaiah 5:18). Israel adopted a desire for evil instead of good and frequently confused the two (Isaiah 5:20). They were wise in their own eyes, meaning they thought they were smarter than God himself (Isaiah 5:21). They were people who would make it appear the wicked were right for offering or accepting a bribe (Isaiah 5:23).

Sound familiar? Then it’s time for us to repent and obey God before our nation suffers the same fate as Israel and Judah.

Get the protection you need

Home protection devices are popular. Even if the crime rate remains unchanged people will keep buying burglar alarms and home security systems. Most people consider protection from calamity or crime to be significantly important.

But what about spiritual protection? Shrinking numbers of church members may show this is not a chief concern. In our day, spirituality is lower on our list of priorities than physical ones. But, is that right?

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious,” Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 4:2 NASB). The prophet saw the same thing other prophets would see (Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8). He saw the descendant of David whose name would be called Jesus, the savior of his people from sin (Matthew 1:21).

A remnant would return from captivity and Jerusalem would become the city it once was, Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 4:3). The coming holy one would call on people to separate themselves from the world and become what God wanted and live apart from sin.

The rise of God’s people would recall the glory days of Israel and how God led it by a pillar of cloud by day and a column of fire at night (Isaiah 4:5). There would be refuge and protection for God’s people from the storm and the rain.

Think about this for a moment. How does God protect his people? They are made secure from the threats of sinfulness and Satan by the son of God who came to save them from their sins.

For years, Satan used the power of death against us. Death creates terrible fear. Before Christ came, avoiding death was a powerful motive. Even now some people will do anything, spend any amount of money to prevent death.

But Jesus destroyed the power Satan used to enslave us. In providing his blood as a once-for-all sacrifice for sins, Jesus took that power out of Satan’s hands. Jesus came to earth as a man and suffered the death on the cross to overcome death by resurrection showing us we will live again by the power of God.

Do you possess this wonderful security system? Isn’t this the kind of protection you need so you can live your life without fear of the unknown? You cannot buy this system, but God is willing to give it to you if you obey the gospel.

Are we any better?

The Lord God set up a system of rule in Judah in which older citizens were leaders in the nation and respected. As that nation continued to slide further and further away from God, people ignored the qualification of age. People appointed leaders from younger, inexperienced candidates. Respect for the experience and knowledge of the older, more qualified leaders waned. Slowly, Judah was replacing God’s system for one of their own because they had turned their backs on the Lord.

Isaiah, by the inspiration of God, diagnosed the problem. He wrote Judah had become more like Sodom (Isaiah 3:8-12). In other words, Judah experienced the worst evil anyone had ever seen. The prophet saw the punishment coming to Judah was well deserved and cried out over what he knew would happen (Isaiah 3:12).

Isaiah described the wealth of Judah before its people would go into captivity. He wrote of the women and how their pride and fancy jewelry would disappear. The Lord told the prophet about a stark contrast that would come over the nation. Instead of perfume, the smell of decay would haunt Judah. Instead of nicely styled hair, a “plucked out scalp.” The gates of the city of Jerusalem would mourn the deaths of its “mighty men” who went into battle (Isaiah 3:24-26).

This picture must have been hard to believe in the Judah of Isaiah’s day. Judah enjoyed its greatest prosperity in Isaiah’s lifetime. The forecast of danger must have fallen on deaf ears of a people who were experiencing “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

What a wonderful and blessed nation we are in America! We, too, live in a land of plenty. We also live in a society where the aged are shut away and treated as if they were an encumbrance. We, too, live in a nation where experience and wisdom have little to do with those in charge of the government. We also live in a time where prosperity defines us as much as it defined Judah.

Is there a period of captivity waiting for the United States? We certainly pray that such never happens. But, how can we think that the sinfulness in our nation is any less dangerous to us than it was to Judah at the end of the Divided Kingdom? Do we honestly believe we are better than those people who went into Babylonian Captivity?

Men will be humiliated

The message of God for Judah and Jerusalem in Isaiah chapter 2 included something the nation needed very badly and would receive from God.

“Proud men will be brought low, arrogant men will be humiliated; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” God told his prophet.

Sometimes it is possible for my ego to convince me something that isn’t true. Ego says it can sustain or enhance life all by itself. Ego takes responsibility for all the good things that happen and denies any negative consequences.

The prophets tried to tell Judah not to rely on itself but to rely on God. Jeremiah told Judah it was not possible for humanity to direct its steps (Jeremiah 10:23). Did Judah listen? Unfortunately, it did not. It became necessary for Judah to enter Babylonian captivity.

But God was not trying to hurt Judah when he humbled it. He was trying to help it. Yes, that doesn’t seem to make much sense, but it can.

Often it isn’t possible to realize how beautiful it is in the mountains until one has been in the valley. When one is humbled, it is possible for one to learn how much wisdom there is down there. While spending time in the valley is often not pleasant, we can learn how profitable hardship can be if we learn the lessons God wants to teach us.

The truth is that we need to become humble. We need to learn that we can’t and shouldn’t depend on ourselves for everything. We need to learn not to try and outrun God. It is when we do try to race him that we can fall.

By humbling us, God is trying to help us realize the importance of following and obeying him.

Sin’s consequences

What we believe about God sometimes depends on what we will accept.

Most people believe in God’s grace and love and they should. God’s grace and love are taught everywhere in the scriptures. The apostle John wrote, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8, 16).

Many people don’t believe God will punish sinners. They don’t want to believe God will execute his wrath on those who disobey him regardless of what the scriptures teach.

It is impossible to believe in God’s grace and love and somehow disbelieve God’s wrath on the disobedient. Paul, in his lovely book to the Romans, wrote, “Behold the kindness and the severity of God,” (Romans 11:22 NASB).

In Isaiah 1:28-31 the prophet explained the terrible consequences that were coming upon Israel and Judah because of its idolatry and unfaithfulness. God said that instead of choosing to obey him, his people had selected “oaks” and “gardens,” (Isaiah 1:29). They had wanted to worship idols instead of remaining faithful to him.

Didn’t God have a right to expect Israel and Judah to remain faithful? God told them he expected their obedience and God told them what would happen if they disobeyed him (Deuteronomy 28:15).

Sin’s consequences are lost on the majority of those who have lived on the Earth. Even today there are those whose unfaithfulness has caused or will cause them to suffer for sin. Then, they accuse God of being careless in punishing them when they are the cause of their sorrow.

Avoiding most of this sorrow is as simple as obeying God and remaining faithful to him. But, have you obeyed God and have you stayed faithful?

Are you better off?

In 1980, Ronald Reagan debated Jimmy Carter in that year’s presidential contest. Reagan asked a question that resonated with voters. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked.

Many people believe the measure of a government is how much economically “better off” citizens are. The true measure of a nation is much different.

God’s people in the prophet Isaiah’s time were wealthy and successful. God was dissatisfied with Israel because they were guilty of sin. Israel had forgotten its primary allegiance and its most profound need was its obedience to God.

Homer Hailey, in his classic commentary of Isaiah wrote, “All of this accumulation of material wealth and power had led the Jews to forget their dependence on God.”[1] Israel had begun to think its success was assured because it was successful. Little did it realize that material wealth is a terrible indicator of national well-being.

What is a good sign of national success? In Isaiah 2, God said the acid test of any nation is how it cares for the poor. God asked, “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:15 NASB). Israel was crushing people and grinding their faces. Israel was instructed to care for the poor and the orphan, but in its sinfulness, it was hurting those who were least able to defend themselves.

Economic indicators are a popular method of measuring success by many people, but that is not the way God views it. The prophet Amos also took the northern kingdom of Israel to task for failing to care for its poor (Amos 4:1; 5:11, 12).

Why is it that caring for the poor is the true measure of a people? If a nation cares for its poor, it is doing so in obedience to the commands of God. It is selfishness and ungodliness that drives governments (and people who run them) to neglect those who need help.

[1] “A Commentary on Isaiah,” by Homer Hailey, Baker Publishing, Page 50.

Turn right and go straight

Occasionally, my wife and I disagree. Don’t all marriages have these problems? Usually, these difficulties center around something trivial. Only rarely are they serious matters.

An examination of the Old Testament scriptures shows how much patience God displayed toward Israel. Even after the nation divided, God showed enormous restraint. But by the time of Isaiah’s book, his patience was growing very, very thin.

In Isaiah 1:10-20, the Lord God began identifying his people as Sodom and Gomorrah. The two unholy cities had been destroyed ages ago and chronicled in the book of Genesis, but his people reminded God of them and their rank disobedience.

What probably made things worse was the practice of worshipping idols and God almost at the same time. Idolatry was rank in the northern ten tribes, but it was also a problem in Judah, the southern kingdom. Judah was attempting to have both God and idols.

God’s anger is plain in that first chapter of Isaiah. He accused his people of trampling his courts, offering meaningless sacrifices, attending worthless assemblies and burning detestable incense. He told them in no uncertain terms he was hiding his eyes, closing his ears to their prayers because their hands were bloody (Isaiah 1:15).

The solution was simple: turn right and go straight! They needed to wash the filth of sin away. “Wash and make yourselves clean!” God exclaimed. The righteous God cannot abide sin, and its presence is utterly foreign to him. How can mankind live within the scope of its influence and yet ask him for help?

God told his people, “Let’s settle the matter!” God wanted to forgive his people, but they had to start doing what was right. They needed to seek justice, or right doing.

Maybe it’s time for you to think about putting away your sinful practices. God only wants you to do the same thing he wanted for Israel. Turn right and go straight! Learn to do what is right and just. Obey God and put sin away forever.

Weighed down?

Few people who are morbidly obese understand how much weight they are carrying.

Three years ago, I weighed about 220 pounds. I never realized just what that meant until I had a heart attack that put me in the hospital for 45 days. Afterward, I had lost about 50 pounds, but much of that was muscle meaning I couldn’t walk.

For the next seven months, I went through rehab and cardiac rehab which involved walking three or four times each week. Gradually walking became easier. My weight continued to drop with exercise to 170 and then 160 pounds.

I didn’t learn how much easier it was walking and exercising until I finally played a round of golf. Before my cardiac problems, playing golf was a trial for me. On my return to the course, I played 18 holes before I even felt a twinge of fatigue. I didn’t know how heavy I was or how sick I was.

God ached for his people because they were overcome by sin. In Isaiah 1:4, the Lord God described his people as “laden with iniquity.” This phrase meant the people were under a heavy, massive, burdensome weight. Different translations of the verse include the words, “weighed down,” or “loaded down” with iniquity. One commentary described the term as “a people bearing heavy sins.”

People weighed down with sin don’t realize how much burden they bear. They have carried iniquity around for so long they don’t understand what they’re doing to themselves.

It’s easy for those lost in sin to criticize faithful Christians for believing and obeying the Bible. But they don’t know how bad their spiritual condition or how laden with sin and guilt they are. They have no idea what a burden they are carrying.

If you are living a sin-laden life, it’s time you took a look at the burden you’ve carried on your back. You don’t have to bear it. Give it to the Lord by obeying the gospel. He’ll take the weight. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV). He’s waiting for you to let him help. Want to rest from carrying that burden? You can. It’s up to you.

Trial is coming

“So it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—  then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 NKJV).

Most people know about trial. What they don’t understand is that trial often comes when we are unprepared for it.

God warned Israel that when it entered the Promised Land, they would live in houses they had never built, eat produce from fields they had never planted, and drink from wells they had never dug. Such a situation would provide rest and comfort, which is an ideal time for trial to come.

Comfort is overrated. It is a circumstance that is all-too-expected by modern-day Americans. We’ve been comfortable for more than 200 years. We’ve grown accustomed to it. In fact, it’s probably true that we wouldn’t be satisfied with any less.

Such a circumstance gives the Devil an excellent place to wreak havoc. People do not expect difficulty when they’re comfortable. Comfort’s message is there is no danger. In comfort, there is no need to be alert, no need to be forewarned. In comfort, our defenses are down. We are susceptible.

In a commentary on Deuteronomy 6:10-12, Doug McIntosh wrote, “Moses warned Israel that the leading spiritual danger they would face on entering the (Promised) Land would be forgetting the Lord. What adversity could not do, prosperity and satisfaction could (my emphasis). The most critical threats to godly living come at the moment we think we have life by the throat.”[1]

The United States certainly believes it has “life by the throat.” God’s word tells us this is the time we should expect the trial to come. Yet, this nation lives in a desperate search for pleasure. Such is a recipe for disaster.

[1]Holman Old Testament Commentary: Deuteronomy,” p. 87 Max Anders, General Editor B&H Publishing Group.

Is God a white man?

A researcher with the University of North Carolina has released a study that says many people think of God as a white man, according to www.nbcnews.com.

“I think it’s because for millennia Christians have been led to think of God as male and white,” Professor Kurt Gray told NBC. “It’s changing a little now, but the church hierarchies are still mostly male and mostly white. In the Catholic Church, for example, the Pope is male and the priests are still only male.”

This misconception exists because people like to think that God is human. He isn’t. Jesus said, “God is spirit,” (John 4:24a). God is a spiritual being and is not human. He has no eyes, ears, arms, legs, hands, or fingers as humans do. In fact, we do not know what God looks like because no human being alive on the earth has ever seen him (1 John 4:12).

Why do many people believe God has human features? It may be a misunderstanding of a passage in Genesis which says, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,'” (Genesis 1:26a NASB). Since God is speaking of a spiritual likeness, he is not speaking of a physical resemblance, but a spiritual one. Man’s resemblance to God is an immortal soul he received from God.

Of course, there are many false conceptions of God that mankind has (and will continue to have). Why? Because many people base their ideas of God on their own thinking instead of shaping them according to the inspired word of God, the Bible, which they either won’t read or mistakenly apply.

Let the gospel out

Lysol is a popular disinfectant cleaner. It has the potential to prevent some serious, if not fatal, infections in humans.

While it comes in an attractive can, Lysol was not made to be admired on a shelf. It was made to be used. Lysol that is never sprayed or applied to any surface will never prevent anything. To gain the effectiveness of the product, it must come out of the can.

The gospel comes in a container, too. It is packaged inside a human being. Paul said the gospel, which is God’s power unto salvation, resides in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). It is not meant to stay there. As long as the gospel sits in the jar, it cannot save anyone. It cannot fight sin and its consequences. If the gospel is released, it has the power to save and the power to prevent sin.

The gospel must be applied to the heart of someone. It must come out of the clay jar! The gospel hidden in the heart of a child of God and has never seen the light of day is like someone buying a can of Lysol and placing on a shelf to be admired. It won’t make a difference unless it comes out.

Minimizing Jesus

Whenever I initiate a computer program, like word processing, email, Internet access, there is a small hyphen in the upper right corner of the screen. Clicking the mouse on this small hyphen minimizes the page taking it off the screen. It allows me to change tasks quickly and see different programs.

Once minimized, the program will not reappear until I decide to “click” on the icon. When I do the program will resume where I left it and I can then focus on that task.

People can decide to minimize Jesus and the true religion of Christ. All they need to do is focus on something other than Jesus or the Bible. Many folks have minimized Jesus right out of their lives.

If we minimize Jesus, we run the risk of never thinking of him again. When we minimize Jesus to focus on the world or on our own lives we risk losing him and a blessed eternity in heaven.

Many people have done just this. A life focused on self and the world is a life that has minimized Jesus. Time, as the saying goes, flies by and we can find ourselves standing on the door of death having denied ourselves of a life focused on Christ and eternity. We may find ourselves lost in a sea of self-service.

It’s easy to put off the inevitable. All one need do is minimize Jesus and eternity and focus on something completely unworthwhile like the world. This old world will be happy to occupy anyone’s attention with mundane and foolish things.

It takes more attention to stay focused on Jesus. The Lord of Glory doesn’t accept half-hearted discipleship. He demands we seek him first (Matthew 6:33).

What will you do with Jesus? Eternity will beckon soon. How you answer in this life will determine your destiny. What destiny will you choose?

Will Judah’s headlong pursuit become ours?

We look at our land and our accomplishments and believe we are an amazing people. That’s a mistake.

Judah thought the same. By 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah was entering its most prosperous time. Instead of following God, however, Judah deliberately chased after every form of immorality and idolatry available to them.

God sent Jeremiah to tell Judah it was on a path to destruction. It had chased after vanity and had become empty itself (Jeremiah 2:5). The nation, which had served God in its past, thought it knew a better way. That way was not better at all.

The nation had its political and religious rulers to blame for its lack of direction. The nation’s rulers did not appeal to heaven for guidance (Jeremiah 2:8). The very people who should have used their example to steer the people toward righteousness were themselves polluted by sin and their example destroyed.

Ignorant of the scriptures, careless about God’s law and lulled into spiritual unconsciousness, Judah began a headlong pursuit toward national suicide . But, Judah had enslaved itself to sin long before Babylon ever took the nation into captivity.

God told Judah through his prophet, “Although you wash yourselves with lye and use much soap, the stain of your iniquity is before me,” (Jeremiah 2:22). Sin can be disguised, but cannot be hidden.

History only repeats itself because people never learn its lessons. Judah’s story is relevant to us. Our leaders are more influenced by gain than by God. They give lip service to the Creator and then turn to chase what really matters to them. Judah tried the same and failed spectacularly. How can we imitate them and succeed?

We may try to wash our iniquity away with soap, but it is still in front of the God who knows and sees it. Much of our land is already in bondage. We just don’t see the chains. We must turn and obey God’s word before we suffer the same fate as Judah.

Like riddles?

Like riddles? Here’s a popular one:
I never was, am always to be,
No one ever saw me, nor ever will
And yet I am the confidence of all.
What am I?

You may already know the answer. It is tomorrow. It is the future. If there’s one thing I’ve heard all my life, it’s that when brethren choose preachers they are always worried about the “future,” even though it never comes and is “always to be.”

What they ought to be concerned with is today. What are we doing today to preach the gospel and save the lost? When asked that question, many of our brethren have no answer. They’re watching their congregation’s average age climb into the 60’s and their membership descend into the 30’s, and they wonder what they can do to change the trend. But, with many of them it’s always about the day that never comes, but is always to be. No one has ever seen the future, nor ever will. And yet, it is the confidence of all.

Jesus said, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own,” (Matthew 6:34 NET).

Choose Joy

It is possible to choose to be joyful in trial and tribulation.

The usual response to trial is disappointment and/or worry. Our response to the bad things life can dish out doesn’t have to be like that. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” (James 1:2 ESV).

We can allow trials and tribulation to defeat us, or we can recognize them as opportunities to grow spiritually. Our response to difficult times is entirely our own choice.

In addition, trials can have an unintended effect in those who choose joy and allow the trial to help them grow spiritually. James tells us trials build endurance. Like a cross-country runner training for a contest builds an ability to run faster and farther, we can learn to use trials to make us stronger so that we may win the crown — eternal life!