"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 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. 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, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
Isaiah 43:18-21 (NIV)
In this passage, Isaiah is inspired by God to announce to the nation of Israel that they are to turn back to God and that means that, in response, God will restore the nation. However, when Israel hears this proclamation, they don’t rejoice. They fear that Babylon may be too strong. But, regardless of how strong Babylon may appear to be, they are absolutely no threat to God.
God is so grace giving that He tells Isaiah to prophesy to the Israelites that He is not only going to set them free, but He is going to redeem their time of captivity. This dry season will be appreciated for what it helped establish in Israel along with the lessons and truths that it taught them.
For us, it is often similar. We may feel as though we are walking through a desolate wilderness where there are no clear pathways. In this place our positive thoughts are constantly ambushed by negative ones until we feel emotionally dehydrated. While we may not have chosen to walk through a dry season, inevitably a dry season will choose each one of us.
This text even teaches us that God purposes dry seasons for spiritual development. The struggle that comes with a dry season will purge, prune, and grow us in ways that easy pathways could never have. Our attention would not be as sharp if we never had to do time in the dry season. When we go through dry seasons, God grabs our attention and gets us to offer to Him areas of our life that fresh, consistent waterways and cleared-out paths never gave us access to.
These seasons, whether we like it or not, may mandate that money gets tight, isolation occurs, and stagnation and restlessness set in. Why? Because all of these challenge our faith, and faith is not faith unless it is challenged.
We hope that these dry seasons won’t last, and we try to encourage ourselves that there must be a path through this wilderness. What Isaiah prophesied shows us that there is an end. As we journey through dry seasons, the journey produces “water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
When we see the road in the wilderness and some water in the desert, we know that our dry season is coming to an end. God will bring the impossible into our situations and change the things that we thought were permanent. This only comes about when we stand in the gap with surrender and recognize the changeless, divine power of God.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Luke 15:1-8 (NIV)
When you consider the emphasis that we have in this text on intentionally searching for those that have lost their way, we see that one of the priorities of God’s kingdom is finding lost souls. The tension in these verses is: What spirit does God want us to have as imperfect people interacting with other imperfect people? This chapter teaches us what God’s expectations are.
The stewards of the religious practice can sometimes be judgmentally critical, particularly of the kinds of people that Jesus is embracing and fellowshipping with. The Pharisees did not view those who were sinners to be fit for the kingdom of God. Of course, that begs the question “Who could possibly get in?” Ultimately, the Pharisees believed that only the people they deemed worthy were fit for the kingdom of God, and anyone unlike them was disqualified. Of course, we see from the passage above that this thinking is flawed. Jesus proclaims that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The indictment that the Pharisees have of Jesus is that He is welcoming of people categorized as sinners. Despite these ‘sinners’ being denied entrance to the synagogue, Jesus invites them to sit with Him and enjoy a meal. By eating with and welcoming sinners, Jesus highlighted the sin in the hospitality of the Pharisees.
“The Parable of the Lost Coin” and “the Parable of the Lost Son” follow the parable above in Luke 15. Each of these parables deal with loss, repentance and reclamation. Through these parables Jesus teaches us that we ought to exhibit a welcoming spirit. It is not easy for someone to open the door of their hearts and lives to us, especially when they feel they have lived their lives in a way that is contrary to what you may believe. When those we interact with have a desire to in some way be made whole, they must be able to sense the compassion of the Lord through our interactions with them.
By welcoming imperfect people, we do more than just tolerate them and survive encounters. Instead, we gladly accept those who God has placed in our lives, so that we can be a light and a bridge that points the way to Christ.
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)
Here, Jesus is teaching a group of people that just learned that Pilate allowed his militia to enter the synagogue and kill a group of Galileans who were offering sacrifices to God. This tragedy highlights the depravity of the human condition, shown in Pilate’s dispassionate permission of this act. It also highlights the providence of God in allowing this to happen.
This forces Christians to ask, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Jesus tells this parable to direct the attention of this tragedy away from Pilate’s cruel leadership and turn it instead to God’s desire that in spite of fault or crime, God is always after human repentance.
When God allows things to happen, He does it to inspire us to become better and lead more faithful, purposeful lives. Jesus illustrates this by showing the slow, spiritual pace of people who should have grown far more than their lives have shown and, He shows how we can be judged if our lives do not bear fruit.
Jesus shows that the same principles of the vineyard are to be transferred and applied to the human experience. Jesus teaches that our God is a patient God. God does not just cut us off when it is warranted. Instead, He overrules His own judgement and patiently waits in grace. God takes great efforts to take what is fruitless and help it to grow, even if it means to give it special attention. God is willing to do all of this to develop fruitful lives.
Every one of us is a beneficiary of a God who decided not to cut us off in our fruitlessness. Jesus is using the gardener in the parable to teach us the need to repent. Every one of us sits with Jesus under a fruitless tree, the unfulfilled ambition in our lives. We tell Jesus in our embarrassment, “Just cut it down. There are plenty of other trees that have grown.”
However, Jesus tells us, don’t give up on things in your life that are not yet producing fruit. When you offer Him faith, hope, and repentance, Jesus will help the fruitless parts of your life produce. Then, we will receive what God has for our lives in due season.
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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
Matthew 7:24-25 (NIV)
In the passage above, Jesus is concluding his sermon on the mount, where he taught how to live after God in praxis, not just theology. For Jesus, the best practice is to do much more than just surrender to the inviting presence of God. Spiritual growth and strength are about surrender, certainly, but it is also about making strategic, early decisions that will prove to be wise over time, or as the bible calls it: being shrewd.
To illustrate how early these decisions need to be made, Jesus paints a picture of two home builders. One is wise and the other is foolish. Both with to build a house. Both have heard spiritual words spoken. It is as if they both attended the same class and listened to the same professor, but one is going to be called wise and the other is going to be called foolish.
We are going to focus on the wise builder because he starts with a foundation. He knows that nothing that he puts in the house, be it beautiful décor or lavish carpets, will matter if he does not anchor the house in the right foundation. So, he looks for a rock on which to build and he builds out from there. He doesn’t build his life and then find a foundation to rest it on. He finds the foundation first, and then builds strategically from there.
In other words, walking by strong faith starts long before worship, surrender, or the exercise of your gifts. Joy and happiness start long before outer actions and public ministry. Spiritual power and strong Christ-like living is about strategy. Right after surrender to conversion, strategy becomes critically important.
If we want to live strong, we have to decide to exercise our faith around certain strategic choices. The first choice we have to make is to find that solid rock. We cannot exercise our faith in response only. We cannot simply wait on God and fall more in love with him. We need more strategy than that. We have to answer specific questions: How do I want to live? How much space in this world do I want to take up? How do I want my presence to affect that space I live in? How hard am I willing to fight?
Faith is not just responding to God. Faith is about being strategic about our response to God. We don’t want to simply live, but we want to live a strong life. Faith is not just existing, it is making a difference. Only then can we live a life of greatness and introduce others to a great God. Then we create a great atmosphere and shape a great environment.
However, we cannot tell if a house is built on a rock or in the sand if we only evaluate it in good weather. Everyone’s life looks good until a storm hits it, but once the storm comes, we can see who built their life on sand. If we are good weather Christians, we need to change our lives and take a strategic approach to rebuilding our lives from the foundation.
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober
Imagine Paul running up and down the streets of Thessalonica, and imagine that he is doing so like a panicked herald, reminding saints that they have to shape their decisions and content of their lives by never forgetting that Jesus is coming back again. Paul doesn’t want them to fear Christ’s return, but it is his aim and ambition that instead of fearing Christ’s return that they live everyday with the hope that He is coming back again.
This expectation ought to consume our minds and spirits and impact the way that we think and the way that we relate to other people. Jesus mirror’s this teaching when He discusses the parable of the virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In this parable, the women didn’t forget about the bridegroom coming, but they forgot to make preparation for His arrival.
Often we live our lives like we will live forever. We try to delay death like death can be delayed forever. However, scripture teaches us that when Jesus comes, He will come like a thief in the night. Only those of us who are prepared will make the trip across time to eternity when the Lord returns.
In chapter 5 of Thessalonians, Paul addresses three traditional antithesis to illustrate his point. First, he juxtaposes light against darkness. Second, he juxtaposes being awake and being asleep. Third, sobriety and drunkenness. This is called apocalyptic dualism. Our lives are always being pulled on by opposite forces, light and darkness, being awake or being asleep, remaining vigilant and sober or pulled into drunkenness.
We need to make sure that we are alert and sober in anticipation of the Lord’s return. It is easy to stop being alert when we live in a thrilling and exciting culture. We are in a world of extreme human communication and connectivity. We are in a culture that is growing at a rate beyond what we can understand.
How can’t we be tempted by the excitement and thrill of these times? Isn’t it true that we wake up excited to see the latest political scandal or misstep every morning? Isn’t it true that we’re enamored by the fast-paced development of new technology?
But here we read Paul who says, “Don’t get too stuck on the things of this world because Jesus is coming back again.” It may sound old fashioned to talk about Christ’s return, but this is an important part of our faith. We don’t live as Christians to simply get material benefit. We live as Christians so that we can prepare ourselves for Jesus. We need to take note of our lives and determine if we are living every day as if it is the day that Christ is coming back.