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Love God, Grow Together, Reach the World

    Daily Devotions - Entries from December 2012

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary1st2013 A New Year
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Here’s a New Year’s resolution for all of us--may we find our rest in God and God alone. Not in television, or wine, or football, or beer, or basketball, or the fine things of life, but in Christ alone.

    1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;

        my salvation comes from him.

    2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;

        he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

    3 How long will you assault me?

        Would all of you throw me down—

        this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

    4 Surely they intend to topple me

        from my lofty place;

        they take delight in lies.

    With their mouths they bless,

        but in their hearts they curse.

    5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;

        my hope comes from him.

    6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;

        he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

    7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;

        he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

    8 Trust in him at all times, you people;

        pour out your hearts to him,

        for God is our refuge.

    9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath,

        the highborn are but a lie.

    If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;

        together they are only a breath.

    10 Do not trust in extortion

        or put vain hope in stolen goods;

    though your riches increase,

        do not set your heart on them.

    11 One thing God has spoken,

        two things I have heard:

    “Power belongs to you, God,

    12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;

    and, “You reward everyone

        according to what they have done.”

    (Psalm 62)

    MonMondayDecDecember31st2012 Amazing Grace
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    All around the world there will be much jubilation tonight as we turn the page over and enter a new year. Crystal balls will drop, fireworks will explode, and champagne will flow freely as people ring in the New Year with excitement and anticipation. On the one hand, this is a purely symbolic moment, with no larger significance in the bigger scheme of things at all. Nothing actually changes just because our calendars now say 2013.

    However, symbols can exert a powerful influence on our lives and so New Year’s Eve is for many of us a turning point—an opportunity to formally close the books on everything that has happened in the last twelve months, and to start over with a fresh clean slate tomorrow.

    Whether this last year for you has been good, bad or indifferent, the Bible is clear that God is the one whose mighty works we should be celebrating, whatever the circumstances of our lives. So may we keep Him front and center in our celebrations tonight.

    1 Clap your hands, all you nations;

        shout to God with cries of joy.

    2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,

        the great King over all the earth.

    3 He subdued nations under us,

        peoples under our feet.

    4 He chose our inheritance for us,

        the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

    5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,

        the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.

    6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;

        sing praises to our King, sing praises.

    7 For God is the King of all the earth;

        sing to him a psalm of praise.

    8 God reigns over the nations;

        God is seated on his holy throne.

    9 The nobles of the nations assemble

        as the people of the God of Abraham,

    for the kings of the earth belong to God;

        he is greatly exalted.

    (Psalm 47)

    FriFridayDecDecember28th2012 The Joy of the Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment
    All the accumulated weight of Christmas expectations may be crashing in on you right around now. The event is over, but the season lingers on in the weird no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The presents that promised so much satisfaction may have already lost some of their luster. The meal that you hoped would be that perfect experience may have left you feeling a bit empty afterwards.

    All of that is understandable. These things can only ever provide short-term enjoyment, never the kind of long-term sustaining joy our hearts are yearning for. But listen to Isaiah’s excited proclamation on behalf of a redeemed Israel:   

    I delight greatly in the Lord;

        my soul rejoices in my God.

    For he has clothed me with garments of salvation

        and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,

    as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

        and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

    11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up

        and a garden causes seeds to grow,

    so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness

        and praise spring up before all nations.

    (Isaiah 61:10-11)

    Much of what the prophets had to speak to God’s people was difficult to hear. Their rejection of God and His covenant would lead to their exile from the land. But not everything was doom and gloom, and here Isaiah has the wonderful opportunity to point forward to a day when God would send a savior who would turn everything around. And in that moment, the mourning of God’s people would be turned into joyous celebration.

    Note that in that day their delight would not be based on having a good life but on their relationship with God. Their joy would not be driven by the things happening around them. Rather, it would be rooted in a relationship with a person. Why? Because of God’s gracious work to clothe His people “with garments of salvation…and a robe of his righteousness.

    This is the gift we have been celebrating over Christmas. This is the underlying focus of the entire season. Will we always be happy? No. Will there frequently be times of suffering and pain and heartache? Of course. We still live in a broken world that groans in anticipation of the return of our King. However, the Bible does say we can find joy in the incredible relationship we have with Jesus. Once we grasp the depth of His great love for us and experience the righteousness He imparts to us, we will never be the same again.

    ThuThursdayDecDecember27th2012 It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    Why do you need Jesus in your life? What purpose does He serve? If you’re a good person, morally upright, and conversant in the religious language and customs of Christian culture, why is Jesus still important?

    27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 

    29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

    31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

    (Luke 5:27-32)

    The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were good people. Compared to most of the people around them, they didn’t commit any obvious or egregious sins, and they were careful to obey everything they perceived God wanted them to do. And yet, something was missing. Their experiences with Jesus were incredibly confusing. Instead of praising them for their faithfulness, he criticized them for their self-righteousness. Instead of spending all His time hanging out with the religious elite, Jesus chose to mingle with “tax collectors and sinners.”

    Why? Because, as Jesus noted, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus did not “come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This was what Isaiah had prophesied 700 years earlier--God’s anointed servant would come to set the captives free and release them from darkness. Levi experienced this first-hand and was overwhelmed with joy as a result. He was painfully aware of the jail he was trapped inside and when Jesus came to set Him free, he was eager to get out.

    What about us? Do we even see the bars on our prison cell any more? When Isaiah said the Messiah would “proclaim good news to the poor” do we realize that includes us? Do we see ourselves as captives that need to be set free? 

    Are we the healthy who no longer need or want a doctor, or the sick--desperately looking for help? Ultimately the good news prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled in Jesus is only good for those who grasp how badly they need to hear it. Do you?

    WedWednesdayDecDecember26th2012 Bind up the brokenhearted
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    The last two days have probably been a blur for most of us. Three or four weeks of preparation have culminated in a day and half of celebration and exhaustion. Now what? For some of us today may mean a return to work, with projects that need to be completed before the end of the year. For others, today may be the continuation of a holiday, or simply a chance to clean-up from all the chaos of Christmas. But don’t let Christmas slip into the past without pausing to remember what it is we just celebrated. This is the moment when Christ came and dwelt among us. When God took on human flesh and began His work of seeking and saving the lost. It’s the moment Isaiah predicted when he spoke these words of the Messiah:

     

    The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

        because the Lord has anointed me

        to proclaim good news to the poor.

    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

        to proclaim freedom for the captives

        and release from darkness for the prisoners,

    2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

        and the day of vengeance of our God,

    to comfort all who mourn,

    3     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

    to bestow on them a crown of beauty

        instead of ashes,

    the oil of joy

        instead of mourning,

    and a garment of praise

        instead of a spirit of despair.

    They will be called oaks of righteousness,

        a planting of the Lord

        for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

     

    What a glorious day Isaiah talks about! It’s a day that Jesus confirmed had arrived when he stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth, read from this scroll, and then concluded, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

     

    Set aside the wrapping paper and the tinsel and the ornaments for a moment and consider the incredible promises God made to Israel through Isaiah. One day, Isaiah said, God would send his anointed servant “to proclaim good news to the poor…bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners...to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion.”

     

    We see all these things fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, as He liberated people from all kinds of illness, sickness, spiritual oppression and even death. The ultimate gift He gave, however, came about through His death and resurrection, securing not just temporal blessings here and now for the limited number of people He encountered during His ministry, but permanent eternal spiritual freedom and salvation available for everyone, everywhere.

     

    That’s the powerful and incredible message of Christmas, a moment to celebrate this gift and remember the freedom that we have now as a result of His sacrifice.

    TueTuesdayDecDecember25th2012 Christmas Day
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment



    May God bless you richly today as you celebrate our Savior’s birth.

     

    1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    2     Worship the Lord with gladness;

        come before him with joyful songs.

    3 Know that the Lord is God.

        It is he who made us, and we are his;

        we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

     

    4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving

        and his courts with praise;

        give thanks to him and praise his name.

    5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

        his faithfulness continues through all generations.

    (Psalm 100)

     

    MonMondayDecDecember24th2012 Christmas Eve
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment



    As we prepare to celebrate the coming of our King, let us join with the psalmist in praising God today:

     

    1 Sing to the Lord a new song;

        sing to the Lord, all the earth.

    2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;

        proclaim his salvation day after day.

    3 Declare his glory among the nations,

        his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

     

    4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

        he is to be feared above all gods.

    5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,

        but the Lord made the heavens.

    6 Splendor and majesty are before him;

        strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

     

    7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,

        ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

    8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

        bring an offering and come into his courts.

    9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;

        tremble before him, all the earth.

    10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”

        The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;

        he will judge the peoples with equity.

     

    11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

        let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

    12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

        let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

    13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,

        he comes to judge the earth.

    He will judge the world in righteousness

        and the peoples in his faithfulness.

    (Psalm 96)

    FriFridayDecDecember21st2012 He bore the sin of many
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment

    As we finish up this week and draw near to the last Sunday of Advent, let us pause to reflect on the enormity of this moment. That God came and dwelt among us, taking on human flesh, bearing the sins of many so that we might experience new life through Him.

     10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

        and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,

    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,

        and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

    11 After he has suffered,

        he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

        and he will bear their iniquities.

    12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,

        and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

    because he poured out his life unto death,

        and was numbered with the transgressors.

    For he bore the sin of many,

        and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

    ThuThursdayDecDecember20th2012 In Christ we have everything
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment

    How many of us grew up being told about Santa’s “Naughty and Nice” list? Every December it would get drilled into our heads, if not by our parents, then by the TV shows, or comics, or songs, or our friends, that if we were good children we would get good presents, but if we were bad children we would get nothing at all (or maybe just a lump of coal).

    Although it all seems like a lot of harmless fun, this way of thinking has a way of creeping into our understanding of how God works in our lives. If things are going well in my life, it must be because I am a good person. But if I am enduring pain and suffering, it must be because I am a bad person. The Apostle Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah in order to set us straight on this kind of thinking:

     

    Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

     

     

    22 “He committed no sin,

        and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

     

    23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:18-23)

    Yes, Jesus is an example for us to follow, in that when He suffered He did so quietly and submissively. But more significantly, Jesus endured the most awful pain and suffering even though He was the only person to truly live a completely sin-free life. In Isaiah’s words:

    7 He was oppressed and afflicted,

        yet he did not open his mouth;

    he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

        and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

        so he did not open his mouth.

    8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

        Yet who of his generation protested?

    For he was cut off from the land of the living;

        for the transgression of my people he was punished.

    9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

        and with the rich in his death,

    though he had done no violence,

        nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)

     

    Although sometimes sin will have direct consequences in our lives, the penalty for all our sins has been borne once and for all by Jesus. He took it all away and we no longer have to carry that burden with us. If bad things only happen to bad people, then Jesus was the worst person to have ever lived. Yet “he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.”

    Isaiah says, in effect, that there is no heavenly naughty or nice list. We are either saved or not, redeemed or not. Jesus has set us free from the burden of calculating every little action we take in order to see if our good deeds finally outweigh the bad. Isaiah says that such accounting can only ever work against us. We are evil through and through, and whatever attempts we make at saving ourselves and pleasing God will fall hopelessly short.

    But in Christ we have everything. In Christ we gain entrance to the Kingdom and all the riches contained within. In Christ we gain free access to God and the ability to boldly approach His throne as sons and daughters of the Most High God. That’s what Christmas is about, and that’s what we should be teaching our children at this time of year.

    WedWednesdayDecDecember19th2012 He took up our pain and bore our suffering
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    I love Christmas. I love the dazzling decorations and the bright twinkling lights. I love the smell of a real Christmas tree, and the evocative taste of a sticky peppermint candy cane served with hot chocolate. I even love the much-maligned Christmas fruit cake. However, despite all the glitter and glad tidings, Christmas can often be a time of great spiritual despondency. It is often in the very midst of all the jingle bells and joy, that we feel least acceptable to anyone, let alone God. But there is hope.

    4 Surely he took up our pain

        and bore our suffering,

    yet we considered him punished by God,

        stricken by him, and afflicted.

    5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

        he was crushed for our iniquities;

    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

        and by his wounds we are healed.

    6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

        each of us has turned to our own way;

    and the Lord has laid on him

        the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

     

    On the one hand, some of the emotions that we experience in December are brought on by ourselves. We don’t like to think this way, but the bottom line is that all the excesses of the season have real consequences. Late nights will lead to exhaustion. Excessive spending will lead to debt (and the associated feelings of guilt, shame and fear). Trying to please everyone will lead to burn-out, anger and depression.

    However, it goes deeper than that. Strange as it may seem, given the religious nature of this celebration, this is often our worst time of the year for spending time with God. Perhaps because we seem to be talking about Jesus so much, we often fail to spend time with Jesus. If we did, we might find a remedy for some of our suffering.

    Isaiah’s words here are a powerful reminder of just how significant our problem with sin really is. What Satan does such a good job of exploiting at this time of year is our latent awareness of the sin in our life. He pokes and prods and brings it all to the surface; all our weaknesses and character flaws, all the evil that lurks in the back of our mind, all the dark thoughts, all our impatience and stubbornness and selfishness and greed and anger.

    Left alone in that place we feel increasingly isolated and alone. We sing “Joy to the World” with a smile fixed on our face, but inside we can’t escape the feeling that we’re a phony. But we’re not alone. That’s the amazing gift of Christmas. This is the moment when Jesus left His vaulted position with the Father and came to dwell among us, to experience our pain and suffering with us, and ultimately to die for us.

    Isaiah says that “he took up our pain and bore our suffering,” and “by his wounds we are healed.” As believers in Christ, Satan has no power left over us. The sin that he likes to remind us of, or tries to reveal, has been taken care of already. It was heaped upon Jesus. The penalty has been paid. Jesus was pierced through and crushed because of our wickedness, our guilt.

    We are all, in some respects, phonies, putting on a false image of clean wholesomeness. That part is true. But it’s incomplete, for Isaiah reminds us that “the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” Our peace doesn’t come from not ever feeling guilt or shame or even wrestling with dark thoughts and doubts. Our peace comes through the death and resurrection of Christ.

    Or, as Martin Luther put it:

    “What gives peace to the conscience is that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us, and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us, and we are clothed; for He is the glorious Savior, blessed for ever.”

     

    (http://www.erictyoung.com/2010/04/28/clothed-in-christs-righteousness-quote-of-the-day-28-april-2010/)

    TueTuesdayDecDecember18th2012 He was despised and rejected by men
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    Christmas Day is one week away, and whether it’s a white Christmas or not, we will join with believers all around the world in celebrating the birth of the man we call our Savior, Jesus. It’s a joyous day, but who is this man whose birth we remember with such great festivity?

    Who has believed our message

        and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

    2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,

        and like a root out of dry ground.

    He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

        nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

    3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,

        a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

    Like one from whom people hide their faces

        he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

    Isaiah’s account is a shocking dose of reality in the middle of a season otherwise adorned with all kinds of glitz and glamor. Few would understand or believe Isaiah during his time, few would believe John the Baptist when he pointed out the “lamb of God,” and few would come to trust Jesus Himself during His earthly ministry.

    Although popular culture throughout the ages has always tended to portray Jesus with dazzling blue eyes or a radiance that just draws people to Himself, the Bible is clear that this was not the case at all. This is not to say that He was grotesquely disfigured, but there was no “aura” or “presence” that attracted people to Him. In fact, people were not attracted to Him at all. Crowds pressed in wherever He went because they were looking for miracles—for healing or for food, or perhaps the hope that this teacher would be a great military leader who would defeat their enemies.

    Instead, they found an ordinary man. Hebrew experts tell us that the phrase “despised” is really just synonymous to “rejected” or “ignored.” It’s not so much that people vehemently hated Him (although some clearly did), but that he was considered a nobody, with a message that was ridiculous, filled with pain and sorrow, a pathetic little shoot coming out of the ground that was easy to crush under foot.

    This is the life that awaited the baby Jesus, lying in a manger. A life of being cast aside, ridiculed, ignored and deemed unworthy. It’s a life that led to the ultimate shame—death on a cross. Now, if the story ended there our celebrations at Christmas would seem to be not just foolish but evil, for we would be celebrating the birth of a pathetic teacher who died young and accomplished nothing.

    But it doesn’t. In many respects our story only begins with His death, and continues with His resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, empowering the birth of the Church and the spread of God’s Kingdom across the globe and into our lives here and now, today. So we celebrate at Christmas because we are reminded of this good news, that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

    MonMondayDecDecember17th2012 He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    The shininess of Christmas is sometimes hard to reconcile with the Biblical descriptions of the Messiah, God’s “servant.” As we move into this next section of Isaiah, we’ll read of someone “disfigured” and “marred beyond human likeness.” Yet, here we are at Christmas singing songs about a sweet little baby Jesus lying in a manger. How can the two go together?

     

    See, my servant will act wisely;

        he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

    Just as there were many who were appalled at him—

        his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being

        and his form marred beyond human likeness—

    so he will sprinkle many nations,

        and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

    For what they were not told, they will see,

        and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15)

    The truth is that Jesus didn’t come to earth in an ornate cathedral surrounded by a choir of hundreds singing Handel’s Messiah. His birth was not accompanied by a hand-bell ensemble standing underneath a 30-foot Norwegian spruce decorated with hand-made candy canes, genuine gold leaf tinsel and a star the size of a small child.

    Isaiah reminds us that when our Savior came, He was largely set aside and ignored. The Messiah, the Savior, God’s “servant” was not part of the wealthy, illustrious Jerusalem elite. He was not another Saul or David, handsome and beautiful to look at. He was instead a nothing, a nobody, someone we would prefer to ignore or even not look at.

    He slipped into this world almost without any fanfare at all. Yes, “a great company” of angels appeared in the sky singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” There was nothing quiet or subtle about that. However, their audience was tiny—a few insignificant shepherds out in the fields. Yes, some “Magi” eventually came from the East, bringing extravagant gifts, but there is no indication that anyone aside from King Herod paid them much attention.

    Most likely the baby Jesus looked like any other baby—beautiful and innocent. But as Jesus grew and began his ministry His message would be considered appalling, the opposite of everything many people expected their Messiah to be like. Yet ultimately, He would “be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Ultimately, even kings would see, and hear, and understand the incredible gift of Immanuel, God with us. 

    FriFridayDecDecember14th2012 A bruised reed he will not break
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    Although TV stations and stores feel the pressure to constantly up the ante on Christmas, the real story needs no embellishments. That the “Holy One of Israel” took on human flesh and came and dwelt among us is astonishing. That our Creator came to give Himself as a sacrifice to pay for our sins is amazing. That this “servant” came quietly, humbly, unexpectedly, in a manger, in a village, out of sight, away from the crowds, is truly surprising.

    “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

        my chosen one in whom I delight;

    I will put my Spirit on him,

        and he will bring justice to the nations.

    2 He will not shout or cry out,

        or raise his voice in the streets.

    3 A bruised reed he will not break,

        and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

    In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

    4     he will not falter or be discouraged

    till he establishes justice on earth.

        In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

    (Isaiah 41:1-4)

    Matthew would later quote this passage when speaking of Jesus in comparison to the Pharisees, who opposed his ministry and sought to find ways to silence him. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and he did so with care, kindness and compassion. He did not falter in the work the Father asked Him to complete, but He accomplished it with gentleness and patience. He continues to work in our lives with that same gentleness and patience today.

    As you battle against sin and temptation and struggle and opposition in your life, do not lose hope and do not be discouraged. The God we serve is not just holy and just, but tender and loving. He is truly Immanuel—God with us. 


    ThuThursdayDecDecember13th2012 My idols
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    I have a collection of idols at home. No shining little statues or carved golden images, but idols they are nonetheless. They demand sacrifices every day, and they hold an incredible pull over my heart (and therefore my life as well). It’s ridiculous, and frustrating, and periodically I smash them all to pieces. But before long there they are once again, multiplying silently, calling out to me with ever-increasing urgency. And this month they will exert a particularly strong pull on my life. God hates idols. We know that intellectually, and Isaiah captures it quite eloquently:

    “Present your case,” says the Lord.

        “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.

    22 “Tell us, you idols,

        what is going to happen.

    Tell us what the former things were,

        so that we may consider them

        and know their final outcome.

    Or declare to us the things to come,

    23     tell us what the future holds,

        so we may know that you are gods.

    Do something, whether good or bad,

        so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.

    24 But you are less than nothing

        and your works are utterly worthless;

        whoever chooses you is detestable.

    25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—

        one from the rising sun who calls on my name.

    He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,

        as if he were a potter treading the clay.

    26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know,

        or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’?

    No one told of this,

        no one foretold it,

        no one heard any words from you.

    27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’

        I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news.

    28 I look but there is no one—

        no one among the gods to give counsel,

        no one to give answer when I ask them.

    29 See, they are all false!

        Their deeds amount to nothing;

        their images are but wind and confusion.

    (Isaiah 41:21-29)

     

    The taunting tone of God’s challenge serves to emphasize how ridiculous it is to put our trust in idols. They are nothing. They say nothing and do nothing. They can’t predict the future or explain the past. They can’t control today and they provide no security for tomorrow. They are “wind and confusion;” hopeless and useless, creating problems and solving nothing.

    Of course we would never bow down to a golden pig or a carved piece of wood. We’re far too proud to be caught doing something so primitive. No, our idol worship is much more sophisticated. We claim to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but when it comes right down to it, we still look to others for our meaning and significance. Without even noticing it we can find ourselves living and working to please, not God, but a parent who never seemed satisfied with us, or an ex-spouse who never thought we looked good enough, or a trusted mentor or teacher whose approval always eluded us.

    We serve idols of success, that promise to give us the world if we can just achieve a little bit more. We sacrifice to the idol of security, which promises us peace if we can just work hard enough to control every last aspect of our lives. The list is endless because our hearts are endlessly creative in constructing these false gods. But Isaiah reminds us they are all false. They amount to nothing. Moreover, in Jesus Christ we no longer need to strive after anything, for God has given us everything. He has freed us from the grip of the false idols that lay claim on our hearts.

    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10)


    WedWednesdayDecDecember12th2012 The Living Water
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    Christmas is a time of giving. At least, that’s what I hear all the time. The cynical side of me sometimes feels as if all that giving simply serves to stoke our insatiable desire to consume more and more. Indeed, all this “giving” just drains us dry, not just financially, but physically, emotionally and spiritually as well. How many times have you woken up on December 26th, glad it was finally all over?

    So at this time of year, as the race towards Christmas seems to be picking up speed, and our resources appear to be running dry, God’s words to His people seem to be particularly encouraging.

    “The poor and needy search for water,

        but there is none;

        their tongues are parched with thirst.

    But I the Lord will answer them;

        I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

    18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,

        and springs within the valleys.

    I will turn the desert into pools of water,

        and the parched ground into springs.

    19 I will put in the desert

        the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.

    I will set junipers in the wasteland,

        the fir and the cypress together,

    20 so that people may see and know,

        may consider and understand,

    that the hand of the Lord has done this,

        that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

    (Isaiah 41:17-20)

     

    We don’t often think of that imagery of “parched ground” around Christmas. After all, there’s usually too much snow and ice to worry about. However, the unique stresses of this particular month can often leave us feeling completely spent. We get into arguments at the drop of a hat simply because we’re running on empty. During the one time of year we’re supposed to be feeling closest to God, we end up feeling furthest away. We’re living on fumes, and sooner or later even those will run out.

    So what’s the answer? Amazingly, the very celebration that often leaves us so thirsty points forward to the only way we can truly be filled. The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of new growth and refreshment is found in Jesus Christ.

    37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

    (John 7:37-39)

    Jesus comes to us bringing living water, and asks us to drink deeply. He alone will be able to sustain us through long visits with relatives and awkward parties at work. He alone can revive us after hours of shopping or late nights spent planning and wrapping. The water is there, but we have to slow down long enough to drink. We can’t pump and run and expect to be transformed as a result. So this season, perhaps more than any other time of year, please carve out time to pray with your Heavenly Father. Seek His help. Seek His presence. Seek His power. He will provide.

    TueTuesdayDecDecember11th2012 The Lord Takes Our Hand
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    Christmas Day is now just two weeks away. I don’t know if that fills you with comfort and joy, or worry and consternation. On the one hand we have the low-level stress associated with buying so many presents, for so many people, in such a short period of time. On the other hand we have the stress of wanting to resist the consumerism associated with Christmas and trying to celebrate the deeper spiritual significance of this time, but not being able to do so.

    Enter the Book of Isaiah. This great prophet’s poetic masterpiece is the perfect antidote to all the rosy-cheeked dancing Santas and sparkly fakeness that seems to seep into everything we do at this time of year. Isaiah is a prophet who reminds us of the greatness of God and His loving-kindness towards us. A God who cares for His people and protects them from all enemies.

    “All who rage against you

        will surely be ashamed and disgraced;

    those who oppose you

        will be as nothing and perish.

    12 Though you search for your enemies,

        you will not find them.

    Those who wage war against you

        will be as nothing at all.

    13 For I am the Lord your God

        who takes hold of your right hand

    and says to you, Do not fear;

        I will help you.

    14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,

        little Israel, do not fear,

    for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord,

        your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

    15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,

        new and sharp, with many teeth.

    You will thresh the mountains and crush them,

        and reduce the hills to chaff.

    16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,

        and a gale will blow them away.

    But you will rejoice in the Lord

        and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

    (Isaiah 41:11-16)

    God’s words to His precious people were meant to be an encouragement that, despite their current challenges, one day things would be different. One day their enemies would be utterly crushed. Not just defeated, but totally and completely destroyed. And, in fact, this is indeed what happened. Although the Assyrians would soon sweep into the Northern Kingdom of Israel with a show of such awesome power that they seemed to be invincible, 100 years later their empire would be reduced to rubble, wiped out by the Babylonians (whose mighty empire would in turn come to an abrupt end at the hand of the Persians).

    We, too, may feel at times as if we are nothing in the grand scheme of things, a pawn in the game of life, subject to the random forces of fate and chance. But God sees things differently, and the encouraging thing about Isaiah’s prophecy is that it applies to us as well. We are not facing destruction at the hands of the Assyrian Empire, but we are facing into a world where sin has caused such pain and brokenness and suffering that sometimes we don’t know which way to turn.

    Christmas is God’s great reminder that He sees, He cares, and He is in control. We may lose our jobs, our homes, or even our relationships, but in and through Jesus we have won the ultimate prize of new life and free access into the very presence of God. We may be convinced that we are nothing, but in Jesus we have everything.

    31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

    “For your sake we face death all day long;

        we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

    MonMondayDecDecember10th2012 Words of Hope
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment

    Fear. It’s not an emotion we usually associate with Christmas, and yet there it lurks, hidden quietly under the reindeer wrapping paper and sparkly tinsel and rosy red cheeks and chipper Christmas carols. It’s the dark cloud that lingers ominously in the background; the one emotion we pretend we can’t see or hear or feel, but which hangs around like a winter cold that won’t go away.

    What’s going to happen to my taxes next year? Why is my daughter so sick? How will we pay off all these debts? Who is going to care for my children when I’m gone? Will my grandchild get better? Why am I so out of breath all the time? What more does my boss want from me? Can I keep doing this job much longer? When will somebody notice me?

    Isaiah wrote to a people battling fear and anxiety. Their country was facing imminent destruction. Their future was unknown. God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appeared to be crumbling away into nothing. What would happen to them now?

    “But you, Israel, my servant,

        Jacob, whom I have chosen,

        you descendants of Abraham my friend,

    9 I took you from the ends of the earth,

        from its farthest corners I called you.

    I said, ‘You are my servant’;

        I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

    10 So do not fear, for I am with you;

        do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

    I will strengthen you and help you;

        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

    (Isaiah 41:8-10)

    God spoke to His people with words of encouragement and hope. He reminded them that they were His chosen people. He reminded them that He had not forgotten the promises He made to Abraham, His friend. He recalled for them the work that He had done in bringing them to the Promised Land, and how the Exile was not a time of rejection but of discipline. He reassured His fear-filled children that He was with them, that He was their God, that He would give them strength, and He would hold them up.

    But that’s all Bible-time stuff. What about today? Has He really chosen me, too? Or maybe my current suffering is a sign that He either doesn’t want to, or is incapable of helping me. If God is going to “uphold me” then why am I still dying of cancer? Why is my business failing? What use is it to know that a God I can neither see nor hear has accepted me, while the people I live and work with reject me daily?

    For the people of Israel, the proof would come in part as they returned from the Exile. However, the ultimate proof came later, in the moment we are preparing to celebrate during this season of Advent. When we look at the manger we can be sure that God means what he says about being with us, for in that moment, “he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). God with us. Immanuel.

    But as if squeezing Himself into human form was not enough, God went one step further to prove the depth of His love for us, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). Not just for seemingly good or moral or religious people, but for all people.

    Fear is a fact of living in a fallen world. There is no escaping it. I don’t know what the future holds and I cannot control it. But when I look at the nativity scene, and I’m tempted to dismiss it as cute but irrelevant, I have to remember that God showed His love for me personally in this, that while I was still a sinner, while I continue to be a sinner, that little baby grew up, lived a perfect life, and then willingly went to the cross to die, for me. That’s how much He loves me. That’s all the proof I need that He is truly with me. And that gives me the confidence I need to face whatever destructive forces may come my way today.

    FriFridayDecDecember7th2012 The Everlasting God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    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 40:27-31)

    This is perhaps one of the most powerful and encouraging passages in Isaiah. Our God is not just an impersonal force off in the distance somewhere, but a loving presence moving among us. He doesn’t merely sustain the world, but he cares for us as individuals, as His children.

    For those of us who are struggling just to make it through the day, weary beyond belief, and uncertain of our ability to keep going on, Isaiah reminds us that our Lord is an everlasting God, whose strength knows no bounds. He will not leave us flailing around helplessly, but rather gives strength to those who need it most.

    As we approach Christmas, the pressures of this season will continue to mount. Short of leaving the country, there’s no way to avoid much of the stress associated with this time of year. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” That’s why Jesus came. It’s what we’re preparing to celebrate.

    “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)


    ThuThursdayDecDecember6th2012 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment

    One of the reasons this is such a magical time of year has to be the Christmas lights. Candles twinkle in the windows, rows of white and blue and red lights line gutters and roof-tops, vast arrays of lights cover bushes and outline driveways, trees are wrapped from head to toe, and even the most ostentatious and over-the-top home decorations manage to elicit a smile. Even the coldest-hearted scrooge has a hard time resisting the soft twinkle of lights around a Christmas tree.

    I’ll leave it to sociologists and cultural historians to analyze why we’ve developed this tradition, but for me personally these lights are a great reminder of how great God is. It’s like someone scooped a big handful of stars right out of the sky and then carefully arranged them on my house instead. If the heavens declare the glory of God, then Christmas is a time when in some small way my house get to do so as well.

    Do you not know?

        Have you not heard?

    Has it not been told you from the beginning?

        Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

    22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

        and its people are like grasshoppers.

    He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

        and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

    23 He brings princes to naught

        and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

    24 No sooner are they planted,

        no sooner are they sown,

        no sooner do they take root in the ground,

    than he blows on them and they wither,

        and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

    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. (Isaiah 40:21-26)

    Our country is facing significant moral, spiritual and financial crises right now. The problems are overwhelming, and our ability to affect change is minimal at best. News outlets revel in every opportunity they get to pour gas on the flames of our fear, leaving us with ever increasing levels of anxiety.

    But Isaiah reminds us to “Lift up our eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” The world we live in is not subject to the random forces of nature. Even when we can’t make sense of what is happening or why, the Bible affirms over and over again that God is in control, and nothing happens outside of his sovereign will. Who can we possibly compare to God? Who could ever claim the same power as our Lord? “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy.” What earthly ruler can do that?

    As we draw closer to Christmas may the lights remind us of God’s incredible power. Power to put the world in motion. Power to hold everything together. A power perfectly revealed in the birth of a baby, a little child that came on a night when the stars themselves seemed to sing out with joy at the arrival of their Creator. 


    WedWednesdayDecDecember5th2012 Go, tell it on the mountain
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    Isaiah spoke at a time when the people of Israel were headed for disaster. Exile waited for them just around the corner. Soon their beloved city of Jerusalem would be destroyed, and the Temple burned to the ground. A deep shame would overcome the people as they were led into exile in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people speaking a foreign language and worshiping foreign gods.

    Yet God wanted the people, His people, to know that all hope was not lost. For one day things would be different. He would act to bring them out of that darkness and back into the light. He would move to restore to them everything that had once been taken. He would be their King and they would be His people once again.

    Such incredible news deserved to be declared as broadly as possible.

    9 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 40:9-11)

    This “good news,” we now know, is not just that the Lord “rules with a mighty arm,” but that this same God has come in human flesh to bring us the peace we could never hope to achieve under our own strength. Our Sovereign Lord was laid low, so that we might be lifted up. The sin that entangled us so completely in its grip, dragging us deeper and deeper under water, was defeated once and for all by the perfect life and unblemished sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus. He was both our good shepherd and the Passover lamb.

    That’s incredible news! As Isaiah says, we should shout it out from the highest mountain! Forget the arguments about nativity scenes and whether or not we can call it a Christmas trees. There are people in your life (on your street, in your family, next to you at work) who desperately need to hear about the life-giving love of Jesus Christ. They don’t need a sermon about everything that’s wrong with politically-correct administrations at schools and government offices. They need a loving encounter with a living God. They need to hear about the grace and forgiveness offered to them in the person of Jesus Christ. They need someone to tell them, “Here is your God!”

    Go, tell it on the mountain,

    Over the hills and everywhere

    Go, tell it on the mountain,

    That Jesus Christ is born.

    TueTuesdayDecDecember4th2012 A voice one calling
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment


    Sometimes my children ask me why it is that we celebrate Advent. After all, it seems kind of artificial. We’re pretending to be excited about an event we know has already happened. It’s as if we’ve already opened the present and played with it, only now we have to put it back in the box, wrap it up and pretend like we don't know what’s inside. Kind of silly, right?

    Except, have we really “unwrapped” everything already? Isaiah looked ahead to a time in the future when everything would be radically different:

    A voice of one calling:

    “In the wilderness prepare

        the way for the Lord;

    make straight in the desert

        a highway for our God.

    4 Every valley shall be raised up,

        every mountain and hill made low;

    the rough ground shall become level,

        the rugged places a plain.

    5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

        and all people will see it together.

    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

    Now, a lot of this was fulfilled when Jesus came. How do we know that for sure? Well, every Gospel account includes a reference to this verse in speaking about the ministry of John the Baptist. John referred to himself as the one who called out “prepare the way for the Lord,” and connected that to the ministry of Jesus. Moreover, it is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we begin to see the kind of radical transformation and religious and societal upheaval that this passage predicts will happen when the savior comes.

    However, we would be hard pressed to say that every valley has been raised up and every mountain and hill made low. The world we live in has indeed been changed forever by the Incarnation. Yet, much still remains undone. The rugged places seem to surround us on all sides. Sin continues to destroy the lives of those closest to us. Corruption creeps into every level of every institution. Natural disasters seem to strike with frightening regularity. As soon as one tyrant is overthrown, another pops up to take his place. Abuse, addiction, and every kind of evil have become commonplace.

    So for me, personally, I am still waiting. I am eagerly anticipating the time when Jesus will come back and fix this mess once and for all. I cannot wait for the moment when every broken thing is made whole once again. So, as I lean in towards Christmas I am not just remembering something that already happened once upon a time in the long ago past, but stretching forward in eager anticipation of what is still yet to come.

    O come, Thou Key of David, come,

    And open wide our heavenly home;

    Make safe the way that leads on high,

    And close the path to misery.

    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

    “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)


    MonMondayDecDecember3rd2012 Tidings of comfort and joy
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent Isaiah 0 comments Add comment



    Christmas is meant to be a time when we celebrate with joy the moment “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” However, all too often it becomes a season so jam-packed with activities that there is little time for reflection on the significance of Jesus’ birth. The most wonderful time of the year sadly becomes the most stressful time of the year.

    Battling these bad habits in our lives and families can seem like a monumental task, which is why we need God’s help, accessed most directly through prayer. He has peace to offer us, and rest to give us, but we have to make the time to seek it out. So, as we continue through this Advent season, build in an extra couple of minutes at the end of each devotional to pray for God’s help to make this Christmas different.

    Returning to the prophet Isaiah, we move ahead to Chapter 40, a turning point in the Book, which begins with the following words of encouragement:

    Comfort, comfort my people,

        says your God.

    2 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. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

    One of the tools Satan uses most effectively to distract us at this time of year is our own guilty conscience. We are keenly aware of the deep catalog of sinful thoughts, actions, activities and behaviors we’ve committed. And something about the stress and strain of this season brings all of those rushing to the forefront of our mind.

    But God’s words to us are words of comfort and peace. Israel would suffer the consequences of her sins during the Exile. But our peace has been secured at a far deeper level, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

    Your sins are gone, you’ve been set free. The punishment we so richly deserved (and don’t we know it!) has been put on Jesus. Nailed to the cross. Paid in full. Do not let Satan deceive you or drag you back into a past that God has forgotten. It’s been set aside and you no longer have to carry that burden any more.

    May this Christmas be a time of comfort and peace. You are a child of God and you can rest in the full assurance of His incredible love for you today, and every day.

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