Join us as we explore God's ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
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As we approach Easter, I hope you observe the idea of the Lenten Season. The original purpose of Lent was not just having ashes put on your forehead or abstaining from eating red meat on Fridays. It wasn’t about sacrificing something you liked during those seven weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Lent was then and should now be about personal examination of your relationship with the Messiah. At the turn of the first century, early converts to Christianity began wanting to celebrate their changed lives through baptism on Easter. But because of the growing popularity of the religion particularly toward the fourth century, church leaders began to question the sincerity of some of the baptismal candidates and required them to go through a period of study and examination about their faith, Lent. Daily commitment to a regimen of study, except for Sundays to ensure they knew about Jesus, knew about their lostness without him, and knew about the cost of their commitment to him.
Today, Lent has lost its meaning in many churches and has been watered down to just another season on the church calendar. It is marked with ash Wednesday as its beginning, when the “faithful” come to the church and a priest or pastor anoints them and signifies their commitment by placing ashes on their forehead in the sign of the cross. For many, that is the extent of their observance. Isaiah describes what has happened to us as we fail to count the cost and study the life of Christ to apply his principles to our own actions. In chapter 55, we read these words:
55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Isaiah’s questions imply the state of Israel’s behavior and lifestyle in his day. They, like us, are too interested in material things. The populace was concerned more about what they could eat and wear and use to impress, than they were about what God wanted for them and his plan for them. They forgot about the covenant God made with Abraham in which his desire planned for them to bless all nations. Instead they looked to take from anyone they could. They, like us became consumers instead of producers. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Was the outcry of the nation.
The people began to think about themselves more than they thought about the lostness of those around them. Abraham was supposed to bless the nations around him. His sons and their sons were to do the same. We don’t have to read far in the Old Testament to see the selfish streak in all of us raise its ugly head in the patriarchs of the Jews. They became like their neighbors and looked out for number one. And internal to the nation, the leaders did the same to their countrymen. Take care of me first and then maybe, but not necessarily think about those other kinsmen around me. God doesn’t work that way and doesn’t want us to work that way either. So he brought about some pretty severe judgments on the nations around Israel and ultimately on his chosen people as well.
Clearly, the next few verses in Isaiah 55 show us just how different God wants us to be in the world’s eyes. Listen to his words:
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
55:7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God wants to do incredible things to us and through us to show the rest of the world who he is and what he wants to do with all of his creation. He wants to restore us to our unfallen state. He wants to clean us up and get rid of the worry that plagues us. He wants us to be so different in the world that nations will call us and wonder how and why we do the things we do. He wants us to seek him and return to him. The best thing about all of the things Isaiah shares in these few verses, ...return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God’s pardon is not like the pardons that our governors and presidents give. When those people leave prison with a full pardon, there is still this question that hangs over them in the eyes of those around them. The pardon is real. The crimes are expunged from their record. They are deemed not guilty of the crimes for which they were incarcerated. But that accusation in the public’s eye still lingers. But not when God pardons. He throws our sin as far as the east is from the west, he tells us.
I’m glad the psalmist put it that way. He didn’t know about the north and south poles. He was just a shepherd. But God inspired him to write those words in that way. Think about it. When you go north with a compass, you finally come to a point on the globe where the only direction you can go is south. There is no more north. The same is true if you start a journey to the south. Eventually you will hit a spot where the only direction you can go is north. In fact, my computer tells me if you start at one pole and fly straight to the other, you will travel 8595.35 miles.
But if you start traveling east with your compass, you can travel east for the rest of your life and never hit a west pole. Your compass will continue to let you point east until the earth quits spinning and the sun grows dim. How far is that? As far as God throws your sins. David didn’t understand the difference between those geological points, but we do now. David wrote those words for us as much or more than for the inhabitants of his day.
God forgives. That’s what the world needs to hear. That’s what people are hungry and thirsty for today. And those of us who have experienced the overwhelming grace of God have a duty to share that changed life with those around us. God doesn’t give us the option to sit on our best intentions. He commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples. All the world doesn’t just mean the other side of the globe, although he expects us to support that missional ministry. All the world includes my next door neighbor and yours. It includes the person in the office next to mine and yours. It includes the mother that watches her son practice soccer and sits next to me in the bleachers and that mother that sits next to you when you watch your son or daughter practice. The world is not exclusive. It is all inclusive in God’s eyes. He made everyone. No one is exempt from his love and mercy and grace. We just have to ask and he gives.
Are you hungry and thirsty for him? Here God’s words Isaiah again: “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. … Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near…”
Live in a way that others will want what you have. Not the material things that go away, but the eternal things. A relationship with God that brings joy and peace and gentleness and patience and goodness and all those fruit that his spirit grows in us when we live in his light. In this Lenten Season, learn more about him as you prepare from Easter. Make this season the best you have ever experienced by listening to him and living a life that others will want to emulate.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.