When we read the story of King Hezekiah of Judah as he stands before the envoy of the Assyrian Empire, we hear a reflection of the whispers the evil one is still using on us today.  Whether in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, or here in Isaiah, this story still rings true with anyone who has faced off with the whispers of evil.

“On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” is still one of my favorite lines of the scriptures, because it sums up our entire faith in one question.  And those who don’t follow Christ don’t understand our answer.  “I am putting my confidence not in my own accomplishments or accumulation, but in God and His promises.”

“Your worldly alliances won’t help you.”  Whether this is our political alliances or allegiances, our job titles or reputation with neighbors, it is true that if we look to this world to help us with life’s problems, we are looking in vain.

“You can’t depend on your righteousness.”  Sometimes we try so hard to be perfect, to follow every law, to obey every word of scripture, only to find out that all of that work for righteousness “is like dirty rags.”  When we rely on our own behaviors to earn God’s help in times of trouble, we will fail every time.

“Are you sure you’re even doing God’s will?”  The ‘but God is on my side’ argument is a pretty common one as well.  This one more often comes from critics within the Body rather than from the evil one.  It’s what makes church fights so diabolical – we all claim to have God on our side, so we aren’t just opinionated, we are right.  And not just right but Good.  This makes us incapable of learning from our critics or changing our minds.

“My way is better and will make you happier.”  The battle cry of every politician, which ultimately the King of Assyria is.

But the truly dangerous part of these arguments/whispers is how close they are to the truth.  It is the truth that we cannot trust in ourselves, or others of this world, anything besides God Himself.  But the final assumption of the dictator – you cannot trust anyone but me – is the truly evil whisper we can never believe.  God is worthy, God is capable, and God will protect, provide, and see you through.  God’s got this – never forget it.

It is so exciting to hear our children reciting scripture, and not just as a rote memory verse, but with excitement.  As they learn about the different judges, they have memorized today’s verse, Isa. 33:22.  I first came to know they were doing this when my 3 year old son Isaac was riding home from church in my back seat.  As I tuned in to just what he was saying, I realized he was excitedly saying, “The LORD is our judge!  The LORD is our lawgiver!  The LORD is our King!  He will save us!”

It is said that from the mouths of babes, wisdom flows.  (Yes, this is actually a bible quote from Ps. 8).  And this is wisdom for our age.  In days of SCOTUS and Kavanaugh hearings, it is important for us to remember just who our true judge is.  As we proclaim that judging someone else is the greatest cultural sin, we simultaneously judge everyone and everything more harshly than ever before.  Yet it is not our peers, or the media, or even SCOTUS who is the judge we need to appeal to.  It is the LORD.

We are also struggling to figure out which laws and rules we should be following.  I can’t seem to get away from conversations about how unreasonable, illogical, or harmful certain laws are.  My teenagers sit and debate what they should be doing based on the social rules of their respective teams/groups/clicks/peers.  We all must be reminded regularly that the rules of this world, while they are to be respected, are not the rules by which we ultimately live.  That honor belongs to our lawgiver, the LORD.

And we’ve seldom seen division in our nation and even our world over world leaders.  From MAGA to NeverTrump, our nation is split seemingly down the middle (though both sides are quick to point out that they have the majority, no matter how slim it is).  And globally, we are seeing rebellions against and changes in our world leadership like seldom before.  So we have to be reminded again and again that the LORD is our king, not a nation or world leader, not a pastor or president, not a respected community leader or a foreign power.  The LORD, and He alone, is our King and worthy of our devotion, respect, and worship.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.  – Isa. 31:1

Where are you putting your trust these days?  Are you trusting in God when fear comes or in the things of this world?

People chose to trust a number of things instead of God.  We amass wealth in savings and market accounts, so we never get to trust in God to provide for our needs.  We do whatever it takes to get high paying jobs, so we never get to trust in God to give us His work to do.  We put our kids in private schools, then private colleges, so we never get to trust God to protect them.  We work hard to get the “right” political system in place, so we never get to trust God to direct us in our interactions with the world around us.  In fact, we live in constant fear these days and seek to save ourselves from it through medication, security systems, political systems, belief systems.  And then we keep feeding this fear to each other in conversations, social media posts, and 24 hour news shows.

Anyone who tells you to live in fear of anything but God – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – is not only lying to you, but leading you away from God.  Period.

So how do we fight this fear that is so pervasive?  How do we keep from becoming obsessed with the fear of this world?  Paul has it right when he sends his letter to the church in Phillipi…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Phil. 4:8

When our kids came of age and found the truth of anxiety, we had them memorize this verse.  And that is my suggestion to all of us.  Memorize this passage, then do it.  The news is not helpful, social media feeds the fear, and worry is not God’s way.  Spend the time you would spend on Facebook, with FOX or CNN, or worrying with friends praying, reading God’s Word, and thanking Him for His protection and provision, and you will see the fear fall away.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.  – Isa. 31:1

Where are you putting your trust these days?  Are you trusting in God when fear comes or in the things of this world?

People chose to trust a number of things instead of God.  We amass wealth in savings and market accounts, so we never get to trust in God to provide for our needs.  We do whatever it takes to get high paying jobs, so we never get to trust in God to give us His work to do.  We put our kids in private schools, then private colleges, so we never get to trust God to protect them.  We work hard to get the “right” political system in place, so we never get to trust God to direct us in our interactions with the world around us.  In fact, we live in constant fear these days and seek to save ourselves from it through medication, security systems, political systems, belief systems.  And then we keep feeding this fear to each other in conversations, social media posts, and 24 hour news shows.

Anyone who tells you to live in fear of anything but God – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – is not only lying to you, but leading you away from God.  Period.

So how do we fight this fear that is so pervasive?  How do we keep from becoming obsessed with the fear of this world?  Paul has it right when he sends his letter to the church in Phillipi…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Phil. 4:8

When our kids came of age and found the truth of anxiety, we had them memorize this verse.  And that is my suggestion to all of us.  Memorize this passage, then do it.  The news is not helpful, social media feeds the fear, and worry is not God’s way.  Spend the time you would spend on Facebook, with FOX or CNN, or worrying with friends praying, reading God’s Word, and thanking Him for His protection and provision, and you will see the fear fall away.

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people,
to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.  – Isa. 28:11-13

Communication is one of the hardest parts of any relationship.  This is why it is the first thing we teach in pre-marital counseling.  It is so hard to understand each other even when communication is perfect, that when it is not, understanding is virtually impossible.  We have an exercise called “active listening” where one person speaks and the other simply restated what they have heard.  This assures each of them that they are hearing correctly.  But more often than not, even this simple exercise is terribly difficult.  “I would like you to pick up your laundry instead of leaving it on the chair,” is heard as, “You think I’m a slob!”  And so the exercise goes on until we can be sure we hear correctly, no more and no less than they are saying.

God speaks to His people and offers them rest and repose, but rather than hearing Him clearly, all His people hear is rules, rules, rules.  And rules do little more than push us backward, forcing us to work at following them instead of the God who gives them.

When you hear God’s voice in scripture, prayer, solid Christian mentoring, or the Holy Spirit, which do you hear?  Do you hear God’s offer of rest and repose, peace and comfort, or do you just hear rules, rules, rules?  If you are listening well, you will hear the former.

“When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.
But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord
Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.”

This passage from Isa. 26 is a hard one to read.  In a culture where we are not only used to hearing about God’s grace as the highest hope of the church but hear it as the only message there is, this call for judgement is uncomfortable.  In fact, were it spoken in today’s church, it would be heard as heretical.  Grace portrayed as a lazy response that won’t teach anyone anything important?  How dare you!  The thought that judgement and the implied punishment are the better way doesn’t preach in a culture of “sloppy agape” and free grace.

But this wasn’t written in our culture, nor to it.  Sure, we think that the whole of scripture was written directly to us, never mind the last 2800 years.  But Isa was written for an oppressed people, a people headed for exile, and a very angry people.  And angry people want justice, judgement, and punishment for their oppressors.  We all want God’s grace until someone wrongs us, or wrongs someone we love, or wrongs someone far less powerful than they are.  Then we all agree with this sentiment and beg for God’s justice.

And in a practical sense, Isaiah’s cry is the more realistic.  A sloppy grace, one that forgives and forgets without holding to account, can be abused.  A righteous justice, one that holds to account, feels more… well… just.  We must remember that scripture portrays God as both gracious and just, both merciful and willing to punish.  We had better be willing to hold those views in tension as well.

The Apostle Paul had an incredible and envious outlook on life, the universe, and everything.  While many of us say that spreading the gospel is the most important thing in life, Paul actually believed it.  And the difference is not in how loud, or often, or scholastically we say it, but in how we live it.

Phil. 1 is a schooling on seeing the world through God’s eyes and putting Him first.  Paul begins with his famous statement that though he’s in chains, that is a good thing because it is advancing the gospel.  How many of us can truly say that our sickness is a good thing because it gives us access to the hospital staff for our witnessing?  How many can say that losing our job was a blessing because it has allowed us to speak to many different people we would otherwise have missed?  Paul calms the fears and worries of his hearers by saying that his imprisonment actually gives him an opening to witness.

His next paragraph addresses those who are preaching the gospel.  Some are doing it honestly, but some, Paul’s friends say, are doing it selfishly and therefore shouldn’t be doing it at all.  But, Paul says, the important thing is that the gospel is preached.  Will they reap the rewards God promises for the faithful?  Maybe not, but those who hear the gospel from un-credible sources are still hearing the gospel.

Paul finishes this statement with the ultimate sign of faith.  Even his death, Paul says, can be a blessing from God.  “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

What would it take for us to see the world through these eyes?  How can we help ourselves right now to see everything that happens as part of God’s plan, as a tool for our evangelism, and as a blessing in disguise?  As the song says, “What if God’s blessings come through raindrops?”  Not just a glass-half-full trickery, but  a genuine trust that all that happens is God’s plan and can be used to further the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul had an incredible and envious outlook on life, the universe, and everything.  While many of us say that spreading the gospel is the most important thing in life, Paul actually believed it.  And the difference is not in how loud, or often, or scholastically we say it, but in how we live it.

Phil. 1 is a schooling on seeing the world through God’s eyes and putting Him first.  Paul begins with his famous statement that though he’s in chains, that is a good thing because it is advancing the gospel.  How many of us can truly say that our sickness is a good thing because it gives us access to the hospital staff for our witnessing?  How many can say that losing our job was a blessing because it has allowed us to speak to many different people we would otherwise have missed?  Paul calms the fears and worries of his hearers by saying that his imprisonment actually gives him an opening to witness.

His next paragraph addresses those who are preaching the gospel.  Some are doing it honestly, but some, Paul’s friends say, are doing it selfishly and therefore shouldn’t be doing it at all.  But, Paul says, the important thing is that the gospel is preached.  Will they reap the rewards God promises for the faithful?  Maybe not, but those who hear the gospel from un-credible sources are still hearing the gospel.

Paul finishes this statement with the ultimate sign of faith.  Even his death, Paul says, can be a blessing from God.  “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

What would it take for us to see the world through these eyes?  How can we help ourselves right now to see everything that happens as part of God’s plan, as a tool for our evangelism, and as a blessing in disguise?  As the song says, “What if God’s blessings come through raindrops?”  Not just a glass-half-full trickery, but  a genuine trust that all that happens is God’s plan and can be used to further the Kingdom.

It breaks my heart and angers my soul to hear about the multitude of clergy who have fallen.  From sexual abuse to sexual immorality, from financial misdeeds to marital infidelity, I often feel like every week we see a new clergy person fall.  My heart breaks for them as sinful human beings (just like me) who fell and lost so much because of it.  My soul gets angry because every one of them is one more hurdle I have to jump in my relationships with anyone who doesn’t follow Christ and many who do.  I am lumped in with these people as a deviant, a predator, and a fraud, and it is all that much more work to prove to people that I am not so that I might get a hearing for the gospel in their lives.

We talk often of “falling” but seldom of the opposite, “to stand”.  Yet that is the primary call of Eph. 6 – to stand.  I assume you read it and when you did, you couldn’t miss this calling.  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then…”

The famed armor of God, a metaphor for a righteous life, obedient living, life with Christ, is there not so we can go attack the strongholds of hell, or so we can consider ourselves better than others.  The armor of God is ours so that we can do one thing:  stand.  When we are tempted, we stand.  When we are attacked, we stand.  When we watch our churches fight over non-essential issues, and our denominations demonize one another, and our culture lure us into allowing anything at all, we stand.  That is what God calls us to, gifts us for, and expects of us.  Just to stand.  And in so doing, to “not fall” and so honor the name of Christ and the reputation of the Church.

Ephesians 5 is a chapter with a very distinct outline, and knowing this outline helps us greatly in our interpretation of some of Paul’s more confusing teachings.  Based on the grammar and wording Paul uses, here is the outline as I see it, beginning in verse 15

Title:  Be very careful how you live (v.15)

I.  Don’t be unwise but be wise (v.15)

II.  Don’t be foolish but be understanding of God’s will (v.17)

III.  Don’t get drunk but be filled with the Holy Spirit (v.18)

A.   speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v.19)

B.   Sing and make music form your heart to the Lord (v.19)

C.   Give thanks to God in everything (v.20)

D.    Submit to each other out of love for Christ (v.21)

1.   Wives, to your husbands (v. 22)

2.   Husbands to your wives (v. 25)

3.   Children to your parents (6:1)

4.   Parents (fathers specifically) to your children (6:4)

5.   Slaves to your masters (6:5)

6.   Masters to your slaves (6:9)

The three main points are all written as parallels.  The 4 subpoints are also written as parallels.  And the 6 sub-subpoints are all written as parallels.

This particular look at this section reveals a few things.  Paul’s seeming prohibition against drinking is not about teetotaling at all (elsewhere he suggests to Timothy to have a glass of wine before bed for his upset stomach) but is part of a long argument about ethics (be careful how you live) and specifically about who you allow to control your behavior.  Similarly, Paul’s command that wives submit to their husbands is a sub point under his main point that as Christians we should all be submitting to each other: wives to husbands, but also husbands to wives.  Children to parents but also parents to children.  Slaves (employees in our current context) to the masters (bosses) but also bosses to their employees.  Submission means to put the needs of another above your own, in essence to put them first, and this is the whole point of Christ’s love for us and His command that we love one another.

It’s amazing what a little grammar work can do for our historical misunderstandings!