October 17 – October 23, 2017

WORD

1Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  4For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.

5I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god.  I arm you, though you do not know me, 6so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.  7I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

Isaiah 45:1-7

 

Reading Scripture to Know:

  • What is happening/being said? (Observation)
  • Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
  • What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
  • What does it mean? (Understanding)
  • What does it mean for us? (Application)

Reading Scripture to Grow:

  • What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
  • Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
  • How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
  • How does this Scripture reveal God?
  • How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
  • What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?

Scripture Reads Me:

  • This passage makes me feel…
  • This passage makes me think about…
  • This passage reminds me of…
  • This passage teaches me that God is…
  • This passages teaches me that I am…
  • This passage challenges me to…

Reflection: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and level the mountains…

This is such a fascinating passage of Scripture, because it a glimpse into God’s sovereignty over the world and the events of history.  God is calling upon a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, who has no knowledge of God to do the will of God.  Cyrus was a great conqueror, whose Persian empire overthrew the Babylonians who had both conquered the people of Judah and sent them into exile.  Cyrus had no “beef” with the people of Judah – that had been Babylon’s concern and they were not vanquished.  So, Cyrus allowed the people of God to return to the Promised Land and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.  Little did Cyrus know that it was God who was directing his military exploits so that God could free his people from their captors and return them to their homeland.

God worked within the realities of history, realities that seemingly were working against God’s purposes, to ultimately achieve divine purposes.  The same thing would happen in the centuries leading up to the life of Jesus and continuing through the first eras of the expansion of the early Church.  God used the exploits of Alexander the Great and the great Roman generals to provide the Mediterranean world with one common diplomatic language (Greek) and a well-connected travel system (the roads of Rome).  Because of these seemingly “secular” realities, the message of the gospel was understood by large masses of people and was transported easily from one town to the next.

This is why we should never fear when the world and the powers at work within the world seem to be working against the will and ways of God.  Behind every earthly power is the shadow of God’s mighty hands and outstretched arms.  God owns the final victory.  No power in heaven or on earth will prevent God from establishing the kingdom of God, which is being brought forth through the work of Jesus Christ and the presence of Holy Spirit in the world.  The exciting news is that we get to be a part of that work when we unite to God in Christ and the Spirit.

So take heart!  No matter how much nonsense and confusion seems to surround us, no matter how many corrupt men and women of power are present, God will not be thwarted in his work of redemption and restoration.  God might even use some of those who would mean to do us harm for our ultimate good, even if they do not even realize that God is using them in such a way!  In the end, we will be able to echo the sentiments of L. M. Montgomery, as spoken by the titular character in Anne of Green Gables: “God is in his heaven; all is right with the world.”

SPIRIT

Prayer Focus: I arm you…

One of the great truths of life is that God supplies our every need.  In this passage, Isaiah is telling Cyrus that God is the one who fights for him and brings him success.  It is not due to any resource within Cyrus that enables him to be victorious over his enemies.  He finds such victory only because God is the one supplying what it takes to be victorious.  God’s resources bring triumph; relying on our resources leads to failure.  In prayer this week, trust God to supply all of your needs.  Remember, though, that needs are different than wants.  God’s victories might look different from your own concept of victory.  Also, God doesn’t provide for us only to empower ourselves, but God’s gifts allow us to empower others for the good of the kingdom of God.  Ask God to arm you with grace, mercy, strength, holy love, and compassion, so that you might advance the goodness of God within your corner of the world.

Meditation Focus: I surname you…

Having a slightly odd last name, I have always wondered what my family name means.  There are some clear definitions to some last names that give insight into where those names come from.  For instance, “Smith” means a maker of some certain craft.  Thus, the family was at one time in its past likely known for its excellence in a branch of craftsmanship.  Any last name with “-son” at the end, such as Johnson or Jackson, signifies that there was a person of interest with the name that precedes “-son” in that family’s history.  There was a significant person named John or Jack whose life was notable enough to name a whole family after them.  But when it comes to “Bizzell” there are not many clues as to what in the world it means!

The important thing, though, is that my true surname (and yours, too, if you follow Jesus Christ) is “child of God.”  I am eternally marked by the name of God and that name will define me both in the here and now and in the world to come.  You belong to a family that stretches through the ages and across the world.  What significance is there to that name for you?  Find some silence this week and in that time of peaceful reflection let these words turn over and over again in your heart and mind (place your first name in the blank space): “I am __________, child of God.”  How does this change the way you see yourself?  How does this change the way you view others?

 

Journaling Focus: I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

We often think of God as being the driving force beyond all that is light and good and pure.  But this passage, along with some others from Scripture (see Job 1:21, for instance), remind us that God and God’s gifts are more complex than we might recognize.  As you write in your journal this week, process your understanding of God’s involvement in “mak[ing] weal and creat[ing] woe.”  All of us want weal (a general sense of wellness and abundance), but we go to great lengths to avoid woe.  How might God use woe for good?  How might God redeem darkness?  Theologian John Hick wrote about suffering as a “vale of soul-making,” those experiences which form our character.  What do you think about this understanding of suffering?  What discomfort does it cause you to think of God as the creator of both darkness and light?

Holy Action: 

The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth is credited with advising Christians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” (For more information on the sourcing of this quote, see the website for The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, found here.)  Put this advice into practice this week.  Pray over and reflect on the news of the day through the lens of God’s will and kingdom and in light of God’s redemptive sovereignty.  God is moving in this world and is active promoting the goodness of his kingdom.  God can and will work through those world events that are both positive and negative, as God seeks to redeem the whole cosmos.

Breath Prayer: Father, go before us.

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