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October 2015

Isaiah 5



Isaiah 5:4

What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?

Observation - What does it say?

God likens the nation of Israel to his vineyard. Verse 2 says he prepared the ground by clearing it of stones. He planted the choicest vines. He built a watchtower and cut out a winepress. He did all he could to help the vineyard produce great fruit. But, to his surprise, when looking for good grapes he only found bad fruit.

Likewise, God set up his people Israel to produce the fruit of obedience, faithfulness and love, and instead they produced rebellion, idolatry and violence. Despite the law he gave them, the temple and priests he established, and leaders he sent who encouraged them in following the Lord, they still went awry.

Understanding - What does it mean?

God does everything to set his people up to live godly lives that bear good fruit. If they go awry, they alone are to blame.

Think of all God has done for us his people. He sent his Son to die so we could be forgiven of sin and restored relationship with him. He has given us complete access to him whenever we want it. He has given us his word that instructs us in detail how he desires us to live. He has placed his own Spirit inside of us to guide us and empower us to live godly lives. He has placed people in our lives to teach us and encourage us in living godly lives. Consider these scriptures:

2 Peter 1:3

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.

Ephesians 1:3

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Romans 6:18

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

We have no excuse not to live godly lives, to not live in obedience to God, to not bear lots of good fruit!

Life Application

Take advantage of all God’s blessings so I can bear good fruit!

Lord, what more could you have done for us?! Thank you for all the ways you have blessed us. We recognize that with these great blessings, we have great responsibility to produce good fruit. Please give us strength to put to death our selfish desires and to live to love you and love others. When you look upon us, may you be pleased with the fruit you see. Amen.

Isaiah 4



Isaiah 4:5-6

Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

Observation - What does it say?

Isaiah warned of a time when only a few of God’s people would be left. But although the framework of their society would be in ruins, the day would come when this time of complete despair would transition to a time of hope as God would restore them.

In this new time of hope and restored relationship with God, God’s presence would be manifested among them continually as a cloud during the day and fire at night. And above that the glory of God would act as a canopy to shelter them from the elements.

Understanding - What does it mean?

What amazed me about this are the lengths God goes in order to care for his people.

The cloud he created during the day would provide shade from the hot sun. The fire at night would provide light and warmth. And the canopy of his glory above the cloud or fire would protect them from any storm or rain. So not only were they physically cared for and protected, but at any moment the people of God could look up and literally see evidence of God’s closeness to them, his love for them, and his favor upon them.

This is the God we serve! A God who delights in caring for us, in loving us, in providing for us, in protecting us. And after a rocky and rebellious past, God is faithful to continually remind us that we stand forgiven and are forever his children. For the Israelites it was the manifested presence of God above them, and for us it is the very Spirit of God dwelling inside us as a continual reminder of God’s love for us and the promise of what’s to come.

Romans 8:16

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Life Application

Meditate on the lengths God has gone in order to show me his love!

God, thank you for your great love and faithfulness! You are my all in all! Thank you for pursuing me even when I was rebelling against you. Thank you for choosing me before I could choose you. Thank you for the cross! Thank you for saving me and setting me free. Thank you for filling me with joy in your presence, giving me purpose and choosing to forever dwell inside me! You are good!! Amen.

Isaiah 3



Isaiah 3:9

The look on their faces testifies against them;
    they parade their sin like Sodom;
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    They have brought disaster upon themselves.

Observation - What does it say?

The people of Judah and Jerusalem were living in sin. And, it had progressed from being something done in the dark, in secret, to being done openly for all to see. They paraded and displayed their sin publicly without shame and it defied God’s glorious presence among them (verse 8) and brought disaster upon themselves.

Understanding - What does it mean?

Just because the culture accepts sin doesn’t make it acceptable to God.

I watched The Italian Job back in 2003 when it made its debut. In the movie, a team of criminals assemble to pull of a crazy heist to steal $35 million in gold bars. I remember walking out of the theater thinking it was a great movie. A few hours later it hit me. “We have come to praise people who do bad things well.”

Our culture has become one that glorifies sin. The top 40 charts are littered with songs positively portraying sexual immorality and substance abuse. People all over the nation stand in ticket lines, handing over money, to be entertained with films filled with sexual content, foul language, violence, unfaithfulness and other things God detests. Homosexuality, once frowned upon by most and kept mostly in the dark, is now something celebrated and commended in our culture.

It’s this drift from holiness to sinning in secret, to sinning in public without shame and praising those who sin well is what brought disaster to Sodom. It’s what led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Life Application

Make sure God’s Word is the measurement for acceptable living, not the culture around me or even my own opinion.

God, please protect your church from being influenced by the ungodly beliefs in our culture. Fill us with a passion to live holy lives that are pleasing to you! Reveal to us any ways our culture has influenced us into believing some sin is acceptable. And, have mercy on our nation! Please turn the hearts of people to you and bring us to repentance rather than destruction. Amen.

Isaiah 2



Isaiah 2:22

Stop trusting in mere humans,
    who have but a breath in their nostrils.
    Why hold them in esteem?

Observation - What does it say?

God allows Isaiah to see this amazing glimpse into the future. Jerusalem and the temple of the only God will sit on the highest mountain at the center of the world. And in that day, all the nations of the world will stream to the holy city and seek God’s guidance and instruction. And, God will cause war to be a thing of the past as weapons are turned into tools for life and peace.

When the day of the Lord comes, the day God returns to judge the world, everything will be revealed for what it is. Every idol and false God will be proven worthless, everything people put their trust in besides God will be humbled. And, as it is repeated in this chapter, “the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”

Understanding - What does it mean?

God is the only one worth trusting in, because the day will come when everything and everyone else will be brought low before him.

The Lord Almighty is the only God. He is the only one worth living for, the only one worthy of our worship, the only one worth fearing and the only one who is able to save and destroy.

The Israelites were being warned that when God comes back, nothing they had put their trust in would be able to save them except God alone. When he comes, God will be exalted and he will humble human pride and cause all idols (anything people worship or trust in besides God) to totally disappear. And, if we haven’t put our hope and trust in God, if we have been looking to something or someone else for security, we wont have anywhere to turn on that day.

Why put more stock in the counsel of mere humans when the All-knowing God offers to give us wisdom? Why trust in mere humans to protect us when we can turn to the Almighty God instead? Why trust in myself to get through a tough situation when God is present to give me strength and favor?

Life Application

Put your trust in God alone!

While God has placed great men and women in my life who help provide wisdom and guidance and who support me, my ultimate trust needs to be in God alone. Before I turn to others for help, I need to pray first. Before venting about stuff to my wife, I need to pray first. Before asking others for advice, I need to pray first.

God, forgive me for turning to others before turning to you. Thank you for placing people in my life to encourage and support me, but please help me not to hold them in higher esteem than you. You are the ultimate source of all wisdom, all strength, all provision, all protection, all healing... all that I need!  May I always trust you and turn to you first. Amen.

Isaiah 1



Isaiah 1:13 

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Observation - What does it say?

Take the story of Ezra, which we just finished, and rewind history to before God’s people returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem. Rewind to before their 70 years in captivity and to before they were conquered. They were living in the Promised Land, trying at least in part to honor God. At that time, God raised up the man Isaiah and appointed him as a prophet. In this first chapter of Isaiah, God speaks through Isaiah to the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Most often, the prophets would declare observations about the current behavior of the people and the consequences for those behaviors. And frequently they would call the people to respond to God and change their ways. Here, Isaiah is calling out the people of Judah and Jerusalem for being duplicitous. They are living double lives. They are offering sacrifices to God, they are observing the feasts and special days required by the law and they are praying. All good things, right? But, they are also doing evil things, their “hands are full of blood” and they have been doing wrong. And because of the evil lives they are living when they aren’t at God’s temple, God calls their offerings meaningless, their incense detestable and their assemblies worthless.

Understanding - What does it mean?

God desires to be honored all the time. When we only honor him part-time, it causes our offerings to be meaningless.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem were trying to honor God part-time and acting wickedly the rest of the time. God desires to be honored all the time, in every area of our lives. Checking off the box of coming to church and offering our worship to God on Sunday doesn’t give us license to do what we want the rest of the week. We can’t compartmentalize our relationship with God. We can’t give God an hour in the morning and expect that we can take the other 23 hours of the day to do whatever we want. God desires to be involved in every aspect and every area of our lives. At work he want’s us to seek to honor him, when we come home he want’s us to be looking to honor him, when we’re with friends wants to be honored. Our offerings of worship on Sunday mornings, singing about our love for God and desire to do his will, become mere lip service, meaningless, detestable and worthless to God.

Life Application

Seek to honor God all the time!

God, forgive us for the ways we’ve compartmentalized our relationship with you. Forgive us for the times our words of commitment to you aren't followed by righteous actions. Reveal to us the areas of our lives that we’ve excluded you and help us to live lives of worship to you in all that we say and do. Amen.

Ezra 10



Ezra 10:11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”

Observation - What does it say?

A large crowd of Israelites gathered around Ezra as he was mourning their sin of intermarriage with the women of other nations. They mourned with him and encouraged Ezra to lead the people in dealing with this issue. After gathering all the Israelites together, Ezra confronted them of their sin and told them, "You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel's guilt." But he didn't stop there. He follows that statement with, "Now honor the LORD... and do his will." 

Understanding - What does it mean?

It's not enough to merely recognize our sin or even to be mournful about it. We must change.

Day after day I read the Word of God and God is faithful to speak to me, encouraging me, breathing hope and faith into my heart, and often times revealing areas of my life that don't yet look like Jesus. When God reveals those areas, I think I can say truthfully that I am honest with myself and God about my shortcomings. I recognize them and have genuine desire to be different. But the real question is, "Am I actually changing?" Do I merely write something under Life Application, or do I actually apply it to my life?

Like James encourages us, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!" 

Life Application

Carefully consider my ways... are there things God has revealed to me through scripture that I haven't been intentional about putting into practice? Do I look more like Jesus today than I did a year ago or even a month ago?

Lord, bring conviction to our hearts and bring about transformation in our lives. I don't just want us to recognize and mourn over our shortcomings. I want to see us change! To look more like Jesus! It's in moments like this that I am thankful for  the promise of Phil 1:6 "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry in on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." As we make effort to do your will, we trust that you will move upon our hearts and continue to mold us into the image of your son.  Thank you, God, for your faithfulness to finish in us what you start. Amen.

Ezra 9



Ezra 9:6

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens…

Observation – What does it say?

After discovering that the people of Israel had disobeyed God by intermarrying with the neighboring people groups who practice things detestable to God, Ezra was appalled. In awe, distraught and frustrated, Ezra fell to his knees and spread his hands out to God and prayed about it. What stood out to me was his language as he prayed. Rather than praying with words like “their sin” and “your people” and “those people,” he took personal ownership although he didn’t sin personally in this area.

Understanding – What does it mean?

When a parent confronts their children about cookies missing from the cookie jar all the children naturally start pointing at each other, even the ones with chocolate on their faces and crumbs on their shirts. No one wants to take the blame or the punishment. Imagine though, that all the children had taken a cookie except one. And that one who didn’t reach in the cookie jar with everyone else comes to his dad. Rather than pointing the finger at his siblings and pointing out his own good behavior, he says, “Dad! I’m so sorry that we have been dishonest and taken the cookies without asking! Please forgive us!”

That is the same thing Ezra is doing here. He’s identifying himself with his siblings and standing in the gap to intercede on their behalf. Likewise, followers of Jesus should identify themselves with the rest of the church and intercede on their behalf.

Our western culture is very individualistic. It’s about my happiness and my personal goals and my interests. You have your beliefs and do what you want and I'll have mine and do what I want. And this attitude bleeds into the church. It’s easy to worry just about me and my relationship with God, to pray from an individual point of view, and to view the sins and disobedience of other believers as though it has no effect upon us. Maybe we'll pray for them, but not as one of them. It is true that there is a personal aspect of my faith - my salvation isn’t dependent upon what anyone else believes about God, no one else can have a relationship with God for me, and I cannot expect anyone else to be held responsible before God for my personal decisions. Given that, there is also a corporate lens through which we are called to see ourselves. Ezra prayed from this stance, taking the shame of his fellow Israelites upon himself and prayed phrases like, “our sins” and “our guilt.” When Jesus taught his followers how to pray, it was from this corporate perspective: “Our Father,” “Give us,” “Forgive us,” etc.  The apostle Paul had the same perspective, pointing out that “all of you together are the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16 NLT) and uses the analogy of the church being the body of Christ. We are all connected, part of the same body, the same family of God, and are together the bride of Christ. It's from that position that we are to see ourselves and to pray.

Life Application

When praying for the church, pray from a corporate perspecitve with words like "us" and "we" instead of "them" and "they."

God, help us to not only accept the truth that we are part of the body of Christ but may it become the lens through which we see ourselves and each other. Unite us and use us like you used Ezra to interceded on behalf of each other as believers. Amen.

photo credit:

Ezra 8



Ezra 8:22-23

22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Observation - What does it say?

Ezra had recruited many of the family heads in Israel to return with him to Jerusalem. He assembled them along with their families, a total of almost 1,500 people, before making the journey together. Traveling over 500 miles, men and women with their children and possessions in tow, without an army to protect them was incredibly dangerous. Ezra had been given incredible favor with the king and could easily have asked for the king to send soldiers to accompany them on their journey. But he didn’t. Why?

He felt the pressure to put his money where his mouth was; he saw the need to demonstrate that his faith was genuine and more than just words. He had told the king that God’s gracious hand was upon everyone who looked to him, which would include Ezra and the Israelites with him making this journey. To ask the king for soldiers would be to admit he didn’t believe God’s protection was enough, something he was ashamed to do. So instead of asking the king for help, he asked the King for help. He and the people of Israel fasted and prayed for protection and, of course, God was faithful to answer their prayer.

Understanding - What does it mean?

Genuine faith is one that is put into practice.

If I feel hunger pangs I’m going to eat something. Why? Because I have faith that eating food will cause those hunger pains to go away. I’m not going to try and massage my abdomen or try some stretches to alleviate the hunger because I’m absolutely convinced that eating something is the only solution. That’s a silly illustration, but it shows that what we really believe directly influences our actions.

It’s so easy to say things like, “I believe God heals,” and “I believe God provides.” But the real test comes when we get sick or when money is tight. I have to confess there are times I’ve turned to the medicine cabinet before turning to prayer. And, there are times I’ve been incredibly stressed about having enough to pay the bills rather than walking in peace and trusting God will provide. What does responding like that say about what I really believe?

We profess faith in God as it relates to almost every, if not every, area of our lives. But do we really put it into practice? Do we really walk it out? As Ezra knew the king was watching to see if he really trusted God to protect him, we have to realize that the world around us is watching our actions to see if we really believe what we say we do about God.

Life Application

Put your faith into practice!

God, help me to turn to you first in everything. Reveal to us any areas where the faith we profess and the actions we take aren’t lining up. We want our lives to demonstrate to the world that you are the Living God, who loves us, who acts upon the behalf of those who look to him, who saves, who delivers, who provides, who protects and who heals. May we put our faith into action so the world will see you at work in our lives and in turn put their faith in you. Amen.

Ezra 7

Chapter 7


Ezra 7:6b,9b,28b

The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

…he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.

Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.

Observation - What does it say?

There is a 57-58 year gap between the events in chapters 6 and 7. The temple had been rebuilt under the ministries of Zerubbabel and Jeshua as they were encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The exiles that had returned to Israel during that first wave were either dead or very old by now. They had settled into the land and, as we will see in later chapters, in many cases had begun to blend together with the pagans of the land. The walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt, leaving the city vulnerable to attack. And it’s in this setting that God raises up Ezra and Nehemiah to bring spiritual reform to His people.

In this single chapter, Ezra mentions that God’s hand was upon him 3 times, twice referring to himself in third person and once in first person. And in each instance God’s hand upon him caused some great effect:

  • Great favor with the king. The king to granted him everything he asked. I couldn’t imagine a more more favorable decree of the king even if Ezra wrote it himself! 
  • He had a quick journey to Jerusalem. From Babylon to Jerusalem is about 500 miles as the crow flies. Because the route wasn't perfectly straight it would be closer to 1,000 miles that they covered in only 5 months.
  • He was filled with courage to recruit a group of Israelite leaders to go with him to Jerusalem.

Why was God’s hand of blessing on Ezra? Why him? Verse 10 lets us in on why…

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Understanding - What does it mean?

To have God’s hand of blessing on us, we must devote ourselves to study and obey his Word, and to teach others.

We are desperate for God’s hand of blessing to be upon us! When we’re seeking to accomplish certain things, especially the mission God has given us to make disciples, there is nothing more important than having God’s hand of blessing and favor upon us. Without it, all our effort and work is for nothing. We’ll just end up frustrated at the lack of fruit. Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.” But with God's blessing 5 loaves and two fish become enough for 5,000, one sermon brings 3,000 people to Christ, and here in Ezra, one man is able to bring about significant reform for God's people.

Life Application


  • Am I devoting myself to study God’s word? Not just a quick 5 minute read when I find the time, but am I devoted and making it a priority to set aside regular time to really dig into God’s word?
  • Am I devoted to observing God’s word? Am I really living it out and attempting to put what I read into practice each day? Are there any areas where I’m struggling or deliberately disobeying God?
  • Am I teaching others? Is my relationship with God just for my personal benefit or am I sharing the things God is teaching me with those around me?

God, I long for more of your presence in my life. Help me to overcome the busyness and distraction and to truly devote myself to studying and living out your word, and help me to be purposeful to share your truth with those around me. Amen.


Ezra 6



Ezra 6:10,22b

10 …so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons….

22…the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Observation - What does it say?

The enemies of the Jews write a letter to the king of Assyria, essentially tattle-tailing on the Jews for building without authorization. Contrary to their desire to shut down the operation, the king had a change of heart and attitude toward the Jews and commanded that they complete the temple, that their enemies leave them alone and not interfere, and if that wasn’t enough commands that their enemies use their resources to fund the build!

What was the king’s motive in all this? After giving all these instructions he says, “so that…” His motive was that they would offer sacrifices to God at their temple and pray for him and his royal family.

Historically we know that the king had allowed many of the people groups surrounding his empire to resettle in their cities so they could set up altars to their gods and pray for him.  There is an inscription on the Cyrus Cylinder (made from baked clay) where the king asks, “May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo daily for a long life for me.”

In the king’s mind, he is doing this for his own benefit. He is attempting to create a buffer around his empire of people groups who are loyal to him and are praying for him. But according to verse 22, God was the one who changed the attitude of the king, causing him to assist the Jews in the work on the temple.

Understanding - What does it mean?

God uses even the selfish motives of unbelievers to carry out the plans he has for his people.

God’s plans cannot be stopped. Governmental authorities cannot stop God’s plans. Enemies of God’s people cannot stop God’s plans. Even when the enemy attempts to derail the building and when he seems to be attacking the strongest, in a moment God turns his efforts against him and the enemy ends up being used to further God’s plans. God can work through anyone, whether it’s through the hard-hearted pharaoh to reveal his glory and deliver his people, or through the selfish motives of King Darius to bring about the building of the temple, or through the persecution of the early church under Herod causing the gospel to be spread.

God truly works all things for the good of those who love him.

Life Application

Regardless of how things look and how much the enemy seems to be at work, rejoice because nothing and no one can stop God’s plans from being accomplished!

Lord, I praise you this morning! You are all-powerful, full of love and wisdom, and nothing can keep you from completing your work in the lives of people and in the earth. Thank you that you are working, even through your enemies and the sinful motives of people, to bring about the fulfillment of all you intend to do. I choose to rejoice and I receive hope today that the plans you have laid out in scripture will be fulfilled. Amen.