Friday, June 3, 2016

You Survived. Now It's Time To Thrive!

Isaiah 54 is the Lord's Sonnet to Israel, but as with most Old Testament writings, there are applications for God's modern Lady, the Church, and personal applications for individual believers.

Isaiah 54:14
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.

For decades I felt like a piece of driftwood, floating aimlessly through life, just letting circumstances dictate what I did from day to day. The very thought of plotting a course and setting out in a specific direction incited fear and a sense of impending defeat. When I first saw this verse, the very thought of “being established” brought with it the idea of stability, which sounded nice and safe, but also the idea of responsibility, which sounded scary. Established in Righteousness. It sounded so grown up. So powerful. So…not me.

Established means secure, stable, enduring, steadfast, arranged, prepared, and settled. I truly hadn’t felt like I was established in anything ever. As I thought about the meaning of this word “established,” I thought of people who seem securely established in this world. There are those who are well established financially, emotionally, and relationally in a solid marriage with great kids. There are those that have stable jobs or businesses, own their own homes, and are pillars in the church. They are established.

Then there’s me with a hodgepodge of vocational experiences and a life lived in more than fifty different houses, trailers, apartments, and hotel/motel rooms in two different countries, five different states, and twenty-one cities. And now God was telling me He wanted me to be established in something. What?

I meditated on this verse periodically over months and even years, trying to understand how God was going to establish a drifter like me. And finally, after years, the rest of the phrase penetrated my thick skull. He wants me to be established in righteousness. When I realized that God wants to establish me in righteousness, not so much in worldly things, I was a little disappointed. I was actually hoping for that picture of stability to come rescue me from my crazy life.

As I contemplated further on the meaning of this phrase, established in righteousness, I remember that I stand in His righteousness, not my own. Good thing. Oh, how I need Him to establish me in that righteousness. His righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Now it makes sense. Before this I had a bad habit of worrying if I deserve all the blessings God promises me. Maybe I am just daydreaming like I did when I was a little kid. I’ve been an absolute mess. Why would God do for me what he does for those nice church people? Now, finally, I get it. This verse reminds me that I am firmly established in His righteousness and therefore I deserve it in Him. I think it’s time to celebrate!

It doesn’t depend on what I do or don’t do day to day. Of course I fail, and you will too. But every one of the promises of God for the righteous are still ours if we are in Christ. We are established!

Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.

This was written to the Israelites who were dealing with oppression from other nations. God was promising them a time when they will be free from all that, when Jesus establishes them on the earth. The word tyranny is generally used to describe a governmental leadership style in which the subjects of that government have no say in what happens to them. Certainly that was the case for the Israelites at the time God spoke this to them through the prophet Isaiah. Yet I believe this has application for the lives of believers in a metaphorical sense beyond the traditional meaning of the word. I know it carried powerful meaning for me when I was suffering so much oppression from some unlikely places.

Tyranny is an oppressive power or rigorous condition that limits our freedom. Some of the ways I suffered tyranny was through abusive relationships where I was bound, not physically, but by my own belief that I was powerless to stand up for myself. I was like the grown elephant who remains standing quietly while tethered to a tiny stake in the ground. As a baby, it was tethered with a heavy chain to a metal stake, and trying to free itself was futile and painful! As a mighty adult, it still believes that the chain and stake can hold it and fears the pain of the struggle, so it doesn’t even try to free itself. This was a pitifully accurate description of how I was living my life. 

Tyranny can come from our own belief systems, addictions, habits, destructive relationships, illness, or difficult situations. I believe God promises that as we allow Him to establish us in His righteousness he will free us from the tyranny of our problems. I was entangled in a very destructive relationship with an emotionally and spiritually abusive partner. On one level I knew that I needed to get away, but every time I tried, I experienced the terror of trying to face life alone. I had a deeply held belief that I wasn’t enough. I had not yet embraced the truth that I was righteous in Christ. I knew it in my head, but my emotional belief system was stuck in the belief that I was worthless and powerless, and that is how I behaved every day of my life.

While I was in this confusing place, I read and reread this passage, and I could hear the still small voice of the Spirit telling me that one day I would be free.  He told me that the terror of my present experience would be removed, once and for all. I didn’t know when or how, but I clung to the promise. I had left many times, but wasn’t strong enough to see it through. Each time I returned to a deeper level of bondage and deception than before.

Then one day, quite suddenly, the deception was broken once and for all, and I was free. By that time I had lost nearly everything of worldly value, but managed to keep my vehicle, some of my clothes, and my laptop. I had everything I needed to start my life over, and I did. My body was weak and sick, and my mind was plagued with fear and defeat. It took me a couple of years to drain the poison from my life caused by that toxic relationship, to get into a stable job, and start moving forward with my life again. Eventually, the tyranny that had controlled my life and the terror that stopped me dead in my tracks was finally far removed from me.

Now I know that:
Isaiah 54:15
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

I know that if I am attacked verbally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically, or sexually, it is not God trying to teach me a lesson or build my character. It is the enemy using someone to cause me harm. As a child of God, I can take a stand against the schemes of the Devil, resist him, and he will flee (James 4:7). I do this through prayer and spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:11-12), not by attacking the person, because God says in Matthew 5:44 to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And when I do, I can trust that God will not allow that person or that situation to overpower me.

Isaiah 54:16
“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;

Sometimes I think, Oh no! This devil, this attack, this catastrophe, is going to get the best of me! I’m just a small little Christian and no match for these demons! I really feel overpowered and overwhelmed. But God just laughs. That demon? I created him. You’ve got nothing to fear. These things that look so big to you are tiny in my sight.

And then God says,
Isaiah 54:17
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

You are God's servant and you have an inheritance. People and situations will come against us. People will tell lies about us. People will do wrong things and blame it on us. Stuff will happen. But we have a sure promise as servants of the Lord. As we live humbly and righteously with our God, He will show everyone that the lies that were told about us were untrue, and we will be vindicated (supported, defended, and justified; cleared of blame or suspicion) from every attack on our righteous character.

Our Dad is the Judge and our Brother (Jesus) is the Attorney. We will be vindicated when brought to trial.

Even if we break the law and are convicted in a human court, we will have to serve a sentence for our crime, but God will not hold our sins against us in the heavenly realms. If we have repented and made Jesus our Savior and Lord, we are righteous!

 Questions for Reflection or Group Discussion
What are some tyrannies that have brought terror and fear into your life?
How have you been able to overcome these by the power of the truth of God’s Word and your secure position in Him?
Father, thank you for the victory you have purchased for me by the blood of your Son Jesus! I have been attacked in so many ways. At times I have felt helpless and powerless. But now I am established in righteousness and I know I am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. Help me now to remain steadfast in the face of adversity, knowing that you are my vindicator.

Sit in a comfortable place with no distractions. Shift your body so it is well supported. Gently close your eyes and focus on your breath, breathing in slowly and deeply and allowing your muscles to relax as you exhale slowly and fully. Take a few more deep breaths as you become more relaxed and focused.
Imagine yourself in a courtroom. You are on trial. One by one the witnesses take the stand and accuse you. There is a recorder standing there, writing everything down. Every little thing.  This list gets longer and longer as pages upon pages fall to the floor and pile up around the recorders feet. There is no way you can defend yourself against all these charges. There aren’t enough years in your life to serve the sentence. The court room fills with more and more accusers. The list gets longer and longer and pile higher and higher.Finally, the judge says, “Enough!” And there is silence in the room for what seems like half an hour. Then Jesus walks in. He wraps his arm around your shoulder and says, “Father, I paid for this one.” The accusers are silenced and one by one slink out of the room, ashamed with nothing more to say. The pages of accusations recorded on them turn to dust and are swept away. You are righteous.

Action Steps
Draw, paint, write poetry, dance, sing, sculpt, play an instrument, clap your hands, wave a flag or scarf, whistle, jump up and down, or otherwise rejoice with all your heart because you and all your life is redeemed from the law of sin and death. By His stripes you were healed!

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