Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Mystery of 2023


Last post of the year. It is just a post and it is just a day... right?

For the record, this was a really good year for and winning edges youtube. I also had a fun time doing a podcast for the very first time and enjoyed it... though it was exhaustive to do during a tough football season.

For the record, this blog had over 30,000 page views in 2022. This has pushed the all time views to  434,577. My favorite analytics reports is to see all of the countries listed by visitors this year.

The top post in 2022 was the tribute to Aaron Martens, who we lost in Nov. 2021 but I didn't get to post it until until Feb 2022 after attending a beautiful and memorable life celebration event.

Tribute to Aaron Martens- 2022

So 2022 is a wrap. It was a TOUGH year in a lot of ways and I went into Christmas break pretty beat up and down. The Lord was gracious to take the time to give me some perspective and healing and I will begin 2023 in a good frame of mind.

So let's play a little mind exercise on this last day of 2022.

What happens when you hear a story that doesn't quite add up?

Example: Let's say you hear that someone you know died tragically in a car wreck and just a day later you get news that your friend died of a heart attack? 

Immediately in your mind, you want to reconcile to discrepancy of the two accounts. 

This one is resolved easily when you realize that it was a heart attack that caused the wreck.

But what makes us wrestle with the contradiction? 

Within the laws of logic, this is referred to as the Law of Non-Contradiction and has a long history of analysis and debate inside philosophy.

These realities, just beyond the reach of 'science' should help us open to the existence of God and curious to the genesis of these realities... love, law, logic, liberty, language are harder to explain without a higher being in my opinion, but it looks like there are fewer humans in our midst who are vulnerable to those thoughts.

It gets concerning. As we fall under the seduction of science, technology, and mass communication distractions, we get pretty skeptical of mystery and have almost no self-suspicion. Pride insulates us from discovery.

But God is a God of secrecy and mystery. His very nature demands it. Indeed the concept of "God" requires transcendence. If you can explain everything about God... then it is just a god in your own image.

Consider the Bible:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

[9] And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
[10] Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
(Isaiah 6:9–10 ESV)

[10] Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [11] And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [14] Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
(Matthew 13:10–14 ESV)

In our world, this cuts against our "need to know" in a way that provokes anger. As information floods like a tsunami, we expect immediate answers as if it is an inalienable right.

A lot of practicing atheists in our world today are pretty much angry for God for being God. They don't think he is there and are mad about it!

When the Bible says, "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10)" it begs us to begin in humility.

James diagnoses our problem in just 1 passage:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? [2] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. [3] You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. [4] You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? [6] But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” [7] Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [9] Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. [10] Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1–10 ESV)

If I can propose a goal for all of us in 2023, it would be to stop worrying about the secrets and start paying closer attention to the revelation.

We have an answer to a GREAT MYSTERY:

[25] of which I (Paul) became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, [26] the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. [27] To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. [29] For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:25–29 ESV)

Just in the Scripture I have placed in this post, there is more than enough challenges for 2023.

Here are just a few for me:

 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions

 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [9] Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

So to close out 2022... no clue what the future holds but I do know who holds the future.

Let's toil together in 2023!

Thursday, December 22, 2022



 And He will become a sanctuary  (Isaiah 8:13–14 ESV)

"The fish and I were both stunned and disbelieving to find ourselves connected by a line."
-William Humphrey in "The Armchair Angler"

I first came to Lake Caroline on December 26, 2015. It was during the historic flood of the Pea river and I still laugh that Jared Turnbloom and I made the trip. A one day, down and back, only to see the place for the very first time a chocolate river with water almost over the banks. And we did catch fish that day, which is also typical of Lake Caroline. 

This most recent trip was my 29th visit.

I don't know how I can capture in words what the total experience has been.

And how a few days in a weather beaten cabin in the middle of a lake touches something deep within me.

It is so much more than fishing... though I spend most of the daylight hours chasing the little green fish with thousands of casts. 

The more I have come, the more I remember... and soon I begin to know the Lake and the features both visible and invisible. Underwater, the surface lake looks like a distant plan with large stretches of electronic desert and wasteland. It is primarily a lake of contours- humps, ditches, holes that depending on the time of year hold schools of baitfish and bass in a never ending cycle of chase and kill to survive.

The lake features two old roadbeds, that I got to see a portion of when the dam was damaged in 2019/2020.

These roadbeds outline the main part of the lake that has the deepest water near the dam. And though you find occasional timber and brush, it is mostly a barren bottom.

When you first come on the property, you will think the small lake you see at the entrance is what you have made the 3 hour drive to see... but soon after you realize HOW BIG the lake and property is as soon as you crest the hill.

Often, I am greeted by numerous deer and they run free throughout the manicured natural pine and beautiful green fields.

When you first glimpse the water through the trees, it has a unique blue/green hue that gives a sight hint to the depth and clarity of the 130 plus acres of venerable woods and water.

The wildlife there is a constant testament to God's glory. Bald eagles, flying turkeys, wood ducks, and the clarion call of quails often pierce the majestic silence that brings a healing balm to my soul. Again, I can't find the words to express what to me has become a rather mystical experience.

Yes, fishing is the main activity on Lake Caroline... but the constant enjoyment of the senses for the entire property is the lasting memory and benefit.

Let's recount the fishing in 29 trips. Likely, it represents over 3,000 catches on every fishing technique ever invented. It is at Lake Caroline where I first caught a bass on a jerk bait (I still remember the exact spot), my first catch on a drop shot, on a ned rig, on a spoon, on a glide bait, on a Carolina rig... in fact, the reason Lake Caroline develops anglers is that we know the fish are there, so it allows us to fish and experience a new technique with excited expectation.

And we also learn to fight and land BIG fish. I have netted a 12 lb largemouth, hand grabbed a 12.6 out of the water, and helped net many, many 5, 6, and 7 lbs fish.

Personally I have caught an 8.0, 7.13, 6.2, and many 4 and 5 lb fish. I caught a 5 lb bass on a whopper plopper and saw him come and explode on the lure as it sat still on the top of the water.

And every catch is a memory and an experience.... I have been able to drill down on aspects, habits, and effective techniques that match the conditions needed to get these fish to bite.

The quote I use often is, "A kid can get a year's worth of catching experience in just 3 days of fishing!".

Often in our numbers each trip, we don't count 50 to 100 fish caught off the dock at night around the green light that also stands as a great educator to the size and shape of the Lake Caroline baitfish.

I am as awestruck by the sunrises coming up to the right as I look to the dam as I am by the unreal sunsets going down in the west casting the least bits of daylight on the road bed waypoints where we are eager to hook a biggun' right at dusk.

At night, the stars are majestic as no big city lights hide their luster. I look up and know that God is alive and feel a depth of gratitude for the day He has given me.

We hear the calls and whines of coyotes at times, desperate to find a way in to scar paradise. I'm sure it is the battle cry of demons as the howl in a way that is laugher, without smiles or good intent.

"Be patient and calm - for no one can catch fish in anger."
-Herbert Hoover
When I am at Lake Caroline, I feel the peace that God intends when we retreat from our anxious toils and employments. Jesus had the mountains and the Gethsemenean garden.... I find respite in the nature of Lake Caroline.

I'm praying the Lord allows me a 30th trip in the near future.... and selfishly I want a 40th, and 50th as well.

These are tastes of what God has in store for eternity. And if this place is any hint of how good it is... I'm looking forward to being there with the Lord.

Oh, how my heart does race As I cast my line with grace 
The sun just peeking over the trees I'm ready to catch some bass with ease

Lake Caroline, oh how you shimmer A beauty that makes my heart glimmer 
Your crystal waters so clear and blue A playground for me to pursue

The sound of nature all around A symphony of peace and sound 
I cast my line and wait in silence Hoping for a catch with great defiance

My love for bass fishing runs deep An obsession I cannot keep 
The thrill of the fight and the catch A feeling I cannot match

Lake Caroline, you are my muse A place where I can never lose 
With every cast, I feel alive My love for fishing will always thrive

So, here's to Lake Caroline, my favorite place Where I can fish and forget the race 
A place of beauty, peace, and fun Where my love for fishing will never be undone.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Isaiah 7-9: Faith as Bright as Day- Here Comes the SON!

Just finished the last lesson of a 3 week quick study of 'Christmas in Isaiah' for the Growing in Grace Sunday School class at Briarwood. As usual, The Lord used it to work on me and not on them.

When I first agreed to do the lessons, I mentioned the topic in haste mostly due to the season we are in and I knew I had some material to work with. Then I went back to six year old notes and realized that, yes, I had some devotional notes, but nothing for a Sunday School lesson and my memory of the text was darker than dim.

So I have been digging into just 3 chapters for the past 6 weeks (including prep time and actual lesson writing) and I am just away by the breadth and depth of God's Word- way too wonderful for me!

And the parallels to our situation today is more than a coincidence.

Instead of the peril of the Assyrian/Syrian/ Ephraim tension causing men to shake as trees- we face the same tension as China rises and Russia wars. And systematic sin spreads like a cancer and blight on the land.

In the passage, Judah and Israel aren't only divided.... their collective heart is distant from their God. And because of it, the land is dark and distressed. The words of the prophet Isaiah, contain more judgement than mercy and the people shut their eyes and ears to it. I don't think Isaiah's approval numbers were very high in those days and eventually, according to ancient sources, was sawn in two for the effort.

I wish I had space and ability to explain how God actively works to press me in these times. The passages just drip in my consciousness and then events of each day squeeze application, issues, perplexities, and wonder as I ponder anew these living words that divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart (and my sin always shows my deficit).

I found myself overwhelmed by some thoughts in these chapters about the promise of the Child in both Isaiah 7:14 /9:6 and the context within the passages.


The promise has a flame- "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this. (Is. 9:7b)" This stands in stark contrast to my 'frozen chosen' stoicism. I sit in a room of walls mesmerized by mental exercises but the Lord is a God of continuous action.... and enough perseverance to play it as the long game... because He is merciful.

How big is this God? I believe in really only 1 miracle.... the God of  sun eating black holes and quasars. The God of infinite time. The God Who designed complexity within images of a electron microscope. The God of variety, language, law, love, logic....  and placed in fun ways to be discovered...simple enough to learn...let all of that come out the primordial ooze!

700 year old prophecy and a virgin birth? That is easy.


In my study....this passage is the one that stood out the most. I say I believe.... but does my life reflect it?

Isaiah 8:11 For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: [12] “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. [13] But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. [14] And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. [15] And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
(16] Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. [17] I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. [18] Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. [19] And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? [20] To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. [21] They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. [22] And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. (ESV)

My goodness.... does that passage not preach!

And then I read this summation from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

We know.... that God is more real than the earthly things immediately before us.

We know... He is more than worldly attractions

We know... He is faithful

We know... we should live out what He promised.

And to refuse what we know to be true tears us apart inside.


Isaiah 9:1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

(2) The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone. 

The Sea of Galilee gets the first sunlight... and the Man from Galilee will be the Son of Promise!

This light expels the darkness!
No fear, no dread, no gloom!

Don't miss Him this Christmas!

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Isaiah 7 and Christmas Pondering

About 4 weeks ago, I was asked to fill in for a three week Sunday School series to close out the fall quarter at Briarwood. Because the lessons would take place during Advent, I thought I would adapt some blogs I had posted on "Christmas in Isaiah" in 2015 and do a 3 week Scripture study to 'get us in the Christmas Spirit'.

About 2 hours into the prep for that, I realized that it was going to be tougher than I thought.

For one, the blog series was fine for little short devotionals, but I hadn't developed the content well enough for a Sunday School series. And the other issue is that three weeks (3 lessons) is a little awkward in developing a coherent application for analysis and application.

And, typical of any time I teach, I discover that I am the one that needs the lesson... not the class.

Finally, any time I do Sunday School/teaching prep..... I begin to feel an overwhelming sense if inadequacy as I research the passages we will analyze. I think that overall this is a healthy attitude to have in the presence of the Word of God.

I decided to spend the majority of my time in the context and controversy around Isaiah 7:14 and how Matthew uses that reference as prophecy fulfilled. The more I read, the more interested I became in the entire chapter and many, many other related verses and chapter in Scripture.

Also, once I start this process... my mind becomes absorbed in the questions and ideas that God's Word provokes in these matters. It becomes rather obsessive/ compulsive and dominates my 'inner eye' in the day and night. Isaiah 7 had me waking up 2ish or so on a few nights thinking about this amazing interaction between Isaiah and Ahaz. 

Just so you know, I don't just read (and these days watch you tube) pro-Christian exegesis- I read non- Christian scholarship and commentary as well. As you could expect, there is a tremendous amount of passionate pushback from Rabbis and Hebrew scholars on the Is. 7:14/Matt. 1 debate. One Rabbi called Matthew's account 'scandalous'.

As this reading continued, I became less interested in the debate between parthenos, almah, and betulah and more mesmerized by the intricacies of Isaiah 7 itself. What an amazing chapter of application, word play, hints of the divine, God's grace.... etc/etc/etc.

In fact, it is WAY too much to write in a blog post.... so this is more a report about how blessed I was in the PROCESS of discovering the hidden treasures that are always there in Scripture... but here are the highlights:

The majesty of the holiness of God, the self-realization of sin, the immediate action of forgiveness, and the call of God on Isaiah in Chapter 6 has to be in view of all of the rest of Isaiah's ministry to understand the complexity of the  judgement, grace, and hope we find both in the OT and NT.

Ahaz is a disaster... his anxiety, fake piety, and perverse life makes the graciousness of God all the more mysterious.... yet we can't forget some of God's intentions are the promises He made to both Abraham and David. God keeps His covenant!

Political intrigue and mafia like ruthlessness in view in Isaiah 7- it stayed in my thoughts so much that I finally tweeted...

Beautiful/Interesting moments in Isaiah 7:

The beauty of water.... the setting- the Washer's field.. and later in Ch.8  where God uses the illustration of the gentle spring of Shiloah and the raging flood of judgement are layers and layers of Biblical history and allusions.

The bee and the fly symbols are cool as well. 

The cry for leadership.... the succession of sons... the cure for anxiety...  

The reckless application of Deut 6:16  “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. (ESV) that ultimately judges Ahaz and exposes who he really is.

The play on words used throughout Hebrew texts....

Anyway- the challenge now is to figure out how to pull this into an actual lesson that is accurate to the text, and applicable to God's people.

Always pray for me!

Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Isaiah 7 Christmas Controversy?

Typical of my blog posting, I am going to weigh in on a scholarly controversy without scholarly expertise. And though I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Xpress, the mere fact I am writing this lends quite the same weight and logic of that funny ad campaign.

The summary of the controversy is whether the word for 'virgin' in Isaiah 7 is more accurately translated 'young maiden' and does that word choice negate it as a sign, or 700 year old Biblical prophecy. This of course could challenge the text in Matthew (but not really) for those who want to be skeptical at the start.

“Every time you hear the Word of God preached, you come away from that exposure to the truth either a little closer to God or a little further away from Him, either more softened toward God or more hardened toward God…. What you need is more grace. Nothing else can save you from your deadness. Therefore, fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else. Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit. Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied.” Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Christmas can be a clue to our heart. Are we scrooge or are we childlike?

May we allow grace to melt away our cynical hearts. Laugh and sing, love and give, hope and help this Christmas season. Speak positive words of life!

Do I really want to dive into this? This is blog writing... so... oh well...

I absolutely love the passage in Isaiah 7 where the target text takes place.

Here we have political intrigue, the son's names (here 'remnant' and later 'swift booty fast prey') and the setting of the conduit of the Upper Pool where a 2nd dramatic showdown takes place. (Ironically, the spring that feeds that pool is called "the fountain of the 'virgin' spring of Gihon - Gihon being one of the 4 rivers of Eden and the legend of the fountain of the virgin is that Mary washed the swaddling clothes there-  God does have a sense of wry humor IMO).

The story of the confrontation of Isaiah to Ahaz, his tiny faith in God,  and his stupid reliance on manipulation and payoffs to Assyria adds to the eventual judgement of Judah.

After Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (using spiritual arguments but heart deceptiveness) Isaiah gives the famous 'sign' that will be referenced 700 years later in Matthew 1.

The 'controversy' centers around the translation of the word 'virgin' in Isaiah 7:14. 

The masoretic texts (and later confirmed by the Dead Sea scrolls) clearly use the word better translated 'young maiden' than virgin.  (However, I did read in my research that the greek septuagint in the time of Christ had the greek work in Matthew as 'parthenos' a virgin, chaste woman).

I also want to say a thank-you to some great teaching from Bryan College videos where I think it is Dr. Judd Davis who expresses a contextual analysis of Isaiah 7gives some strong supports that the promise of a sign demands a more miraculous interpretation of the statement. ( He also gives compelling evidence that "THE" Almah has 9 OT references that suggest pure/chaste virgins.

A great short video on the subject from Ron Cantor:

I also find it interesting that the root of Almah is 'hidden one" and is fascinating to compare that to the apocalyptic nativity scene in Revelation 12.

 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1–6 ESV) 

Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. The emphasis of this verse and in Matthew is "IMMANUEL" not the woman. The virgin birth of Jesus stands on the account in the gospels where Matthew and Luke testify to this. And then Matthew gives a plausible rendering of 'virgin' to the Isaiah reference. There are other uses of the work Almah that could easily refer to a virgin in context.

Now why is this even important? We have to be careful to understand that there is often in Biblical prophecy DUAL fulfillment (or echo) of the text. In other words, there will be a literal fulfillment in a soon time, but also a larger more expansive fulfillment in the future. If true, Almah would give more flexibility... but the SIGN is more than the virgin, it is also a time reference. Also, the sign is given to he "House of David"... 

An example of dual fulfillment is prophecy regarding Babylon- the literal fulfillment of its destruction, but also the larger prediction of the world's system which will be destroyed in the second coming of Christ.

This passage in Isaiah is an excellent example of this. It was possible- literally fulfilled in Isaiah 8:1-10 but it also points to Christ 700 years later. The Old Testament contains types and shadows of the King. Again, we use Scripture to establish these ideas... that is why I included Matthew 1 where he points back to this verse.

I still believe in miracles.

Now it points out an interesting part of 'Immanuel', which is this: God's presence - His being with us- is not loved or wanted by everyone. The reference in Isaiah is again judgment for God's enemies and comfort for God's people.

It is never easy... Christ is always a battle ground. That is why you see even today, conflict over nativity scenes and over the name of Jesus Christ.

All of us struggle at times- Is God there? Does He care? Yes.... Do not lose heart. Embrace Immanuel. He is with you. Yes that frightens me too. He is so with me that He knows how I think. He knows how poorly I obey. He knows how weak and sinful I am. And He still loves me- WOW!

AND He is FOR me. He is WITH me. When others run, He stands and supports. When Satan accuses, He defends.

This Christmas.... meditate on this truth. God is with us. He is not distant. God is with us, He has not tucked tail and run. God is with us. Allow Him to draw even closer still.