Ransomed & Renewed

Isaiah 35:4
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

We are about to begin a worship series on the book of Isaiah (Fall 2019), which is exciting and overwhelming. The book of Isaiah is split into “Before – During – After.” It starts with the Lord telling a rebellious Israel that He is going to send them into “Exile” at the hands of their greatest enemies, and that their worldly efforts of power and money will only make things worse. BUT…God will not (actually…CAN NOT) forget them, and will passionately, lovingly, powerfully and surely ransom them from Exile, and re-plant them, restore them, renew them, into the Promised Land.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be at the bullseye of this prophesy? Can you imagine the stress, fear, questions and accusations that would result from being taken into desolate exile?

Though from our comfortable couches we can’t truly understand the heart of an exiled Israel, in our own ways we absolutely struggle with this anxiety.

  • When my sin causes me dark sorrow.
  • When it feels down to my bones that God has abandoned me.
  • When the hopes of my life lay shattered on the hospital floor.
  • When I can’t seem to “catch my breath” in life.
  • When the weights of expectations and disappointments crush me.

Into this oppression the Lord (in Isaiah 35) whispers deep winds of hope and even joy. This hope, this Gospel, doesn’t minimize the darkness in the least. Actually, quite the opposite. The deeper the darkness, the brighter the light; the deader the dead, the more alive we are made. Whereas God brought Israel out of slavery to their greatest enemy, God has brought us out of our slavery to our greatest enemy: ourselves, our sin. In the person of Jesus God literally meets us in our exile, in the middle of our deepest pain, disappointment, fear, anxiety, doubt, failures, hopelessness. He doesn’t just call us out of it…he CARRIES us out and gives us new life. Look at the next verses:

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

  • In our brokenness, we are blind; but God renews our sight.
  • In our sin, we are deaf; but God restores our hearing.
  • In our weakness, we are lame; but God re-creates our legs.
  • In our death, our voices are suppressed; but God reopens our mouths.

And not just us! God HAS and WILL renew creation! Isaiah goes on to promise that waters will overtake the desert and result in forests of peace where there is no death, no fear, no brokenness. And the means for this rescue and renewal; the way God will do this unimaginable healing — the Highway of Holiness, which is the person of Jesus, who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He has personally come into our Exile, and was exiled from the Father on the cross so that, through his payment God will have shower us with “recompense” (reward).

Yes, it is really hard to see when you are in the dark; to believe this kind of beauty can spring from the ground of our deserts; to hold onto his glorious hope when our failing senses tell us that all is lost. But it’s true. This life has been secured on our behalf and God is not only going to rescue us FROM the Exile of sin and death, he is renewing us FOR true life. The end of Isaiah 35 paints this picture:

10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Luke 12:16-21
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

I am preaching through a short series on parables and realize how many amazing ones are going to be missed…like this shockingly relevant and practical one from Luke 12 on the plans we make in life.

Back in the early 2000’s the Land Family Five took a glorious road trip from Houston to Colorado in our bright red Nissan Quest minivan. We wound our way up into the Rockies and were able to stay at Camp Redcloud outside Lake City from which we were able to have amazing outdoor adventures, like 4×4-ing up ridiculous mountain roads. After a week of encircling the Colorado Rockies we began our long journey back to Houston, leaving Grand Junction and heading East on I-70 toward Denver…and then it happened. The Quest went into a coma on top of a mountain pass. Just simply stopped with no sign of life. Like any “real man” (whatever that means) I got out, opened the hood and looked ignorantly at the engine (truly having no idea what I would be looking for). After sitting and wondering what to do for a while, I decided to just turn the key…and with utter shock, it started! Well that was good enough for me. I started to drive toward Denver, assuming Jesus raised my van from the dead. Until he didn’t. 10 minutes later the van, while heading downhill on the other side of a mountain pass, lost all power and life. I was going 70 mph with no power brakes or steering, with three kids in the back. I man-handled the van around some turns and down an exit ramp (I think it was Glenwood Springs). In the end, we found a really cool hotel where my wife and I had our own room (only time on the whole vacation) and our son Trevor stayed in the living room, which had a fireplace that turned on and off through a light switch, which I think was his favorite part of the whole vacation.

This place wasn’t even on our radar, and nobody could have predicted our van’s narcolepsy (it turns out it was an O2 thing since oxygen at 15,000 ft is a little different than oxygen levels in Houston). This was a “blind turn” — totally unexpected change of course. And it was great. As you can tell, Some 17 years later, it’s one of the most memorable parts of our entire trip. And I am certain that you all have so many of these stories. Some of them are great, while many of them are deeply sad, painful and faith-jarring.

  • When your climb up the career ladder turns into a tumble.
  • When your romantic journey turns into a bloody war.
  • When your white-picket-fence life turns into Chernobyl.
  • When your strong body begins to rebel.

So what do you do when your life gives you roller-coaster whiplash?

How do you respond when the steering wheel turns suddenly and you are headed into the unknown, unplanned, uncomfortable?

In the Luke 12 parable we find ourselves in this man that is living for himself and everything is going even better than planned….only to have the ultimate BlindTurn hit him square in the jaw. Even when we are doing our very best and trying to seek the mind of Christ, Our plans are not the same as His plans (Prov 16:9)…we get knocked around and try to find our bearings, wondering why “this” happened and where God is on this journey.

The disciples thought this very same thing:

Matthew 16
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Can you imagine the shock of these disciples?! Can you imagine the BlindTurn Jesus was warning them about? This was absolute madness…so Peter understandably rebukes Jesus, telling him that this was ridiculous.

But on this side of the Cross, this was the most glorious blind turn imaginable. It’s going around a mountain curve only to come upon the greatest view with the greatest sunrise even known. It was scary as the car careens around the turn; and infinitely glorious on the other side.

And this is the life the Lord has promised, and offered. It’s frustrating and scary; oftentimes sad and disconcerting; oftentimes deeply dark; oftentimes full of tears of joy, or tears of sadness. And because the darkness of the Cross-turn turned into the even more shocking blind turn of the empty tomb, we can trust the TurnMaker. Even if it hurts and leaves me out of control, I can trust the One who has promised to keep me, hold me, go before and behind me, knit me, fulfill me and, when it is time, bring me home. This by no means makes the hard blind turns easy, but it certainly makes them hopeful…that they are turns to glory. Because that is what Jesus secured for me on the Cross, and out of the Tomb.

We Are Pando

The world’s largest organism (though a tad disputed) isn’t a whale or some mythical monsters swimming around a Loch…it’s actually much much larger…spanning 106 acres and having over 40,000 arms. It’s a monstrous grove of Aspen trees in Utah called Pando. To the untrained eye, it looks likes like innumerable individual trees all hanging out together like middle-aged men in the Lowe’s tool aisle. But in reality these aspens have an interconnected root system and all stem from the same individual ancestor. I think there are some really amazing parallels that can help us better understand and appreciate The Church


Shockingly, all the roots of Pando somehow connected every tree to every tree. They stem to and from one another so that they can help feed and be fed as ONE.

For us, every believer is connected to every believer. We need each other, feed each other and are fed by each other. Every believer from around the globe all connect to one another by the person and power of the Holy Spirit. I can meet a believer from a different country and not share language, appearance, culture, gender, age etc, but have infinitely more in common with her than a person that lives next door to me that isn’t a believer. I would shard the ultimate DNA with her rather than all the sub-dna’s that stem from this world.

Ephesians 2:22
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Better Together

Each individual aspen tree is remarkably beautiful. Their intricate white and fragile bark; their leaves that, when the Fall comes, seem to be fully electrified. But what is better than an aspen tree is a grove of aspen trees. My goodness. Compare one dolphin to a “superpod of dolphins“; compare one brick to The Great Wall of China. Now compare one aspen to 40,000+!

The Church is the same. Each individual child of God is beautiful, valuable and a stunning representative of the Image of God. But all together we are remarkable. This is one of the reasons why Jesus says that us being ONE is a shockingly valuable and instrumental tool for others to believe in the One True God (because it is so counter-cultural):

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


Ok, so Aspens aren’t fruit trees. However, they are incredibly useful. We can’t even begin to understand how much nourishment and protection Pando gives to the wildlife around them, from shade to richer soil to branches for bird nests.

Likewise, We The Church are designed not just for ourselves but to serve those around us. Our very existence is primarily to glorify God, and one of the essentials ways we do that is to sacrificially love others around us, both inside and outside the church without exception.

Matthew 13:31-32
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”


We don’t know how old Pando is, but we are sure that it is many thousands of years old. And the reason is that it is extremely resilient. When forest fires sweep through the Rockies, the conifers (that are not interconnected) get burned up and die. Aspen groves burn above the ground, but their roots stay alive and intact, regrowing after the fire is over, sending up aspen shoots in an act of defiance.

The Church is the same. We have the power of the Holy Spirit that is alive and active inside us, holding us through the storm, fire and drought. He holds us up when we are thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3); sawed in two (Hebrews 11); exiled to a foreign land (1 Chron 9:1); and murdered on a cross. The church cannot be killed. We will only grow stronger, wider and more fruitful. We individuals will all die and go to our Creator, but The Church cannot be overcome.

Romans 8:37-39
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Sadly some experts think that Pando is either dying or at least stagnant. Normally it perpetually produces new aspen shoots constantly, relentlessly expanding it’s Aspen Kingdom.

The Church is even more. Though many lament how the U.S. is now “Post-Christian”, the reality is that The Church is always expanding. We believers are called and empowered to produce “shoots” through evangelism our whole lives. Though countries and cultures will waver in spiritual allegiances, the Lord came to make and save a people that are his very own; and these people are a contagious virus, offering the sap that brings everlasting love and life as we leave gospel footprints with every step we take.

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
[ the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

One Seed

Finally and most importantly, Pando can trace it’s very existence back to ONE ASPEN. Every aspen in Pando is part of macro “Clonal Colony” that all share identical genetic markers.

The Church is the exact same.

Romans 5:17
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

We are all made beautiful and valuable as image-bearers of God Himself. We all carry the same genetic markers. These genetic markers were shattered in Adam, making us children of sin and death. But God wasn’t done with us. The fire of evil would not burn us all down. Instead, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1).

Jesus himself has become our One Seed, sending up shoots all over the planet to bring him glory and fruit. He was destroyed on the cross by the fire-of-evil that we produced so that, through the immortal roots of the Holy Spirit, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

John 12:24
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Stink Eye

Matthew 20:15b Or do you begrudge (“stink eye”) my generosity?

If we keep our eyes open, we can see a lot of Gospel Truth being played out in the world around us. I am fully aware but wholly unapologetic that I most commonly “see the Gospel” in sports, Seinfeld and Johnny Cash music. But where I probably see the Gospel the most is in the animal world, most specifically met 2 dogs (Chili and Quila) and 2 cats (Glozell and RaFreaka….no snarky comments please).

In our dog-world, our lab (Quila) is ridiculously jealous. When I go up to our mixed brown dog (Chili) and simply say his name, Quila will run over and literally push Chili out of the way, getting in between me and Chili so that I will pet and give her affection. It’s not that I’m not giving Quila enough affection, she wants to make sure that she gets ALL of my affection. And this also goes for me and God…

Matthew 20:8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

This parable is really frustrating. Jesus lays out a situation that is so obviously unfair and annoying, and so relevant to how we see and treat God and others. It’s the story where men who worked 1 hour get paid the exact same as those that worked 12 hours, causing the “all day” workers to grumble and “begrudge” the Master (this word “begrudge” means to literally give the “evil eye” to the Master). Wouldn’t you? It simply isn’t fair. So what is Jesus trying to communicate? It’s not about how much we pay our workers, or get paid. He is revealing a dangerous and repulsive virus that is epidemic in our churches: Spiritual Pride.

The all day workers, the Jews in this particular case, have been the original part of God’s family for thousands of years. Jesus is coming in and saying that the Gospel is for all, without restriction and without preference. The religious mainline could possibly tolerate these “spiritual mutts” (Gentiles) into salvation, as long as they were still considered the insiders, the spiritually elite.

And we can very easily do this same thing. Those who have been around church for a long time may feel like we’ve paid our dues and deserve a higher consideration from God, at least higher than those who came in at the last minute and seemingly found the salvation loophole but living their lives centered on themselves, but coming to Jesus at the 11th hour. It doesn’t seem fair! “I gave my life to you, and they’ve given you nothing…but get the same eternal inheritance?” And as I do this, I wholly misunderstand my own righteousness and the gift of Jesus. I arrogantly think that my supposedly righteous actions somehow add to the righteousness Jesus has given me. I think that, by not doing those naughty things and doing those service projects have accumulated a better, richer inheritance. But the glorious and gracious reality is that all believers have been gifted the most excessive inheritance imaginable: the righteousness of Christ and being adopted into his family.

The Master in the parable told most of the workers what they would get paid “what is right.” What he actually said is that he would pay them “what is righteous.” That is exactly what we get from the sacrifice of Jesus: His Righteousness. He gets our rejection while we are given his acceptance…and there is more than enough love to go around. How arrogant and ridiculous it is when I look begrudgingly at God for his generosity when he has been shockingly generous with me. Instead, we are invited to see the vastness of His love for me, and then celebrate that same Love and the giver of the Love when it is poured out on others who, like me, don’t deserve it at all…and then they can celebrate the same, culminating in a full-blown festival of Thanksgiving as we celebrate the Master and his outrageous generosity…and we can participate in this festival forever…and we can call it Heaven.