Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Pessimism-colored glasses

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:14-26

TO CHEW ON: "
The wise man's eyes are in his head,
But the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I myself perceived
That the same event happens to them all." Ecclesiastes 2:14


"And then I took a hard look at what's smart and what's stupid … it's better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. Even so, though the smart ones see where they're going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they're all the same in the end. One fate for all—and that's it." Ecclesiastes 2:12-14 MSG


The words of Solomon's in this passage show us that the lens through which we view life is as important as the ability to see at all. He has chosen to filter what he sees through pessimism. Thus:
  • The fact that his wisdom gives him insights and understandings about life that the unseeing person doesn't have goes unappreciated (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16).
  • The work he enjoys becomes a bitter thing because he has to leave the fruit of it to someone undeserving - Ecclesiastes 2:17-23.
  • Even the supposedly merit-based inequalities—the wisdom, knowledge, and joy God gives to the man "who is good in His sight" over the "gathering and collecting" of the "sinner" is, to him, "vanity and grasping for the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

We too can sink into such depressive thinking if we let ourselves. Even when life is sweet, we can harbor thoughts like, "It will soon be evening and this will end," or
"Something bad will probably happen tomorrow," or "Despite this good incident, it's generally all downhill from here."

There is one advantage to viewing life with such negativity: it is the realistic view without God. Solomon seems to be setting himself and his readers up for what I consider the climax of the book in this answer to the disappointing human condition:

"Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed;
Or the golden bowl is broken
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain
Or the wheel broken at the well" - Ecclesiastes 12:6.

When we do that—live with our Creator and His promises for the present and future in mind—life filtered through optimism becomes the realistic view.



PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for changing everything when You sent Jesus to earth to die and rise again so that a future with You is possible. Amen.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


Bookmark and Share



Monday, September 01, 2014

Living for what lasts

house fire
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I didn't withhold my heart from any pleasure,
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;
And this was my reward from all my labor, …
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:10,11


In case we're tempted to look for satisfaction, fulfillment, and a sense of significance in humor, alcohol, creative work, gardening, building and managing an estate, or music, we needn't bother. Solomon has done the experiment for us. His conclusion: "… all was vanity and grasping for the wind."

Jesus' words come to mind as we ponder what does truly last and satisfy? Jesus agrees with Solomon: earthly treasure won't do it, but laying up treasure in heaven leads to a lasting legacy - Matthew 6:19-21.

Some additional thoughts on what this means (emphases added):
And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever - 1 John 2:17.

But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word by which the gospel was preached to you - 1 Peter 1:25.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love - 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Wherever we are at in our quest to live meaningful lives, let's let these scripture perspectives probe our motivations and actions, showing us where we're looking in the wrong places and putting our hopes in the wrong things.


PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live a life that ends with no regrets; that achieves things that outlast me. Help me to see where I'm trusting in the wrong things to achieve this. Amen.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Bookmark and Share



Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's the point?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?" Ecclesiastes 1:3

'What's the point" Solomon seems to be saying as he begins the little book of Ecclesiastes. This collection of only twelve chapters discusses the purpose of human endeavor. Scholars believe that Solomon wrote it at the end of his life, when he may have returned to God from the state that is described in 1 Kings 11.

Our reading today seems like the ruminations of an old man, or if not old, surely jaded:

- What's the purpose of all one's work, he asks. The next generation comes along and it's all forgotten anyway. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

- Nature carries on in it its cycles uninterrupted (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7).

- Work is never done (Ecclesiastes 1:8a).

- Desire is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8b).

- Mankind really has no control over anything; what will be, will be (Ecclesiastes 1:9a).

- Everything supposedly new is really a rehash of something old (Ecclesiastes 1:9b-10).

- We forget the past, refusing to learn from or be changed by it (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

- Even what I (Solomon) learned in the quest for wisdom didn't satisfy (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).

He seems, in all this, to be driving toward the conclusion that there is no point to anything.

I must admit, especially as I've grown older, that I have had some of the same thoughts. Witnessing loved ones die and seeing how quickly their memory and influence fade from this earth underlines the truth of what the preacher is implying. Does the perspective of increasing age doom one to adopt such a pessimistic outlook? Not at all.

As the writer of the Introduction to Ecclesiastes in my Bible says:

"The Preacher's constant probing of all existence for meaning shows him to be an optimist, not a pessimist, and his failure to discover any absolute, abiding value in this life ("under the sun") does not mean his quest is a failure. Instead, he finds himself compelled (by his observation that God placed order in the universe at the time of its creation, Ecclesiastes 3:1-14) to seek the value he seeks in the world to come (not "under the sun" but "above the sun" so to speak)....
The Preacher's failure to find real value in earthly things and comfortable lifestyles challenges the Christian who lives in this age of greed and materialism to concentrate on the things that are above (Colossians 3:1-2) and not to glorify greed and possessions." William C. Williams, "Introduction to Ecclesiastes," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p, 844.

Before we succumb to the Preacher's negativity, let's remind ourselves, there is a point. But it's not to be found in this world.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to view this life and human endeavor as ends in themselves. Help me, instead, to view all of life within the context of eternity. Amen.

*********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 

********
Subscribe to my newsletter coming September 1st. 

Get book recommendations, Bible study tips, author news plus a full-colour 18-month Pathways Scripture text calendar when you sign up!  

Sign up below:


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Would Jesus call your words satanic?

"Get thee behind Me, Satan" - by James Tissot
"Get thee behind Me, Satan" - by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:21-28

TO CHEW ON: "Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to you!' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men.'" Matthew 16:22,23


What a shock Peter must have felt when Jesus called him "Satan" and described his words as an offense (trap). Perhaps he thought, But Jesus, I was only trying to encourage You and draw You from these pessimistic thoughts about death.

Jesus, however, recognized the oily tone, the sneaky lie in Peter's words. (Compare what Peter said to what the serpent said to Eve way back: "'You shall not surely die…'" - Genesis 3:4.) Jesus scolded him for being unmindful of the things of God while mindful of the things of men. What are those things?

A word the Bible uses for the "things of men" is "carnal." Some things that characterize the carnal mind are:
  • Preoccupation with this life - Psalm 49:11.
  • Unwillingness to acknowledge God or bow to Him - Romans 1:28; 8:7.
  • Living by our intellect - Ephesians 4:17.
  • Pursuing different forms of spirituality - Colossians 2:18.
  • Allowing the outlook of the world to taint and sully our thoughts and consciences - Titus 1:15.
  • In Peter's case here it was denying the necessity of Jesus' death and resurrection—a temptation to abort God's plan of salvation.

Jesus told Peter he should be mindful of the "things of God." What are those things? They include:
  • Preoccupying ourselves with God's word—what it says and how we can live it out - Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:99.
  • Recognizing and being thankful for God's "lovingkindness" - Psalm 48:9.
  • Viewing ourselves realistically and through eyes of faith - Romans 12:3.
  • Taking our thoughts in hand; directing them along routes of what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy - Philippians 4:8.
  • For Peter the things of God in this situation would have been to hear what Jesus was saying, and grasp the necessity of God's big plan and Jesus' role in it. With these insights he might have been better prepared for what was coming.

As I compare my thoughts and words with the two lists, I see that I often have a carnal, Satan-influenced mindset. Oh to recognize the difference and avoid these traps of thought that too often exit my mouth in words!


PRAYER: Dear God, please show me today where I am living by the "things of men." Help me to steer my focus toward the "things of God." Amen.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

**********
Subscribe to my newsletter coming September 1st. 

Get book recommendations, Bible study tips, author news plus a full-colour 18-month Pathways Scripture text calendar when you sign up!  

Sign up below:




Bookmark and Share



Friday, August 29, 2014

An evil mother's influence

Herodias - Artist unknown
Herodias and her daughter - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
"So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, 'Give me John the Baptist's head on a platter.'" Matthew 14:8


If a closet full of new gowns, a shiny chariot, or spirited horse popped into Herodias' daughter's head when Herod said she could have whatever she wanted, they would never materialize. For her mother told her to ask for John the Baptist's head and the girl listened to her mother!

Eeeuw!  I wonder what that did for the girl's ability to sleep without nightmares. I wonder what kind of woman she grew up to become.

Like wives have the power to influence a husband spiritually (yesterday's devo), so mothers (and fathers) influence their children. Some examples from the Bible:

  • Moses' mother Jochebed must have influenced Miriam well, for Miriam was the one who suggested to Pharaoh's daughter that she get Jochebed as a nurse for baby Moses.
  • Samuel's instant obedience when he heard who he thought was Eli call his name was, I would suggest, the result of early training by Hannah.
  • Of Ahaziah the king of Samaria and the son of Ahab and Jezebel it was said, "He did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother - 1 Kings 22:52.
  • Timothy, who became Paul's assistant, had a grandmother and mother to thank for launching him on the path of faith - 1 Timothy 1:5.

Let's take seriously our power to influence our children. Let's face the fact that our requests of them, our actions, and example will bear fruit. If we ask our kids to tell the person on the phone we're not home when we are, if we sample food in the grocery store without paying, if we gossip behind peoples' backs, or whatever, we're telling our kids it's okay to lie, steal, slander…

The classic advice in Proverbs bears out a parent's or caregiver's life-long influence:
"Train up a child in the way he should go
And when he is old he will not depart from it." - Proverbs 22:6

PRAYER: Dear God, help us as parents and grandparents to be aware that we are being watched, listened to, and copied; that our influence can change the course of a life. Amen.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
**********
Subscribe to my newsletter coming September 1st. 

Get book recommendations, Bible study tips, author news plus a full-colour 18-month Pathways Scripture text calendar when you sign up!  

Sign up below:



Bookmark and Share



Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Zipporah spirit

Moses, Zipporah and her sisters
by James Tissot
Moses, Zipporah and her sisters by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 4:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses' feet, and said, 'Surely you are a husband of blood to me!'" Exodus 4:25


In a curious little side story we read of Moses, his wife Zipporah, and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer on their way to Egypt. But something serious happened to Moses along the way. He was at death's door, having apparently roused God's wrath. Zipporah remedied the situation by circumcising their son.

Male circumcision was the sign of God's covenant. We don't know why Moses omitted doing this when Eliezer was a baby (it was to be done at eight days old - Genesis 17:10-12). Herbert Lockyer, author of  All the Women of the Bible* suggests: "Zipporah as a woman of Midian, did not share the spiritual values of her notable husband who found himself acting against the sacred tradition of Israel. … To keep the peace, Moses compromised with his unbelieving wife and withheld circumcision, the sign of God's covenant, from Eliezer."

However, Zipporah was not gracious about this, as she exclaimed (in abhorrence, anger?) "You are a husband of blood!" It would seem at that point relations between them were so strained, Zipporah and the boys turned around and went home to dad (Jethro) while Moses traveled on alone.

Zipporah appears only one more time in the Bible when she, her sons, and father meet Moses during the Israelites' wanderings (Exodus 18:2-5). After that "She disappears without comment from the history of the Jewish people in which her husband figured so prominently. … Neither as the wife of her husband nor as the mother of her children did she leave behind her a legacy of spiritual riches" - Ibid.

I take this as a cautionary tale. We too can become infected with the Zipporah spirit that would resist spiritual expression, growth, and obedience in our husbands. Rather than doing that, let's support and encourage them in their biblical role as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to uphold Your pattern in marriage and in supporting and encouraging my husband in spiritual things. Amen.

 *********
All the Women of the Bible  by Herbert Lockyer, Zondervan, 1988, one of the Related Resources available for this passage on BibleGateway.com

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

**********
Subscribe to my newsletter coming September 1st. 

Get book recommendations, Bible study tips, author news plus a full-colour 18-month Pathways Scripture text calendar when you sign up!  

Sign up below:





Bookmark and Share



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The downside of arguing with God

Moses and the Burning Bush - Isaac's Cathedral - St. Peterburg
Moses and the Burning Bush - Isaac's Cathedral - St. Peterburg
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 3:18-4:17

TO CHEW ON: "' Now therefore, go and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.' But he said, 'O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else you may send.'" Exodus 4:12,13


In this portion of the conversation between God and Moses, God gives Moses the job of confronting Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. He promises to be everything Moses needs for the job.

But Moses argues back. He doesn't want the assignment, or at least he doesn't want to do it alone. He is a bad speaker, he says, so thus ill-equipped (even though God, the maker of his equipment says He will tell Moses what to say).  At Moses' insistence God gives him his older brother Aaron. Aaron will be his mouth.

I wonder if Moses ever had regrets later about bringing on Aaron as such a close ministry partner.
  • Think about how cumbersome the speaking sessions must have been—like talking through a translator.
  • They were men of different personalities. Moses was made of the stuff of a leader. He often stood alone against the multitude while Aaron buckled under their demands.
  • This dual leadership may also have been confusing for the Israelites when Aaron was the voice giving them instructions and commands. Who was the real leader here?

When we feel inadequate for tasks God gives us do we similarly argue and bargain with God? Do we ask Him to send someone else, or make job adjustments so we don't have to depend on Him so completely?

Let's learn a lesson from Moses. If God asks us to do something, let's take His word that He will give us the tools to do it (Exodus 4:11). For when we insist on changes, we might be adding needless complications for later.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to learn the lesson of depending on you completely to do the assignments You give. Amen.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

***********
Subscribe to my newsletter coming September 1st. 

Get book recommendations, Bible study tips, author news plus a full-colour 18-month Pathways Scripture text calendar when you sign up!  

Sign up below:




Bookmark and Share



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...