Saturday, August 24, 2013

I see you

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:29-51

TO CHEW ON: "Nathaneal said to Him, 'How do you know me?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'
Nathaneal answered and said to Him, 'Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!'" John 1:48,49

This little interchange makes me curious. What significant thing was going on in Nathaneal's* mind or heart while he was sitting under the fig tree? It mist have been important for Jesus' mere mention of it to change his attitude from cynicism to worship.

This vignette speaks to me of how God knows us inside and out. David says it so well:

"You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar of.
You comprehend my path and my lying down
And are acquainted with all my ways" - Psalm 139:2,3.

It's easy to lose sight of God's intimate knowledge of us—until something reminds us. Something like the verse we notice in our Sunday devotions is the exact verse on which our pastor preaches, or God answers our prayer pointedly and directly.

I love the answered-prayer story  Kim Collingsworth tells on the "A Decade of Memories" DVD. In 2000 Phil and Kim Collingsworth quit their jobs and and began a full-time family singing ministry. One evening in the early days, after putting the kids to bed, Phil told Kim the sobering news. They were short $300 to pay the bills that month. "It might as well have been $3,000 it seemed like so much to us," Kim relates. 

What to do? All they could do was pray. They did,  asking God to supply their specific need.

The next morning when Kim went to get the mail, there was a pink envelope from someone they knew but hadn't heard from in years. In it was a cute card and, you guessed it, a check for $300! An elderly friend said she had been impressed to send them this money and hoped they could use it.

Let's be encouraged that God knows us just as well. Don't be surprised if He gives you your own "… when-you-were-under-the-fig-tree-I-saw-you" experience!
*Nathaneal is also called Bartholomew

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for how intimately and completely You know me. Help me to follow in the train of Nathaneal, to whom You promised, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these!'" Amen.

MORE: The Feast of Bartholomew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Bartholomew. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Handel's Messiah Alert!

John the Baptist's words in John 1:29 of our reading are part of Handel's Messiah—the beautiful chorus "Behold the Lamb of God" performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Religious habits

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 58:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and you take no notice?'" Isaiah 58:3a

God is never fooled by our rituals. In our reading today, God scolds Israel for something we would think would earn His praise. Fasting—denying themselves food and drink as an expression of worship and faith in God—is a regular part of their practice. But God is taking no notice of their religious works. Why is this?

It is because in their actual living, they are violating principles that are close to God's heart. For one, they are ignoring the most needy in society. God tells them the fast that would get His attention: "To share your bread with the hungry and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh" (vs. 7).

We are not so different. Daily and weekly habits of religion—like a regular Bible-reading and prayer time, regular attendance at church—may make us feel like we're meeting the requirements. But if they are just going through the motions and these actions are not the expression of a real and vital relationship with God, they can be as much a form as the Old Testament fasts.

In the home where I grew up, my dad was a stickler for being on time. He would rather be ten minutes early than one minute late. As a result, Mom did her best to honour his wishes, to the extent of setting the table for Sunday breakfast on Saturday night to help ease the Sunday morning rush. She showed her love and respect for him by actually changing her routine so his wishes would be honoured.

Do we take the same actions when it comes to our relationship with God. First we need to know what He desires. Do we know what pleases Him -- the things He really values? Two of them are mentioned in Isaiah 58: showing kindness to the poor [Isaiah 58:6-7] and setting aside one day in seven for Him [Isaiah 58:13-14].) Then, motivated by love for Him, we need to uphold and further these things in our actual day-to-day living.

PRAYER: Dear God, You see through my actions into my motivations. Please show me where I'm kidding myself that all is well because I have formed some religious habits while ignoring things You really care about. Amen.

MORE: "To Obey is Better than Sacrifice" by Keith Green

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jesus - Mediator

"Advocate" by David Bowman

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 12:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "But you have come to... Jesus, the Mediator of the new convenient, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." Hebrews 12:24

When I hear the word "mediator" I think of union/management problems. A common way of solving them is by mediation, when an objective person seeks to find middle ground on which the two persons or sides who are at odds can agree.

I believe our sense of needing a mediator spiritually arises out of an accurate view of God. In Hebrews 12 the writer reminds his readers of God's appearance on Mount Sinai and how fearfully awesome and other He is. That's where He gave Moses the law, but told the people not to even touch the mountain where Moses was meeting with Him, certainly not climb it, or they would die (Exodus 19:12-13; 20:18-26). "For God is not an indifferent bystander. He's actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won't quit until it's all cleansed. God himself is Fire!" - Hebrews 12:29 The Message).

Jesus is the go-between, becoming the way to our holy, righteous, can't-stand-one-speck-of-sin God.
  • Jesus is our mediator by fulfilling the demand of the first covenant (death for sin — our sin, not His) (Hebrews 9:15).
  • He is the only mediator or way to God (1 Timothy 2:5).
  • He understood this when He was on earth and clearly taught it (John 14:6).
  • His death and resurrection put in place a new covenant which is for more than just the Jews. He has broken down the walls between Jew and Gentile. Now all are welcome to come to God through Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-18).
  • Jesus mediates this "better" and "new" covenant (Hebrews 8:6; 12:24.  I love the way the New Living Translation puts it: "You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel."
  • His mediation makes a way that we can come to God in the first place, and can keep our relationship with Him when we sin -- by having Jesus as our "Advocate" with the Father when we sin (1 John 2:1).
  • He comes into the very presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24).

Doesn't all this make you want to say "THANK YOU!" over and over?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus Thank You for coming to earth and taking my death sentence so I can be right with God. Help me to never get blasé about this. Amen.

MORE: Our role as mediators

There is a passage in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:18-20) where Jeremiah reminds God about how he has acted as a mediator between God and the people to which he prophesied.

Can we similarly act as mediators between God and other people (of course I'm not talking of us being mediators in the way Jesus is)? One way I can think of is by praying for them. Can you think of other ways?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Return, revive, restore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 80:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Return, we beseech you, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see
And visit this vine." Psalm 80:14

Cries for spiritual revival and restoration echo across the centuries. That's because over the years we haven't changed much. Our hearts get distracted. Our love grows tepid. We easily wander, stray, rebel, stare God down with a defiant eye: I will live my own way!

Then comes the day when we have a change of heart. We want to go back. Is there a way? Yes.

"Return, we beseech you, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine
And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted
And the branch that You made strong for Yourself." Psalm 80:14-15

1. God needs to come to us. "Return...visit...revive...restore," begs Asaph. God draws us back to Himself. The desire we have to come back shows He is drawing and tugging. Life is stirring.

2. We also play a part in our own revival. Like a plant needs to take in the water required to perk it up, we need to eat spiritual food and drink spiritual water. That is found in God's life-giving words. We read the Gospels and fall in love with Jesus again. We read the Psalms and feel the pulse of spiritual response. We read the epistles and come away amazed at the depth and breadth of His plan. We memorize so that these life-giving words are always at the top of our minds and the tip of our tongues. We put ourselves "under His shadow," that is, allow Him to work the repentance, healing and restoration that comes with revival.

3. And He breathes life back into us.
When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Colossians 2:13 (Message)

PRAYER: Dear God, I find myself readily going out to eat and drink. Please revive in me a deep hunger and thirst for You. I want to be like the tree in Psalm 1.

MORE: Revival stories

Often revivals take the form of mass moves of God where hundreds and thousands of people are impacted in life-changing ways. Read some of the stories of revival from recent history.

1727 Saxony revival

1857-1860 New York revival

1860s Hull (England) revival

1904 Welsh revival

1905 Edinburgh revival

1949-53 Hebrides revival

Ripples of the 1971 Saskatoon revival

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's in a name?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 7:17-8:4

TO CHEW ON: "Then I went to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, 'Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.'" Isaiah 8:3

In yesterday's reading the new mother was to give her son the name Immanuel. In today's God tells Isaiah and his wife to name their newborn Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning "speed the spoil, hasten the booty"—a prophecy that Assyria would soon plunder Syria and Israel, Judah's enemies).

Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible says about naming:
"Names were very important in the world of the Old Testament. Each Hebrew name has a meaning and it became an important part of the infant's life. Jewish people believed that they must first know a person's name before they could know the person himself. We only have to look at the name Jacob, which means "heel grabber" to see the importance of a name. To know Jacob's name was to know his basic character! Therefore the act of choosing a name for an infant was a serious responsibility." p. 445

Bible-time parents didn't choose names only to designate character traits. Ichabod's mother picked his name in memory of the events around his birth (1 Samuel 4:21).

Parents sometimes chose names of animals for their babies (Rachel = sheep; Deborah = bee), or gave them popular names (there are twelve Obadiah's in the Old Testament) and then had to distinguish their child from others by adding the child's father or hometown to the name (e.g. David's father was called Jesse the Bethlehemite).

Many Bible names are theophoric, i.e. have a divine name joined to a verb or noun thus making a descriptive phrase (Jonathan = the Lord has given; Elijah: my God is the Lord).

I don't recall women of my generation attaching a great deal of significance to name meanings. We picked names for our children that we liked the sound of and then checked their meanings more as a matter of curiosity than anything. Or we named our kids after significant people in our families or society. We certainly didn't make the naming of our children a huge prayer concern or pick their names by divine decree.

But Isaiah did. Giving his son the ungainly name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was part of his obedience as a prophet. His willingness to listen to God in even the things that would normally be his own choice shows to what extent he had given himself to God.

I ask myself, have I committed my life to God with the same completeness? Is He Lord of even the tiniest details, the areas I would ordinarily assume are up to me?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me areas in my life which I assume are my business. Help me acknowledge Your lordship over every aspect of life. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. The liturgy begins with this Collect:
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Faith begins at home

our words affect others
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 11:17-31

TO CHEW ON: "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child and they were not afraid of the king's command." Hebrews 11:23

I have recently read a book that convicted me of my words and conversations. Stopping Words That Hurt lays bare the fact that not only does gossip pollute the speaker but listening to gossip, complaints, murmurs, and all manner of "evil reports" contaminates the listener.

In the last chapter the author Michael D. Sedler asks probing questions about talk directed to and overheard by our children:

"What conversations occur at your dinner table with young people present? Are the words you speak in your home supportive of authority and leadership, or do you give the subtle impressions that you find it objectionable? How do you speak about your supervisors, your friends, your spouse—all within earshot of little listening ears? Defilement is passed on from one person to another and from one generation to the next" - Michael D. Sedler, Stopping Words That Hurt, Kindle location 2436.

So, it seems, is faith!

Notice how much space the writer of the Hebrews list of the faithful gives to Moses. In six verses he names four instances Moses acted "By faith…" (Hebrews 11:24-29).

Notice too where this faith began. It was with his parents who hid him from Pharaoh's decree (Hebrews 11:23). And I would imagine that during the time Moses' mother performed the duties of nurse (after he was rescued by Pharaoh's daughter), she planted seeds of that same faith in his infant to toddler soil.

The Bible's many instructions to parents about training and educating their children in the ways of God are based on the premise that this training will make a difference and is integral to the adults our children will become. So let's take verses like Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4 seriously. Let's build the faith of our children with our words and actions, not confuse and weaken it with contaminating speech.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, "Set a guard over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips" - Psalm 141:3. Help me to be a parent and grandparent whose words about You and others reveal a consistent, unhindering faith. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Is God enough?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 12:22-40

TO CHEW ON: "Life is more than food and the body more than clothing... But seek the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you." Luke 12:23, 31

In 1943 Abraham Maslow published a five-point theory of human needs that describes us rather well. We all have the following needs:
1. Physiological needs: the things we need to survive: water, air, food sleep.
2. Security needs: the things we need to feel secure: shelter, employment.
3. Social needs: the need for love, belonging and affection.
4. Esteem needs: the need for recognition for our accomplishments.
5. Self-actualizing needs: the need to feel we are achieving our potential.

These needs build on each other (which is why they are often portrayed in a pyramid). We fulfill the more basic needs before we work on the next level. In other words, we won't be overly concerned with satisfying our self-actualization needs when we're out of money and don't know where the next meal is coming from.

In Luke 12 Jesus, talking to His disciples, says that for someone intent on pursuing the Kingdom of God "all these things shall be added to you." When He says "all these things" could He be talking about all our needs?

He certainly makes the outright promise to provide for our physiological needs of food and clothing (Luke 12:22-28). He implies that the way to get our security needs met is to throw ourselves on God (Luke 12:33). As for our social needs — the Kingdom is a community, made up of people with whom we share a common purpose and assignment. In Jesus' example, when the Master returns and finds His faithful servants waiting up for His return, He not only praises them with words but honours them with His service (Luke 12:35-38). That would certainly satisfy my need for esteem as I'm sure it would yours. And I would submit that as we seek to live alert and in a way that would always be worthy of our King's commendation (Luke 12:39-40), we achieve our highest potential and satisfy our need for self-actualization.

Do I believe this? Do you? The way we live our lives, the places we go to get our needs met is the evidence of whether we do or don't.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to throw my whole self on You. May Kingdom life be my real reality. Amen.

MORE: "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Foundation Faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 11:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6

In a world where we can't see into the future, it's impossible to live without faith. I believe, when I take my next step, that the ground will still be there to step on. At the traffic light, I believe you, coming from the opposite direction, will stop when your light turns red so I can proceed safely on my green. We make plans for tomorrow believing that we'll be around to carry them out.

Similarly our view of spiritual reality is based on faith. Whether we hold to evolution or creation, a materialistic no-God universe or a universe created by an intelligent deity, we hang onto those beliefs by faith. We do more. We use those beliefs to filter all our experiences.

Tucked in the middle of the Hebrews 11 series of examples showing us what faith in action looks like, is a statement about faith in general (Hebrews 11:6). From it we learn four important things about faith:

1. Our faith in God pleases Him.

2. Our faith starts with a belief in His existence.

3. We can't even come to God or know Him without faith.

4. He rewards us when we seek Him.

We live our physical lives without a lot of agonizing over whether or not the ground under our feet will remain solid, we can trust each other in traffic, or tomorrow will arrive. Do we live our spiritual lives with the same level of confidence?

There is a point in life, where we decide what we will believe. Once we have decided for God, do our lives exhibit the same certainty about spiritual realities as physical? Do we believe in God's existence as surely as the ground beneath our feet? Do we take Him at His word that He is approachable and knowable? Do we live with hope, in the firm belief that our search to know and please Him will be rewarded?

PRAYER: Dear God, I have staked my whole belief system on Your existence. Help me to live my life consistent with this belief and with the faith that pleases You. Amen.

MORE: Michael Card -The Poem of Your Life

"We are living letters that doubt desecrates
We're the notes of the song of the chorus of faith"
(all lyrics)

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Meanwhile the battle rages on

Knight prepared for Christian battle
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 7:15-28

"He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time." Daniel 7:25

Recently a local talk show host, responding to someone's suggestion that all references to God be removed from "O Canada," invited listeners to call in and say whether they believed in God or not.

Though the results seemed to slightly favour those who believed (I didn't count), the opinions expressed showed the polarization of the two sides at war in our reading today. Some of the anti-God diatribes could well have been labeled "pompous words against the Most High."

No matter how much we would like to get along with everyone, beliefs about God's existence and what He is like will continue to divide us. Jack Hayford, in an explanation about Daniel 7, says that Daniel's prophecy and the warfare it describes "…spans the spiritual struggle covering the ages through Messiah's First and Second Coming."

The concluding words  of his commentary help us see where we fit in this 'fight to the finish':

"… an age-long struggle between 'the saints' and the power of evil in the world calls each believer to a commitment to steadfast battle, a mixture of victories with setbacks, and a consummate triumph anticipated at Christ's coming.

In the meantime we 'receive' the kingdom and pursue victories for our King, by His power making intermittent gains—all of which are based on 'the judgment' achieved through the Cross. See Revelation 12:10-11" - Jack Hayford, Old Testament, Possessing the Kingdom, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1132 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, when people come against me with scorn and mocking for my belief in You, help me to remember the big picture,  to renew my faith in the victory of Your death and resurrection, and to keep pressing on with hope as I wait for Your "everlasting kingdom." Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Take charge of thoughts and actions

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17

To what extent are we responsible for our thoughts, emotions and the actions that spring from them? Is there ever a time where we could say we were helpless to curb actions provoked by rage, jealousy, covetousness etc.?

Paul writing to the Colossians would say "No." Using words that indicate we are responsible for the way we react and relate to others, he lays out at least four ways in which we can take charge of our emotions and our actions:

1. We need to put off some things (apekduomai = to strip off from oneself): anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, lying, the old man and his deeds. It sounds so easy, as if one could just peel off, like an outfit of clothes, these habitual ways of feeling and reacting. In reality, it takes time, focus and effort. Like all actions, these "old man" ones start in our minds. So we need to start by tossing the rags of angry and malicious and blasphemous and filthy and lying thoughts into the trash.

2. We need to put on some things (enduo = to clothe or be clothed with, in the sense of sinking into a garment): the "new man" with his attitude of mercy, long-suffering, bearing with others, forgiveness, love.

3. We need to let peace rule in our hearts (brabeus from brabeuo = to act as umpire). This is how I see it working: I perform an action, say I react impatiently while I'm in the lineup at the supermarket. Later, as I reflect on my day, I sense dis-ease. Why this un-peace, I ask myself. Then I remember my impatient reaction and realize I need to come to terms with such impatience. The lack of peace is the umpire that declares something is "foul" and brings me face to face with things I need to deal with and dispose of.

4. We need to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (enoikeo = dwell, inhabit). As we marinate in God's word (read it, memorize it, think about it, apply it, talk about it), we gain wisdom. The evidence of such a word-saturated life is an encouraging attitude that instructs with a wise heart and a worshiping mouth (Colossians 3:17).

It all builds toward the goal of "whatever you do [no matter what it is] in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in [dependence upon] His Person" (Colossians 3:17 - Amplified).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to work Your plan in my life today. Make me alert to the things I need to put off, and willing to dress myself in right ways of thinking and acting. Help me to saturate myself with Your word and be sensitive and obedient to the umpire of Your peace. Amen.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

What's your focus?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

TO CHEW ON: "Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw was from the hand of God....For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight." Ecclesiastes 2:24, 26a

I still clearly recall some of the books I read when I was a kid. One such was a set by L. M. Montgomery. Pat of Silverbush and Mistress Pat tell the story of a girl who, like her fictional cohort Anne, lives on Prince Edward Island. Pat is passionately in love with her PEI home. The setting of the story becomes almost another character as Montgomery describes the connection this character has with her home, the garden, and the tree-lined lanes and roadways of the Island.

The book had the effect of making me look at my own surroundings. No, my Saskatchewan home was nothing like the PEI idyl of the story. But I began to notice unique and wonderful things about the place I lived. I paid attention to the expansive prairie sky with its variety of cloud formations. I took note of the whisper of the poplar leaves in the Log Cabin Bush where I would sometimes sneak away to read. I can still remember the comfort of waking up to the contented clucking of chickens on a summer morning.

In the middle of his discontented railings about how pointless every aspect of earthly life is, Solomon -- the writer of Ecclesiastes -- comes up with the thought that shows how ancient is the wisdom of my childhood discovery. Solomon expresses how it is a good thing to focus on the blessings of everyday life when he says: "Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor."

Solomon brings up this idea elsewhere in Ecclesiastes too (in fact, it is considered by some to be Ecclesiastes' secondary theme):

- He speaks about how "He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).
- He calls the ability to find joy in one's own efforts and accomplishments a "heritage" (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
- He describes the sleep of the hard worker as "sweet" (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
- His proverb "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire," reminds us of the importance of being content with what we have (Ecclesiastes 6:9).
- He praises the value of common blessings, marital fidelity and hard work (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).

Solomon's reminder to enjoy the blessings of each day is a timely one for me. Like him I all too easily get distracted by trying to puzzle out my role and purpose in life. Meanwhile I miss the small but innumerable gifts sent my way each day.

In fact, one of the benefits that comes from such an observant and thankful outlook may just be help with the big-picture puzzling. For the promised result of the right focus, according to wise Solomon, is the gift of "wisdom, knowledge, and joy to a man (and woman) who is good in His sight."

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for the blessings of my life.  Please help me to focus on Your everyday gifts to me with a full and thankful heart. Amen.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Living for what lasts

Figure dancing in the wind
"...grasping for the wind"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:1-12a

"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun."  Ecclesiastes 2:11

Solomon here paints the picture of a man (supposedly himself) who has tried everything. With intelligence and the resources of a kingdom at his disposal he has dedicated himself to entertainment (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2), enhancing his experience with alcohol (Ecclesiastes 2:3), productivity and creativity in designing and growing gardens (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6), consolidating power with many servants and accumulating wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8), and music (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Still, by his own admission, his life feels empty:
"…indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun."

We may well ask for ourselves, if Solomon tried all these things and found them empty, is there profit anywhere for us? God's word assures us there is.

In several places Bible writers echo Solomon's words about how unprofitable amassing worldly possessions turns out to be. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" says Matthew, recording the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:19-20).

In Luke Jesus says that if, in the attempt to preserve one's own life, a person denies God by being ashamed of Jesus, even gaining the whole world will prove futile. It is only in losing our life for His sake that we find we are living for what is lasting (Luke 6:23-26). Further to this, John tells us that the person who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17).

Jesus speaks of spiritual food "which endures to everlasting life" versus the other kind that perishes - John 6:27.

Paul speaks of the three graces (faith, hope and love) that endure (1 Corinthians 13:13).

He also speaks of work built on the foundation of Jesus that endures God's testing fire (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). (In Hebrews, those temporary things that won't last are called "things that can be shaken" - Hebrews 12:27).

The lasting things that Paul refers to are not the temporary seen things of this world but the things are unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

And Peter spells out quite clearly what these unseen, lasting things consist of: "'But the word of the Lord endures forever.' Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you"  (1 Peter 1:25).

So what lasts?  What is worth our effort? Work that spreads and explains and magnifies the gospel.

Are we busy doing that work, putting our efforts into God's unseen but lasting business? Or will we, like Solomon, come to the end of life and find we've put all our energy and effort into what leaves us feeling empty and cheated?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see how the values of the world system I live in are a lie. Help me to know how to put the Bible's insights about what lasts and what doesn't into practice in my everyday life. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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