Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Bad Stuff Happens" April 22 Readings: Ecclesiastes 7-12

Today's Reading - Ecclesiastes 7-12


A brief overview of Ecclesiastes

Introduction: (1:1-11) "Everything is meaningless
Investigating the Meaninglessness of life (1:12-6:9)
Conclusions about the Meaninglessness of life (6:10-11:6)

  1. Introduction (6:10-12)
  2. Man cannot discover what is good for him to do. (7:1-8:17) 
  3. Man has no idea what comes after him. (9:1-11:6)

Concluding poem (11:7-12:8)
Epilogue (12:9-14)

Devotional - Bad Stuff Happens

What is Solomon's problem?

In Proverbs, Solomon sets forth clear teachings of wisdom, explaining that life is choices and choices have consequences and that the path to wise living is to make wise choices that bring God's blessing. Proverbs has its dark moments, but it is encouraging and positive about what happens to the man or woman who walks in God's will.

It is strange, then, to see pessimism and even cynicism in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon now catalogs the things that he has observed going wrong in the world. In Ecclesiastes 9:3, he laments the fact that everyone faces the same fate - both good and evil. We all die. In verse 11, he catalogs some of the inequities and injustices in the world. Bad "luck" seems to happen to people who deserve better. In verse 12 he describes how life sometimes "traps" people in evil situations. In 10:6, Solomon observes that sometimes the wrong people get to the top and people who deserve better end up at the bottom. Throughout chapter 10 he mentions example after example of unfairness and injustice in this world.

Solomon has come face to face with a truth - this is one messed-up, sinful world. Bad stuff happens. He has realized how unfair life can be. So, is he changing his mind about the wisdom he taught in Proverbs? Does he no longer believe what he taught about wisdom?

No, Solomon here still calls on people to walk in wisdom and in obedience to God. But he also has come to realize that just because you do the right thing does not guarantee that everything will work out okay. It is always better to live God's way, but in a sinful world, bad things can still fall even on the wise.

What's the lesson here? It certainly isn't cynicism or pessimism. God doesn't want us to be angry and bitter. But we must realize that the world can still throw curve balls at us even when we are walking in careful obedience. Our goal is to serve God for his glory and because it is right, not simply to guarantee a desired outcome.

We serve God because he is God. We serve God because he is good. We serve God because we believe that the way he commands is the best way to live life. We serve God to please him. We serve God because it is always better to serve God than to serve sin.

But we do NOT serve God to guarantee a life of comfort, ease, and freedom from hardship. Oh, that will come - it is called heaven! But in this messed up world, we cannot avoid the consequences of the curse. Tornadoes don't wind through a town picking out the homes of drug dealers, adulterers and perverts to destroy. Life happens, and serving God is no guarantee of protection against life.

But Solomon's assertion throughout Ecclesiastes is this - even in a messed up world, even without guarantees, even when things go wrong, it is still better to serve God.

Father, may I serve you faithfully and for the right reasons!

Think and Pray

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Eternity in Our Hearts" April 21 Readings: Ecclesiastes 1-6

Today's Reading - Ecclesiastes 1-6


Ecclesiastes is a mysterious book, written from an earthly and even somewhat cynical viewpoint. It says some strange and confusing things, mixed in with some powerful wisdom.

It is generally believed that Solomon was the author, but he is not identified by some. Some believe that the "son of David" (which can also mean descendent) might have been Hezekiah. Both ideas had support in Rabbinical traditions. It is most likely that Solomon was the author.

We know of three periods in Solomon's life, the third only known because of this book. In his youth, Solomon was a man of God and a man of wisdom  - the greatest man in the world. But then he turned to sin, something we will read about in a later reading, embracing the folly he warned his sons against in the Book of Proverbs. Here, in Ecclesiastes, we have a restored but wounded Solomon. He has returned to God but bears the scars of his sinful days. Even when we repent of sin there are often consequences that remain.

In Ecclesiastes, we see a man who has seen the dark side and has figured out how to apply God's wisdom to life situations when life in this world has become messy.

There are two key concepts in Ecclesiastes. First, Solomon is dealing with life "under the sun." He is not dealing in heavenly, eternal, theological truth, but examining life as it is here on earth. Second, he observes that life is meaningless. The word means fleeting or empty and speaks to the vapidity of life. It is not that life has no meaning, but that life under the sun has no meaning without God. We must do right and honor God even when things do not make sense.

Devotional - Eternity in Our Hearts

Pete Seeger wrote a song called, "Turn, Turn, Turn" which became a hit in the 60s by a band called the Byrds. The lyrics actually belonged to Solomon and the translators of the King James Version of the Bible - they are almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

In those verses, Solomon tells us that there is a rhythym to life - up and down, good and bad, life and death, win and lose. That is the way that things are in this world. We want to find ways to guarantee ease and comfort in life, to avoid all the hard times and difficult days, but it never works out that way. Life is fun and then it is a grind. It is a joy then it is a burden. That is the way of things in this world.

That's why Solomon said everything was meaningless and empty under the sun. No matter how wisely you live your life you will still suffer the consequences of the sin of others. Even the most holy, the most innocent and righteous people will face tragedy. There are no guarantees.

But in Ecclesiastes 3:11 Solomon drops a nugget of truth (there are several of these treasures hidden in this meanderings of the life-weary writer of the book).
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts.
God is working in the affairs of this life. The seeming randomness of life, the up and down is not without purpose. God is at work. But it all has a higher and nobler goal. God has put eternity in our hearts.

Why is it that earthly things can never satisfy? If you had a million dollars, or a billion, it would not satisfy your soul. If you attained fame and power, you would not find contentment. Even Romeo and Juliet's love story ended in tragedy. The things of earth always seem to grow strangely dim. Why is that?

Because you and I have eternity in our hearts and only the eternal love of Jesus can satsify the soul. You are made for God and unless you are connected to him, walking with him, and serving him faithfully, you will always feel that meaninglessness that life under the sun is doomed to bring.

Father, I thank you for every blessing I have under the sun, but help me to remember that all my true blessings are eternal and that all I really need comes to me in glory and from you. 

Think and Pray

Are you seeking fulfillment, contentment, and happiness "under the sun" or are you living to satisfy the eternity that God has placed in your heart?

Friday, April 20, 2018

"The Power of Words" April 20 Readings: Proverbs 25-31

Today's Reading - Proverbs 25-31


Today we complete the book of Proverbs, reading various collections of wisdom from different authors.

Devotional - The Power of Words

No, that is not a sidewalk. It is a trail worn in the rock of the Tsankawi Ruins near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the centuries the feet of the people living on that hill cut deep paths into the solid rock. Amazing.

Had Solomon known about the Tsankawi, he might have worded Proverbs 25:15 a little differently. Proverbs are inspired observations about life which reveal God's truth. Some are simple statements of wisdom and others are vivid illustrations, like the one we focus on today.
A ruler can be persuaded through patience,and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
What on earth can that second line mean? There is no tongue that is strong enough or hard enough to shatter a bone. It's impossible. But the figure of speech tells a story. Words have a powerful effect. One who patiently speaks what is right and good over time can build great things. One who speaks with malice, who tears down and insults can destroy. Like the paths of the Tsankawi worn in the rock over time, words have their effects - both good and evil.

When someone is not listening to the gospel you proclaim or the advice you are giving, don't freak out and lose your cool. It isn't necessary. When you are speaking the truth of God you can wait patiently for the Spirit to use you and to bring about their desired effect. Like the grooves in the rock, it may take time, but God will use your words if they are from his word to accomplish great things.

Father, may the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. And may they, over time, wear grooves of truth in this world. 

Think and Pray

Your words have powerful effects. Are they cutting channels for the flow of the gospel, of the truth of God? Or are they breaking bones?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Fallen Stones" April 19 Readings: 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8

Today's Reading - 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8


In today's readings, we see the finishing of the Temple and the rest of Solomon's amazing and extensive building projects. Though David was a man after God's own heart, Solomon was the man who built Israel into a regional powerhouse. He was a man to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, as we will see in future readings, his life would become a model of the proverb that says, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Devotional - Fallen Stones

On my second trip to Israel, we were escorted through a tunnel that connects the Ancient City of David to the Temple Mount. Along the way, we had to duck because of huge rectangular boulders - the size of busses - that protruded from the ceiling of the tunnel. Our guide told us that these were stones from the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar's men threw off when they destroyed God's house of worship.

This is a direct fulfillment of the warning that God gave Solomon in 1 Kings 9:4-9. After the Temple was constructed, God made a promise to Solomon (one the king unfortunately broke). He told him that if he would walk in obedience as his father David had, God would establish his throne until the end of time. If Solomon had not fallen into sin, there would be a descendant of David and Solomon on the throne of Israel today.

But God also warned that things could go a different direction. If Solomon sinned against God and drifted into idolatry, he would bring devastation to his nation and destruction to the Temple. People would wander by the Temple (as I did 3000 years later) and marvel at the destruction. Solomon followed that course and the worst happened.

There are two levels at which the blessing of God happens. Our relationship with God is based on the finished work of Christ and is settled - not resting on my work or yours, my merit or yours. Jesus paid it all and we owe it all to him. There was a covenant that God made with David that was eternal and unshakable - it went on regardless of Solomon's sin. When Israel split away and there were two kingdoms, David's lineage continued. Even after the kingdom was destroyed, the line of David continued until the King of kings was born in Bethlehem. The promise of God never fails.

But Israel did not experience the blessing of God on a daily basis because of Solomon's sin and their subsequent love of idolatry. Though God's faithfulness continued they strayed and they suffered the loss of their potential, their blessings, their rewards.

You are saved by God's grace and that cannot change - you are secure in Christ. But experiencing the daily blessings of grace, to know the joys of Christ in daily life, is a product of obedience. When we wander as Israel did and embrace sin, we forfeit those blessings and the stones of discipline fall on us. God's faithful love preserves us but we lose God's boundless blessings.

Solomon had a choice. Walk in obedience and be blessed or disobey and have the Temple stones he had just constructed come crashing down. He made a poor choice. May we make a better choice!

Father, I thank you that my salvation is secure in you, but may I choose to walk daily in obedience that I may experience blessing. 

Think and Pray

Think of your life as a choice such as Solomon was given.
Are you choosing the blessing of God or are you choosing to bring judgment and discipline down?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"The Lord's Delight" April 18 Readings: Psalm 134, 146-150

Today's Reading -  Psalm 134, 146-150


Today we wrap up the book of Psalms, though there are random Psalms from later times that will appear in subsequent readings. There will be no more days in which the Psalms are the primary focus of readings.

The last few Psalms are "Hallelujah Psalms" which focus on reasons and methods of praising the Lord.

Devotional - The Lord's Delight

What makes God happy?

Obviously, God's emotions are not like ours, so a question such as that are not easily answered, but the Bible does speak anthropomorphically of God's pleasure and happiness and the things that cause it. In Psalm 149:4 we read of one of those things.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;he adorns the humble with salvation.
The Lord takes pleasure in his people!

I am a sinner and so are you, and when we come into the presence of God we are often made deeply aware of that sin. It is a good thing to repent and to humble ourselves before God, to face our sin and deal with it. But it is also easy to fall into a sort of sad-sack view of ourselves that God reluctantly accepts us into his family and tolerates us.

That is not the way the Bible presents it at all. The Lord delights in us. He takes pleasure in us. That is the extent of the grace and love of Jesus. He did not send Christ to the Cross to open the back gate of heaven and allow us into heaven's low rent trailer park. He throws open the gates and welcomes us as his beloved children.

We are wanted. Prized. Valued. As one preacher has said, we are the pictures on the refrigerator of heaven. It is not because of our greatness or merit that this is so, but because of the riches of God's grace, the extent of his love. But the Lord of heaven takes pleasure in those he has redeemed.

Father, it boggles my mind that you not only redeemed me but that by your grace, you delight in me. so often I do not even delight in myself, but your grace is greater than my sin. 

Think and Pray

Spend time today meditating on this unlikely reality - not only did God send his Son to redeem you from your sins, but he also delights in you. The redeemed bring pleasure to God as he works in you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Forever Faithful" 17 Readings: 2 Chronicles 6-7, Psalm 136

Today's Reading - 2 Chronicles 6-7, Psalm 136


The fire of God falls on the Temple as God's powerful presence fills the place after it is constructed.

Devotional - Forever Faithful

Don't you hate those "7-11" choruses with all their repetition?

Evidently, the Psalmist didn't get the memo that repetition was bad. The 26 verses of this hymn contain the same two-word Hebrew phrase - leolam chesdu. Literally, that is, "to forever (is) his steadfast love." The faithful love of God is a faithful and eternal constant in the life of his people.

The Psalm begins with God's sovereign power in Creation, then reminds the reader how God saved Israel from Egypt and gave them the Promised Land by acts of power. His faithfulness even in the light of Israel's sin is constant. That is seen in the repetition of "leolam chesdu" in verse after verse.

There are two realities in your life as a believer. First, you have not always been faithful to God. We seek him and we struggle, but we fail. We fall into sin and we stray from the fold. Like the hymn says, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it."

But there is a second reality we must cling to. God's faithfulness is neverending. When we are weak, he is strong. When the storms of life blow, he is a faithful refuge. When life crashes against us with circumstantial tsunamis, he is a refuge of grace. When the enemy marshals his forces to attack, greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world. The faithfulness of God is bigger than any problem we have or any failure in us.

Leolam Chesdu. That is worth repeating!

Thank you, Lord, for you constant faithfulness. May I never presume on your grace, but may I always rely on it. Your grace is greater than my sin. 

Think and Pray

Consider writing your own Psalm 136, detailing the events of your life and then reminding yourself that at every moment of that life, "leolam chesdu" - God was faithful.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"The Presence of God" April 16 Readings: 1 Kings 7-8, 2 Chronicles 4-5

Today's Reading - 1 Kings 7-8, 2 Chronicles 4-5


The readings today examine the finishing of the Temple and its dedication to the glory of God.

Devotional - The Presence of God 

Solomon built a magnificent structure. The temple in Jerusalem was by all accounts among the more impressive buildings of the time. And Solomon was clearly among the most impressive people. His fame spread far and wide. He was rich, powerful, honored, the wisest man on earth.

And this magnificent temple was his creation. His people did the work. What part had God played in it all? Scripture records no miracles during the building. It did not spring suddenly from the earth. There was no divinely empowered reversal of Jericho - where the walls came a tumbling UP! No, it was hard work - the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of nameless men who produced this house of worship.

And yet, as it was being completed, Solomon prayed a prayer in which he sought God's blessing and gave God credit. In 1 Kings 8:15 he says,
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to David my father.
He is giving thanks to God and praising him. He continues throughout the chapter to give honor and glory to God for all that he has done. Why is Solomon so careful to give God credit for that which he himself built? He realized something important. 

He understood that ultimately, the temple's design was initiated by God for the purposes of God. This was something that originated in the heart of God. The only projects in life worth doing are those that originate in the heart of God. He only blesses that which he begins. Solomon knew that the temple was a GOD-project and that even though his own labors had contributed, ultimately it was something that was birthed in the heart of God. 

The things you are doing, the goals of your life, your purposes, and projects - where did they begin? If they are your own, they will have no eternal impact or import. Only that which begins in the heart of God is significant. 

Solomon also understood that his project was worth nothing unless God inhabited the temple. As the glory of the Lord dwelt in the Tabernacle, he desired that the fire would fall on the temple. As with Moses and the tent in the wilderness, he did everything "just as God commanded." And in this passage, he seeks the blessing and presence of God to come among his people and to guide them. And we will see that God does, in fact, send his glory into the temple. 

God sends his presence and power among the obedient and accomplishes his will through them. Is God's power and presence dwelling among you? Are you walking in submission and obedience that he might use you in his work? 

When our lives are lived on God's agenda and we are walking in obedience to him, the glory of the Lord descends upon us and we are changed, empowered and used for his purposes. As God inhabited the Temple in Jerusalem, may his glory inhabit and empower us. 

This is what Solomon knew that caused him to seek God. Yes, he built the temple. But he knew that without the presence of God, without the glory of the Lord, it would all mean nothing. 
Father, fill me with your glory as I walk in submission to you!

Think and Pray

Do you walk in obedience to God and in the power of God?
Do you give God full credit, even for the work you do?