Tuesday, November 30: Song of Solomon 8- Love your spouse

One phrase repeated a few times in this letter reappears here in the closing chapter. Verse 4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Warning, be careful, love is a strong emotion. Don’t arouse it till you are ready. Marital love, runs deep and shouldn’t be trifled with, one must be ready…

A few verses later we read the beloved explaining what she means by love, Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned (6-7).

Love, explained here, means we give ourselves wholly to another. It is not whimsical, or fleeting or mere lust… it is life long and forever.

As I mull this over, part of me thinks, ‘Wow, how could I ever know, especially at those early stages, if the ‘love’ I’m feeling for another is ‘love?’ Thinking back, I don’t know if a person can know.

On the flip side, for this ‘love’ to fully blossom, I must give myself to it without reservation and work at it with diligence and commitment. Love like this doesn’t happen over night, it is earned and cultivated. I’m no expert.

I pause once more, considering my own situation… God’s whisper to me is to do everything I humanly can, and then go beyond that to use every bit of strength that the Lord gives me, to cultivate a relationship with my wife that she experiences this depth of love… that she is fully secure and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Lord Jesus, help me to be a husband, lover and friend worthy of bearing Your name. Amen.

 

Monday, November 29: Song of Solomon 7- Keeping romance alive

It is not clear in the NIV, and commentators are divided, who is the speaker in the opening 9 verses of this chapter. Is it the man, the lover?  Then this chapter would be a continuation from Chapter 8. Or is it friends or others? I opt for the former understanding that the man is speaking as the chapter opened.

His words then, and hers to follow, are laden with sexual innuendo and invitation. Ok, I guess this is not surprise if they are newly married but I clearly hear God’s invitation to keep romance alive in marriage.

After my wife and I announced our engagement, we were visiting with her grandmother, a widower into her 80’s at that time. Grandma was a proper lady befitting her age and era. As we sat in her living room one afternoon - I will never forget this moment - she offered us her one and only piece of advice. I have savored her words ever since.

“Do not let the sun go down when you are angry.” Then with a sparkle in her eye that was noticeable to me, a little grin emerged on her face as she continued, “And besides, making up is fun.” I will remember those last six words as long as I live.

“Married folk,” the text says to me, “keep romance alive.”

Lord, thank You for my wife’s grandmother. Thanks for the twinkle in her eye. Thanks for her good advice, both aspects of it. And thanks for Your words to us today. Amen.

 

Friday, November 26: Song of Solomon 5- Life isn't always bliss

The chapter is one huge ‘ooops’, a misunderstanding of intentions and the inability to read the actions of the other, which explodes into a big problem. I have lived that deal many times in my life. I am guessing you have as well.

The lover stops by the beloved room for a love connection. The beloved, however, is sleeping, possibly from the hike in the fields of last chapter. She readies herself by combing hair, washing (bathing?), and perfuming.  Meanwhile, the lover apparently becomes impatient with waiting.  By the time she opens the door he is gone.

The situation spirals further downhill but my mind is already reacting. Stuff happens! We humans regularly misread situations. We jump to conclusions. And even when we do read correctly, we can become so absorbed in self that we take offence at things that we would be better off simply letting go. Such is life this side of eternity, in our broken and depraved world.

When this happens, and it will, between couples, within families, in neighborhoods and the like, we have relational problems that need to be repaired.

Every couple whose wedding I have officiated has that glaze in their eye about their partner… but the honeymoon does not last forever. Do they (do we) have the fortitude to work through the bumps in the road... bumps we cause, bumps they cause, bumps life causes?

We are left hanging.  Will the beloved and her lover repair the relational tear of chapter 5? The next few days’ readings will give us the answer.

Now to our lives.  Will we repair any tears that exist in our key relationships? That is what the Holy Spirit puts on my heart as I read and meditate this morning.

Lord, show me relational tears that I need to repair. Show me how to forgive where necessary, and show me how to graciously accept forgiveness of the others when that is necessary.

Lord, I surrender all my relationships to You, that with Your help they will grow stronger and steadier each passing year. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Thursday, November 25: Song of Solomon 4- Words of love

We have stepped into their honeymoon, a most intimate picture of two newlyweds. What is apparent from the first words is Solomon’s overflowing praise for his wife, his bride. Verses 1-15 form a cascading soliloquy of love, word picture after word picture, extolling her beauty and expressing his delight and love for her.

Admittedly, I chuckled when I read verse 2, Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. I got the white teeth part in the opening, but the idea that she has all her teeth - not one of them is alone- I thought “Um, not something I would say to my bride!” (J)

Back to my main thoughts… verbally expressing love. It is refreshing to listen in as Solomon infuses his wife with love through his words. Far too often we married couples allow the verbal affirmation for our partner dry up. Oh, they know we love them, we rationalize. We have all heard the joke. The crusty husband says to his wife, “I told you I loved you at our wedding if anything changes I’ll let you know!”

This chapter sings with verbal expression of love… extolling her beauty, inviting her away so they can be by themselves and be together.

My thoughts spin from text to life, from then to now.  Do I appreciate and express my appreciation and love for my wife?  Does she know she is loved? Does she hear it from my lips and see it in my heart?

Writing this devotional has not been simple.  The text’s content is marriage focused but I recognize not every reader is married, so allow me to widen my gaze. Here is a question everyone of us can ask ourselves, “Do I appreciate and express my appreciation and love for my family, friends, my…”?

Lord, help me express my love and my appreciation well to my wife and my family, that they may know without any doubt that they are loved by me… In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Saturday, November 27: Song of Solomon 6- Reaffirming love.

Given the misunderstanding of the last chapter, I was taken by the lover’s response when he sees his beloved. Would he remain angry, or bitter or upset or display passive-aggressive behaviors? What would he do? How would he act???

Wow!  He echoes the words of love spoken a few chapters ago.

Verbalizing and reaffirming our love for our wives is powerful.

Who among us after we have had a misunderstanding with someone important to us, marriage partner, friend, family member, isn’t blessed and built up when they reaffirm their love or friendship? That is precisely what our lover does…

We don’t know how much time has elapsed since last chapter. Whatever the time parameters, the lover has simmered down and the first chance he has, he drenchers his bride, his beloved, with praise. The lover again tells his beloved ‘eye-to-eye’ how much she is loved.

The Spirit’s simple nudges… “Bill,  learn to do this…”

God, teach me the power of words and how they build others up… Amen.

 

Wednesday, November 24: Song of Solomon 3- Wedding Pageantry.

It seems that verses 1-5 maybe a dream of longing by the beloved. Emotions run high before a wedding, which is what we see in verse 6. Verse 6, and following, describes the wonder of the royal caravan coming for the beloved to take her to the city for the wedding.

There is something joyous about wedding celebrations. From weddings I have seen, some are over-the-top but who am I to judge how people celebrate. And celebrate we should. Weddings mark the life-long commitment between a bride and groom. Believing God has connected them (at least for those of us in the church that is), their life together should be celebrated and pageantry is part of that.

Reading this is easy to see how commentators throughout the ages have connected this with Jesus, the bridegroom, coming back for His bride the church. There will be pageantry that day as well as when He bursts through the skies to reclaim His bride and defeat His enemy.

Devotionally, I shoot to two places… my wedding, thanking the Lord for my wife of 30+ years… a gift from God to me… a woman who has encouraged me in my faith and in forming a God-pleasing life all of those years.

I also travel mentally to that day when Jesus will return in triumphant glory.  Alleluia, may it be soon!

Lord, these closing thoughts remind me of the 2 most precious relationships in my life… You, Lord God, and my wife. Both gifts are pure and simple. Both take work on my part. Both fill my life with joy and peace. Thank You, Lord God, for the gift of faith and the gift of my wife… Amen.

 

Tuesday, November 23: Song of Solomon 2- Loved appreciated and cared for.

Married life and friendship life can become so mundane, so routine. Our relationships with those we love can become almost mechanical…

I was refreshed by the opening ‘give and take’ between the beloved and her lover. Verses 1 and 2: (Beloved) I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. (Lover) Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. The mutuality of delight and love for each other was so good to read.

Both the beloved and lover know they hold a special place in the other’s life. They are not taken for granted, instead they feel loved, appreciated and cared for.

My thoughts swap from text to life. I am wondering if my wife and my children feel loved, appreciated and cared for by me? I am wondering if I am holding up ‘my end of the bargain’ (i.e. relationship)? In the text ‘the beloved’ can only feel loved, can only think of herself as a “rose of Sharon” if he (the lover) has expressed that in word, deed and action. How am I doing in word, deed and action for those I love?

As a husband, my thoughts travel to my wife.  Then by extension my thoughts ripple out to others I love, children, other family members, even good friends. Do they know what they mean to me?

Lord, thank You for those special people in my life. Each one is a gift from You. To do life alone would be lonely. These special people are gifts along the journey. Lord, am I appreciating them as I should? Am I appreciating them in a manner consistent with what they mean to me? Help me, Lord, to let them know that they are loved, appreciated and cared for… I pray this through Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

 

Monday, November 22: Song of Solomon 1- Love is delightful

   Surprise!  Song of Songs is in the Bible. If you have never read this book of the Bible then you are in for an interesting read. Verse 2 sets the tone: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-- for your love is more delightful than wine. This book is a beautiful expression of human love, sexual love between newlyweds.

Sadly, our world has perverted the beauty and wonder of marital sexual love; it posits sex instead of love expressed between a husband and wife. Our world draws no bounds on sex… ‘just do it’ might be the slogan of our age. God forgive us.

This book portrays the wonder of love between a husband and wife, including sexual love, with dignity and passion. Love and sex, within the bonds of marriage, is a gift from our creator God.

Lord, walk with us as we read of the lover and the beloved. And along our journey of Solomon’s Song of Songs meet us each day. Lord, thank You for the reminder today that love is beautiful and delightful when experienced within Your parameters.

Lord, for those of us who are married help us keep love alive in our marriages.

Lord for those of us not yet married, help us keep our selves pure until we find our life partner and are married under Your blessing. In and through Jesus our Lord, we pray. Amen.

 

Saturday, November 20: Ecclesiastes 12- Fear God and keep His commands.

So where does the writer land? After all is said and done, after every avenue of pleasure and study and governance open to him is explored, what is his final summation? Chapter 12:1,13-14 say it all:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"-- … Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

What brings satisfaction to the soul?  Fear God and keep His commandments. What stills the yearnings for more and bigger and better?  Fear God and keep His commandments.

What singular notion will help me live today and prepare for life (& worship) tomorrow?… Fear God and keep His commandments.

What is the end of all matters, the secret to a satisfied life?... Fear God and keep His commandments.

Fear God and keep His commandments… Lord Jesus, Loving Father, Holy Spirit, may I live this way always. Amen.

 

Friday, November 19: Ecclesiastes 11- Pondering God

For the last few days, Ecclesiastes has sounded almost like proverbs, short pithy sayings that bounce from topic to topic. This morning it was verse 5 which excited my musing most. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. An alternate translation for the underlined part goes like this: or how life (spirit) enters the body being formed.

Either translation, I pondered God and our world. God’s ways are so much beyond our ways. Oh, science has advanced much since the writing of these words but do we really know that much more? Collectively, we humans understand much more of how the earth and the body works. We have pictures of the earliest days of human life, shortly after the sperm fertilizes the egg.

But do individuals understand? Do we know how things got in place that allows egg and sperm to meet? I certainly don’t and for me the more I learn about how the body is formed the more I marvel, Could the human body really have ‘evolved by chance changes’? I cannot imagine how that is plausible. I have been having my shoulder looked at and worked on by a Dr. Discussing the intricacies of how that simple joint with its muscles, tendons, nerves and more interact and work together has wowed me. And that’s just the shoulder… we have organs and cells and … I barely got a D in physiology in college. I am way past my learning grade. The human body put together by happenstance.  No way can I fathom that! Creator God is the only answer that satisfies me.

Meteorologists can predict basic weather patterns… but it is an inexact science. The 5-day forecast is none too accurate!?! And it will not grow significantly more accurate in decades to come. Forecasting is built on models created through understanding an area of physics called “chaos theory.”  There are so many variables that better long-term (5-day) prediction is unlikely. For example, a tenth of a degree temperature change can make a significant change in weather patterns long term.

I have probably given too much explanation for some.  However, as my mind pondered all this, my mind has delighted in our Creator God who is sooooooo much more and bigger and beyond me, a mere human. Wow! And God connected with me in Jesus? Double Wow!

I have only one place to go… to praise and worship and thanks and adoration for God who loves and reveals Himself to me. Yes, God is so much bigger and beyond me and that it makes these thoughts all the more special and praiseworthy!

O, O Praise Him! O, O Praise Him! Alleluia, Alleluia, AlleluÇuia! Father Son and Holy Spirit I praise You God Three in One! Amen.

 

PS: There’s another way-beyond-me truth… Triune God, Three in One! Ahhh, more to delight and muse upon! O, O Praise Him! O, O Praise Him! Alleluia, Alleluia, AlleluÇuia!

 

 

Thursday, November 18: Ecclesiastes 10- mindful diligence

What a word picture: As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. I can see and smell this in my mind’s eye. One fly dead in a container of perfume ruins the whole. A little yeast works through the whole batch. One indiscretion undermines an entire career.

The news has broadcast story after story of anecdotal evidence for this saying. Politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders, and athletes’ careers crumble on this very point.

How can this be avoided? That certainly is the writer’s message. One answer…mindful diligence. Watching my step and actions, growing in my faith and obedience to the Lord regularly, praying for God’s leading and the courage to follow where God leads. The Book of Proverbs notes, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom… (Pr. 9:10). It seems to me that mindful diligence to seek wisdom is a restraint against folly…

Lord, help me to guard my steps today. I feel tired and I know my normal abilities to follow You are compromised when I am tired or hurting or… Today seems to be one of those days that requires more mindful diligence in following You and thus avoiding folly. Holy Spirit, help me through today as I seek to follow You and avoid folly and selfishness and evil. “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from the evil”… In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

 

Wednesday, November 17: Ecclesiastes 9- Our common destiny

Ecclesiastes 9:2 All share a common destiny--the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. And the common destiny is that we will all die.

Almost a continuation of yesterday, my morning reading calls me to examine my life. How am I living my life? Am I enjoying what You have given or am I constantly yearning and striving for more? I am back to the contentment theme of some days ago…

Another thought pops up. Am I living a life that is pleasing to the Lord? I can’t remove this book from the whole of the Bible. Scripture is clear that at life’s end there will be a judgment, a day of reckoning when each person will stand individually before God and account for her/his life. I am reminded that at that time I will be called to account for every word spoken (Matt 12:36: But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.). The day of reckoning is not a trifling thought!

One more stop on my morning scripture contemplation.  Faith in Jesus is the way of salvation and the way through the ‘day of reckoning’ (John 3:16-18, and many more NT verses).

Three questions dominate my morning meditation.

Am I enjoying what God has given me?

Am I living in a way that pleases God?

Have I put my faith and trust in Jesus as my salvation?

Think on these…

Lord, big questions, real questions, the kind of questions that are easy to pen, but harder to delve deeply into. Lord, help me to go deep with these and other meaningful questions of life. Help me to go deep so that my relationship with You is deep as well. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Tuesday, November 16: Ecclesiastes 8- An eye toward eternity.

Funny how experience can color what sticks out in Scripture. Not long ago I stood officiating a funeral. The individual had lived a long, prosperous life. Though I have stood in similar places when it seemed as if the deceased died before his/her time. I suspect that the proximity of death caused verses 7-8 to be highlighted as I read. Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. …

How true that is. None of us know what the present day will bring. Although not likely, any day could be our last or could bring medical news that will lead to our last. I am not morbid nor do I live in fear of death. But words from God like the ones above, cause me to pause and consider, “Am I living with one eye toward eternity?”

I find it very easy to get caught up in my earthly life, to live as if all of life is defined by my present existence. This in turn can steer me to selfish living, making life all about me and my pleasure and advantage, etc.

What happens in my thoughts when I read Scripture like verse 7-8?  Is it that I stop and remember that there is much more to life than me? Much more! There is faithfulness to my Lord and Savior. There is care for the poor, the outcast and those in need (this by the way is a recurring theme spoken by my God throughout His word). There is watching my life that I avoid known sin. There is a daily relationship with my God. There is guarding my tongue and being an excellent husband and father. There is so much more to life that looking out for number 1.

Father God, thank You for the reality check that today’s Word provides for me. May I continue to allow it to steep in my heart and mind throughout the remainder of today, brewing a life of faith and love and care and compassion... To You be the glory great things You have done. Amen.

 

Monday, November 15: Ecclesiastes 7- Reputation

Many places in this chapter spoke to me. Much like Proverbs’ individual verses or lines provoked me to thought. Which thought should I ponder this morning and today? Scanning the chapter a second time, I landed again on the opening words: A good name is better than fine perfume...

Those words suggested the word “Reputation.” More than simply reputation, which can be something other than reality, I thought of reputation coupled with integrity.  Our integrity speaks about who we are. My reputation/integrity sticks to me when I sleep; it follows me wherever I live. In a manner of speaking, my reputation/integrity is who I am.

Perfume provides a delightful scent.  It is attracting and even alluring but it is a covering. Perfume wears off. Perfume is temporary. Perfume, particularly in ancient times when bathing was a rarity, masked body odor. Perfume covers up providing a false impression.

A good name… reputation with integrity… is the true me, the true you.

At the Holy Spirit’s nudging,  I pondered my name… who am I really? Who am I on the inside? Who am I when no one sees me? That is ‘my name. ’ Question:  “Is it a ‘good’ name?”

Lord, walk with me for a bit; help me examine who I am. Help me to be honest and see myself as You see me. Is my name ‘good’? Am I a man of integrity? What is my reputation before You? These are big questions! Lord, I pray that I am not found wanting even though I know there will be areas of lack. Help me in my lack to look to You and grow. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, November 13: Ecclesiastes 6- Possessions without enjoyment

Okay, first confession. I found this chapter to be somewhat depressing, painting a pretty sad picture of life. I wondered for a bit about how true the characterization may be for many. But after a few minutes of wondering and steeping, the text began to ask me questions.

How content am I with the riches and possessions I have, with the life I live? On a world scale I live in the upper 1% of all people. Do I find enjoyment in what I have or am I chasing after something more or better or different? A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he (3). Do I enjoy what I have, remembering what I have has been given to me by the Lord? Sounds like a harmless question but as I allow it to marinate, it takes me in a number of directions. How about you? Do you enjoy what you have received?

Hmmm, a surprising question from the pen of God…

Lord, You have given me so much. Help me to both enjoy what You have given and use what I have been given to bring You pleasure, advancing Your kingdom, seeing lives changed. Lord, I thank You for life and faith. Amen.

 

 

 

Friday, November 12: Ecclesiastes 5- Words.

I could have stopped reading after the first 7 verses.  They spoke so powerfully to me but I kept reading. I could have read only the next 5 verses.  They too challenged to me but I kept reading. I could have feasted on the final 8 verses alone.  It, too, spoke to the deep places in my life. This chapter, this word from my Lord, grabbed my attention from the first thought and held it to the end.

Lord, Your word is almost too much for me today. What portion of it would You have me linger upon? What portion would You want to steep my soul in today?

This is what I prayed as a reviewed God’s word… just read…

“Words, your word,” seemed to be the Lord’s reply. I went back a re-read slowly the opening 7 verses: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

When it comes to vows (4-6) don’t be hasty.  Fulfill what you vow. My mind reviews vows I have taken… official vows like the one I made to my Lord 35+ years ago and to my wife 30+ years ago. And implicit vows, like the one I made to the church I serve or to my children to care, protect and provide. Have I been and am I faithful to my vows? That’s where I pondered and lingered.

After some time here, God widened my gaze to my words … all my words spoken to Him… listen to/for God (1), the text reminded me. Allow the Lord room and time to speak… it is conversation with God not merely talking to God that I should seek.

Oh, there was much more from these verses that I pondered and discussed with God, more than I can put in my written thoughts for today.

Stepping back before I close, my heart pounded, “Give the Lord room to speak… give the Lord room to speak…”

O, Lord. I offer some silence right now.  Speak Lord, your servant is listening… Amen.

 

Thursday, November 11: Ecclesiastes 4- Companions

Yesterday’s theme of time still rattled in my heart, this morning… time… seasons… stages… periods of life. There is such wisdom in the author’s ode to time. Not long ago, I stood trying to bring comfort to a family whose loved one had died. I used these words… a reminder that everything, even death, is beautiful in its time, which was certainly the case in this instance. Life is filled with many different and varied seasons and I have seen too many friends hoping praying, longing for another season, sadly missing the season they are presently in. Parents with toddlers long for days after diapers, missing the beauty and wonder of those first years. Empty nesters longing days past with kids coming and going rather than reinvesting in the spouse of their youth…

Today’s words reminded me about the strength of companions as we travel the road of life. Verses 9-12: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I paused to wonder what gutter I might be in if I didn’t have friends to pick me up when I fell. After typing the period of the last sentence, a momentary flash of numerous friends along life’s journey scrolled in my mind’s eye.

I wonder how the writer made the jump from two to three in that last sentence. Could it be that the third strand is meant to convey the Lord? I cannot say for sure but that is how I understand it…

I God woven tightly into my life and into my friendships? 

Lord, I pray that my life is a 3 stranded cord, myself braided tightly to You and companions. That Lord I have learned is a design that will be strong enough to survive any tug that this world can give. Bless You, Jesus. Amen.

 

 


Wednesday, November 10: Ecclesiastes 3- everything beautiful in its time

Among the many nudges for further meditation I encountered in this chapter, verse 11 stuck fast to my heart. He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Everything is beautiful in its time… my mind whirled. I pictured weddings and the smile of many brides I witnessed as they made their vows before God and friends. I replayed baptisms, babies held in parents’ arms and adults emerging from an immersion pool. I recall the labored last breaths of a saint about to cross from this life into eternity. Yes, I have seen that beautiful moment, too. I thought when God is at work, when people are connecting their lives with the Lord God Almighty, every moment is beautiful. It truly is.

God has set eternity in the hearts of men. I believe to the core of my being that God has wired us to seek something deeper, something more to life than the nuts and bolts of living, than the material world even at its best. I think all humans have this yearning, though not all may recognize it clearly. I am grateful that the Lord has unveiled my eyes to see and seek after Him, who is Lord of all creation.

They [we] cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end… (12) At a recent conference one speaker said, “I am so grateful that God is bigger than me and that I cannot understand all His ways.” That thought touches me deeply because if I could understand everything of God, then God is not necessary and I could take His place, which is a scary thought for me. I am so thankful that God’s ways are not my ways but higher than my ways (Is 55).

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank You for this morning with You in word, thought and prayer. Continue with me throughout the day… All glory to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Tuesday, November 9: Ecclesiastes 2- Contentment

 “What satisfies my heart?…” That question plowed headlong into my life as I read this chapter. The writer, Solomon, chased after everything at full-tilt. He ran after all manner of human pleasure. He built great endeavors. He studied and studied some more. Ultimately everything he tried came up empty; none of it satisfied him within. And so he bounced from one experience to the next. Nothing in the end satisfied. “Meaningless,” he writes. All was meaningless. My take is that nothing satisfied that yearning within.

I see that all around me, people want bigger, better, more. Yet when they get bigger, better, more, it never seems to satisfy.  If anything it leads to a desire for yet Bigger, Better, More.

This chapter is an unnerving read. Maybe not on Solomon’s grand scale, yet I fall prey to a similar insatiability for more and better and bigger. It can be a dangerous never-ending treadmill.

Towards the chapters’ end, verse 24 in particular, an answer seems to begin emerging. Like a Polaroid picture, it is not yet fully developed. Nonetheless an answer seems to be emerging… A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. …

I hear in this thought the lone word, ‘contentment.’ Be content with the basics of life, be satisfied with what you have been given.

Lord, grow contentment in me, a satisfaction with what I have and a delight that Your hand has provided it. Curb in me the insatiability of more and better and bigger. Lord, all too well I know that they lead to striving and dissatisfaction and worry and pressure and … all kinds of life qualities that neither honor You or others nor give me peace within.

I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Monday, November 8: Ecclesiastes 1- Meaningless.

If you are needing a pick-me-up, today’s reading probably didn’t do it. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless" (2) is the opening salvo of this book. Before dismissing this word let it sink in… (Remember the answer will come later).

Life, from one perspective, is a treadmill, a seemingly never-ending cycle. Day upon day, work upon work, meal upon meal… a never ending cycle. People come and people go.

A friend of mine has asked me a handful of times in the last months, “What is the meaning of life?” Obviously, since I was asked repeatedly, I haven’t answered the question adequately. Life comes, life goes, stuff happens, joy springs… Januarys come and go and come again. Such is the cycle that the author notes.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (9). Truth abounds in that thought.

So where does God take me as I muse this chapter? God takes me deep. The question of my friend pops up again. “What’s the meaning of life?” A catechism answer fills my mind: to love God and enjoy Him forever! A scripture comes to mind: Serve the Lord with gladness… (Ps 100:2a).

Years ago I said “yes” to Jesus. I would serve Him and follow Him. Stuff happens, joy breaks out, heartaches tackle us and the cycle, in varying order, happens over and over again. And yet, I know my Redeemer lives and that His hand is upon me.  And my prayer and focus in life is that somehow in living life, I will enjoy my Lord and point others to Him.

Meaning… I find meaning in my relationship with Jesus.

Lord, thank You for allowing me to bear Your name, to know You and be known by You, to enjoy You and the many people You brought into my life as I live my years with You. Thank You, for YOU! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, November 6: Esther 10- What are you working for.

When I opened and read the 3 verses, my first thought was.  “Hmmmm, not much here.” I read it again. Then I consciously asked, “Lord, what morsel do you have for me today?” I read it again and the closing words worked into my thoughts.  Mordecai … worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews (3). Those words about Mordecai jarred my thinking, “What am I working for?” Mordecai took the selfless stance to put his efforts toward work for his people, God’s people. His position and power and influence were dedicated to helping God’s people. He could have focused on self, he could have sought the lap of luxury. Instead he gave himself to the care and welfare of God’s people.

The whisper of the Spirit came to me, “Bill, would you be a Mordecai? Will you work for the welfare of God’s people? Will you put advancement of God’s kingdom and the care and welfare of God’s people ahead of personal benefit? Will you be a Mordecai?”

Well, those are heavy thoughts. I’d like to say that I immediately said “yes.” But answering those questions honestly, at least for me, isn’t easy. ‘Yes’ requires personal sacrifice and potentially, lots f it. And that isn’t something I take lightly…

As I wrestle with my answer, how about you? How would you answer those same questions from the Lord?

Lord, help me respond ‘yes’ to these questions. And like the man who answered you ‘I believe, help my unbelief,’ Lord, help me when I want to respond ‘no.’ Help me to say ‘yes’ then as well. Through Jesus, I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, November 5: Esther 9- The art of celebration

Reading Esther’s story is a bit like reading a Disney fairytale, with its happily-ever-after ending. Of course Esther’s story is true, which is a significant difference form Disney tales. Another difference is Esther’s desire and decree to celebrate the event year after year, decade after decade… forever.

The Jews have a wonderful sense of perpetual celebration to keep alive the memory of what God has done. My sense of their celebrations is not that it celebrates man’s achievements or Jewish ingenuity but the sovereign saving hand of their God, who has once again come through for them.

I began musing celebrations that dot my life yearly. There are birthdays; anniversaries; faith holidays like Easter and Christmas; and national holidays like 4th of July and Memorial Day. Most of these, even the faith-based ones, don’t seem to carry the God-honoring element much these days.  This is certainly true in society.

No wonder God is disappearing from societal view.

Rather than slide into a commentary of cultural life, I (prompted by the Spirit, I hope) shift my thinking back to my life and family where I influence celebrations…

Lord, what can I do to infuse You into life celebrations? Your grace allows us to life year upon year. How can I introduce you into birthdays? Your grace has been the hands under my marriage.  How can I appropriately thank You and my wife when our next anniversary rolls around?  How can I celebrate Your wonder and grace as a part of life’s celebrations?

Bless You, Lord.  Thank You, Lord.  To You be the praise and the glory now and forever. Amen.

 

PS… I am wondering if there is something simple I could do on Thanksgiving, which is only 3 weeks away, to infuse a God-honoring element into our family gathering?

 

Wednesday, November 3: Esther 7- Comes a time when you gotta do it!

If I am honest with myself, much of the time prayer is a lot easier and safer than action. Maybe this isn’t true for you but it is often true for me.

What I mean is that it is easier for me to pray about doing something than to do that something. Prayer is never meant to be an escape from action rather prayer is a seeking the strength, guidance and leading of God so that we do the things God wants us to do. This chapter involves Esther doing what she had prayed about, seeking the king’s protection from the evil plot hatched by Haman.

When the moment arises Esther seizes it and pleads with the king for her people. God, behind the scenes, acts and the king grants her petition.  Haman is executed.

What tumbled in my heart and mind was action.  Prayer prepares us for action. There comes a time when we have to step up and do what we have praying about to God.

We have been praying for timing and wisdom to share Jesus with a friend. There comes a time to open our mouths and share.

We have been praying for a mission or ministry.  There comes a time to reach into our wallets and give to support them and/or volunteer time to support them.

We are praying for God to reveal knowledge of His will to us.  We best match our prayer with study of His word.

Prayer prepares us for action…

Spend a few moments reviewing your prayer life.  Are there some areas where your (and my) prayer lives need to translate into actions?!

Lord, what do You want me to DO for You today? Amen.

 

 

Thursday, November 4: Esther 8- Glory to God in the highest.

There are different ways to praise God. People can shout God’s praise, they can dance and sing and proclaim God’s praise. The final sentence, one I don’t recall meditating upon before, reminds me of another way to praise God. Verse 17, In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

We can recognize God’s greatness and follow God, surrender our lives to His ways, become part of God’s family. The greatest praise we can give to God is not the lip service of our lives rather it is life-long obedience… the day upon day, hour upon hour recognition and submittal to God as Lord and Ruler and Director of our lives.

Many people seeking God’s hand on the Jews did just that, they gave their lives to following God!

Am I and are you following God? Have you surrendered to the Lord and adopted His ways as your ways? Do you seek obedience to God as a first order of business as you live hour upon hour or day upon day?

The Holy Spirit is asking me these questions as I write and meditate this morning. Am I God’s in the big and small deals of life?

God, may it be so of my life.  Help me to live a life of praise to You, one obedient act after another. And Lord, would my life, like Esther’s be an example to other to follow You, too. In Jesus name. Amen.

 


Tuesday, November 2: Esther 6- When surprises come.

Neither Haman nor Mordecai could ever envision the happenings of the day. For Haman, it turned from great to disaster in the blink of an eye. For the Mordecai and the Jews, you can feel the turn in the opposite direction.

Haman is a self-made man. I wondered, “Who does he turn to when the unexpected happens?” Advisors are just that, advisors.  They have little or no skin in the game and they often cut bait and run when the heat is on. In a mild way we see this in the text. His advisors pontificate about Haman’s demise; clearly they will not remain standing with him.

My question broadens, “Who do you turn to when you are a self-made person???”

Mordecai’s day had the opposite trajectory.  Starting in the gutter, he was lifted to a seat of honor and royal acclamation. But remember what he did when he faced the day of despair, when he learned of the edict against him and all Jews. He turned to his faith, his faith-community and his God in fasting and prayers. Mordecai had somewhere to turn.

No one can predict what any given day will bring. Most days come and go with few trajectory changing surprises.  However, now and then those days come and events happen that take us by surprise. Where will you turn when surprises come?

Haman has no where to turn. Mordecai has faith, community and God. Where will you turn when surprises come?

Think about it…

Lord, I am so thankful that You are part of my life, that You are there 24/7/365. I am so thankful that I have faith, a community and You to turn to in times of surprise and need. Thank You, Jesus. Thank You. Amen.

 

Monday, November 1: Esther 5-Trouble within

Two divergent thoughts sparked as I read this chapter. Esther’s charm and wiliness in setting the stage with anticipation for her request to the king. Most often I am direct and could learn a thing or two from her God-inspired savviness.

But where I lingered most was contemplating Haman. This man had everything. He was the right hand to the king, second over the entire nation with money, success, power and prestige. Yet under his skin and behind his finely detailed fa├žade, anger lurked. I don’t know any other way to explain why a single peasant, a nobody, would engender such animosity and hatred. The NIV text uses the word ‘rage.’ In Hebrew it is an extremely strong word carrying the idea of fire in the belly and indignation. I wondered why a lowly nobody could cause such reaction and furry.

I bounced from Haman to humans to me.  How well we humans can harbor such deep seeded sin and emotion. How ‘natural’ it is for us to carry things like this hidden inside. History is littered with sad examples, Hatfields v. McCoys; Protestants v. Catholics in Northern Ireland; Jews v. Arabs in the Middle East.  For decades and centuries these, and many other groups, have seethed against one another. The news carries story upon story of the seemingly ‘nice person next door’ who rampages a school, post office, manufacturing plant,  killing innocent people.

Extreme, certainly these cases are as was Haman’s but as I mused, I recognized the human ability and my ability to harbor sin of many kinds deep within.

Lord God, my only hope is the cleansing, redeeming, sanctifying work of the Father’s love, Jesus’ atonement and the ongoing voice of the Holy Spirit within. Left to myself, I have Haman potential.  Only surrender to the cross and willingness to receive the Lord’s correction can change me.

O, Lord, I surrender to You… Holy Spirit have free reign in my life… growing me into a person who reflects Your character and nature of God. Amen.