Meaningless things

IMG_5655Ecclesiastes 1:2  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!”says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)

Read: Ecclesiastes Chapters 1 and 2  The book of Ecclesiastes is thought to have been written by King Solomon and when you see verse one of Chapter one it seems to bear that thought out…as we also know that Solomon prayed for wisdom from God.  When I first read these two chapters I thought, “Well, how depressing can you get?  Solomon must have really been having a bad time of it when he wrote this.”  Then as I thought of it more there is a lot of truth in this.  We do all live and we all die..no matter how we live our lives…either foolishly, miserably, happily, contentedly, in anger, or in love…we all have a limited life span, and a physical death to look forward to in the end.  For some of us, the end comes sooner, and some much later, but we all have that ending to this physical life.

IMG_0996Also, it is true that we are generally forgotten once everyone who knew us is also dead.  We become just a name on an ancestral chart, or if you are one of those people who actually change the lives of a lot of other people your name may appear in a history book to torment students for many generations to come as to who you are and what you did…when you think of it that is pretty funny.  Names like Marie Curie, Sister Teresa, Jonas Salk…then there are other names that are more infamous…Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini we only wish we could forget those last three…unfortunately if we forget them, then we may not learn the lesson about humanity’s cruelty to humanity that we should remember and be aware of so we can guard against it and others who may appear who are like them.  So, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, is it all meaningless?  Well it might seem to be if you leave out the most important thing in life….your Creator, God!

The thing is that in 1:15 Solomon tells us that 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.”  Now, if we are looking at our ability to straighten things and count what is not there, then this is absolutely true.  However, God can see what is not there in a person, and also has the power to straighten up crooked things.  Only the power of God can do that.  God sees the potential in a person that is not readily visible to others.

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Ecclesiastes 1:18 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1:18 also gives us a bit of truth…as we age we generally can look back and see what we did wrong, and then when we see a young person making the same mistake and cannot influence them with the wisdom we have acquired it does cause sorrow to us.  However, it is good if we can remember that we got through our unwise state and in many ways we are still unwise in our thoughts and actions.  Yet we can take comfort in knowing that God is also working on that youngster’s path in life, as he does on ours. We need to turn our griefs over to God and let him help us through them.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 

Ecclesiastes 1 New International Version (NIV)

Everything Is Meaningless

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Wisdom Is Meaningless

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 1:1Or the leader of the assembly; also in verses 2 and 12

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In Ecclesiastes 2 Solomon starts talking about how meaningless Pleasure and work are in life.  He tells us that he thinks that laughter is madness and what does pleasure accomplish?

Well, as far as I am concerned…I think that Solomon may have forgotten that God invented laughter and pleasure and work.  God knows that laughter is good for us and wants us to have pleasure in the things in life, and have meaning in our work.

After all, God gave Adam a job right away in the Garden of Eden…he was told to name the animals, and care for the Garden.

Genesis 2:15  The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

God tells us to have some rest and worship on the Sabbath Day…so God knows that rest is important to the renewing of ourselves to continue the work he has given us.

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The thing is that Solomon tells us a few things about his pursuit of pleasure and work and it is pretty plain that he was not including God in his pursuit of pleasure or in his work.  That is why he came to the conclusion that it was all meaningless.

When we get down to the end of Ecclesiastes 2 we find that Solomon ended up with this very same conclusion…if you do everything in service to God, then God rewards that service with a sense of satisfaction in life.

Not so, for the person who is not serving God…they continue to run through life like a rat on an exercise wheel…until life runs out on them.

Solomon’s thoughts in 2:24-26 may be hard for some to accept, especially if they are running away from God.  It just comes down to one thing…either a person can have a fulfilling and meaningful life with God….or they can choose to run their own life…without God..which means that there is no more life after life…all that person has is the here and now and whatever satisfaction they can find in it.

Personally, I am happy that I have chosen not to live life without the inclusion of the Almighty God, my creator….because this means that not only do I have an after life to faithfully look forward to, but I can also share in God’s joy here on earth by doing the work he has given me to do.  I have assurance that there is meaning to life!

I am hoping and praying that all of you have that assurance also…that is how we all share in God’s joy…the joy of a sinner saved, and the joy of fellowship with God and with fellow believers.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

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Ecclesiastes 2 New International Version (NIV)

Pleasures Are Meaningless

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart.I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.

Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
    just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
    while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
    that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
    “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
    the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Toil Is Meaningless

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 2:8 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sinning in Ignorance

highpriestHebrews 5:1-2  Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

Read: 1 Samuel 14:1- 46  This is the story of Jonathon breaking a law in innocence, he didn’t know that there was a law, and God protected him from injustice. 

1Samuel 14: One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left.

On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez and the other Seneh. One cliff stood to the north toward Mikmash, the other to the south toward Geba.

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our signthat the Lord has given them into our hands.”

11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”

13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him.14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Israel Routs the Philistines

15 Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.[a]

16 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions.17 Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.

18 Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.)[b]19 While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

20 Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 21 Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the Israelites who had hiddenin the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. 23 So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.

Jonathan Eats Honey

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24 Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.[c]28 Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”

29 Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

31 That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Mikmash to Aijalon,they were exhausted. 32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. 33 Then someone said to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that has blood in it.”

“You have broken faith,” he said. “Roll a large stone over here at once.” 34 Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with blood still in it.’”

So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first time he had done this.

36 Saul said, “Let us go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive.”

“Do whatever seems best to you,” they replied.

But the priest said, “Let us inquire of God here.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.

38 Saul therefore said, “Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one of them said a word.

40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, “You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.”

“Do what seems best to you,” they replied.

41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault,[d] respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

So Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”

44 Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”

45 But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Samuel 14:15 Or a terrible panic
  2. 1 Samuel 14:18 Hebrew; Septuagint “Bring the ephod.” (At that time he wore the ephod before the Israelites.)
  3. 1 Samuel 14:27 Or his strength was renewed; similarly in verse 29
  4. 1 Samuel 14:41 Septuagint; Hebrew does not have “Why … at fault.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I really like this story because it shows a lot about the character of Saul and of the character of Jonathon, his son, but most importantly it is a great illustration of the character of God.  We see many times when reading about Saul that he is actually more interested in what men think of him and how to get what he wants than he is in finding out what God wants.  In this story, the Priest had to remind him that they should seek God’s will in what they were doing.  Saul didn’t punish his men for breaking God’s law, (eating meat with blood still in it)but he was going to put his son to death for breaking an oath that he forced on his men…to fast until evening.  Yet, if you look at that oath Saul demanded of his men, he was asking them to expend a lot of physical energy and yet not be “fueled” physically for the job.  Saul’s temperament was very much that of an “in the moment” type of person…rapid decisions on the spot without taking God into account most of the time until after the fact.  Personally, I find that King Saul’s character was very harsh, seems like he would be an uncomfortable person to be around.

Jonathon, on the other hand in all the readings about him, seems to have been a very sweet, and contemplative person…who was steadfast toward his friends and toward his father.  A person of action, but actions that he considered beforehand, and  looked to God for his answers.  Even when we find that God has made David the anointed future King of Israel…Jonathon does not complain…he simply accepts what his God has ordained…he states that he knows that he will be “second in command”.  Imagine that kind of faith?  Jonathon knows that whatever God ordains will come to pass, and that it will be best for everyone.  He trusted God.  He was even ready to die for eating a bit of honey if that is what God ordained.  God did not so ordain and used the men around Jonathon to open Saul’s eyes that God had used his son that day in order to give them victory over the Philistines. The glory always belongs to God.

1Samuel 23:17  

17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” (NIV)

 

We need to always remember to seek God first…if our intention is to seek God and live the way that God wishes us to live, then we can be confident that God will understand our mistakes.  God knows who we are, and what our intentions toward him are in our lives.  If we commit a sin, and we don’t really understand that it is a sin, then God is a God of justice.  If a person is truly seeking the Lord, then he will eventually find a way to open that person’s eyes to their sin.  Even the unknown ones.

Imagine how hard it would be if we all in seeking God were suddenly faced with ALL of our wrong doings in life…ALL of the things that we were sinful in doing, AND expected to FIX them all immediately before being drawn into a relationship with God?

It would not just be hard, it would be impossible!  If that were the requirement then none of us would be able to draw close to God…ever!  Thankfully, we have a loving God who has provided a way for us, through Jesus the Christ, to turn away from our sins and draw closer to him.  God is merciful and allows us to be helped by him in working through our sinful issues one by one as we go through life.  It is an amazing thing to me…when I first really started actively drawing closer to God I had a mental list of what my sins were…now I can laugh at the small number of them (though I thought at the time they the number was large enough…after all one is too many…that is why we need Jesus!).

The thing is that we all have sins that we don’t even recognize yet…it takes time with God for him to reveal them to us.  It is his love for you and me that he does this for us.   As we are able to set aside and grow away from our sins one by one we can grow closer to God and grow into the peace of heart, mind and soul that God wishes us to have in our life.

We are just like babies in dealing with our sins and in dealing with God.  Babies don’t understand the concepts of friendship or sharing, but usually by the time they are, say, 10 years old, hopefully their parents have taught to understand how to be a good friend, and that people share things, and selfishness is wrong.

It is really important to remember that God loves us even when we are sinning, but that our sins separate us from God.  So as soon as we recognize a sin, we should ask God to forgive us, and help us to turn away from that sin.  Remember John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God does not  want anyone to perish!  God loves us…he is not mad at us…he wants what is best for us…and following is plan for our life is what is best, but in order to come to know that plan….we have to seek God out with all of our hearts!

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Something to think about:   Are there times when you have done the wrong thing for what you think are the right reasons, but then you find out that you cannot justify doing the wrong thing for any reason?  

Is there a time  when you have unknowingly done the wrong thing?  For instance, you try to patch up some friends who are disagreeing and they get mad at you because of your methods.  Perhaps you tricked them into being in the same place at the same time, or you lied to them to get them to make up.  What happened when the lie came out? 

Perhaps you ate a piece of cake not knowing that the cake was supposed to go to a bake sale, and not be eaten at home.  You didn’t intentionally do the wrong thing, but it turned out that you had done the wrong thing.

God sees these kinds of things and realizes what we are doing…even if we think that no one sees us…God knows what is going on all of the time.  God sees things through the eyes of love!  

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This is my dog, Leia.  She is getting old now, but she is always happy to see me and just wants to be with me. I really appreciate  how God supplied me with pets who let me see such a simple and straight forward happiness. 

The Devourer’s of Widow’s houses

IMG_2256Luke 20:45-47 45 Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

Luke 21:1-4 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

I was having a conversation with my Mother last week and she mentioned the widow’s mite and I felt compelled to go and reread it.  Many times I have heard people quote this story as if it were another of Jesus’ parables and say things like  “The Widow was more blessed than all the rest because she gave everything she had to God!”  I have heard this story used to say that we should give our all to God.

While it is true that we should give ourselves fully over to God I don’t believe that it is in God’s nature, nor is it in scripture that God would like people to starve in order to pay tithe.  In fact, if you look at Luke 20:45-47, it is pretty obvious that Jesus is condemning the scribes for “devouring the widow’s houses”.  Now, I look at that along with Luke 21:1-4 where Jesus is standing there and observing this woman put in all she had to live on and it seems that Jesus is saying that the scribes are actually at fault for making this poor woman believe that in order to be accepted by God she needs to give everything she has to live on…even if it means she must starve.

Now there are other places that we can go in scripture to back up the idea that God takes care of his people and he puts the people and their well being above following the law.

For instance:  Mark 2:23-27 

23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.

24 And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

25 And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him?

26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:

(1Samuel 21:7 for the scripture about David and his men.)

When we look at Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Many times you will hear folks say, “Blessed are the Poor” and then leave it at that…the complete statement is Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Now that is a completely different idea…there is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount which is talking about wealth or poverty of material goods.  Everything is talking about attitude toward God and toward others in life.

When I read the idea of the Poor in Spirit…I think it is about being selfless in your attitude in life.  You are always looking toward the needs of others, and what God wants you to do…not always yelling about yourself and your rights in this world.  That is what it means to me when I read the “poor in spirit” statement.

God continually condemns self centered people who walk all over or manipulate others for their own gain!  There is a lot of misconception about wealth in the world of Christianity.  The reason misconception continues is that there are many Christians who do not read the Word of God for themselves and study it.  Relying solely on someone in the pulpit to tell you how to be a Christian is a huge error!  There are a lot of folks who take things out of context and support their beliefs instead of taking it in the context in which it was written and finding out what God is really like.

There are very sincere Christians in all walks of life..both wealthy and poor…God has no problem with the level of your pocket book….only if you love your wealth more than you love him and those around you is there a problem.  The Bible says, “Love of money is the root of all evil”, not: “money is the root of all evil.”

1Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

This is why the scribes were condemned…it was love of themselves and love of money to the point where they actually “devoured widow’s houses”.  They were hypocrites in the worst way, they gave “some” of their wealth, but made the widow feel that she had to give “all” of her goods in order to measure up.

Have you ever done that?  Seen that someone was giving a lot and so felt the need to put more in than you could really afford…more than you had previously decided on because the amount you were able to give seemed “insignificant” by comparison to what you knew the other person was giving?!! God says that he loves a cheerful giver…he wants you to give what you feel you can… to honor him.  He does not want you comparing yourself with the person next to you.  He wants your love and trust in him. That is why it is best if all giving is done quietly and personally.

I went to a large church as a visitor with someone once, and that person told me that whenever they went to their church they felt that they should always bring the “checkbook”; when I attended with them I understood why they felt that way…the buckets (literally) were passed about 5 times down the aisles during their worship!  Now some folks who are new or unsure of their Christianity would feel pressured to always put something in each time it was passed in order to not be “embarrassed”…I wonder what Jesus would think of his followers treating his sheep like that in his name?!!  Well, we don’t have far to look…looking again at the verses in Luke 20 and Luke 21 above it seems clear how Jesus would feel about these things.

The Bible is very clear on the status of widows and orphans from Old Testament through New Testament the attitude is the same.  Those who are most vulnerable in society should be protected and cared for either by their relatives or by the church if there are no relatives to care for them.

Exodus 22:22-23King James Version (KJV)

22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

For more from the apostle Paul on the care of widows and orphans look at 1Timothy 5.

Great is your Reward

IMG_49481Corinthians 2:9  However, as it is written: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love him.

I find it to be interesting that the focus of many sermons is the rewards of following God…how we will be rewarded for our behavior or our faith when we get to heaven.  As if anyone who genuinely choses to follow Jesus Christ is doing so for the “rewards” that they might get!  Jesus called his Disciples his friends….now I don’t know about you, but I don’t approach my friends with any thought of what “reward” I can get from them.  The friendship is reward enough.

There are many many verses in the Bible that speak of God giving rewards to people, and we have many many pastors out there preaching about rewards.  This verse in 1Cor. 2:9 tells us that we cannot fathom all that God has prepared for us who love him.

That means that when we think of rewards we can probably cross off things of an earthly nature, from our thinking.  Not that God doesn’t care about those things that you need and desire in your life..he does.  However, face the facts…not every devoted Christian becomes endowed with worldly wealth.  My personal thinking is that if you need it to accomplish the purpose God has for your life, then he will provide it.  The main thing is to understand that having wealth is not a sin, but misusing it, or not recognizing that it is a gift (Even if you work for it, the abilities that allow you to attain it come from God… they are a gift…there are many people who work for it and yet never have it.)

So, lets look at this reward idea from another perspective instead of the material goods perspective.

What is the reward of being a Christian?  I know one of the first things we all think of is that we have been purified and salvation is ours.  While that is true, I don’t think of this as a reward.  Generally, we refer to that as a “gift” that Jesus gave us.  A reward implies something that we worked to earn in some way.  We all know that we cannot “earn” salvation, though there are many people that still try.

Proverbs 3:3-4  Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

So looking at Proverbs 3:3-4 we can see that one of the rewards of following God is that you win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

Another way to put this is that you are viewed as a Godly, righteous person, both in the sight of God and in the sight of the people around you.  By living in love and faithfulness you become what Jesus told his Disciples to be….followers of Jesus…Fishers of Men…representing the loving nature of God to those around you…living witnesses to the message of the Kingdom of God.

Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

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Luke 6:38 is many times taken out of context, but the good measure spoken of here is connected to verse 37 which speaks about being judgmental and condemning of others.  We can just as well paraphrase this verse to say…”Give forgiveness, and love generously to others.”

Those who cook can understand the idea of a “good measure”…it means not to be skimpy in your measurement of an ingredient because it effects the outcome of the thing you are cooking.  So being generous in our measure of forgiveness to others and in our loving of others will effect how they respond to us as people…it effects how they respond to your claim of Christianity also.  God is telling us that we should be quick to forgive and generous in doing so.  Looking at this from a reward perspective…the reward for this is that God will judge your misdeeds with the same measure that you judge others.  If you judge others harshly then you can expect the same from God.  So the benefit of being loving and forgiving toward others is that God is the same to you, and also your earthly benefit is that you will have many more friends and loved ones, and when you tell someone that you are a Christian then they will be apt to believe you and perhaps wish to find out more about your Christianity.

Face it! There is no one who has ever been hated into loving God!

Jesus is the only one qualified to say where a person is going to end up.  He is the only judge.  The pressure is off! You and I are not required to fix the world by standing in judgement on others!  I think, what a relief!  What a reward!  God’s requirement for us is to love the person and show them who God is in our lives by the way we live and love others, and love God.

Please don’t confuse being the type of judgment spoken of here, (which is being condemning) and using good judgement in dealing with others.  

Another reward we have from following God is to be at peace with God, and to have God’s peace in our lives.  Gaining this peace comes from turning our lives over to God and submitting to him.  Part of that submission which leads to earthly peace is to learn to have a habit of forgiving others.  Forgiveness is like that…the more you do it…the easier it becomes…it is habit forming!  The more you forgive the more peace you have in your heart.

God tells us to forgive, not for the person who has done wrong’s benefit, but for our own benefit.  A horrible thing happens to us when we do not forgive….we have anger that moves through us at the thought of that person…until we are consumed with bitterness.  This is unhealthy and usually doesn’t make the other person feel bad at all.  We are not to wait for the person to ask us for forgiveness….we need to be working on it as soon as we have been wronged so that if they ever do ask, then we can be the person who can smile peacefully and sincerely tell that person that we already forgave them for that a while back!  I can tell you that this is a wonderful feeling to have because you don’t need to worry about your expression or anything…it is a feeling of freedom to be able to forgive people readily.  That is quite a reward….it leads to a peace that surpasses any worldly understanding.  A peace of heart.cb9abd0f57c415832936240661835956

Hebrews 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

I really have no idea what reward God may have for his believers in heaven, but I can tell you that for myself, I have found that living in relationship with God on a daily basis is reward enough.  It is a great reward to go through life and enjoy the pleasure of God’s company through good times and bad..to know that you are truly never alone…and also to be able to celebrate the salvation of another person as they learn and get excited to follow God..to watch their life of faith begin and continue…to be part of a larger family…as Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:48   48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

The reward that God gives us in this life is relationship…with him and with others around us.  There are many small gifts along the way  that God may give you (he is good to do that), but relationship is to my way of thinking the primary “reward” for following God.  In short, God’s idea of a reward does not correspond to the earthly ideas of position in society, lording it over others, or monetary rewards…his idea of a reward is relationship with him and with those around you…more love in your life!

I think the reward that most of us who are Christians want from God is said very well in Matthew 25:21

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 

 

I am The Alpha and the Omega…

IMG_0089Revelations: 22:13  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, The Beginning and the End

Read Genesis Chapter 1, and Revelation Chapter 22.  This is about both the beginning and the end of Man’s life on Earth as we know it.  God was there to create us, and as Chapter 22 in Revelations states He will be there to separate those who are to get into the Holy city of God, and those who don’t. 

The Alpha and the Omega…The First and the Last, The Beginning and the End…Those are very strong images.  They are images of an everlasting, timelessness that we as humans cannot really grasp.  Just like trying to grasp the mathematical number pi…3.1416 onward to infinity.  It is simply beyond my grasp to understand.  I sit and think to myself back when I first heard of such a number that I wonder who came up with it and how they discovered it and how they know that it is infinite.  Obviously, God would be the inventor of that number as well as all others as he is the creator of all things.  He simply revealed it to us humans as it became something that a few of us could almost grasp.  Funny thing is that mathematical pi has been known to have been in use in some form since the time of the Babylonians around 4000 B.C.  You might say that it is one of the remnants of the great Babylonian empire, though their number was a bit inaccurate.  Now for any who are reading this who don’t know what pi is…it is the relationship between the circumference of a circle (that is if you walked around the circle), and the diameter (if you walked across the circle).  I know it is used in formulas for this purpose, but don’t entirely understand it, not being a mathematician.  However, back to the topic at hand…

God, who is infinite (like walking around a circle..no beginning and no end) took a lot of trouble to present himself to us in a very linear, straight forward way.  He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to actually show us who God is in the flesh. Jesus has a whole lot of names listed in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

God knew that we were not capable of understanding all of who he is, so he decided to come and meet each and every one of us where we are on this earth.  Now, as with all meetings, you can make a friend of the one whom you meet with…or you can reject that friendship by either making an enemy, or by simply ignoring the hand of friendship.

When we read about what God created in Genesis chapter one…it is an awesome thing….he “spoke” the world into existence.  Most of us are really impressed that we can speak into a gps and tell it to plot a route, right?!!  The gps is already in existence and is programmed for  this purpose…God spoke the world into existence from absolutely nothing…We are told in Genesis 1 that The earth was formless and void, and there was darkness…

A God who can speak the world into existence from nothing can most certainly handle my problems, right?!!  God tells us that he will be there from beginning to end…to me that is a comforting statement.  Why?  Well, that is because I love God and I know that God loves me and the he considers me to be very precious to him.  God considers us all to be his very precious creations.  It is just that some people chose to accept God’s invitation to have a close and very personal relationship with him and others don’t.

When you choose to have a close relationship with God everything does not suddenly become perfect and rosy in your life.  Just look at the lives of the Disciples if you don’t understand what I am saying.  You are probably saying, “why not?”

Well, that is the thing, although we are precious to God, so are other people.  Once you have God’s saving grace, he wants to use you to glorify him by bringing other people into close relationship with him also.  Sometimes the process of being used by God for this purpose can be painful and hard to bear…sometimes you don’t even know when or how God is using you.  That is where faith comes in, you just follow God and know that he is with you where ever you go….from beginning to end….he has a purpose for everyone.  Our main purpose is to glorify God, and we are to love people first and foremost even when they are next to impossible to love.  I am sure we all have met some folks who are like that!

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Just fill in the blank here….”I cannot love them because they are…or they did…”

Just remember that God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End…he is there for your beginning and end and he is also there for their beginning and end…he knows exactly what it takes to love each and every one of us.

Matthew 5:44-46  

44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

 

He knows how to help us to love the folks who are unlovable…and we are all in some ways hard to love at different times in our lives.  The thing that I have found over the years is that if you can look at things from the other person’s perspective and try to understand why they are acting they way they are acting, then you are well on your way to being able to love them with the love of Christ.

Most of us have met people and thought…”I can never be friends with them…they are so….” (fill in the blank)…then something happens that is unforeseen and we find that we have a common interest, or that we actually believe something in the same way and suddenly we are best friends with that person.  I have learned that you can never write off a person because at first they are not someone you instantly bond with.  Each person has their own unique characteristics and gifts, and their own unique backgrounds and life experiences…their own pains and pleasures in life which make up who they are.

God knows all of it….the Bible says that God knew us before we were in the womb, though the verse is talking to Jeremiah, God knows all of us the same way.

Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” NIV

If you read Revelation Chapter 22 then you see that God is expecting something from us all…it says he will reward each according to what they have done…this is not talking about how much money you have given, or how hard you have worked at work, or how many fund raisers you have done for your church…this is talking about how much you have loved others and how many people have come to know God because of your actions and your words.  Teaching people about who God is must be done with both words and actions…it must be an intentional act…to love that person enough to want them to truly understand the love of Christ.

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Revelation 22 reminds us that people can be lost…because their focus is on themselves and their own pleasures and not on God.  This is a tragedy that God would like to avoid happening.

I read this verse in 2 Peter 3:9-12 about the type of people we should be as we wait for the Day of the Lord to come….we are to be conducting ourselves with godliness and holiness as we anticipate and “hasten” the day of the Lord.   

We are to “hasten” the day of the Lord by loving others and helping them to come to know who God is through knowledge and relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Peter tells us in verse 9, The Day of the Lord has not yet come because God does not wish anyone to be lost.  It isn’t because God doesn’t see the bad things that are happening, it’s because he wants to save as many as will turn to him.  God’s servants (that would be us) are those who can impact others to turn them toward God…that is what it means to hasten the coming Day of the Lord, or to move the Kingdom of God forward.

1Corinthians 1:18  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Honest Prayer

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Psalm 99:5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Read Matthew 23 

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Matthew Chapter 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
  2. Matthew 23:14 Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.
  3. Matthew 23:39 Psalm 118:26

(From Bible Gateway.com… the NIV)

 

In Matthew 23 we find that Jesus is very condemning of the actions of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  He tells his Disciples to learn from them by following what they say because they know the law well..(they are sitting in the seat of Moses).  However, Jesus warns his Disciples not to act the way these men act.  These particular Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus was talking about (Jesus and Paul the Apostle were both Pharisees by the way)  were men who failed in their responsibility to God.  They were supposed to be teaching the people about who God was, that he was a God of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  

Instead they were teaching people the letter of the law, but not the Spirit of the Law.  The Spirit of the Law is supposed to bring you closer to God.  Following the Spirit of the Law also brings you closer to your fellow man.  Just look at the characteristics of God given by Jesus, Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  If we use those characteristics in dealing with each other we also draw closer to each other in love.  It is nearly impossible to understand Justice, Mercy or Faithfulness without having love involved also.  I am not talking romantic love here, but the love of your fellow humans..compassion.  I mean who doesn’t want to be around and spend time with someone who is compassionate and gentle, merciful and forgiving, and fair?  That is God and those are God’s character traits…we are told to be like that to each other.

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(Now there are some people who want to judge God and say that God is not always fair…but for those people ask yourself…are you really qualified to judge God?…if you are…then doesn’t that mean that you are taking on the position of God?  Just think about that a bit…it is a hard thing to wrap your mind around…but either Jesus is the Lord of your life….or he’s not..if he’s not, then that means you are trying to be the Lord of your own life…that never actually works out well. -Just refer back to the story of Adam and Eve and see how it worked out for them)

Jesus wanted his Disciples to follow both the letter and the spirit.  He wanted his Disciples to know that the law was not just something to be talked about and taught to others.  It was to be followed by his Disciples too.

The Pharisees were telling everyone else to follow the law, and making it so hard on the average Jew that they were having trouble following them all! However, they, the Pharisees themselves, were not following all of the laws that they were putting upon others.  They were sinning themselves, the sins of pride, and self indulgence, and hypocrisy.  Yet they were busy bodies who were constantly telling other people how they should live, and criticizing what others do.

Jesus tells them that they are all shine, and no substance…they look nice on the outside, but the inside is rotten.  (I think we have probably all met people like this.)  I really love the phrase used about the white washed tomb filled with the bones of rotting corpses (unclean things)…slight paraphrase there, but the meaning is very clear.

The Pharisees in question were clearly hypocrites (aka actors) they were putting on a constant show of “whoo, my poop don’t stink because I am so very Godly..it wouldn’t dare stink….I always look and smell like roses!”  That is what is meant when Jesus says talks about their garments and phylacteries….he is saying that they are making them larger and longer to make them seem like they are more important to them and make themselves seem more holy.  Kind of like if you see someone who is carrying around a Bible and quoting scripture  all the time, but then you hear them tell a whopping lie to someone.  That would probably be the equivalent situation in our time.

If you think about it there are a lot of people who are running all over telling everyone how Christian they are, but then they just don’t act like they know God at all when dealing in their day to day life.  They are just giving God the nod of their head on Sunday and the rest of the week doing whatever they want.  In other words they are not taking God seriously, are they?

Jesus gets on them about the importance they place on the gold in the temple instead of the sacredness of temple itself, and why the temple is sacred.  Now that happens a lot even now.  People put more emphasis on the building they are worshipping in than they do God whom the building is for, or God’s people who are in the building.  That is a sad situation for sure….if a person takes their focus off of God for a second or two, then it is easy to end up with your focus on the wrong thing.  People get panicky whenever they are trying to hold onto something that they perceive that they may lose….at times like that it is easy to get side tracked from God.

This idea of “swearing on the gold in the temple” has carried over into more modern days, and is still around now.  Back in the time of Martin Luther the monk (not Martin Luther King Jr.) the church sold “penance” to people.  Martin Luther did not agree with this and was verbal about it. The church allowed people to buy forgiveness and many rich men took advantage of this to use their money to get away with doing whatever they wanted. 

Today, there are still many Christians who have wealth and believe that as long as they tithe enough money or spend enough on charities they are excused from their actions. 

Jesus did not agree with this and he condemned people who where praying or acting holy  for the sake of pretending to be Holy, while having the education about God to know that this is wrong. They are ignoring what they know in pursuit of themselves and their own glorification on earth. 

Jesus states that these Pharisees are greatly damned for their actions. In other words, the more they know, the more they are expected to represent God to the people, so the greater their damnation when they misuse what they know for their own gain.   It is really important to be honest in your dealings with God and with others. 

Keep in mind that God knows what you think and what you are doing, what your real motivations are.  The only person you are fooling with your behavior is yourself.  The Pharisees fooled themselves.

Respect for God’s House

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Matthew 21:13 It is written, he said to them, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.

God’s house is a house of prayer, and needs to be treated as a Holy place.  Nothing ungodly should be taking place there.

Read Mark 11:15-19 Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and stated that His house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, and that they had turned it into a den of thieves.

Read Acts chapter 3 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’[a]

24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’[b] 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 3:23 Deut. 18:15,18,19
  2. Acts 3:25 Gen. 22:18; 26:4

The disciples John and Peter go to temple to pray during the time of prayer.  Although you are to pray without ceasing, this is more that you should be mindful of God during the course of your day.   There are times when you should spend time only thinking of God and talking to God through prayer, without doing anything else at the same time.  Life can get in the way of our prayer time if we let it.  We can become guilty of treating our prayer time with God as an after thought…you know, something you do in a half minded kind of way…just putting it right in there while you are multi-tasking and never giving him the personal one on one attention that we need to really be fully in God’s presence.  

When I was growing up a lot of attention was paid to not “setting anything on the Bible.”  This was an act of respect in my parents eyes for the fact that the Bible is the living word of God…that it is Holy scripture.  I don’t find anything wrong with this stand on things, but for me I feel that the ultimate respect that you can pay God’s word is to read it and learn it and have it written on your heart.  All the other treatments of God’s word become empty things if you don’t have a relationship and have it in your heart.

Personally, I do set things on my Bible as I am usually carrying a lot of things in my arms when I am coming and going from my home with the Bible to church and back.  It is really hard to not have anything on top of it…it doesn’t really bother me much because I do have it written on my heart and I am using that Word.  When you use something it usually gets a bit of wear on it.  You can tell folks who really use their Bibles because unless they just bought a new one..it is usually full of stuff that is falling out of it, and quite worn looking.  I think God would rather it look that way than to keep it crisp and new and sitting on your coffee table.  Now I am not saying that everyone “must” memorize chapter and verse and be able to recite scripture and include where it is located in the recitation.  The idea of writing it on your heart is more like knowing it so that if you are in a situation where you are tempted or don’t know how you should handle things…then you can have a scripture pop into your head…the Holy Spirit can remind you of it and help you to know what to do and how to act in any given situation and remain in a Godly position.

Jesus did this when he was being tempted in the desert…Satan would say something to tempt Jesus, and Jesus responded to Satan using scripture to refute what Satan was saying.  If you don’t read it then you cannot truly have it written on your heart…you cannot truly be a doer of the Word as well as a hearer of the Word.  (James 1:22-25)

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Now if we go back to the stories above of Jesus over turning the money changer’s tables in the temple courts and the contrasting story of the newly healed lame man who entered the temple courts “walking and jumping and praising God” some people would be very upset at the idea of the man jumping around in the temple courts and say it was disrespectful.  I don’t believe that God would see it that way at all….this man was so grateful for his healing that he could not contain his joy!  It was flowing out of him with childish excitement.  It was so pronounced that it attracted attention…this caused people to come running to see what was going on there.

Peter looked at them, and took the opportunity to remind them of who God was, and that they should not be surprised at God’s ability to heal….and that the healing came through the promised Messiah that they had rejected.  Peter acknowledged that their rejection was done in ignorance of who they were rejecting and he told them that they should change their hearts and turn away from that ignorance and embrace who Jesus truly was…that Jesus was the author of life and that in their ignorance they had “killed the author of life”…now if someone is the author of life, then certainly they would be able to heal would they not?  It would be a little thing to them to do so.  Peter was quick to give the credit to God and not to take it for himself.  That is so important when you are doing something that God has given you to do…be sure to give God the glory and honor for using you to do that deed just as Peter did in this situation.  Knowing God, acknowledging him, obeying him and giving him the glory for all the blessings in your life is the ultimate paying of love and respect to God.  At least that is my thinking…because the word says that if you love God then you will obey his word, and God will come to make his “home” with you….essentially when I read this I understand it to be that you become the “house of God”  in a much more literal and important way than a building will ever be.

John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

Shouldn’t the “house of God” have the “Word of God” inside of it? Isn’t that just respectful?

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As for the money changers…they didn’t understand this concept at all because if they had understood then they would have known that God wanted us to love each other, not cheat each other. Jesus was walking among them in living flesh and they still didn’t get it!

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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If there are 10 Righteous Men…

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Genesis 18:32 Then he said May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?

Read Genesis 18:20-33 God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah that their sin is too great.  Abraham prays to God that he not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found in either one of them.  God agreed, but could only find 1 righteous man, Lot, and so saved Lot and his family and still destroyed  the city.  So although  the city was destroyed, God listened to Abraham, and looked for righteous people first thereby saving Lot.  Without Abraham’s intercessory prayer, God may have destroyed the entire city.  Prayer affected the outcome for Lot.

There is a bunch of history between Abraham and Lot.   Lot is Abraham’s nephew by one of his deceased brothers.  When God told Abraham to pick up and move to a new country with his wife and family, Abraham took Lot along.  He and Lot ended up having to go their separate ways after a while because their family groups were too large and their flocks were too large.  This caused a bunch of fighting between their herdsmen.  Abraham was kind enough to let Lot choose which of the new land he wanted for himself.  Lot demonstrates a bit of his character to us by choosing the best and greenest land, and leaving the desert area for Abraham. Later his area is raided and he and his family members are kidnapped…Abraham goes to the rescue with a few hundred men and gets them back.

John 3:16-21  

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV -Biblegateway)

Now in this story we find that the town that Lot is living in (Sodom) is about to be destroyed by God.  God has found the town to be so filled with sin that he considers it irredeemable.  In our society there is a belief that everyone is going to be redeemed.  That is simply not true.  It is purely wishful thinking…however, it is good that we have that desire to see everyone redeemed.  God has the same desire, and wants us to have that desire also.  He wants us to love others to that point where we wish the best for them, and would like to help them achieve it.

2Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The promise that is spoken about in 2Peter 3:9  is the return of the Lord…he is not slow in returning because he wants us to suffer more, but because more can have time to make the decision to follow Jesus, and gain their salvation and restored relationship with God.  God leaves people here on earth who have already gained their salvation so that they can be instrumental through their knowledge of God, and through the way they live out their faith….in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation also.

Abraham always loved Lot and wanted him to be saved, but he also did not want the people of Sodom to be destroyed either…he was hoping that there would be enough people in the town of Sodom that Lot could continue to live his life there, and that God would not destroy the town.  That there were enough people still in Sodom that they could witness to those who were living in sin and thus help them to repent and return to God.  However, as we know from the Bible, Lot was the only person left in that town whom God considered to be righteous.  If you read more about Lot in the Old Testament you will find that he wasn’t really all that righteous…he had a knowledge of God, but not necessarily a very strong character.  He tried to be obedient to God, but he didn’t seem to cling to him the way he should.  It is a good thing that Abraham was around to look out for his nephew, and to pray to God for him.  God wants us to look out for others, especially for other Christians who may be new to the faith, or weaker spiritually.  We are to lift them up in prayer and bolster their faith as much as we can.

Notice that God never got mad at Abraham for how he questioned him repeatedly about his actions.  God does not get mad at us either for wondering about what his plan is and what he is doing.  God wants relationship with us, if we have a question about what God is wanting us to do, or what is happening or why…we should feel free to pray and ask God to help us to resolve these questions, and to have a closer understanding of him and his plan.  God is gracious and loving and understands us more than we understand ourselves.  Use prayer to relate to him and he will give you answers and contentment about how he is doing things.  When there isn’t prayer/communication..there isn’t understanding either.  So pray and ask God what is going on and how to proceed whenever you are in doubt…it will definitely build your faith up…beyond your dreams!

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Faithfulness and Integrity of Heart-God’s response to Solomon

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Read 1Kings 9:3-9: The Lord said to him:“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’” (NIV)

This is God’s answer to Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication. The guidelines that God gave to Solomon are pretty simple aren’t they?  God tells Solomon in these verses to have “integrity of the heart and uprightness” like his father David did.  What do you think God means by integrity of the heart?  I mean we know that David was someone who sinned….he was an adulterer, and a murderer he had Bathsheba’s husband killed by ordering him placed at the front of the battle and having the troupes than back away from him…in order to hide his adultery because Bathsheba came up pregnant and he couldn’t get Uriah to sleep with his wife after he ordered him home from the battle.  When I think of David, I certainly it certainly doesn’t seem like he had integrity of the heart and uprightness.  He was a sinner plain and simple…but in God’s eyes after David had passed away and the throne of David was given to his son, Solomon, God still saw David as someone who had integrity of the heart and uprightness.  How can this be?

In Acts 13:22 we are told that God had found David, a man after God’s own heart to replace Saul as King.  So how can a person who is a sinner be someone who is after God’s own heart.  Someone who is an adulterer and a murderer be someone who has “integrity of the heart and uprightness?”

David did not recognize his own sinfulness.  He fell into the trap of thinking that because he was King he was above everyone who recognized him as their King.

After all, it isn’t like Bathsheba had a choice in the matter…she was taking a bath, and David saw her, and wanted her.  So, as her King, he sent for her, and probably pretty much took what he wanted from her, or coerced her in some way.  It is highly unlikely that she was allowed to say no to him.  Women in David’s time did not have a lot of rights, and a woman who was called for by the King would have even less rights than usual.

Yet, she could have been stoned for being an adulterer and so could King David.  How desperate might she have become when she found she was pregnant and her husband had not been around in time to get her that way.  I am not saying that Bathsheba was innocent, just that her choice to say no might have been a hard one to make.  She might have considered that if she had said no, then her outcome would have been bad that way also.  I don’t believe that fairy tale that we are told as kids in the sanitized children’s version of the story of this great love….after all, David did have other wives besides Bathsheba…around 8 of them at least that are named, and he had children with most of them.  (2Samuel 3:1-5, 1Chronicles 3:1-3, 2Samuel 5:13, 1Samuel 18-19:24, 1Samuel 25)  

At any rate, the fact that David sinned is well documented in the story of him and Bathsheba.  In fact, we are made aware of how far David had fallen from grace in that instead of allowing Bathsheba’s pregnancy to wake him up to his sin, he just committed more sins to try and hide it.

He had so far forgotten that his role as a King was to serve his people and he reversed it that they were there to serve him…that God had to send him a reprimand in the form of Nathan the prophet.  2Samuel 12:1-13 tells us that Nathan delivered a parable to David which made David wake up to his own sins.   God dictated the penalty of David’s actions, which were dire indeed.

Finally, David repented. Then God forgave.  God is faithful to forgive.  I think that what it means to have “integrity of the heart” is that even while he was in sin, and separated from God by that sin, David was still very aware of who God was, and it was not his desire to ever be separated from God.    David still had faith in God, and understood that God was the supreme King of his own life.  So the minute that he was confronted with the reality that God knew what his sin was and that he might be able to hide it from people, but never from God…he repented…because his faith and his relationship with God was the most important thing in his life.

This is also the reason that God calls David a man after his own heart.  David loved God with all his being and he was truly committed to following God and doing what God wanted him to do.  There were still repercussions for David’s act of sin, that is the thing about sin, it hurts us and it hurts those around us, so there is always fall out from it.  God forgives us but we still have consequences with the people and society we live in.

We know that God’s forgiveness was complete because when he responded to Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God told Solomon to be like his father, and describes David in verse 4 as “walking faithfully before Him with integrity of heart and uprightness.”  God doesn’t want us to fall into sin. If we belong to him and we do so, then he will continually try to get our attention through various means to make us to understand what our sin is and get us to choose to repent of it, and put our eyes back on him.  David fell into sin when he took his eyes off of God for just long enough to stare at a bathing Bathsheba. Yet, David had the integrity and humbleness to apologize to God and ask for forgiveness for straying so far from what God deemed was upright.  God is looking for people who love him with all their hearts, minds and souls and will keep their eyes on Him for eternity.  God isn’t looking for perfect people, but willing, loving and faithful people who are humble enough to recognize that God is sovereign over them and that God knows what is right and best for us.

That is what we can learn from God’s response to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple and from the story of David and Bathsheba.