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.

The Rose of Sharon

rose-of-sharon-bloomsSong of Solomon 2:1 I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys.

Read Matthew 25:1-13  The story of the Bridegroom and the 10 brides.

Proverbs 13:20 Walk with the Wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

1Corinthians 15:33 Do not be fooled bad company corrupts good character.

Note: In Song of Solomon the first part of Ch. 2 is talking about a bridegroom’s love for his bride.  Jesus being the Rose of Sharon is a metaphor or a comparison to the flowers in the area of Sharon which have a light, sweet fragrance, and are delicate.  Just as the relationship between you and God is somewhat delicate.  It must be nurtured, just as a plant must be cared for and nurtured to make it grow.

In the story of the Brides, some of the brides cared enough to prepare and nurture their relationship with the bridegroom, others did not want to take the time, or didn’t give it any thought.  As you can see from the parable things did not turn out well for the brides who were not prepared.  Are you prepared for Jesus’ return?

There is a paraphrase of Proverbs 13:20 which I am reminded of that was pretty common when I was growing up:  “You are known by the company you keep!”  This idea was usually used to tell us to behave as kids, and not to hang out with kids who were out to get into trouble.  It is definitely a moral lesson on behavior.  If you hang out with liars, thieves, cheats, criminals, then people will think that you are the same kind of person.  The phrase was used whenever we needed a reminder to choose your friends carefully.  The idea is still sound today.

If you keep company with Christ and follow him, then you will be known as a true Christian.  You won’t have to actually go around telling people to let them know you are a Christian.  Though we are told to spread the word of the gospel…to tell people that the “Kingdom of Heaven is here”  and we should,  it is also important to have our actions match our words.  That is to say that we love people as much as and in the way that God loves them.  This means setting aside yourself and looking and thinking about the other person the way God looks at them, which is with the heart of understanding.  Even if you disagree with how they behave, you should still be loving them and trying to understand them with compassion.  God loves people, but he doesn’t endorse their every action as “okay” and good..this comes out clearly through out the Bible.

I am a person who really enjoys roses and I thought this  parable of the Persian Poet Saadi adds a nice idea to the idea of hanging out with Jesus who is the Rose of Sharon…after all, we were all created from the “dust of the ground!”    The poet was given a bit of ordinary clay.  The clay so vibrantly smelled of sweet perfume that its fragrance filled the room.  “What are you, musk or ambergris?” he asked.  “ I am neither.” it answered.  “ I am just a bit of common clay.”  “From where then do you have this rare perfume?” the poet asked.  “I have been all summer in the company of the rose,” it replied.

We should really choose to hang out with the “Rose of Sharon” so that we too can smell so sweet that others are asking us about our friend and savior, Jesus Christ!

Genesis 3:19 (King James Version): In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Ecclesiastes 12:7  and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

The Prince of Peace

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Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Read Matthew 5: 1-12  The Beatitudes.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace…he tells us that he gives us his peace.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid. (NIV)

When Jesus describes his peace he tells us that it is not like the peace as the world sees it or gives it.  So what is the peace that Jesus is giving us?  How do we get it?

I was having a discussion about this with a friend of mine.  We were discussing that there are blessings from God that only come from obedience to his will.  It was not a discussion saying that a person cannot be blessed by God while in a state of disobedience…as we are told in Matthew 5:44-47  “it rains on the righteous and unrighteous.” (rain is a blessing that makes things grow as indicated in this particular verse.)

 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons 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?  Do not even tax collectors do the same?…

The point is that some of the blessings of God such as Jesus’ peace that he is telling us about in John 14.  Salvation comes when you give your heart to Jesus Christ, peace comes through obedience.

Have you ever noticed that whenever you are on the “outs” with another person, or you have done something that is not quite in line with what God says is the right way to go on a matter, that your sense of peace and contentment are destroyed? …well, God isn’t just telling us to be obedient because he wants to spoil our fun.  He gives us guidelines for how to treat others, and how to treat ourselves so that we can have peace of mind and peace of heart, satisfaction in relationships, and life…so that we can be closer to him and hear his voice more easily.

When Jesus speaks of his peace and he says he is not giving it as the “world gives it”…think about how the world gives?  There is a reason that we have a saying that “there is no free lunch”…Jesus’ peace is a peace where nothing is held over you…it is not at some weighty cost to yourself that you get this peace.  This is a peace like no other.

The world’s peace is usually just a ceasing of hostility…true peace can only come through loving the other person.  That is how Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” because Jesus actually loved everyone…no matter who they were, what they were like, what they did to him, no matter what their sin….Jesus loved them all.  He still loves us all in the same way. (Jesus even loved Judas Iscariot…even while he was betraying him…he still loved him!)

The ultimate freedom for humanity is in the form of Jesus’ peace….once you know how to love others no matter what they are like to you, or to others, short, tall, fat, slim, smart, dumb, nice, mean, red or green, etc. love them all and have Jesus’ peace through your obedience.  That is loving Jesus…being obedient to him.  (John 14:15)

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us “blessed are the peacemakers…”  Be the ultimate peacemaker…love others and obey God…then have peace in your heart, mind and soul!

Wonderful Counselor/Friend

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A lot of valuable advice is passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. That is one way that we “honor our parents”.  Leviticus 19:32 says to “Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged…” 1Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

John 15:13  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Read Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, but wisdom was proved right by her actions.

Read Luke 10:38-42  Jesus counsels to Martha on the importance of working for the Kingdom of God.

When we think of a counselor many times in society we are thinking of someone who is paid to give us counsel…such as a lawyer, or psychologist, psychiatrist…etc.

However, we also get counseling from our friends about our problems, usually we don’t pay them – even though sometimes their counsel is better than that of the professionals. A lot of our best counselors in life are older people…sometimes, simply because they have lived longer they have a much calmer way of thinking than younger people…their way of looking at things is viewed through the lens of experience…many of the things that seem like a crisis just are not as much of one as we think they are…many times they are but a “bump” in the road of life.  Jesus is the ultimate counselor.

If we look at the qualities of a good counselor most of us are looking for someone who is

1.) able to keep a secret (trustworthy)

2.) able to give good advice (wise)

3.) compassionate and understanding(feeling)

4.) a good listener(attentive)

Now, if you have a counselor who fails in any of these areas it is really difficult. There is simply no point on which Jesus fails to be a good counselor.  Sometimes when we have a friend who is a counselor they don’t always give the best advise, isn’t that so?!!  It depends on the maturity of the friend, and also on the nature of the friend.  Sometimes, the friend may advise you to do something that is actually not wise at all, but is an indication in their mind of them being “on your side.”  A lot of the time a friend may get angry “on your behalf” when someone else has hurt you.

In those cases you need to pray that God will give you the wisdom to seek out the best counselor for the situation at hand, or that God himself will give you the counsel you need through his Holy Word.

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Remember that when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness what he used to defend himself against temptation was scripture.  That is an awesome lesson of wisdom to all of us.  Just about every problem known to man is covered in scripture one way or another.

A lot of times we hear people say, “oh, that doesn’t apply to today!” or “they didn’t know about all the modern technology we have today!”  Well, whenever someone says something like that remember that even though we don’t live the same way there are some truths that are simply true and timeless.

If you always take the time to ask yourself…what is the most loving thing that I could do toward that person in this situation…and ask God to show it to you…then you will know the Wonderful Counsel of Jesus Christ….and will make a good decision.  It may not be the only good decision, but it will be a good decision.  Frequently, there is not only “one” good decision in any given situation, but several, and a good decision in the same situation may be different and not so good if the people are different in the same situation.

For example…sometimes a good decision requires “tough love” and sometimes it requires “gentle love”.  In either case, the key is “love”.

The important thing is to remember that God has standards of behavior toward others and it is to deny yourself, and follow him in loving others.

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God Judges all people equally

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Psalm 96:10  Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”  The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

Read Isaiah 56:1-8  This is a statement of God’s acceptance of everyone who is upright and keeps his ways.  That God answers their prayers and looks on them as equals in his sight.  All of God’s people are equals.  You are either God’s or satan’s.  It doesn’t matter what nationality or gender you are, or what your physical body looks like.

Read Genesis 11:1-9  This is the story of the Tower of Babel.  Note that these men suffered from pride, and they could all communicate well enough for building this tower.  God took them down, by making them all speak different languages so that they could not communicate and continue building the tower.  They were not acting in an upright manner, so God demonstrated his Godhood by forcing their plans to go awry in a very harsh way.

Isaiah 56:1-8

Salvation for Others

56 This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares—
    he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
    besides those already gathered.”

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. (via Bible Gateway.com)

Genesis 11:1-9

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 11:2 Or from the east; or in the east
  2. Genesis 11:2 That is, Babylonia
  3. Genesis 11:9 That is, Babylon; Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused.
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.

Our term for someone who is going on about nothing, or not making any sense is that they are babbling.  If someone tells you that God won’t accept you or forgive you because of something that has happened in your past even though you ask him for forgiveness and have moved forward away from that sin…then you can be sure that they are in fact babbling in the worst way!  God really doesn’t like it when people cause others to move away from him instead of closer to him.  That was in fact Jesus’ main contention with some of the Pharisees…they had added rules which made it harder for a person to follow God.  He challenged them in Matthew 15 about why they made their traditions more important than the following of God’s law.  Sometimes we are guilty of that too.  We tend to expand on God’s rules to the point where it is hard to remember them all.  Then we judge others when they don’t follow the expanded rules….

God is the only true judge of a person, and he judges all equally under his qualifications for them….faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and living in faithful obedience.  God doesn’t care where you came from, only where you are going now!

God’s Good Works are Completed

female-easter-tiger-swallow-tail-butterflyPhilippians 1:1-6 Paul and Timothy servants of Christ Jesus to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi together with the overseers and deacons grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God every time I remember you and all my prayers for all of you.  I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Read Luke 8:2, Matthew 27:56-61,Luke 24:1-10 in this order, they are about Mary Magdalene.  As you can see from the verses God began a good work in her and it continued.

Luke 8:2  and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out. (NIV)

Matthew 27:56-61 (ESV)

56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Luke 24:1-10 (NIV)

24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

Sometimes it is hard for us to see when God is doing a good work in someone.  This is especially true if we are a person who has been hurt by other people.  The tendency is to remain skeptical about changes in other people until they are proven.  Recently in this regard I was asked by someone when I said that I was still observing a person for change, “when will you know they have changed?  How can you be sure?”  Well, I personally had figured out a goal that when I observe it I would know that particular person had truly changed.  The Bible tells us to be wary of being deceived.  We are told to put on the full armor of God among the armor of God is the belt of truth.  (Ephesians 6:14)

The only way to be sure a person has changed, is to have this belt of truth on and observe.  The thing is the belt of truth can also protect us from deceiving ourselves in thinking that a person in whom God has completed a good work has not changed at all.  We can deceive ourselves by refusing to see that change.  Then that becomes a form of pride, as it causes us to believe that we are superior to that person in some way, and this is also a disobedience of the 2nd great commandment that Jesus gave us…to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Titus 3 Reminds us that we are only saved through the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…so there is no need for any of us to get a big head about our salvation.  The fact is that most of the good work that God has done in us is still continuing to be done.  There was a t-shirt slogan that came out when I was a kid…”Wait!  God isn’t done with me yet!”  Some of God’s good works are immediately evident, and some take more time to come to fruition…so don’t write off a “good work in progress” as a “good work gone bad”.

Titus 3:3-6 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,

God is Sovereign

grand-turk-first-reef-stop-sea-weedGenesis 1:3 And God said,”Let there be light and there was light…”

Read Job chapters 38 and 39  and Read Genesis 1 thru Genesis 2:4. 

When we look at these chapters they are a beautiful reminder of the sovereign power of God.  Simply put…God is awesome! In Genesis we read about how God spoke the world into existence…and in Job we read about how detailed these plans were….how he “laid the earth’s foundation”..anyone who knows anything about building something knows that a foundation is not laid without a plan.  Most people even when they go to build something as simple as a chicken house or a garden shed will go and make a basic plan of the size and materials needed, then take and put some sticks in the ground and lay it all out with string before starting to even dig holes for the foundation to be poured, or to put posts in the ground.  I know that when my husband and I built a fence to contain some animals we spent hours studying all the different types of fencing available and what we needed to have to best keep the animals that we had inside the fence.  After all, who wants to chase animals around because they get out.

Now, as human beings we have a saying, “the best laid plans go awry,”  this is often true for us as we have to contend with outside influences that we have no control over.  Truthfully, God is the only one who has control over everything.  God can control everything with just a word.

So many times we hear ourselves asking…then why doesn’t God do this?  Why doesn’t God just “fix” everything that is wrong?  The answer is that God wants us to learn who he is and that he is a God of love.  He wants us to learn to actually live the two great commandments that Jesus laid out for us.  Now, to live those commandments we have to learn how to love people no matter what they do…that is how God loves us.  We have to learn to love others the way God loves them, and that is how we are to show God that we love him.  If we all did this then it would glorify God…and glorifying God is what our lives are actually about.

We are told in Isaiah 43:7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. (KJV)

pexels-photo-29095The Lord Speaks

Job Chapter 38 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?

31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
    or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
    or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?

39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

Footnotes:

  1. Job 38:7 Hebrew the sons of God
  2. Job 38:31 Septuagint; Hebrew beauty
  3. Job 38:32 Or the morning star in its season
  4. Job 38:32 Or out Leo
  5. Job 38:33 Or their
  6. Job 38:36 That is, wisdom about the flooding of the Nile
  7. Job 38:36 That is, understanding of when to crow; the meaning of the Hebrew for this verse is uncertain.

162105287141082Job Chapter 39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return.

“Who let the wild donkey go free?
    Who untied its ropes?
I gave it the wasteland as its home,
    the salt flats as its habitat.
It laughs at the commotion in the town;
    it does not hear a driver’s shout.
It ranges the hills for its pasture
    and searches for any green thing.

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
    Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
    Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
    Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
    and bring it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.

19 “Do you give the horse its strength
    or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
    striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
    and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
    it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
    along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
    it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
    It catches the scent of battle from afar,
    the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
    its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
    and where the slain are, there it is.”

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Genesis Chapter 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good,and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Genesis Chapter 2:1-4 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Adam and Eve

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LordGod made the earth and the heavens.

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.

Prayer in Decision Making

jesuspraying3

Luke 6:12-16 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them whom he also designated apostles. Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (son of James), and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

 Jesus spent the night in prayer before choosing his disciples.  Jesus prayed all night, giving up sleep because this was a very important decision, and He wanted His Father’s help with it.  Then he chose his disciples. 

 Do you pray about your choice of friends?  Your choice of spouse? job? business ventures? where you are choosing to live? or raising your children?  

Many times in life we have major decisions to make about things.  Some of those decisions are crucial to how happy and satisfied we will be for the many years of our lives.  Doesn’t it make sense to include the Lord when you have to make a decision like that?

Sometimes we just don’t give God a thought and forge on ahead because an opportunity presents itself.  Sometimes that opportunity is not what it seems like it should be…for example:  You may be offered an incredible job opportunity that seems all you could dream of..there is just one catch…you have to leave everything you know, and everyone you know to go to live in a different place entirely.  Now for some people the sheer adventure of going to another place would just be irresistible…however, for a person who is deeply rooted in their family life, very close to their parents, or seriously dating someone a decision like this can turn out to be very very important…the difference between happiness and misery.

Either way, this kind of offer is huge in the person’s life because it requires them to be able and willing to go somewhere and adapt to a situation that offers them no support.  Yes, there are telephones and the internet to keep in touch with others, but for some (myself included) that would not be enough.

So it just makes sense to include God who should be your close personal friend and intimate confidant through prayer in your decision making process, right?

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

This generous giving mentioned in James is not about material goods…it is about advice and guidance…notice the first part is about if you “lack wisdom”  doesn’t that speak to you about how God feels about being part of our decision making process?

Sometimes things are not as good as the offer seems, if you speak to God about it, he will make straight your paths.  God will answer you in a “still, small voice” and let you know what the problems are with the offer or opportunity in your life…or if it is a relationship, what may cause you to have problems.  I know that some of you probably don’t understand the “still, small voice concept” so I will try to explain it to you as I understand it in my life.  It takes some practice to “hear” it because it is very quiet..God is not yelling to get our attention.

So here is my example that seems to help folks understand it in the easiest way:

There have been times when I have driven into the city and as I was entering it heading for a destination, the thought pops into my head, “which way should I go today, the outer belt or through down town?”  Then I usually will get a thought bounced back at me like “take the outer belt today” or “the outer belt is not the best idea today.”  Now, when I heed that voice, most of the time things go smoothly on the drive, but I have found with practice that whenever I have not listened….I usually have a traffic problem such as an accident ahead, or getting behind some really slow person who seems like they have never driven on the highway before..something like that.  So over time, I have practiced listening to this “still small voice” whenever I have a decision to make..sometimes it is a small decision like which way to travel, and sometimes it is a big decision like should I change to a different church.

There are other ways that God can communicate with you what he thinks you should do…for instance, (honestly, I have had this happen to me)..I was praying and wrestling with a decision about whether I should leave the church I had been attending for many many years for more than two hours while I was working one day,  and left work, sat down in my car and turned the radio on and a preacher on it says, “Today we will be talking about what to do whenever you don’t know what God wants you to do…” (I like to listen to radio ministers.)

Sometimes, God will tell you something, and then he will also have a friend come to you or even a stranger say something that will back up what he has already told you.  A lot of times these people don’t have any idea that you are even struggling with some decision at all, they just happen to make a statement of good sound advice which you realize when you hear it is just what God would want you to do.  It falls right in with what you know is the character of God.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The thing to remember is that in order to “hear” and “understand” what God is telling you, you need to spend a lot of time with him in prayer and practice listening to him.  Prayer is a two way conversation.  It is not just you doing all of the talking. Also, if you don’t understand God’s character then you may fall pray to making a bad decision which puts you out of obedience to his will for your life.  In order to make good decisions that keep you in God’s will, then you need to know God intimately…this only comes from the study of God’s character through scripture and through spending time in prayer speaking to and listening to God.

1 Chronicles 16:11 Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.

Jeremiah 33:3  ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Forgiveness through Prayer

pexels-photo-290951 Samuel 7:3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, if you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign Gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.

1Samuel 7:3-10 Samuel told Israel to turn away from the false Gods, and humble themselves before the Lord and ask forgiveness from God and be obedient to God and that God would protect them from the Philistines.  The Philistines came after them, and the Israelites told Samuel to keep praying for God to save them.  Samuel not only continued to pray for them he also made an offering of a lamb.

God heard him, and caused the Philistines (who were the enemies of Israel) to be terrified by thunder and let the Israelites chase them off and kill them. Isn’t the idea of God scaring off your enemies by thundering at them kind of amazing?!! Since God created nature making a little convenient thunder is not a chore for him at all!  

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV – Bible Gateway website)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Note:  The people of Israel were doing wrong and had a crisis which caused them to turn their attention back to God.  Think about occasions when people are far from God, and have a personal crisis in their life (or an emergency situation) which causes them to turn back towards God. 

Isaiah 55:6  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. (NASB)

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When those crisis occasions come about in a person’s life it is awfully nice if your relationship with God is really close and in good standing.  It’s a case of, “Why wait for a crisis?”  to turn your focus back to God.  Also think about how important it is to be in good standing (meaning have a good close personal relationship or friendship) with God when talking to him through prayer. Think about how you feel about friends who are fair weather friends, and only are nice to you when they want something.  Do you feel like giving that person what they want?  How do you think God feels when we don’t give  him a thought unless we need something? 

Think about God’s overwhelming forgiveness in this story, and how they gained forgiveness through prayer and obedience to God’s command. To get the maximum impact in your prayer life, you must have a good relationship with God.  Just as you must have good relationships with your friends for them to be there for you in your time of need.

This does not mean that you will never have troubles, but that you will never be alone in your troubles.  If you are in close communication with God, then your troubles are easier to bear.

Psalms 119:67-68  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (NASB)

Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

IMG_5655
This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

who 3

Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)