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.

Prayer in Decision Making

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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.’

Follow God through Prayer

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This is a picture of a burnt log and some flowers growing next to it in Yellowstone National Park.  All through the park there was evidence of recovery.  Even in the events of our lives that cause some dreams and aspirations to die, God is with us and can bring beauty from ashes.  If only we talk to Him and follow His leading.

Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn.

Read 1Samuel 23:1-14 David asked the Lord if he was to go to Keilah and stand against the Philistines, God told him to go and that he would deliver the Philistines into his hands.  David did so, and God did as he said he would. God protected David and used him (even though Saul was trying to take his life) to save the people of Keilah.

Read Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn. The justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, do not fret, when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

This is an excellent verse to take to heart when you are praying for something, you must trust in God for the answer, even if you don’t see immediate results, be committed to knowing that God is committed to you and that He hears your prayers, and will take action on your behalf.  

God’s justice is always much more accurate and precise than anything that you and I can come up with.  Sometimes the person whom we want justice from has suffered an even greater injustice than we have, but we don’t know it.  That doesn’t excuse the injustice we suffered by them, but it may help us to understand where they were coming from and find a way to love that person despite what they have done.  

David, makes it clear through out his relationship with King Saul that he does not despise Saul and has no wish to take his throne from him before the appointed time that God will give it to him.  David continues to attempt to serve Saul to the best of his ability despite Saul’s hatred of him, and his constant attempts to take David’s life.

I mean, Saul throws spears at David while David is entertaining Saul with his music.  Saul chases him down and tries to kill him.  When you look at some of the Psalms that David wrote, the headings on some of them tell us that they were written in caves while he was hiding for fear of his life.  That fear is because King Saul is after him.

King Saul actually admired David and promoted him to the position he was in, but after God turned from Saul and David was anointed by Samuel as the next King of Israel (the United Kingdom of Israel) Saul then started to fear David when he saw how mighty he was.  After Saul heard chanting in the street that “Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands…”  (1Samuel 18:6-8) then King Saul could see that David could take his throne as he was held in higher esteem by the people of Israel than was King Saul.

As far as I can find in the Bible there isn’t any direct statement to Saul that David is the one anointed to take his place.  King Saul is just told that another will take his place as King.  King Saul went off of the deep end without a life jacket once he figured out that David was considered “mightier than he!”

However, David despite being given an opportunity of temptation to kill King Saul as he was urinating in a cave where David and his men were hiding….refuses to succumb to the temptation to go ahead and get his kingdom through assassination!  Even with his men egging him on!

1Samuel 24:1-22 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day theLord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed,or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lorddelivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (NIV via Biblegateway.com)

This kind of thinking and acting is why the Lord stated that David was a man after his own heart.  David loved Saul and loved Saul’s son, Jonathon who was his best friend, like a brother.  I am sure that it pained David to know that he was going to be taking the throne which would have gone to Jonathon, if Saul had remained King.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to have affected the close bond between the two men.  They looked out for each other. Jonathon tried his best to protect David from his father, King Saul.

If we try to understand King Saul’s actions they were largely out of fear…he drove himself crazy from his fear of losing his kingdom.  This tells us how deep Saul’s belief in the words of Samuel the prophet…even though he continually acted against what Samuel had told him to do.  Saul feared people more than he feared the Lord, and fear was his chief motivator.  So in essence, Saul was a person who looked good on the surface, but his actions did not bear scrutiny once you got to know him.  He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a leader and he was in charge of leading his people in the way that the Lord wished them to go.  He was catastrophically unable to do this because of his fears. He was not a Psalm 37:5-7 king.  (Though that Psalm written by David when he was King was written well after  Saul’s demise…perhaps David may have thought of and remembered Saul when he wrote it.)

David suffered a lot of injustice at the hands of Saul, we are never told why Saul acted with so much fear.  Hazarding a guess and going into Saul’s background he was simply not built for the demands of Kingship…it was a great big stress to him, but once he was there, he wanted to keep the job.  He didn’t want to be a failure.  However, he was a failure.  He was self centered instead of God centered.

Simply put, Saul failed to follow God, so God replaced him.  David, despite his faults, never forgot or let his own thoughts replace his love and respect for God.

If you are a leader that God has put in place, you are held very responsible by God for how you lead…more so than the average person who has no one they are leading.  Be a good leader if you are called to lead, pray and follow God’s leading…Wait upon the Lord in all circumstances.  Prayer is the way to “wait upon the Lord.”  If you don’t talk to him, then you won’t know what God wants from you.

 

Note: As an exercise I find it helpful to look up the different places spoken about in the Bible and see where they are on a map.  It kind of gives me a scope of how far things are from each other, and what the terrain is like.   Keilah is 8.5 miles NW of Hebron, the Desert of Ziph is 4 miles SE of Hebron.  Keilah is now satisfactorily by archaeologists as identified with Khirbet Kila.

http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-old-testament.html

Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

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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.

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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)

 

 

A Star of Jacob – Blessed are those who obey

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The Prophet Balaam and the Ass, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves it is a gift of God.

Read Ephesians 1:6-7, 2:5-9 We are accepted through God’s grace.  You are saved through grace and not by any work that you may do.  If you were saved by something that you did, then you could boast about it, and would not be glorifying God.  So God used his grace as the only means of your being saved, so that you would recognize who your savior is, and give God the glory.

Read Numbers Chapter 22 thru Chapter 24 The story of Balaam.  Take note of the fact that Balaam is not an Israelite/Hebrew.  Balaam is a Sorcerer/Enchanter/Diviner who acknowledges that all of his gifts come from God, and tries to serve God, but doesn’t have a complete knowledge of God.  He completely doesn’t understand God’s grace.

When Balak, King of the Moabites saw the Israelites who came out of the Egypt camping near his borders he felt panicked, and decided to call on the local Sorcerer (Balaam) to come and put a curse on the Israelites. 

The first time Balak sends a group of men to get Balaam, Balaam sends them home after consulting with God. He tells them to tell Balak that  he could only say what God would have him say, even if Balak offered his house full of silver. 

Balak doesn’t take no for answer, and sends a more impressive group to see Balaam with an offer of great honor if he will just come and curse the Israelites.  God tells Balaam he can go with this group to see Balak, but he must ONLY SAY WHAT GOD SAYS FOR HIM TO SAY AND NOTHING ELSE, so they sleep on it.

The next day Balaam sets out with the group.  God knows what is in Balaam’s mind, that the Israelites will be cursed so he sends an angel to stop him from going.  That is when Balaam beats his donkey three times, because the donkey keeps moving away as it sees an angel and Balaam doesn’t see it.  The angel eventually shows up to where Balaam can see him. He tells Balaam that his donkey saved his life, that if the donkey had not turned aside, then he would have slain Balaam.  So Balaam offers to go back home because he still doesn’t understand what he did wrong (which was to plan for what to say, as opposed to waiting for God’s words.) 

The angel then warns Balaam to continue, but that he is only to say the words that God gives him to say.  (Now this is where this story really starts to get pretty humorous as if it wasn’t enough to have the situation with the donkey.) 

So Balaam meets Balak, and they sacrifice 7 Bullocks and Rams on 7 fires.  Then Balaam consults with God, and returns to stand by Balak, then proceeds to attempt to curse Israel, but God changes the words into blessings for Israel. 

Balak is mad of course, and says lets go someplace else and try this again.  The 7 sacrifices happen two more times in two different places, and each time Balaam utters blessings as God tells him.  Balak is extremely angry and tells Balaam that he blew it, that God took away the honors he was going to give him because he wouldn’t curse Israel.  Balaam reminded Balak that he had told him he couldn’t say anything that God didn’t put in his mouth, even for a house full of silver.  Then Balak told Balaam to go home.  

Can’t you just picture the frustration of Balak?  I can picture him stomping around and saying, “Wait just a minute!  Why did you bless them!  I’m going to go and get 7 more bulls and rams, and set up 7 more altars and this time you better get it right!!!”  He was probably jumping up and down wanting to run Balaam through with the sword by the time he had done that the 3rd time!  Balaam is totally between a rock and a hard place…his trust is in God because he knows that God will definitely kill him if he doesn’t say what God gives him to say, and he knows that Balak may decide to do kill him too.  Ultimately Balaam recognizes God’s higher authority (being a seer) and subconsciously trusts that God will not let him be hurt by Balak.

There are several noteworthy things about this story: 

1) Balaam was not Hebrew, he was a sorcerer/diviner/enchanter who acknowledged God for his gifts, and tried to serve God, but was doing so without understanding.

2)  God used Balaam to bless Israel even though he was a heathen, and also used Balaam to prophesy the coming of Jesus in the phrase “A Star will come out of Jacob, a sceptre will rise out of Israel, he will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth….”

3)  Balaam did not understand God’s grace even though it was active in his own life.  He thought that he when God gave him permission to go to Balak that he was going to do as Balak asked.  He was expecting that God would curse Israel.  However, he received a lesson in God’s grace with his donkey and the angel, and again with the blessing of Israel. 

4) Balaam acknowledged that God was supreme over any enchantment or divination that he himself could do. God was his acknowledged supreme power of the universe.

5) Balaam does not have a good end, despite having had this opportunity to draw closer to God he later chose to go up against God in a sneaky way.  You can read about him being killed because he thought to circumvent God by trying to make God take his blessing away from Israel by sending Moabite women in to tempt the Hebrew men into fornication and idolatry. (Numbers 31:16 and Joshua 13:22 and Revelation 2:14)  This teaches us about trying to go in through the back door to accomplish a goal that God has told you not to do.  Balaam was clearly made to understand that God was blessing Israel, but he decided that maybe he could make God “unbless” Israel if he could just tempt them to do ungodly things! That was his downfall.

God promised Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12:3 that he would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.  That was part of God’s covenant with Abraham about him and his descendants.  We as Christians are adopted in to this same blessing.  That is what it means to be grafted onto the Vine.  The Vine being Israel, and us Gentiles are those who are grafted. (Romans 11:11-31)

To put it more simply Luke 11:28 says: But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Balaam heard directly from God and did not in the end obey.

The Traditions of Man

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This is a pretty church in Santorini Greece.  

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

2Timothy 4:2-4  Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

 Read Mark chapter 7

Many traditions are just man made traditions and not anything to do with a requirement of God or living as a grace covered Christian.  Now to the Jews circumcision was part of a covenant that they are still keeping, and that is certainly the right thing for them; however, under the covenant of Jesus’ blood,  Gentiles are not required to fulfill that circumcision requirement.  In the old testament before the coming of Christ you had to be circumcised to join the Jews, I imagine that is still the case if you male and are to become Jewish.  However, it is not a requirement under Christianity, it is a choice each person can make.

I have another Christian tradition that I have been struggling with that my own church and most churches deal with, that of Communion.  I decided to read up on this issue in the Bible and have come to the following conclusions.  There are many traditions that are man made about it.  Some believe that it is the literal body and blood of Christ, others believe that it is not, but is a Holy Sacrament and must be blessed by a Priest or Minister, others don’t believe it needs to be blessed or consecrated, but each person can simply take it in communion with others with an attitude of worship, and a recognition what it represents; still others believe that only those of a certain age or only of the like denomination can partake of it.

However,  in the Bible all it says is that Jesus, while sitting at a passover table with his disciples told them while lifting the passover cup that it was his blood, and that breaking the bread it was his body (Matthew 26:26), and 1Corinthians 11 talks about it extensively from the view point of Paul the Apostle.  He talks about it strictly from the stand point of the attitude of the person who is partaking of communion.  Paul says that the people who are partaking of the Lord’s cup and bread should be taking it with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice for us as one of his (Christian) sheep.  He also says that they should not be helping themselves and treating it as a party for just those wealthy enough to afford it.  He tells us that if it is being used that way, they can eat or drink at home..it is to be taken with a proper attitude and in community with all who are present who are belonging to Christ.  It is up to the person who is taking it to decide whether they are worthy (aka belonging to Christ) to take it or not.

The setting for Jesus’ meal with his disciples was a Passover meal.  If we look at the requirements for passover the priest did not necessarily have to kill the passover lamb, but was required to catch the blood from the lamb and sprinkle it on the altar. That was the only requirement for a priest during passover.  The rest of the meal was performed in the individual homes not at the temple.  Here is an interesting site that explains the Passover practices of the Jews…though you can also read it in the Bible in Exodus 12

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice

Another fact about Jesus’ death, is that with his death the veil between the Holy of Holy’s and the rest of the Temple was torn.  The Holy of Holy’s was the place that only the High Priest could go into as it was the “place of the presence of God.” He was only allowed to go in there on the day of Atonement which was once a year.  With the tearing of the veil by Jesus death there became no need for any Jew or Gentile Christian or anyone to have to go to a Priest in order to be in God’s presence.  We were allowed through the death Jesus Christ to go straight to God ourselves…Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man. (1Timothy 2:5).  That is why when we pray to God, we pray asking in Jesus’ name.  The Holy Spirit lives in us, as Christians, therefore we are not in need of an earthly priest for anything.  Not even for the blessing of the elements of communion.  It is enough for Christians to pray over the elements and ask God’s presence and blessing for their act of Communion and remembrance, honoring of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

The idea behind communion that Jesus gave his disciples is a remembrance of his sacrifice.  It is a reminder to us, that we are sinful and that we needed this selfless sacrifice to redeem us, and reunite us with God.  A reminder that Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for us.  Just as the Passover was a reminder to the Jews that God had “passed over” their houses in Egypt and spared the lives of their first born.  God told them to celebrate passover in “remembrance” of that event in Egypt.

Different denominations have many different beliefs about Communion, Baptism and many other issues….what to wear, how to wear your hair if you are man or woman, etc.  A lot of those beliefs are traditions of the denominations, and not necessarily Biblical.  Many times, those beliefs have grown from someone taking one statement out of context, or out of misunderstanding of the circumstances and/or group to whom the speaker was speaking or what was going in that society.  Many traditions are used by Satan to separate the people of God and cause them to fight amongst themselves instead of being unified through our Savior.  While we can enjoy traditions we need to be aware of what is traditional and what is Biblical and not allow man’s traditions to separate us from our fellow believers.

For instance, if someone were on their death bed and had just accepted Christ, and you were the only Christian around and they wanted Communion or Baptism…would you deny them and say, “Let me go find a minister or a priest, I’m not qualified?”

Each person reading John 14:12-14 should be able to answer that.  Jesus who is our ultimate high priest everlasting told us that whoever believes in Him will be able to do whatever he does and even greater things than he.  We know that his disciples had the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit and did healing, and baptism, and had communion in Jesus’ name.  Jesus was not out to create a new priesthood with the Disciples that elevated them above those whom they were bringing to Christ.  He wanted each and every one of us as Christians to be priests and serve others around us in Jesus’ name.  (1Peter 2:9)

Now I recognize that not everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of administering Baptism or Communion to another, and maybe they never will.  Traditions have a strong hold on people.  Like getting a hair cut….just be aware, that sometimes a tradition which is not correctly Biblically based can be a separator and not a unifier. Be gentle and loving and it is okay to question a tradition, but question it in the context of “what does the Bible have to say about it?  What does God’s Word have to say about it?”  Is it hurting someone or is it something that helps you to connect with God more fully?  Respect traditions, but evaluate them against the word of God and the character of God.  That is what the Disciples did!  They always went back to the word of God, and took it in the context that the words were spoken!

Grace to the Humble

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This is the inside the Harem at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.  Esther would have resided in a harem also.  From the tour guide we learned that until a woman had a child she was housed in a general group with no private quarters, but after a child was born she was given her own quarters within the harem.  The harem was considered a social step up for most women over the regular life of marrying and having children to a poor person.  Women didn’t have to work or slave and they had plenty of food and clothing so life was generally much easier.  There was no negative stigma in those times as we think of that type of life from our moral point of view today. Mainly because women were for the most part powerless as we see in the story of Esther.  Her power came from God.

Peter 5:5-7 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all anxiety on him because he cares for you.

2Thes.2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

In other words, God’s grace offers comfort, encouragement, hope and strength.

Read the Story of Esther Part II  Esther Chapters 5 thru 7  As you can see in this portion of the story, Esther has been strengthened and shown great faith in approaching her husband the King, as she is actually risking her life doing so without being called, and having to admit to being a Jew herself, and Haman gets taken down by his own self centered pride. 

This situation with Esther and her fellow Jews was very upsetting because it all actually came about because of an act of disobedience back in the days of King Saul. (1Samuel 15:1-35) The Amalekites, whose King Agag was originally spared is the one whom Haman was descended from.  I am not sure exactly how Haman was descended from him, but perhaps Agag was not the only member of the royal family that King Saul spared, or King Saul treated Agag as a typical captive of royal peerage gave him suitable quarters including women which would allow for him to father a child during that time period. We are not told how this descendent came about, only that Haman was Agag’s descendant.  Either case is possible because we are told when Samuel called for Agag that Agag when to him in an unworried manner.  It does tell us in the above verses that Samuel slew Agag after Saul spared him.

The Amalekites/Agagites were a group of people whom God had condemned to death because they were so horrible as to not be tolerated any longer.  In reading  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 we find that they were a group who were vicious and sneaky, they followed after the Israelites as they were crossing the Wilderness and went behind them picking off the women, children and the elderly.  They didn’t come at them face to face and fight the strong, they picked off the weak of God’s chosen people. The most defenseless.  God hated this so much that he told the people of Israel that when they got into the promised land and got settled down they were to wipe them off the face of the earth…so that they were not able to influence any of his people the Israelites with their evil ways.

King Saul took it upon himself to keep the finest of the spoils and to spare Agag the King of the Amalekites.  The thing is that this was King Saul’s second great disobedience to God and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.  On both occasions Saul was more worried about people and maintaining their good opinion than he was about God and what God wanted him to do.  He suffered from the idea that he knew more than God about the situation and he needed to take care of things.  King Saul was suffering from pride.  Whenever we start to think that we know more than God, or we know better than God then we are suffering from Pride.  We are actually putting ourselves and our desires and our opinions into the place of God…or another way to put it is that we are becoming our own god!  After all, if we know better than God about something, then that would mean that God is not God.  By definition God is all knowing, all powerful, and eternal.  How can we who are not all knowing, nor all powerful, and are limited by our lifespans even begin to consider what is the best course of action and even begin to think that God is wrong about something?  I mean, who are we to tell God that he is wrong?  Yet, we do this all the time.  One needs only to look at the world to see that kind of thinking in action and to see what that has brought to us.

We get very upset when we read in the Old Testament that God told the Israelites and Saul to wipe out an entire group of people, but the Bible also tells us that the penalty of sin is death.  These people as a whole were the worst kinds of people, they were vicious and completely unrepentant….There is the difference between them and the average group of people.  They were completely and totally as a whole group unrepentant, not sorry at all.  There wasn’t a single individual among them who had a conscious or felt bad about what they did.  How do we know this?  That is a simple answer, if they did, they would have left the group.  No one who has a conscience and is in a group like that survives long, either they would flee for their life, or they would be killed by the rest as a weakling. So rest assured, God being a God of justice and a God of wrath decided that they were like Sodom and Gomorrah and judged the Amalekites/Ammonites as unredeemable.

We don’t like the idea at all that someone can be unredeemable, but the world is full of people who are too hard hearted toward God to ever allow themselves to be humble and submit to God.  We all have to admit that this is also true, even if we don’t like the thought.  However, the thing we have to remember is that as Christians we are required to love those people to the best of our ability, and to share our knowledge of God with them to the best of our ability, and when our ability falls short, as it frequently does, we need to pray that God’s love for them will flow through us to them so that they may know the love of Christ.  What we are not to do is to stand in the place of God and condemn them.  We do not ever know what God has in store for that person.  We cannot tell the redeemable from the unredeemable, only God knows that.  So as Christians we must treat everyone as redeemable.  We do not need to put ourselves in harms way or blithely hand the keys to our house to a known thief.  That is not at all what I am saying.  God gives us a spirit of discernment as to what to do in these cases so as to have a measure of protection for ourselves, and also so as not to offer temptation to someone who is struggling.

Anyway, back to King Saul, his inability to humble himself before God cost him the Kingdom that God had entrusted him with.  In contrast, we look at Queen Esther, who stepped humbly forward in faith at great personal risk to do as God wished her to do and was able to save her people because of that single step of faith.

Proverbs 29:23 “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit” 

Grace is Never Wasted

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This is an 1800’s copy of Rev. John Brown’s Self interpretation Bible.  It has a lot of information in it, and was still being printed into the 20th century.  My Mother bought it at a used book store, and she recently passed it on to me.  It is an awesome thing to hold something that has been around that long and has been treasured as the word of God.  There are very neat calligraphy entries in the family section which give a glimpse of life in the 1800’s and how fragile it was.  There is an entry of a birth, then in the same day an entry of the baby’s death.  You can imagine how hard of a day that must have been for the writer of those dates.

1Cor.15:10  But by the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace to me is not without effect.  No I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Note: God doesn’t bestow his grace on anyone and it is wasted.  If his grace is bestowed on you, you will be productive for him.  You are what you are by the grace of God.

Read the story of Esther part 1:  Esther Chapters 1 thru 4.  In this first part of the story of Esther, we find out how it comes about that Esther becomes queen, and we learn of Mordecai overhearing a plot on the king’s life and saving his life, and Haman enters in as the enemy of the Jews who plots for their destruction. Mordecai tells Esther that she may have been put in the position of queen just for the purpose of saving their people from extinction.  Note that Esther lived in Persia which is Modern day Iran/Iraq her time was 473 BC or Before the Birth of Christ, or BCE which is Before Common Era in new terms.

Most of us spend at least some of our time on this earth contemplating why we are here…or what is our purpose.  For each person that is different.  We are all unique creatures created by God.  We all have an intended purpose.  For some of us it can be as important as Queen Esther’s purpose where we can save a whole nation of people.  For others it may be something as simple as being there to help another person across the street at the right time to save their life.  Maybe the person who is crossing the street is important in a different way in God’s plan.  Perhaps that person is involved in the teaching of someone who may grow up to be a leader who does something on behalf of God.  Maybe they will grow up to be a well known minister or world leader, maybe they are just another person who is going to grow up and pass on what they have learned from the person crossing the street to others…maybe they are the next Madame Curry, or Mother Teresa, or Billy Graham.   The point is that no matter what task God gives us in life we should all treat ourselves as an important part of God’s plan.  In God’s eyes each and every one of us are valuable and equally important.

One thing I have learned this week is that sometimes we may hold ourselves in a place because we don’t want to let someone down, or we feel needed there.  The Holy Spirit reminded me of the story of Esther.  She was told that God would save his people even if she did not step forward to speak with the King on their behalf, but that she would suffer a great penalty for not stepping forward in faith.  God would use someone else to accomplish his purpose.   That is true.  God has a back up plan for his ultimate plan.  That is part of our free choice.  We are free to choose at all times whether to follow God’s plan in our lives…or not.

Each of us have our very own individual journey of faith.  How we grow depends largely on how much we pursue God. If we just sit back and do nothing, then we simply won’t grow or our growth will be very slow…it may have starts and stops in it.  If, on the other hand, we avidly pursue God…he will draw closer to us in amazing ways.  The Holy Bible is like the ultimate Vitamin for your spirit.  The more you dive into it the more you can learn about who God is and what he wants you to do in your life.

Yet, sometimes even the most devoted Christian can have moments when they are unsure of God’s plan….the thought comes…”What do I do now? I want to stay in your will for my life, but I don’t know what you want me to do?”  At times like that the best thing to do is to pray and to open God’s word and start reading and listen to the quiet, still voice which instructs on on the way we should proceed.

 I had an experience recently.  I spent several hours really praying about whether to stay where I am serving God, or to go look for another place to serve.  At that time (which was several months ago) I went out of the place where I had been praying and sat down in the car turned on the radio just in time to hear a random minister talk about “what do you do when you don’t know what God is wanting you to do?”  I thought, (goosebumps) “Wow!  Timely answer God!”  I was told through that minister to just keep doing what I was doing because it wasn’t anything unGodly, until it was evident that God wanted me to do something else.

Sometimes God uses others to give you information about what he has in mind for you to do.  Sometimes, he will tell you himself.  Yesterday, I heard the sweet whisper of the Holy Spirit telling of a pride problem I had that was unrecognized by, yours truly…aka me! Sometimes pride can hold a person back from doing God’s will also.  I mean, sometimes we talk ourselves into believing that we are the only one who can do something and that we are indispensable in certain situations.  When reminded of the story of Esther she was told that she was the person chosen for the task, and that may be why she was there, but if she refused, then God would use someone else. That is why it is important to truly immerse yourself in God’s word…to the point that the content is written on your heart. This will draw God closer to you so that you may more clearly hear his purpose for your life and understand how important you are to God…what a precious person he created you to be.

The Power of Grace

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This is the Roman road in Ephesus that Paul walked on…it is probably similar to the one going to Damascus as the city was redesigned entirely by the Romans after Pompey conquered it.

Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and great grace was upon them all.

Read Acts 9:1-20  Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and was converted to Christianity, and God’s grace was upon him because he accepted Jesus, and was humbled before God.  Then Saul set out to be obedient to God’s wishes for his life, and continued to live under God’s grace and forgiveness.  Although Saul who became known as Paul after his conversion, was a known persecutor of Christians, and held the cloak of the people who stoned Stephen, the first martyr.  You know the funny (ironic) thing about Paul is that the whole time he was killing Christians he was doing it for God.  He thought that they were heretics and that as a honorable, faithful Jew he should do all in his power to stamp out those of the new religion who were causing so many of his fellow Jews to convert to Christianity and believe in this Jesus as their Messiah.  Paul who was trained really well from childhood as a Pharisee, and knew his scriptures extremely well.  He was trained by a well known Pharisee/scholar named Gamaliel.  Being trained by Gamaliel would probably be the equivalent of being taught about Einstein’s theory of relativity by Einstein himself.  Gamaliel was probably just about as famous in scholarly circles in Paul’s time as Einstein is in scientific circles today.  This just goes to show that even if you are taught the truth, of the scriptures, you can miss the main point.  Paul had the message of the Messiah right there in the scriptures, yet he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus showed up in front of him on the road to Damascus.  There are more than 400 prophecies about the Messiah throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and Jesus fulfilled every single one of them without exception.  

Now there are some people who might say, “Well, Jesus probably knew what they were and he just set out to fulfill them all….”

Well, I am here to tell you, that even if a person tried to do so, they could never have enough control over their own circumstances to fulfill all of those prophecies even if they set out to do so.

 I know, the next question is, “Why not?!!”  Well, the thing is a lot of those prophecies had to do with the circumstances, time and place of Jesus’ birth, and with his death and resurrection, and with the performing of miracles.  No one can control where they are born, or who their parents are related to, no one can control whether or not they rise from the dead.  Also here is a really concrete couple of examples of prophecies about Messiah, the casting of lots for his clothes, the rejection and persecution by his people (the Jews), and that he would die without having any broken bones, and that water would run out of his side.  These are just a few prophecies that would be uncontrollable by a person setting out to prove to people that they were the Messiah.  Psalm 22 is full of prophecy descriptions of the Messiah’s death. Isaiah 53:9 talks about a sinless person who was put to death with the wicked, yet buried with the rich.  There are many many verses about the Messiah in the Old Testament. I won’t overburden you with them here.  If you care to look them up, they are easily available on the web, you can search through them yourself.  I believe that I have made my point at any rate.  Jesus could never have chosen to fulfill all of the prophecies about the Messiah because a large number of them are not controllable by man.  Only God with his infinite power could control the timing of and the person in whom those prophecies were fulfilled.  That person was none other that Jesus the Christ.

God actually made it so that anyone who knows the scriptures should be able to recognize the truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Yet, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a well trained person who willfully refused to accept what was right in front of his nose and locked in his head because he was probably afraid to closely examine what he had been taught, and to go against his elders who were telling him that the Christians were a bad lot…who were heretics.  Jesus had to show up right in front of him to get his attention, and even when he did, he just asked Saul (Paul) why he was persecuting his children; oh yeah, and he blinded Saul/Paul to get his attention completely on him.  I find the blinding to be another dose of irony…knowing Paul’s intelligence he no doubt would have noticed this irony also.  The irony that the person who was spiritually blind, yet thought they were acting in a very spiritual way on God’s behalf, was now physically blinded in order to be made able to see things in a spiritually clear manner, and truly start acting as God’s servant in bringing more people to know God through testifying about his son, Jesus Christ.  Isn’t God awesome?!!

I noticed a long time ago, that God really has an awesome sense of humor at times when he is trying to get your attention, or test your faith (really what he is doing is teaching you about the amount of faith you have and helping you to have stronger faith.)