Monday, May 31, 2010

A Dream Come True / Tears Turned to Joy - Psalm 126

"When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with joyful shouting;
then they said among the nations,
'The LORD has done great things for them.'
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our captivity, O LORD,
as the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping,
carrying his bag of seed,
shall indeed come again with a shout of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him."
(Psalm 126)

During the period of Babylonian captivity, the Israelites must have felt as though they were living a nightmare. Here, in this seventh psalm of ascent, Cyrus has set some of them free. They now feel as if they have exited the nightmare and are experiencing a dream.

"When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream."

Was this real? Could this truly be happening? Or were they merely dreaming?

No! This was really happening. The chains had fallen off. Their captors had handed them the key and the prison doors were flung wide open. The terrors of the night that had bound them for so long were vanquished and at long last they were free!

And what did their glorious freedom result in? Joy!!

Joy uncontainable!!

Joy unsuppressible!!

"Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting."

Henry writes:

"While the people of Israel were captives in Babylon their harps were hung silently upon the willow trees. But now that their captivity is turned they resume their song! Providence pipes to them and they dance."

I love that last sentence. "Providence pipes to them and they dance."

I have been in that place. I have had my harp hanging in silence and I have had its strings retuned and its melody restored. I have - even over the past 7 days - seen cruel captivity turned to festive freedom. Providence has piped to me and I am dancing, filled with laughter and on my tongue there is joyful shouting!

God has worked wonderful things for His people and their neighbors have noticed.

"Then they said among the nations, 'The LORD has done great things for them."

When God saws asunder the shackles that have bound you, people will notice. They may not like what they see - but they still will notice. How we should pray for God to be glorified by our response in the midst of our captivities (without grumbling and complaining and with trusting and expectant hearts) and how we should equally pray that He would be glorified in how we respond to our rescues from those captivities (joyful shouts of thanksgiving)!

There is a watching world. May they be left without an excuse regarding the promises of God and His power in performing them for His people.

Israel echoes the cries of the nations. "Yes folks, you are right the LORD has done great things for us and we are glad!!"

The captives are set free. The dream is a reality. Laughter fills their hearts. Joyful shouting is on their lips. They are glad. However, they are also realistic. We should be as well.

They have been through much and, even though they are free from one affliction, there are still difficulties that will lie ahead in the time left here under the sun. They recognize the fact that there are still pot holes in the road of life - some bigger than others. They understand that there are still weeds in the garden and that the final harvest has not yet been reaped. And they recognize that many opportunities and many other things have been lost during the time of their imprisonment. So they pray that God would redeem the lost days.

The psalmist's prayer that God would "restore our captivity" immediately drew my thoughts to the prophet Joel and his words regarding God's restoring of that which the locust had eaten. In chapter two of this minor prophet's sermon we are told:

"Do not fear, rejoice and be glad, for the LORD has done great things. Do not fear, beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness have turned green, for the tree has born fruit, the fig tree and the vine have yielded in full. So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the LORD your God; for He has given you the early rain for your vindication. And He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before. And the threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust.... And you shall have plenty to eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame." (Joel 2:21-27)

Put in the psalmist's language: "Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him."

Mr. Henry's thoughts on this were incredibly devotional. I quote him at length. He writes:

"These verses look forward to the mercies that were yet wanted. Those that had come out of captivity were still in distress, even in their own land (Nehemiah 1:3) and many still remained in Babylon.

"'Restore our captivity. Let those that have returned to their own land be eased of the burdens which they are yet groaning under. Let those that remain in Babylon have their hearts stirred up , as ours were, to take the benefit of the liberty granted.'

"The beginnings of mercy are encouragements to us to pray for the completing of it. All the saints may comfort themselves with this confidence, that their tears will certainly end in a harvest of joy at last.

"Weeping must not hinder sowing; when we suffer ill we must be doing well. Yea, as the ground is by the rain prepared for the seed. There are tears which are themselves the seed that we must sow, tears of sorrow for sin, our own and others, tears of sympathy with the afflicted church, and tears of tenderness in prayer and under the word.

"Job and Joseph and David and many others had harvests of joy after sorrow. Those that sow in the tears of godly sorrow shall reap in the joy of a sealed pardon and a settled peace."


Beloved, Christ sets captives free. It is not a dream it is the truest of truths. Are you living in the nightmare of bondage or walking in the freedom of faith?

There is a redeeming rescue available from your captivity. Flee to the One who makes dreams come true and who turns tears into joyful shouting.

In His glorious grace,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

3 Precious Promises - Psalm 125

"Those who trust in the LORD
are as Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved,
but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds His people
from this time forth and forever.
For the sceptor of wickedness shall not rest
upon the land of the righteous;
that the righteous may not put forth
their hands to do wrong.

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts.
But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways,
the LORD will lead them away with the doers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 125)

Three precious promises! Three promises are here made to the people of God. Oh, how we should hold these dear!!

First, it is promised that we are established by faith. "Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever."

The people of God are established. ESTABLISHED! We are as settled as a great and mighty mountain. We shall never be shaken, never be demolished, never be moved. (See Psalm 46.) "Those minds shall be truly stayed that are stayed on God. Their faith shall be their fixation." (Matthew Henry)

Oh my friends the faith that God has granted to us is an anchor and a firm foundation. We are, by His grace, securely established. We are a mountain that can't be moved!

Second, it is promised that we are hemmed in by the eternally powerful protective presence of our God. "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore."

God is with us.

Ever with us.

Always with us.

Surrounding us.

Encompassing us.

Keeping us.

From this time forth and forevermore!

He will not leave us nor forsake us. He will not abandon us to ourselves nor to our enemies. Never ever!! This is an eternal promise that is "from this time forth and forevermore."

Beloved, we are never alone. NEVER! We are never in real danger. We will not be ambushed by an unknown enemy. We are secure within the impenetrable fort of Almighty God. His omnipresence envelopes us. His omnipotence guards us. His omniscience watches over us. His love for us knits these three precious attributes together to us!! We are surrounded by our loving LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

Third, it is promised that our troubles will not outlast our triumphs. "For the sceptor of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous."

True, troubles will come. Jesus Himself taught us that "in the world you will have tribulation." But He went on to assure us of our need to "take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Here is the promise that there is an end to the battle and a grand victory in sight. Troubles will come but troubles will not remain. They are but "light and momentary."

Mr. Henry writes:

"It is promised that, though troubles may come upon their lot, they shall not rest there. They shall not continue as long as the enemy would design nor as long as the people of God should fear. God will cut the work short in righteousness, so short that even with the temptation He will make a way for them to escape."
Three precious promises.

Three precious promises made to those who trust in the Lord.

Psalm 125 ends with a practical prayer based upon these precious promises. Should not the promises of God always press us to prayer? And should not our prayers echo the promises that have provoked them? In these final 2 verses they most assuredly do. God has promised to do good to His people and to deal justly with those who are not His people. Therefore, the psalmist prays specifically for that which God has said will be.

"Oh LORD, do good to those who are good, and to those who are upright in heart. Remember Your covenant promises to Your people whom You have redeemed by Your own blood. BUT as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways, lead them away with the doers of iniquity."

There are only two groups of people in this world and there are absolutely antithetical promises made to them.

The righteous will flourish as a tree firmly planted by streams of water. They will flourish even though it may appear that they will falter. The wicked are not so. They will be as chaff which the wind blows away. (See Psalm 1).

Which are you? Which am I?

Do you desire these promises to be yours? Then make certain that you are His!! Flee to Christ the only real Refuge the only true Tower, the Protector and Provider of these three precious promises.

In His glorious grace,


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Had It Not Been the Lord - Psalm 124

"'Had it not been the LORD who was on our side,'
let Israel now say,
'Had it not been the LORD who was on our side,
when men rose up against us;
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the waters would have engulfed us;
the stream would have swept over our soul;
then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.'

Blessed be the LORD,
who has not given us to be torn by their teeth,
Our soul has escaped as a bird
out of the snare of the trapper;
the snare is broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 124)

God's people have been under some form of great oppression. It has been horribly harrowing. It has threatened to undo them. It has come close to pulling them under.


...but God....

But God, in His infinite mercy and covenantal kindness has delivered His people from danger. In view of that, David is overflowing with a thankful heart and has penned this fifth psalm of ascent.

The psalm breaks down into two main parts. Verses 1-5 describe the magnitude of the affliction they were facing and then verses 6-8 give God all the glory and honor and praise for their rescue from it.

Clearly things have been more than a bit unsettling. Men have risen up against the people of God. They have been determined to destroy Israel. Look at the language used to describe their circumstances.

-"They would have swallowed us alive."

-"The waters would have engulfed us."

-"The stream would have swept over our soul."

-"The raging waters would have swept over our soul."

It is not a pretty picture. The clouds are dark and omnious. There is no recognizable light on the horizon. There is deep despair and massive fear. "The people of God were reduced to the very brink of ruin" (Matthew Henry). Their enemies wanted nothing less than their complete demise and utter destruction and they were dead set at accomplishing their goal.

David and his people were in peril - great peril - BUT...

...but GOD...

...but God was on their side!!

Oh that is good news. In that fact we find the great white knight riding to rescue his persecuted people. He has come and He has gained the victory.

David cries out for the entire corporate community that "Had it not been for the LORD who was on our side they would have massacred us!" God was for them, therefore, who could be against them?!

Matthew Henry, writing from David's perspective says:

"God was on our side; He took our part, espoused our cause, and appeared for us. That God was Jehovah and there the emphasis lies. If it had not been Jehovah Himself, a God of infinite power and perfection, that had undertaken our deliverance, our enemies would have overpowered us."
Oh my friends - that same Jehovah is still on the side of His people in this day and time!! He remains for us. Pause and drink in that glorious truth. Jehovah is for us!!
I am reminded of Paul's words to the Romans:

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the One who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'

"But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31-39)

Were it not so, were the LORD not for us - regarding our physical and spiritual enemies, we too would have sunk beneath the mire and been utterly undone. "Had it not been the LORD who was on our side...they would have swallowed us alive!"

With that triumphant truth proclaimed there is only one logical and natural response - praise!! And that is exactly what David does. He blesses the name of the LORD. "Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us to be torn by their teeth."

The danger was great. Their God was greater. It is always the case. Rejoice, oh people of God!!

David beautifully describes the grand extent of their rescue. They were hopeless and helpless. They were as a little bird caught in a powerful snare. There was NOTHING they could do. NOTHING!!


...but God!

"They were delivered like a lamb out of the very jaws of a beast of prey. They were rescued like a little bird out of the fowler's snare. God's people are sometimes taken in the snare and are as unable to help themselves out as any weak and silly bird is, and then God breaks the snare and turns the counsels of the enemies into foolishness." (Matthew Henry)

Oh, how could David and all of Israel not break out into praise of such a redeeming God!! How can we not do the same?

When we pause to consider just what God has done in our spiritual and physical rescues how can we not break out into emphatic praise? The apostle Paul did. In the book of Romans, after spending eleven chapters of noting the majestic works of his omnipotent and holy God, the wretched fallen condition of his helpless fellow man, and the redeeming mercies that are manifested to us in Christ he breaks out with these words:

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36)

That is where my heart lands this day. In all honesty, I have spent the past 13 months in the fowler's snare. The waters have threatened to engulf me. The raging waters have come close to ruining me.


...but God.

The Lord has been on my side and has plucked me out at just the perfect moment. The clouds have lifted. The sun has broken through. The enemy has vanished. "Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us to be torn by their teeth!!" It is my heart's cry this morning.

David ends with a final declaration regarding Israel's Helper. He says: "Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth."
Friends, is the God who made the world your help? Are you resting in the name of the LORD as your only hope against the enemies of your body and soul? If He is for you then who can be against you? If He is against you then all is lost. Faith in Christ makes the difference.

Israel's enemies in Psalm 124 had no hope. They had no hope because they were God's enemies. Jehovah was not for them and therefore everything was against them! They fell eternally into the very traps and snares that they sought to destroy His church in. It is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of a righteously angry God and there is only one way to escape that wrath that justly belongs to us all. That way is through Christ. Apart from faith in Him you are a helpless and hopeless enemy of Almighty God.

Paul tells us: "For while we were still helpless at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.... and God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:6-10)

Oh friends, the same Jehovah who rescued Israel from the fowler's snare will rescue you. If you are His enemy, flee to Him, through Christ, in repentance and faith and become His friend! He will offer you a treaty of peace - eternal peace. If you are His child, then rest knowing that your "help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth."

Lift up your eyes. Lift up your eyes to the One who is enthroned in the heavens. Lift up your eyes to this Christ who is your all-sufficient Surety. Lift up your eyes to the LORD Jehovah who is on your side and bless His name for His marvelous merices to you! There is lasting help and hope found in none other.

Praising Him for rescuing me,

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Perfect Picture of Prayer - Psalm 123

"To Thee I lift up my eyes,
O Thou who art enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress;
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until He shall be gracious to us.
Be gracious to us, O Lord, be gracious to us;
for we are greatly filled with contempt.
Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing
of those who are at ease, and with the contempt
of the proud."
(Psalm 123)

Another precious prayer is before us. The psalmist in Psalm 123 is lifting his eyes to the King of heaven in his time of need.

"To Thee I lift up my eyes, O Thou who art enthroned in the heavens!"

It is a repeated theme from Psalm 121 - "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

Since we have just been given a double reminder perhaps we should pay double attention and follow with doubly determined duty!!

Ultimately is this not the picture of every prayer we ever pray? In prayer are we not lifting our eyes above and beyond our situation to the God who is sovereign in our situation?

"In every prayer we lift up the eye of our soul to God." (Matthew Henry)
Clearly we are to "lift up our eyes" to our God. Not so clearly, that can come across as an abstract idea and an impractical proclamation. Thankfully the psalmist gives us a bit of a practical picture of what our heart's attitude and soul's desire in this prayerful posture should be.

He writes: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He shall be gracious to us."

We are to lift up the eyes of our soul and look to the Lord of our life. We, as His willing and thankful bond-servants, are to look unto our King who alone can subdue our sinful selves and our antagonistic adversaries. Matthew Henry paints the picture well:

"The eyes of a servant are turned to his master's directing hand, expecting that he will appoint him his work. Servants look to their master, or their mistress, for their portion of meat in due season. Likewise, to God we must look for daily bread and for grace sufficient."
We are to look to our Master - our good and gracious and great Master. We are servants of the Most High God. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. Omnipotent power is His. Omniscient wisdom is His. And amazingly my Christian siblings, WE are His. Not merely in a sense of Divine ownership but in the sense of familial relationship - we are said to be the apple of His eye. Let us therefore look to Him - our Master, our Maker, our Lover, our Lord, our Father and our Friend!!

In this particular Psalm the singers are clearly in some form of trouble. They are objects of "contempt" and "scoffing." Times are hard and days are difficult and what are they doing about it? They are not foolishly trying to fix it all themsleves. They are humbling pleading with the high King of Heaven to grant the grace that is so desperately needed!

They are lifting their eyes to the One who can supply their needs. They are going to the God of mercy. They are seeking their Father's face. They are honestly setting their grievances before Him and are trusting that in due time their marvelous Master will rescue them from their current woes.

What about us?

Are we living with lifted eyes or are we living as hypocrites and fools who merely have our eyes fixed on the things of this world? Are we trying to take matters into our own hands and seeking to be blessed by the benefits of this life only? If so, be forewarned that what we have attempted to fix will fail and that our reward will be received in full in this world alone (Matthew 6:2).

But if we are living as the psalmist of ascent, lifting our eyes to the real Rewarder and trusting ourselves to His care, then our Father who sees grants eternal, imperishable, undefilable, lasting rewards.

Psalm 123 is prayer in its finest form. Let us therefore pray with eyes lifted up to the One who is enthroned in the heavens. Let us patiently set our sights on the perfectly providing hand of our gracious God.

"To Thee I lift up my eyes, O Thou who art enthroned in the heavens? Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He shall be gracious."

Lifting the eyes of my soul heavenward,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Glad to Go / Prepared to Pray - Psalm 122

"I was glad when they said to me,
'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'
Our feet are standing within your gates,
O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, that is built
as a city compact together;
to which the tribes go up,
even the tribes of the Lord -
an ordinance for Israel -
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there thrones were set for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
'May they prosper who love you .
May peace be within your walls,
and prosperity within your palaces.'
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, 'May peace be within you.'
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God
I will seek your good."
(Psalm 122)

David is glad to go to the house of God. Here is one who did private worship well - very well! Throughout the Psalms his personal prayers, meditative musings, and soulful songs are laid out for us. This is a man who knew how to spend honest, heartfelt time with his God. He glorified gladly within his own house.

Yet David knew that true religion is more than just a "personal relationship" it is also involves public practice and corporate communion. David loved gathering together with the saints in the worship of God.

Psalm 122 gives us a grand glimpse into David's love for the church of the Old Testament and it has granted me a growing groaning for the church of our own day and time. I hope it will you as well. With David, can you and I honestly say "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord"?

Two simple points jumped out at me this morning regarding David's love for the church and are serving as a catalystic hinge pin for examining my own.

David's love for the church was evidenced in the fact that he was glad to go. "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD."

When his fellow believers said, "Hey Dave, let's go and worship our God," David jumped for joy. He hopped to the head of the line. He ran eagerly to the temple. He went to worship. And he went GLADLY!!

Those that love God should react in the same manner today. We should leap for joy and be filled with gladness when our friends say to us, "Let us go to the house of the Lord."

Might I ask, are we glad to go? And if not what does that tell us either about our own heart or about our current congregation?

Oh how we should be glad to go! A biblically functioning church - a church where the word is faithfully preached, where discipline and accountability are mericfully ministered, where fellowship is sweet, where the sacraments are regularly given - is a small taste of heaven on earth. It is through the church of Christ that we find "our feet standing within [God's] gates."

A gospel church is a foretaste of glory.

"When our journey here is tedious we should comfort ourselves with this - we shall be in the heavenly Jerusalem shortly and that shall make ammends for all the fatigues of our journey." (Matthew Henry)
Are we glad to go?

David's love for the church was evidenced in his preparedness to pray. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem....I will now say, 'May peace be within you' for the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek your good."

David was not only glad to go, he was prepared to pray.

Our prayer life says much about our love life. (I confess that is a personally convicting statement and one that our gracious God has been mercifully dealing with me on over the course of the past year. By grace I am learning.) The things that we most love are often the things that we most meditate upon and if our devotion to them is truly God-centered, will we not dutifully lay them before His throne?

David loved the church and his spoken lip service was backed up by his active prayer service. He prayed for the peace of Jerusalem.

Several specific points of his prayer are laid out in the closing verses of Psalm 122.

1. David prayed for the prosperity of the people who loved Christ's church. "May they prosper who love you." Might I ask - are we praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we praying that God might grant them true prosperity (not particularly financial nor physical - though those are worth of our intercession). Are we praying for their prosperity that they might be used for gospel prosperity? Are we interceding for the saints?

2. David prayed for the protection of Christ's church. "May peace be within your walls." Are we praying for unity among those within her walls and safety from those without? Are we praying that the gospel church might grow and flourish and be spared from unseemly blemishes and from harrowing attacks?

3. David prayed for proper provisions of leadership in Christ's church. "May prosperity be within your palaces." Are we praying for our leaders - praying that God would raise future leaders up and sustain those who already are serving? Are we standing in the gap for our pastors, our elders, and our deacons? They often stand in the gap for us and are so regularly the objects of the fiery flaming arrows of discouragement, temptation, and exhaustion. Are we praying that God will prosper them in their efforst to prosper the Kingdom of Christ?

David owned the call to prayer. He not only exhorted others to do so but took it upon himself to hit his knees.

"I will now say, 'May peace be with you.' For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good."

He was committed to pray for the peace of the church and he did so all for the glory of God and for the good of the saints.

David was glad to go and prepared to pray. Are we?

In His glorious grace,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Look Up Your Help is Here - Psalm 121

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
from whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out
and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore."
(Psalm 121)

I've come to the end of Ecclesiastes and as is my habit, now begin to work my way through another 10 Psalms. This morning the lines have fallen to Psalm 121. Wow!

I must admit, I hated leaving Solomon's sermon. Its providential pertinance to the present path that I've been traveling has been amazing. I have learned much from the old wise king.

This past year has found me, in many ways, walking in Solomon's shoes. Testing. Questioning. Searching. Faltering under the weight of vanity. Striving to remember my Creator and yet often finding myself forgetful of Him. My God has guided and guarded me through an incredibly dark valley and even this past Sunday morning as I meditated on Ecclesiastes 12 some of the scales fell off of the eyes of my heart. I have loved this book!

This morning I found myself sighing as I went to the Word. "Oh, I'm going to miss Ecclesiastes."

Opening my Bible I found that the next passage in my study order was Psalm 121. A psalm that teaches us to look to God as our all-sufficient One. As I read through this song of ascent I found myself ascending to the mount of thanksgiving. This psalm declares that which my God has done for me, is doing for me, will do for me all the days of my life here under the sun. I have been surrounded by a swelling storm surge - one that has come frighteningly close to pulling me under - yet the God of this psalm has proven true regarding the promises of this psalm - even over the course of the past week. This is a perfect place to land after Ecclesiastes!

Psalm 121 begins with a determined statement from the psalmist. "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains."

Far too often I find myself not looking up, but looking down and looking around. Like Peter when he sought to walk to Jesus I find myself being so overwhelmed by that which is threatening to undo me that I get undone! I look at my circumstances rather than to the God of my circumstances. It is then that I sink - and often sink hard and deep.

We are here admonished not to look down, not to look around, but to look up!

Look up, Lori! Look above your adversarial circumstances. Look above the valley of the shadow of death. Look above the waves. Look above the winds. Look to the mountains - the high mountains. Look to Mount Zion. Look beyond the mountains to the God who is higher and wiser and more settled than the mountains. "I will lift my eyes."

Lift your eyes and look up! There is no safety nor security in focusing on the things that threaten. There is nothing in looking down that will preserve you. Do you need help? Do I? Then look up. Let us lift our eyes!

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes form the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

Look up! Look up to the mountains. Greater than that look up to the God who created the mountains. In Him is our help. He who created heaven and earth can create a way out of the wild wilderness for us. Let your hope and your confidence be found in this God who is your Help! The strong God. The steadying God. The steadfast God.

Look up to Him. He has promised us so much. Look at just a sampling of His precious promises from this Psalm.

"He will not allow your foot to slip." He will steady you from fully falling.

"He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." He will never NOT be available. We have an ever watchful and an ever wakeful God. He is never napping and is always watching.

"The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand." God has made it His duty to keep us. He is our protector. Could we be any safer?

But not only is the LORD our refuge, He is also our refreshment! He is our shade. He comforts us from the scorching heat of a dry and weary land. He is an oasis in the desert and an ever-flowing fountain for a thirsty soul.

He is at our right hand - "the working hand. Therefore, let us turn ourselves dextrously to our duty and we shall find God ready and near to assist us and give us success" (Henry).

"The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul." No matter what the circumstance. Be it the flames and fires of persecution, be it the frozen tundra of abandonment, the Lord will protect us from ALL evil - from ALL evil! He will sustain us from evils within and from evils without. He will keep our soul - eternally. Even if our flesh and our heart fail - our soul is secure! How safe we are in all situations!!!

Beloved, there is nothing to difficult for our God. NOTHING! There is no situation that can snatch us from His hand (Romans 8:28-39) and no evil that can ultimately overcome us! How unbelievably amazing is this helping, keeping, protecting, always watching, never sleeping Creator God?!

Are you lifting your eyes to Him? What else would you dare lift your eyes too? Look up! Lift your eyes to the moutains from whence your help shall come!!

Oh, these are precious promises. These are protective promises. The God who has made us will help us. The God who is with us will keep us. The God who has ordained our steps will protect us in them. Look up! Lift your eyes to the One from whom your help comes!

The psalmist closes with these words. "The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever."

Beloved - this is an ongoing, ever applying, never failing promise. God is our guard. He guards all of our days! He guards all of our ways! He is guarding us as we go out and as we come in. He is our hedge. He is our shield. He is our fortress. He is our comforting and conquering King!! From this time forth and forever - eternally, continually, in life and in death - He is with us. Lift your eyes. Look up!

What circumstances are sinking you this day? What are you looking at? Oh friends, look up. LOOK UP!! Your Helper is near! Your Creator is awake! Your Keeper is kind! Your Guard will guide! Look up and find help for your time of need.

He has enabled me to finally lift my head above the raging river of the past 13 months. He has granted me the grace to look to Him. He has helped me and I am humbled!

In His glorious grace,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Succinct Sum, Root, and Rule of Religion - Ecclesiastes 12:13

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is:
fear God and keep His commandments,
because this is the whole duty of man."
(Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Quite often I like to just get to the bottom line of things. Let's cut to the chase and filter through the fluff. While Solomon has most certainly not been feeding us any fluff throughout these 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes, he does succinctly boil it all down to the basic message here in the closing words of his grand sermon.

Israel's king has taught us much about the vanity of life lived under the sun. We have been challenged with its brevity - it is but a "puff" - and honestly with the ultimate meaninglessness of it if it is lived only with a horizontal, here and now understanding.

Finally, in verse 13 the preacher's prime and powerful purpose is proclaimed. Life is to be lived veritally if it is to have any lasting meaning horizontally and Solomon is about to give a thumbnail sketch of what vertical, religious living looks like. Here the succinct summary of lifegiving religion is revealed and its foundational root and rule are exposed.

What is the bottom line according to Solomon?

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man."

Do you want to cut to the chase? Well, here it is.

The true way to live well, the ultimate pathway to peace, the home of happiness, the essence of our chief end is found in godliness. Here is the summary of true religion...

"Setting aside all matters of doubtful disputation, to be religious is to fear God and keep His commandments. The root of religion is the fear of God reigning in the heart - a reverence of His majesty, a deference to His authority, and a dread of His wrath. The rule of religion is the Law of God revealed in the Scriptures. Our fear towards God must be taught by His commandments and those we must carefully observe. This is of vast importance - it is the whole duty of man, it is all his business and all his blessedness. Our whole duty is summed up in this and our whole comfort is bound up in this." (Matthew Henry)

When all has been said and heard this is what it all boils down to: the fear of God and the keeping of His commandments.

Looking at that which is left in the pot of life's purpose I find myself saying: " But...but..but can't do this!!" Oh, how I need God's grace, for who IS able to do that? No one! Not you! Not me! No not one! (Romans 3:10-12)

We are not by nature God fearers. We are by nature self pleasers.

We are not by nature Law keepers. We are by nature rule breakers.

As I have meditated this morning on the "conclusion of the matter" I am overwhelmed by the absolute impossibility of the task before me and it has made my thoughts turn to the true story of Christ's encounter with the rich young ruler. (Luke 18:18-27)

This gentleman came to Jesus wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life? He wanted to get to the bottom line and the succinct sum, root and rule of religion.

"Let's cut to the chase good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?"

Jesus, in infinite wisdom, cut to the chase of this young ruler's chase cutting question. In a matter of moments Christ undoes this proud fellow's thinking about his own goodness - "No one is good except God alone" and about his personal ability to keep the Law perfectly.

"So, you want to know what you must DO - well, you know the commandments of the One Good God, so keep them." (Read between the lines "Fear God and keep His commandments.")

"Oh, Teacher, that I have done since my youth!! Whew!! Thanks for the info. Glad that's settled."

But it was NOT settled. Not by a long shot.

Christ went for the heart and He pressed this man with the hypocrisy of his proud assessment regarding his own character and ability to perfectly keep the Law.

Jesus said to him, "One thing you lack, sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me."


This fellow hadn't really kept the law. He had other god's before God and he was controlled by covetousness!

This rich young man relished his riches. This young ruler was ruled by them. This leader was led by his own lusts. And Christ showed him that ultimately he feared losing his things more than he feared God and that he obeyed the desires of his flesh much more than the Law of his God.

Friends, are we not really in the same boat? I know that I am. When backed into a corner with this different twist on Solomon's same bottom line the rich young ruler failed at the conclusion of the matter. He didn't fear God and keep His commandments. We fail as well - every time!

"When the rich young ruler heard these things, he became very sad; for he was extremely rich.... And they who heard it said, 'Then who can be saved?' But Jesus said, 'The things impossible with men are possible with God." (Luke 18:23-27)

The ultimate bottom line, the dutiful conclusion of the matter is that the things which are required of us - fearing God and keeping His commandments - are impossible for us.


"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

That is why we need a Savior and that is why our God sent One.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

We cannot keep the Law of God perfectly, but Christ did!!

The Lord Jesus came and lived that life that we could not live, died the death that we deserved to die, and rose again from the dead that we might live in newness of life during our days here under the sun and for all eternity with Him in the Celestial City beyond the sun!

Christ came to redeem us from the Law and to justify us by grace through faith in Him.

God made "Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21)

Do you long for the bottom line of the bottom line? It is Jesus!

Christ has done for you what you cannot do for yourself. He has fully fulfilled the "conclusion of the matter." Jesus has done it for you and if you will rest in Him as your only hope and help He will even now do it through you. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" "Apart from Him you can do nothing."

Christ's obedience to the bottom line of fearing God and keeping His commandments is the root of your salvation. It is impossible for you. All things are possible for God!

Rest in the root of His righteousness. Be clothed in the coat His character. Your own garments are but filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

"The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments." Christ has conquered the conclusion and calls you to merely come to Him in repentance and faith. Even that He enables you to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

He, Himself is the succint sum, root, and rule of religion. May we, by grace through faith, rest in the Root and through Him bear much fruit! That's the bottom line of the bottom line!

"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)

"And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21)

Fearing God, keeping His commandments, and resting in Christ's accomplishment of my duty,

Monday, May 24, 2010

Remember While You Can - Ecclesiastes 12:1-5

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come and the years draw near
when you will say, 'I have no delight in them';
before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars
are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain;
in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble,
and mighty men stoop,
the grinding ones stand idle because they are few,
and those who look through windows grow dim;
and the doors on the street are shut
as the sound of the grinding mill is low,
and one will arise at the sound of the bird,
and the daughters of song will sing softly.
Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place
and of terrors on the road;
the almond tree blossoms,
the grasshopper becomes a burden
and the caperberry is ineffective.
For a man goes to his eternal home
while mourners go about in the street."
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)

Wise King Solomon offers to us some incredibly thought provoking words about really living while we are young and about being sober minded regarding the fact that we will grow old and die. There is much poetic and there is much practical in these 5 verses.

He begins with an exhortation to those who are still in the prime of life - an exhortation to "remember."

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth."

From the beginning of our days we should remember the One in whom our beginning began!! It is He who made us and not we ourselves (Ps 100) and we were made by Him to live for Him.

Young ones - remember Him while you can and live for Him while you may.

"It is the greatest absurdity and ingratitude imaginable to give the cream and flower of our days to the devil and reserve the bran and refuse and dregs of them for God." (Matthew Henry)
"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth...." Why should we remember while we are young? Because the evil days are coming. "...before the evil days come and the years draw near." The evil days when old age will creep upon you stealing your abilities and your delights.

Solomon paints the most incredible portrait of old age that I have ever run across. He honestly and accurately describes what the aging process is like with illustrative language. I am strongly leaning upon the enlightening words of Mr. Henry for these thoughts.

The aged man is as the darkening of the sun, light, moon, and stars (vs 2). His abilities and intellect are slowing down and decreasing. He is like clouds returning after the rain (vs 2). He goes from one infirmity and malady to the next. As soon as one ailment is calmed another one begins to flare.

During old age the watchmen of the house tremble (vs 3). The head and hands that have guarded so much of a man's life begin to shake with the tremors of senior citizenship and can no longer serve as a proper guard. The mighty men stoop (vs 3). The strong legs which carried him from place to place - often running - are now feeble and bent down. The grinding ones stand idle because they are few (vs 3). The teeth stop doing what they were made to do because they are falling out. Those who look through windows grow dim (vs 3). Eyesight fails and fades to black.

As if that weren't enough, Solomon continues. In verse 4 he tells us that the doors on the street are shut. In our old age we find ourselves staying in more and more and venturing out less and less. Our doors are shut because behind them we feel more safe. Furthermore, one will arise at the sound of a bird. Our sleep becomes restless and the slightest things awaken us. The daughters of song will sing softly. While a bird may awaken us from our slumber the songs and sounds we so long to hear will fade as our hearing slips away.

In verse 5 things don't get any better. Men are afraid of high places and of terrors on the road. Due to our ever growing weakness and frailty we are fearful of climbing to the heights and even of strolling on the street. We may stumble. We may fall. It is best to avoid those spots. The almond tree blossoms. The hairs of our head (if they remain) turn white as the blooms of the nut tree. And finally, the grasshopper becomes a burden. Even the slightest things are a drudgery and a heavy weight.

There is nothing pleasant about the aging process. Therefore...

"...remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days draw near when you will say, 'I have no delight in them.'"

May we heed Solomon's admonition knowing that our day is coming. "How can we expect God to help us when we are old, if we will not serve Him when we are young?" (Henry)

We are born, we live young, we grow old, and then we die dead! "For a man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street."

The day of our demise will come. Solomon has always been forthright regarding that fact. What we have remembered in the days of our youth will effect where we go in the days after our death.

"Death will fix us in an unchangeable state. Man shall go to his eternal home." (Henry)

We shall go home but what home are we heading for? What treasures are we storing up in this life that will follow us into death? Where is our eternal home? Who is our father? Is it the Father of light or the father of darkness? We are either living as children of God or children of the devil and that familial condition will determine which home we will spend our eternity in. Therefore, the question is a crucial one.

Dear friends, remember while you can. Remember your Creator and live for Him. In so doing you will die with Him and will find rest - eternal rest. "For a man goes to his eternal home."

For the Christian this should bring great comfort. Who doesn't want to go home to see this Father? Is He your Father?

Beloved, no one comes to this Father but through Christ. Jesus Himself said:

"I am the way and the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father, but through me." (John 14:6)

Flee to the way to real remembering. Remember Him and you will never be forgotten.

Remembering and resting,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gracious Giving - Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

"Cast your bread on the surface of the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Divide your portion to seven, or eight,
for you do not know what misfortune
may occur on the earth.
If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth;
and whether a tree falls toward the south or north,
wherever the tree falls, there it lies.
He who watches the wind will not sow
and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
Just as you do not know the path of the wind
and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman,
so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening,
for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed,
or whether both of them alike will be good."
(Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)

My natural habit is to hoarde and my selfish tendancy is to take. Solomon here says, "NO! Make it your practice to provide." He is teaching us the important lesson of how to become a gracious giver.

These six verses are on charity and benevolence. For years I think I've missed their significance and relevance and have simply skimmed over them rushing to get to the next "meaty" section of Solomon's sermon. Not this year - cue the sound of squalling brakes - I'm stopping and I'm staying and I'm staring at what lies before me.

Israel's great preaching king is "pressing the rich to abound in liberality to the poor." Now, before you say "Well, that doesn't apply to me, I'm not very rich, I don't have much at all", let me challenge your thinking. Comparatively speaking - on the scales of humanity, we are all so rich. Even in our current economy we have so much more than many in this world and we can always find someone in worse straits than ourselves. So may we listen and learn without trying to weasel our way out of this life lesson.

In our abundance (and even in our mediocrity) are we giving freely to others?

We should be. As Solomon says, we need to "cast our bread on the surface of the waters." We need to give graciously ...

"...even though it may seem thrown away and lost as that which is cast upon the
waters. Send it on a voyage and send it as a venture, as merchants that trade by
sea. Trust it upon the waters; it shall not sink." (Matthew Henry)

We need not only to give graciously but we need to give generously. "Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight...."

"Be free and liberal in the works of charity. Give not a pittance, but a 'portion' - a meal. God is rich in mercy to all, to us, though unworthy; He gives liberally, and upbraids not with former gifts." (Henry)

We need to give graciously and generously and we need to give without excuse. "He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap."

If we look hard enough we will always find a reason to keep rather than to cast. "Well...bad times may be a coming. I probably need to store up a bit more for myself. I'll give another day."

"If we stand thus magnifying every little difficulty we shall never go on with our work." (Henry)

Yes, bad times may be "a coming" which is all the more reason for us to give graciously and generously this day!! "You do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth." Now is the opportunity. Let us do good while we are able and excuse our excuses from our presence!

In our gracious and generous charity, in our non-excusable beneficence, we must trust. We need to trust God with our giving - even if we cannot see clearly how He will provide. "Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things."

God has promised that He "loves a cheerful giver" and that as we give it shall be given unto us - good measure, pressed down, and shaken together! His economy is not like ours - praise Him for that truth!! He will make good on His promise and follow through on His word even if we cannot fathom how. Do we fully understand the wind? Do we fully understand our own formation? No, yet we trust that it is and that it works. Let us do the same with our liberality.

"Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening." Let us give and let us trust. Whether out of little or out of lot let us give graciously knowing that God has always outgiven us and always will.

In His glorious grace,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Marks of Magistrates - Ecclesiastes 10:16-17

"Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad
and whose princes feast in the morning.
Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility
and whose princes eat at the appropriate time -
for strength and not for drunkenness."
(Ecclesiastes 10:16-17)

Well, there is certainly nothing new under the sun - including the reality of wise and foolish leadership. Throughout history, nations have been guided by the prudent and by the idiotic, by the kind and by the treacherous. In our current times it is so -one country is governed well and another is governed wildly. In our own nation we see it to be true - look at the headlines regarding those folks who rule over us and think of your first reaction to some of their shenanigans - "He did what?!?!!"

Clearly Solomon knew of the reality and here he addresses the problem with both woes and blessings.

First of all, he offers a "woe" to the nation who is "led" by an immature prince. Matthew Henry pointed out that it may not refer only to immaturity of age but immaturity of understanding. There may be an old foolish king and there may also be a young wise king. Age is not the issue.

The foolish magistrate is the one who "feasts in the morning." In otherwords, his appetites rule him, not he them. He is a slave of his own lusts and serves himself when he should be serving his people.

Why woe? Because when the land is led by a lax lad things will fall apart. "Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks" (Ecc 10:18). The foolishly feasting prince is not the prepared prince. His walls are weak. His borders are broken. His people become peasants. The nation that is thus ruled by the fool will suffer grave consequences.

"When judges are epicures, and do not eat to live but live to eat, what good can a nation expect?!" (Henry)

"Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time - for strength, and not for drunkenness."

Quoting Mr. Henry at length:

"The people cannot but be happy when their rulers are generous and active, sober and temperate, and men of business. Wisdom, virtue and the fear of God, beneficence, and a readiness to do good to all mankind, these ennoble royal blood. When magistrates are more in care to discharge their trusts than to gratify their appetites; when they eat in due season, that is, when they have dispatched their business, the land is blessed. Magistrates should eat for strength, that their bodies may be fitted to serve their souls in the service of God and their country. It is well with a people when their princes are examples of temperance, when those that have the most to spend upon themselves know how to deny themselves."

Oh, for such leaders in our own land. I am reminded by these words of my need to heed Paul's admonition in 1 Timothy 2.

"I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."

Are we praying for increasing wisdom and selflessness for those who rule over us? If not, shouldn't we start?

In His glorious grace,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Oral Dysentery - Ecclesiastes 10:14

"The fool multiplies words."
(Ecclesiastes 10:14)

Growing up, my dad had a phrase to describe those whose tongues wagged continuously: "oral disentery." That is the malady that Solomon is addressing in Ecclesiastes 10:14.

Foolish people tend to talk all the time, incessantly, non-stop and far too often with no purpose other than to tickle their own fancy. Perhaps they hope that with a large quantity of words there might arise some positive quality of words. Alas, it is content not volume that shows true wisdom.

Matthew Henry made me chuckle this day. "Many who are empty of sense are full of words!"

Would we be wise? Let us keep our mouths shut much more often. Let us bridle our tongues, be quick to listen and much much slower to speak.

The wise man can say a lot with very little. Choose your words carefully and speak them humbly! Here's praying that our "little" words would be great words and that our few would go far!

In His glorious grace,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stinky Ointment - Ecclesiastes 10:1

"Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink,
so a little foolishness is weightier
than wisdom and honor."
(Ecclesiastes 10:1)

The picture here is not pleasant. Dead flies decomposing in a bottle of fine perfume. Somehow the value of that ointment seems a bit lost at this point!! No thanks, I think I'll pass!

Solomon draws a vivid comparison of those dead flies and their soiling effect on that precious perfume to a wise man who has acted foolishly and soiled his reputation. It only takes one fly in the ointment to make a massive mess of things!!

Henry wrote:

"A little folly is a great blemish to him that has a reputation for wisdom and honor, and is as hurtful to him as dead flies are to sweet perfume. True wisdom will gain a man a reputation, which is like a box of precious ointment. The reputation that is gained by a great deal of wisdom, may be easily lost, by a little folly."

Hear and heed. One foolish act may tear down and destroy years of wise living. Keep your fly swatter handy. Keep the lid of your perfume sealed tight. Keep close to the One who is the fount of all true wisdom and understanding. "In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise knowledge and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7).

By grace, may we fear God and fight off the foolish flies!!

In His glorious grace,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dying Well Under the Sun - Ecclesiastes 9:12

"Moreover, man does not know his time;
like a fish caught in a treacherous net,
and birds trapped in a snare,
so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time
when it suddenly falls on them."
(Ecclesiastes 9:12)

I suppose that living well can best be summed up in the words of a certain young lawyer who answered one of Christ's questions in this way:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus replied to this expert in the Mosaic law by saying, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28)

Is that not exactly what Solomon has exhorted us to do in the previous verses of Ecclesiastes 9?

To live well we must love well. We must love our God well and strive to love our neighbor well. It is hard to do - no, it is impossible to do in and of ourselves. Yet, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Oh, how I praise God for Christ - my Help and my Hope!!

Prayerfully and with the aid of Christ's glorious grace given to us, living well will lead us not only to existing with excellence but to dying with dignity. Living well shall lead to dying well. Ecclesiastes 9:12 has made me pause to think about dying well.

It gives us a bit of a wake up call where our death is concerned as well as drawing our attention to the circumstances which may lead to it. We know not the hour, nor the day, nor the way in which God will bring this brief breath that we call life to an end. But, it will come to an end. "Man does not know his time." Yet, his time is appointed (Hebrews 9:27). So are all of the trials and tribulations that come before it.

"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven - a time to be born and a time to die...." (Ecclesiastes 3)

"Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider - God has made the one as well as the other." (Ecclesiastes 7)

We live.

Honestly, from our perspective, at times while we live life stinks and then...

...we die.

Sigh! do we handle that?

How do we respond to the evils that would snare us and steal our joy, swipe our hope, silence our praise? How do we respond to calamity here under the sun - the calamity that makes us stagger in our living as well as the calamity that may lead to our dying?

Solomon, in speaking of our ignorance regarding the time of our end, couples that proclamation with references to fish and nets and to birds and snares. He speaks of sudden and unexpected distress. What in the world is he talking about? What does that have to do with life and death?

Perhaps everything!

Matthew Henry's summation of these verses pierced me to the core this day. He wrote:

"We are often surprised with evils. Man knows not the time of his calamity. It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time as to when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may always be ready.

"We may meet with trouble in that very thing wherein we promise ourselves satisfaction, as the fishes and the birds are drawn into the snare and net by the bait. Men often find their bane where they sought their bliss."

I was stopped in my tracks with that last paragraph -

"We may meet with trouble in that very thing wherein we promise ourselves satisfaction.... Men often find their bane where they sought their bliss."

How true. How frighteningly true!

We are often unaware of what the things which we seek after may actually produce for us - unless of course we are seeking Christ. He alone is the one, certain, and unchangeable card in the deck of life - the One which trumps all others and which cannot be snatched from our hand! All other things, all other people - no matter how precious and no matter how faithful - are filled with much uncertainty here under the sun. "Men often find their bane where they sought their bliss."

Yes, Mr. Henry - you are right. We are often surprised in this life. There is MUCH we do not know and much that remains dark and veiled to us here. (No wonder we need "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path"!) The end may come upon us unawares. No, I must correct that, the end WILL come upon us unawares.

"Man does not know his time."

In meditating upon this verse this day I must ask myself and you my loved ones the following:

In these days before our end what are we seeking the most? The bait of this world? The things which will lead to nets and snares? Are we seeking our own pleasures? Are we seeking the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" - those things which seek to lure us in and hold us captive? OR are we seeking "first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" - the chief end of man which will lead to the chief blessing from God?

What is the treasure we are living and longing for and is it an imperishable and undefiled treasure - one that will not fade, one that is reserved, one that is secure (1 Peter 1:3-9)?

There is only one Pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46) and we would all be wise to seek it above all others! Real living and victorious dying are found only in one place - one Person - one Savior! (John 14:6)

My friends, "to live is Christ." And if, through Him, we are living FOR Him then it is certain that "to die is gain." However, if our mantra is "to live is ME" then let it be known that "better off is the one who never existed."

Sp, how are we living and for whom are we living? That answer will be the determining factor of how we will find ourselves dying. We know not the time - but there is One who does. Are you resting in His hands?

"The day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth." (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)

"Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

"But in all of these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!"' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.'" (Revelation 14:13)

"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)

Ready to die well, striving to live well, and all by His glorious grace,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Living Well Under the Sun - Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

"Go then, eat your bread in happiness,
and drink your wine with a cheerful heart;
for God has already approved your works.
Let your clothes be white all the time,
and let not oil be lacking on your head.
Enjoy life with the woman whom you love
all the days of your fleeting life
which He has given to you under the sun;
for this is your reward in life,
and in your toil in which you have laboured
under the sun.
Whatever your hand finds to do,
verily do it with all your might;
for there is no activity or planning
or knowledge in Sheol where you are going."
(Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

The old chiche' of the certainty of death and taxes still holds true. The current state of our nation is clearly displaying the reality of the latter - "taxes"- and Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 9, has been reminding us of the inevitability of the former - "death".

In verse 3 of this chapter he bluntly tells us that "there is one fate for all men...they go to the dead." The writer of the book of Hebrews phrased it like this: "it is appointed for men to die and then to face the judgment."

Death, since the fall, is a reality we all will face. No exceptions!

Knowing that we will die, Solomon hopes to challenge us regarding how we will live. We KNOW we will die - so what are we doing in the meantime and what are we doing to prepare for that day?

The preacher king reminds us that while there is life, there is hope - hope for salvation, hope for reconciliation, hope for LIFE not merely under the sun but above it as well. He poetically points us to the truth that it is while we are living that choices can be made and that once we are dead it is too late to make them.

"For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate, and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun." (vs 4-6)

The admonition is simple. Our limited days under the sun are the only times where we can prepare for our eternal days elsewhere. What happens here - while we are joined with the living and are granted free opportunities at loving God, hating sin, and zealously pursuing truth - lays the foundation for what will happen "there" (in our eternal destination).

At the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, the wise preacher will point us to the ultimate goal and purpose of life under the sun. He will share with us these words: "The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all men."

That is the ultimate starting point which leads to the practical living point. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom - including the beginning of the wisdom that leads to living well.

Do you long to live well in this life? Solomon - the king who tried it all, tested everything, and grabbed all the gusto he could get - tells us how to. He says live to God and live well for God!

"Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart.... Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun.... Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it will all your might...."

Bottom line - Christian - make the best of the life that has been given you under the sun. Love your God and your family and your friends to the fullest. Enjoy them. Cherish them. Savor them. Serve them. As you do, be sure to keep a clean conscience ("let your clothes be white all the time") in all of your actions towards them. Serve the Lord and serve others with gladness. Live joyfully amidst the gifts that God has given you. And, by grace, do your duty with all of your might.

The days of this life are "fleeting." They are but a blip. Live them fully. Live them freely. Live them fervently. Live them faithfully.

I don't know about you, but I probably have some life re-evaluating to do. What kind of Christian am I? What kind of wife and mom and friend am I? Am I heeding Solomon's counsel or am I hoarding my own?

Longing to live well,


[By the way, here's a link to the story of Zac Smith (33) who died this past Sunday from cancer. He was a Christian, a husband, a father, and a friend. He says that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him because God used it to teach him these very lessons from Ecclesiastes 9. Enjoy, be convicted, be challenged and be changed.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

In His Hands - Ecclesiastes 9:1

"For I have taken all of this to my heart
and explain it that righteous men,
wise men, and their deeds
are in the hand of God."
(Ecclesiastes 9:1)

My husband was in the insurance business for several years before heading off to seminary. He was an auto claims adjuster for State Farm. A rival insurance company had a motto - they still do - in which they referred to themselves as "the good hands people." Solomon, in this passage of Ecclesiastes, points us to the ultimate "good hands" insurance - the hands of God.

Christian - you are in good hands. No matter what befalls you there is One who holds you. No matter what seeks to shake you there is One who has a firm grip on you.

NO. MATTER. WHAT. His hands are there and His strong hands are attached to His everlasting arms. "The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

God has a peculiar care and a precious concern for His children. Our Father has us in His hands and there is no safer place to be.

Our Father's hand is an omnipresent hand - it is always with us. It is a righteous and a holy hand - it will never do us harm nor evil. It is a good hand - in all things it is seeking our best. It is a tender and compassionate hand - always caring and comforting us, drying tears from our eyes, binding up our wounds, holding us close. It is an omnipotent hand - driving away the enemies that would seek to destroy us.

The "good hands" of All-State have nothing on the great hands of the Almighty!

Matthew Henry cross referenced several additional verses which speak of our being in God's hands. They are precious promises regarding the hands that hold us.

"Indeed He loves His people; and His holy ones are in His hand." (Deuteronomy 33:3)

"But as for me, I trust in Thee, O Lord, I say, 'Thou art my God.' My times are in Thy hand." (Psalm 33:14-15)

"My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:29)

Back in 1824, William Lloyd put it like this:

My times are in Thy hand; my God, I wish them there; my life, my friends, my soul, I leave entirely to Thy care.

My times are in Thy hand; whatever they may be; pleasing or painful, dark or bright, as best may seem to Thee.

My times are in Thy hand; why should I doubt or fear? My Father's hand will never cause His child a needless tear.

My times are in Thy hand, Jesus the Crucified; those hands my cruel sins had pierced are now my guard and guide."

Oh, we are loved and kept by the powerful hand of our Father. Our times ARE in His hand.

Dear friends, I know not what this day or the days to come may hold for you but I do know that the hand of God is orchestrating our days holding us in them, and guiding us through them.

With that fact in mind I find myself crying out with Jeremiah the prophet, who also spoke of being in God's hands. He wrote:

"But as for me, behold, I am in Your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight." (Jeremiah 26:14)

There's no better place to be nor any better prayer to pray.

Held securely in the hands of God,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Above the Line Under the Sun - Ecclesiastes 8:17

"And I saw every work of God
and I concluded that man canot discover
the work which has been done under the sun.
Even though man should seek laboriously,
he will not discover;
and though the wise man should say,
'I know,' he cannot discover."
(Ecclesiastes 8:17)

Several weeks ago I had lunch with a good friend from another town. Our conversation was broad,covering a variety of topics, yet all framed within the context of our God and Savior and of His providential dealings in this world that we currently inhabit.

In the midst of discussing life we ended up reminding each other that, truth be told, there are just a lot of things in this life that don't make sense. Under the sun there are many secret things and this side of heaven much remains mysterious.

I found myself quoting Deuteronomy 29:29 (as I often do when things puzzle me and seem beyond any reasonable explanation). There, Moses reminds us that "the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

My friend shared with me that she knew of a seminary professor who, when asked obviously unanswerable questions in class, would quote that very verse and then would draw a line on the classroom board. Above the line were the "secret things" that belonged to the all-knowing and infinite God. Below the line were the "revealed things" that belonged to the small-knowing and finite us. He would simply answer his students by pointing atop the horizontal line he made and saying "Gentlemen, THAT is above the line."

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 8:17 is telling us that we need not trouble ourselves with striving to grasp that which "above the line" here under the sun. It is above the line for a reason. It is secret for a reason and that is part of the faith journey that we are on. Faith has not yet been made sight. Secret things have not yet been revealed. Let us not put the cart before the horse but ride patiently in the wagon while looking at the back-end view! The day is coming when questions will be answered and when we will see things as they truly are.

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29)

"And I saw every work of God and I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under teh sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover..." (Ecclesiastes 8:17)

Friends, God is God and we are not. Were we able to understand and comprehend all of His ways and means and thoughts and actions then He would not be very "God-ish" and therefore not very worthy of our reverant awe. The "secret things" and the things that we "cannot discover" are honestly the very things that make God most amazing and the impossibility of His existance the REAL imposibility!

Now, to shoot perfectly straight with you, I must confess that I am one of those people who far too often likes to attempt to venture above the line. I try to jump the hurdle of divine wisdom and seize it as my own. I want all of the pieces to fit and when they don't I can tend to freak out a bit - OK, so perhaps a bit more than a bit!

Those who know me well know that I am a chronic doubter and the quintessential questioner. I am a woman who loves logic and reason and who believes - despite my doubts and questions - that the Christian faith is not merely some blind-faith crap shoot but is truly the most solid, reasonable, and firm foundation for the understanding of anything. Those reasoning characteristics can be both good and bad. They are good when, by grace, I use them "beneath the line". They are bad when I try to use them to force my way "above the line".

Knowing my tendancy to "cross the line" is perhaps the thing that makes Solomon's admonition so good for me. With him, I have "concluded that man cannot discover the work which [He] has done under the sun." It is a vain waste of my time to even try to step across "the line" into the secret regime. Besides, is there not MORE than enough that has been "revealed" here beneath the line that I still don't know?

I suppose the bottom line of it all is that I need to master what has been made available to me beneath the line and practically apply it here under the sun before even bothering to reach beyond the stars to that which my puny finite brain can't contain anyway.

With Job I once again find myself covering my mouth with my hand. A fool without knowledge, daring to darken the counsel of the all-knowing and just-enough-revealing God.

The time will come when secrets will be revealed. Lord, help me to be willing to wait and make me a wondering worshipper in the meantime while I live under the sun.

Marveling at the God who is above, while I am here below,