Saturday, December 31, 2011

Welcome to Year Two of the BBC!





Congratulations! You have completed Year One of the Bible Book Club.  I have highlighted (darkened to a deep blue and purple) the books that we have completed.  

In Year Two, after a review of history from last year (1 Chronicles 1:1-2 Chronicles 1:9), we will cover history from the divided kingdom (1 Kings 12) through the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities and the Return from Exile! I will be interspersing the prophetical books and Psalms in the context of that history.


But before we go on, we will go back in history to the time of the patriarchs in Genesis (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and read through the poetical book of Job. I did not want to insert it in the middle of Genesis because it is a long book, and it would have broken up the historical narrative in Year One. 


Hold on to your hats, we are in for a bumpy ride, but just remember one thing: 


JESUS IS COMING TO THE RESCUE!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Psalm 45 - Our King

LINK: Psalm 45

BACKGROUND 

This psalm is a wedding song. It celebrates the wedding of a mighty king. Some believe it was for Solomon. It was written by the sons of Korah, a musical family from the Levites (Exodus 6:24).  

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

This psalm is also a termed a "Messianic psalm" because it prophesies of Christ the Messiah and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:23ff; Revelations 19:6-21; 21:9; 22:17). It is believed to be about Jesus because Solomon was not a warrior (45:3-5) and the King is addressed as God (45:6). Hebrews 1:8-9 confirms it is a Messianic Psalm.  It is all about the splendor and majesty of Jesus!

REFLECTION 

My friends and I had been studying through the life of different Old Testament people. Most in the group did not know that much about Jesus. We had already gone through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. When we started studying this Psalm, one of the women exclaimed, "I think this king is Jesus. Is it Jesus?"  We had not even mentioned Jesus yet.  She just knew it was about Him! The Scarlet Thread was evident to her without even knowing anything about Him.

So fun.

APPLICATION 

Worship the King and enjoy your Christmas break!

See you at the beginning of next year for the Bible Book Club Year Two: Divided Kingdom to Captivity to Return!

PRAYER

Lord God, thank You for an excellent year of reading Your Word. Help us to be transformed by it! Thank You for Jesus!  Amen. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Psalm 72 - The Perfect King

LINK: Psalm 72

BACKGROUND

This is the last writing of Solomon we will cover during the Bible Book Club!  While this Psalm is attributed as a "Psalm of Solomon," some commentators believe, since it was written in the third person, it was  "for Solomon" and written by his father, David, and a prayer for people to use when praying for God's blessings on the new king. 

If it was written by Solomon, it was probably written before he fell away from the Lord in 1 Kings 11. The reason I did not put it before we read that chapter is because it also might be a messianic psalm about the Son of David, Jesus Christ, who was greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42). 
The Psalm, in highly wrought figurative style, describes the reign of a king as “righteous, universal, beneficent, and perpetual.” By the older Jewish and most modern Christian interpreters, it has been referred to Christ, whose reign, present and prospective, alone corresponds with its statements.   
(A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments.  (Ps 72:1))
It describes the perfect King:
1) Righteous 
2) Just 
3) Peaceful 
4) Prosperous 
5) Compassionate 
6) Unlimited dominion 
7) Worthy of honor and praise 
8) Savior


APPLICATION 

Praise our King Jesus today!  This is a perfect time to tell you to buy a copy of Handel's Messiah! We will go through each movement of this wonderful piece of Music at the end of the three years of the Bible Book Club because you will be amazed at what a great review it is of The Scarlet Thread of Redemption! His kingship is so evident in it! 

It is already online if you want to view the posts in reverse order: Handel's Messiah 

Here is a download of all the posts in order: Messiah Meditations Devotional


This is my favorite musical version:

Handel's Messiah: The Complete Work


PRAYER


We welcome you, our coming King, into our hearts and lives. Amen. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ecclesiastes 11 & 12 - How to Live Life to the Fullest

LINKS: Ecclesiastes 11 and Ecclesiastes 12  
(Read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND/REFLECTION 

Solomon has concluded his reexamination of four arguments to support his conclusion that life is not worth living. Here is a summary of that reexamination by Warren Wiersbe:
Being a wise man, Solomon reviewed his arguments and this time brought God into the picture. What a difference it made. He realized that life was not monotonous but filled with challenging situations from God, each in its own time and each for its own purpose. He also learned that wealth could be enjoyed and employed to the glory of God. Though man’s wisdom couldn’t explain everything, Solomon concluded that it was better to follow God’s wisdom than to practice man’s folly. As for the certainty of death, there is no way to escape it; and it ought to motivate us to enjoy life now and make the most of the opportunities God gives us. 
(Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1990). Be satisfied (Ec 11:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)
Solomon concludes this book in Ecclesiastes 11 and 12 by getting down to some practical applications for us that counters the four arguments:
  1. Life is not monotonous but an adventure of faith. So diligently live by faith making eternal investments through acts of charity (11:1-6).
  2. Death is certain but life is a gift from God who wants us to treasure and enjoy life (11:7 - 12:8).
  3. Wisdom of the world cannot answer the deeper questions of life but God's wisdom can, and He has given us the experiences of life to learn how to live according to His wisdom (12:9-12).
  4. Wealth is a waste if we do not steward all our wealth (money, time, abilities, talents, etc.) out of our reverence for Him (12:13-14).
1. Live by Faith  (11:1-6)

Solomon is pressing the rich into showing their faith by not being idle in doing good to others and giving freely. There are two possible interpretations for "casting your bread upon the waters."  One relates to merchant grain ships that Solomon would have been quite familiar with (1 Kings 10:15, 22). A merchant had to trust and wait for months for their ships to return. It was risky business to send them out upon unfamiliar and potentially dangerous waters. 

Another interpretation relates to the ancient world practice of casting seeds from boats into the overflowing waters of the Nile or marshy ground. When the waters went down, crops would spring up from the fertile soil (Isaiah 32:20), but what an act of faith to just throw it onto water! He continued his illustration using the farmer who has to trust God for all his crops.  The merchant (or alluvial plain seed sower) and the farmer have no control over the circumstances and must labor by faith.  Through these illustrations, he exhorts us to diligently labor on behalf of others, trusting that our investments today will reap eternal rewards tomorrow and into eternity. The New Testament equivalent of this would be Galatians 6:9, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (see also Psalm 126:5-6 and Hosea 10:12). 

2. Enjoy Life Responsibly (11:7-12:8)

Solomon is drawing the young person into purer and more lasting joys by exhorting that person to remember/revere his or her Creator and live a lifestyle in fear of the Lord which is usually much healthier than one in pursuit of sensual pleasures! He exhorts us to enjoy life but do it responsibly before old age and death comes!

Today is a very DARK fall day. It is rainy and wet and cold, but my house is flooded with light as I have about 25 candles lit in my living room. It is my act of rebellion against the spiritual darkness by remembering God's blessings even though I was raked over the coals (link for our international readers who don't understand American idioms) by a frustrated 20-something last night. The frustrations were stemming from something deeper. So, I put away my pride and potential offense to get to the bottom of it. I remember what it was like to be in my 20's, and I once had a 50 something (like myself) comfort me both physically and spiritually in my frustrated days. She gave me such kind words telling me that she would never want to relive her 20's. I could have compassion for this 20-something too.  

After remembering this 50 something woman today, I looked her up so that I could call her and thank her for being light in a dark place of my life, but she passed away in 2004. Life is so short! We must learn to enjoy this life that He has given us with all its trials and hardships!

3. Live According to His Wisdom (12:9-12)

The world has its wisdom, and God has His. We need to choose God as our teacher in the school of life! Solomon was a wise teacher of God, and we can learn much through his proverbs and other writings (Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Psalm 72 and 127) about living wisely in this life. 

4. Steward the Wealth of Our Life (12:13-14)

Got has given us everything we need to live a full and rich life. We are to steward all of it by fearing God and keeping His commandments. It is so simple really! Corrie ten Boon said: 

"The measure of a life, after all, 
is not its duration but its donation." 

Let's steward that life as wisely as possible. 

APPLICATION

Are you living by faith by being generous with the wealth (both materially and spiritually) he has given you?  While it is great to have this happen year round, if you are reading this according to the Bible Book Club schedule, Christmas is only days away, and it is a great season for responding to the needs of others!

Are you enjoying the life that God has given you while living responsibly?  

Are you responding wisely to the challenges of life? 

Is God's Word running through your veins and out into the decisions you make every day?

Are you wisely stewarding the time, talents, wealth, and possessions He has given you?

PRAYER

Lord, Thank You that You have given us this life to enjoy and bring joy to You. Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). Help us to steward our time wisely because these days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). Help us to give generously (Proverbs 3:9,10). Teach us to fear You and keep Your commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Amen. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ecclesiastes 9 & 10 - "No Exit"

LINK: Ecclesiastes 9 & 10

BACKGROUND

A key repeated phrase in Ecclesiastes 9 and 10 is "no man knows" (9:1, 12; 10:14). Man cannot predict what will happen to him in the end and whether his toil will fail or succeed. We do know that we all share a "common destiny" (NIV) and that is death. The fact is that none of us get out of here alive! After making this conclusion, Solomon continues with his recurring theme of living life! Death is coming, but God has given us good gifts to enjoy so let's enjoy them! With all this, Solomon warned that life can sometimes be unpredictable, and we must yield to God's loving hand of Providence and walk in wisdom rather than folly.

In Ecclesiastes 10 and 11, Solomon concluded his discourse with a practical application. 

REFLECTION (Written in 2009)

Ecclesiastes has been all about the quest for meaning in life. Many search for it. 

This week, I completed Walden by the famous transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau. He went to Walden Pond in Massachusetts for two years, two months, and two days in order to contemplate the meaning of life and observe nature. He observed that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I agree with Thoreau's observation while I do not necessarily agree with some of his conclusions about how to "live life."

I also read the play No Exit by French playwright and existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre. He sets a man in a locked hotel room with two other women and "no exit." They are bound for eternity in that room bringing each other sorrow and grief as each takes turns at manipulating and taking control of one another. The main character cries, "Hell is -- other people!"

Solomon, Thoreau, and Sartre all grappled with the question,"Is life worth living?" There was a dark time in 1987 where I, too, grappled with this question. I was a believer in Jesus who was despairing of life after a series of events that left me overwhelmed, tired, and feeling very much alone. On the outside, life was good; I had just graduated with a master's degree and was working in a good job in my career field. Maybe the achievement of some worldly goals made me see the emptiness I still felt within. I remember a great wrestling match with God in my bedroom on Emerald Street in Eugene. God won. He drew me to His presence in a very powerful way. Sometimes, even as long-time believers, we can get knocked off course.

After investigating "life under the sun," Solomon concluded that life was not worth living! He cited the monotony of life, the vanity of wisdom, the futility of wealth, and the certainty of death as arguments to support his conclusion. Yes, it was not worth living apart from knowing that what we are doing is part of God's purpose for our lives.

APPLICATION

We will talk about Solomon's practical application tomorrow when we conclude our reading of Ecclesiastes.

PRAYER

Lord, thank You that Jesus is the answer to our desperate condition. Thank You that Jesus came that we might have an abundant and full life (John 10:10). We want You to be the center of everything we do. We want Your purposes for our lives. Teach us Your way. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ecclesiastes 8 - Evil in the World and Joy in the Journey

LINK: Ecclesiastes 8

BACKGROUND

As Solomon continued to praise wisdom, he purported that a wise person knows how to act with graciousness. In 8:1-9, he is saying that one should recognize the absolute authority of a king and the need for wisdom in averting a king's wrath in order to avoid harm. (This is wise advice considering what we have learned about kings in our Bible reading!)

In 8:10-17, he also tackled the issue of why there is evil in the world. He lamented that wicked people often go unpunished which leads to even more wrongdoing. Solomon believed in the "doctrine of divine retribution" (people eventually are punished for evil) and that God-fearing people are better off than the wicked; but he had seen the wicked getting what the righteous deserved and vice versa. He saw this as perplexing or meaningless.

Despite this contradiction, he offered the same advice he offered in 2:24-26; 3:12-13, and 5:18-19: eat and drink and enjoy life! He is not recommending hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure for pleasures sake). Rather, he is recommending submission to God. We cannot control when God allows adversity or prosperity. We cannot have all our questions answered or comprehend all of His mysterious ways, but we can receive the good things in life as gifts from His hand and fully experience the joy they bring as we walk by faith and trust that He is in control of all the unanswered questions.

REFLECTION 

As I typed this post, my favorite song in the whole wide world kept going through my head. I want it sung at my memorial service.

I hope you can see how this song relates to this chapter. It sums up how Solomon proposes we live: WITH JOY! There is joy in this journey of life despite the mysteries and questions and incomprehensibility of our big God and evil in the world. I don't even know if you will see the connection between Ecclesiastes 8 and this song, but God is leading me to put it here. So, I will! I pray it blesses you like it did me tonight.

APPLICATION AND PRAYER

This is a beautiful YouTube video clip. Light some candles and meditate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfW61yKyirY

Joy in the Journey
by Michael Card

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
and freedom for those who obey.

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless
and sight for the blind.

To all who've been born of the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
and are weary of struggling with sin.

Forget not the hope that's before you
and never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness
when you were lost.

'Cause There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
and freedom for those who obey
and freedom for those who obey.

Wishing you freedom and joy this day . . . Carol

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ecclesiastes 7 - A Bend in the Road

A Bend in the Road at the Water Village

LINK: Ecclesiastes 7

BACKGROUND

In this chapter, Solomon does not contradict his advice in the last chapter to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in one's work. He is saying to enjoy what we have while we can, but adversity and hardships also strike and are there to remind us that life is short, and we must make it count by living each day with wisdom, integrity, and close communion with Him.

REFLECTION (written in 2009)


"Consider the work of God
for who is able to straighten what He has bent?"

I cannot tell you how many times I have claimed Ecclesiastes 7:13 through gritted teeth as some circumstances in my life have taken a tragic (at least from my point of view) turn. I have had to look God square in the face and say, "God, You have allowed this to happen, and I do not like what has happened, but I am not going to try to straighten what You have already bent. You are in control, and I relinquish mine. You are God, and I am not."

Often, God allows "bends" in the straight path we think we are taking towards eternity. Wasn't the whole book of Job all about a huge "bend" in Job's righteous road? We are bent toward wanting to straighten God's bends though! Part of maturing in Christ means learning to understand those "bends" as allowed by His hand for His sovereign purposes.

A woman asked me to pray today because her husband will likely lose his job in the latest job cuts from one of the the largest employers in town. For many, these lay-offs have been quite an unexpected "bend" in the road. Many thought they would retire from this company, but there is no job security now. It is a sad time for many. The morale is quite low as many wait for the next axe to lower. Today it was a 5% pay cut, elimination of stock options, and reduction in 401(k) contributions. Many bends today, but we pray that God draws many people closer to His side through the uncertainty of the times. Trust in God is never misplaced trust.

We've been there. In August, the day after we turned from a fantastic exploration trip to Southeast Asia (the picture above is from that trip), George got his pink slip. Thankfully we have had six prior unemployment "bends" in our married life. So, we had this sick (my friend Abigail calls it "positive reframing") sense of excitement about what was around that next bend. We knew that God had something special in mind even if it involved adversity, suffering, or even poverty. We accepted it and tightened our budget to brace for what was ahead. Who were we to attempt to straighten God's bend?

After four months of unemployment, we can testify about the bend! God is good. He continues to be sovereign, yet again (I used to tell girls in my Bible study to "mark it on their calendar" when they saw God sovereignty each day. You should try it!). He was faithful the last five times of unemployment, and guess what? He was faithful once again! We see it was all part of His plan. In those four months, George was able to invest more time in being a part of a team that got the first Perspective on the World Christian Movement course in Corvallis up and running. This has been a huge blessing for us to see 120 people coming every Sunday night excited to see God's name proclaimed among the nations!

In God's prefect timing, four weeks after the course was running smoothly, George started a job with the USDA Forest Service on the OSU campus. In God's perfect way, He "bent" the roads of two of the guys that George meets with so that they are ALSO working on the OSU campus, making it so much easier to meet! Your God at work, once again.

We are so glad we did not waste energy trying to "straighten" things out. God knows what He is doing with our lives, and we can rest confidently in Him!

APPLICATION

How do you respond to those "bends" in the road? Maybe you are facing a possible one in the near future or going through it right now. Talk to God about this and listen to what He says to You. Write it down. He may give you a verse to cling to. Write it on a card and memorize it. Return to it again and again. God is in the process of maturing You for His sovereign purpose!. Do not do anything to try to straighten Him out.

PRAYER

Lord, we are grateful for the bends in the road. Teach us not to be straighteners. Teach us to ride the wave of Your sovereign will until we reach Your secure shores. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ecclesiastes 5 & 6 - Chasing After Wind

LINK: Ecclesiastes 5 & 6

BACKGROUND

Some commentators think this is an "interlude" in Solomon's argument, but it is a very important part of his argument! First, he wisely warned us to approach God with reverence and be ready ("to draw nigh with the desire") to hear (obey) rather than offering the sacrifice of a fool. The essence of Old Testament ritual was obedience and not a hasty sacrifice (Remember Samuel's rebuke to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:2?) or vow. Perhaps Solomon was looking back in reflection at the end of his life at his own disobedience (see 1 Kings 11 regarding his foreign wives).

Second, he warned against corruption in government and the need for honest and organized authority. The gist of these verses can be summed up in this quote by Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Next, he covered the futility of loving money because it cannot bring satisfaction or solve your problems. "The human heart was made to be satisfied only with God" (Warren Wiersbe). Solomon argued that increased money for a person whose heart is in the wrong place only leads to increased anxiety and not increased pleasures. Also, a person cannot take it with them. He enters the world with nothing and leaves with nothing!

In Ecclesiastes 6, Solomon concluded his assertions on the meaninglessness of riches by giving some practical advice summed up by Warren Wiersbe in this way:
Nobody can truly enjoy the gifts of God apart from the God who gives the gifts. To enjoy the gifts without the Giver is idolatry, and this can never satisfy the human heart. Enjoyment without God is merely entertainment, and it doesn't satisfy. But enjoyment with God is enrichment and it brings true joy and satisfaction. (Be satisfied)

REFLECTION (written in 2009)

As I meditated on this, I recalled a conversation several years ago with a recently married man whose sole goal in life was to become a "Christian millionaire." He did not have any plans to use his money for God's glory, he just wanted to be rich. Period.

Fast forward twenty years. Even though he has tried, he did not become a millionaire. In fact, it has become quite the opposite despite his fruitless pursuit of wealth and "chasing after wind." How very sad. Sadder still that he ended up having an affair and leaving his wife. 

I want to chase after things that last into eternity and are burning on God's heart. Tonight, I spent two hours with three other people who are passionate about God's glory spreading throughout the whole earth. They are all taking the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class! The article in the book called "Apostolic Passion" really hit us. I hope you enjoy it too!

APPLICATION

Read "Apostolic Passion" and let me know what you think!

PRAYER

Lord, we want to run hard after You and not chase after wind. Show us where we are chasing after things that are meaningless. Help us to know that any gift we receive in this world is material to bring You glory. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ecclesiastes 4 - What Makes Life Meaningful?

LINK: Ecclesiastes 4

BACKGROUND

In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon continues to reexamine his supposition from Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 that life is monotonous. He challenges these "ivory tower" intellectual conclusions by observing real life. 

He observed injustice and oppression and labor motivated by status, envy, greed, and/or fame.  He contrasts this with giving several advantages of companionship. 

He draws the conclusion that it is better to be poor and wise than rich, foolish, and powerful (4:13). Status, riches, power, and fame are all transitory and meaningless in the whole scheme of life. 

REFLECTION

God was gracious to nip my need for fame and recognition in the bud very early in my life. I am so grateful! I can honestly say I am not motivated by status or fame because I was given a stark wake up call at 17 years old!  

I know I told this story earlier in the Bible Book Club, but I will repeat it (with some modifications) to remind you:
Written in 2008: In high school most people liked me (excepting the jealous ones) even though I did not necessarily like myself all that much. By the end of my senior year, my room was filled with flowers from all the awards that I had racked up in the academic, social, and athletic realms. In the midst of the "award season" of senior year, the mom of my friend, Julie, said to her, "If there is anyone you should look up to and model your life after, it should be Carol." I was flattered, and this was a temporary fix (like a drug) to the deep craving that I had for love and acceptance. 
The morning after this lovely compliment, I got a distressed call from Julie telling me that her mom had fallen asleep at the wheel of her Volkswagen bug, crashed into a pole, and died instantly. Her flower-filled memorial service was set in stark contrast to the flowers in my bedroom, many of which had begun to turn brown with pedals making a mess all over my floor. 
Julie's mother's death caused me to ask myself many questions: "So, I win all these awards, but the glory of those awards fade away, just like these flowers. What is life all about anyway if we all eventually die? Why am I here on earth; and if I am someone Julie should look up to and model her life after, who am I looking up to and modeling my life after?" 
These verses in James express my position: 
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11) 
I was like that "rich man" in the midst of my pursuit for my own glory because I had achieved everything I had set out to do in high school; but even with all of this, I was really bankrupt in my soul! 
Julie's mom's death hit me hard, and my life began to unravel. Sure, I was achieving both academically and athletically in college, but I was very depressed. Like Solomon, I was seeing that life was meaningless and striving after wind. Yes, I had been a believer in Jesus since I was ten years old, but I did not really know how to follow Him. I did not let Him define what gave me meaning in life and was still going by what the world told me was meaningful. I needed someone to lead the way. 
Then came Cheryl Potter. 
Cheryl was a mild-tempered, humble coworker who was not very "rich" in the world's eyes but had EVERYTHING I wanted. We worked alone in the business office of the Fallbrook Hospital on the 3-10 p.m. shift. Things would get crazy and stressful when emergencies would come in, and Cheryl always worked diligently and calmly and with love for everyone. Cheryl followed Jesus, and I wanted to follow Cheryl so I could follow Jesus too. The rest is history. 
The last time I talked to Cheryl was in the winter of 2005. She was fighting breast cancer, and all my emails had bounced. I was afraid to pick up the phone because of what I might not hear on the other end. I thought that if she had died, she lived her life for something that really mattered: the glory of God. I do not doubt that she left a legacy of "mighty women" behind her, all because she led by following Jesus. Cheryl was really someone to look up to and model her life after. 
So, this post has taken all day because I got brave and located an old number for Cheryl and made the dreaded call wondering if she would be on the other end of the line. 
And she was! Still Cheryl and cancer-free for three years! Alive and vacuuming! She had just said good-bye to a woman (and her two dogs) who had lived with her for three weeks while the woman was between homes. She was a brand new believer in Jesus. Cheryl was still leading other "mighty women" toward what is really important in life by pointing them toward Jesus.
May I someday live to fill her shoes. 

I was around many people recently who are very successful in the world's eyes, and I was not intimidated by their worldly achievements in the least. (They were not cramming those worldly achievements down my throat either and were very kind, but I had the potential of feeling inferior.) I may not receive a salary for what I do (although I could, I chose not to), I know that God thinks it is VERY important, and that is all that matters!  My life is beautiful and meaningful, and I am doing EXACTLY what he has gifted me to do! That is really all that matters in the grander scheme of things. :)

APPLICATION 

Are you evaluating your life according to the world's standards or God's?

PRAYER

I praise You that You give life meaning and dimension that is wonderful! Help us to conform to Your standards of significance rather than the world's. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ecclesiastes 3 - A Time for Every Delight

LINK: Ecclesiastes 3

BACKGROUND

This chapter is so beautiful. Linger long over it. 

In Ecclesiastes 1-2, Solomon has presented four arguments that life is meaningless and is not worth living, but he will reexamine each of them in Ecclesiastes 3-10: 

1) Life is monotonous (1:4-11) is reexamined in 3:1-5:9
2) Wisdom is vanity (1:12-18) is reexamined in 5:10-6:12
3) Wealth is futile (2:1-11) is reexamined in 7:1-8:17
4) Death is certain (2:12-23) is reexamined in 9:1-10:20

In this chapter, he reexamines his supposition that life is monotonous by concluding that God was in control of time and life experiences.  From birth to death, God has divine purposes sometimes beyond our own understanding. Solomon concludes that if we cooperate with God's sovereign timing in everything, both the good and the bad, life will be meaningful and beautiful (3:11, Romans 8:28). 

The NIV says there is a time for every "activity" under heaven. The NASB says "event," but in the margin it says "delight." Delight is a much closer translation of the Hebrew word. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is "to feel great favor towards something, to experience emotional delight." Some of the things don't seem like they would be things of "delight," (death, killing, weeping, mourning, losing, hating, war) but weaves all into the fabric of our lives to accomplish His purposes in us.  He knows what He is doing. We can trust that they are for the purpose of preparing us for eternity (3:11), and we might not fully understand all of life's pain and toil until we meet Him face to face. 

Solomon concluded that we are to enjoy life, not in a pagan hedonistic way, but enjoy the gift of life that God has given us, even in toil and pain, knowing He is in control and knows what He is doing. 

REFLECTION 

One thing I love to do in my ministry of helping people "fly" is having them go through their life experiences in order to reflect upon how life events have shaped them. Here is the handout that I use to help them:


Time-line Reflection Questions 
(©Carol Weaver)

Throughout the year, you will be adding to a time-line in order to analyze overall patterns of God’s work in your life. The analysis of the time-line comes from the book called The Making of a Leader by Robert Clinton. This is a valuable tool to help you to reflect upon your spiritual journey and get the “big picture” of where you have been and where God is taking you.

The first four developmental phases in Clinton’s book are summarized below along with reflection questions to help you in completing you time-line. Many of the phases overlap because, hopefully, we are always growing in these areas.

Phase I: Sovereign Foundations

Overview: In this phase, “God providentially works through family, environment, and historical events. This begins at birth. You might find it hard to believe that God was working through your family or your environment, especially if these were not godly influences, but He was. It is exciting to see how the providence of God was—and is—working through all our experiences.” God is developing you by “laying foundations in your life. . . His primary lesson is to learn to respond positively and take advantage of what God has laid in these foundations” (p.44).

Assignment: As you share your life story, answer SHAPE questions, and share with others about the people and things that have shaped your life, take time to reflect and ask God to put together some of the pieces of your sovereign foundations. As He does, you will come to a deeper appreciation of His power in your life. What things did God use in your life to bring you to where you are today? What people, circumstances, or events did God use to woo you to Himself? Reflect upon your desires, passions, longings, and struggles in your early years. How have they affected your spiritual journey in positive and negative ways? The reason that Clinton calls it sovereign foundations is because God has a sovereign plan for your life, and everything (both positive and negative) fit into that plan. Reflect on them and map this on your time-line to give perspective you would not otherwise have.



Phase II: Inner Life Growth

Overview: In this phase, you start seeking to know God in a more personal, intimate way. You learn the “importance of praying and hearing God.” It is marked by growth in discernment, understanding, and obedience. In this phase, “God uses testing experiences to develop character” (p.45).

Questions: When was the first time you sensed the presence of God in your life? What were your early experiences of the spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, study, fasting, solitude, etc) that had particular impact in your life? When were your “aha” moments with God that brought about changes in you? What were some of your testing experiences that brought you into deeper intimacy with Him and grew you in character? This is a good time to look at those “painful” experiences in your SHAPE material and reflect upon how they shaped your character. Plot these on your time-line. For some of the painful things, feel free to write them in “code” to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Phase III: Ministry Maturing

Overview: In this phase, you have learned about reaching out to others. You are beginning to experiment with spiritual gifts (even though you may not have known what they were all about). You may have taken specific training to be more effective in ministry. Ministry is the focus at this stage. Many of your lessons will zero in on relationships with other people and on your inadequacies in your personal life as you become “other-centered.”

Questions: What were experiences that you particularly liked/disliked or in which you were effective/ineffective? Did you get training that gave you better skills in a ministry? Were there any bible studies you participated in that really helped you grow in your walk with God and ability to serve Him? Did you lead a study? Did you disciple a person? Were you involved in helping a needy group of people? Did you take a short-term mission? Record these ministry experiences. What positive and negative experiences did you have within the Body that helped you gain understanding of others and yourself?

Phase IV: Life Maturing

Overview: In this phase, you have “identified and are using your gifts in a ministry that is satisfying. You have gained a sense of priorities concerning the best use of your gifts and understanding that learning what not to do is as important as learning what to do. A mature fruitfulness is the result. Isolation, crisis, and conflict take on new meaning. That principle that ‘ministry flows out of being’ has a new significance as your character mellows and matures. . . In this phase the leader’s experiential understanding of God is being developed. Communion with God becomes foundational; it is more important than success in ministry.” There is a “positive response to the experiences God ordains” (p. 46).

Questions: Do you understand your gift-mix, and are you functioning in that mix in ministry and saying no to other things that are not in your “primary gifting”? When did this occur? Have you had any experiences of isolation, crisis, and conflict in ministry that have matured and challenged you as a minister? Have you had situations that were challenging, but you responded positively to the experiences God has ordained? Does your “doing” in ministry flow out of “being” in communion with God?

Clinton has two more phases called Convergence and Afterglow, but for most, they come much later in life. So I did not cover those phases in this assignment. 

APPLICATION

Make a time-line and reflect how God has made "everything beautiful in His time."

PRAYER

Lord, thank You that You really do make all things beautiful in Your wonderful timing. Thank You that You have had a reason for every one of our life events. Shape us into the people that You desire for us to be. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ecclesiastes 1 & 2 - Give Up Your Small Ambitions

LINK: Ecclesiastes 1 & 2

BACKGROUND

Ecclesiastes is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Koheleth which means "preacher." In this case the preacher is King Solomon. It is the inspired record of his search for meaning and satisfaction toward the end of his life (possibly around 933 B.C.). Throughout this book, Solomon will cover ten pursuits that are empty apart from God: wisdom, work, possessions, status, companionship, fame, money, long life, feasting, and desire.

Solomon begins Ecclesiastes 1 by proclaiming "Everything is meaningless!" He will use the term meaningless throughout the whole book, and it refers to what is without real substance, value, permanence, or significance. He asserts that all human effort is futile. He supports this thesis by proclaiming that this futility is demonstrated in nature. All of nature's activity is monotonous and tiring without making any progress or reaching a fixed goal. He compares this to man's activity that produces weariness and no satisfaction.

In Ecclesiastes 2, he experiments with the value of pleasure and comes up wanting. Then he covers three empty pursuits apart from God: wisdom, work, and possessions. In wisdom (a more correct word would be "human knowledge"), he sees some advantage but concludes that there is no real advantage to being wise as opposed to living foolishly because both the wise man and fool die and are forgotten. Then he evaluates work and possessions and concludes that toils bring no lasting pleasure even if one accomplishes great things and is rewarded for them. Even if there is much fruit in a person's labor, he "can't take it with him" and must leave it to someone else. The results of a person's labor may be inherited by a fool who would squander it and all that labor would be in vain. In view of the fleeting value of the fruits of man's toil, he recommends that man enjoy the fruits but realize that true wisdom, knowledge, and enjoyment are not possible apart from being in right relationship with God and living to please Him.

REFLECTION

Looking at Everything in Light of Eternity: A Total Life Makeover

As we meditate on Ecclesiastes, let's all gear up to put everything in our life out on the table and examine it all in light of God's eternal purposes. I already mentioned Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover"  in our reading of Proverbs. Well, let's do a "Total Life Makeover"! Let's examine our life in those ten areas that are mentioned throughout the book:

Wisdom/Human Knowledge (2:15-16)
Work (2:19-21)
Possessions (2:26)
Status (4:4)
Companionship (4:7-12)
Fame (4:16)
Money (5:10)
Long Life (6:6)
Feasting (6:7)
Desire (6:9)

The title of Warren Wiersbe's "Be Series" commentary on this book is entitled Be Satisfied. This is so appropriate because true satisfaction can only be attained when we know what is really important in life and adjust our lives and futures to God's purposes.

APPLICATION

Frances Xavier, a 16th century missionary to Japan, wrote back to fellow students and said:


 "Give up your small ambitions 
and come East to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ."

Do you have small ambitions in light of God's BIG purposes? It may not mean going East to Japan, but God has a specific and vital role that only you can play in His plan.

Ask God about your "small ambitions." In light of Ecclesiastes 2, evaluate the two empty pursuits apart from God that Solomon talked about: aquiring human knowledge and working to gain possessions.

PRAYER

Lord, reveal to us our small ambitions. Help us to live in light of eternity. For Your glory we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

1 Kings 11 - Solomon's Downfall and Death

LINK: 1 Kings 11

BACKGROUND

The king who asked for wisdom and understanding to govern his people and wrote many wise proverbs was not very wise when it came to his personal life. God anticipated this, and we read about it back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. To refresh your memory, here is a summary of that post:
Deuteronomy 17 deals with officiating idolatry. This chapter also holds a foretelling of Israel's rule by kings. This will come about as the theocracy set up by God will unravel in the book of Judges and a monarchy will be set up in 1 Samuel. God knew all of this. So, He spoke through Moses about the qualifications of a future king of Israel. There were three "don'ts" and one "do": 
DON'T ACQUIRE 
  • Horses - Solomon will not honor this - Kings 4:26  
  • Many Wives - Solomon will not honor this - 1 Kings 11:3 
  • Large amounts of gold and silver - Solomon will not honor this - 1 Kings 10:14 
DO FOLLOW 
  • The Law of God - Solomon did not honor this - 1 Kings 11:11 
(Here is the entire post: Deuteronomy 17)
Solomon governed wisely and his reputation brought him acclaim and riches throughout the region, but he did not follow these simple commands above! Marrying foreign wives led him into worship of their many gods and "his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (1 Kings 11:4). 

Here is a rundown of the gods mentioned in this chapter:

  • Ashtoreth was the goddess of sex and reproductive power, a mistress of Baal. The worship involved licentious rites and worship of the stars. She was a vile goddess (2 Kings 23:13).  

  • Molech was the national god of the Ammonites. Worship of him involved human sacrifice, especially children.  

  • Chemosh was the national god of the Moabites. Israelites were warned against worshiping all gods, but Molech was singled out in Exodus 20:1-6, Leviticus 18:21, and 20:1-5.
God warned Solomon in 1 Kings 9 that if Solomon strayed into paths of idolatry and immorality, He would discipline him, and God declared in 11:11, "I will certainly tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant."

Then, God told Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah that He will tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hands and give him ten tribes. Stay tuned.

REFLECTION

Solomon did not end well. He did not follow his own proverb: "A man's own folly ruins his life" (Proverbs 19:13). I am sure it did not happen all at once. He made little decisions that led to major consequences and eventually "turned his heart away from God."

I have been evaluating my "little decisions" lately. It is easy to let compromise creep into my life. 

Solomon had this pattern:
  • He resisted idolatry and maintained his heart for God. 
  • Then, he tolerated idolatry around him. 
  • Finally, when he was involved in idolatrous worship, he rationalized the potential danger for himself and his kingdom.
In the end, he had a divided heart, and this resulted in a divided kingdom.

APPLICATION

How is your personal life? Are there any places where you are going down that slippery slope from resisting to rationalization? There are so many "gray" areas in our culture today. There is entertainment that is not explicitly sinful, but does it divide your heart? There are certain activities that are not sinful, in and of themselves, but do they take you away from God's best? It is not legalism if our heart is to want God's best.

Journal about this, and pray that God would give you clarity. 

PRAYER

I have been meditating on Romans 12:1 -2 from The Message. Allow this passage (and the way I structured it) to lead you in prayer:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: 
Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life -- and 
place it before God as an offering. 
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. 
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. 
Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll change from the inside out. Readily 
recognize what He wants from you, and quickly 
respond to it. 
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to it level of immaturity. 
God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 


Lord, help us to offer our lives wholly to You and to fix our attention on You. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen

This concludes the historical narrative for our first year of the Bible Book Club and the end of the united kingdom of Israel! We will close out the year with Solomon's reflections on life in Ecclesiastes and a couple of Messianic Psalms that foreshadow JESUS! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Put Proverbs Back on the Shelf!

BibleBookcase

CONGRATULATIONS!!!

You have completed the book of Proverbs if you have been doing this from the beginning! Hope you enjoyed it!

Proverbs 31 - The Secret of Our Success

LINK: Proverbs 31

BACKGROUND

Proverbs 31 are the words of Lemuel, but we do not know who he is except that he was a king and his name means "devoted to God." It has been speculated that Lemuel was from the kingdom of Massa in northern Arabia (Life Application Bible, p. 1131).

The instructions from 31:2-9 are from his mother and pertain mainly to her exhortations regarding adultery (see Proverbs 2:16-19; 5:1-14; 7; 22:14, and 23:27-28) and alcoholism (see 20:1; 23:2-0-21, 29-35). Drunkenness clouds memory and judgment resulting in unwise leading and oppression of people (21:8).

Proverbs 31:10-31 relate to the "Excellent Wife." It is an acrostic poem. Each of the 22 verses begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We do not know who wrote this part. The word excellent (NASB) or noble (NIV) is the Hebrew word hayil and is also mentioned in 12:4. Ruth was called "a woman of excellence" (Ruth 3:11). It is also translated "capable" in Exodus 18:21. We see from these verses that this wife was very capable. She cared for her family but also was involved in trading, investing in real estate, farming, selling, sewing, and manufacturing cloth! In addition to all of this, she gave to the poor and needy through her profit. As a result, her husband was honored, had full confidence in her, and lacked nothing. Her children also called her blessed.

What was the secret to her success? The secret was her reverence for God! It is appropriate that Proverbs begins and ends with reverence for God. This is the key to EVERYTHING and all that God desires.

REFLECTION/APPLICATION

I had a friend who looked for the perfect "Proverbs 31" woman to be his wife, and he made it clear to all the rest of the single women in which he was associated that we were not that woman! When he finally found one and married her (had to go to Canada to do it), we stood with "P 31" signs as he was leaving the wedding reception. I thought I had a picture in hopes of posting it, but I did not see it in my scrapbook. Oh well!

Does the list in Proverbs 31 exhaust or intimidate you? If you are a married woman, the best gift we can give our husbands and children is our fear of the LORD! I have seen many "domestic divas" who had it all together on the outside, but they were not growing spiritually and crumbling on the inside. If we are connected with the Lord on a day by day basis, He will direct us in our domestic and work duties. We do not need to feel less than worthwhile and imperfect in our execution of our duties as wives and mothers. We can look to this woman (or composite from many women) as an inspiration but know that our God has a specific plan for us as women, and we just need to listen to Him! Reverence is the key. Keep that in mind next time you don't feel like you are measuring up to the "perfect ideal."

PRAYER

Lord, teach us to be in awe of You! We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.