Here’s a good Bible task for this week—read the Old Testament prophet Jonah. Only 4 chapters and only 48 verses to read from beginning to exciting end. Ok? Go for it! Serving my 2nd church in New Jersey, the West Side Presbyterian Church in Englewood, I was asked by a local Christian radio station to come in and record 4 Bible lessons, the topic being of my choice. Really? Me? On radio? Very thrilling because it was listening to Billy Graham on the radio that I first really heard the Gospel, that God loved me and wanted to come into my life. And that was for me! Yes! Please, Jesus, come into my life. 16 years old…knew next to nothing about the Bible…not from a family that often went to church…God not mentioned often behind our 4 walls. And He wanted to be in my life? Talk about good news. Wow! The best I’d ever heard. And now, years later, I’m on the radio telling others, people I couldn’t see, that God could see them, God loved them, God would forgive them and give them new lives…just for the asking. All because God’s Son gave all He had on that cross so many years ago now, that old rugged cross, so that He would be the sacrifice for my sins and yours giving us salvation free and paid by Him. That is what I call humbling. What to talk about? I chose Jonah for my radio talks. I identify with Jonah…the reluctant prophet, the one who says no to God, the presumptuous preacher who would rather go as far away from God’s call as Tarshish is from Ninevah. God says to go to New York City and we head for LA! That’s Jonah. That’s me. And you? No, never? Really…!I love the whole story of Jonah, a true story by the way. The fish, the ship at sea, the up-chuck on land after a bad fish tummy. Sure, it’s all good. But now read chapter 3 verse 1. And read it again. After all that rescue at sea, the Word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. Like yesterday’s word ‘again’, God gives Jonah a second chance,another opportunity, another go at following Him. I love that. God majors in forgiveness, even for those of us who have been believers for years and years. He covers all our failures, all our flippant excuses, and comes along side us…a second time. Again…and again. Never giving up on us. Never. Thank God for the second chances in life. Is there something you need to do for Him? Someone who needs Him and you need to tell them what and who you know…Jesus Christ. Is there? “The word of the Lord came to (you and me) a second time.”
I was reading this parable told by Jesus, the story about the wedding feast. In April it will be 20 years since Sue and I got married and had a feast after our wedding ceremony. As a matter of fact the young man who videoed our wedding/reception mainly got pictures of all the food! Who cares about the people and especially that groom and his lovely bride! The food was what counted! At least to him! And probably he wasn’t alone! Read this parable from Matthew…it’s really a good one (as they all are). What grabbed me in this reading was a little word used at the very beginning of the first verse, a word written by Matthew, this Gospel writer. Matthew, who calls himself that, in this his book about Jesus’ life. Not just Levi, his old name; but Matthew, his new name given by Jesus –‘a new name written down in glory’. He’s so properly proud of his new name. Now Matthew!Before it was Levi– the hated tax-collector, known cheat and money-grubber, collaborator with the hated occupiers, draining every last ounce of shekel-blood from his own people. Matthew, who knew better, who maybe had parents agonizing over him with prayers to God over their lost son. Lost and he knows it. Until…Until Jesus comes along and gives him what money can’t buy. A new life, a new name, a second chance! Look at verse 1 of Matthew 22. Do you see that word ‘again’? Hard to miss! Jesus spoke to the people AGAIN in parables…God keeps reaching out to all of us all the time in every way possible. Again and again, I see how God has been there for me even when I had no idea. My having no idea certainly didn’t mean that He wasn’t there. Quite the contrary. Maybe someone reading this blog today feels all alone, guilty over a re-occurring sin, or just plain empty and confused. Maybe you? Maybe me? Many times I’ve felt that way, but again and again He keeps coming to me, keeps speaking with me through His Word in the Bible, inside wrapping His arms around me reminding me once again that He loves me, that He’ll never, ever forsake me. Maybe that’s the message you need today…He’s yours and your His forever and ever! Who doesn’t need to hear that good news…AGAIN! And AGAIN!
When I was a Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, I had an old Zenith TV that I only had time to watch once and a while. But one day a week later in the evening, I did like watching Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. Good TV and a break from theological studies, writing papers, pursuing ordination with the Presbyterian Church and holding down 2 part-time jobs as well.I needed a diversion. And I got one indeed! Princeton, even in the Dark Ages when I was a student, was most pricey. And my 1963 VW bug invariably needed repairs ,which being singularly unhandy I had to pay for. I tried to make the car last as long as possible…even parking only on hills so I could jump start the car out of 2nd gear hoping I could forestall the replacement of the starter, which only worked when it wanted to. A mind of its own! Back to that old TV…the picture rolled and rolled and wouldn’t stay in place. Remember when TV pictures would roll up and down and you’ld use that dial on the side to try to make it stop. Well, the dial died and the roll never did! Almost needed to wear a neckbrace just to watch the TV. Very annoying. Well, I discovered that someone,by the name of Robinson, years before, had left the Seminary a bundle of money for $150 awards to any student who would memorize the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession from the 1600’s. A marvelous confession, biblical to a tee, questions and answers worth memorizing, a worthy tool for life and upcoming ministry…and a new TV to boot!! But, I’m sure, that idea was just an afterthought, an epiphany! Yeah, right…my old TV was such a pain in the neck! So I worked the catechism hard, almost could recite it in my sleep, over and over, question and answer. And guess what? I won…got the Robinson Award, and a new picture-staying-in-one-place, pain-free TV!! So, what does that have to do with Ecclesiastes 12:13, you rightfully ask? That’s next time…no, just kidding. The very first question in that catechism is this: “What is the chief end of man?” Man’s chief purpose in life, we might say today. The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. Now read that verse in Ecclesiastes. “…here’s the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Chief end? Purpose? To fear/love/respect/honor our Lord God and follow Him. In the original Hebrew the word ‘duty’ is not there. It’s added by translators to make better sense of the original language. But, I think, it makes perfect sense–to worship God through Jesus Christ alone, and to follow Him ,imperfect as you and I are, that is the whole of man. Not just duty…but all of life that God has so generously given us. To look squarely in His face, to not have the picture of our lives distractedly roll up and down, this way and that, one foot with God and one foot in this sinful, crazy world–to follow Him and Him alone. This is it, folks. Can you see it? Love God…follow Him. Our chief end…a whole in One!
We are having real problems with this blog site. That may be what the title will refer to! We certainly hope not. But here we go…If you’ve been reading Ecclesiastes in your Bible, you have been on such a great journey with good old King Solomon through the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the nooks and crannies of life itself. Life poses many questions indeed. Those of us from Washington State just agonize with our neighbors in Oso, north of Seattle near Darrington, with the horrendous results of a massive mudslide…killing untold, ruining property and hopes and dreams for people who may not have even known what hit them. Why? Why them? Why innocent children and playful pets? Just pause to think about all the questions we have in our lives. Why? When? How? We all ask them, these questions without decent answers. I’ve known people, well-meaning people, some very intelligent, some strong believers who just seem to have glib answers for everything, and I never enjoy being around them.Sorry about that. Like being shoved up against a brick wall. Maybe I envy their easy answers. Maybe I’d like to be satisfied with 2+2=, well you know what. I seem to come up with 5! Am I the only one who has a square peg for that proverbial round hole? I don’t think so. Simple answers don’t fit with Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes either. But what is his conclusion?…here comes verse 13 of chapter 12. It’s wonderful. It’s says so much to me. Like saying don’t get hung up on those infernal questions. No, ‘fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.’ As you probably know, the word ‘fear’ is better translated to our overly- delicate and sensitive ears as ‘worship’. Revere the Lord, bow down before Him, treat Him with the greatest respect and affection. Yes, fear, as He is God Almighty, He is powerful, He is an Awesome God .But here the meaning is closer to just sitting at His feet and listening to Him, obeying Him and this is our ‘whole duty’. Think I’ll stop here for today…I’ve got a story to tell that will be for another time, Lord willing. Please pray that we’ll work thru these problems with our website…such is life. If this is our conclusion, Worship Him, listen to Him, obey Him…that covers it all…Over and hopefully not out!
Once again I titled my blog and then made absolutley no reference to it in the body of the text. Bad boy! But actually I was leading up to it and now after 3 freeze outs on the computer I hope to complete the thought today. My wife is a life-saver tech person! Otherwise, someone may have found a laptop floating in the creek outside our porch!! Not really. But just maybe…! This just goads me…there’s the word for today. It can be found in Eccles. 12:11(I use the NIV translation in almost all my blogs) where Solomon says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that “the words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by One Shepherd.” Like goads…a sharp metal tip attached to a wooden handle. A goad was used to keep the cattle moving in the right direction. By a shepherd to keep the flock together and not wander off into dangerous and useless places. We as Christians know that the Bible is God’s love letters to us. But some portions seem more like tough love, with an edge to its meaning, a prod and poke to keep moving in God’s direction instead of way off in never,never land of trials and troubles which I can stumble into with no help from anyone else at all. I marvel at how easily and quickly I get off course. It’s true that I have a terrible sense of direction. Just ask anyone in my family. Actually, a few are snickering right now. Terrible to have smart-alecks in the family!! But seriously, with no effort at all, and I’m off course far from God and His ways. Did I hear an ‘amen’…I mean, about your life as well? I thought I heard you! The Bible couldn’t be clearer…’we have ALL sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). And ‘all’ means all. Period. So, when you feel that goad from the Bible, ok, wince a bit but then let the Lord move you back where He wants you to be. Turn to 2 Timothy 3:16 (another 3:16!)where the Apostle Paul writes to young pastor Timothy that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…’ The Apostle is saying that the Bible, in its entirety from God, will teach and train us. And in addition like a goad it will rebuke and correct. Don’t be surprised if the Bible, which I hope you are reading every day, stings a bit at times. There are places in all our lives where we put out the ”do not disturb” sign! There are issues in our society and churches right now that will require us stand up and stand firm on the Word of God taking the name-calling and ridicule that will come our way. Get ready. The One Shepherd has spoken…His words are likefirmly embedded nails…words that act like goads keeping us on God’s good path. Are you ready? Stand up…speak up…
Here we are now at the conclusion of Solomon’s wise advice we call the book of Ecclesiastes. Not just his advice but the wisdom of Almighty God found only in the entire Bible that God has graciously given to us. The Bible is a gift of love from Him to us. It’s a love story, a cache of love letters to be cherished and read and re-read. It’s fresh and alive with new meaning every time we sit at its feet and listen and delve into and struggle with. The Bible is God’s inspired Word from beginning to end. In Eccles. 12, verse 11 Solomon says that these collected sayings are like ‘firmly embedded nails’, not easily removed. Ever try to get out a nail that just won’t budge and is set so deep it just will not come out? Your Bible and mine are like those nails…firm and sure and holding great weight. There’s more… verse 10 says that the Bible speaks ‘just the right words’. And that the words you read there are ‘upright and true’. Wow! In a time when every body’s opinion seems so empty and vapid and suspect and just plain shallow and stupid, here comes the Word above all words…from God Himself! Doesn’t that make you just want to spend even more time with Him in His Word? Does for me. I want more…of God’s Word. I want to know more of His thinking. I want more…of Him! That’s a preview of heaven we can have right here on earth. Sounds good to you? Does to me. Then, go for it. Get more into His Word. Open that Bible, blow off the dust, write in the margins, dog-ear the pages. It’s your Bible. Don’t worry, be happy! Read it and believe it and ask for more insight from the author, the Holy Spirit. He promises to give that to you if you but ask and mean it and give Him the time needed. I’ve got more to share from this last chapter of Ecclesiastes but that’s for next time. Company’s arriving…and Sue and I work together on this! They will be hungry and must be fed. Hungry for God? Pull up to the the table…and eat all you want!
You remember that catchy, Caribbean song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. Well when you read the last 4 verses of Ecclesiastes 11, you’ll think that Solomon wrote the lyrics! Verse 9 says “Be happy…and let your heart give you joy…” Our hearts would love to see this wish come true. To be happy…to be joyous. To let go…and let God. That’s what I want and I’m sure the same for you as well. Am I wrong? But to be honest, I think it’s that verse 10 where I get into trouble. Not police trouble! But heart trouble. “So then…” — Solomon is drawing an important conclusion here for himself and us. Listen, he says, this is critical to your life in God. To our life in Christ. “…banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body…” Oh yeah, right, easier said than done, Solomon! Banish is a big, big word–get rid of it, don’t ever let it back into your heart’s borders. And Cast Off–no boomerangs here. No return policy in effect. Throw it away. Don’t look back. However, the older I get, the more I realize that anxieties and worries and fears that I’ve allowed to build up over my lifetime; plus circumstances that have come my way, things out of my control, things that have put my life out of control; that anxieties become a bad habit. We’re in a fear-rut. So easy to fall back into it. And we know it’s just not right. But like a bad relationship that we don’t know how to get out of. I’ve known many good people over the years, all believers in our Lord, who just seem to focus on their aches and pains, on the negative, on the ‘troubles of the body’. And I may be looking in the mirror when I say this! Of course, face what needs facing. But focus is higher up, a calling to live above even the worst pains of life…physical or emotional. A calling that even Solomon, if you look carefully in the Bible at his life, found next to impossible. And I find it so difficult to release the grip of that ever-present companion of anxiety and let Jesus do for me what for me seems just plain impossible. But then the Holy Spirit reminds me of what the Bible says, a much better authority than my heart or yours. For in Christ Jesus, all things are possible (Philippians 4:13)! Banish…Cast Off–active verbs to live by today! Are you with me? Get with it…Banish and Cast Off!