Monday, 31 October 2011

High and lifted up

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" – Isaiah 6v1-3

Isaiah spent five chapters decrying the state of the nation of Israel. When chapter 6 opens we find that the king is dead. Uzziah had started out okay as a king, but things went downhill from there. He became unfaithful and disloyal to the Lord. In many ways his life typified the state of the nation. His death was something of a wake-up call.

When Uzziah died the prophet Isaiah looked up and saw the Lord on a throne, ‘high and lifted up.’ Here was surrounded by seraphim who were calling out ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The entire earth is full of His glory.’

In the midst of trial and trouble the Lord sat unmoved and unchanged on His throne. He was still there. He had not abdicated the throne in the midst of trouble. He was still high and lifted up. He was still holy, holy, holy.

What follows is a discussion between God and Isaiah, but for the moment I want to pause and look at this amazing image. Israel in her day was not that different from parts of the world today. People had riches and good aplenty. Instead of thanking and acknowledging the Lord for these things they turned further and further from Him. Their stuff became their gods.

But there was the Lord. Their denigration of Him did not affect Him. He was still high and lifted up. He was still holy, holy, holy. Their sin had not affected Him.

Habakkuk wrote of the same truth. In all of the nation’s sin and woe he wrote ‘The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.’

While we face the awesomeness of serving a high and lifted up tri-holy God we can take confidence that He is on the throne. In the midst of all that we face today He is still high and lifted up. He is today holy-holy-holy.  

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Gods R Us?

Their land is also full of silver and gold, And there is no end to their treasures; Their land is also full of horses, And there is no end to their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.  – Isaiah 2v7-8

Mary and I made an early trip to take a friend to hospital yesterday. I took Mary out for a lovely breakfast on the way home. Later, we had to run a couple of errands and stopped in to Harvey Norman’s. The shop is an electronic/appliance/furniture store that sells relatively good products at reasonable prices.

The electronics area was packed. People were shopping for iPads and laptops and anything else you can imagine. We are in the middle of this dreaded recession, yet we were all in there shopping or looking for stuff which we could really do without.

When I read back over this passage this morning this image came to mind. ‘Their land is full of gadgets and appliances. There is no end to their resources. Their land is full of fancy cars.’

Yup, that sounds like where I live, and in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history.

‘But their land is also full of idols and they worship what they have made.’

Most people in the West in the 21st century are not going to stop by ‘Gods R Us’ and pick up a new idol to take home for our god shelf. Most of us are not going to carve or mould or fashion our own little statue to worship.

But we do idolise the things that mankind makes. We love our homes and cars and technology. We love our iPhones and our laptops and our big screen TVs. We love our sports teams. We love our gardens and yards. We love our fancy clothes and our finery.

There is nothing really wrong with all that stuff. But we need to beware that those things don’t replace our God and Saviour.

Too many believers are ‘comfort zone Christians’ who are happy to serve God as long as He does not interfere with all their other gods.

This was Israel. Sure, they knew about Jehovah. He was their God, but they also had all this other stuff which busied up their lives. Christians can be the same today. ‘Of course I am a Christian and want to serve Him. Just don’t ask me to give up my comfortable life and all my wonderful things that I love so much.’

Maybe we just call ‘Gods R Us’ by other names? 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

One day

He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2v4

World peace has always been man’s goal. So much so, in fact, that we can joke about beauty contest participants saying the one thing they would really like to see is ‘world peace.’

It’s not for a lack of trying. In the last two hundred years alone we have had the Congress of Vienna, the League of Nations, and the United Nations all of which have held out a glimmer of hope for world peace. In 1959 the then Soviet Union sent a statue by Evgeniy Vuchetich to the UN. The statue was called ‘Let us beat our swords into ploughshares.’ It was a sign of hope that man could fulfil the words of Isaiah the prophet.

And yet there is no sign of it.

Wars war on, conflicts are in conflict, and fighters still fight. The cause of wars and fights, man’s lust, is still here and will be here until Jesus comes back to sort things out. Folks cry ‘Peace, peace!’ but there is no peace, and there won’t be as long as it is up to man.

One day that will change, because one day Jesus will be in control.  One day He shall reign as the perfect Ruler. One day there will be war no more. One day the weapons of war will be converted to tools for good a progress. One day the science of warcraft will no longer be taught.

One day. Even so, come Lord Jesus. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

White as snow

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. – Isaiah 1v18

The last two winters we have had the unexpected delight/agony/joy/hassle of seeing snow on the ground for several weeks each winter. Snow disrupts travel and is cold and wet and heating bills go up and traffic crawls to a standstill and your feet get wet and the kids are in and out and in out and the house gets wet and dirty. And yet, snow is beautiful. Snow covers all of the flaws and scars and ugliness of a landscape with a blanket of white.

It is the beauty of snow that Isaiah uses to illustrate God’s covering of man’s sin. Isaiah does not hold back when it comes to dealing with sin. Israel was a wicked nation who had forgotten about God. They deserved the full wrath of God for their sin. God was sick of all of their religion. He would have been justified in wiping them out.

But, while He is dealing with their sin God pleads them to come to Him and ‘reason’ with Him. God had the answer and He wanted His people to come to Him. If they would forsake their sins and turn to Him their sins, though ‘like scarlet’ could be covered and be as white as the snow. Scarlet and red speak of what is called ‘blood guilt’ and was used to speak of the most heinous sins.

What a wonderful offer! God says that that though man’s sins are as disgusting as can be imagined God is willing to cover them and make them as white as snow. We know now that, in a way I would like to look into more, He covers man’s blood guilt with the blood of His own son.

God still calls out to man today – ‘Come, lets reason this out. Though you are guilty of the most vile sins, I can cover them with the blood of Jesus and make them as white as the new fallen snow.’

What a sacrifice. Jesus paid the price for my blood guilt with His own blood. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

When God is sick of religion

"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. "When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, - Isaiah 1v11-16

I find that whenever I talk to people about my faith I hear things like ‘I have my own religion.’ Even more often now I find people saying something like, ‘Look what religion has done for this world! It has caused fights and divisions and wars and rebellions and all manner of evil.’

The truth is – the second statement is correct. Religion has done and does all those things and more. It was a part of The Troubles that tore this little island apart. Religion is bad. It is awful. It is no good.

And God agrees.

God has no use for religion. It is worse than that – God hates religion. Religion is man-made. Here He says to an overly religious Israel – ‘Why do you come and offer sacrifices and incense? Why do you bother observing all your festivals and holy days? They are nothing but trouble to Me. I am tired of messing with them. When you do all these religious things I won’t pay any attention! Pray as much as you like, I won’t hear you!’

So what does God want? He wants action behind all the words. ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, out away the evil things, stop doing evil.’

Religion produces strife and trouble. A relationship with God produces results.

This is not just for Israel. Those of us who claim faith in Christ had better be sure that our faith is truly in Him and not in our religious practices. How do we know? What kind of life does it produce.

The proof of the pudding (religion, or faith actually) is in the eating (doing).

Is our religion just that? Religion? Or is it a relationship? 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ungrateful jerks

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; - Isaiah 1v2

I don’t like it when people are ungrateful. I know that I should not be bothered by these little things, but I don’t like it when people don’t say thank you. I don’t like it when I pull over on one of our narrow roads to let a car pass and they don’t even wave to say thank you. I think horrible thoughts like – ‘You ungrateful jerk!’

I use that to illustrate how we as humans feel about ingratitude. We don’t, or shouldn’t, do things to get a thank you. And, yet, even if we don’t get an acknowledgement or a thank you we still like for people to at least not turn against us when we have done things for them.

God speaks as a father here in Isaiah. He speaks of feeding and bringing up children who rebel against Him. I know that we cannot put human emotions on God. However, we do know that the Spirit of God can be grieved by our actions. You can almost sense that in this introduction to the prophecy.

I can’t imagine how it for parents who raise and feed and nurture and change nappies and put on plasters and help them out when things get tough and all that is a part of parenting only to have them turn against them in rebellion. I am grateful that no matter what choices my children have made they have never rebelled against us. I have friends who cannot say the same and my heart breaks for them.

But now think about us and our heavenly Father. He does all that I wrote about above and more and still we rebel against Him every time we choose to sin. When I think about that my heart is devastated. Every sin is rebellion against the One who gave us everything. Every sin is a slap in the face of the God who sent His Son to die for me.

How often are you and I the ultimate ungrateful jerks in our rebellion? 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The meaning of life

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. – Ecclesiastes 12v13-14

Solomon finally comes to the end to his great quest to find the meaning of life. He has tried it all. He has found no meaning in what we today would call ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll.’ He has found possessions meaningless. He had found popularity worthless. He has found religion meaningless. The world turns and turns and turns, everything has its season, and yet life is still grasping at the wind.

But he does find meaning at the end. ‘Let us hear the conclusion of this whole matter,’ Solomon writes. What does it all mean? How does Solomon summarise all that he has learned.

‘Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.’

That’s a pretty simply conclusion to such a deep and sometimes confusing search for the meaning of life.

But this is it. Fear God and do what He says. That is the whole duty of man and the only thing that will really matter when everything is done.

This is the whole duty on man. Will we do our duty? 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Don't waste these years

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; - Ecclesiastes 12v1

I often preach a message from this passage when I speak to youth groups or school chapels. I always love those opportunities because I love being with young people. It only makes sense as I am still a young guy myself.

Yesterday we saw the advice that young people should enjoy their youth, while remembering that God is still watching over them. It was clear that youth cannot be seen as a excuse for sin. .

Today in chapter 12 the advice is more positive. ‘Remember God while you are young, before evil really sets in, before the years roll by and you realise they didn’t satisfy like you thought they would’

There is a temptation in youth, even among some Christian youth, to think something like ‘I’ll get serious about God when I get a little older. Let me get through this then I will settle down and serve God. I’ll just have a little ‘fun’ first.’

The sad thing is that youth is one of our best opportunities to serve God. We are fresh, excited, and full of energy. The tragedy is that too many young people use that freshness, excitement, and energy on vain pursuits instead of what really counts for eternity.

Sadly, we don’t realise until it is over. When Christians do get serious about God they often say, ‘Why did I waste all those years?’

The advice is aimed at young people, but applicable to us all – don’t wait to serve God. Serve Him today; don’t waste the years on vain pursuits. There is an old saying that fits in a Christian context which really sums up the start of Ecclesiastes – ‘The problem with youth is that it is wasted on the young.’ 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Dealing with your youth

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.  – Ecclesiastes 11v9-10

Enjoy being young! Believe it or not that’s what Solomon is saying here. Enjoy being young, check out life, and find out who you are.

This is a normal part of being young. Youth need to discover who they are and who there are is more than just an extension of their parents. Youth are who they are and they do need to figure out who they are. They need a little bit of liberty to do so. Once we get past this time we older folks have some terms for this – ‘spreading their wings’ and ‘flying their kite’ both picture this wonderful and fearsome time of life.

However, in all of that, there is something to remember. In all of this God is still there. The experimentation of youth needs to be tempered with the truth that God is still God. While testing out life for themselves, youth need to remember that God is God, He does not change, and His standards are not flexible.

Youth brings its trials. Youth brings its temptations. Youth is vanity and vexation of spirit. In all of the excitement and fun and joys of youth there is one thing to remember above all else.

That is the topic of the next thought – stay tuned. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Waiting for the rain to stop

He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap. – Ecclesiastes 11v4

I remember way back, almost twenty years now, to our first visit to Ireland. We were staying with David and Hazel Moore in Tallaght. David and Hazel have since grown to be very dear friends. I knew nothing about the way things were done in Ireland. One day we were going to get Chinese at the closest take-away. The shop was only about a 5 minute walk, but I assumed that because it was raining we would just hop in the car. I went out the front step and headed for the wrong side of the car. David looked at me like I had two heads. ‘What are you doing?’ David asked. ‘Getting in the car,’ I said, ‘I just forgot which side.’ ‘Why are you getting in the car?’ ‘It’s raining!’ I replied. ‘So…’

You get the picture. We were walking – in the rain. ‘Do you always walk in the rain?’ I asked innocently. David said something that stuck in my mind, and I often think about today. ‘If you waited for the rain to stop in Ireland you’d never get anything done.

I thought of that when I read this passage. If you wait for the right wind you will never sow. If you wait for a sunny day you will never reap.

While it is right and wise to consider where and when to do things sometimes we get so concerned about the ‘right time’ that we never get anything done at all. We can be so concerned about the ‘signs and seasons’ that we can allow days or weeks or months or years go by.

Sometimes we just have to do it. Sometimes we have to walk in the rain. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Of wisdom and weapons

Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroys much good." – Ecclesiastes 9v18

‘Might makes right!’ is one of those common adages that we use all the time without really thinking about it. Well, might may not always make right, but might sure seems to work.

Might does often win. The second half of the verse makes that clear. One sinner can destroy much good with those weapons of war. When we look at history we look at what wicked men have done with the power of their weapons of war. Weapons of war may accomplish their goals and do what we want, but that certainly does not make them right.

Wisdom, however, is better than weapons of war because wisdom deals with the issues, not just the circumstance.

We can find an example right here on this little island. The people of Ireland, north and south, have certainly seen their share of troubles. Conflict has been a way of life here for centuries. The 1970s-1990s were especially volatile when weapons of war became the preferred method to try and sort out the differences. Thousands were injured or killed, yet things just got worse.

Finally, by the mid-90s, people on both sides had enough. Weapons were not working so people were finally ready to try wisdom. It wasn’t easy, but sides began to lay down their arms and talk. By 1998 a general consensus was reached and we have been living in relative peace and safety ever since.

So what is our lesson from this? We can sometimes be caught in the trap of thinking that we are strong and forceful and bully enough we can have our way and force our way of thinking on the world around us. Weapons don’t have to be guns and bullets. Our weapons are more often words and attitudes and demeanour. While they may accomplish a goal, they don’t fix the situation.

That is not the way to do it. God’s way is to use godly wisdom to accomplish our goals and achieve our tasks. May God give us the wisdom to use wisdom instead of weapons. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Do it right

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.  - Ecclesiastes 9v10

Ecclesiastes can be a bit confusing. There are a lot of comments about the emptiness of life mixed in with some good practical advice. This is one of those good bits of practical advice that came as a result of Solomon’s search for the meaning of life.

Solomon is saying, to put it in everyday terms. ‘If you have anything to do, you might as well do the best you can because the day is coming when you won’t be able to any of the things you need to get done.’

Solomon is not the only one who sees this. We are told later to ‘work while it is day, for the day comes when no man can work.’ We all told that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do we are to do it to the glory of God.

I think everybody’s dads shared some of the great old adages. A lot of those, though not expressed that way, are Bible based. One of my dad’s was the classic ‘If a job is worth doing it is worth doing right.’

Whatever we have to do today, let’s do it right. Let’s do it with all our might. Let’s do it to the glory of God. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bad stuff happens

All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. - Ecclesiastes 9v2
Bad things happen. But, as the author once asked, why do bad things happen to good people?  Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen. They happen to good people and bad people. Bad things happen to the clean and unclean. They happen to the faithful and the unfaithful. Bad things just happen.

It is part of living in a sin cursed world. Though we can escape the penalty for sin and we can escape the power of sin over our lives, we cannot escape the presence of sin in a world cursed by it since the Fall.

As hard as that is to swallow we had better take it on board. Bad things happen and they happen to the best and godliest people alive. Being God’s follower does not mean we are going to miss the bad stuff.

But there is a difference. God’s people don’t have to go through the bad stuff alone. Our God promises to be with us in the bad things that come our way. We don’t have to face the bad stuff alone.

Praise God that though bad stuff happens, we have a good God to carry us through it. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

All have sinned

For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. – Ecclesiastes 7v20

As a part of Solomon’s quest he tried to find a right and sinless man so he could see how he did it. In all of the emptiness of life, surely, if I could find a perfect man there would be hope.

But there is no just man. There is no one who does not sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no one good, no not one.

That might leave Solomon, and man today, in utter despair. If there is not a single righteous man on the face of the earth what hope is there?

We have good news that Solomon would get a glimpse of later on, but would never see clearly. We know that one Man is good. One Man does not sin. One Man is perfect.

There is more good news. This one just Man did something no one else could do. Jesus provides the hope that no one else is qualified to do. He provides the hope that no one else can. Since every other man is a sinner, no one is truly worth following but Him.

All have sinned; all but One. He is the only place to find the hope that Solomon, like all men, look for. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

I’ll do it! I’ll do it!

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. – Ecclesiastes 5v4-5

I was watching an episode of the Andy Griffith Show the other day. For the poor folks on this side of the pond, this is a 1960’s American comedy set in a small southern town. It is based around the sheriff, played by Andy Griffith (Matlock), and his deputy Barney Fife played by comedian Don Knotts. The assorted town characters round out the cast.

In this episode Barney was away on holiday and Andy had to go to a sheriff’s conference so he needed someone to mind the office. Goober, the local mechanic, volunteered to do the job. He swore up and down that he could do the job and that he would be there early Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning Andy stopped by the courthouse and no one was there. He found Goober at the garage working on a carburettor. When confronted Goober just dismissed it with, ‘Well, that’s where you’ll have to call me a liar.’ The rest of the episode is a hilarious episode involving a car being taken apart and reassembled in the courthouse, but, sadly, that is not the point of this thought.

The point is Goober’s irresponsibility. He promised to do something, and then he didn’t do it. In the episode it was comedic, but in real life it isn’t funny. There is little more frustrating than counting on someone who lets you down.  

Here Solomon warns of making a rash vow to God, but underlying that is a more general principle that Jesus talks about in His parables. He speaks of two men and a task that had to be done. One man says he will do it, but never does. The other says he can’t do it, but finds a way to get the job done (Matthew 21). The second of course, does the will of the Father.

Words don’t mean much. It is the doing that counts. We need to be doers of the word, not hearers or sayers only. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Konrad and cords

Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4v12

One of our found memories of the many people who have come through here is a Polish guy named Konrad. He was such a blessing. We met him at Superquinn while asking for cupcake papers. He looked a lot like Aragon from the Lord of the Rings films. Caleb was working there at the time and we soon realised that he was a believer who had felt like he was all alone here. He was thrilled to find Caleb and was excited to find a church, even one as tiny as ours was at that time. Eventually we had the privilege of having a part of his wedding to a lovely Christian lady named Asia.

We have many found memories of our time with Konrad. I could almost write a book about the times we spent with him.

One incident ties in to this passage and that is what brought him to mind this morning. He came to Bible study one evening really excited. His English was not great and he had read this verse in Polish. He was trying to explain it, but had a hard time getting it out. We finally figured it and found the passage in both his Polish and my English Bibles.

He said – ‘This like me and Caleb at Superquinn. One, alone will break. Two together are stronger. Now I come to church and many (maybe 10-12 at the time) hard to break!

What a blessed truth and great encouragement what was and is today as I remember it. It reminds me of the importance of fellowship, even in relatively small numbers. Praise God even for two or three or can find strength in each other! 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Whatever God does

I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. – Ecclesiastes 3v14

Man often thinks that he is really something. We can look way back to the Tower of Babel when those folks wanted to build a great tower to make a name for themselves that would not be forgotten.

It is amazing to see what has happened to man's greatest accomplishments as time has gone by. I don't need to go any farther than this little island for an illustration. All across the landscape here we see the ruins of great castles. In their time they were the picture of wealth, prosperity, safety, and protection. I think of Trim Castle, not too far away. It was built on a hill on the edge of the Pale. Its walls were whitewashed so that it gleamed in the sun. It had several walls of protection. It must have seemed like it would last forever.

It is still impressive, but it has been in ruins for several hundred years. Little is left of the splendour that was once there.

No matter how formidable they seem all of man's works are temporary. One day they will all be burned up. One day it will all be gone.

On the other hand whatever God does will be forever. It will endure. Man cannot add to to it or take away from it. God does that since so that all men will know who He is and reverence Him.

The question we have to consider is where we spend our time and effort. What is important to us? Is it the temporary things of man or the eternal things of God?

Why do we put so much effort into what is going to pass away and so little into what will last forever? 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Eternity in their hearts

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3v11

I had never noticed this passage until Jay preached on it a few weeks ago. I was taken by the concept of ‘eternity in their hearts.’ I think part of the reason why it grabbed my attention was that I was studying Romans 1 at the time. There we read that God has revealed Himself to all men and that all men have a knowledge of God in their hearts. In order to overcome that knowledge they must choose to suppress it.

As beings created with eternity in our hearts it is easy to see why we will never find satisfaction in the temporal. Deep down there is always that knowledge that there is something more to life than just the years we spend here. Everyone knows it, but man does not like to think about eternity because that knowledge makes him accountable.

I think that is why sin is so active. I think that is a big part of why man makes the sinful choices he does. It is hard to ignore the knowledge of eternity that is placed in the hearts of man. Man must choose to ignore God and eternity. When he does this he focuses on doing all he can to find a meaning in this life.

But there is none to be found here so man goes on and on and on trying to find it.

This ought to encourage believers. Everyone we meet has, perhaps hidden deep down, a knowledge of eternity. It is our task to appeal to that knowledge and show them the way. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A time for everything

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace… He has made everything beautiful in its time– Ecclesiastes 3v1-8,11

In 1965 a group called The Byrds released a 1959 Pete Seeger song called 'Turn, Turn, Turn.' The song was taken verbatim from this section of Ecclesiastes. Because of that it is one of those sections of scripture that virtually everyone is at least familiar with. Because it is so familiar we may be left with an attitude of ‘That’s lovely, but what does it mean?’

Seeger and The Byrds believed that eventually there was going to be a season of peace. In a sense they are right – one day peace will come. It will however not come through the efforts of man.

The world goes through its cycles. The sun rises and sets. We weep and rejoice. We gain and lose. We speak and we keep silent. And so it goes. The world turns and turns and turns. In some ways you can see how some religions talk about the circle of life. Everything has a time. Everything has a season. Then it starts all over again.

But that leaves something out. All of these seasons do come and go, but we make a mistake when we assume that God is not involved. We see this ‘turn, turn, turn’ perspective when we look at life only from our own perspective. If we leave God out the world is doing the endless spinning and nothing makes any real difference.

The point is not found directly in the words used for the song, but a little later – ‘God has made all things beautiful in its time.’ While the cycles go on we can rest assured that God is going sort it all out beautifully in His prefect time. The Byrd’s yearning of a season of peace will come - For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end (Jeremiah 29v11).

God’s time is coming. We don’t know when. No matter how cyclical or routine life seems we keep going. We don’t get weary in doing what is right, because in God’s season we will reap the benefit of waiting for God’s time of peace. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The empty life

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." - Ecclesiastes 1v2

The big names always grab the headlines - Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Janis Joplin, and Marilyn Monroe. When you read those names you know the connection immediately. Each of these young adults, who apparently had everything, died early tragic deaths. Each of them died in what were, at best, tragic circumstances. We don’t really have to say much more.

Then there are names like ‘AG.’ ‘Who is that?’ you might ask? AG was one of the thousands of ‘unknowns’ who die in the same way. It is more personal for me when it comes to AG. He was my literacy student who, on a Saturday night a few months ago, jumped into a reservoir and drowned. Life, at 18, had just become too much to bear. The benefits of death, in his mind at least, outweighed the benefits of living. There was nothing worth living for.

Though all of these people had their lives ahead of them, they either took their own lives or put themselves in such a setting that their lives were under threat. They had lives, which at least for that moment in time, seemed so empty that they were not worth living.

Solomon could identify with these folks. ‘Vanity of vanities’ he wrote, ‘all is vanity.’ Or, to make it a little clearer, ‘Emptiness of emptiness, all is emptiness.’

In this amazing little book we have a record of Solomon’s attempt to find something to fill the emptiness.

He is going to give is the answer. Stick around. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Rarer than rubies

Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain…Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: "Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all." Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. - Proverbs 31v10-11, 28-30

If I could afford to like gems rubies would be my favourite. I love the deep red colour. It is my birthstone. I just love it and it I were rich and wore jewellery I would surely have a ruby ring!

But this passage says that there is something rarer and more valuable than the best rubies. ‘Who can find a virtuous wife?’ the writer asks, ‘for her worth is far above rubies. Her husband trusts her.’ There is a beautiful section proclaiming the value of a virtuous wife. Then it closes with ‘Her children rise up and call her blessed.’

Then there is a phrase that all husbands need to be reminded of – ‘her husband calls her blessed, and he praises her.’

So that’s my cue.

It’s a pretty simple question. ‘If you could only have one of the two would you rather be rich or would you rather have your wife?’

Obviously both would be nice, but you can only choose one.

If a relationship is working the way it should work I don’t think there can be a doubt. If a woman is that virtuous wife then there is no comparison.

Praise God for my virtuous wife. Though I understand what the phrase ‘beauty is passing’ is trying to say I contend that not only has her virtue endured and grown, but so has her beauty.

Trade her is for rubies? Not a chance. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

Dangerous preaching

Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. – Proverbs 30v5-6

Do not add to God’s words. Surely we can all agree with that. None of us are going to take out a pen and add to the Bible with the claim that our words hold equal authority with His. That would be unthinkable.

Does that mean that we are not guilty of adding to God’s word? Can we hold ourselves aloft and take pride that this is one sin that we avoid?

I am not so sure. I have been saved a while. I have heard a lot of preachers. I have preached a lot of messages. I have heard a great amount of good and blessed things. My heart has been touched and my spirit moved many times. God has used the preaching of His word to change my life over and over again. The vast majority of what I have heard has been truly Bible based and Holy Spirit directed.

However, I have to admit that it is not always true. Sometimes I have sat under preaching where the preacher’s agenda overrode the word of God. I don’t like to think about it, but I am pretty sure I have done it myself. Now every things said from the pulpit is ‘thus saith the Lord.’ Sometimes is can be ‘thus saith the preacher.’

We need to be careful about making our word equal to God’s word in our preaching, teaching, and decision making. In my life I have come across quite of bit of extra-biblical teaching and preaching. ‘Do this, don’t do that. Go here, don’t go there. Dress this way. Read this Bible’ and on and on and on.

I recently lost some more missionary support. That is nothing new. This loss of support was unusual in that neither reason given to break off support had any Bible basis. It was based on traditions and preference. That is fine, but it was presented as though I was the one walking away from God’s word.

Remember, we preach ‘thus saith the Lord,’ not ‘thus saith me and my church.’ 

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Covering sin

He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. – Proverbs 28v13

There are a couple of aspects to dealing with sin. There are too extremes. One is to be so beaten and defeated by our sin that we give up and let Satan have a victory as the accuser of the brethren.

I am sure that happens, I have seen it and even experienced it.

But there is another extreme that I think is probably much more common. That is to just sort of ignore it and hope it goes away. We sin, feel bad for a while, and then just try to forget it.

Ouch – that hurts. Was that a 2x4 I just got hit with?

Think about it for a second. When we take sin lightly, ignoring it or passing it off as no big deal, what are we doing? What is the cost of sin?

It is the sin that we take so lightly that sent Jesus to the cross. It is the sin that required Jesus to be stripped, beaten, and spat upon. It was the weight of that sin He carried as His bore His cross the Calvary. It as the sin that drove the nails into His flesh. It was the sin that caused Him to be hung naked and shamed for all the world to see. I can't really hide that sin – its cost has already been seen by the whole world.

Is there any wonder why we can't prosper when we try to hide that sin away?

But the good news is that the price has been paid. The work is done. When we confess and forsake the sin and move on. We don't have to pay the price, we just can't afford to take it lightly. 

Saturday, 8 October 2011

You don't mess around with Sin

A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; The simple pass on and are punished. – Proverbs 27v12

Sin is sneaky. It is normally subtle. Sometimes it comes at you wildly and forcefully and powerfully and visibly. Sometimes, tragically, we even go after sin, knowing what we are doing. But but most of the time it is there in your face before you know. It sneaks up, draws you in, and the deed is done. After we have sinned we almost look and wonder, 'how did that happen?'

The Bible warns us that we don't have to get caught in that terrible trap. The 'prudent' man, the person who is shrewd and crafty, sees sin coming. He knows the danger is there. He is on guard. He knows the warning signs. He doesn't ignore them.

Not only does he see the danger coming, he does the smart thing – he hides. He finds a corner, tucks himself in, and hides. He doesn't even deal with it. Joseph did this in Potiphar's house when he was tempted by Mrs Potiphar – he ran and hid.

The idea of hiding from a threat almost rankles us. It doesn't sound right. We want to think that we are powerful and strong enough to deal with problems. We want to face them head on.

When it comes to sin though that is where we get into trouble. To paraphrase an old folk song - 'You don't tug on superman's cape, You don't spit into the wind, You don't pull the mask of the ol' lone ranger, And you don't mess around with Sin.'

If we have any sense we watch out for sin, we see it coming, and we don't mess around with it. 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hold on to your friends

Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, Nor go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbour nearby than a brother far away. – Proverbs 27v10

I like the fact that Proverbs often addresses the issue of friendship. I like it because true friends are a major part of life. I can thinks of friends that I have known for many decades now and it is wonderful to know that friendships persist.

For all of its dangers, evils, and frustration Facebook has been nice because it has allowed us to reconnect with friends that we would never have heard from again otherwise. Mary and I recently met up with a friend I had not seen in nearly forty years and our friendship is now stronger than it was then!

Friends are not always going to agree – that would be boring. Friends are going to fail – so are we. Friends are going to do things that disappoint us. Friends are going to let us down. Friends are going to make us angry. Sometimes friends are going to have to administer a needed wound.

But true friendships are worth it. Remember that we do the same thing to our friends. We hurt them and let them down and disappoint and fail them.

But friends are worth it. But we stick together because of the precious nature of friendship. They are there when everyone else walks away. They are among the most precious gifts we have. William Penn put it this way – ‘A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.’

Hold your friends dear. Stand up for them. Fight for them. Love them. Don’t let them go. These are the kind of people you can call at 2.00 in the morning and they will be there. One writer said that a true friend is the one who will tell you that your face is dirty.

Treasure your friendships. The day may come when they are all you have.   

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Tough friendship

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. – Proverbs 27v6

Good times with good friends are wonderful. We all have fond memories of special times with friends. We have gone places and done thing that were so much fun they still bring a smile to our face. We share the good times and rejoice and we share the bad times and shed tears together. Chances are that folks reading this can remember special friends with whom we have shared the ups and downs and good times and bad.

But true, real, genuine friendship has another side. Sometimes true friendship requires that we have to inflict a little pain. When a friend is erring or slipping up or doing things wrong somebody has to step in. It is never easy to be the one to do it because there is always the chance that saying something that hurts might threaten the friendship. We never like to do it because it is going to rock the boat and change the things from the way they are.

But the wounds of a friend are faithful wounds. They are like the injections from a doctor or a medical procedure to repair an injury or cure an illness. They may hurt for a while but they are for the ultimate good. I doubt that very many doctors or nurses actually like to inflict even momentary pain, but it has to be done.

When a friend needs a reminder or a correction or even an admonishment it is best if it comes from someone who loves them instead of someone else. It is better to be ‘wounded’ by a friend than ‘kissed’ by an enemy.

It is scary. Friends don’t always understand. They don’t always respond properly, but friends are worth the effort. And true friendship will eventually endure. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

You just don’t know...

Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bringforth. – Proverbs 27v1

When I went to bed on the 19th of June 1973 I had my wholefuture figured out. I had just finished secondary (high) school a few weeksearlier. I had received an appointment to the US Air Force Academy from SenatorJohn Sparkman. I had orders to report to Colorado Springs on 2 July to begin mytraining and education as an Air Force officer. All my dreams were coming true.

When I went to bed on the 20th of June 1973 things hadchanged. I was lying, literally, flat on my back in a Stryker frame in Huntsville Hospital. Ihad cracked my 6th vertebrae and shattered the 7th.Though I had full movement in my legs there were fears that I could lose thatat any moment. In order to turn over in bed they had to strap a thin mattressto my front side and slowly turn me over on a circular metal frame. I had towatch television through a mirrored viewer. I had a traction device drilledinto my skull. It was a scary and fearsome sight. A split second decision todive in a pool had changed my life.

On the 2nd of July, instead of reporting to Colorado Springs,I was laying an operating theatre having re-constructive surgery on myvertebrae.

Praise God that I came through all that and He put things in place forme to serve Him. It does however show how quickly things can change.

‘Don’t brag about tomorrow. You haven’t a clue what tomorrow mightbring.’

Though that 20 June 1973 was quite dramatic to me and sticks out in my mind, we have had many more of those 20 Junes since then. We never have any idea what might happen tomorrow when we go to bed at night.

Who would have thought when they world went to bed on 10 September 2001 how the world would change before bed the next night?

We need to beware of talking about all that we are going to do andaccomplish in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. Jesus repeated this lesson. The problems and issues of today are sufficient in themselves.

God is in control. It may not be in our words, but in our attitude there needs to a D.V. (Deo Volente – God willing) in our attitudes about what we are going to do next because we certainly don’t know what is around the corner.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Flattery will get you - trouble

A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin. – Proverbs 26v28

Flattery is a word that we would not necessarily put on the list of 'major sins.' Yet, when the Bile speak of flattery, or flattering, or flattering lips it is always in a negative sense. Flattering lips are paired with a 'double heart.' We read of flattering lips being 'cut off'' False teachers use flattering speech to deceive.

Flattery, I think, is more that just going over the top with praise. It seems that flattery is based out of a heart that is seeking something for itself. Flattery makes people feel good for a moment, but there is more to it than it seems. Flattery is actually another form of lying. It is deceitful and damaging and destructive.

Edmund Burke wrote 'Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.' Someone else wrote 'Gossip is what you say about the objects of flattery when they are not around.' Hank Ketchem, the cartoonist who gave us Dennis the Menace, put it in words we all understand – 'Flattery in like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don't swallow it.

As believers our words are to be above reproach. Lets be sure that our praise for others is sincere and offered from a sincere heart. Lets not say anything that is going to cause harm, even if it sounds good at the moment. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Putting out a fire

Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. – Proverbs 26v20-21

We all learned in school that it takes three things to have a fire. You need a heat source to start it and you need fuel and oxygen to keep it going. To stop a fire you either take away the fuel or you cut off the oxygen supply. Fire fighters stop most fires by cutting of the oxygen with water or chemicals. Those fighting forest fires will often clear a line of any brush or wood so that the fuel is cut off.

Though fire can be comforting, it can also be dangerous, destructive, and even fatal. We like to think a winter’s fire in the hearth, but we don’t like the idea of a fire raging through our homes.

James tells us that our tongues can be the heat source that starts a fire. Our tongues also are the fuel to keep a fire going.

I think part of the problem is that we have a fascination with fire. Even children, without any teaching, normally like to play with a fire and strike matches if they find them. This dangerous fascination has destroyed many lives.

It is sad that we are also fascinated with another kind of fire, the fire of the tongue that James talks about. This fire is at least as dangerous in a different way. Far too many lives have been ruined by tongue fire.

This proverb has an answer. The best way to stop that kind of fire is to quit feeding it. Where there is no one to tell tales the tongue fire goes out. Where there is no one to create contention the fight stops.

The next time we are tempted to add fuel to the fire may we remember these wise words and, once again, keep our mouths shut. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbour, and says, "I was only joking!" – Proverbs 26v18-19

‘j/k’ is one of those newish texting/FBing abbreviations that have popped up over the last couple of years. You know how it is used ‘You smell like dirty socks – j/k.’ It is the internet equivalent to saying something ugly to someone, seeing a look in their face, and saying ‘I was only joking’ except in the case of texting it is pre-emptive, just in case.

A lot of times, admittedly, it is truly just harmless fun, teasing, and slagging. However, we need to be aware that it is not always as harmless as it seems. In fact, if it were truly harmless, would we have to say ‘j/k?’

‘j/k’ can be dangerous. ‘Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man you deceive his neighbour and says ‘j/k.’

It is asking for trouble, and it can hurt. j/k doesn’t really help after the damage is done and we never know when what we mean as good fun is going to hit the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Even though I am still guilty, the older I get the more I realise the dangers of j/k. Let’s be careful before we use terms and phrases that require that j/k ending. They may be more dangerous than we think. 

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Keep your nose on your own face

He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. – Proverbs 26v17

Strangely enough I know three people who have almost identical dog bites on their upper lips. When my pastor and his brother were children they decided to staple their dog’s ears together. Caleb was at the receiving end of my mom’s dog right after she died. The poor dog had had enough with all the kids, and Caleb was there at the wrong time. Eoin was chasing a little dog under a table and the dog had enough.

Of those, only Pastor was foolish enough to reach out and grab a dog by the ears. He was the only one who got what he deserved.

He is like the man described in the proverb above. Anyone who walks by and gets involved is a squabble that is not his own is asking for trouble. Of course, being a proverb, this is not exclusive. If someone is in obvious danger we cannot walk by and let them be hurt, we must intervene.

But this is a proverb. The idea is that we simply need to mind our own business. As the parental advice so often is heard – ‘keep your nose on your own face.’ Most of the time when these things happen there no danger - we just can’t resist getting involved in a good fight.

When we do this we are, just like Pastor and his brother, asking for trouble. We deserve to get bit. Don’t be surprised when getting involved results in a bloody lip.