8/1/16 “The Patience of God” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 29-31)

“One thousand shall flee at the threat of one, at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left as a pole on top of a mountain and as a banner on a hill. Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:17-18).

During Isaiah’s ministry to Judah, God’s people had forsaken the Lord. Their hearts were far from God. God described His people’s condition: “Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden" (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Through Isaiah, God was trying to reach them to encourage them to come back to Him. Even as they were being threatened by another nation, Assyria, they still refused to heed God’s message to them. Of them the Lord said, “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us’" (Isaiah 30:9-11).  

Under the Assyrian threat, God had lovingly encouraged them to return to Him and He would gladly deliver them: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ But you would not” (Isaiah 30:15). But, instead of seeking God, they devised their own schemes for deliverance from Assyria by doing such things as foolishly turning to the Egyptians for help: “‘Woe to the rebellious children,’ says the Lord, ‘Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who walk to go down to Egypt, and have not asked My advice, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and trust in the shadow of Egypt shall be your humiliation’” (Isaiah 30:1-3).

As the opening verses above indicate, God wanted to be gracious to His children, the nation of Israel, and show them mercy (Isaiah 30:18). But God also executes justice. So He could not be gracious and merciful to His children while they continued to act rebellious towards Him. Therefore, God would have to wait until the Assyrian persecution of them. Following this, God’s people finally would come to their senses and turn back to Him. Then the Lord could show them the mercy and grace He longed to give to them (Isaiah 30:19-22).

As I consider God’s patience with His people in having to wait for them to come to their senses so He could show them the grace and mercy He longed to give to them, I am awed as I consider God’s patience with me. Over the years of my life, like Israel, there have been times when I act in stubborn rebellion against God. When I do so, I prevent God from being able to show me the grace and mercy He longs to give me because of my rebellious actions towards Him and His Will for me. I praise God for His patience to “wait” for me to come to my senses. Today, when I stray from God’s Will, I will strive to practice repentance towards God and not try His patience by persisting in rebellion!

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

7/31/16 “Staying My Mind on God” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 26-28)

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

Do you ever find your mind wandering off in a thousand different directions? Sometimes, our minds get distracted by things which may be innocent, but which simply pique our interest. They may be no harm in this. At other times, we get diverted by harmful things such as worries that add misery to our lives. Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34).

I know I often have a hard time keeping focused on the things that are important. Too often I allow my mind to wander off in directions it should not. In the opening passage, Isaiah mentions a song that God’s people would sing when God had delivered them from their enemies which had oppressed them (Isaiah 26:1-2). Even in the midst of the oppression they were experiencing, Isaiah says that God would help them experience “perfect peace”. This was because they had kept their minds “stayed” on God. In other words, instead of getting distracted by their enemies and the oppression they were experiencing from them, these servants of God kept their focus on God.

A great example of keeping one’s mind stayed on God is seen in Jesus. Even as a teenager Jesus had this focus. When his parents Joseph and Mary were looking for Him and found Him in the temple, Jesus said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). During His ministry, Jesus describes how He kept His mind “stayed” on God as He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work (John 4:34). As He neared the end of His ministry and was about to face a cruel death on the cross, Jesus shared with His disciples the struggle in His heart, but also the focus of his life: “"Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Jesus’ mind was “stayed” on God and He enjoyed “perfect peace” even in the midst of knowing the death that awaited Him. As he was about to be arrested and led away to be crucified, he told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I want to have that “perfect peace” that comes to those who keep their minds “stayed” on God. How can I keep my mind “stayed” on God? There is no “secret formula”. Actually, God’s Word gives us guidance on how to keep our minds “stayed” on Him. First, the Bible teaches me that I need to meditate on God’s Word by studying it and reflecting upon it throughout the day. The psalmist wrote, “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways” (Psalm 119:15). Second, I can keep my mind “stayed” on God by praying throughout the day. David wrote, “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). Today, I will strive to keep my mind “stayed” on God by meditating on His Word and seeking Him continually in prayer that I may enjoy that “perfect peace” that only He can give!

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

7/30/16 “Wiping Away All My Tears” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 22-25)

“He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’” (Isaiah 25:8-9).

Pain and heartache are a part of life. None of us can escape the times of sadness that life often brings. To pretend that because we serve God every waking moment of our lives will be filled with great joy and we will never experience hurt and heartbreak is simply to not live in the reality of life.

As the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel, he was overwhelmed at the thought of other nations overtaking God’s people. He experienced great sadness over this: “Therefore my loins are filled with pain; pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor. I was distressed when I heard it; I was dismayed when I saw it. My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; the night for which I longed He turned into fear for me” (Isaiah 21:3-4). Here was a faithful servant of God describing to us the incredible pain and heartache he was feeling over what was about to happen to his beloved Israel. He was struggling with pain, fear, and, yes, even doubt!

Can you relate to this? Have you ever struggled with the fact God is bringing everlasting punishment on “good, moral people” who, nevertheless, refuse to obey the gospel of Christ? The Bible states: “…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)? Do you struggle with doubt trying to understand why God is going to send such people to an everlasting Hell?

Furthermore, have you felt pain as you have seen a brother or sister in Christ fall away from serving Christ and go back into a world? Does it bring you heartache knowing that such will face God’s impending judgment? God’s Word points out: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Like Isaiah, I can relate to struggling with pain, fear, and even doubt as I contemplate God’s impending judgment that is coming upon people I love who have either never obeyed the gospel of Christ or who have fallen away from Christ and turned back to Satan and the world. It is heartbreaking to think on such things. It brings tears to my eyes. However, I cannot hide my head in the sand and pretend that God’s judgments on these matters are not a part of His truth because they are. To deny such is to deny God’s Word and attempt to not live in reality.

How can I handle thinking about these things? As the opening verses above describe, I need to give these matters over to the Lord and “wait for Him” and His salvation. Even though Isaiah struggled with pain, fear, and doubt, he still clung to His faith in God. He looked forward to the day when God would save His people and wipe away the tears from their eyes (Isaiah 25:8-9). I praise God that He has not asked me to be the judge of the world. That is His job and I trust He will do it righteously according to His Word (John 12:48). He asks me to keep my faith in Him and look forward to the day when He will come again bringing salvation and wiping away all my tears!

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

7/29/16 “How Shall We Escape?” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 18-21)

“Then they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation and Egypt their glory. And the inhabitant of this territory will say in that day, 'Surely such is our expectation, wherever we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and how shall we escape?'" (Isaiah 20:5-6).

Isaiah has been prophesying against the nations surrounding Israel. He now turns his attention to God’s judgment against the land of Egypt (Isaiah 18-19). When Israel was threatened by the nation of Assyria, Hoshea, the king of Israel, turned to Egypt for help (2 Kings 17:4). As the opening verses above indicate, God told Israel that the day was coming when they would be ashamed for having looked to Egypt for assistance to help the overcome the Assyrian threat (Isaiah 20:5-6).

Israel should have turned to the Lord for deliverance from the Assyrians. God rebuked them for doing this: “‘Woe to the rebellious children,’ says the Lord, ‘Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who walk to go down to Egypt, and have not asked My advice, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and trust in the shadow of Egypt shall be your humiliation” (Isaiah 30:1-3). As the judgment against Egypt that God pronounced through Isaiah indicated, Israel was foolish to turn to Egypt for help (Isaiah 18-19).

To demonstrate, His bringing judgment against the Egyptians notice what God had Isaiah do: “In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it, at the same time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, ‘Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.’ And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, ‘Just as My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt’” (Isaiah 20:1-4). God had Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for THREE YEARS as a sign of how in 3 years the Egyptians would be led away naked as captives of the Assyrians. This would cause Israel to be ashamed of ever having looked to the Egyptians as a way of escaping the Assyrian threat.

As I consider this, for one I am thankful I was not a prophet like Isaiah who had to walk around naked for 3 years as a sign to God’s people to prove a point that God was trying to make to them. More importantly, this passage does get me to thinking: “Do I turn to others, besides God, as a means of deliverance from the trials I face?” When a great trial is in front of me (cf. such as being overrun by another nation like the Assyrians), it is very tempting to seek immediate help elsewhere instead of waiting patiently in faith for God’s deliverance. It is tempting to begin trusting in the power of money, the strength of other people, or even in my own abilities and ingenuity during such times. God forbid that I should do this instead of trusting in Him. Today, I will strive to turn to the Lord and trust in Him and His power as my Deliverer from any trials which may come my way today. The Lord alone is my way of escape!f trusting in Him. Today, I will strive to turn to the Lord and trust in Him and His

“While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:2-5).

7/28/16 “Looking to My Maker” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 15-17)

“In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; he will not respect what his fingers have made, nor the wooden images nor the incense altars” (Isaiah 17:7-8).

As Isaiah has been pronouncing judgment on nations such as Babylon (Isaiah 13-14), Moab (Isaiah 15-16), and Syria (Isaiah 17:1-3), he now turns his attention to God’s people Israel. They will not escape God’s judgment. God will cause them to experience loss, hardship and want as well as the other nations: “‘In that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob will wane, and the fatness of his flesh grow lean. It shall be as when the harvester gathers the grain, and reaps the heads with his arm; it shall be as he who gathers heads of grain In the Valley of Rephaim. Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it, like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in its most fruitful branches,’ says the Lord God of Israel” (Isaiah 17:4-6).

Why was God doing this to His Own people? He was removing His blessings from them because they had forgotten Him. They would go out and work hard planting their seeds and nourishing their crops, but their harvest would not produce what they hoped because God’s blessing was not upon it: “Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; in the day you will make your plant to grow, and in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins in the day of grief and desperate sorrow” (Isaiah 17:10-11).

Unfortunately, as the opening verses above indicate, in order for God to gain the attention of His own people, the Lord would have to let them suffer hardship (Isaiah 17:7-8). It was only then that they would stop and “look to their Maker” and respect Him. It was only after they suffered the loss of glory they once had as a nation and individually began to have difficulty in finding daily food for their own nourishment that they would stop patting themselves on the back for their own accomplishments and look up to God and realize their need for Him!

As I consider this passage from the book of Isaiah, it gets me to thinking: “What does it take for me to look to my Maker? What does it take for me to not dwell on the things which I have made or on the accomplishments which I have performed?” This is not a new problem for us. Mankind has been struggling with remembering to look up to their Maker from the beginning of time. Of the Gentiles, the apostle Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:20-23).

Unlike the nation of ancient Israel, I don’t want to have to experience the removal of God’s blessings from my life before I will show respect to Him. Today, I will strive to “look up to my Maker” and acknowledge Him as I look around and see the manifold ways in which His blessings have flowed into my life!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

7/27/16 “You Comfort Me” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 12-14)

“And in that day you will say: ‘O Lord, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation'" (Isaiah 12:1-2).

In the first 11 chapters of the book of Isaiah, God has rebuked His people for their unfaithfulness to Him (cf. Isaiah 1:1-6; 3:8-9; 5:1-4) and pronounced judgment of them for their sins by allowing other nations to afflict them (cf. Isaiah 1:7-8; 5:5-7; 10:5-6). Yet, in the midst of His rebuke and judgment of them, God reminds them of a brighter day when His Son will come and bring with Him the opportunity for salvation not only for Israel, but for all men (cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-5, 11-16).

How were the people to respond to all these actions of God? Were they to dwell on their own past failures for having to be rebuked for their unfaithfulness to God or were they to rejoice in the present salvation God brought to them through His Son? Upon what should I dwell regarding God’s actions in my life? Should I dwell upon my own past failures or should I focus on God’s current salvation?

As the opening verses above indicate, following God’s punishment for their sins and the subsequent salvation He was bringing to them through His Son, the people were to respond not by dwelling on their past mistakes, but in praise to God for His present comfort of them (Isaiah 12:1-2). They were to allow themselves to be filled with joy as they contemplated God’s actions towards them: “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). God’s praise was to be upon their lips as they shared with others what God had done for them in spite of their own failures: “And in that day you will say: ‘Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!’” (Isaiah 12:4-6).

In the upcoming chapters of Isaiah, the author will once again revert back to God’s judgment not only upon Israel, but also upon the nations which surround her (Isaiah 13-34). God’s judgment was certainly real and it was coming. However, God wanted to comfort His people by reminding them of the blessings to come through the Messiah. The faithful remnant among God’s people during Isaiah’s time were to allow themselves to be comforted regarding the blessings God was bringing His people through Jesus Christ rather than just focusing on the judgment God was bringing upon the unfaithful among their number.

As Christians we have seen many of our fellow Christians become unfaithful to Christ over the years. Furthermore, we realize our own struggle with sin and acknowledge our own failures to follow God at times as we allow Satan to lead us astray. It is important that we daily strive to follow God and when we fail, we need to get up and once again cling to God’s hand, and in faith allow Him to lead us. But, we need to realize we are depending on His strength not our own (Philippians 4:13). We need to let God comfort us by reminding ourselves of His great love for us and for our brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than to allow Satan to discourage us by reminding us of our failures or the failures of others. Today, I will embrace the comfort that God gives to me through His Son Jesus Christ!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

7/26/16 “In Awe of the Sovereignty of God” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 9-11)

“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations” (Isaiah 10:5-7).

In Isaiah’s time, the nation of Assyria was threatening the southern kingdom of Judah and was about to take over the northern kingdom of Israel. God was allowing the nation of Assyria to do this as a means of punishing His people for their continual unfaithfulness to Him (Isaiah 9:8-21).

Yet, Assyria never considered the fact that God was using them to accomplish this act of judgment upon His people. Instead, they the Assyrians were filled with arrogance as they boasted: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent; also I have removed the boundaries of the people, and have robbed their treasuries; so I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man” (Isaiah 10:13). I absolutely love God’s response to their arrogance: “Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!” (Isaiah 10:15). As a result, after God had used Assyria to accomplish His judgments upon His people, God would judge Assyria and punish them for their arrogance and cruelty (Isaiah 10:16-19).

However, even more important than God’s sovereignty regarding the kingdoms of the world, is His sovereignty regarding the spiritual needs of man. God was going to accomplish something even greater than just putting the king of Assyria in his proper place. He was going to send His Son to be their ruler, not over just the physical kingdom of Israel with limited boundaries on this earth, but a spiritual kingdom, the church, which would reach throughout the world: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7; cf. John 18:36; Colossians 1:13).

God’s Son, Jesus Christ, would spring forth as a Branch that would grow out of the tree of Israel which had been cut down by the Assyrians (Isaiah 11:1-9). At that time, God would provide a way for His people Israel and all nations to come to Him just as God had delivered Israel in the past from the Egyptians: “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10).

As I consider God’s sovereignty in both the physical world and in the spiritual realm, it brings great peace to my heart. I don’t have to let the politics of this nation or the troubles throughout this world weigh me down. Spiritually, I don’t have to worry how God can save one with a lot of faults like me. I can trust in God and remember He is in control. Today, I rejoice that God is the ruler of this world and I will give Him the reins to rule in my life!

“Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:10-12).

7/25/16 “Here Am I. Send Me!” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 6-8)

“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8).

The 6th chapter of Isaiah describes the call of Isaiah to be a prophet and to serve God. The chapter begins with an awesome vision he has of God: “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” (Isaiah 6:1). He sees seraphim, proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ (Isaiah 6:2-4). What an awesome sight to behold! I can only imagine what Isaiah must have felt. As we consider God’s call to Isaiah to serve Him as His prophet to His people Israel, there are some lessons for us to learn about our service to God.

First, he felt completely inadequate and unworthy as he looked at himself: “So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5). One of the seraphim then flew and touched Isaiah’s mouth with a “live coal” and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged” (Isaiah 6:7). Isaiah was to serve God in spite of his feeling inadequate in himself for the task.

Second, Isaiah was being called to serve God in spite of the great unlikelihood of what most people would consider “success”.  As soon as Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me”, God says, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10). God tells Isaiah upfront that the people to whom he is prophesying are not going to respond favorably to His message. Isaiah was to keep prophesying until Israel’s land was laid waste in God’s judgment against them; yet, in His grace and mercy, God would spare a remnant through whom He would send His Son to give the opportunity for all men to be saved from their sins (Isaiah 6:11-14).

Finally, Isaiah was to serve God in hope and trust in the Lord’s promises. Isaiah’s wife bears him two sons, Shear-Jashub (i.e. meaning “A Remnant Shall Return”) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (i.e. meaning “Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Booty”) whose names describe the essence of Isaiah’s ministry as he proclaims Israel’s coming punishment for her sins and how only a remnant of God’s people will remain following God’s judgment against them. In a great response of faith, Isaiah says, “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait on the Lord, Who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him. Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, Who dwells in Mount Zion” (Isaiah 8:16-18). Even though Isaiah knew his ministry would not be viewed as a “success” in the eyes of the world, he was going to serve God in hope and trust in God’s promises.

As I consider Isaiah’s call to his ministry, I am reminded that God calls me to serve in spite of my own inadequacies and whether or not my service to Him will be viewed as a “success” by the world’s standards. He asks me to just serve Him in hope and trust in His promises. Today, I find encouragement from Isaiah’s call to ministry as I go forth to serve the Lord!

“His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'” (Matthew 25:21).

7/24/16 “The Lord’s Vineyard” (Daily Bible Reading: Isaiah 2-5)

“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:1-2).

Have you ever planted a garden or watched a farmer working with his crops? When I was a boy, my father made my brothers and I take care of a huge garden. We spent a lot of time planting, hoeing, and harvesting. As we did so, we expected it to bring forth a bountiful harvest.

In Isaiah 5 God pictures His people as a vineyard which He has planted: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7a). God had diligently nourished them: “…He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it” (Isaiah 5:2a). As a farmer expects a proper harvest from the seed he has planted, so the Lord expected a proper response from the people He had blessed: “So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:2b). Furthermore, He adds, “He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Isaiah 5:7b).

As the chapter progresses, God describes the iniquity His people were bringing forth. They had become greedy (Isaiah 5:8-10). Many among His people had become noted for their drunkenness: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them!” (Isaiah 5:11). Furthermore, the Lord describes them as carrying on their sinful activity everywhere they went: “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18). God’s people were refusing to recognize evil and, in fact, were approving of it: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

As a result of these “wild grapes” which God’s people were bringing forth by their rebellion against God, God was going to bring His judgment upon His people’s iniquities: “And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it” (Isaiah 5:5-6). Sadly, God had to render justice on the vineyard He had so lovingly planted.

As I think about this 5th chapter of Isaiah, I think: “How do I respond to God’s love and care for me?” God provides for my physical needs. He makes sure to provide for my food and clothing (Matthew 6:30-32). I am awed by the way He nourishes me. Even when I messed up my own life by falling into sin, which separated me from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Isaiah 59:1-2), God provided a way for me to be saved from my sins through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16). God has shown great care for me. I do not want to respond to His grace by bringing forth “wild grapes” in rebellion to God. Today, I will strive to respond to God by showing respect and reverence for Him by obeying His Will in my life that I may bring forth a harvest that is pleasing in His sight!

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

7/23/16 “My People Do Not Consider” (Daily Bible Reading: Song of Solomon 6-Isaiah 1)

“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; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider’” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

The book of Isaiah is like a miniature Bible. There are 66 chapters in the book. The first 39 chapter (like the 39 books of the Old Testament) are filled with pointing out the sinfulness of man. As a result judgment is coming. But, the final 27 chapters of the book (like the 27 books of the New Testament) declare a message of hope: The Messiah is coming as Savior to save them from their sins.

As the opening verses above indicate, Isaiah begins his vision which he sees concerning Judah and Jerusalem, by pointing out how God had cared for His people, but His people did not care about God (Isaiah 1:1-3). In an effort to correct His people’s sinful behavior, God had rebuked and chastened His people by allowing them to be attacked by the surrounding nations. However, their hearts do not change after receiving such correction. The Lord asks, “Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment” (Isaiah 1:5-6).

During Isaiah’s ministry, God’s people are bent on forsaking God. Yet, they still come to worship God even though their hearts are not really into following God: “‘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’” (Isaiah 1:11). God could not stomach seeing them vainly worship Him from their hardened and rebellious hearts: “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” (Isaiah 1:13). God would not accept their worship: “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” (Isaiah 1:15).

However, in spite of their hypocritical behavior, in love God still reaches out to His people: “‘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 1:18). He pleads with them to have a change of heart and show true repentance: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

As I read this first chapter of Isaiah, I am struck with how God’s message to the people of Isaiah’s day is similar to God’s message to us today. We all struggle with sin. We often act hypocritical in our relationship with God. Many times, we say that we love Him, but by our actions we demonstrate we do not. Yet, God still loves us and reaches out to us in love. I appreciate God’s great love for me. I rejoice in the fact that He doesn’t give up on me even though that is often what I deserve. Today, I will consider these things and serve Him, not with a hypocritical heart, but with my whole heart!

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

7/22/16 “My Beloved is Mine, and I am His” (Daily Bible Reading: Song of Solomon 1-5)

“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace. How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! How much better than wine is your love, and the scent of your perfumes than all spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:9-10).

Why is Song of Solomon a part of the Scriptures? This is a love song between Solomon and the woman he loves. Why did God include this book, which is so different in its style from the rest of the Bible, as part of the canon of the Scriptures? I believe it is because God, in His infinite wisdom, wanted to show us that strong, passionate sexual desire between two people who are married is a wonderful and beautiful blessing. When God created everything, the only thing He said was not good was for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). When God brought Eve to him, he desired her, wanted to be joined to her and become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24). God joined them together as husband and wife. They were naked together and desirous of each other and had nothing of which to be ashamed (Genesis 2:25). There was nothing perverse or “x-rated” about this. Sex within the bounds of God’s law between a husband and wife is nothing of which to be ashamed. It is a beautiful thing that is a gift from God: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” (Hebrews 13:4).

Such sexual desire between a husband and wife is beautifully portrayed throughout the Song of Solomon. Although some of the language used such as describing his wife’s teeth as a “flock of sheep” or her temples as “a piece of pomegranate” (Song of Solomon 6:6-7) is not exactly the language we might use today, throughout the book we see the beauty of feeling and expressing sexual desire to one’s spouse. First, they each longed for each other. In the opening verses above, Solomon expresses this saying his spouse had “ravished” his heart (Song of Solomon 4:9-10).

Second, they rejoiced as they beheld each other’s beauty. Each of them viewed their mate with splendor. Solomon said of his wife: “How fair and how pleasant you are, O love, with your delights!” (Song of Solomon 7:6). She reciprocated his desire for her by saying, “My beloved is white and ruddy, chief among ten thousand” (Song of Solomon 5:10). They were confident that their mate’s sexual desire was only them and not some other. The wife said, “I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10).

Finally, they rejoiced in coming together sexually to celebrate their love for each other. His wife beautifully portrays herself as a garden among which her husband is coming to feed as they come together sexually as one flesh: “My beloved has gone to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine. He feeds his flock among the lilies” (Song of Solomon 6:2-3).

The Song of Solomon reminds me of the wonderful, beautiful gift that God has given husbands and wives. All because the world violates the bounds of God’s laws regarding sex by engaging in sinful sexual activity outside God’s bounds of marriage doesn’t mean as Christians we should avoid talking about the beauty of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. Today, I rejoice that God has included this book as part of the Scriptures as it serves to remind me that it is wonderful that my wife and I should desire each other and embrace joining together and becoming one flesh!

“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3).

7/21/16 “The Conclusion of the Whole Matter” (Daily Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 11-12)

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us how he set out to determine man’s purpose in living: “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). To his credit, he takes time to reflect upon the question: “Why am I here”? Throughout the remainder of the book, he describes the different ways in which he tried to find happiness apart from God. He attempted to find meaning in life by building great works, seeking pleasures, and accumulating wealth. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11). However, these things ultimately brought him no sense of meaning or happiness to his life because he realizes that, like all of us, he going to face death and cannot take these things with him. It is vanity to seek after such things (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

Death is coming. It is an appointment that cannot be avoided no matter how much we may not want to think about it (Hebrews 9:27). Knowing our own deaths are coming, however, has the positive benefit of causing us to contemplate how we should be living our lives upon this earth (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4). It causes us to take a more serious look at our lives on earth as we consider: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

As the opening verses above indicate, Solomon’s conclusion to the purpose of life is very simple: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). You may be thinking, “That is an awfully simplistic view of life!” This is just the point! Life really is simple! We tend to make life so much more complicated than it has to be. We have a tendency to go out and elevate things such as careers, wealth, and pleasures and make them the major priority in our lives when they should not be. As a result we bring a lot of misery upon ourselves as we pull ourselves apart trying to go in a bunch of different directions at once and weighing our hearts down with a lot of worthless worries. Solomon said, “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). We need to focus on just one main goal in life instead of pursuing a lot of “vain” things. We should live life holding God in reverence and striving to walk within the boundaries of His law and everything else in life will fall into its proper place.

As Solomon concludes the whole matter regarding purpose and meaning in one’s life, he urges young people to, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Live a long a prosperous life with meaning and purpose by serving God. Don’t waste your years “sowing your wild oats” and end up regretting that you wasted so much of your life following after “vanity”.

Today, I rejoice that God has given me purpose for living. I don’t have to search out what my purpose is in life. He has told me: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Today, I will strive to hold God in the highest reverence and be content living within the boundaries of His Word. I will not let Satan lead my heart astray by seeking after many “schemes”!

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

7/20/16 “Living in Hope” (Daily Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 9-10)

“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:3-4).

Helen Keller, who at age 19 months contracted an illness which left her both deaf and blind, once stated, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”. Like, Solomon in the opening verses above, she stresses the importance that hope plays in our lives.

In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon has been searching out the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes 1:13). As he does so, he notes much of what occupies man’s life on this earth, such as building great works, seeking pleasures, and accumulating wealth, is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11). This is because all are going to face death and cannot take these things with them (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). However, the knowledge we are going to eventually face death is not all bad. It causes us to consider our purpose for living (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4). Furthermore, as the opening verses above indicate, as long as we have air in our lungs and a beat in our hearts, we can live in hope with regard to our futures.

A sick person can hope to get well. A person stricken with poverty can hope to gain enough wealth to get out of debt and enjoy some prosperity. A lonely person can hope to one day find the right mate for life. However, the greatest hope we have is the hope of enjoying eternity with God in heaven in a place where there is “no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Revelation 21:3). While we are still alive on this earth, we have every opportunity to get our lives right with God through His Son Jesus Christ so that this hope may be realized (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16).

The importance hope plays in the life of the child of God cannot be overemphasized. We don’t hope for the things of just this life. The apostle Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The Christian’s hope goes far beyond the grave as he or she looks forward to God raising their dead body from the grave at the 2nd Coming of Christ. The Christian’s hope in God is what motivates them to live differently than the rest of the world: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). A child of God has a hope and a faith that are strongly tied together: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Today, as I consider these words of Solomon I reflect upon the importance hope plays in my life. Praise God that He has given me the opportunity to enjoy salvation and to have a hope not only during my days on this earth, but a hope which goes far beyond the grave. I will strive to cling to this hope which is the anchor of my soul!

Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:17-19).

7/19/16 “Going to the House of Mourning” (Daily Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 6-8)

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth; better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4).

So many in our society seem to live to go out and party. They love to dwell on laughing and having a good time. There is nothing wrong with experiencing some laughter and joy in one’s life. Solomon wrote there is a time to engage in such things: “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). However, as the opening verses above show, the wise man indicates it is foolish to constantly pursue wanting to go to the “house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).

In fact, Solomon indicates it is better to go to a funeral than to go to a party. You may be thinking: “Is he crazy?” However, remember that in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us how he set out to determine man’s purpose in living (Ecclesiastes 1:13). He is seeking the answer to the question, “Why am I here on this earth and what is my purpose for living”?

Going to a funeral certainly helps one focus on seeking the answer to that question. Consider some of the positive benefits of taking time to consider one’s death. First, it reminds each of us that death is an appointment each of us has to keep unless the Lord returns again during our lifetimes. Solomon writes, “…for that is the end of all men” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). The Hebrew writer stated, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Second, going to a funeral, helps us to take the most important matters of life to heart. Speaking about going to the house of mourning and seeing the end that awaits us, the wise man adds, “And the living will take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). There are things in life I should take lightly such as being able to laugh at times at my own mistakes. However, there are things in life we should ponder deeply such as one’s purpose for living. Going to a funeral and considering that one day it will be me in the casket, helps me to consider deeply the question: “What is my purpose in living?”

Finally, going to the house of mourning brings a “sad countenance” to us which Solomon writes, “by which the heart is made better”. Just as there is a time to “laugh” and to “dance”, there is a time to “weep” and a time to “mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Sometimes, we tend to want to avoid all weeping and mourning and just engage in those activities that are fun and bring laughter. However, the wise man tells us that we should be willing to engage in the emotions of weeping and mourning because they help to make our hearts better. This does not mean we should go around being depressed all the time, but it does mean it is a sign of a healthy heart when one is willing to embrace and acknowledge that they are feeling sadness and want to weep.

Today, I will not fear going to the “house of mourning”. I will embrace feelings of sadness and not seek to avoid them as they help me to have a healthy heart, to think soberly about my purpose for living, and to remind me of my own upcoming appointment with death. I don’t have to avoid thinking about death, but as I contemplate my own death I can rejoice knowing that following my death I will resurrected to enjoy an eternity with God in my heavenly home!

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

7/18/16 “A Time for Judgment” (Daily Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 3-5)

“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” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).

These verses are more than part of the popular song “Turn, Turn, Turn” performed by The Byrds. These words were written by King Solomon centuries before as he was pursuing man’s purpose in living (Ecclesiastes 1:13). As he contemplates on the vanity of one’s trying to live life apart from God pursuing labor, wealth, and power, he considers that there must be more to life than this.

He mentions that God made man unique from the animals. He mentions that both men and animals die: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). Although his initial perception is that both men and animals die, he is aware that there spirits head in different directions following death: “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

Furthermore, God has placed something within the heart of man that He has not placed within the hearts of animals: “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 3:11). Did you catch that? God has put “eternity” in the hearts of men. Instead of simply living for the here and now like an animal does as it pursues its daily food and mating desires, man should pursue something much greater. Man should be pursuing those things which are of eternal consequence!

Moreover that same verse (Ecclesiastes 3:11) mentions that no one can find out everything about the work which God does. We simply cannot comprehend it all no matter how hard we pursue it: “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. That which is has already been, and what is to be has already been; and God requires an account of what is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15). Why does God not allow man to understand everything God does? So that men should “fear” Him! As men live with “eternity” in their hearts, they should do so understanding their relationship to God as their Creator and walk humbly before Him. They also need to realize the day is coming when God is going to require of them “an account of what is past” (i.e. how they lived their lives on this earth).

Solomon sees that sometimes men do not execute justice: “Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). However, Solomon did not despair because he knew, just as there was a time for everything else under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), there was coming a time when God would execute true justice on the Day of Judgment: “I said in my heart, ‘God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work’” (Ecclesiastes 3:17).

Today, as I consider this chapter from Ecclesiastes, I marvel at how God created me different than the animals. Because He has given me “eternity” in my heart, I will pursue those things of eternal consequence so that I will be prepared to inherit the wonderful place He has prepared for me in Heaven when I face Him and give an account of my past life here on this earth!

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

7/17/16 “The Vanity of Living for the Present” (Daily Bible Reading: Proverbs 30-Ecclesiastes 2)

"‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).

The key word in Ecclesiastes is “vanity”. The book shows the futile emptiness of trying to be happy apart from God. It is a book so pertinent to today because multitudes will go to their graves this day having tried to live a life apart from God.

In this book, Solomon tells us how he set out to determine man’s purpose in living: “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). To his credit, Solomon takes time to reflect upon the question: “Why am I here”? Throughout the remainder of the book, he describes the different ways in which he tried to find happiness apart from God.

As he begins, Solomon tries to find happiness mirth and pleasure. However, he did not find joy there (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). Next, he turns to accomplishing great works such as building houses and gardens, but happiness eludes him still (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). Then he sought happiness through gathering much wealth and material things (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8). Even though he had become “great” with regard to his riches (Ecclesiastes 2:9), happiness was still not within his grasp: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

In fact, instead of bringing him joy, the accumulation of such vast amounts of wealth brought him sadness as he considered that he will one day have to leave it all to someone else (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16). In fact, he came to despair and hate his life: “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18). However, Solomon could have found some joy in his labor had he kept it in its proper perspective. His labor wasn’t the place where he would find ultimate happiness, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t experience any joy or satisfaction from his labor: “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24; cf. 3:12-13; 5:18-20).

As I read these first 2 chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes, it is humbling because I am reminded of how I need to stop and ponder the question: “Why am I here”? It is so easy to just get up and go to school or work without taking time to consider, “Why am I doing this”? When I consider a man like Solomon, who had what most people today would consider “everything”, but yet still could not find happiness, I am reminded how easily it is to just live life and at the end of it have many regrets because I failed to consider what life was really about. It is complete vanity to live for the here and now! I don’t want to live a life full of regrets. I want to live a purpose driven life. Today, I will not search for happiness apart from God. Instead, I will relentlessly pursue God and His Will for my life because I know in Him alone will I find true happiness!

“Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

7/16/16 “Considering the Cause of the Poor” (Daily Bible Reading: Proverbs 27-29)

“The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understand such knowledge” (Proverbs 29:7).

Jesus said, “For you have the poor with you always….” (Matthew 26:11). There will always be poor people among us which are in poverty for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons are terrible circumstances such as health problems which have created huge medical expenses, family tragedies such as a parent leaving the family and creating financial hardship for the surviving parent, and economic reasons such as losing one’s job because of job cutbacks from one’s prior employer. However, other reasons for one’s experiencing poverty are self-inflicted such as choosing to drop out of school, engaging in sexual activity before marriage and having children before one is financially prepared to do so, or engaging in harmful activity such as drug and alcohol use.

How should one view the poor? The book of Proverbs warns us about mistreating the poor. First, we should not oppress the poor: “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). Furthermore, we should not look down on the poor: “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 17:5). Moreover, we should not shut our ears to the cry of the poor: “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard” (Proverbs 21:13).

As the opening verse above indicates, we should “consider” the cause of the poor (Proverbs 29:7). We should not be hasty to assume the reason for a person’s poverty is self-inflicted. Instead, we should approach the poor with an attitude of empathy realizing, but for the grace of God, we also could be inflicted with poverty: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17). We need to remember the Lord made us both: “The rich and the poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).

Our desire must be to help the poor by supplying what they need: “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). Solomon also states that God will bless those who give to the poor: “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses” (Proverbs 28:27). Moreover, he notes, “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches” (Proverbs 13:7).

Supplying what one who is in poverty needs is not always easy to determine. For example, if the poor person’s poverty is self-inflicted because of drug or alcohol use, is giving them money what they really need? Again, this doesn’t mean we should prejudge every poor person and assume their poverty is self-inflicted. The point is we need to pray for wisdom and discernment regarding how best to help someone who is struggling in poverty. Today, I will guard against looking down and prejudging those in poverty. I will remember that God is the Maker of both those who are afflicted with poverty and me. I realize that, but by the grace of God, terrible circumstances could have happened to me that would have led me to poverty. I will have a generous disposition towards the poor and “consider” their cause and pray for God’s wisdom to know how best to help them.

“There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself. The people will curse him who withholds grain, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it” (Proverbs 11:24-26).

7/15/16 “Repeating Folly” (Daily Bible Reading: Proverbs 23-26)

“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).

Do you ever wonder why some people make the same mistakes over and over again? More importantly, as I look at myself, why do I find myself repeating the same mistakes over and over?

The book of Proverbs has much to say regarding the subject of “repeating folly”. The foolish person appears to take pride in being foolish: “Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, but a man of understanding walks uprightly” (Proverbs 15:21). The fool has convinced himself that he is right and everyone else is wrong: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15; cf. 14:12; 16:25). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Rather than humbling himself before God and trying to learn, the fool considers lightly the consequences of his sin and deceives not only his own heart, but he also works at trying to deceive others as well: “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit. Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is favor” (Proverbs 14:8-9).

As a result, the foolish person often finds themselves suffering hardship from their choices: “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). The fool finds himself constantly having to endure punishment: “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool's back” (Proverbs 26:3). Moreover, the Scriptures say, “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (Proverbs 19:29). Punishment is afflicted upon the fool in an attempt to “beat” wisdom into him: “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge” (Proverbs 19:25). Furthermore, Solomon adds, “When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge” (Proverbs 21:11).

However, often instead learning from his mistakes, the fool just continues to repeat them: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Proverbs 27:22). The foolish person often continues to defend himself and isolates himself from all those who would try to help him: “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). Solomon adds, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Proverbs 18:1). Even though the foolish are suffering the consequences of their own actions, they often turn against God and blame Him for their own self-caused misery: “The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3). Solomon summarizes the foolish person: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

As I read all these verses, I can say I have known a lot of people that fit Solomon’s description of a “fool”. However, rather than pointing a finger at them and patting myself on the back, I need to consider that I do not want to act like a fool. I need to be wise and be willing to accept correction: “Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding, But a rod is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding” (Proverbs 10:13). I need to consider the path I am taking and the decisions I am making: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 27:12). Today, I will strive to gain wisdom and not repeat my folly!

“Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear” (Proverbs 25:12).

7/14/16 “Stirring Up Strife” (Daily Bible Reading: Proverbs 20-22)

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips” (Proverbs 20:19).

Erma Bombeck once said, “Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It's gossip”. Unfortunately, I have to agree with her because this is a sin which is very prevalent. Gossip is a temptation that begins early in life as teenagers engage in a lot of “drama” regarding their relationships with each other at school. It continues as we are tempted to talk about others with whom we are at odds whether at our workplace or even in the church. As the opening verses above indicate, we are warned not to associate those who want to partake in gossiping about others.

For some gossip is appealing: “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. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body” (Proverbs 26:20-22). The words of a “talebearer” can be “tasty” (i.e. they can pique our interest). However, gossip is not a harmless activity. It is evil. In fact, note that the wise man describes a “talebearer” as being “perverse” and “ungodly”: “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:27-28).

Many problems arise from gossip. It creates strife among people and it separates friends: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Proverbs 17:9; cf. Proverbs 16:28). Gossip also prevents peace from being able to occur between two who at odds with each other because continuing to spread gossip causes the contention between them to grow: “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14).

Although we may know that gossip is not an activity in which we should engage, how should we react when we see it occurring all around us at the workplace, school or even at church? First, avoid the temptation by not associating with those who are prone to gossip (Proverbs 20:19). Second, resist from meddling in a quarrel that is not your own: “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17). Third, be wise enough to not believe just one side of the story of a person’s grudge against another: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Finally, instead of letting hate fill your heart and gossiping about the hurt someone has done to you, follow the example of Jesus and seek to cover up the transgression committed against you with love: “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12).

Gossip is a terrible evil that too many, even among Christians, want to overlook as just a “small” sin. It is not. It is ungodly and is an activity in which only those who are perverse in mind and spirit engage. What was true in Solomon’s day is still true today: “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Proverbs 11:13). Today, I will strive to avoid the sin of gossiping by avoiding known gossips, by resisting the temptation to listen to the “tasty trifles” about others, by having wisdom to hear both sides of a matter before reaching a conclusion, and by striving to follow the example of my Savior Jesus Christ to cover up the hurts done to my with love.

“It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

7/13/16 “The Challenges of Parenting” (Daily Bible Reading: Proverbs 18-19)

“Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Proverbs 19:18).

Speaking about parenting is difficult. I do not pretend to know everything about parenting, but I am glad that God has given guidance through His Word to equip me for the challenging task of guiding my children in the Lord. What does the book of Proverbs have to say about this subject?

As the father of two beautiful daughters, I deeply love my children. However, God, through the book of Proverbs, teaches me some realities about my children that I need to understand and embrace if I am to give them the guidance they need to have a successful and blessed life. First, Proverbs pictures a child as being full of foolishness and, as a parent, one of my responsibilities, is to drive the foolishness out of them: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Parents who are willing to endure their child not “liking” them for instilling in their children the discipline and the correction they need, will be able to “rejoice” in the future when the parents see their children maturing in the Lord: “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Again the wise man adds, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice” (Proverbs 23:24-25).

On the other hand, a foolish child will bring great pains to a parent: “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25; cf. Proverbs 10:1). How does a child grow up to be foolish? First, foolishness in a child can be caused by a parents failure to correct the child: “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15). Second, a child can become foolish by the child’s own failure to embrace the correction received from parents: “A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5). Again, the writer warns children about their attitude in receiving instruction and correction from parents: “Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in deep darkness” (Proverbs 20:20). In other words, both the parents and the child have a part to play in determining whether or not the child will become wise or foolish: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20).

The 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, is credited with coining the phrase, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”. As parents, early in our children’s lives, as if bending the twig of a young tree, we are to act upon them to help shape and mold them so they may grow into all that God would have them to be. The action God expects parents to take to bend and mold their children may seem harsh to many in today’s society: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24). Furthermore, God’s Word adds: “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13-14).The Bible does not advocate physically abusing one’s children, but it does emphasize that strong measures may have to be taken to correct them.

Today, the task of parenting in such a permissive age is extremely challenging. In many homes, it seems the children are controlling the parents instead of the parents having control of the children. Today, I will strive to follow God’s guidance and have the determination and resoluteness I need to train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).