Resurrection Sunday: “The Evidence” – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 21-22

Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.

At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.

Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:

Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.

If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.

This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.

It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.

I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…

Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.

Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”

Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.

Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.

Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.

Four Writers Blended

Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:

The Soldiers

It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:

It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.

The Women

A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).

Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).

Mary of Magdala

During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).

At the Disciples’ Chamber

Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.

Peter and John at the Tomb

Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).

At the Temple

Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).

On the Road

On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.

The Twelve

By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.

Over the Next Month

Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.

A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).

His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.

Those are the accounts.

There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…

“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”

Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…

First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).

Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.

Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:

Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:

Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.

These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.

Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).

How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.

Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:

53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!

Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).

Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.

Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!

Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).

Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.

The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.

Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).

Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!

Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….

How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?

In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.

First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.

Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.

Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.

Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!

Justin Martyr wrote:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement of Rome described the believer:

He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.

Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!

When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).

Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…

• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.

Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?

It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

Following Jesus: “Famous Last Words” – (Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19)

Because I am privileged to shepherd people, I have often been in the room of one when they are leaving the body and entering into eternity. The last words they utter aren’t always brilliant or meaningful, but sometimes they tell us something about the person that uttered them. Consider some of these as they lay dying.

Some people show what was most significant to them in that moment. For instance:

Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”

• Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”

• Nostradamus still showboating his supposed predictive ability exclaimed, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.

• Convicted murderer James W. Rodgers was led in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

• When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”

• The poetess Emily Dickinson’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

• But I found particularly touching and dedicated to his craft, the words of surgeon Joseph Henry Green who was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”

For some people, their last words may well show their attitude toward life and the people they shared it with:

• Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”

• As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

• Actor Michael Landon, best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, died of cancer in 1991. His family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”

• John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

• Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

• Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

• Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” (adapted from mentalfloss.com)

It isn’t a stretch for us to recognize that people can utter important things as they leave this earth. The same was true of our Savior. In fact, if you examine the words He spoke from the Cross (as recorded by the early Apostles and Gospel writers) you will note one significant truth…

Key Principle: The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

It is important for us to remember that our view of the death of Jesus 2000 years later is very different from the view they had that Friday long ago. The people around the Cross likely had little concept of what they were seeing.

• Some, no doubt, thought a “trouble maker” was being “put down” and peace would follow.

• Others who were more politically minded may have felt this was just one more in a long series of injustices that unjustly punished their people by an occupying force.

• Some close to Jesus likely had broken hearts over the terrible personal loss as Jesus hung dying.

All of the things people felt as they watched Jesus suffer grossly seemed very real to the people on the scene, but they were but a pale view of what was truly happening.

God was effecting full payment for the sin of mankind by exacting the price of a perfect sacrifice. Few, if any, could have really understood the work, despite God’s long standing promises to offer this gift.

In this lesson, we want to look at two passages that describe the day of the Crucifixion. First, we want to see the people who gathered and consider what they saw of the event (though we have already admitted they were likely all missing the point). After looking at those standing around, we want to consider the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and what they revealed to those who listened then, and those who will listen now…

Go back to the edge of the walled city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and stand amid the olive tree grove watching a public execution early one Friday morning. Who was there? What were they doing? What were they like?

Take a moment and turn to Matthew 27, and you will see them…

Hard to miss among the crowds were the Roman soldiers:

The words introduce them almost as a natural part of the city, though they were nothing close to “natural.” Matthew recorded:

Mt. 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him…33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Look at these men! Like many people in our world, these soldiers:

• Exuded confidence and felt they were important people handling considerable power that felt no need of God in their lives (27:27).

• Seemed totally unfeeling toward Jesus and took no time to consider His life or claims (27:27b-29). HE was irrelevant to them.

• Shoved Jesus where they wanted Him (27:33), gave Jesus what they wanted Him to have – and thought nothing of it all (27: 34).

• Grabbed from Jesus what they thought they could get (27:35), and then were content to stand back and watch Jesus (27:36).

• They didn’t mind placating other people’s weak needs for a leader – but they didn’t feel they needed one! (27:37)

You know people like these guys. They are people who think they are powerful, God is irrelevant or inconvenient and they can handle things without Him. They own life. They live perfectly within the illusion of control, nearly limitless youthful energy, and nothing ahead but a future they forge with their own hands. God could get nothing they weren’t willing to give, and they weren’t interested in hearing what He wanted from them. They see only what they know. Theirs is not the world of nursing homes. They don’t do sickness and hospitals. They have life by the tail…

Then the dark days come.

Reality knocks, power wanes, the new kid is now climbing the ladder and is about to get your corner office. Health fades. The self-sufficiency illusion begins to fade. They get closer to the end than the beginning of life. Their strength can no longer get them what they want. People stop listening; stop following. Throughout life they thought they could “handle God”. They weren’t thinking of the future when the ride neared its end.

Matthew spoke of others at the scene. Some were forced into being there…I am thinking of Matthew 27:32. Take a look…

Compelled to be a part was Simon the Cyrene:

Matthew reported: Mt. 27:32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

He is not unknown to historians of the New Testament. We could easily compare this to Mark 15:21 and read about his family as well.

Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

Every indication in the narrative leads us to the conclusions that:

• Simon was not intentionally trying to find Jesus, nor follow Jesus – but Jesus was thrust into his path.

• Simon was abused by virtue of some blatant racism and mistreated out of prejudice.

• The experience changed him and his family. They followed Jesus and his children became leaders among the believers. Mark declares that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus- two well known Christians of the first generation of followers after the Cross. Many believe (though it is impossible to know for sure) one was referred to at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in:

Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”

Perhaps you know someone who was passing through life abused by others, bruised, and perhaps even the subject of racism or other gross injustices. They weren’t looking for Jesus, but suddenly they saw Him crushed unfairly in front of their eyes. They found in Him One who understood their pain and was intimately familiar with their inner hurt. They were compelled to follow Him, and they took others with them because of their testimony.

Maybe that isn’t a story close to you. Maybe it took MORE for you to really grab hold of Jesus. Maybe you were just too busy to stop and really seek Him. You were more like those in Matthew 27:39…

Mocking Shoppers:

Matthew set the Cross before a busy street scene outside the city wall…

Matthew 27:39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Jerusalem was at its busiest at Passover. Many people were:

• So busy with the holiday season they really couldn’t stop and listen to the truth when it was right in front of them!

• Even without examination, they were sufficiently sure that what they hadn’t carefully considered wasn’t true or worth the time – so they had no need to carefully consider it.

• They hurled accusations at One they did not understand and did not honestly care enough to carefully consider His claims.

All the people of this group thought they were busy doing important things. They thought they knew enough (having picked up “seeds” of moral truth along the way), but they knew only enough to do what they wanted. In the end, they urged Jesus to save Himself – the very opposite of what they truly needed. They needed Him to die for them – but they didn’t take the time to understand God’s Word beyond the sound bites – so they didn’t know it.

I can’t help but notice the…

Temple leaders:

Matthew offers a brief nod to their mocking of Jesus as they piously stood in judgment:

Matthew. 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Isn’t that the way those who prefer religion over God look at things? They were:

• Religious men, “professionals for God” dressed in easily identifiable by their garb. They didn’t blend into the crown – they were better than that!

• They had a system that worked out to care for all the eternal issues, even though it was not in step with God at all. They didn’t walk intimately with Him, and there were times the coldness of their heart showed in the cruelty of their lips.

• They accused Jesus of impotence (while He patiently suffered – “cannot save Himself”).

• They accused Jesus as making false claims (“king”, “trusts in God”, “delights in God”, “Son of God”) but did not show the hearts of those who would desire brokenness and intimacy – for that is not the religious way.

Surely you have met them. A bit of theology mixed with a bit of homespun morality and “poof” – there is a religious mind made up to teach you what God SHOULD want – even if it isn’t what His Word says concerning what He DOES want. It usually has a misshapen Jesus Who fits into their already preconceived notion of righteousness. For the religious mind, God must fit their theology – and He must do only that which they deem important. There is a thick skin of the heart that religion forms – often making it impossible to touch the tender heart of God – or have Him touch us.

Move away from the crowd for a few minutes and move closer to the Cross. Luke 23 includes half of the words of Jesus at the Cross….We need to listen closely for the last words of a dying Savior. He has something to reveal. He will tell us why He came. He will explain what His life meant. He will also make clear what His death would accomplish.

Meet Jesus at the Cross. Listen to His words… whoever you are.

This was the place of finality. It didn’t seem like it. It looked like another injustice, another tragedy, another loss. That KEPT happening long past the Romans…. but this was a place of finality despite the appearance. The Cross was the dramatic signature event where Divine character and compassion overcame the consequence of human sin. It was the place where eternal love was demonstrated in temporal sacrifice.

Jesus went to the Cross in order that we, through his death and the marker of the acceptance of the payment at the Resurrection might have a permanent and personal relationship with God. In the weakness of His body, Jesus brought us the POWER of God to save us.

When Jesus followers speak of “the Cross”, we’re not thinking a rough piece of wood attached to a stump of tree and chained together; it is much more than that. For us, “the Cross” is our family “shorthand” expression for the death of Jesus.

The Cross is the place “where Heaven’s love met Heaven’s justice”.

On that Cross, Jesus spoke. Seven times His words were recorded in history.

THE FIRST WORD: FORGIVE

Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It is not out of character that Jesus cried out to the Father in Heavene to “Forgive them.”

Was He referring merely to the soldiers who stripped Him and nailed Him to that tree? Was He asking on behalf of mocking shoppers who passed by? Was He asking on behalf of those pious but pompous religious slanderers? Did His call for forgiveness include Pilate who sentenced Him?

Jesus forgave all of those who had no idea what they were doing. It was for their forgiveness the plan was being fulfilled.

• He did it for every professor or religious teacher who hated Him.
• He did it for the men who bribed Judas for a false testimony.
• He did it for every disciple who cheated on Him and lived out fear instead of faith and self instead of service.
• He did it for the ones who promised they wouldn’t deny Him and did, and for the ones who yelled, “Kill Him!” because they lacked any sense of the One about whom they spoke.
• He did it for Pilate and for every person in power who is deluded enough to believe that power in this life translates into power in the next.

Jesus called for the Father to forgive them all… What does this tell us?

It revealed a wonder from the Cross. There is forgiveness. There is MORE than temporary abatement of God’s wrath that was available in the blood of bulls and goats. There is complete forgiveness in ONE sacrifice.

Here is the truth: Only the One paying the price can truly reveal why He is doing it, and part of what He told us is that He wanted the Father to forgive the guilty by means of the payment of the Perfect.

Jesus wanted forgiveness for all who have lived a life for self. Can you honestly say you haven’t? I can’t! The old Negro spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I was. So were you. So were many who never stopped to think about it. What is clear from the words spoken from the Cross is this was a place of profound forgiveness.

THE SECOND WORD: PARADISE

Dr. Luke picked up more important and revealing words from Jesus on the Cross…

Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The first word dealt with the world, but the second dealt with one needy and perishing criminal. Isaiah promised the One coming would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Jesus was. He was placed between two men. One derided him for not getting them all free. The other identified his own guilt, and turned to Jesus humbly. He knew what He needed and He identified Jesus as able to provide the forgiveness He had proclaimed for those around Him.

Jesus promised the man “Paradise” the English version of an ancient Persian word for a “planned and walled beautiful garden”. Persian kings were noted for offering friends the opportunity to walk in their lavish gardens. Jesus promised a filthy criminal, blood stained, with profuse odors of fallen humanity all about him – the opportunity to join Him in the garden of His Father.

What does that tell us?

The man offered Jesus nothing but putrefaction. There was nothing of fortune, fame, power or pleasure the man could offer Jesus. He gave Him nothing but himself – and that was all Jesus needed to make the promise of Paradise!

THE THIRD WORD: MOTHER

John 19:26,27: Jesus said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple ’Here is your mother.

Jesus was not removed from our human experience. He was fully God, but fully man as well. His relationships here were not just “His ministry” they were dear to Him on the highest level of emotion. What do I mean? His mom mattered.

Sure, He taught us that “compared to our love for God, our relationships of this world – mother, father, sisters and brothers, children and even spouses – are a distant second. That didn’t mean He didn’t value them. It meant He placed His Father first, and we are to do the same.

In Israel, I make the point to my traveling students that Jesus’ relationship with His family wasn’t as positive as many people dream. It was hard for Him to do the will of His family and clan, and do the will of His Heavenly Father. That brought tension. At the Cross, He reached across the divide of those who struggled to get together in life, and He connected the broken relationships at the place of reconciliation.

This Third Word from the Cross is about relationship – and that is what began the whole story of the Bible. God desired to express relationship. That is why He created. He is relational, and He desires that connection with us. Jesus didn’t discount the value of our love and emotional attachments here.

THE FOURTH WORD: FORSAKEN

Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Darkness fell on Jerusalem that lasted three hours and as the sins of the world, the awful legacy of the man’s mutiny was laid upon Jesus. Paul later noted:

2 Corinthians 5:21:”He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

In the same way the scapegoat of the Hebrew Scriptures was forcibly banished from Jerusalem, so our Savior bore the sin of the world alone – literally. Theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote it this way:

“Christ’s self-emptying was not a single act or bereavement, but a growing poorer and poorer, until at last nothing was left to Him but a piece of ground where He could weep and a Cross where He could die.”

We need to keep this word “forsaken” in mind. When Jesus promised He would never leave you nor FORSAKE you – this must be contrasted to the way He paid for our sin. He was alone so that you and I will NEVER have to be again. His Spirit will be our companion here, and in His presence we will know union of a magnitude unknown in this life. Alone is not a Christian idea, nor a Christian word – not now and not in the time after time to come.

THE FIFTH WORD: THIRST

John 19:28: “I thirst.”

When the Psalmist prophesied that our Lord’s punishment would be graphic and torturous, he wrote:

Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

The idea of payment in blood was no more a theological and theoretical exercise to Jesus than it had been for bulls and goats for generations. This was punishing suffering of body for cleansing of souls.

Why include Jesus’ request for something to drink? After taking literally thousands of people along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, I am convinced it was to help with a huge problem with Jesus followers. We tend to see Jesus in theological terms and not as an actual man. God addressed that by reminding us the same pains we feel, he felt. Sin is costly. His death was real.

THE SIXTH WORD: FINISHED

John 19:30: “It is finished.”

Hanging on the tree, forcing breath in utter agony, Jesus’ body was poised against the darkness. His broken body still offered a voice that carried from that rocky hill and pierced through the skies of Heaven and the depths of Hell as He cried, “Tetelestai… the Greek term for “It is finished!” Jesus cried out to end a long cycle of sin and blood. He paid everything necessary in His death. His work was done.

• The atonement blood of animals was no longer necessary.
• The unanswered mutiny of man was now reversed by a new Adam Who died for any who believe what God has said.
• There is no work we must do, no class we must pass, no power we must muster – He did all.

Ours is only to believe. We need nothing more, but can offer absolutely nothing less. We must believe, or the death is without profit to us. To walk with God, we must trust Him, and believe He is Who He says He is. We must trust what Jesus has done. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. In Him, it is all finished.

THE SEVENTH WORD: COMMIT

Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This final exclamation of Jesus from the Cross was a quotation from Psalm 31:5. David wrote the words in a time of tremendous conflict, and simply showed that he trusted God with everything. Jesus paid for sin and knew God would deal with His dead body. He would see the Father in a matter of moments. Any fear of death, natural to the state of a man, was offset by an overwhelming trust in His Father in Heaven.

That is what the Centurion did at the Cross when HE trusted Jesus. Matthew reminds us:

Mt. 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!

That is what the thief on the cross beside Jesus did when He trusted Jesus for salvation.

Luke 23: 39 “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are some who come to Jesus only minutes before they die. Though they did not love and serve Him in this life, their life was not a waste. Jesus knew that our present existence in this body is but a short preface to a never-ending eternity. Because that is true, then thief’s life was not wasted; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise!

Strip away all the noise and listen to the words of the Savior to the thief. Jesus trusted the Father, and He called all others to trust HIM.

• He demanded we get past the covering mechanisms of selfish pride.
• He called us to set aside our sarcasm we use to cover deep hurt over how life has worked out. We are all called to trust Him, and in Him we will find mercy.

Jesus said all He needed to say.

The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

I am frankly glad that this life isn’t all there is. If it were, I would never be able to face the utter unfairness and the incomplete brokenness I see here.

Emma Reynolds from Australia published a story two days ago that explains what I am trying to say. She wrote:

When she took Nolan to the hospital for the last time, after he had battled cancer for more than a year, he had not eaten or drunk anything in days and was continually vomiting. On February 1, the oncologist sat them down to hear the terrible truth. The four-year-old’s cancer had spread and large tumours were compressing his bronchial tubes and heart just four weeks after open chest surgery. The cancer was no longer treatable. The anguished mother walked into her son’s room, where he was watching YouTube.

Me: Poot, it hurts to breathe doesn’t it?
Nolan: Weeeelll…. yeah.
Me: You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you baby?
Nolan: (looking down) Yeah.
Me: Poot, this Cancer stuff sucks. You don’t have to fight anymore.
Nolan: (Pure Happiness) I DONT??!! But I will for you Mommy!!
Me: No Poot!! Is that what you have been doing?? Fighting for Mommy??
Nolan: Well DUH!!
Me: Nolan Ray, what is Mommy’s job?
Nolan: To keep me SAFE! (With a big grin)
Me: Honey … I can’t do that anymore here. The only way I can keep you safe is in Heaven. (My heart shattering)
Nolan: Sooooo I’ll just go to Heaven and play until you get there! You’ll come right?
Me: Absolutely!! You can’t get rid of Mommy that easy!!
Nolan: Thank you Mommy!!! I’ll go play with Hunter and Brylee and Henry!!

Nolan slept for most of the next few days. His mother made sure things were in order. “I cannot explain to you what signing an Emergency Responder ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order for your angelic son feels like,” she wrote.

When he woke up, Ruth had his things ready to go home for one more night together. But her son was still putting others first. “He gently put his hand on mine and said ‘Mommy, it’s OK. Let’s just stay here OK?’ My 4 year old Hero was trying to make sure things were easy for me …

“So in between sleeping for the next 36 hours, we played, watched YouTube, shot Nerf Gun after Nerf Gun and smiled as many times as we could. An hour or so before he passed he even filled out a ‘Will’! We laid in bed together and he sketched out how he wanted his funeral, picked his pall bearers, what he wanted people to wear, wrote down what he was leaving each of us, and even wrote down what he wanted to be remembered as … which of course was a Policeman.”

At 9pm, while watching Peppa Pig in bed, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. “He said ‘Ummmm OK Mommy. Have Uncle Chris come sit with me and I’ll turn this way so I can see you’. I stood at the bathroom door, turned to him and said ‘Keep looking right here Poot, I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door. They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respiration was extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.

“I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then a miracle that I will never forget happened…. “My angel took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and said ‘I Love You Mommy’, turned his head towards me and at 11:54pm Sgt. Rollin Nolan Scully passed away as I was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”

Nolan loved his family and friends with a fierce devotion, and brought people from across the world together, Ruth said. “He was a warrior who died with dignity and love,” she added. Alongside the bereft mother’s heartfelt letter to her son, she shared a memorable photo of Nolan lying on the bathroom floor, showing how her son was too terrified to leave her side even when she showered.

“Now I’m the one terrified to shower,” she wrote. “With nothing but an empty shower rug now where once a beautiful perfect little boy laid waiting for his Mommy.

Jesus died to give all of us the opportunity to see the world healed, sin destroyed, and death rendered inoperative – because He gave eternal life. Won’t you trust Him? This isn’t all there is. It truly isn’t!

Growing in God’s Love: “Models of Love” – Ruth 3

Have you ever watched an old re-run of Bob Ross painting a landscape. If you haven’t, you should! He was a natural teacher with a humor and soft voice – and was he ever talented with a paint brush!

Robert Norman Ross (October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was a 20 year Air Force veteran (retiring at a rank of Master Sergeant) who became a painter, an art instructor, and a television host of the still popular “Joy of Painting.” His instructional television program aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in the United States, but was also picked up in Canada, Latin America and Europe. What you might not know is that Ross was a Floridian, born in Daytona Beach and raised in Orlando, Florida. He had two sons. Though his show ran in the 80s and 90s, reruns still flood YouTube and other media outlets. Notable art critic Mira Schor called him the “Fred Rogers” of painting, (Referring to the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) and noted both had soft voices and a slower and more soothing pace of speaking. The artist was diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 1990s, and The Joy of Painting’s final episode aired in the Spring of 1994. He died at the age of 52 in the summer of 1995. His grave is in Orange County, Florida (Gotha) and frequently has people who leave small pictures and paintings beside, according to a local resident of the area.

What Bob did was more than bring his large “afro” hairdo to the set and paint landscape pictures; he shared the love of his own personal passion for painting. It was all too obvious that he loved to paint, and he loved to show people they could learn to paint.

Why do I mention this painter to begin this lesson? I don’t want to sacrilegiously compare Bob Ross to our Creator, but I do want you to consider one similarity or reflection: Bob modeled his passion. He may have seemed a bit eccentric, but he truly believed others could learn to do what he was doing. The interesting thing is this: so does the God Who created us. God models love. He shares love…and yes, He teaches us to love. In Ruth 3, you will be able to see this truth…

Key Principle: God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.

Before we get to our continuation of the story of Naomi and Ruth in chapter three, take a moment with me and look at the few descriptive verses about LOVE in 1 Corinthians 13. Ruth 3 is considered the equivalent in the Hebrew Scriptures – the main difference being that Ruth models while Paul (in 1 Corinthians) describes. Look at the description of love as God gave it.

The Description of Love in 1 Corinthians 13

First, a bit of context. Paul was in the middle of a section answering questions about Spiritual gifts, the empowering abilities given at your salvation with the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. He made a point to answer five misunderstandings about these gifts to the church at Corinth. Reading the letter carefully, Paul wanted believers to know:

1. God speaks and engages them (12:1-2).

2. There are basic tools to discern truth from error (12:3).

3. Each believer is unique (cp. 12:4-7).

4. Each believer should be valued (12:8-11).

5. No believer should see themselves as overly important (12:12-31).

Paul then made clear that God had something even BETTER than great empowering gifts for His people. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

Paul said, in essence, because of God’s empowering the church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; yet, because of choices it may lack love for people – and that is the most important ingredient for our work.

The body should seek from God the gifts that would fill out the needs of the whole group, but they should seek something else that was even more critical to the success of the work of reaching people for Jesus. They should seek the highest prized earthly possession of the church in her dealing with one another. They should seek to learn to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in the way God would have us love.

Paul made clear the priority of love in four arguments in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

• Love is more important than great communication skills! (13:1). It didn’t matter if Paul could sing like an angel or argue like a skilled lawyer – the work of making clear the truth required a loving vessel.

• Love is more important than deep spiritual insight (2a). The gift of prophecy uncovered hidden spiritual truth, but it was of little value if issued from a harsh voice and cold life.

• Love is more important than great vision in God’s work. (2b). Faith that moves mountains is dangerous in a loveless servant – they are liable to dump the mountain on the house of someone for whom they have only disdain!

• Love is more important than self-sacrifice (3). Giving of one’s self is truly an act of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice comes from love. Many a parent raised a child out of obligation, but the house was cold because of the absence of true love.

Deep faith won’t make up for a cold heart. Both the traveling priest and the itinerant Levite mentioned by Jesus in the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” seemed to have plenty of faith. What they lacked was love. It was such a lack that it cried loudly to the man who lay beside the road broken and helpless. They crossed over to the other side of the path to avoid making his problem, their problem. In their rush to serve God, they left a man helpless and bleeding beside a road to die alone, and nothing they would teach or oversee in the Temple that week would change that fact.

Did you notice that Paul didn’t finish verse three offering any less than EVERYTHING – self included? Faith isn’t enough without love, and the same is true of generosity! Giving without loving also falls short. Perhaps we give from guilt, or to gain status. Generosity can’t replace love.

Paul explained the practice of love in fifteen short but picturesque descriptions (13:4-7).

It may seem dumb to hear it said, but LOVE (as God described it) is known by its practice. Love isn’t something you FEEL as much as something you CHOOSE to ACT upon. Paul made clear that love is not a mystical force (as in the case of some song writers who believe it is like mud you accidentally “fall into”). Not to sound cold, but love is a clear, calculated and consistent choice.

If He commanded it; we can do it! Even more… when a believer practices love – it can be measured (13:4-7). Paul wrote a description of its appearance:

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Look at the description for a moment:

Love is patient: makro-thumeo “long before burning temperature”. God’s description of real love is the kind that doesn’t “fly off the handle” and become rash in reaction.

Love is kind: chrest-euo-mai: “to show one’s self mild or tender”. Love isn’t rough, but gentle. It isn’t harsh, but mild. If you find you bristle at the sound of someone’s voice and snap at them when they speak to you – you don’t love them.

Pastor Melvin Newland shared a story that I think fits well here. He wrote: “I heard a story about a woman who was standing at a bus stop. She had just cashed her tax refund check, so she was carrying more money than usual & was a little bit nervous about that. She glanced around & noticed a shabbily dressed man standing nearby. And as she watched, she saw a man walk up to him, hand him some money, & whisper something in his ear. She was so touched by that act of kindness that she decided to do the same. In a burst of generosity, she reached into her purse, took out $10, handed it to the man, & whispered to him, “Never despair, never despair.” The next day when she came to the bus stop, there he was again. But this time he walked up to her & handed her $110. Dumbfounded, she asked, “What’s this?” He said, “You won, lady. Never Despair paid 10 to 1.” Pastor Newland went on to make the point that kindness isn’t really kindness when it is self-serving, and it doesn’t always pay back in this life.

Love is not jealous: dzayloo means “to burn with uncontrolled impassioned fervor”. Love hasn’t caused you to lose control. Lust does that, but not love. People will say, “Love makes you do crazy things!” We know what they mean, but it really doesn’t. The Bible simply offers no refuge to the person who says “I couldn’t help it; I just felt so strongly!” Our world has demoted truth and responsibility painfully, while it elevated feeling as the chief of all motivators. God made it clear – don’t blame love.

Love does not brag: Per-pereu-omai means “to verbally celebrate or concentrate on self-issues and accomplishments.” By definition, love is “other person centered” and therefore not unduly focused on self. For every moment we spend justifying our own selfishness, we give up a moment in which we could have loved others. This may seem obvious, but the longer I live the more I see people starved for real love because they have settled for selfishness as a cheap replacement.

Love is not arrogant: Phusio-o means “to become inflated and cause to grow in self-importance” and is the brother to the word “does not brag”. In our culture, someone has fed us the idea that our needs must be first, so that we can somehow have enough to care for others. That would be fine if we didn’t fall into a bottomless pit and find our needs growing as we fed them. Love doesn’t take all the air from the room, but allows others to shine and considers the needs of others first. Self-promotion is arrogance. Pouting when we don’t get our way is a form of childish arrogance.

Love does not act unbecomingly: as-kay-mon-eh’-o means “act in a way that tears down the other”. Love builds up others whenever possible, and never seeks to cut down the other, or smash their dreams. It means holding your tongue and training your speech. It means saying you are sorry for anything that pulls the other down. It isn’t your job to FIX the other, but it isn’t your job to DESTROY them either!

Love does not seek its own: The word used literally means “not forcing their own way upon another.” You keep hearing words that are the intonation of the same idea – the opposite of loving is selfish. Think of love this way: whatever you would like people to do for you – do THAT to and for them. This is a thinly veiled plagiarized quote from my favorite teacher…. Jesus!

Love is not provoked: The word par-ox-oo’-no means “sharpened” with a figurative idea of becoming sharp or pointed. Love isn’t wearing a razor thin knife edge so that is can cut back.

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered: The terms logidzomai kakos mean “to keep an account or record of evils suffered.” Historiography and forgiveness don’t really work together. If you find yourself saving up “what he or she did wrong” – you aren’t acting in love toward the other person at all. With every exchange, you are making a longer list of what they have done wrong, and readying it for release. .

Love calls us to notice others. It calls us to care. It helps us get off the center of the stage of our own lives and put others there. Love is at the center of our evangelism, and lack of it is at the center of our ineffectiveness to reach others.

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: It “does not celebrate getting away with breaking a rule”

Love rejoices with the truth: It “celebrates truthfulness”

Love bears all things: From the word stego which means “to cover over or thatch”

Love listens. It takes the time to care. It covers over the fact that what is being said doesn’t seem relevant or necessary. Love locks on to the value of the other person.

Love believes all things: to entrust and give credit to”. Love talked about is easily ignored while love demonstrated is irresistible!”

Love hopes all things: epidzo “have high expectations of”.

Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”.

The point is this: because love is a chosen set of behavior, when a believer practices true love – it can be measured (4-7).

The Picture of Love in Ruth 3

The third act of the story follows three people as God weaves the redemption story of Naomi’s once beleaguered family back together, this time making her line a part of the most important line in human history – the line of Messiah. On the way, each of the three main characters will model love in their own way – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.

The story is broken into four simple parts:

• What Naomi told Ruth to do.

• What Ruth did to follow the instructions,

• What a surprised Boaz said about the plan of the women.

• An uncertainty about the future. The end of the chapter is left uncertain (from the perspective of the players) with everyone waiting for the final act of God to bring the story together.

Naomi modeled love in her instruction.

The story opened with a speech by a newly softened version of Naomi, fresh from God’s initial blessing…

Ruth 3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her,

My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”

With some small blessing, feeling returned to her long numbed limbs. Naomi began again to think in terms of love. What does that look like?

The small passage we read offers five examples of loving behavior.

First, love places another first. It cares for another above self. Love places the needs of another above the needs of self. This is reflected in “shall I not seek security for you?”

Second, while selfishness separates, love gathers. Naomi expressed again (after calling her daughter earlier) that her family was Ruth’s family. This is expressed in “our kinsman.” Ruth was an insider in Naomi’s mind, and that opened the door to allowing her to be a part of the solution.

Third, love sees possibilities for a future. Love isn’t just about the problems; it is about seeing and pronouncing hope. This is reflected in “he winnows at the barley floor tonight.”

Fourth, love works to make another successful. Using the skills she learned throughout her life, she counseled Ruth on what to do and how to do it.

A skill like proper appearance is reflected in “3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes.”

Another skill like “timing” matters in potential conflict situations. Naomi taught that love demanded Ruth think of what will work for Boaz, not what works best for her. This is reflected in “do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.” It would have been easier to walk up to the man and get the whole situation over with. She may have felt confidence to do that – but that was not what the situation demanded. Youth can be most seen in direct hubris. With some tempering, Naomi brought to the situation advice that led to a greater chance of success.

Fifth. love is honest and doesn’t hide the risks about the road ahead. This is a work of love reflected in “then he will tell you what you shall do.”

Ruth modeled love in her obedience.

Following the instructions of Naomi, Ruth went to the threshing floor and hung back until the meal was over and the servants bedded down for the night. The text continued…

Ruth 3:5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.” 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.

First, loves learns to trust beyond sight. This is reflected in the phrase “All that you say I will do.” Ruth didn’t insist on understanding everything before she agreed to follow everything she was told to do.

Second, love protects the reputation of another. This is reflected in the word “secretly” in verse seven. This proposition could look like something unsavory, and could affect the reputation of Boaz. Making the connection without bringing dangerous damage to the reputation was a loving act.

Third, love subjects itself to the role of a servant. Note how Ruth related her identity as “your maid.” People who believe they are too important to serve don’t understand love. Love shows in service. Love expresses itself in subjection.

Boaz modeled love in his speech.

Naomi and Ruth modeled love in the passage, but so did Boaz. Keep reading as you encounter the speech of Boaz and you will be amazed at the clarity of the model…

Ruth 3:10 Then he said,

“May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.

First, love appreciates the kindness of another. Listen to the comment of Boaz. He made clear that she has offered him a wonderful surprise. He didn’t talk down to her, but up!

Second, love allays the fear of others. Boaz knew that Ruth and Naomi needed redemption, but he didn’t presume that he would be offered an opportunity to be involved (since there was another closer to the situation that had first choice in the matter). He made clear that he would not stand by and let the matter go undecided. He knew the fear and vulnerability of the women, and he didn’t want them to be uncertain. He flatly stated, “Don’t worry, I will act.” Her greatest fear was likely rejection. He second greatest fear was inaction. How many women fear rejection and inaction by the man in their life?

Third, love encourages and reaffirms good testimony. Boaz was quick to affirm the testimony of Ruth, and called her a “woman of excellence.”

Fourth, love seeks the best for the object of its love. Boaz wasn’t sure he would play a role in the redemption of the family of Elimelech, but he was certain that he would be able to stand by them until their needs were met, one way or another.

Fifth, love gives beyond expectation. One great thrill of love is that it is often full of surprise! Boaz made a promise, and that was a hope, but also an expectation. The barley was the unexpected gift in verse fifteen, a special surprise of provision that was both a sacrifice to him, and an unanticipated blessing to both Naomi and Ruth.

Love left things uncertain.

Note the excitement of anticipation in the atmosphere of uncertainty. Isn’t that exactly what love produces? Ask any young man who ever overcame the cracking of his voice to ask a pretty girl to dance, and they will tell you that all matters of love are risky! The text ends with risk – just as it should in a good drama. The chapter concludes with the whole matter unresolved…

Ruth 3:16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

Love involves taking a risk. It involves a level of uncertainty that is so uncomfortable, many people choose to live without it rather than take a chance. The truth is, loving is risking.

• Ask any parent who has given everything for a child, only to watch them walk away and never call or seem to care.

• Ask anyone who has cared and given in love to a spouse who simply snubbed that love and was found in the arms of another.

• Ask GOD, Who gave His Son for the world, only to have many yawn and pass by the gift.

God knows the pain involved in the choices of people. He knows the risk involved in loving…Because God made His highest value LOVE, greater than all other values, He placed in everything the risk of rejection. That was illustrated in the Fall of man, it didn’t come from the Fall. It was built into the original design of the universe. God didn’t want robots that were programed to respond to Him – He made people.

Here is the truth: Rejecting the love of another person may be a tragic mistake, but rejecting the love of your Creator is an eternally tragic matter.

Go back and think through the love modeled by Naomi. She offered a classic example of love that Jesus Himself showed to us.

• Jesus’ love placed US above Himself as He faced the Cross to pay for sin.

• Jesus calls us to gather to Him in love and become one with each other.

• Jesus offers you the best eternal future imaginable, and even beyond your imagination!

• Jesus makes an offers to you of life, but also provides His own Spirit, to aid you to navigate successfully in this world.

• Jesus makes clear the difficulties ahead: the warfare and attacks of His enemy that come with your new life.

Jesus loves us, and the model of Naomi demonstrates that love beautifully. The issue isn’t God’s love; it is our response. Even the most loving and caring people can suffer the abuse of unthinking and selfish response.

• Some respond by ignoring the gift of love and living thoughtlessly, regardless of the cost to the Giver.

• Some respond by choosing a path to the gift of Heaven that more suits them. They want eternity in bliss, but not with Jesus. The problem is, in the end they will get neither Jesus nor Heaven.

• Some respond by seeing the cost paid for them, and are overwhelmed by God’s gift. They respond by wanting to know the One Who gave Himself for us. Is that you?

God doesn’t just call us to love people; He offers practical models to show us how.

There is an old ethical test that is used in counseling called “The Lifeboat Test.” There are a variety of scenarios, but the issue of selfishness versus selflessness is tested by placing you (mentally) on a sinking ship. There is no doubt the ship is going down. There is no doubt one cannot live long in the frigid waters. The question is this:

Will you try to find something you think will float and use it instead of a lifeboat? Will you avail yourself of the lifeboat provided?

Growing in God’s Love: “The Secret of Blessing” – Ruth 2

Writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ted Kruger writes:

I have many memories about my father and about growing up with him in our apartment next to the elevated train tracks. For years we listened to the roar of the train as it passed by. Late at night, my father waited alone for the train that took him to a factory where he worked the night shift. On this particular night, I waited with him in the dark to say good-bye. His face was grim; his youngest son had been drafted. I would be sworn in at six the next morning while he was at the factory. My father didn’t want them to take his child, only 19 years old, to fight a war in Europe. He placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘You be careful, and if you need anything, write to me and I’ll see that you get it.’ Suddenly he heard the roar of the approaching train. He held me tightly in his arms and gently kissed me on the cheek. With tear-filled eyes, he murmured, ‘I love you, my son.’ Then the train arrived, the doors closed him inside, and he disappeared into the night….and I left for boot camp. One month later, at age 46, my father died. I am 76 as I sit and write this. I once heard Pete Hamill, the New York reporter, say that memories are man’s greatest inheritance, and I have to agree. I’ve lived through four invasions in World War II. I’ve had a life full of all kinds of experiences. But the only memory that lingers is the night my dad said, ‘I love you, my son.’”

What an incredible power can be found in a father’s blessing! What empowering for life grew from such a simple but vital inheritance! I mention the story because in this lesson I want us to carefully consider the empowering that comes from our Heavenly Father’s blessings, given in love. I admit, the story found in Ruth 2 is an emotional one to me, because God has so richly blessed my life, I cannot imagine what I would be like had I not been shown the love of both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.

To draw us back into the story of that blessing, we must first go back to the story of pain – for it is in the backdrop of the dark and dreary days and long sleepless nights that we find the birth of a new day…

Last time we opened this little book, we learned when looking in Ruth 1 that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. That is an uncomfortable truth, but one that many believers can easily attest to from their life experience. Though God does deeply love us (according to His Word) He doesn’t see that love as something that requires Him to keep us from troubles, discomforts and even pain. He seems content to let us go through things that will eventually yield good fruit, even if there is a time of throbbing trouble along the way.

Consider His beloved people Israel as they walked through the wilderness of Sinai. Passing through a place of intense heat by day and nothing short of “bone-chilling cold” by night, God met them. In all their national experience they never saw God more clearly, even though they were never more vulnerable, more uncomfortable and more uncertain. God led them through.

In the story of Naomi captured in the Book of Ruth, God seems to have even intentionally increased discomfort in the life of an older woman (a wife and mother) to bring her into a relationship with a much younger woman. That relationship would eventually pull a young Moabitess into a new place, a new home and even give her a role in bringing salvation to the world as a mother in the line of Jesus. God’s rich place for Ruth was only found by plotting a course through pain in the life of Naomi. I have to admit that this side of heaven, there is little doubt in my mind that Naomi wouldn’t find much comfort in God’s path to redemption until she stood in Heaven’s gate.

She bore, raised and buried her sickly sons. She lost her farm for a time to famine. She buried her husband. She was broken, but in the breaking, God re-positioned her to bring the line of Messiah into the world.

Pick up the story at the beginning of chapter two. As the curtain rose on the second act of this four act play in Scripture, Naomi and Ruth were back in Bethlehem. Naomi wore on her face the part of the embittered old widow suffering under God’s hard hand. If you have ever had the opportunity to live with one who was broken, I dare say that she was probably not really a “joy” to live with at that point! Yet, Ruth hung tough and looked hard at the circumstance, stubbornly unwilling to give up hope and see a blessed future in spite of what looked like a cursed past. Watch as she attempted to take a proactive position to direct a hopeless friend back to seeing the whole picture of God at work. She helped her understand blessing. You will see…

Key Principle: God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.

We learn to “grow in God’s love” when we understand that He is the One Who is setting the stage for every blessing we have ever received, or ever will receive. He is at work, even in the emptying of our life to ready the very blessings He desires to use in our restoration!

First, note God had stored resources available that Naomi lost track of because of her intense pain.

It is hard to see promise through searing pain, but it was there…

Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

The verse offers two pieces of new information: Naomi had family in Bethlehem and some of them were people of means.

The first you hear about “other family” is AFTER the return, AFTER the bitterness and AFTER hope has slipped from the scene. It seems Naomi didn’t calculate everything – she tallied up only the bad things. Though she didn’t feel it, God wasn’t done with her, and her life wasn’t a wrecked waste. It did feel that way to be sure – but we are warned in Scripture all the time not to trust our feelings to discern truth. It is natural to feel deep pain and think, “I guess it is over now!” The problem is, what may be a “natural feeling” in this fallen world is often not a godly impulse. Naomi knew what God took and couldn’t see what God guarded in place to give her a future.

In verse one, it is impossible to miss that Elimelech had an extended family with other male members in Bethlehem. If he had a brother that was living, that alone would have provided some comfort and assistance to Naomi, because of the Levirate marriage (Hebrew: “yibbum” mandated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6) where the brother of a deceased man was obliged to marry his brother’s childless widow in order to give a possibility to raise up a son in his name if God allowed. The term Levirate isn’t a reference to the Levitical tribe, but rather is a derivative of the Latin word “levir” which meant “husband’s brother”. There is a story in Genesis 38 where it was not honored and God was not at all pleased. In the case of a Levirate marriage, the first child born to the brother’s widow would be deemed the heir of the deceased. If either of the parties refused to go through with the Levirate marriage, both were required to go through a ceremony known as “halitzah” or “the renunciation” Today, most contemporary Jews renounce instead of practicing this.

Verse one indicated that Boaz was a relative, but not a required Levir, so his help was not demanded, though it was obviously welcome. If you look more closely, though, Boaz was a man of means. He could have aided in many ways that didn’t include child bearing! As you keep reading, God had more help in store for Naomi…

Second, note that in addition to possible financial help, God had emotional resources available to Naomi as well!

Listen to both the words and the tone of Ruth’s words to Naomi as you keep searching the text:

Ruth 2:2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

The text offered some interesting things. First, can you hear respect in Ruth’s words? Her words were bathed in humility and caring. This was not the sound of an overly-privileged and demanding youth; it was the soft sound of a woman who tenderly looked to help. Entitlement sounds shrill to the hurting ear; humility offers a welcome tender tone.

Ruth carefully approached Naomi. She asked for permission to lend a hand. She pressed Naomi to look beyond despair. Sometimes that is all we need to help us shake off the fog of depression – the quiet voice of someone who loves us and wants to help. It doesn’t always work, but it is always right to try. After all, God may have taken her husband and sons – but he gave Naomi a loving daughter-in-law that would not leave her and wanted to help restore her life. Naomi seemed unable to get up and get ready for “end gleaning” – but Ruth could step in – and she did!

A second thing to note in the text (I love the way verse two ends) is the reply of Naomi in a word of affection. Naomi doesn’t snipe at her, but tells her to “Go, my daughter.” After her nasty and embittered words in Ruth 1, it looks like Ruth’s testimony is beginning to work in her.

Here is the truth: That is how a testimony works. It slowly, carefully drips love out on the object of affection. It isn’t a flood, but it doesn’t run when the other person reacts as one embittered. If you are going to have an impact on someone, it is going to take time and require persistence – even when they don’t seem to be responding. Testimony isn’t built overnight. It takes time, patience and persistence in the face of resistance. At long last, you may see a small “crack” in the stone-wall face of your hurting friend. Ruth would tell you, “Keep trying!” They may not be ready to receive love at first, but they will need love that doesn’t retreat to be restored to a healthy life. God provided Naomi with more than relatives. He provided her with a young woman that was emotionally sensitive to her long season of pain. There is more to the story, for God provided more.

Third, God provided a bridge between the assets of provision and the needs of her life.

Ruth went out and did what she needed to do, but that wasn’t a guarantee of anything if there wasn’t enough at the edges of the field to keep them alive. Keep reading…

Ruth 2:3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

There is no indication that Ruth had any knowledge of Boaz’s property lines. All textual indications are that she was simply diligently following what was available, field by field. She came to glean at this field by happenstance, from her point of view (though with God there are no coincidences). This is the point of the verse – God was at work. Mature believers should readily understand that a God of providence doesn’t need luck to put together assets and needs. Look at how effortlessly Ruth drifted into the place of God’s blessing. She didn’t plan it, and she didn’t know it was about to happen… and most of the time, you won’t either.

I am not arguing that it didn’t take diligence and work on her part. She didn’t lay in bed and hope for a check; she got a job. At the same time, God worked behind the scenes to track her path directly into oncoming blessing. That is how He works. Watch the progression:

God blessed her because of a believer “close by” (Ruth 2:4)

Ruth 2:4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”

How often God uses a believer who walks intentionally with Him! The text oozes with a man of godly stature in Boaz. The first words from his mouth in the text are wishing blessing from God on other people. Do you know people like that? I do! I know people who God has blessed and they have responded with a deliberate thankfulness and a heart to share God’s gifts. They have been at work in my life this week.

One dear man gave $100,000.00 to our work in Africa this week. I have never met him. I may never meet him this side of Heaven. I can tell you this: people will be reached with God’s Word because of his impulse to give. God brought this man into my life because he watched videos on YouTube and grew in the Lord. He wanted to find our work and give to it. He was “close by” digitally, and God brought together asset and need.

Don’t forget when you are struggling, there is more than your money and your month. God is there. He knows how to care for His children. He knows how to bless. In fact, you have never had a single delight, a single moment of blessing that didn’t come from His good hand. Yet, God had more in store…

God not only covered the need but He exceeded the need! (Ruth 2:5-9)

Despite how some people pray, God isn’t broke and He isn’t stingy. He has what you need – because He IS what you need! Watch the story unfold for a moment…

Ruth 2:5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”

Humanly speaking, Ruth had the wrong heritage to expect blessing from a “man of God” in Israel. She was a Moabitess, and that alone made her suspicious in the eyes of Israel. After the famed temptresses from Moab were used by God’s enemy to help derail the blessing of the Promised Land near the end of the life of Moses, Ruth couldn’t comfortably show up in downtown Bethlehem with a sweatshirt displaying “Moab University” on it. She was a foreigner in a land that was held by a closed clan, and she came from the region of a long remembered enemy. I think it is interesting that Boaz’s servant knew her whole backstory when asked to give her identity. Ruth didn’t just follow the Law and go to the edge of the field to glean – she ASKED to do what she did. She explained who she was. That couldn’t have been easy! When the servant recounted Ruth’s words, they dripped with humility once again.

Don’t skip that God was at work in the background right there. Keep reading you will realize that God was about to dump blessing on an unsuspecting young woman… Boaz walked up and met the young lady. He told her that he was going to stand in the place of provider for her and for Naomi. The text recalls:

Ruth 2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”

God touched the heart of Boaz and the man responded with kindness. Is that how we look at those who we come into contact with who are displaced by life and in need of help? I hope so. It is easy to be jaded. It is easy to see someone trying to get something in a culture saturated in entitlement values. Boaz didn’t think twice. He considered her story, and lent a hand. What happened next surely helped assure him that he was helping the right person…Look at her reaction:

Ruth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

The proper response to God’s blessing is not to feel like we deserved better, but to feel a sense of deep appreciation, and fill our mouths with praise and celebration. Did you notice what Ruth felt about herself that came out of her mouth. She exclaimed: “I am a foreigner!” She was saying aloud what she clearly felt within, “I cannot expect even the nicest of these people to help me. I am not one of them. Anything I get will be more than I could normally expect.”

Just as God’s Word teaches us to be givers; it offers counsel to those of us who have been on the receiving end of blessing. Don’t demand it and don’t expect it. Don’t coach yourself into thinking you deserve more than people have offered. It isn’t wise, it isn’t thankful and it isn’t going to produce good things in your daily walk. Consider for a second the attitude Jesus told His followers to have when offered honor and blessing.

Tucked into a portion of Luke 14, there was a story of Jesus entering the house of a Pharisee after synagogue services one Sabbath afternoon. Reclining around the table in the home of a wealthy man, Jesus spoke:

Luke 14:7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who [g]are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Men and women, because we live in a time where self-touting is considered near a necessity in business and has nearly taken the place of a virtue in our culture, it is again essential to speak the words of the Savior concerning a humble spirit. Healthy believers don’t echo entitlement. They sound surprised daily at the sheer size and nature of God’s manifold blessings to them. They see themselves as LESS than the honor they receive. God resists the proud, but gives manifold gifts to those who think themselves less than they are!

The Apostle Paul warned the Romans in the letter to them:

Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

God doesn’t want you to hang your head in perpetual shame. He loves you and loves to bless you. At the same time, we need to be thankful and careful not to overplay our relationship as though we did something to deserve His love. We didn’t. That much is painfully clear in Scripture.

“Wait!” you may say. “Didn’t I work hard? Didn’t I ask Jesus to walk with me today?” Perhaps you did. The fact is that your conscious and deliberate choice to ask Jesus to guide you through the day, however, will benefit YOU much more than Jesus. Despite how the world shapes a positive self-image, we need to be mindful that we bring little to God when we bring ourselves. Look back at Boaz’s words to Ruth. Her behavior DID invite blessing. Her loving and humble spirit DID attract attention. In short, hers was a demonstration that God blesses those who are faithfully dedicated to be what He wants them to be (2:11).

Ruth 2:11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.

Remember that God doesn’t ignore your sacrifices on behalf of others. We need to remember that our children may not remember all it took to get them where they are, but God was watching. Our boss may not readily acknowledge all we sacrificed for the company, but God knows those who do their work with diligence. Boaz heard because Ruth DID. If she was slack, he may have been less inclined to shower blessing on them.

I love that Boaz made very clear the blessing was from God and not merely from him. He told Ruth:

Ruth 2:12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

Boaz blesses Ruth, and claims his goodness is merely her “maskoret” – the word translated “wages.” Boaz believes that Ruth deserves his response through her choice to follow Israel’s God. Did you notice that Boaz didn’t make her focus on his benevolence at all? He gave, but he made clear that God was rewarding her for her sacrifices. How often we are tempted to use even our giving as a way of showing others our goodness? When we focus attention on US instead of on God, we rob Him of His due. We have nothing to give that He did not give us!

It is true that God connects the assets to the needs. Yet, we should recall two more things about God’s blessings:

Fourth, God doubly honors a thankful heart.

You can’t help but read the response of Ruth and celebrate with her! The text records:

Ruth 2:13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”

Here is the moment we get a model response to God’s blessing. What do we see? Our response should be one of thankfulness. It should contain a frank acknowledgement of both God’s goodness and the giver’s generosity. Look at how specific she was:

• You brought me comfort – she acknowledged the effect of the gift.
• You spoke kindly – she made clear his approach was a blessing in itself.
• You treated me with care not normally given to one like me – she showed surprise for his extraordinary goodness.

The secret of Boaz’s giving (seen clearly in verse 12) was that he saw the hand of God in the testimony of Ruth. He was a good guy, but he saw God at work in and through her. I think of a little poem that sometimes helps put things in perspective:

Look at self and be distressed,
Look at others and be depressed,
Look to Heaven and you’ll be blessed!

In times of distress, one of the greatest ministries we can have to someone is to bring them comfort from Scripture. When people feel inferior, we can bless them by making them KNOW we don’t see them that way because God doesn’t see them that way at all.

Finally, consider that God’s objective in blessing is to refocus us.

Go back to the scene and watch what happened when mealtime came…

Ruth 2:14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied.

Boaz showed through public action that he was fine with everyone hearing what he thought about Ruth, and he wasn’t ashamed to be identified with her. She trusted Israel’s God, and cared for one of Israel’s daughters. She proved her faithfulness by cleaving to her mother-in-law when few could bear her negativity and bitterness. She became a part of the people of Israel in Bethlehem, even when she felt like an outsider. If she got the message, Ruth walked home that night with a different sense of herself.

Follow her to the small home of Naomi, and listen in as the older woman was changed by God’s blessing…

Ruth 2:19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.”

Can you believe the change of expression in the woman that had been so embittered before? God blessed her home, and her whole vocabulary began to change. In verse 19, she called on God to bless the man who blessed her home. In verse 20, she specifically asked GOD to bless the man. Can you hear her heart changing?

It wasn’t simply the grain that changed her, though hungry people don’t usually feel as blessed as full ones. It was the sense that the hard hand of God had been lifted, and God was restoring Naomi’s household through the kindness of another. The same woman who tried to push away the help of Orpah and Ruth a chapter ago was now calling on God to bless the one who shared with her household.

God used the time of hardness to empty Naomi’s hands. He used the time of blessing to refocus her on His goodness. He was not being cruel; He was readying people for enormous blessing.

Let me ask you pointedly: Do you trust God when things aren’t going well? Do you trust that God is good when the economy isn’t? Do you see Him as righteous when you work hard but find the one who was a slacker got the promotion over you? Do you see Him as just when things don’t feel fair?

I believe one of the profound reasons some of us don’t understand God’s blessing may be that we “hedge our bets” in the world in case we feel “God lets us down.” We don’t let go of this world completely. Let me explain with a story…

In April of 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He brought only about 600 men, and was vastly outnumbered if he thought he would defeat Montezuma with all his thousands of warriors in the Aztec empire. Cortez was eventually victorious. How did the small force win? One way Cortez motivated his men was having all his ships disassembled (some say burned) after landing. His men stood on the shore and watched as their only possibility of retreat destroyed. From that point on, they knew beyond any doubt there was no return, no turning back. The general clearly understood that same power of making a “point of no return” commitment.

It is important for us to recall that God cannot be judged by today’s circumstance, nor can we trust our feelings about our life to be a reliable measure of God’s true purpose for us. Here is the truth from God’s Word…

God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.

Growing in God’s Love “Impatient with Love” – Ruth 1

Did you ever have a friend recommend a movie, only to have them accidentally “slip” out of excitement and spoil the movie by sharing the ending for you? I hate that! Sadly, as we renew our study in the ancient Book of Ruth for a few rich lessons in God’s love, it is necessary that I “spoil” the end of the story in order for the premise for the beginning lesson to even make sense. Though I hate spoilers, I simply have no choice. Here it is! As you open your Bible to Ruth 1, we need to recall that God used the lives of a few women to offer His Redeemer to the world. As far back as the first book of the Bible in Genesis 3, God promised that in spite of Satan’s duping of a woman in the Garden of Eden, God would bring Messiah through the womb of a woman and redeem all mankind. God takes the broken and makes it new. The Book of Ruth shows one of the strong links where God “set the table” for the redemption event. He did it through broken people. Here, He did it through the life of a woman who lost control of everything so that we could gain everything. Her name was Naomi.

As you look at her story, you will probably marvel as I did at how the work of God in our life sometimes includes “emptying our hands” to fill them anew with the people and things I need most to honor His true purpose for my life. It can be a painful process, but it is a loving and necessary one. It can help to reduce my desires to one: His will. It can help me to grow in trust of Him, but it is easily misunderstood. The danger in the process is that I will misunderstand it, and begin to feel it is an unjust or unloving process. When God moves my life into a position, I may be easily swayed to think He has forgotten me, or doesn’t really love me at all. That is the deception born in impatience that Job experienced in the writing that bears his name. He didn’t get things taken because of his sin; he sinned because things got taken. It is easy to understand, simple to justify and utterly wrong. God loves me, and that is true even when my life isn’t working out the way I planned it. His plan is my highest purpose. Here is the truth the way Naomi would express it when the lesson was made clear to her…

Key Principle: God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us.

As we open the book, consider how God works to get us in the best position for use, and ponder what that means for the coming week.

God set the stage to move His people (1:1).

God wanted to accomplish something through His people, but they were utterly unaware of the important role God planned for them. They were living daily life and making ends meet with no thought they would play critical roles in the story of God’s redemption. God knew, and He set the scene to move the players into position. How He did it may seem surprising, but understanding it may help you recognize God’s hand where others don’t look.

Notice how the door they needed to enter to be of special use to our Father was one brought on by difficulty. God’s setting of the stage didn’t look like a prize – but a problem. Ruth 1 records:

Ruth 1:1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.

• The times offered little direction. The author related it was the time of the Judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

• The conditions offered little security. Israelites moving to Moab would not have been easy. The journey of the people under the last days of Moses would have been remembered, and those weren’t fond memories in the hearts of the locals. Moving to Moab likely felt much like being Japanese and moving to America right after the Second World War.

• The results offered little hope. In some ways, the move to Moab looked like a defeat of their God. He gave them a Promised Land, and in a few generations it was already suffering so badly that some left. It may have felt like a defection from the family ties and national heritage by Elimelech and Naomi.

We must remember that God doesn’t need those things: great cultural direction, solid community security and a hopeful setting to do great things in and through people. We seek those things for ourselves, but they aren’t required to accomplish a powerful and lasting work through our lives. When we understand that God has no need of them to work, we recognize He is ready to work even when we think the time may not be right. Follow the movements through verse seven…

God allowed increasing discomfort to unfold His plan (1:2-7).

He led the couple and their children to a place where he could set the scene for His work, but it was not a place them wanted to be.

Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.

A man named “My God is King” married a woman named “My pleasantness” and had two sons that appear in the record to have been “high needs” children. The boys were named “wasting” and “puny.” This reflects that while the children were a blessing, their condition may have led the parents to see them as a “veiled blessing” because they may not have been healthy. What could be more uncomfortable than having children that didn’t seem to get the life the others of their generation did? As they were already nearing marriageable age when they moved (they only lived in Moab for ten years and the boys married and died during that time span), it is reasonable to cite their sickly natures as the prime reason they did not marry at home. We have to read verse two slowly, because whole lives passed into and out of the scene. Naomi’s life flowed out of her as those she loved, served and cared for were taken by God’s hand.

The truth is, God set up marvelous blessing to the world, but He did so based on the daily, prickly discomfort and even the sometime sharp, searing pain of some of His own.

Jesus demonstrated this in His time on Earth. God’s richest blessings came at His expense. Scripture makes clear that God can and will use our lives, but we won’t know why it happens the way it does. Look at the specific costs that Naomi paid in the story:

God took cherished people (1:3,4)

Ruth 1:3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years.

God stripped Naomi of her identity in the community (1:5)

Ruth 1:5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

As difficult as it was to lose her husband and her grown sons, the text revealed something more. The issue wasn’t just the searing pain of those losses, but the underlying issue of her identity. Much more than now, a women’s identity was culturally determined by her marriage and the productivity of her womb. A woman in the home was often greatly loved, but in the community a barren woman suffered a sincere stigma. This helps us to identify the tremendous importance that was placed by people on bearing children and leaving something behind. Consider this: verses three and four would have been interpreted in Naomi’s time as more about her personal identity than about her loneliness.

God signaled a move home (1:6-7).

Left with little hope in a foreign land, Naomi rose from the grave side of her family, and made a decision: she would head home. The text reminds:

Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.

If you read carefully, you will note that her move was prompted by two factors: The change in the growing conditions in Judah, and the travel of the news about that change to Moab. Both of these factors were carefully superintended by God. What looked like a simple choice was hand fed by the Father above. God led the family out, and now God was leading the woman back – all in settings of discomfort and pain. None of it was vacation. None of it was fun. Her name meant “my pleasantness” – but her life sounded more like “my misery.”

The point is this: from the opening of the story two things have been true: life has ranged between uncomfortable and staggeringly painful for some of God’s people and He was working behind the setting of all the events to bring about incredible blessing to the Earth. This is no small lesson, and it needs to be rehearsed over and over, that we may understand that painful circumstances aren’t A SIGN OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD. God is not unloving, but His work in us may be uncomfortable. God is not cruel, but His shaping of us may be excruciating.

God didn’t only change the conditions to move the people – He changed the people in the conditions. He isn’t just changing life around you; He is working in and through you.

Watch a blacksmith working a piece of iron for a few minutes. Here is what you will learn. Shaping is hard. Shaping rips off rough edges. Sparks fly as shaping involves pounding and heat and sharp strikes to refine our shape for use. God does the shaping against the anvil of a hard world, and it isn’t easy to look past the pain. From the perspective of the red hot malleable metal, everything is working against it. The anvil is hard, the hammer is swift and unrelenting and the fire tears into its very structure. Yet, in the hands of a master craftsman, the work is purposeful, powerful and productive.

God offered gifts to make transformation possible (1:8-22)

The first gift God provided was found in other people who cared.

One of the things we have to evaluate is not what we have lost in troubling times, but what God has provided to get us through. One of his chief gifts is other people who reflect, knowingly or unknowingly, His love. For reasons I don’t really understand, it seems like God offers “helpers” for us, but we may push away those we need most (1:8b-13a). Take a moment to go to the road where Naomi and what was left of her tattered family were traveling. Listen to their conversation, because it is revealing:

Ruth 1:8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?

While God provided two friends, Naomi pressed the women to leave. In the brief account, we learn about a number of mistaken ideas she believed that led her to attempt to push them out.

First, she believed her circumstances made her less valuable to God and to others.

If they left, she would have lost some of her best allies and advocates. Why would she tell them to go away? Perhaps she didn’t seem to understand or truly believe the ladies would follow her for any reason other than their own benefit. Maybe she reasoned, “I don’t have anything to offer them, so they should leave me.” While she may have been doing a nice thing (putting others first) it seems based on her later reactions that something else was actually happening. She appears to have seen her worth as diminished at the very time God saw her as just “getting into position” to provide the backdrop of His rich blessing.

Take a moment and consider the lesson in Naomi’s life. Behind the words spoken on that path so long ago, there was a feeling that led Naomi away from the truth. Consider this: We may not realize how important our testimony and relationship is with another person. We may feel we have nothing to offer. We may feel small. All of that is how we feel, but it is NOT what is true. God positioned her by removing from her hands the things He chose to remove. Was He cruel? No! You have to look at His end game to understand His moves during your life – and you don’t have that ability. Neither did Naomi, and that caused her to misconstrue her worth in God’s work.

We stopped reading mid-way in verse thirteen. Finish the verse:

Ruth 1:13b “… No, my daughters, for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.”

What did she say? Did she say it was harder for her than for the two ladies who lost their respective husbands? She certainly did. That reflected how she felt. They lost one man; she lost three. They were still young and marriageable; she was neither.

The second false underlying belief was that her situation was so much harder that no one would truly understand. That would allow her to justify isolation.

Look closely at the strong feelings that poured out of the words and you will see what she believed about her pain. It wasn’t only that her loss was quantitatively greater. The truth is, when we have “bled out” in a painful loss, we feel like Jeremiah weeping in Lamentations 1 when he wrote: “There is no pain like my pain!” Though that is a common feeling, it isn’t substantively any truer than the idea that we have no worth. People feel things different ways. Our emotional structures aren’t all the same. One of the common ways people justify cutting themselves off from other people is by embracing the notion that they have been faced with a uniquely difficult circumstance. If no one will really understand, there is no reason to share it with another. We hurt alone and withdraw. We learn to quickly make little of other’s pain – because we didn’t pass through it with them. It looks like less to us. It can be diminished even more if we compare it to pain we have been sharply wounded by for an extended period of time.

The enemy’s chief weapon is isolation. God’s greatest offer is constant intimacy. One of our most common wrong beliefs is that we cannot embrace others because of our painful circumstances.

The women were told to leave Naomi. Her mind seemed set, and I have little doubt they were not accustomed to winning an argument with their mother-in-law! Orpah read the metaphoric handwriting on the wall and bowed out. The text continued:

Ruth 1:14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

The second gift God provided was a reminder of the truth.

If you look at what Ruth said to Naomi, you will see several truths that were clear to the younger woman:

First, whether she believed it or not, Naomi was a woman Ruth wanted to spend more time with. Ruth felt compelled to be a part of Naomi’s life, even though her husband was gone. Ruth felt a personal attachment and a continued desire to remain in Naomi’s daily journey.

Second, whether she saw the value or not, Naomi was part of a people Ruth desired to be a part of. It was no small thing to venture outside of her homeland into the land of Canaan. Worse still, Israel didn’t have a spotless record with Moab nor was she noted for being selfless in their eyes. Ruth was leaving her people to be with a people who didn’t have street credibility. Yet, she made the choice and was ready to live with the consequences. She did it because living with God’s people, with all their faults, was better than living out in the world.

I keep reading articles about all the ways the church has failed this country, this generation and basically, EVERYONE. Working in the church world, I think I can safely say it is far less than idyllic. At the same time, I think many believers fuss but don’t really know what it is like to face the world alone anymore. In this week alone, I have seen people from our little local church care for the needs of a number of people who were unable to do for themselves some critical task, and who do not have family on the scene to help. Living with God’s people isn’t perfect, but having the bond of the Spirit with others allows us to get help when we need it, and offer help when we should.

Whether she felt it or not, Naomi had a God worth knowing. The pains we face can make us forget the greatness of the God we love and serve. We may begin to believe He isn’t Who He truly is – and that is exactly what the enemy is hoping for! Look at how Naomi was reminded of the distinction that came from having a relationship with the God of Abraham – it was pronounced through the desires of a Moabitess.

Believers get used to echoing complaints about life and some forget how terrible it is in the world when you have to face life without knowing God. Ruth WANTED to be with Naomi. Ruth WANTED to be a part of the people of Israel. Ruth WANTED to have a walk with God. She saw these things as worth making the choice to walk away from the familiar. God was calling her to Himself.

The height of Naomi’s personal numbness to God’s gifts was emphasized during the few words found in the account of her return to her family farm and her old friends back in Bethlehem. The text offers this memory that was sure to be a later embarrassment to Naomi:

Ruth 1:19 So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

If you read the words with an open heart, they sting. God was setting Naomi up to be a blessing to the nations. She was playing the role God designed for her, and He was maneuvering her into position. All she could see was pain, and all she could do was BLAME.

She snapped at her old friends in bitterness, because they were excited to see her. That was nothing less than a defense mechanism to keep herself in isolation. She made clear that life was bad because God wanted her to suffer. She didn’t serve a good God, if you heard her tell it, but a sadistic afflicter of the downtrodden and innocent. She wasn’t LOVED by God; she was UNDER HIS HAND OF JUDGMENT. It wasn’t true, but it is what she believed – and it is what she said.

Bitterness is a work of the flesh. It is rooted in a false view of God, and an elevated view of our own pain. It grows in the heart that feels wronged by one more powerful. It thrives on victimization. It is very dangerous, because it is a poison that spreads from one person to many others.

Maybe it isn’t clear to you how she got so bitter. You should recall that she spent ten years in a place she didn’t belong. Long ago, the Moabites denied food and safe passage to the Israelites while on their way to Canaan. They even hired Balaam to curse them (Num. 23:5-7). Because of these evil deeds, God became very displeased with the Moabites (Deut. 7:1-3; 23:3-4). Whenever Israelites took Moabite wives God’s judgment followed.

She spent ten years out of the will of God and let her boys marry the forbidden ones. Her attitude wasn’t all because of her loss; it may well have been because she didn’t feel God wanted to bless her because of her choices. When you are out of God’s will, you will find yourself in places you are not supposed to be, doing things you are not supposed to do! After their deaths, I wonder if Naomi didn’t blame herself for the losses, because of her own disobedience to God’s commands.

In spite of her feelings, God gave more than just people and truth as gifts to her – He worked out a new start for Naomi. He didn’t do it BECAUSE of her, but rather so that He could work out His plan as He set it in motion. To do it, another gift was dispensed.

The third gift God provided was a new beginning (1:22).

The text in chapter one sounds like it ended in a summary statement…

Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.

On the surface, it is a simple: “So it was they came home together…” but that wasn’t the whole verse. Keep reading:

Ruth 1:22b …And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Barley is normally harvested in April, in the spring time. The winter rains end usually by February, with perhaps one last sprinkle in March. By April, spring has blossomed and the hillside greenery has already peaked. A new year’s food crop harvest begins with barley. The whole idea was they returned as a “page was turning” for a new beginning.

Naomi didn’t see the new beginning, because she was stuck licking her wounds from her past. That may sound harsh, so perhaps we can just say that she wasn’t able to think positively with all the pain in her heart. That was a mistake. When God offered a new day, clinging to the pain of the previous one could not help her move forward.

The Book of Ruth is rich in paradoxes. The story opened with a terrible famine and closed with a celebration feast. It began with the recollection of three sad funerals and ended with the memory of one happy wedding. In all, the greatest paradox (in my opinion), is that God was setting up unparalleled blessing at the very time when He would be accused of abandonment. He was doing a great work in one who failed to see His hand there at all.

All that happened because life took a turn to place Naomi into position to be used mightily by God.

Remember we said earlier that God loves us even when our life isn’t working out according to our plan. Don’t forget: His plan is my highest purpose. Wasn’t that best seen in Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? John 18 revealed the Savior slumped over a rock praying to be delivered – and then following that prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, Father.”

That is why God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. He wants us to have opportunities bigger than we feel qualified for, and greater than we can imagine.

Our lives are in His capable hands – and that should help to stabilize us when we pass into a time where what we planned fades away, and what He desires emerges. One writer offered this poem a few years ago to help us understand…

A basketball in my hands is worth about $19
A basketball in Michael Jordan’s hands is
worth about $33 million
It depends whose hands it’s in

A baseball in my hands is worth about $6
A baseball in Mark McGuire’s hands is worth $19 million
It depends whose hands it’s in

A tennis racket is useless in my hands
A tennis racket in Pete Sampras’ hands
is a Wimbledon Championship
It depends whose hands it’s in

A rod in my hands will keep away a wild animal
A rod in Moses’ hands will part the mighty sea
It depends whose hands it’s in

A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy
A sling shot in David’s hand is a mighty weapon.
It depends whose hands it’s in

Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands
is a couple of fish sandwiches.
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in God’s
hands will feed thousands It depends whose hands it’s in

Nails in my hands might produce a birdhouse
Nails in Jesus Christ’s hands will produce
salvation for the entire world.
It depends whose hands it’s in

As you see now it depends whose hands it’s in.
So put your concerns, your worries, your fears,
your hopes, your dreams, your families and
your relationships in God’s hands because

It depends whose hands it’s in. (Author Unknown)

Standing in Truth: “The Firm Stance” – 1 John 5

Immediately after teaching last Sunday night, I left for Orlando, and flew in the early hours of Monday morning to Washington, DC and then on to Columbus, Ohio. The meetings I planned to attend were about a half an hour away from the airport, so I needed to rent a car and drive north to the hotel where I was staying for two nights. I rented a full sized car this year, because last year the little compact I had was all over the icy and snowy roadways. I had very little control. This year, with a full sized automobile that was heavier, I felt somewhat safer, but driving on snow and ice is never fun! The problem with sliding down an icy road is you don’t have any real control – and that can be dangerous. It isn’t only the lack of traction that is troublesome, it is the fact that many other people have no traction, but drive like they don’t know they have little control.

As it is in driving, so it is in life. Many people are moving through life and seem to think they have more control than they truly do. They slide through life without making much real controlled contact. They live “fast and loose” with little saving, and even less care for maintenance of the things they own. They don’t seem to notice they aren’t in control of their appetites, much less their outcomes. The problem with sliding through life is that we cannot give God control of a life that is held by the forces of others. We may theologically agree that we must yield our lives to Jesus, but we can only surrender to Him what is in our grasp in the first place!

Did you ever go ice skating? I went years ago, because someone told me it would be a romantic thing to do on a date. Here is what I can tell you: It wasn’t romantic the way I did it! If you only skated occasionally or weren’t particularly good at it, you will know exactly what I mean when I say that two uncontrolled novices on the ice holding hands will only end up as larger “ice sweepers.” Each person straps on their skates and moves out across the ice wobbling and gesticulating wildly with no real control. When they hold hands, neither has much control, but they feel more at ease with someone else helping them to remain upright. Inevitably one falls and pulls the other down with them. There is nothing romantic about lying on cold, hard ice.

Here is my point: for a believer, surrender to Jesus is our call. Sadly, by the time many hear that truth, they have largely lost control of life, and find it difficult to give God what is His in their life. For some, they have surrendered so much of their physical ability by poor life habits, they cannot be as fully used in surrender of their body. For others, they have so ingrained a lack of emotional control and burst out in anger, etc. they can scarcely surrender their heart while allowing their emotions to run wild. The Apostle John wrote to the early church an essential truth that we must learn, and after a time of following Jesus, we must live. He wrote 1 John 5 to say, in essence, two things…

Key Principle: Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

The principle tips off the fact that the last chapter of this letter can be easily broken into two parts:

• The first part we can entitle: “Five ways we show true love in following the Savior” found in the first twelve verses of the chapter (5:1-12).

• The second part we may call: “Seven ways we show firm trust” and they are found in the balance of the verses (5:13-21).

Fortunately, we have a practical guide on “how to” love and take a firm stance, rather than just a command to do so. I frustrate when I am instructed to do something but I don’t know how to accomplish it. Take a moment and look at the first half of the chapter for the way a believer shows love to his Master and Savior…

Five Ways We Show True Love

First, John shared that we truly love God when we show real love to God’s Son. He wrote:

1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

In short, any parent can explain it this way: If you want to show you love me, show love to my children.

Some of you know that our family has struggled for three years now with the diagnosis and treatment of our youngest daughter of an illness that has ravaged her immune system. The pharmaceutical products that helped to keep the symptoms at bay are toxic, and are causing great troubles for my daughter as she tries to gain control of something that seems bigger than she is. Along the way, she and her husband moved into a little house in town to raise our first grandson, Malachi. As we were preparing the home for their little family, Tom came to my aid and designed and built a screen room on the side of their home. It was one of the profound times my family felt truly loved here, as Tom suffered in the hot summer sun to build something purely out of care for Sara and her family. I will never forget it. I will never be able to repay it. I saw his love for my family, and his care for me as his pastor and friend. Honestly, if you want to show love to me, show it to my children and grandchildren. I know you all understand because I know so many of you!

According to John, the impulse I felt was like one God Himself feels toward those who acknowledge His Son. Look at the words of verse one. John insisted that a believer trusts that Jesus was Messiah (the Greek form of that word is “Christ”) and that His birth was directly from God. The Gospel according to Luke could not be more deliberate about the means of conception of the child in Mary’s womb – God entered her and placed the baby inside her. This was not a human act; it was a Divine move, unique to Jesus.

In addition to acknowledging that Jesus truly WAS the child of the Father in Heaven (and not of some Roman soldier or cheap Nazareth affair), John made the point that loving the Heavenly Father can be directly measured by love for His Son. God showed His love in sending His Son. A believer shows His love in submitting to Jesus AS His Son. There is no option that allows one to claim they love God and follow Jesus, but do not believe that Jesus was uniquely placed in the womb by their Father in Heaven. Modern attempts to distance from the “Virgin Birth” of Jesus are, according to 1 John 5:1, swipes at loving the Father.

In 2010, Albert Mohler wrote an article “Must We Believe the Virgin Birth?” in response to an article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Mohler wrote:

In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary? Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?

In another article from 2015, this one from World Net Daily, author Bob Unruh mused about the reports of a “problem” with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth belief. He wrote:

More people might come to church if Christians would drop “fairy tale” tidbits like the Nativity story. That’s the belief of a minister in Cairns Church in Milngavie, Scotland. … Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.’” The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.” He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.” He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity.” Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment instead,” he advised. “The virgin birth,” he said, “leaves people hung up…Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”

What is amazing is how little regard doubting preachers have given the words of 1 John 5:1. John argued that loving God was seen by accepting that God sent Jesus in a miraculous way. Jesus was BORN OF GOD, not in a “birth is always such a miracle” sense, but in a unique way, signifying acceptance and thereby love of the Father.

A second way we properly show love as God’s children is we follow God’s rules. John continued:

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

Loving God’s Son isn’t the only way we show we love to God Himself. In fact, one way to show we love God is to show true love to His children. How do we do that? Are we to offer gifts to each child of God we meet? In a way, “Yes” is the answer to that question. John remarked that when we walk in obedience to God’s Word, we HELP other believers. That sounds strange at first, but if you think about it – it really isn’t.

Some that hear this lesson served in the military. Sadly, some of them served in trenches on active battle fronts. If you talk to soldiers in those places, they will tell you that when it is really tough, when things get desperate, they are not fighting for their country, for their family or for lofty ideals of democracy – they are fighting for their brothers in the hole next to them. Christians should consider this mentality carefully. Instead of obeying God’s Word to advance our reputation of obedience, or even to show ourselves steadfast – part of the reason we do it is for the other believers around us. Let me say it this way: When you walk with God in obedience, you become a reliable brother in the foxhole. We can count on you, and don’t have to worry about you properly reflecting the values and training of a believer. Never give the grenades to the novice in the foxhole if you want to have a band of surviving brothers!

A third way we show that we gratefully love God is when walk with an understanding that in light of what He has given us, He doesn’t ask too much of us. Note verse three:

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

Focus on the last part of that verse for a moment. John wrote: “His commandments are not burdensome.” Do you agree with that statement? Does God ask too much when He asks me to willingly give my life choices to Him? Shouldn’t I get to pick my college, occupation, mate, local church, mission in life and main hobbies? Why wouldn’t God think that is “asking a bit much” when He demands I surrender all to Him?

Part of the answer can be found in understanding what God did for us. God gave His Son to be born, mishandled and brutally murdered in horrid fashion – that we might understand His love. Jesus gave His life to the mission of redemption, and gave His body to brutal and vulgar men to crush. The cost of our salvation was great if we take into account the sufferings of Messiah for us. At the same time, those same costs are more than one thousand times greater when we consider WHO JESUS IS, as the One Who gave Himself. Colossians 1 argued that Jesus is the Creator, the unifying glue and the ultimately Holder of all things – and yet HE DIED for us! It isn’t just about what Jesus did – it is equally about Who Jesus is!

If you were swept into a dangerous current, and I pulled my body out onto a limb and reached down into the water to grab your hand and you were saved – you would probably be grateful. If I dove in to rescue you, imperiling myself and saved you – you would probably be honored. If my son jumped into the water and grabbed you to save you – but lost his own life – you would be deeply indebted. If my son were the prince of the whole realm and he gave his life for you – you would be humbled, and no doubt become a model servant of the King. Jesus died for you – but He is the King above all Kings, and the very agent of Creation.

Because God did so much for you at such a high cost to Himself, are His commands to follow Him burdensome? Because He has designed human history and given you a role to play in the “story of God” is your part too hard?

Let me ask you candidly: Based on all that Jesus did for you, are you living like what He is asking of you has become simply too much to expect?

There is a fourth way to faithfully love God. We must steadfastly follow what He has proclaimed and unapologetically take our stand in a lost world.

We live in a lost world that is not at peace with God. When we follow God, there will be a struggle, simply because we are not in step with the world when we follow Christ. John reminded:

1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Can you see it? The terms of our faith are terms of conflict with the world that eventually overcomes them. Evil doesn’t win. Godlessness won’t prevail. When you came to Christ you came to the side of a conflict which will end in the victory of the Creator. John continued:

1 John 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

John made the argument that belief in Jesus as God’s Son meant believing He came in the flesh, and died after physical suffering. He entered in water and left in blood. He wasn’t a moral story – He was a physical Savior. We stopped mid-verse. Let’s continue in verse six:

1 John 5:6b …It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this: He has testified concerning His Son.

The Spirit of God through the Word of God and the testimony of the people of God has made clear that we do not follow after cleverly devised myths – but we proclaim the truth. Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus came as the Eternal Son of the Living God. Jesus was God in human skin, the Word made flesh. He was the expressed image of His Father, one with Him. The church must proclaim that truth. Skeptics will scoff at the notion – and that should have no bearing on whether we cling to the message.

Dear ones, our message is not our own. We are not to make it more palatable. We do not act as PR spokesmen for God. He isn’t running for office. Our job is to proclaim with clarity the truths He shared in His Word. It is not to make the world believe – it is to lovingly, graciously but pointedly tell the truth as He shared it. We love Him when we stop worrying about His popularity and pay more attention to our clarity.

A fifth way to honestly love God is to take Him seriously in our own hearts. We must not simply defend His Word before the world, but must take to heart all that He has commanded us to do and become in His Word.

Our walk with God cannot and must not be a show. It is to be personal, real and deep. John wrote:

1 John 5:10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [designated] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this – that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

We have a simple message: Know Christ and find life. The converse truth is a devastating one: Reject Christ and you will face permanent exile from God in death. That is what the Bible teaches. That is what we hold dear in our hearts. That is what defines the family of God for us.

In the end, loving God is about being faithful to Him in our hearts, representing Him faithfully with our mouths, and showing His goodness with our hands. Jesus wants people who choose to love Him, and thereby show love to His Father.

Seven Ways We Show Firm Trust

That isn’t all Jesus wants. The rest of the passage made plain He has a second desire for those who follow Him. We are to trust Him because He has revealed the truth – as only He can. Firm trust sounds like the bullet points of belief! Here are seven statements we can know that ground us firmly.

First John said we know that following Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life. He wrote:

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Consider the fact that John was writing during times of sweeping persecution, when standing for Christ may have meant hanging by the neck or bowing before the axe of execution. Do you see why “eternal life” was an essential thing to consider in the face of trouble?

Pastor Don Baggett wrote a few years ago:

My little grandson is just beginning to walk. For a little while, we would see him standing in the floor all by himself, but then when he realized that he was standing alone, he would just sit down. He could’ve most likely walked at that time, but he lacked confidence. Now, we expect him to quickly gain confidence, and when he does, his crawling days will be history. He will not keep crawling, because walking is a lot better than crawling. … We want to see him properly maturing at every age level, because we believe, as he does that, his life will be more fulfilling. We want him to have confidence in his abilities, so that he can get the most out of them. I want you to consider how important it is for you, as a Christian, to have confidence before the Lord. It is only as we have confidence, that we will take bold steps of faith. It is only through our confidence in the promise of His word, that we will be able to display confidence before Him, as we live out our life. I think it is safe to say that a Christian who lacks this confidence has not understood who Christ is in him and who he is in Christ.

Secondly, John said we know our Savior listens to us right now when we call to Him. It is a wonderful truth (especially when trouble strikes!) He said it this way:

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

John made clear: Jesus listens to us. He loves to hear our voice. We don’t pray repetitions of rote to earless stone. We serve a Savior Who has bent to hear our heart’s cry.

Third, John told us we know life here is a battle, but we can ask Him to empower us to help others in the family.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We need to remember that we were not promised a life without struggle. In our family we will encounter those who are failing to heed God’s warnings. Some will get sick and experience pain. We can offer advice; but we can do much more. We can intercede for them and pray. When we do, we have confidence that God can act through us for them.

Fourth, John reminded us that we know those who follow God follow what He said, and that makes us able to remain strong before a lost world. John wrote:

1 John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Don’t get lost in this verse. Remember how John defined “sin” in this letter? When we studied a few lessons ago, we encountered 1 John 3:4:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – They make up their own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He is the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

Fifth, we know we don’t belong here. The world is still dominated by the wicked one until the end comes. He wrote:

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

The lost state of the world is no indicator of the power of God. This is His story, and evil will reign until He says it is done.

Sixth, we know that life here is fleeting, and Jesus has opened the door to a life that doesn’t end. He wrote:

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

We are instructed to be content and confident in Jesus through His promises as the Scripture revealed them.

• You may recall in Philippians 4:11 where the Apostle Paul remarked he learned to be content “in whatever circumstance” he found himself. He learned this, the verse clearly says. Therefore, contentment is a lesson to be learned. We can learn to experience what David did when he wrote: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Contentment is learned when we are more concerned with God’s glory than our wants. Can we really feed our senses all week and our Savior on Sunday? No! We will not be content if we try.

• Paul also wrote to a younger servant of Jesus in 1 Timothy 6:6 these words: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” By this we can discern that contentment is an incredible asset in life.

• Paul went on to describe in 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “Having food and clothing, we shall be content.” With those words, Paul made clear that contentment is a choice we make.

• In order to assist us in that choice, Peter reminded us in 2 Peter 1:4: God “has given us exceedingly great and precious promises.” Perhaps focus on these is the great ticket to finding true contentment, and living out true confidence. We must take hold of the promises He has given us to gain confidence, and in that we will learn contentment.

Our confidence about life is directly linked to our unmoved trust in the word of God. When we become supremely confident that God will, in fact, meet all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) we will learn to be content. Jesus has conquered death and promised we will as well. He has promised life, relationship, joy and peace. We can have them when we take Him seriously.

Finally, we know that we can easily forget what we know and live ruled by our desires.

Idolatry is living in a state where we choose to derive our chief joy in someone or something other than the God Who has made all the promises that keep us firm in following Him. John warned as he closed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Honestly, idols sneak into your heart. You start by interest in something, and you find yourself trusting them more than you trust God. St. Augustine was remembered as saying:

Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using the One that ought to be worshiped.” (Note: We can’t be certain the saying was his, but it has been attributed widely to him).

Author Dan Allender wrote the book The Wounded Heart and offered this definition:

Idolatry is placing our longings for what only god can provide in the hands of a creature instead of the Creator. When I live for my work or my wife, I have made them my false god.”

It seems that people install a ‘god’ in their own minds that meets the needs they self-define. They prostrate themselves to worship that god, but in reality, they worship themselves – their senses, their wants.

John’s closing instruction to those who read his Epistle was this: Stay on guard from placing yourself at the mercy of your wants and desires. That isn’t what Jesus wants for us or from us…

Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

Not long ago, a sad item ran in a newspapers picked up from the sub-Asian region and broadcast by the wire services around the world. Apparently a man spotted that his dwelling was on fire. He saw that his family had made it to the street safely, but he wasn’t content to stand and watch as the village tried to put out the fire. He ran back into his burning dwelling to get both his valuables and an ivory idol trusted by his family for generations. It was the headline that stuck in my mind: “Man dies trying to save his god from fire.”

Stop and consider something for a moment… If The Jerusalem Post had posted a report two millennia ago, it could easily have read: “God dies to save man from fire.” That wouldn’t have been a story; it would have been a report. It is what He did… and He did it for US. He gave Himself for us.

The Search is Over: “The Fool on the Hill” – Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

One day in 1967, Paul McCartney sat down at his dad’s piano at the family home in Liverpool, England and began playing variations on a D 6th chord. He played for about five minutes, back and forth, with no particular direction when he noticed a series of notes that seemed pleasing to him, and he repeated them a few times. As he thought about the repetition, his mind floated to a picture of an eastern mystic that he heard interviewed on TV some days before. The man seemed detached from the world around him, but he was perfectly fine with the world thinking his life was a disconnected waste. “The Fool on The Hill” became Paul McCartney’s major contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour, and it was written sitting at that piano. Later, McCartney played the tune and sang some of his impromptu wording for John Lennon. When Lennon told him to write the words down, McCartney shrugged and said, “I will remember them.” He opened the song with:

Day after day, alone on the hill, the man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. And he never gives an answer… But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning around…”

Was the mystic smart and ridiculed or dumb and disconnected? In the song, it is hard to tell. He may be wise but unwilling to communicate to those around him. A close look at the words of the song are bound to leave you unsure of what the songwriter’s intent.

Yet the picture lingers. Sadly, when we look about in the world, we see people who seem unaware of how foolish they appear to others. Becoming wise isn’t a simple matter for many of us. In fact, if there are two places we can easily stumble when it comes to wise living, they are where we receive counsel and how we develop proper patterns in life. Think about it…

First, we need to learn to accept counsel exclusively from reliable sources.

Much of “growing up” is learning who we can believe in! All of us have believed some report from the web that wasn’t factually true. If we did the really embarrassing thing, we passed it to others. The recent surge of issues regarding “fake news” demonstrates the most recent version of a constant battle between truth and rumor, slander and scoop. It is amazing to watch how many people will make decisions about crucial things based on an article they read or a report from social media – only to discover the whole thing is at least speculation and at worst downright fabrication.

For instance, have you noticed how many so-called “health products” have a low-toned voice disclaimer about how there is no actual representation to “make your health better” when that was the subject of the whole advertisement? I am amazed when they present a forty-five second commercial of how their product will surely make your life better and solve your health issue, and then have a fast speaking and low-toned voice tell you at the end of the ad that what you saw doesn’t actually represent any verified claim that the product can really help you at all!

Does following a claim by “shady sources” make you look foolish? It certainly can. Consider this story:

The New York Daily news reported on December 5, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina was arrested after he opened fire inside “Comet Ping Pong” in Washington D.C. The pizza restaurant was named in a “Reddit post” as the secret location of a child sex ring, run by then-candidate Hillary Clinton. After his arrest, Welch told police he decided to “self-investigate” whether the so-called “Pizza Gate” conspiracy theory was true — that Clinton and her campaign chief were operating the ring in the restaurant’s back room. He took a rifle and went to DC to check it out.

Getting information from unreliable and unconfirmed sources can be both embarrassing and dangerous.

In addition to this, there is another practice that separates the wise and the one who lacks wisdom…

Second, we must develop habits that work out successfully in the world.

It isn’t your imagination. Some people just can’t seem to “land on their feet” in life. They exert some effort to be successful, but they seem to keep failing, year after year. If you ask them, they aren’t really sure why, but they know something is wrong that is holding them back from becoming all they were meant to be. You see it in the worker that doesn’t seem to advance in the job. You detect it in the person who can’t seem to land the job in the first place. You see it in the person who seems constantly stirred but their expended energy doesn’t help them progress. Some will tell you honestly they don’t know what line they missed, but they feel they didn’t get some piece of instruction other people did. They aren’t trying to be wrong, but they need wisdom to identify their weaknesses and spot paths to successful living.

Solomon had much to say about wisdom, and nearly as much to say about foolishness. From the middle of the ninth and through the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes, the wise king reminded us of the two skills developed by the wise…

Key Principle: Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Solomon opened with a view of “how to find proper sources for the truth” in 9:13-10:7.

Discerning Good Sources: Cautions about seeking counsel!

It is obvious to all of us that sometimes we need help finding direction. Since wrong counsel can lead to devastating consequences, Solomon offered some tips to keep in mind when seeking wise counsel. If Orson Wells radio experiment in “War of the Worlds” taught us anything long ago, it made clear that where we get our perceptions and our news can impact dramatically how we respond to life. Solomon opened with some words that may surprise some of you…

First, wisdom doesn’t always come from the place you would think to look for it.

For some reason, our prejudice has much to say about who we listen to – even when they don’t demonstrate a pattern of wisdom. He warned:

Ecclesiastes 9:13 Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. 14 There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siege works against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom.

The scene was a small walled town surrounded by a large and well-resourced army. As the siege ramps were being constructed outside the wall to make holes and breaches in it, a small group of men gathered inside to weigh their options. The words of a poor man who was wise made sense to the leaders of the village, and they executed a plan based on his theory of negotiation. They were pleasantly surprised when the plan succeeded and peace came to the city. The point of the portion was to remind a student that people think they know who will offer the truth that delivers – but these men got it wrong. The poor man was wiser than the town councilmen. We must grow to understand that some attained success without any real knowledge of how it happened. They don’t have a formula – they simply were in the right place at the right time. When pressured to offer direction to you, they may be unable to do so. Just because someone has had success, does not mean they can instruct you on how to have success – apart from instructing you to follow God’s Word.

Second, when wise counsel comes from an unlikely place, it often isn’t always valued as it should be.

Solomon continued his words concerning the poor wise man with a sad note:

Ecclesiastes 9:15b “…Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded.

He may not look the part, but your dad may be a very wise man. Your mom might know what you really need to hear right now. They may have never been in leadership of a Fortune 500 company, but they very well may have pulled a family through a tough time and paid every debt created along the way. Just because the world doesn’t see them as particularly wise and recall their mammoth struggle to put food on the table and pay for your braces in Jr. High, doesn’t mean they aren’t champions at budgeting. Don’t forget the people who got you to where you are. Don’t overlook the sacrifices because your familiarity bred a heart of contempt for them. Look carefully at what people have done in their lives with what they have been given. If they had little but stretched it to cover the needs, they are perhaps wiser than the one who had much and struggled little. If they managed much, they probably can help you get organized.

Let’s face it: Our world places great value on people who can throw a ball and little value on a child care worker who holds a baby. We will pay enormous sums of money for those who can catch a pass, but are quite stingy when it comes to one who will care for our loved one in their last days, when they need constant help. My point: the value system of the world doesn’t reflect what is truly important. A wise men or woman learns to look carefully and remember those who have cared for you, taught you and helped you along the way. Don’t look past those who the world may not recognize, and again, don’t forget who helped you become the person you are.

Third, we must learn to listen carefully for wise counsel over the most pronounced voices.

Solomon discovered the loudest mouths were often attached to the smallest minds. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:17 The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

There is a difference to being “in charge” of the room and being right in our opinion. Having authority placed upon us should humble us, not make us think we are automatically smarter than everyone else in the room. Just as I recognize Scripture teaches believers to respect authority, I must also recognize those of us who are in the position need to become wise enough to quiet down and listen to the other people. A shouting “ruler” (as Solomon put it) isn’t right because they are louder than all the other voices in the room.

A wise word leads us to act on truth. It must be heeded because of what it is – not because of the package in which it is presented. Many in our world are distracted and follow the flash and tinsel, but not the truth. Look past the package. Develop and ear to hear truth and wisdom whether it is presented well or not.

Fourth, never forget wrong counsel can do untold damage – and it doesn’t take much.

Wrong answers matter. Wrong directions can bring perilous consequences. The king wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. 10:1 Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.

These sayings reinforce the “one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch” idea. In 9:18, Solomon made clear that wise living offered grand protections, but needed to be embraced for all to bring safety to a community. Think about it. One unwise fire builder in the forest imperils all the other campers. Time and again, Solomon will remind us that a community is only as strong as the least wise among it. Building the Great Wall of China would only keep out the Mongols until one gate keeper was bribed. All the effort of the Kingdom to protect itself from invasion was undermined by a single traitor. The saying isn’t to leave us in despair; it is a warning. We must educate and train those among us who are weak and underdeveloped in wisdom. Our young are idealistic, but often don’t have the experience to understand how a policy that clearly offers them help in the short run may not be best for the society in the long run. Parts of our nation have been deeply wounded by the behaviors of some students, and it appears they haven’t been offered wisdom to connect their ideals with practices that will build a strong society. It isn’t their fault as much as it is ours. We must raise them up in wisdom.

Not only can one bad soldier cause the downfall of the squad in the field of conflict, but a little foolishness mixed into otherwise wise planning can spoil results. You need to lock the back door as well as the front. That was the point of the first verse of chapter ten. It doesn’t take much poison to ruin the whole pot of stew. Wise is the society that watches what is put in the pot as its young are trained. We aren’t trying to be uncooperative, but we cannot and must not allow an agenda of social experimentation to infect the education of our young. It has devastating consequences. Let me offer an illustration if I may.

Children mimic what they see at home, both on media and in the behaviors of those in charge. If there is no respect for authority developed in the home, but rights are constantly echoed, the child will have little regard for those in whom enforcement of the law has been placed. They will learn little in regard to personal property. They will see the values of peaceful protest and turn them into a destructive riot – while actually believing they are both exercising their rights and helping their community. They will harm others and destroy property while believing they are being heroic and helpful. Respect must be taught. Boundaries are a learned idea. When someone feels they have the right to destroy my automobile because they have encountered injustice by the local police, they are simply wrong. When that idea is allowed to fester, they will begin to believe violence is a practical tool. I have lived and worked with people who thought the violent bombing and destruction of a bus of school children was a legitimate form of protest. It is not. It is murder and mayhem – and we must teach that your rights stop at my nose. You don’t have the right to hurt people or property that is not yours to make a point no matter how valid your point may be. Children must be taught that sometimes how you argue erodes and even invalidates the point you are trying to make. That is wise instruction.

Fifth, recognize there will be choices and watch the path of the would-be counselor before taking their advice.

Solomon encouraged seeking mentors, but warned to watch them before accepting them in that role. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. 3 Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.

Verse two isn’t political; though in our current day it may seem like it can be obviously applied that way. In Solomon’s day, “left” and “right” weren’t code words for liberal and conservative. The point he made was simpler: Fools choose a path different than wisdom directs. Wise people are called to live differently than the accepted foolishness around them. Solomon noted that if one looks closely, they can spot the fool.

Look at verse three and ask this question: How did Solomon indicate I could tell a fool? The answer is this: Watch the path they walk upon, the direction they take, and the way they walk it. In other words, if you would receive counsel from them, look at the way they have lived. The longer I live, the more I see it. There are those who are wise and quiet. There are those who are foolish and loud. There are those who are ready to pass wisdom to me, but have no evidence their path of wisdom has been applied to their own walk – at least not for very long.

I want to take advice of health from someone who is healthy. I want to take my advice on work from one who has a long track record of working diligently. I want to take my counsel on marriage from someone who demonstrates they have a good one over the long haul. Degrees mean you have encountered information in a theoretical form for a specific duration of time. They don’t guarantee that I can apply truth any more than reading a recipe makes me a chef. Look for people who have lived in a way you seek life to go. Watch their walk before you accept their talk. That is wisdom at work.

Sixth, choose positions carefully and prepare to hold your ground thoughtfully when challenged.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 10:4 If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.

Don’t be defensive and loud, but rather confident because you chose your positions well. Don’t abandon your moral post because it makes the person in charge upset. Calmly stay by the values you have thoughtfully formed. The results of bringing a testimony of truth and solid values into a meeting will diminished rapidly if you abandon your positions when challenged. Learn truth. Accept it. Stand by it. When those who have power test your resolve, stand by what you know to be true with kindness and confidence.

Every now and then in a class I test this idea. I will ask a question, and a student will raise their hand and offer an excellent answer. From every angle, what they answered was correct. Yet, if my facial expression changes as though what they said is somehow painful, many will back off their answer to try to please me as their teacher. Solomon argued that we should so carefully form our positions in wisdom, that we are prepared to stand by them when they are tested.

Seventh, don’t be surprised to learn that titles don’t tell the whole story.

Live for a while on the planet, and what Solomon wrote next will become painfully obvious. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— 6 folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. 7 I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.

Solomon noticed two things: Not everyone who has the position is in the right place and not everyone who lacks position is undeserving of a great position. I have worked in many places, but I have noticed something that may be true where you work. Often in the office there is a boss who depends heavily on a worker. In that same office, many of the workers could leave and little would be affected by their absence. Yet, there is one person, often a low-ranking clerk of some sort who carries the office on their shoulders. They can find what no one else can. They know all the little idiosyncrasies of the machines and can make them all work when needed. They understand the computers, the printer and know where the relevant files are kept. They may not be in charge, but they effectively run the place. When they aren’t available to help everyone, the whole work place slows progress.

The point is that titles don’t tell the whole story. Many who work hard and keep things running aren’t the ones with the titles at all. They know the work, they do the work – but another is placed in charge of the work. In my own work, much of what is essential to getting things done is performed by others around me. I am responsible, and I am affirmed when it goes well, but I am often not in the room when the real labor occurred.

All seven ideas we just reviewed teach one idea: Wisdom must be learned, but we must carefully select the sources from which we accept that learning. That will help us bypass one of the two great pitfalls that lead to a wise life. There is a second. When I discover the proper places to source wisdom, I must learn to adapt my life to conform to what I learn. Solomon would say it this way: “You must develop wise habits”.

Developing Good Habits: Wise Words for Successful Workers!

The first habit Solomon mentioned has become the mantra of many shops and factories. It is this:

Safety first!

Ecclesiastes 10:8 He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.

The fundamental habit we must teach to our young as they begin to drive / work/ play/ is this: pay attention to what you are doing. Distraction can kill you. Leave the text until you stop the drive. Learn to work cautiously and be careful to look at the dangers of the task. Youthful exuberance can easily lead one to believe that sheer power will overcome all obstacles. It won’t. Careful use of resources and power will keep you from harm.

The other night I at a friends and we watched a few minutes of one of the reality shows that place people in ridiculously harsh environments as they practically kill themselves to win a prize, or simply to prove to themselves they can survive no matter what apocalypse may come upon them. The young man was collecting fire wood, but had no tools to chop it to size. He decided to take a boulder and hurl it at the wood placed at an angle against a rock. If never occurred to the young man that hurling a rock in close proximity may not work. The rock may bounce back and hit you. The branch may break and part of it will spring upward toward you. He tossed the boulder with great force and got a face full of wood smacking him in the forehead. Fortunately, all he hurt was his head, but that didn’t seem to be working very well even before… so there was little loss. Not to sound cruel, but it is hard to underestimate how little some people think before they do something that will definitely leave a mark.

Second, prepare your tools!

Wise people work on the tools before they work on the job. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:10 If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

It always feels like if you don’t plunge in, you are wasting time. That isn’t true. Solomon would tell you to get the right tools and prepare them well for the work you are about to do. Probably referring to this text, some historians quip that Abraham Lincoln once put it this way: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six of them sharpening my axe”! (From My Study Windows by James Russell Lowell (Professor of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College), Section: Abraham Lincoln: 1864, Page 166, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View).

It is a simple picture: a man who wants to chop down a tree reads in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to “Do it with all your might!” As a result, he grabs his axe, finds a tree and begins to hack and wack away. Preparation would have saved his arms and increased his efforts. Ecclesiastes warns against taking simple wisdom of a Proverb and thinking in a superficial way while failing to see how complex and difficult life can be. The Bible isn’t a single verse, but many blended, some that balance others. This is such a verse.

I read one day that painting professionals realize the importance of surface preparation in achieving maximum paint performance. Most paint coating failures can be directly attributed to inadequate surface preparation which affects coating adhesion. When you want to get the paint flowing, the most important thing is to keep the can closed and prepare the surface.

When I was in school, back in the dark ages just after the wheel was invented, I had to take classes in both Greek and Hebrew. When I was doing that, I ended up thinking what MOST students think part way through the process. I thought I was wasting precious time. “How will this help me reach lost people?” I would ask myself. The answer comes from Solomon: “You are sharpening the axe. In the end this will save me time not waste it.” I will never rise to be great language scholar (although I continue to work on my English!) but gaining facility in the languages has enabled me to follow commentaries and make your own decisions about whether versions are right or wrong. The tree falls more easily because the axe was forcibly sharpened by my professors.

Remember this: Truth is never invented; it is only discovered. Discovery takes time. If God revealed it, chances are good that somebody else in the church history has seen it before. If you will take the time to work at preparation, learning and discovery – joy will come in the easier work.

Third…Practice, Practice, Practice!

Solomon told us what we heard in little league. You won’t hit the ball unless you practice. Unpracticed players embarrass themselves. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:11 If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.

A snake charmer is only impressive when the snake follows the script. Practice of the craft helps avoid the embarrassment and loss that comes with the snake doing what is natural and not what is practiced. The Bible calls believers to DO, not just to KNOW.

Let’s be honest: We only truly believe the commands of the Bible that we actually practice. We can easily claim, “We believe in witnessing.” The obvious question is this: Do you intentionally share Christ with people? If not, I would submit you either don’t really believe in it, you don’t recognize the lost-ness of those without Christ, or you just don’t care all that much about other people and their plight. Our problem, when we look honestly at it, is often that we know far more than we do and we teach people to know more that we teach them to apply what they know in practice. Filling notebooks with Bible insights isn’t the objective. Thinking that writing things down is the point is a mistake. The truth is you don’t judge an army by how soldiers sit in the mess hall and eat. The real judgment is made based on how the army performs in battle against the foe.

Fourth, don’t speak or act like you know what you don’t!

Now Solomon offered another caution that should become our wise practice:

Ecclesiastes 10:12 Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13 the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. 14 Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?

He offered this thought: A few helpful words are better than long predictions and detailed guesses. Beloved, we need great thinkers who work through deep thinking – but not all of us are that deep.

Each generation needs its C. S. Lewises and J. R. R. Tolkiens, and G. K. Chestertons, its Blaise Pascals but they are rare among us and always were. Be careful not to try to sound like you are, if you are not. The wisest people I know are unafraid to admit what they don’t know. Know what you know, but know what you don’t. That is a good habit. When you hear these words: “Somebody will have to teach me about this, I just don’t know,” you are hearing wisdom.

Fifth, be careful with your resources.

Don’t waste what you have been given – you may need it. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:15 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 16 Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. 17 Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness.

With time on the planet, the young grow old – and some grow wise. You can note wisdom when you see someone who learned to conserve their energy for doing something important. Immature people blow through resources without thinking ahead, always believing more resources will come. Solomon would say this: “Don’t!”

Sixth, plan time to maintain and manage things.

Gaining something is one thing; keeping it is another. Solomon noted:

Ecclesiastes 10:18 Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. 19 Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.

Everything you own takes maintenance. Every relationship does as well. Preparation and maintenance may not be glitzy, but it keeps the roof from leaking on your dessert at the table! If you want to have a great life, take time to maintain what is important.

Seventh, watch your mouth about those in charge.

Solomon began with learning who to trust, and he ends with learning who NOT to trust. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.

We get the saying: “A little birdie told me” from this verse. Respect isn’t a put up job – you need to cultivate it even when you think no one is listening. It will show eventually. Learn to respect those in authority. Don’t just put it on – do it as a matter of your own heart.

It is fine to disagree with those who lead us, but don’t confuse your opinion with real conviction. They are not the same thing. Opinions are things you argue about; convictions are things you are willing to die for. Our world needs men and women of godly, biblical convictions who refuse to waste their voice on matters of opinion. Throughout history, people who have had the greatest impact for God were not the most knowledgeable, nor the most talented, but rather those who stood unapologetically for conviction rooted squarely in the Word.

Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Mary Bartels wrote this years ago in Guideposts: Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, If this were my plant, I’d put it in the loveliest container I had!” My friend changed my mind. “I ran short of pots,” she explained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”- Mary Bartels Bray, reprinted from Guideposts, June 1965.

I wonder if that is you. You were planted here in an old tin of a body, but your beauty is just beginning to show. Wisdom is living out God’s truth. If you do it well, the beauty of the Designer will show through!

The Search is Over: “The Incredible Journey” – Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were for house chores. For the uninitiated, these are horrible punishments devised by mad men and women in the school of parenting, that were created to add misery to an idyllic childhood. My mother graduated from “Mom U” with a degree in “wake them up early on Saturday to dust something that didn’t look any different after it was dusted.” In spite of it all, somehow my siblings and I survived to tell the tale of such inhumane treatment…After chores, the remainder of the morning was normally given to the little “knob-type” television that was in the room with the couch we were allowed to sit on. There was another room with couches and chairs, and I am not certain what it was for, but we were only allowed there on Christmas when the tree was set up in that room. In the “TV room” we collapsed on the floor and couch and watched science fiction theater – a Philly area treat that was a combination of the weird and a dab of science sound. One implausible movie after another treated us to strange ideas. One I happen to remember was the 1966 film called “Fantastic Voyage,” a tale of a submarine crew who was tasked to shrink to microscopic size and venture into the body of an injured scientist to repair the damage to his brain.

It really was a fantasy for the biology nerds of my day! At one point, an arteriovenous fistula forced the crew to detour through the heart, and they were further forced to induce cardiac arrest to avoid turbulence that would crush their little vessel. They passed through the inner ear, where all personnel were ordered to remain absolutely silent to prevent massive waves of turbulence. The lungs were a highlight, where they had to replenish their supply of oxygen in the small ship. I recall a number of scenes from the movie, but don’t really remember the whole of the plot. I can say this: it was a journey to behold, even if it was the stuff of imagination.

Enough of make believe – we came to deal with real life. God left us a record of the wisest man ever to walk the earth, and he told us of a journey as well. This one wasn’t fiction, but it did unveil a fantastic voyage. It was the story of how life on this planet was designed to work, and what skills needed to be learned to navigate the troubles inherent in a fallen world.

In short, Solomon observed life, and as he observed intently some of the texture of it, life frankly scared him. He gazed and pondered the depths of some of the hardest to explain facets of our human experience, and it didn’t settle him. In fact, when he looked at how unpredictable life can be it was disconcerting. He contrasted that with how very predictable its end will be in death, and that didn’t exactly lift his spirits either. Finally, after careful and contemplative consideration, he came to the conclusion that many people on the planet are, well, just plain nut cases. Honestly, they are fruit cakes. He lost sleep over his observations. Then, as with many great minds disturbed by studying too intensely for too long a time – he decided to write down his observations. His work is intense at times, depressing at other times – and all true to life. He noted that in some ways, life is predetermined. In other ways, life is really what you make it. He would say it this way…

Key Principle: Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Solomon didn’t hate life all the time (though he admitted he did on occasion). He simply made a factual record that apart from understanding that we are created and have a purpose in our Creator – life doesn’t make sense. In fact, it isn’t even appealing to think about a cosmos disconnected. The remarkable thing is he wrote that before our modern curriculum developers who have sold American educators that very message. Make no mistake, Solomon said that life disconnected from God will drive people over the edge. Here are some of his telling observations in Ecclesiastes 9.

First, he saw that in the short run, we don’t know what we will face – and that is a problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:1 For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.

He acknowledged that God is in control of our lives, but we cannot predict from day to day what we will experience. He is not cruel or erratic, but we live in a fallen world riddled with sin and its effects. Without our ability to see His complex plan in the midst of the world devastated by our rebellion against God, we will not be able to perceive how everything works, and it will always appear event are nothing more than “loose ends” while living under the sun.

Look even closer at his words.

He opened with words about emotional response. He said he “took to heart” the reality of life’s unpredictability. In a moment he will make clear how unpredictable life truly is, but in his opening line, he showed an honest assessment of how it feels. The truth is that life hurts. On the face of it, because we can’t see what is coming toward us, we cannot fully emotionally prepare for it. Life can and will hurt you, and you won’t know why at the time it happens. That isn’t happy news, but it is the truth.

Second, he noted along with the reality of pain the truth that being righteous or wise doesn’t offer us the ability to predict the difficulties and blessings we will face along the journey. Our education may inform us on the specifics concerning what we face once we are in it, but that learning will never really prepare us for the pain of the experience. No amount of wisdom offers you a crystal ball on your future.

Finally, he made plain one of the most powerful emotionally packed qualities of life – the reactions of others. Because we live in a fallen world, we are surrounded by people who are deeply flawed and damaged by the fall. Much of the pain we will face in life will be directly connected to how others deal with us. People may be loving and kind toward us, but may just as likely be hateful and troublesome. We may be at perfect peace with everyone we know, when someone enters our life that intends to do evil. We may do right, but that is no guarantee we will be repaid with a life filled with fair and reasonable people.

Ask health department workers who went to their annual Christmas party luncheon after a training session on December. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino. Sayed Farouk and his wife Malik came into the community research facility with weaponry and left behind 14 dead and 22 injured, some very severely. A few minutes before he left to get his bag of weapons, Farook posed with four fellow county employees in front of a Christmas tree in a conference room. The murderous couple left behind a 6-month-old daughter, who was taken into foster care, according to family members. “That’s very hard for us to comprehend.” said David Bowdich, who was the in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office.

Solomon understood the incomprehensibility of the reactions of people. Though he knew nothing of Christmas parties or high-powered rifles, he knew that nothing in life guaranteed that others would treat you fairly or evenly humanely. It isn’t a given that how you act will set the tone for how others treat you. A decent, hard-working, peace-loving young man of color may face hideous prejudice. A loving, kind and helpful janitor may be shot dead next to his bucket because of someone else’s incomprehensible world view. Because you do right, you are not somehow insulated from the actions of others who do not intend to be fair or just. That was Solomon’s observation.

Solomon summarized and restated the notion of unpredictability later in his speech using these words:

Ecclesiastes 9:11 I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Let’s face it, life here holds no guarantees except one – it is temporary.

Second, though we live with unpredictability in the short run, in the long run, we know what we will face – and that is an even bigger problem! He reminded:

Ecclesiastes 9:2 It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.

“In short,” Solomon argued, “Everyone faces death. It is our reality.” Scan the pages of the newspapers. On the front pages you may be challenged by how outrageous the behavior of some people became as they took on police and ended in the morgue. Flip back a few pages to the obituaries. You will find kind people who went to bed one night and left their body for eternity. The circumstances for the two were very different, but both people woke up the morning before their death for the last time. Death is the reality for most of us when it comes to exiting the scene on this planet. I don’t believe that is news to any of us – but we seem to manage to avoid living like we know that is the real situation we live with.

Look at the way Solomon faced it. He opened frankly and succinctly: “We all face the same thing.” He observed that it didn’t matter if we behaved or not, gave or not, religiously observed, or not, swore an oath, or not. Life on this planet normally ends at a funeral. There were only a few who bypassed it. Enoch appeared to get to God without facing all that others face. Elijah got a chariot ride to glory. Here’s the truth: You and I need to understand that we are very likely NOT going to get a chariot or beam up experience. We will likely face death. It will come to all of us, unless we are here at the return of Jesus for His own.

Solomon’s point was not that it doesn’t matter how you live. His observation was simple: the way you live doesn’t determine how you enter eternity – though it may reflect where you will spend that eternity. Though wicked and good, clean and unclean, observant before God and an ignorer of God all die – he didn’t argue that how they lived didn’t matter. He argued that how they lived didn’t insulate them from facing death. Death passed on all men. No one should assume their behavior grants them an exemption.

Later in the same speech, Solomon added to that truth and noted the best plans we can make will one day be interrupted. He wrote:

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

Not only is life unpredictable in its course, the timing of its end is often very unpredictable. No matter what your plans are for next year, it would be wise to bear in mind that you may not have a next year in which to accomplish your plans. I am not trying to depress you. The statement is simply true, regardless of how it makes you feel. Life offers no guarantees and death is seldom on someone’s schedule or jotted into their “Daytimer.”

In a way, Solomon began this lesson with the unpredictable course of life, and ended it with the predictable end of life – and both seemed like a terrible problem to him…

Third, Solomon observed the timeline between our birth and death. He noted (along with an unpredictable life course and its all too predictable but untimely end) the incredible stupidity and seeming insanity of many of earth’s residents. Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 9:3b “…Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Not only is life unpredictable and death certain, but Solomon made plain that people don’t make sense of how to navigate the journey very well. He used the term “evil” and “insane” to describe the way people live – and that was before they issued driver’s licenses to all the people in our neighborhood! Have you been amazed at the risks some people take to get from one place to another? Have you wondered how in the world they could think what they were doing was in any way “normal?”

Perhaps you think calling people insane is an impolite way to refer to them. I would ask you to “keep an open mind” on that point. On August 15, 2013, HuffPo reported this:

A pair of would-be Chicago restaurant robbers have proved not every crime has a “mastermind” behind it. Chicago police and prosecutors say Mario Garcia, 39, and Domingo Garcia-Hernandez, 28, went to the Clifton Grill in West Rogers Park late Sunday demanding food and telling the owner, “I will kill you, I have a gun with me,’’ the Tribune reports. Concerned for his customers’ safety, police say the owner told the men he was too busy but to come back in an hour — and they did. According to CBS Chicago when the men showed up a second time just after midnight, they demanded $100 in addition to food. The owner told the guys he needed to get his wife’s check book, which bought him enough time to call police. The men were charged with one count of attempted aggravated robbery each. Garcia-Hernandez is also charged with possession of a replica firearm, United Press International reports. According to police, the replica used: a squirt gun. The two men are due in court Aug. 19.”

Honestly, I have lived on the planet fifty-five years, and I am still taken by surprise when I read the news about how some people make decisions on how to spend an evening!

Everything we see in the passage leads us to the negative. Life is unpredictable. Death is certain. Our neighbors on the planet are lunatics. Wow. How in the world can we look at all this and not leave the lesson depressed? Fortunately, the ancient king didn’t just point out how bad a state we are in, he offered words of counsel on navigating the insanity through the rapids of unpredictability.

Stop for moment and listen to him – but hear ALL of what Solomon said. He wasn’t done at verse three. Life really isn’t as bad as all that. In fact, in many ways life is incredible. It can be beautiful. It is surely humorous.

If you aren’t laughing enough, it is because you aren’t looking at the whole scene or you are hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Life is unpredictable – but it is often hilarious! We face death – but we don’t have to make that the punctuation mark of every sentence along the journey! Listen to the positive counsel of the wise king:

First, learn to live optimistically. Hope carries us through the unpredictability of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:4 For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6 Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.

Solomon shared something that growing up I thought my grandma made up : “Quit whining, there is still hope if you are breathing!” His method of sharing the truth was more philosophical. He said a dead king is worse off than a living pauper – and used the animal kingdom to show it. He simply made the point that we only contribute to the story until our time is done on earth – then our insights don’t matter (unless you are in the movies or an author).

I get the chance to both write and be on film. One of the beautiful things about writing is that long after you are here, your thoughts can live on. One of the ugly things about film is that you realize how much older you look now than when your series began! One of the key complaints the recently deceased Carrie Fisher made about playing Princess Leia was that people met her at fifty and sixty and were disappointed that she didn’t still look like she did when she was scantily clad in galactic wear at age 18. Film captures you at one moment and locks you there in the minds of others.

Don’t overlook the happy thought tucked into verse four. While we live, we need to see hope. People die faster on a battle field from hopelessness than they do from water or food deprivation.

• Hope is the new beginning for every ending.
• It is the belief that there is a remarkable and unwritten chapter of the journey yet to come.
• Hope waits for a new dawn and sees it as a new chance to take on troubles in a different way.
• Hope helps you focus on the opportunity inside the problem.

Solomon isn’t “pie in the sky” about life. He stated the obvious. You are still breathing. How about figuring out a way to make that a good thing? He went on…

Second, learn to live contentedly. Your Creator has planned some stunning moments in your journey.

He said it in simple words…

Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.

Obviously Solomon is assuming you are doing what pleases God when he makes his reference in the text. The statement doesn’t apply if you are ignoring His Word and doing evil. At the same time, if you are doing what God told you to do, Solomon would tell you to do your best to have some FUN on the journey. That was his point when he added the words “with a cheerful heart.” Take what God has graciously provided for you and add some cheer to your day! Dreariness isn’t spiritual, in spite of the many examples you may have seen in life. Godliness isn’t glum. Spirituality isn’t suffering in silence.

The fact is that a contented life comes from being happy with what God has provided – not becoming complacent about a desire to better yourself. Contentment isn’t an excuse to lay back and quit work; it is not about that at all. It is more about finding joy in what you DO have, instead of living in a dream world of what you wish you had. Contentment is a state of your heart – it isn’t locked into circumstantial response.

Honestly, some of the poorest people I know have lots of money – but they don’t know how to enjoy their life. Solomon would say: “Never let the things you want blot out the celebration of the things you have!” Remember: It isn’t how much you have in life, who you know in life or where you are in your life, that will become the driving forces of happiness. What you believe about each of those things in your life drives your happiness. If you learn to see the beauty of what you have, you will enjoy life much more.

Third, learn to live each day like a celebration of life. Each sunrise offers new opportunities to learn something new and enjoy something more deeply.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.

This too can be misunderstood if you don’t know the context of Scripture. Solomon isn’t calling us to be hedonistic to enjoy life – it is hedonistic to make enjoyment the chief end of life. Look closely at the verse…

He referenced clean clothing and a clean appearance (a well-oiled head) to suggest that we take the time at the end of the work day to clean up and enjoy the cool of the evening. He who works all the time celebrates little. You will find the more you learn to celebrate the mundane and daily parts of life, the more life will offer you to celebrate.

I LOVE to open a coffee can for the first time, and let the vacuum seal release all the aroma of the beans. I get very excited to tear the seal on the top of a jar of peanut butter to release the wafting smell of the once crushed and imprisoned nuts. I love the smell of a campfire, when it doesn’t include the smell of burning sneakers. I am fascinated by the ocean – and can watch for hours the waves crashing against the rocks or onto the sandy shore. Who can resist a laughing baby?

I know these things seem small, but they are the daily joys of life. The same rain that causes the child to cry – because recess will be indoors – makes the farmer smile. Life is, more often than not, how you choose to view what happens. Solomon would tell you to go to work and give it all you have – then come home and clean up and get ready to take pleasure in the small things.

Fourth, learn to live in rich relationship. Invest in them early and keep them fresh for a lifetime.

If I am excited about any part of this lesson, it is this part. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:9 Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

If you read the verse carefully, you will notice that Solomon didn’t down play how hard life is. He called your daily work “toil.” He called your life fleeting. He admitted that work took up much of your life’s blood and energy. Yet, against the backdrop of all that labor, he happily advised we find a good mate, and stick with him/her all our days.

I would be remiss if I didn’t use this time to be honest with you about marriage. There are seasons to life, and there are seasons to relationships. Those who don’t go the distance may never know the joy of making it through the tough times. Not every day is bliss, but the accumulated collection of life with a satisfying mate cannot be matched in life.

Let me take a moment to offer a few reasons to stick with it even if you’ve seriously considered giving up on your marriage.

First, half of the problems in your current marriage will be with your for life – because your spouse isn’t the whole problem. Let me kindly suggest a few of the problems in your marriage have to do with you. You can’t move on if you take YOU with YOU to happy land.
Second, starting over isn’t as romantic as it may sound. Do you really relish restarting the process of finding someone to trust, love and respect starting from scratch?

Third, when you break a marriage, you tear something you often cannot mend. Maybe it will rip the heart of your children. Maybe it will crush your credit. Maybe it will destroy your mate’s self-confidence. None of those things are good.

Finally, the person you married is still buried inside the cantankerous person eating breakfast cereal across the table. Maybe you have been taking each other or granted. I don’t know. May I suggest you pray like mad and give your best to making it work?

Honestly, there are no perfect marriages. There are flawed people who choose to grow together and stay at it in spite of their imperfections. Your spouse shouldn’t be compared with a movie character or cardboard cutout of perfection.

To the young I offer only this: Choose wisely the wife or husband of your youth. The days will slip away, and your figure will go with them. Pain will leave its mark on your brow all too soon. Don’t choose based solely on externals – because they don’t last long. Find someone you can honestly spend life with and be thankful they are willing to have you.

Fifth, learn to live fully. A half done life is less satisfying than a runny egg on your breakfast plate.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

You get one chance at life – don’t waste it. Don’t half live it. Give it all you have. You can sleep when you are dead. For now, put some energy into BECOMING. Put your best effort into the important things. Don’t take life for granted – you will be left with nothing but regrets if you do. Solomon would summarize the whole of this lesson this way…

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Life Is Beautiful was a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film about a Jewish Italian book shop owner named Guido who used an overactive imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

In 1939 in Italy, Guido arrived to work in a city where his uncle operated a restaurant. He was a comical and sharp young man, and he found a woman and fell in love, stealing his wife from her own engagement party (to another man) on horseback. They married and had a son, and settled into owning an operating a little book store. War broke out and Guido is seized, with his family. They are forced onto a train and sent to a concentration camp. Guido never saw his wife during their internment, but he got creative and pulled off stunts, like using the camp’s loudspeaker to send cryptic messages to assure his wife that he and their son were safe. Though many are executed in the camp, Guido works to hide their true situation from his son. He convinced his son the camp was a complicated game in which he needed to perform the tasks his father gave him to earn points. He taught his son that whoever got to one thousand points first won a tank. He said if he cried, complained or said he was hungry, he would lose all his accumulated points. Quiet boys that hide from camp guards earn extra points. Though at times reluctant, the boy went along with the game. Guido maintained the story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as Allied forces approached, he told his son to stay in a box until everybody left and he will have completed the game. Guido ventured out to find his wife, but was caught by a soldier and marched to be executed. While he is walking to his death, Guido passed by his son one last time, but stayed in character and played the game, winking at his son. The next morning the camp was liberated and Guido’s son was reunited with his mother. It wasn’t until years later that truly understood his father’s story and the sacrifice he made for his family.

Guido didn’t need a good life to make his son’s life a good one. He needed to teach optimism and contentment. He needed to make each day a celebration. He needed to love more deeply the partner God gave him. He needed to throw himself into living with all he could – even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. It made the difference in his son and changed the world while he was in it. You and I need the same thing.

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible!

The Video Introductions for the New Testament are Complete!

Our “One Hour. One Book” videos on each Bible book reached a milestone this past week as we completed and posted to the site ALL of the New Testament videos. There are still a handful of videos from the Hebrew Scriptures that are not posted, but we will have them up soon. The New website is:

1hour1book.com

It contains a carefully prepared introduction and survey of each book of the Bible that was taped in our classroom in Florida. Our hope is that people unfamiliar with any part of the Bible will find the video introduction helpful, It is currently in use in Bible studies and the series has regular viewers in 114 countries.

The Search is Over: “The Watermarks of Wisdom” – Ecclesiastes 8

We have all met them, and some of us live with them. Each of us has in our life someone who seemingly knows a great deal about health food, but even a cursory look at them shows they are unhealthy in their lifestyle. We may have a friend who can explain in detail the benefits of regular exercise, but they are grossly overweight and extremely undeveloped in the muscle department. Perhaps we have in our life someone who has incredible insight into raising children, but their own children seem like hellions. Another friend may offer tremendous advice on how to play a cello, but they cannot seem to hold the bow. There are people who know theory, and then there are people who have learned how to practice that theory consistently.

I mention this because in Biblical terms, there are people who know the theory of a godly lifestyle, but do not live consistently according to Biblical principles.

They get the idea of a walk with God, but they don’t consistently practice one – at least not according to the way God has expressed in His Word He wants them to practice it. They are not hard to find; they are all over the place in the Christian world. They can quote Scripture, but don’t seem to connect their bad habits and ungodly practices with violations of the very truths they memorize. Though we all have areas of life that are not consistently surrendered to God, that isn’t what I am talking about. For most of us, areas in which we struggle to surrender control are points of conviction. That is not true for these unwise friends. They appear satisfied that godliness is mere memorization, theological prowess and theory – whether or not it seems to be showing in their life choices. Solomon would call the unwise, and openly challenged that lifestyle as he explained the workings of godly wisdom in Ecclesiastes 8.

When we studied chapter 7 we noted that Solomon made clear two things were required to have wisdom: we must grab God’s Word and “take a knee” (or bow to worship Him). That was a great beginning point, but Solomon continued his message concerning a wise life. He made an important point that should separate the practical sheep from the theoretical goats.

Key Principle: Wisdom connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Remember that Solomon was the third king of the United Kingdom of the confederate tribes made from the sons of Jacob. God presented him at the beginning of his reign the gift of a profound ability to connect truth to practice in life – what the Bible simply calls “wisdom.” Because God’s gift filled his life during the early days of his administration, it also filled his thinking and speech. Few Biblical writers spent as much time on the subject, because few had as much wisdom in their life as he did.

Though he later drifted far from it, Solomon began as a wise man, and became an avid student of wisdom.

He understood what wisdom is and how its practice helps enrich the lives of people. He knew why wisdom was and is essential. Since the whole of our discussion will be about the use of truth in life – let’s say it the way Solomon would as we study the Word of God written through his quill:

Wisdom is connecting truth to life. It is grasping the principles designed by our Creator and demonstrating their value in the practice of our daily life.

Pick up your Bible and look at how Solomon opened the discussion on seeing wisdom in practice. He posed the idea in a question:

Ecclesiastes 8:1a Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?

He wasn’t asking an open-ended query; he was making a point. We all need wise people in life when trouble comes. How do we know when we found one? Solomon’s point was that when you see a wise man or woman, you will know that is what they are. Wisdom isn’t a mist, it is discernible. It is both practical and practiced. Let’s face it, when you need to reach out to someone you feel you can trust, how will you be able to discern if they are wise? Solomon used the question to hook us, but went on in his speech to answer the question. Read the rest of the verse:

Ecclesiastes 8:1b …A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.

The king first counseled that you take a discerning gaze at the face of your “would be” counselor in the tumultuous moment. He made the point that wisdom changes the countenance of the wise. It offers deep satisfaction to its possessor and a certain confidence you need for troubled times and hard advice in the difficult moments. When we don’t know what to do, panic often shows on our face. When we have the confidence of practiced truth that has bridged this gulf before, we show peace on our face in spite of the storm all around us.

That is one way to identify the wise, but it is not the only way to discern one in whom wisdom is operating well. In addition to the countenance, Solomon took the time to make clear in the rest of his message that because wisdom is the practice of truth, it can be clearly demonstrated in behavior consistent with God’s revealed facts about life.

Since wisdom is living according to God’s design, it is best revealed in (at least) six important “marking” behaviors.

Solomon asserted that wisdom can be seen. If we are following God’s direction, people will be able to tell by watching our behavior. What should they look for?

First, wisdom directs proper respect of authority

Entitled and disrespectful people have not connected God’s Word to their life properly. The very first behavior that revealed a wise person mentioned by Solomon was in relation to how they act under authority – perhaps because it is one of the first lessons we learn in life from our parents at home. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:2 I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” 4 Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.

When the king discussed respect, he did it in terms of royal authority – though it applies to all authority. Solomon’s view in this equation was admittedly from the top (as he was the king of his land), but he is careful to explain both the defining characteristics of respect and the ways in which respect for authority shows wisdom.

When our society was more rooted in Biblical ideals, people were taught to respect an office because of the office. Today, people openly reveal that no one is entitled to their respect if the office holder does not “earn” it. In fact, you will hear people espouse the idea that “I respect myself too much to offer allegiance to someone simply because they hold an office or position. They have to convince me of the value of respecting them.”

That may sound reasonable to you, but it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t moral. It isn’t wise. In the end, a society that requires every individual to earn your respect will give you unending opportunities to disregard authority while they are busy trying to convince you of the value of doing what you are told. Teachers in such a society become beholden to complaining students and absent parents. Police officers get arguments instead of compliance. Bosses get under performing and over-expecting workers.

No one is arguing that public servants and people in charge don’t need to behave well. That is a separate issue. The issue is this: the mark of wisdom is clear when we show respect for those in authority over us. Look at the verses again more slowly:

Solomon began with the notion that wisdom directs respect as an acknowledgement of God’s control and placement of those who are over us (8:2). Did you notice how linked human authority was with that of Divine authority? Ultimately, lack of respect for human authority structures is rooted in an expression of rebellion against the God Who appointed the authority over you. For this reason, it is difficult for anyone to really understand the coherent logic of respect without a firm belief in God. When the Scripture argues the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, this is a significant part of what such an ideal entails. Consider this:

The book Family and Civilization was the obvious magnum opus of Carle C. Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught for many years at Harvard University. Zimmerman demonstrated the connections between the rise and fall of the nuclear family and the rise and fall of their respective civilizations, with particular attention to ancient Greece and Rome, medieval and modern Europe, and then finally the United States. He traced the family structure from tribes and clans to modern nuclear families and then to the broken families of the twentieth century. (The book was published in 1947). He showed the consequences of each family structure for the bearing and rearing of children; for religion, law, and everyday life; and for the fate of civilization itself.

That may not sound interesting, but the compelling analysis predicted many of today’s cultural and social controversies and trends, including youth violence and depression, abortion and homosexuality, the demographic collapse of Europe and of the West more generally, and the displacement of peoples. One magazine lifted a quote from the book as follows:

“…Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied: Marriage loses its sacredness…is frequently broken by divorce; traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost; feminist movements abound; there is increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general; an acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity and rebellion occurs; there is refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities; a growing desire for, and acceptance of, adultery is evident; there is increasing interest in, and spread of, sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.” – Confident Living (author unknown), November 1987, p. 34

Don’t get lost in the verbiage; his point is clear. Zimmerman showed the lessons of the family are what bring respect or rebellion to the public square. The cohesiveness of the training at home has everything to do with the crime rate, the social conscience and the public sense of respect for one another.

Solomon went on to note that respectful observers of authority stand by the one appointed by God and are not willing to abandon or betray them easily (8:3). Loyalty is a treasured commodity by those who learn respect. People who learn to show rightful respect to those in charge will reap the benefits of that knowledge.

Jerry Jenkins wrote a book that I read and used many times about twenty years ago, called Twelve Things I Want My Children to Remember Forever. The book was reprinted many times, and captures some basic lessons the author felt were essential as his children grew up. One chapter was entitled: “Some people have the right to be wrong.” In that part of the book, Jenkins made clear those in authority do not have the right to hurt you, nor to press you to do something that is illegal, immoral or ungodly – but they DO possess the right to tell you how to do the work they have hired you to do – because they are the boss. The coach has the right to call the play – even if you think you know better. The employer has the right to demand that you arrange the tasks he or she gives you according to their priorities, even if they don’t make sense to you. Respect demands that we not need to be fully consulted to be wholly compliant to those in authority.

Wisdom connects the value of respect for authority to the practice of daily living. Godly people take every opportunity to show respect… but that isn’t all…

Wisdom also informs timing, and as have been said, “Timing is everything.”

Wisdom separates play time from work time. It teaches balance between work and leisure and informs us what is essential for that moment. Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. 7 If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?

The king noted that even in the midst of heavy times, there is a moment when relaxation, laughter and release are appropriate. Because we don’t know what is about to happen, we must learn to govern our sternness and our intensity for the long haul. Reckless people play when they should be working. Unwise people take no breaks. Wisdom reminds us we can’t expend all our energy in the first quarter of the game. Timing and careful execution of both our work and our play show we have gained wisdom. But there is more related to this idea…

Wisdom reminds us of our limitations.

Fools fight battles they cannot win. Wise is the person who recognizes the right place to expend their energy. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:8 No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. 9 All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.

This proverb is dense with idea. The beginning of verse eight reminds us that we don’t have unlimited power, and we aren’t in charge of our own finish line. If you keep reading, the verse reminds us there are evils of the world that break into our life and we cannot control their assault, nor rebuff the need to drop everything we are doing and march in resistance to their evil.

Ask those who were drafted and they will tell you they understand this concept well. They didn’t go to war because they knew the people that were disrupting the peace of the world community. They went because we sent them. They didn’t know the enemy, and they didn’t care. They were living life until they were conscripted to fight – and there was nothing they could do to stop the dramatic changes that were about to happen to them. From haircut to wardrobe to training – it was out of their control. They went from freedom to being told when to eat and where to sleep.

Wisdom reminds us there are things in life that we will not have the strength, the intelligence or the latitude to adjust. We will be told, and we will comply. At the height of our personal strength, we are still weak and subject to authorities and forces bigger than ourselves. Solomon would say: “Don’t get too big for your britches!”

One of the noticeable traits of people who are entitled is they believe they offer greater wisdom than their life experience would normally afford. Another one is they feel deeply valuable, even when they have actually produced much in life. It is easy for the unwise to believe they know and can do almost anything – but wisdom teaches us some of our limitations. The candidate can make sweeping changes the elected official may not be able to pull off. Wisdom teaches us this often through powerful life experiences.

Wisdom reminds us of the difference between real faith and public piety.

While we are learning about limitations, we also learn about what is REAL in life. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:10 So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.

The king observed some who lived poorly but went to worship regularly. He noted the fact that little of them was remembered after their life ended. Wisdom teaches that a good life is about impact on your life to others – not simply your attendance in places where good things are taught.

Solomon would ask: “Do you want to have an impact even after you are gone?” The answer to having one is not how many hours you spent in Bible studies and worship meetings – it is in how much you DO for people. You know the hours you spend learning and preparing. Others only know the hours you spend serving and doing. Wisdom reminds us to get out of the chair and get busy in the lives of people.

I believe the reason many believers struggle to serve is they get lost in the preparation. They know their own inner weakness and don’t trust themselves to be fully ready to serve others. They wrestle, year in and year out, with private sin and personal failures, and use these as an excuse to spend more time in preparation, and little time in serving. Sadly, they don’t realize that it is ONLY in serving that people are changed.

If making an impact is important to you – I urge you to begin to measure your life by how much you are serving others. Wisdom teaches that servants change others while students focus on themselves. We must go past preparation and into service to do what will be remembered.

By mid-chapter Solomon changed tempo in the narrative. The second half is still about wisdom, but it added a dimension. The king wasn’t only concerned with the application of wisdom to individuals as the first half of the chapter demonstrated, but also to public society. The remaining verses concern how wisdom plays out in the public square. After all, he was a king.

Wisdom instructs a community to offer swift judgment to deter crime.

Solomon began with wisdom concerning judgment of those who have been unwise. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.

The point of the text is clear: Timely and reliable jurisprudence are marks of a wise society. An erratic court leaves justice wanting. A long held judgment that isn’t carried out becomes a joke. Solomon wasn’t pressing for a lynch mob to deal with criminals, but he made clear that a system with unending appeals is not a system that will deter people from crime. Years ago, when I was living in the Middle East, one of my European friends made a comment that stuck with me. He said: “The truth is if you were going to murder someone, the best place to do it is in America. You have more ways out of judgment than any justice system I can think of.” I am not sure if he was right, but I know there are many times I feel that way when looking at the cases that roll past me on the news ticker.

In our system, we have several grounds on which one may appeal for a reduced sentence or even acquittal that have nothing to do with whether or not they committed the crime. Out of compassion, we allow for mitigation of punishment based on what we perceive to be the mental state of the criminal, the passionate motivation for the crime, and a host of other conditions. While we have grown more compassionate in our judicial system, we may also be unwittingly creating more criminal incentive by offering so many ways out of taking full responsibility for our public actions. Solomon’s concern was not the swiftness of the proceedings to prove a man or woman guilty – but rather the length of time between a guilt finding and the execution of a sentence. In other words, wisdom says that twenty years on death row encourages more crime.

In the modern legal world, the idea of deterrence is generally not held in high regard. Biblical wisdom directs that when we have passed judgment on a criminal, their sentence should be swiftly executed in order to signal to others the seriousness of the crime and the certainty of the judgment.

Move for a moment from the county court room to your own living room. Most of us learned how serious Mom was about what she commanded by watching our siblings. She would tell our brother to take out the trash, and he would say, “In a minute, mom!” We would hear her voice change and her command become more shrill. “Get this trash out.” We would watch to see how far our dear brother could push the situation before they obeyed. If Mom walked in and said, “Take the trash out in the next minute or you are grounded for one week” you would recognize the swift result for ignoring obedience. How would that change the way you responded to mom next time she spoke?

Despite what some will tell you, deterrence and example should be part of the formula for a just society. Wisdom makes clear that while the guilty are being handled, the “not yet criminal” eyes are watching intently.

Wisdom reminds us of real justice and what truly works in the end.

Solomon offered another word on justice that is worth recalling as well:

Ecclesiastes 8:12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. 13 But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. 14 There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.

Solomon knew some would do wrong and seem to get away with it. Some would even profit from their misdeeds in the short run. Even for those who appeared to gain longer life and richer bank accounts, they weren’t really getting ahead. Their life was a mirage of richness – because they were facing God’s wrath in the end.

Solomon made an astute observation about our life on earth: If you try to judge fairness in life while you journey here – you will be left depressed. It is true! Sometimes the bad guy defeats the good guy here. Sometimes the good guy goes through great difficulty and dies at the hands of his enemy while the crime boss lives in luxury and dies in his bed peacefully. Here is the catch: the whole story doesn’t happen here. Death is just the beginning of another unending experience. What is unfair on earth will be made right after life here.

Remember the theme of the book? Life under the sun doesn’t make sense because the answers aren’t found in the material world. The cosmos doesn’t hold the meaning of it all, God does.

It doesn’t matter how many plays end badly, how many movies proclaim falsehood and how many songs try to convince you otherwise – evil will not win. Hate, murder, lies and injustice will be made right before the face of the Perfect One. If I didn’t know that, I would lean toward agreement with the radical skeptics and Nihilists – none of this appears to make much sense. Thank God for His Word! We have not been left here without a way to put a sense of burning injustice to rest.

Wisdom offered conclusions on priorities.

Solomon drew two important conclusions about the world by looking through the prism of God-given wisdom. They are worth sharing, and God let us have them in His Word.

First, he noted that enjoying life as a walk with God in every step of life made time here a blessing.

He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.

Life is not a curse, though we live in a fallen world. Over and over again, Solomon made clear that God provided life under the sun. God assigned our task of work. God offers moments of fulfillment – a full belly, an unstoppable “tears running down your face” time of laughter, an inner sense of deep satisfaction in a job well done. Each of these moments is to be treasured, and must never be taken for granted.

Dear ones, we have each other for a very short time. All our life here is the mere vapor of only a few moments. We have the joys of a beautiful sunrise and the stunning vista full of colors of sunset for a few more days to enjoy. If we choose, we can waste our life raging at what we don’t like about living in an incomplete and fallen world, but that is like spitting into the wind: We won’t change the world very much and we will get ourselves all wet and more miserable in the process.

Look very closely to the words of Solomon. He “commended” pleasure. The word is “shabach” which is literally “to praise.” In short, Solomon congratulated pleasure. He said, “You are good, and I am glad I have you in my life!” I am sad to say that many believers find that hard to believe. They seem to feel the godliness is glum at its core. I want to say this in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood. God gave you the pleasures of life. The fact that there are hedonists in this world is no excuse for you to see all pleasure as secret sin. God INTENDED you to enjoy your life – IF you would keep Him at the center of your joy, fulfillment and happiness. A God-centered life is the only kind God counts as a fulfilled life.

Let’s say it this way: God wants you to have a party, but only if He is invited!

He doesn’t want the party to become more important than our walk with Him. He must become our chief joy, or we have settled for something less than we could have. He gave us much to celebrate along the journey, but wants it to be the best it can be for us – and He IS the best for us.

Solomon offered a second observation. He wrote, “Don’t think you will ever make sense of all of life – you won’t.”

Ecclesiastes 8:16 When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night – lit. “see no sleep in his eyes”), 17 and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, “I know,” he cannot discover.

There is no command of God for you to figure everything out in life. You are to know Him and listen to His Word. In fact, godly wisdom only comes to one who is open to receive God’s Word. Musical notes fall to the floor without meaning if the audience is deaf. So it is with the wisdom from God.

It is also important to remember that a journey with wisdom truly is the road less traveled. Kent Lenard wrote a few years ago:

In a recent NCAA cross-country championship held in Riverside, California, 123 of the 128 runners missed a turn. One competitor, Mike Delcavo, stayed on the 10,000 meter course and began waving for fellow runners to follow him. Delcavo was able to convince only four other runners to go with him. Asked what his competitors thought of his mid-race decision not to follow the crowd, Delcavo responded, “They thought it was funny that I went the right way.” Delcavo was one who ran correctly.

Wisdom is practicing God’s truths in life. It is what you earn after decades of listening to God’s Word when you wanted to talk and give Him your insight and counsel. If you would have it, you must travel a different path. You can’t afford to simply memorize and get theoretical. Wisdom makes you act. It gives you strength to stand when no one else will.

Wisdom can be observed. It isn’t a mysterious ethereal concept locked in theoretical sophistry. It is practical. It is daily. It connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Who was United States Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas? I suppose you could call him a “Mr. Nobody.” No law bears his name. Not a single list of Senate “greats” mentions his service. Yet when Ross entered the Senate in 1866, he was considered the man to watch. He seemed destined to surpass his colleagues, but he tossed it all away by one courageous act of conscience. Let’s set the stage. Conflict was dividing our government in the wake of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson was determined to follow Lincoln’s policy of reconciliation toward the defeated South. Congress, however, wanted to rule the downtrodden Confederate states with an iron hand. Congress decided to strike first. Shortly after Senator Ross was seated, the Senate introduced impeachment proceedings against the hated President. The radicals calculated that they needed thirty-six votes, and smiled as they concluded that the thirty-sixth was none other than Ross’. The new senator listened to the vigilante talk. But to the surprise of many, he declared that the president “deserved as fair a trial as any accused man has ever had on earth.” The word immediately went out that his vote was “shaky.” Ross received an avalanche of anti-Johnson telegrams from every section of the country. Radical senators badgered him to “come to his senses.” The fateful day of the vote arrived. The courtroom galleries were packed. Tickets for admission were at an enormous premium. As a deathlike stillness fell over the Senate chamber, the vote began. By the time they reached Ross, twenty-four “guilties” had been announced. Eleven more were certain. Only Ross’ vote was needed to impeach the President. Unable to conceal his emotion, the Chief Justice asked in a trembling voice, “Mr. Senator Ross, how vote you? Is the respondent Andrew Johnson guilty as charged?” Ross later explained, at that moment, “I looked into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, and everything that makes life desirable to an ambitions man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.” Then, the answer came — unhesitating, unmistakable: “Not guilty!” With that, the trial was over. And the response was as predicted. A high public official from Kansas wired Ross to say: “Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.” The “open grave” vision had become a reality. Ross’ political career was in ruins. Extreme ostracism, and even physical attack awaited his family upon their return home. One gloomy day Ross turned to his faithful wife and said, “Millions cursing me today will bless me tomorrow…though not but God can know the struggle it has cost me.” It was a prophetic declaration. Twenty years later Congress and the Supreme Court verified the wisdom of his position, by changing the laws related to impeachment. Ross was appointed Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Then, just prior to his death, he was awarded a special pension by Congress. The press and country took this opportunity to honor his courage which, they finally concluded, had saved our country from crisis and division. Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 56-58)