Power to hurt each other ...

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless! -Ecclesiastes 8:9-10,14 NLT

These verses cause me to flashback to the ending of the first Godfather movie where a young Michael Corleone has gangster leaders murdered as he becomes Godfather of his sister's child. Violent and perverted people often seek the legitimacy of the institution of religion yet are in no way attracted to following God. While I cannot relate to Michael Corleone I do resonate with the attraction of religious affirmation and the judgmental attitude that accompanies it.

The unfairness of this life is reflected in the ways that Solomon speaks of the evil being honored and how good people are often treated as bad people. Reminds me of that cynical saying: "Life is not fair and then you die." Sometimes our journey seems like that. Even so, I find in the life, teaching and ministry of Jesus Christ a power that heals rather than hurts ... a power that sees people as ones whom God loves ... a force that brings love and hope to the world.

Help us dear Lord Jesus Christ to see past our cynicism and embrace the love that you showed us on the cross.

Not even the wisest people ...

In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim. -Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 NLT

Socrates once said "True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." In truth, even our greatest minds know very little when their knowledge is compared to what there is to know about their area of expertise. In this passage Solomon seems to agree with that assessment. Yet there seems to be an intellectualism that permeates society that communicates an idea that is contrary to what Socrates and Solomon came to understand.

There is something about knowledge, even a lit bit of it, that twists us and causes us to do believe that we are more than we really are. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul acknowledged that while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens us. I find a humility in those words that is so hard to grasp. In a sense, knowledge is all about us but love is all about others. Perhaps that is why wisdom is not all about knowledge?

Lord, keep us free from pride. Help us to embrace the humility of love.

In the face of death ...

Indeed, how can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen? None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle. And in the face of death, wickedness will certainly not rescue the wicked. -Ecclesiastes 8:7-8 NLT

A good friend recently shared with me her list of things that she would die for. I loved the list - something like that has a way of putting the things of life in perspective. I suspect that there are things that you would die for. Soldiers often risk all in battle telling the world that they would die for their country. Misguided teenage suicide bombers believe that they are dying for God and their religion. The world is replete with heroes like police and firefighters who risk their lives daily.

Solomon's words speak to me about the brevity of life and the importance of living 'today' to the fullest. Having a 'to die for' list puts 'today' in perspective a bit. It reminds me of how Jesus Christ laid down his life for us when he was crucified. Before he was sentenced to die he told Pontius Pilate that he could call 10,000 angels to rescue him. Yet, in the face of death, he proclaimed to all who would hear his story, then and now, that he loved us enough to die for us.

Lord, help us today to ponder the brevity of life and the importance of living today as it may be our last.

Wisdom is always distant ...

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn't work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. ... “This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for.” [Ecclesiastes 7:23-25,27-28]

Is it possible to be wise apart from God? Now I am not asking if one is able to be brilliant, in an intellectual sense, apart from God - it seems that many intellectuals are agnostics or atheists. In a sense, I am asking if one can be smart and unwise at the same time. Looking at what Solomon says here it certainly seems possible. In my thinking wisdom is an issue of the heart and not the head. Consequentially even the most intellectually challenged can be wise.

This idea speaks to me and helps me to understand why Solomon, the purported wisest man of his time, says that wisdom "is always distant and difficult to find". Thinking will not always bring wisdom to you. Sometimes wisdom is only found by trusting the Lord with all of your heart. Often the path to wise living can only be found through prayer. To answer my original question, I do not think it possible to be wise apart from God. It is a matter of having a new heart.

Teach us to be wise Lord. Help us to trust you with our heart and not lean on the thoughts of our head.

Both come from God ...

Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life. [Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 NLT]

As wise as Solomon was he absolutely got it wrong in these verses. Yet many perceive God in this way. Well meaning and faithful people throughout the years have viewed God as some sort of divine puppet master pulling the strings one way and bringing blessings but causing hard times by pulling different strings. It is an ancient view that was totally destroyed and set on end by Jesus Christ when he came and showed us what God, and his kingdom, is really like.

Jesus Christ told Phillip that anyone who has seen him has seen God. In that statement Jesus put to rest any idea that God makes things crooked and inflicts us with hard times. For in the gospels we see in Christ a God who is consistently moved by love and compassion. We do not see some sort of divine puppet master but one who consistently blesses everyone that he touches with his hands and his words. In Jesus we find the one certain thing in life - love.

Help us to see you clearly dear Lord as the one who is called Love.

Finishing is better than starting.

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride. -Ecclesiastes 7:8 NLT

Life is full of unfinished tasks. Often we start things that we never finish. Many times life's chores are so much harder than we imagined when we started them. It is so easy to start things but not so easy to finish. It is hard to hear words of needing patience at the beginning of a task but it is not long before we understand how impatient we can be when difficulties come and the end seems so far away. Patience often tests our pride. Humility is needed to finish.

The prophet Micah tells us what is required to finish life well. He says that a good life is all about doing the right things, being compassionate and walking humbly with God. I think that each of these embody, in a sense, what it means to be patient. Being patient means that we see past the present day's difficulties and, with hope, humbly do the things today that help us to finish well. Sometimes, if we are patient, we will experience the satisfaction of finishing what we started.

Help us Lord to confront the pride that keeps us from finishing. Teach us to walk humbly.

A good reputation ...

A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born. Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies — so the living should take this to heart.
[Ecclesiastes 7:1 NLT]

Interesting how Solomon connects our reputation to our death. Perhaps it is only in death that our reputation is fully known? Maybe the eulogies spoken at our funerals say more about us than the way that we perceive our own lives?
I am reminded of the images painted of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and how he was given the opportunity to reflect on the reputation that he had earned in his life. Would that all of us had the ability to see ourselves that way.

What do you think you would see if you were, like Scrooge, taken on a trip down memory lane? Do you think that it would, like Scrooge, affect your present day behaviors? Or what if you were shown the day of your death - would it affect you at all? I have given several eulogies - contemplating the life of one who has died gives one occasion to think about their own life and how they would like to be remembered ... and the legacy they will leave.

Help us today dear Lord to build a reputation that honors you. Cause it to be a legacy of love.

Like working for the wind ...

People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. -Ecclesiastes 5:16-20 NLT

Confucius, another wise man, once said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life". So often we see our work as a means to an end and we end up choosing a job for all the wrong reasons. When I look back on my life I can see that the jobs I took for financial reasons were the ones I loved the least. Sometimes we acquire and stay in jobs because of the salary - paying the mortgage on that big home can keep us trapped in jobs we hate.

What do you think Solomon means when he instructs us to accept our lot in life? I do not think that he is telling us to give in to some sort of fatalistic thinking. Neither do I think that he is saying that we should not have professional goals that we pursue in life. It seems that he is saying that we can only be happy today. Yet sadly we often spend so much time pursuing the happiness of tomorrow that we live lives that are anything but happy - in that we chase the wind.

Help us Lord to enjoy life right where we are and to be thankful for our blessings.

We can’t take our riches with us.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! ... There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. -Ecclesiastes 5:10-11,13-15 NLT

I once heard that the bible speaks more about money that it does anything else. Not sure that it is true but it does seem that Solomon speaks about it quite a bit. Here he speaks as one who was probably one the richest men of all time. This king, who had wealth beyond measure, writes about money not being enough, hoarding riches, risky investments and how we are all the same in the end. I think that he had a perspective that few of us will ever have.

In contrast to the opulence of wealth is the contentment that we hear that people have in foreign lands. Many who come back from third world countries often regale us with stories of happy people who have no wealth. As Solomon puts it: "How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!" Yet how many of us know this but refuse to be content with what we have? Perhaps the secret to this sort of contentment is simply acknowledging our blessedness?

Forgive us Lord for all of the ways that we love money and the things that money buys. Help us to be content.

Mindless offerings to God ...

As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few. -Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NLT

As I read these verses I am reminded of the first time that I tried to make a deal with God. On that day I began to pray by saying “God if you will heal my wife I will stop drinking” ... as I spoke a presence came over me ... I became aware that I was a sinner ... I felt dirty on the inside ... I quickly changed my prayer and surrendered my life to Christ. Sometimes God goes beyond the words of our mouth and presses into the depths of our heart.

In contrast to these mindless offerings to God, the Apostle Paul speaks to the Romans of a different kind of offering - a living sacrifice that he says is holy and acceptable to God. This kind of sacrifice involves neither mindless promises or commitments to do something if God acts in a certain way. This sacrificial offering says not my will but Thine and fervently asks for Thy kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Such an offering is holy and acceptable to God.

We offer ourselves to you today Lord with absolutely no strings attached. Lead us as you will. We are yours.

They envy their neighbors ...

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. -Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

I think that this verse could be something written on the editorial page of our local newspaper. And with respect to envying our neighbors Christians do not seem to fall behind others one bit. When I consider the edifices that we worship in on Sundays I generally see ornately decorated buildings with spaces that are used just one day, and maybe one night, out of the week. But it seems to have always been that way since Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem.

I wonder what it is that causes us to be motivated by envy? I remember reading that Paul wrote, in the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, that love does not envy and feeling convicted about the way that I envied people my age that had good health. Maybe that is the point that Solomon makes here - envy is the polar opposite of love. We cannot be motivated by both. When our banner is love, and not envy, we will cheer on others and work to help them succeed.

Open our eyes to the envy that is leading us astray Lord. Help us to fully embrace love.

With no one to comfort them ...

I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. -Ecclesiastes 4:1 NLT

I sometimes wonder how the gospel writers knew that Jesus was being moved by compassion to heal the sick. I think that they saw tears in the eyes of God when he saw the pain that people were in. How do the tears of people in pain affect you? I must admit that tears brings tears to my eyes. I have broke down and cried as I prayed for sick and hurting people. How can our response be less than tears when we see reports of people being oppressed around the world?

The phrase "with no one to comfort them" is such a troubling one. Sometimes life can be so hard - especially for children. Again I am drawn back to the example of Jesus Christ in the gospel stories. Time after time he seemed to seek out the folks who were hurting the most. It reminds me of that story he told of how we would be judged based on how we treated the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and the imprisoned. He has called us to comfort those who cry.

Open our eyes Father to your children who cry and have no one to comfort them. Help us be your loving arms for them.

To the side of yet another ...

It is better to be a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who refuses all advice. Such a youth could rise from poverty and succeed. He might even become king, though he has been in prison. But then everyone rushes to the side of yet another youth who replaces him. Endless crowds stand around him, but then another generation grows up and rejects him, too. So it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. -Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 NLT

The most fleeting of power is the political variety. The past year has shown us the loss of power in countries like Libya and Egypt where dictators were overthrown - history is filled with such leaders. Every four years in the United States we elect a new leader - we have chosen to limit the power of one man to a maximum of eight years. Regardless the country, the words of Solomon in these verses is true, political power is so very temporary and so very limited.

I think that men in particular are attracted to political power. We see in the gospels a stark contrast between the uber-political pharisees and the seemingly nonpolitical Jesus. These men, in their quest for political power, seemed to challenge the authority of Christ at every turn. Yet Jesus Christ had an influence, power and authority that was based in love and not subject to human authority. Love is the true authority and power in the Kingdom of god.

Help us Lord to know of the true power that we have when we love.

Three are even better ...

Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. -Ecclesiastes 4:12

This verse is one of the most often quoted at wedding ceremonies because of the way that it symbolizes the marital covenant. In that context I see several relationships. First I think that there is the covenant that the couple makes to each other before God when they say the words in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, for richer or poor, till death do us part. This I think is the essence of covenant - it is greater than a contract because God is involved.

The other aspect of this covenantal relationship is the one that the couple has with God. No longer is the relationship with God all about a personal interaction - the two have become one yet so very often the two act like this covenant does not exist. It is so difficult to walk out because of pride - it is hard defer to how the other is led by God. And it is so often difficult to hear from God together about life issues. Yet it is possible - three are even better than two.

Dear Lord, please bring humility into our marriages. Help us to seek you and hear your voice together.

Two people are better off than one ...

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. -Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

After my first wife died people would often ask me if I was lonely. My feelings were never so much of being lonely as I had my two children living with me. Even so I had a deep sense of being alone. Loneliness is one of the most difficult things to deal with yet the sense of being alone is even more challenging. This is where many find themselves as they grow older. I know that it is difficult for many of our friends to hang out with us since my wife Ann has been disabled.

I love the way that Solomon paints a picture of community in these verses. Earlier this year I thought that I was having a stroke and our friend Kelly from church brought me to the emergency room - it was such a blessing to have that support. Last year we came back from a difficult summer in Chicago to find that our church had stocked our place with groceries - words cannot describe my feelings. Knowing that you are not alone in the world is a wonderful blessing.

Help us Lord to open ourselves to a spiritual community and to the love of others.

People ... they are like animals.

I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.” I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. -Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

I once heard J. Vernon McGee, that popular old fashioned radio preacher, say that he believed in a different type of evolution. He said that people were made in the image of God and evolved to be more like animals than like God. That sentiment resonates with what Solomon writes here and paints a somewhat pejorative view of humanity as a whole. And it is hard to argue with this when you look at all of the violence in the world - some done in the name of God.

I think that John Wesley encapsulated what it means to be authentically human when he said "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can." When we sacrificially love others we differentiate ourselves from the animals and show ourselves to be divinely made. And when we forgive we reflect the glorious image of our Creator.

Help us dear Lord to be reflections of Jesus Christ. Please conform us into that image in all that we do.

Whatever God does is final ...

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. -Ecclesiastes 3:12-15 NLT

There is a fatalism embraced in these verses that teaches us much about the dark reasonings of some when they age. These verses accept the belief that all events are predetermined and inevitable. Some even mistakenly confuse this view with the sovereignty of God. Yet, if one truly shares this blend of fatalism and narcissism they will most assuredly focus their pursuits on eating at fine restaurants and sipping aged wine instead of caring for others.

In contrast to fatalism is a faith that causes us to press in, seek, and overcome. Faith inspires hope in tomorrow while fatalism offers only fear. Faith affirms God's love for us while fatalism embraces the worst of our fears. Faith affirms the love of God while fatalism focuses on the fear of God. When our faith is focused on the whole of God - His sovereignty, His Power and His Love - we have a healthy faith. When we only focus His sovereignty we develop an unhealthy faith.

Keep us from fatalistic thoughts today dear Lord. Help us to with faith embrace the hope of tomorrow.

He has planted eternity in the human heart ...

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. -Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 NLT

Interesting that, in context of eternity, Solomon says that He has made everything beautiful. That is good news because life before death is often not very beautiful. It is interesting that we all seem to be born with this concept of eternity but really cannot understand it, even at a superficial level, with our heads. I guess that is because we cannot grasp timelessness. I know that I cannot imagine a place where there are no seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks or years.

What I find interesting about this idea of eternity is that it is a concept of the heart not the head. It is a concept that confronts us at a heart level. It causes us to wonder at a gut level. Sad that many take eternity, try to discern it with their heads, and arrive at some strange places. Maybe this sort of cogitation is a way to handle an unanswerable question with a non-answer? Yet eternity has a way of drawing my heart to hope and to dream as I never have before.

My heart is filled with eternal dreams Lord. Thank you for the hope of an eternal heaven spent with our eternal Father.

For everything there is a season ...

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. -Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT

I suspect that, if you are my age, your first exposure to this verse and the ones that follow it were first heard in a song made popular by "The Birds". The verses that come after this one contrasts birth and death, sorrow and laughter, sickness and healing, war and peace. This passage is a delineation of the seasons of our lives and the events that hit all of us. In these Solomon does not say that bad things like war have to happen but simply that they do.

When I look back on my life I can certainly see distinct seasons - each decade seemed to come with different joys and challenges - each seem to come with its own share of births and deaths, war and peace. Rick Warren once said that life is not so much a journey of mountains and valleys but one that looked more like a railroad track - you always have things to be thankful for and things that cause you to struggle. I think that is a good perspective.

Thank you for this season of my life Lord - without the challenge I might forget how much I need you.

Like chasing the wind ...

I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. -Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 NLT

The book of Proverbs contains the reflections of Solomon when he was young. In Ecclesiastes he looks back on those writings with an older perspective - age can teach us a form of wisdom that is ungraspable when we are young. At times I can relate to what Solomon writes here - life can seem meaningless apart from eternal things like loving relationships. This to me is where the dimension of faith can add meaning to an existence that seems to chase the wind.

On the most difficult days I sometimes look back and wonder if life was worth it - bad days have a tendency to make everything look like chasing the wind. Makes me wonder what was happening in Solomon's life when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Sometimes hard times can make a person bitter and see life through a dark lens - I sometimes struggle that way. Yet I find that it is so important on those days to be thankful for the simple blessings of life and love.

Help those who are sad and depressed today Lord. Impart hope to those who struggle to find meaning in life.

A gang of cynics ...

A gang of cynics can upset a whole city; a group of sages can calm everyone down.
A sage trying to work things out with a fool gets only scorn and sarcasm for his trouble.
A fool lets it all hang out; a sage quietly mulls it over. -Proverbs 29:8,9,11 MSG

The word sage conjurs up all sorts of meanings. Solomon himself was known as a sage - many of the prophets were as well. Other biblical versions simply render sage as a wise man. It is interesting how these verses contrast sage with fool and cynic - I have never thought of a cynic as a fool but this passage causes me to wonder. When I think of a cynic I am reminded of a person who thinks the worst about a person or a situation. That seems to be the opposite of love.

Solomon tells us that cynics can upset many people. I can relate to being upset by the prognosticaion of cynics who can only see bad things happening. I have fell into this trap - some days I can only see dark times ahead. In contrast the wise person sees a brighter tomorrow. Yet a fool will often respond to his cynicism by telling everyone how bad things are while the sage will think before they speak. Speaks to me about the value in praying before we speak.

Dear Lord, I am prone to cynicsm. Deliver me from its power and cause me to be wise in thought and speech.

If people can’t see what God is doing ...

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. -Proverbs 29:18 MSG

What do you think Solomon means when he speaks of seeing what God is doing? Do you think that it is something mystical or a bit more natural? Other versions of the first part of this verse render it this way:
  • Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (NIV)
  • When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. (NLT)
  • Where there is no vision, the people perish (KJV)
Words like revelation, divine guidance, and vision seems to speak to the ways that God leads and guides us. Before Christ came the application of these words was the law and the prophets revealed in the Old Testament. Yet it seems that Jesus changed this paradigm when he told his followers that the Holy Spirit would lead and teach them.

Back to my original question - is God's revelation to us mystical or natural? I suggest to you that it is usually both. When God first revealed himself to Moses there was a natural and supernatural aspect to it. God proved his word to Moses when he turned his staff into a snake. Yet he required Moses to respond in faith to this revelation. It seems to me that both natural eyes and eyes of faith are required to see what God is doing.

Open our eyes Lord to see what you are doing. Help us to see the world with eyes of faith.

The good-hearted understand ...

The good-hearted understand what it’s like to be poor; the hardhearted haven’t the faintest idea. -Proverbs 29:7 MSG

There is a saying that says that to really understand another you must first walk a mile in their shoes. I think that a compassion for others is often born in hard times. The successful person who once struggled understands what it was like to be in need. The person who once waited tables often is a more generous tipper. One who grew up in poverty is often more sensitive to human needs than one who was raised in a more prosperous setting.

When I think about a good heart I am reminded of the parable of the sower in which Jesus speaks of different kinds of soil. He teaches us that seeds do not grow well in hard ground or soil filled with thorns. He says that the good plowed soil produces an abundant harvest. In a sense the ground is like our heart in that it can be hard, thorny or soft. It speaks to me of how I need to let God's plow run through my heart and break up any part of it that is hard or thorny.

Plow me today dear Lord and remove any hardness in me. Prepare me to receive the seed of your word.

The fear of human opinion ...

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. -Proverbs 29:25 MSG

Since 1977 I have had a mug with this verse written on it. I remember drinking coffee from it at work and still fearing the opinions of others. Being a people pleaser really does disable us and causes us to do strange things. I wonder what it is that causes us to fear what people think? Perhaps there is something broken inside of us that causes us to be insecure? Or maybe our childhood was filled with events that conditioned us to seek the approval of others.

I think that the real issue with seeking to please others is that you lose yourself in the process - 'their' opinion becomes yours; you do what 'they' do; you rely on what others think rather than what you think. Solomon tells us in this verse that we can trust in the opinion of God rather than those of people. The way that has worked for me was beginning to trust the voice of God in my heart more than fleshly voices in my head - fear is of the head but freedom is of the heart.

Dear Lord, set us free today from the fear of human opinion. Cause us to trust your inner voice.

You fight for it tooth and nail ...

If you desert God’s law, you’re free to embrace depravity; if you love God’s law, you fight for it tooth and nail. Practice God’s law - get a reputation for wisdom; hang out with a loose crowd—embarrass your family. God has no use for the prayers of the people who won’t listen to him. -Proverbs 28:4,7,9 MSG

Interesting how Solomon compares our relationship with God to our relationship with the scriptures. He contrasts deserting the scripture with fighting for it tooth and nail. He even says that our prayers are affected by our relationship to holy writ. When I accepted Christ in April of 1976 I had an intense desire to know what the bible said and consequently read it through in the following year. There seems to be a connection between faith and the scriptures.

When I read "you fight for it tooth and nail" I do not think of fighting with others but contending for scriptural truth within myself. When I am tempted to sin I am faced with truth and have to fight for the truth with everything I have. When I read about practicing God's law I understand how important it is to know the scriptures well enough to be able to put it into practice. And I wonder how many of my prayers have gone unanswered because I have ignored the scriptures.

Dear Lord, help us to be people of the book, daily putting into practice what we read in the scriptures.

One friend sharpens another ...

You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another. -Proverbs 27:17 MSG

In this world of leaders and followers it is great to imagine a relationship that is built on mutual respect and fellowship. I have never been truly comfortable with the mentoring relationship because I always come away sharpened from those friendships. I remember the three years that I weekly "mentored" men behind bars. Each Tuesday it seemed that these men would teach me so much more than I ever did them. In truth, I found much encouragement in those men.

I think that encouragement is the word that I think of when I ponder this sharpening aspect of friendship. Sometimes the encouragement involves a tough message that is delivered like sandpaper to our pride. And often these words simply give us courage to face another day. Yet behind the words this sharpening is filled with great love. There is no doubt in our minds that both kinds of sharpening come from a person who cares deeply for us. For that I am thankful.

Thank you for the friends that sharpen and encourage us Lord. Help us to be such friends.

A sweet friendship refreshes the soul ...

People who won’t settle down, wandering hither and yon, are like restless birds, flitting to and fro. Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul. Don’t leave your friends or your parents’ friends and run home to your family when things get rough; Better a nearby friend than a distant family. -Proverbs 27:8-10

I have lived out this passage a bit and have to admit that I sometimes wish that I lived closer to my family. I even tried to move closer to my family in New Jersey when my first wife was very sick in the early 1990s. I wonder what Solomon's advice to me would have been back then? Perhaps he would have echoed his sentiments in this proverb and advised me to stay put and settle down? Life is sometimes like that because we can only grow stronger when our roots go deep.

I love the phrase "a sweet friendship refreshes the soul". I have experienced such refreshing in many of my lowest and darkest days. Not long ago I had lunch with a friends that absolutely turned my day around. There is something so very special about friends who encourage and refresh. Yet I think that it is so hard to find such friends if you do not stay in one place very long. Cultivating sweet friendships often takes years and involves spending much time with each other.

Lord, help us to be friends that refresh. Teach us to be vulnerable to those closest to us.

Kisses from an Enemy

The wounds from a lover are worth it; kisses from an enemy do you in. -Proverbs 27:6 MSG

These words from Solomon, "wounds from a lover", stranglely remind me of those words uttered by Colonel Jessup in the movie "A Few Good Men" - on the witness stand he shouted: "You can't handle the truth!" Sometimes it is so hard to handle criticism even from close friends. Often it is so hard for those closest to us to say things that "wound" us. Yet it is so necessary to have people who will tell us the truth even when we do not want to hear it.

Solomon contrasts this with a terse commntary about how people who are not our friends will use vehicles like flattery and schmoozing to influence us. It reminds me of the many times that I have listened to people who really did not love me and or care about how their advice would affect me. Thinking about that makes me wonder why so many of us allow people with titles to influence our lives. Years of experience has taught me to measure such influence proportionately.

Help us Lord to hear the words of those who love us and reject the influence of those who do not.

More like a curse than a blessing ...

If you wake your friend in the early morning by shouting “Rise and shine!” It will sound to him more like a curse than a blessing. A nagging spouse is like the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet; You can’t turn it off, and you can’t get away from it. -Proverbs 27:14-16 MSG

You have probably heard the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" but I wonder if it would be just as accurate to substitute "ear" for "eye". It would certainly be true about music - we all have our own tastes ... some love country music and some hate it. Beautiful sounds are so very personal yet I think that we take a more generic approach when we speak to each other. Often we regurgitate advice with no regard for the way that a person might "hear" it.

In these verses Solomon speaks about the interpersonal dynamic that exists when we speak to each other. A cheerful "Good Morning" from a co-worker can come across so bad when we have not had a good night's sleep. A spouse's loving reminder can be perceived as nagging if their relationship with you is already strained. It is why we must try to put ourselves in the place of the one who is hearing our words - beauty is often in the ear of the beholder. :)

Lord, help us to put ourseleves in the place of the one who is hearing our words.

You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow ...

Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered. -Proverbs 27:1,12 MSG

This one really makes me smile - we really do not know the first thing about tomorrow! Yet so many times we get caught up in tomorrow with vain expectations of it. If our bent is pessimistic we may worry about it. If it is optimistic we not consider the costs involved in it. If we are fatalistic we will have thoughts of impending doom. Yet if we embrace faith and trust in God we will hope in tomorrow. Here is the way that the Lord Jesus put it:
"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." -Matthew 6:33-34 NLT
The answer for the question of tomorrow is trusting in God. This can be very difficult if your present or your past is filled with hardship and suffering. It is so easy to project yesterday or today onto tomorrow. It is why Jesus takes time to explain what it means to trust and hope in God for tomorrow. He who has numbered the hairs on our heads can be trusted. He who lives outside of time is Lord over yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. He is ever trustable.

Lord, we confess our trust in you and release to you our vain expectations, dreams and worries about tomorrow.


Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out. -Proverbs 16:32, 25:28 MSG

When I think of self-control I don't think about mind control. In my view it is actually the opposite of mind control. Self-control is the exercise of the inner being over the outer being or flesh which is comprised of the mind, the body and the emotions. In contrast the inner being encompasses the spirit or heart of a person. One of the goals of the spiritual life is to feed, exercise and strengthen the inner being to the end that it exercises control over the outer being.

The Apostle Paul encapsulizes these thoughts in this passage:
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" -2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NASB
Interesting how Paul contrasts the spiritual and fleshly dimensions by speaking of taking thoughts captive. The imagery of thoughts being fortresses to be destroyed speaks to me. The warfare presented here is very real and if we do not understand its reality then I believe that we are (in part anyways) doomed to be led around by fleshly thoughts and speculations and missing out on the true benefits of thinking led from within rather than from without.

Lord, teach us new ways to feed, exercise and strengthen our inner being to the end that we will have self-control.