Working together with one mind and purpose ...

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. -Philippians 2:1-2 NLT

The words that Paul first speaks in these verse are "together" ones. One cannot receive encouragement or comfort from Christ apart from another person. When he speaks of fellowship together in the Spirit Paul is accenting the word together. And, apart from being together there would be no need for tenderness or compassion. In truth, the best that we ever have to offer can only be accomplished when we are together with another person.

Paul speaks as a spiritual father when he tells his readers that he wants them to make him happy. I sense that these are the things that make our heavenly father happy as well - we bring a smile to the face of God when we are working together with one mind and purpose. Even so, it sometimes seems to be such a struggle to find common purpose when working with folks who go to a different church. Perhaps it is in those times that we need to love the most?

Help us to see past our minor theological differences Lord. Teach us to love each other and work together.

Live as citizens of heaven ...

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. ... For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. -Philippians 1:27,29-30 NLT,

In your day-to-day life, when you look around, is it obvious to you which people are living as citizens of heaven? Sometimes it is hard to tell, even in our own lives, what one of these citizens look like. In this passage Paul tells us that they are people who are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith. He also says that these have the privilege of suffering for him. And he tells us that we citizens are in this struggle together

The thing that stands out to me in these words is the idea of togetherness. Following God is never something that one does alone. Being a citizen of heaven encapsulates the idea that we who believe in Jesus are members together of something greater than ourselves and greater than the churches that we attend. In truth we all belong to the church of heaven and should therefore act like we do. We who name the name of Jesus must always stand and suffer together.

Help us today Lord to look past ourselves and embrace those who attend churches that are not like ours.

I’m torn between two desires ...

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. -Philippians 1:20-25 NLT

For a Christian, the main thing in life is living for Someone who is greater than life itself. It reminds me how Paul writes to the Corinthians that each of us, on the cross of Christ, were bought with a price and therefore should honor God with our bodies. The concept of honor and integrity plays out in our lives every day in the way that we walk out the values that we know in our hearts to be true. Honoring God is usually about doing the small things that no one ever sees.

Can you relate to Paul's dilemma? Has life ever been so hard that you simply wanted to die and be with Jesus in heaven? I have known that experience. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us tied to this life is our responsibilities to the ones that we love. The parent lives for the needs of the child. The caregiver for the life of the one that they love so much. It is a way that Paul, and many others since, have honored God by putting the needs of others before their own.

Help us to awake each day Lord Jesus knowing that our lives are not our own and that we are called to live for you.

Others do not have pure motives ...

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn't matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. -Philippians 1:15-18 NLT

I rarely consider people who minister in church When I think of people with bad motives. It is surprising to hear Paul speak of such people as he sits in chains. I wish that this whole idea of religious jealousy and rivalry ceased back in Paul's day. For even today religious leaders brag about the number who attend their services and revel in the tithes that are collected on Sunday mornings. I would get angry if not for these words written so very long ago.

Are you not amazed how Paul can see good coming out of bad motives? Instead of fixating on the selfish ambition he chooses to continue to rejoice that, even with bad motives, the message about Christ is being preached. He seems to also understand that others are preaching from pure motives. This is where I choose to land today. I am not qualified to judge the motives of others so I will (with Paul) choose to rejoice that the name of Jesus is proclaimed.

Help us to be people of pure motives dear Lord. Cause our hearts to rejoice that the gospel is being preached.

I am in chains because of Christ.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. -Philippians 1:12-14 NLT

The most amazing aspect of this epistle is that Paul writes it from a prison in Rome. Of the one hundred and four verses in it he mentions joy sixteen times. Some of the most inspirational ideas are contained here. In chapter two Paul speaks of how Christ humbled himself as an example for us. In the third chapter he speaks of pressing on. In the fourth chapter he says that he can do all things though Christ. So inspiring when we consider the jail he wrote from.

Paul's chains move me - they cause me to want to follow him as he followed Christ. Could it be possible that those who suffer can be like Paul? Perhaps the invisible chains that we each bear are an opportunity for us to inspire others as we joyfully persevere? Maybe the image of Paul joyfully writing this letter from jail is meant to give hope to those who suffer? I think that we can each be an epistle to the world that testifies that all things are possible through Christ.

Help us Lord to rejoice each day and in every situation. Cause us to be your epistles to the world.

What really matters ...

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. -Philippians 1:9-11 NLT

As I read these words I get an image of a fountain overflowing as water bubbles up from it. Perhaps that is the image that we saw when Christ walked the earth? Did not love bubble up in his heart and overflow to all he touched? Isn't that the desire of our hearts as we grow in knowledge and understanding? Does not the path to a pure and blameless life entail an embracing of the love of God for each person we encounter? Is not love what really matters in our lives?

I love how Paul speaks of the righteous character produced in your life as being the fruit of your salvation. In his letter to the Galatians he describes this righteous character as one made up of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In essence, a life filled with these qualities is one that will bring much glory and praise to God. This is the kind of life that is filled with things that really matter - now and forever.

We pray that the righteous fruit of our lives will overflow like a fountain and touch those who need you today.

Every time I think of you ...

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. -Philippians 1:3-6 NLT

These last few days I have been sharing here about the people that Paul first met and ministered to in Philippi. There was Lydia who believed after the Lord opened her heart - Paul stayed at her place while in that city. There was the fortune teller who was delivered of a demon as Paul cast it out in the name of Jesus. And there was the jailer and his family who all believed and were baptized. I imagine that Paul was thinking of these friends as he opened this epistle.

I love thinking about how God began a good work in these people and was continuing it even as Paul was writing to them. Even though Paul had left them the Holy Spirit remained with them teaching, comforting and encouraging them in every good work. Perhaps that is the how we should look at our fellow believers. Maybe we would be easier on them if we saw them as a divine work in progress? Maybe this is one way we can learn to give thanks to God for them?

Thank you for the works in progress that you have placed in my life Lord. Help me to encourage them today.

Believe in the Lord Jesus ...

The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” [Acts 16:27-31 NLT]

I wonder how many prisoners were in the jail that night? It is amazing that the prisoners had stayed in their cells. I wonder if it was the sounds of Paul and Silas praising God that held them captive? The jailer must have been relieved to hear Paul shout out to him. His reaction is so profound - he saw the Lord at work in the earthquake and discerned that God was speaking to him through it. Interesting how Paul was concerned for more than just the jailer.

How would the leaders at your church have answered the jailer? Would they have added anything to Paul's simple, yet perfect, response? The Greek word pisteuō is simply translated believe but the concept is not all that simple as the word carries with it the notion of entrusting yourself to the care of another. Salvation is never about some sort of mental assent to an ideology or theology but about fully giving your whole being to Jesus Christ. It always has been.

Cause us to believe again Lord and in every way give ourselves fully to you.

The other prisoners were listening ...

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn't escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! -Acts 16:22-26

Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten and jailed simply because they spoke the name of Jesus and a young girl was delivered from demons. Often things done in God's name are met with severe opposition by those who profit from the suffering of others. Such was the case here as the girl was no longer willing or able to make money for her masters by telling fortunes. My heart hurts as I read of how they were mistreated simply because they preached the gospel.

I am amazed by the attitude of these men as they prayed and sang in jail. Small wonder that others were listening. How is it that people can react that way to unjust suffering? It reminds me of an old song that affirms that the chains that seem to bind you drop powerless bind you when you praise Him. There is something about praise that frees you. In truth Paul and Silas were free even though they were bound in chains. Perhaps their's is a story we can share in?

Thank you Father for the examples of Paul and Silas. Help me to remember to praise when I am hurting the most.

Instantly it left her ...

One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her. -Acts 16:16-18 NLT

From the very beginnings of my walk with the Lord I have been around people who practiced exorcism of demonic forces. Regularly I have seen ministers pray for people trying to cast out demons. Mostly what I saw was religious in nature. People would practice and say what they heard and saw other people doing. And on a very rare occasion the person would be helped. Sadly in most cases, the prayers were ineffectual because they did not involve discernment.

This passage from Acts is very different from those experiences. It took Paul a while to discern that this girl was troubled by a demon. After all, she was giving testimony about them and how they had come to offer salvation. Yet something happened that day and Paul discerned the demon - and in an instant it was gone as Paul spoke the name of Jesus. The example I glean from this account is that discernment, not religious repetition, is required to deal with evil.

Deliver us from evil Lord and help us to discern how to deal with it when it comes.

The Lord opened her heart ...

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. -Acts 16:13-15 NLT

Philippi was the first city that Paul and his companions visited after they heard God call them to Macedonia. This passage recounts their first experience with the folks who lived there. Interesting how folks gathered by the river to worship God. It must have been so encouraging to get such a great reception to their message. Fascinating how it says that Lydia was one who already worshiped God. Most likely she was one who worshiped with the Jews on the Sabbath.

The phrase "the Lord opened her heart" speaks to me of how God often tenderizes our hearts and opens our eyes. It reminds me that it only took an instant for my first wife to respond to the gospel and eight months for me to bow my heart - sometimes the heart tenderizing process is longer for some than others. I love the radical nature of Lydia's conversion. She was not satisfied with a mere Sabbath Day experience but insisted that these strangers stay with her.

Open out hearts once again dear Lord that we might disciple and be discipled in loving communion and community.

So we decided to leave ...

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. -Acts 16:9-10 NLT

Solomon once opined about how the plans of a person's heart are often adjusted by God. The ways that God adjusts our steps are so diverse yet they always seem to involve our participation. I love how God gave an invitation, and not a command, to Paul and his companions in this vision. It reminds me of the time when God changed my plans and led me to accept a retirement package with a simple question about which option was the riskiest.

Interesting how the decision to to head to Macedonia was a "we" decision. These who heard Paul recount the vision concluded together that God was adjusting their plans. It speaks to me of Paul's relationship with the Lord and the trusting relationship that his traveling companions had with him. Perhaps this is a good way for Christians today to follow what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians by proving all things and holding fast that which is good?

Thank you Lord for the opportunity to partner with you in life. Help us to be sensitive to your invitations today.

They separated ...

After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. -Acts 15:36-39 NLT

The idea that Christians, even strong leaders, sometimes do not get along is not a new idea. The things that we separate over sometimes seems so insignificant. Years ago, as a fairly new believer, I remember leaving a fellowship of friends over a doctrinal issue. Many years later I saw the leader of that group and all I could do was embrace him - secretly wishing that we were still friends. Why is it that Christians allow ideology and theology to come between us?

Perhaps one of the things that we can learn from today's passage is that we must always allow love to prevail. Paul and Barnabas both had the same goal but Paul could not get past the past - something happened between him and John Mark that he could not let go of. John Mark also deserted Barnabas on their first trip but, unlike Paul, he was willing to give him a second chance. Relationships are so complicated even between the most spiritual among us.

Teach us to love Lord. Help us to show each other love even when we sharply disagree.

The Holy Spirit said ...

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. -Acts 13:2-4 NLT

These verses introduce us to Paul’s first missionary journey. He was sent out with Barnabas and Mark about ten years after he met the Lord on the road to Damascus. The trip would last a few years and would test him in ways that he could not have known. Mark would desert him. In Lystra he would miraculously heal a man then later be stoned and left for dead. Laying there he had to be wondering if this was part of the work that the Spirit had called him to.

I guess we all want our spiritual call to be all about miracles and healings. No one wants to think that hardship (that seems such a severe mischaracterization of being stoned) is a part of the special work that we are called to. I think that Paul might have given up if he did not understand, along with the men who laid their hands on him in prayer, that it was not man but the Holy Spirit who had called him. Perhaps we would do well to know that as well?

Thank you Holy Spirit that you have called us and equipped us for every good work. Teach us to be faithful.

How much he must suffer ...

The Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. -Acts 9:15-18 NLT

I wonder if, years later, Ananias looked back and understood how accurate the Lord's words about Saul were. The words had to seem a bit crazy as he spoke them. How could it be that the persecutor would become the persecuted? The story of Paul's life after his conversion is nothing short of amazing. Ananias' words would come true. Saul would become Paul and the world would not be the same as he preached the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.

Saul's outer and inner eyes were opened that day. Yet he could not have understood how his journey would change so much so soon. In an instant he lost all of his religious power and would be one opposed by friends and family. On many occasions he would come to understand what the Lord meant when he spoke of "how much he must suffer for my name’s sake." It reminds me that following the Lord is often a difficult path that one cannot blindly walk alone.

Dear Father, fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit and remove the scales from our eyes that we might really see.

Why are you persecuting me?

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! -Acst 8:1,3;9:1,3-5 NLT

Is there a more stunning encounter in all of the bible? The story reminds me of how Moses met God when he was drawn to the spectacle of a burning bush. Isn't it amazing how one experience with the Almighty can change your whole life? I remember clearly that day when I first bowed my head and my heart to God in prayer. Nothing was the same after that. It was as if I had crossed over into a world that I had previously never known.

The bible and Christian history is replete with stories like mine and like the one in these verses. It speaks to me of God's pursuit of the souls of people who are so misguided and so in need of his redemption. So often our religious zeal, like that of Saul in these verses, can be so out of step with God. It is a good reminder that we must test our zeal with the love of God lest we find ourselves persecuting the very people that Jesus Christ loves and died for.

Help us to remember Lord that we may be persecuting you when we do not act with love towards those you love.

Pauline Devotions

These past 100 days I have so enjoyed sharing daily reflections on the writings of King Solomon in Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I hope that you have had a chance to catch a few of my thoughts as I have journaled through his writings.

Beginning tomorrow I will be sharing daily devotional thoughts from the epistles of the Apostle Paul. I look forward to learning from and reflecting on what this amazing man teaches us about faith, hope and love. With deep appreciation, I invite you to travel along with me.

Everything is meaningless ...

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.” That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. -Eccl 12:8,13-14

This is the sad way that Solomon finishes Ecclesiastes. It is such a negative ending but exactly, word for word, the way he began it in chapter one. No words about God's love for us or our love for him in this book - only descriptions of life as meaningless and "chasing the wind". How is it that the so-called wisest man on earth did not understand that real and meaningful life is all about love? Could it be that Solomon was not as wise as people perceive him to be?

I wonder how much influence an unhealthy fear of God had in Solomon's life? I find it interesting how he distills it all down to fear, obedience and judgment. It is as if he is telling us to obey out of a fear of judgment. Hard to understand how such an intelligent person missed the most important aspect of life. How is it that he did not understand that we are called to obey because God loves us? How is it that Solomon did not understand that glorious command to love?

Your love gives our lives meaning Lord. Help us to be like you and find love in everything that we do.

You must give an account ...

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless. -Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 NLT

When folks get older they often, like Solomon does here, opine about how wonderful it was when they were young. It is as if they forget how hard those young years can be. I remember how my teen years were filled insecurity and fears. Along with the joys of first loves came the challenges of school and the reality of the Vietnam War. I think that we all wear rose colored glasses when we look back. Even so, I disagree with Solomon when he says it is meaningless.

In these verses Solomon speaks of giving "an account to God for everything you do". Sometimes people read a verse like this and get fearful of a future judgment day where a terrifying God will cause them to shake to their bones. I see this a bit differently. When I think of that day when my actions will be called into account I envision an encounter with my Heavenly Father. A time in which I am taught about the ways that I should have loved and did not.

Dear Lord help us to remember that, in all we do, we are accountable for the ways that we love.

A new day dawning ...

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning. When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. -Ecclesiastes 11:7-8 NLT

Each new day brings with it an opportunity to give thanks for it. The Psalmist tells us that we should rejoice and be glad in it because God has made the day. Jeremiah reminds us that God's mercies are new every morning. There is just something about the dawn of a new day that can bring hope to our souls. Even so, there are people all over the world who live in hardship and find it difficult to rejoice because of the darkness that a new day brings to them.

Looking back over my life I find that there are always things to praise God for even in the midst of dark times. Perhaps the way that we handle difficulty is the way that we can light a candle in the darkness? It is interesting how, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of being salt and light to the world immediately after he speaks of his followers being persecuted. It is as if he is saying that our lives can shine the brightest when our days are the darkest.

Remind us Lord that we are sometimes the only light in the darkness. Help us to shine for you.

Perfect Weather

Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. -Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT

When I think about what if means to be successful the words apathy, excuse, rationalization and procrastination never come to mind. Success in life is never about perfect weather - in fact the most successful people are ones who seemed have overcome great obstacles. The words that I associate with such people are the opposite of the ones I previously mentioned. Words like integrity, passion and perseverance are the hallmarks of success.

Yet we often forget how our walk of faith is challenged by bad weather. I wonder how much I would actually pray and seek the Lord if I did not face challenges. Perhaps that is why God speaks to us in the scriptures of bringing beauty from ashes and working all things together for our good? Maybe some of us will get real with God only when we are covered in ashes? It may be the reason we are called to give thanks in all things.

You are with us in the storms and in the ashes dear Lord. In that we rejoice and give thanks!

Divide your investments ...

Divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. -Ecclesiastes 11:2

There is an investment strategy called asset allocation that somewhat mirrors Solomon's sentiments in this verse. The idea is to balance your investments across stocks, bonds and cash. If done correctly you will minimize your exposure to risk when one sector of the market goes down. If you counter higher risk growth stocks with value oriented ones or bonds you may not see large swings in your portfolio when bad new hits Wall Street.

In a sense investing is a metaphor for life. People risk much when they apply a rigid black and white investment strategy - it is also risky when we employ such narrow strategies to other parts of our lives. Yet people who find a balance to life are often able to ride the waves of change in ways similar to the investor who has not put all of their proverbial eggs in one basket. Yet finding diversity on Main Street is often harder than finding it on Wall Street.

Help us Lord to find balance and live lives that are pleasing to you.

Don’t hoard your goods ...

Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night. Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 MSG

There seems to be a spiritual law of generosity in the Kingdom of God. Jesus put it this way: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." So often this sentiment is reduced to acts of charity rather than a life of charity. In a very real sense generosity and charity is all about humility. When we are generous we are humbly acknowledging our own poverty. When we are charitable towards others we are making a humble investment in their lives.

Sometimes in the bible the words charity and love are intermingled - both are used to translate the Greek word agápe which denotes God's sacrificial love for us. Perhaps sacrifice is the word that most defines charity and generosity? I wonder. Is one really generous if their gift does not involve sacrifice? Can one be charitable by giving what they no longer need? It seems to me that the charity that God really blesses is the kind that costs us something.

Thank you Lord that life is not found in things. Help us to loosen our grip on our possessions.

Sharpen the blade ...

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. [Ecclesiastes 10:10 NLT]

I love how wisdom is so practical. I think that is why some often call it common sense. Solomon here compares it with the simplicity of keeping an ax blade sharp. Yet I wonder why this kind of common sense seems to escape so many. Is it because some simply prefer tradition over change? Could it be that some refuse to embrace it because they are lazy or choose to remain ignorant? Why is it that many can see the wisdom or common sense and others cannot?

I liken sharpening a blade to being prepared - to leading a life that keeps us strong and able to withstand hard times. What comes to your mind when you think about tomorrow? Are you like the student who has not done your homework or have you done all you know today to be ready for tomorrow? Have you strengthened your heart for tomorrow? Perhaps wisdom and common sense is all about having a heart sharpened by prayer, study and spiritual exercise?

I often procrastinate Lord. Help me to live today in a way that keeps my heart prepared for tomorrow.

Dead flies cause perfume to stink ...

As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor. [Ecclesiastes 10:1 NLT]

The book of Ecclesiastes seems to exude regret. I often wonder if Solomon is speaking from first hand experience when he talks about fools and foolishness. Interesting to note how many people I have known have virtually thrown their lives and their ministry away because of one act of foolishness. I remember how, in one foolish acquiescence to temptation, my pastor of 18 years ruined his reputation. It seems to me that a pride filled ego often grows stronger with age.

The words "dead flies" reminds me of how Jesus describes religious leaders as whitewashed graves that looked good on the outside but were dead on the inside. Connecting that to what Solomon says here, one could say that the legalism and judgmentalism of some is what makes religion stink. What was meant to be something beautiful and aromatic is made to stink simply because of the unloving and uncaring way that religion is exercised and practiced.

Help us Lord. Our religion too often looks pharisaic. Help our lives to be a sweel aroma in your nostrils.

The woman you love ...

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. -Ecclesiastes 9:9 NLT

This verse reminds me that I might still be a man without faith if it were not for my first wife Ellen. It causes me to think of a time when my agnosticism was challenged. Here it is as told in The Weekend that Changed my Life:
On a weeknight in the fall of 1975 Ellen interrupted my TV time with a few questions ... ones that would impact me for the rest of my life. She started with “Do you believe in the bible?” I replied sarcastically “Of course I do ... Episcopalians believe in the bible.” ... I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me ... my religion was just as good as hers. She asked another question: “Do you believe in evolution?” I said “Of course I do ... it is science.” Then she said something that rocked me – “Then you don’t believe in the bible”. Of course being a New Yorker I had to say something, so I retorted “I don’t know about all that but whatever the Episcopalians believe is what I believe.” I had no clue what the bible said because I had never read it and for some reason this bothered me.
My life began to change that night because of the blessing of a wife who challenged me to leave the safety of agnosticism. My heart opened a bit that night to Jesus and a desire to read the bible began to grow inside me. It is amazing how all of this happened through the faith of the woman who loved me enough to speak truth to me.

Thank you Lord for the people of faith in our lives who, by their words and their lives, challenge us to believe.

Caught by sudden tragedy ...

People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy. -Ecclesiastes 9:12 NLT

Memories flashed through me when I read the words "sudden tragedy". It was in April of 1972 that it happened. I came home from my new job to find my young wife crying. She had been to an optometrist that day. He told her that she had diabetic retinopathy and was going blind. "Sudden tragedy" hit us and all we could do was weep uncontrollably. I was not a praying man and in the following years I did not know how to deal with the pain of this "sudden tragedy".

As I write another "sudden tragedy" comes to mind. In December 2002 my wife Ann and I boarded a cruise ship. Within days Ann found herself paralyzed from the waist down. Stressed to the max I began to pray and heard this response deep within me: "You cannot manage this like one of your work projects. You must learn to flow." That taught me that our response to "sudden tragedy" should be to release control, trust God and learn to flow with life.

Help us today Lord to release control of that which cannot be controlled. Help us to trust you with all of our hearts.

It is all decided by chance ...

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time. -Ecclesiates 9:11 NLT

So much of our lives were determined before we were born. We did not choose the country, city or family that we were born into. After birth we did not choose the level of care that our parents gave us. We all grew up in a closed environment where we were exposed to only what our parents allowed or what we experienced in our small part of the world. The concepts of self-determination and life choices would come later after our childhood programming.

It is amazing that any of us ever see past our early environments and do the things that we do as adults. It is here where I see the influence of God on my life. In contrast to the narrowness of youthful experiences I find God to be one who encourages and empowers us to escape our environmental limitations. In Christ it is written that all things are possible. In a sense it is not decided by chance at all but by our response to Christ's call to follow him.

All things are possible in you Lord Jesus. Help me to trust you to lead me today.

Receive the same treatment as sinners ...

This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor. The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t. -Ecclesiastes 9:1-2

Jesus Christ seems to echo this sentiment in the Sermon on the Mount when he says that God "gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." There is something about life that levels the playing field - the best and the worst of us can experience the joys of family and the devastation of cancer. Many theologians have struggled with this and have asked the question of why bad things happen to good people.

When I think about the bad things that have happened in my life I see it more as the result of a fallen world than a fallen God. In the beginning God created all things and called them good. Yet he ceded a bit of his sovereignty, at a micro level, to his creation and bad things eventually began to happen as people began to make decisions. Some decisions seemed to originate in faith while many originated elsewhere. That challenge remains today. Will we respond in faith?

Help us Lord to always respond in faith - to the good and bad things of life.

Better to be a live dog ...

There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth.
[Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 NLT]

The words of Solomon in these verses are absolutely true - if one takes God out of the equation. It is true for those who do not believe in heaven - earth is all there is for such people. It is true for those who see death as final - life for those is limited to their time on this planet. Many people cannot see past what their minds tell them - sometimes these are known as "intellectuals". These are ones who eat, drink and are merry while others hurt, thirst and are hungry.

In contrast are those who embrace the promises of God and see this life as just the beginning of something so much greater. These understand that being born of the Spirit means beginning a life that will surpass death. They realize that their lives are so much more than their times here. People of faith have the potential to lead the richest of lives because they see everything in light of eternity. They embrace a love that will never die. These will one day see God.

Help us to embrace eternity in our everyday living Lord. Open our eyes to the glory of heaven.