Isaiah 1: The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw regarding Judah and Jerusalem.
My devotional journey through the Message has thus far taken me through the O.T. books of history and wisdom. The history books were the easiest and the books of wisdom were the most surprising. Now I turn my attention to the 16 writing prophets. It becomes clear right off that these men of God aren’t interested in winning popularity contests. In the words of the old west, they “shot from the hip.” They also insist that God is central to all of their lives and that their nation(s) can’t keep the Almighty confined to “acceptable” parts of their lives. That’s a message my nation needs to hear too. The words of the prophets are driven by the holiness, righteousness, and connected-ness of God. I start off with the most famous of all prophets, Isaiah. It has been suggested that Isaiah isn’t one person, but three or more. That’s because the tone and, according to the experts, vocabulary of his writings are as varied as it would be if three different people wrote. They also point out that in this culture, the disciples of a person would never dream of using their own name, viewing that as a breach of ethics. Again, the identity or identities of “Isaiah” won’t be much of an issue as I write from a devotional point of view. So, for months to come I’ll write from Isaiah and the other prophets of Israel. Let’s see where it takes us.
Take Away: Once again words written centuries ago speak in fresh ways to our current lives.
The power of love
Song of Songs 4: You looked at me, and I fell in love. One look my way and I was hopelessly in love!
Previously I mentioned that some Christians have made this book into an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. As I said then, I’m not all that convinced, although passages like this do remind me of scriptures like Ephesians 4 where I’m told that: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…and to present her to himself as a radiant church… holy and blameless.” That passage describes Christ’s passionate love for the Church, a love that takes him to the cross. In the portion of Song of Songs that’s before me today, the man describes the power of his love for the woman. In Ephesians I see the power of Christ’s love for the Church. Whether or not Song of Songs is intended to connect me to Christ and his love for us, I’m reminded in this passage of the power of love and the sacrifice one who loves is willing to make for his beloved.
Take Away: “Love” is, ultimately, an action word…real love takes action on behalf of the one who is loved.
Song of Songs 8: Love can’t be bought, love can’t be sold.
Romantic love is one of the highest of human emotions. The Song of Songs is a testimony to the power of romantic love plus sexual attraction. The opera pictures a man and woman who are irresistibly drawn to one another. She can’t sleep for thinking about him and he daydreams only of her. The imagery here is compelling and sometimes “R-rated.” The woman observes that love like this can’t be found in the marketplace. That is, it doesn’t come along every day. Our society has separated sexual attraction from real love and has, in fact, mislabeled it alone as “love.” The truth is that sex without love and commitment cheapens rather than elevates life. Song of Songs gives us the whole package. Since it’s all dressed up as an opera we might be tempted to dismiss it as unrealistic. It probably is unrealistic to envision the average guy and gal singing opera to one another; at least it doesn’t happen at our house! However, it’s right on in its depiction of the power of love, romance, and sex as God intended it.
Take Away: Sex without love and commitment cheapens rather than elevates life.
Don’t just fall in love with being in love
Song of Songs 2: Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you’re ready.
The woman, who co-stars in the opera, is speaking to her “sisters in Jerusalem” and she has some good advice for them. She tells them to wait for the right time and for the right person to be sent into their lives before falling in love. Sometimes young women are more in love with the idea of being in love than they are actually in love. They get emotionally involved with someone who has a very different agenda than they do and the result is, at best, disappointment and a feeling of having been used and cheapened. Song of Songs is a celebration of human love and sexuality — and the two are very much linked. The woman who is loved by the King says, “The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.” Young women across the ages have faced the temptation to do otherwise but to do so is to accept a cheap imitation that won’t last. In Song of Songs, the opera about love, we’re told: “wait, you’ll be glad you did!”
Take Away: The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.
When all is said and done…
Ecclesiastes 12: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that’s it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is about a wise man’s search for meaning. That search takes on a pessimistic flavor as he tries one thing and then another, concluding that it’s all just “smoke” that quickly vanishes. As he nears his conclusion he says that life passes quickly as the body begins to wear out. In other words, life, in general, is just so much smoke. Obviously, this book is not a Gospel. It doesn’t conclude with a resurrection and words of hope. Instead, it simply winds down with the big questions left pretty much unanswered. Well, kind of. When Solomon has considered everything from constructing impressive buildings to collecting words of wisdom, from living a pleasure-focused life to making the most of one’s youth he concludes that it’s all smoke. Basically he says that everything that people think brings meaning to life can be dismissed as failing to live up to expectations. Now, in his final words, he concludes that meaning must come from outside of all that. The book of Genesis starts with “In the beginning, God….” This book of Ecclesiastes concludes with “In the end, God….” Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life. Really, Solomon has done the best he can do at this point in history. There’s more, in fact a whole lot more, but we have to turn ahead in time to those Gospels I mentioned for that part of the story.
Take Away: Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life.
Delight in the light
Ecclesiastes 11: Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
A light reading of Ecclesiastes (if such a thing is really possible) leaves me with the feeling that the writer is a hardened pessimist who’s concluded that everything is “vanity.” While there are plenty of statements about how worthless things are, there’s also a positive, yet realistic theme here. He advises me to cherish every day. Some days, he says, are going to be dark, but there’s also plenty of light and I’m to “delight in the light.” I don’t want to be one of those people who only focuses on all that is going (or can go) wrong. God has blessed me with so much! I don’t want to take any of it for granted. True to form, the wise man adds, “most of what comes your way is smoke.” That is, most things in life are temporary, and a high percentage of those things aren’t all that important anyway. On one hand then, I don’t want to get so focused on the problems of life that I lose sight of the blessings. Those problems are pretty much “smoke” anyway and are temporary. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the little blessings while I have them. They too are smoke and will be gone before I know it and I don’t want to take them for granted.
Take Away: Cherish every day.
Watching the wind
Ecclesiastes 11: Don’t sit there watching the wind, Do your own work.
The wise man of Ecclesiastes says that when the clouds are so full of water that they can’t hold it anymore that it rains. When the wind is strong enough to blow down a tree, well, down it comes. In other words, things happen when they’re ready to happen. Sitting around waiting on them is a waste of time; time that could be spent doing something worthwhile. We spend a lot of time dreaming about things happening that will only happen when the time is right. Meanwhile, there’s living to do. The farmer might hope for rain, but he isn’t to sit out in the field watching the sky, instead he gets on with the work he can do right now. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to some future blessing and even taking a quick look to the horizon to see if it’s in sight yet. However, our lives aren’t to come to a stop while we wait. The issue isn’t “what’s God going to do?” Rather it’s, “what’s God doing right now and how can I work with him in doing it?” Staring at the clouds is a waste of time; we need to “get on with…life.”
Take Away: Don’t live your life waiting for something to happen – instead, connect with what’s happening right now.
Return on investment
Ecclesiastes 11: Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns.
The Lord is wonderfully generous to us. He’s given us the world and all its beauty and life itself. His greatest gift to us is salvation. This gift cost him everything as is seen at the cross. This is God’s investment in us and his charity toward us. Solomon says “charity yields high returns.” God gave everything and he has every right to expect big returns on his investment. What is the return he expects? He expects human beings to respond to his great act of charity by giving their hearts to him in loving devotion. From the very beginning God has desired willing fellowship from us. That relationship is so valuable to the Lord that he gave everything (invested everything) that that relationship might be restored. It’s my positive response to that sacrifice; my responding in love and thanksgiving, and my walking in continued fellowship with the Lord that he considers to be a “high return.”
Take Away: Am I giving the Lord a “high return” on his investment in me?
Good theology from Johnny Cash
Ecclesiastes 10: Dead flies in perfume make it stink, and a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom.
The “dead flies” line always struck me as funny, especially when I first read it as a teen. At that time I didn’t take time to try to understand the meaning of it so I just smiled and moved on. A person can say and do a lot of wise things in their life, but one blunder can pretty much ruin it all. I’ve seen that happen with presidents and pastors; with CEO’s and secretaries. When my son got his first driver’s license I commented to him that many drivers only make one mistake in their lives, and it’s their last. Car wrecks can be unforgiving. It’s true of other life situations too. A man can be a good husband and father for 30 years and then get involved with someone for a brief fling that ruins all those years of faithfulness. While I’m a big believer in second chances and grace I also know that a few “dead flies” can ruin a lot of godly living. Johnny Cash wasn’t singing a hymn when he sang, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine…because you’re mine I walk the line” but his words do apply in that sense. I don’t want a few “dead flies” to ruin a lifetime of faithfulness.
Take Away: Watch out for “dead flies” in your life.
God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.