Monday, August 29, 2016

Travel week


This week, I need to travel on business, and so I must take a break from our studies. I hope that all of you will bear with me and come back next week!

And if you happen to think of it, I'd appreciate your prayers for our safety in our travels!

See you next week!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Naomi, conclusion


Last time we studied, we noted that Naomi was having a difficult time, and was actually beginning to look for someone to blame for her troubles. She had been strong for so long, and had been an example to Ruth of vibrant faith, but now she was (understandably) tired.

Many people have found that the best way to get over our problems, our depression, our emotional deep-dives is to stop focusing on ourselves, and to look outside of our own issues. To change that focus to others' needs. And then to get involved helping those people.

As Naomi re-enters her home town and picks up the pieces of her life, she is concerned about Ruth's future. She knows this young woman needs a husband. So yes, Naomi fell, but now she is picking herself up and shifting her concern to Ruth. Naomi is thinking about Boaz -- will he be their kinsman redeemer? A kinsman redeemer is a near relative who had the right (and it was also considered a duty) to redeem a deceased man's land and marry his widow if she had no sons. Now, this actually could be applied to Naomi, too, but she is more concerned about Ruth.

Ruth goes out into the fields to glean. This was a way for the poor to be provided for - God instituted this as a part of His instructions to the children of Israel. He gold them in Leviticus that when the time of harvest came, they were not to harvest to the edges -- that was to be left for the poor, who could come into the field behind the harvesters and glean those small amounts to use for themselves. But when Ruth comes back from her day of gleaning, Naomi can tell that she has WAY more than more people would get from gleaning! She realizes that it's not just luck -- she says in verses nineteen and twenty of chapter two that she knows it's the Lord working in their lives to help and restore them.

When we study Ruth herself, we will see more of the story, but for now, our focus is on Naomi. We see that Boaz fulfills his right and duty, and that he and Ruth are married. And we see Naomi holding a precious grandson! The family line would not only continue, but would be in the family tree of Jesus Christ.

Naomi's story tells us again that our God can bring great good out of bad things. He is still in the business of doing that today. We just have to trust Him to know what to do, and when, and even how.

Naomi fell, but she didn't stay down. She's an awesome example for our lives today.



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Naomi, continued


Last time we looked at the life of Naomi, we considered the huge upheaval that she had experienced. In a time of horrific famine, she and her husband had left home, family, and friends, and had taken their two sons with them. They had traveled to the country actually controlled by enemies of their people; they went to Moab. They lived there for a good number of years, for the passage told us that their sons had taken wives from the Moabite people.

Then her husband, Elimilech, passed away. Later on, her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, died. What a tragedy. What a burden on her soul that must have been. Times must have seemed very dark to her, and to her two daughters-in-law. We will see that she must have been a good example of her faith in Yahweh, though. (I'm getting ahead of myself in the story, here.)

I believe that it must have taken a good bit of courage for Naomi to go back to the tribe of Ephraim, to the town of Bethlehem. I mean, she'd been away for a very long time, and she couldn't really know what she was going home to.  Have you ever gone back to a place that you lived or visited in the past, only to realize that you hardly recognize the place? And don't even think about trying to find the people that you knew or met -- good luck with that! Things change so much. And it seems to happen so quickly.

Not only that, but it took courage to go back because of her status. She was now a widow; she was standing on the lowest rung of the ladder, so to speak. This was a time when the people of Israel were wicked, and few followed the Law. She would be vulnerable to the folks who would want to take advantage of her, and of her daughters-in-law.

She showed even more courage when she was planning her trip home and told her daughters in law to go back to their own families, to stay in Moab. Instead of telling them about the dangers ahead for a single, widowed woman, and "guilting" them into coming with her, she was perfectly willing to go alone. She encouraged them to go back to their mothers, and to find other husbands from the men of Moab. Orpah and Ruth first said they would go with her, but as Naomi talked, it made more sense to Orpah to stay in Moab. After all, as Naomi said, even if she could find a husband and have sons, they would have to wait until they were marriageable age . . . Orpah hugged her and said she would stay in Moab.

Ruth, however, must have noticed the strong faith of Naomi. She must have seen how Naomi handled the tragedies and been impressed. How do we know that? She tells Naomi that not only does she want to go with her, but that she wants to accept her God, as well.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely,if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:16-18)
Ruth went back with her to Bethlehem. Naomi did not go alone. And that is a good thing, for I believe that she really needed Ruth with her. She was at a very low point in her life, and it seems that her faith began to waver just a little bit.
I'm sure that it was difficult, walking back into Bethlehem. As she walked those familiar streets and saw some familiar faces, she may have been overcome with memories. It may have been hard to see the old places through her tears, as she came back home without her husband and her two sons.

Have you ever been patting yourself on the back for how well you are handling a tough situation, and then one of your close friends or your spouse comes in the room and hugs you? Isn't that when your tears and emotions just let loose like a flooded river? I think that is what happened to Naomi here. She actually seems to blame God for her misfortune. She's feeling bad, so let's not jump to judge her, but she tells her friends that her old name just doesn't fit anymore. . . . instead of calling her Naomi (pleasant) she says they should call her Mara (bitter one).

Well, to tell the truth, we probably all feel that way sometimes. We may or we may not come out and say it like Naomi did, but if the heart aches and the obstacles and disappointments start to pile up, we might begin to waver a bit. We might begin to have doubts. Hey, we might even begin to feel angry!

Wait just a minute.
Do NOT pretend with God.
He knows our hearts, anyway.
Those are the times when we should tell Him how we feel. He doesn't want us to pretend. He would rather have us share our hearts with Him. We know with our heads that He is big enough, and that His shoulders are strong enough, to handle our fears and our doubts. But we need to get that head knowledge into our hearts, and then realize that He understands what we are going through. It's OK to let it all out with Him.
Remember what He told us in Matthew 11?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
You see, if we have doubts, and if we have fears, that is not sinful. We are not failures in His eyes. Do you recall when you learned to ride a bicycle? We all had to learn that, and we all had times that we fell down! But the trick was this: we didn't stay down. We got back up, brushed ourselves off, bandaged a scrape if we needed to, and then tried again! If we stay "down" in our fears and doubts, that is when we have failed.

Some of us may be down in our faith right now. We may be on our knees, or even on our backs. Will we stay down? Will we feel sorry for ourselves? Or will we brush ourselves off and struggle back to our feet? If we keep on struggling and trying, that is when we can grow in our faith.

We'll see tomorrow that Naomi didn't stay down....


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Prayer requests


Recently I was reading in Psalms and re-read this passage:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
And this one:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,    my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2)
There are other verses that capture this same idea. With so many references to our Father God being a refuge, a fortress, a stronghold, perhaps we do well to remind ourselves.

I don't know what all of the people who read this post are going through. I know that it's quite possible that you are having a rough go of it, and that you might need to hear this. So please let me tell you again what you have heard before!

The picture above is of a very real place in Israel. It's the fortress called Masada. It is there that the Romans had their final victory over the Hebrew rebels, in about 73AD. (Yes, I know, I'm being politically incorrect.) It's a huge mountain with a plateau at the top, and Herod had built a palace, baths, etc there. The Jewish rebels were determined not to be conquered, but to live and worship ruled only by God.

The only way up to Masada is a tiny path called "the Snake." I believe I've read that it was so twisty, and so narrow, that it was impossible for two people to walk side-by-side up the path. Now picture the Roman armies, who are used to marching and attacking in large groups -- soldiers marching side-by-side with shields held before them. There was no way to use their usual tactics here! And that is what led to the long siege of Masada.

That siege had an unhappy ending, but when the devil or our circumstances (or both) besiege us, we can have victory --
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him;    I will be with him in trouble,    I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him    and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
Like Naomi in our studies this week, we can be surrounded by terrible things happening, but we can have victory in the Lord!

Please, if you are overwhelmed and we can pray with you, let us know. It's an honor to join in prayer with other believers. If you have a praise, of answered prayer, let us rejoice with you, too!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Naomi


This week, we will visit with a character from the book of Ruth. Naomi is our focus; she and Ruth lived during the period of the Judges of Israel. This was a time which was characterized by the fact that everyone did what was "right in their own eyes," and standards of right and wrong were almost non-existent.

Let's look at the Scriptures and begin:
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

I hope you will keep your Bible open to the book of Ruth, for we will refer to it again. . . .

Have you ever been in a situation when it seemed like things just couldn't get worse? When so many things went wrong, that you became overwhelmed?

Yes, I know. (I see y'all nodding.) I've been there, too. And all of us will probably be there again before it's time to go home to heaven. I guess that is where the expression comes from: when it rains, it pours.
There are times in our lives when things get pretty tough, but I guess we shouldn't be surprised, right? After all, Satan is said to be prowling the earth, seeking people to devour, and then here in James, we read this:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)
Ay yi yi.
Why do these bad things happen to good people?
Well, one reason is what we just read in James . . . God does not cause bad things to happen to us, but He allows them and then He uses them. And it is that process that has puzzled believers and empowered un-believers for many years. Un-believers point to that and say, "How can He be a good God, a God Who loves everyone, when He allows these things to happen?"

Steve Malone has said that for every non-Christian who gets cancer, a Christian gets cancer -- so that the world can see the difference.
For every non-Christian that gets fired from her job, a Christian gets fired, so that the world can see the difference.
He just may be correct.

In our verses, we see Naomi going through a huge upheaval in her life. Her home town of Bethlehem (house of bread is the meaning of the word) was suffering with the rest of the land as a severe famine took hold. The region has two rainy seasons: October and March. If the rains did not come plentifully at these times, or if there was hail or other storms, or if marauding armies trampled the growing crops, the people were left hungry.
Apparently it was so bad this time that Elimilech took his wife and his two sons and went to Moab. Why was this significant? Because Moab was an enemy of God's people. They had oppressed Israel for almost twenty years under the leadership of King Eglon.

So, not only did Naomi endure a famine, leave her home and friends to go live in enemy territory, but while there she endured the death of her husband and both her sons. It's easy to see why she said her name should now be called "Mara" or bitter.

We'll learn more about Naomi next time. I hope you will study with us!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday slowdown

This older worship song was special to me recently. I hope it blesses you, as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Priscilla - pulling together


Our studies yesterday showed us that Priscilla and her husband were no strangers to service; their spiritual gifts enabled them to minister and to serve.

If we take a peek at the chapters preceding this one, we see that Paul had run into a peck of trouble. We can see that God brought Priscilla and Aquila into his life at just the right time.....
Remember back in chapter sixteen? Paul was thrown into prison and beaten within an inch of his life, as my gramma used to say. Then, at the start of chapter seventeen, a Thessalonican mob besieges the home in which he seeks shelter and hospitality, but he escapes into the night.
Later in chapter seventeen, Paul makes it as far as Berea, and has success, but again, trouble follows him. He is meeting great obstacles in Athens in the remainder of the chapter.

I expect that when he came to Corinth, he may have been just short of extreme exhaustion, and that he is not only physically tired, but mentally, too. He's traveling alone, after all. But now his path crosses that of this sweet couple. It seems that God uses them to encourage Paul in his work. With their help, and the strength that only God can give, he begins to preach in the synagogue in Corinth, and people are becoming believers.

But again, in verse 9, there must be things not detailed in our Bibles, for there are trials and difficulty coming Paul's way. But this time, he is not alone. Of course, Paul has always known that God is with him, but now he has mortal friends as well. Priscilla and Aquila are there, pulling together with him. They responded in obedience to the Lord, and used their gifts to encourage and minister to the missionary, Paul.

There may be people that we know who are quietly struggling. Whether it's the pastor of our church, the lady up the street, or the teen in a home that's breaking up, people can be just at the brink of calling it quits. They may be ready to walk away from everything they know, because the pressures of life are just crushing them. They feel as if they are all alone -- they desperately need someone to care.
They feel like David did:
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;    no one is concerned for me.I have no refuge;    no one cares for my life. (Psalm 142:4) 
These are people that God has placed within our spheres of influence; these are people that we can encourage. It doesn't take long to send an email, and it doesn't cost much to send a card. It costs nothing to send a quick text message, inviting someone to talk. Letting someone know that you are thinking of them, and that you care, can mean all the difference in the world!
Like cold water to a weary soul    is good news from a distant land. (Proverbs 25:25)

We see Priscilla's (and Aquila's) discernment in the final episode of chapter eighteen. Apollos had come from Alexandria; well educated and eloquent, and speaking with a pure heart, he moved his hearers. But he lacked a complete knowledge of the full story of Jesus Christ. Priscilla and Aquila discerned that his motives were pure and genuine, and they came alongside him to instruct him. Not in public, to humiliate him, but privately, to invest in him and the ministry he could have. This is another role that is important among believers today -- that of lovingly mentoring younger Christians. Ensuring their growth in the Lord.  Need some inspiration? Check out our instructions in the second chapter of Titus!
Remember in Romans 14, Paul is talking about our spheres of influence?
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. (Romans 14:7)
In today's language, each one of us is being influenced, and at the same time, influencing others! I heard an old preacher say that each of us will go to Heaven with the hand prints of others on us. They have been used of God to help us, rebuke us, encourage us, instruct us, and stand by us when we feel we are alone. When we are open to what God wants us to do with our gifts, it's as if we pour a little of ourselves into another's life.

Priscilla and Aquila had been open to God's leadership and went with Paul to Ephesus. Then they were there when Apollos came, and their instructions helped and encouraged him. The Bible says that Apollos went on to have a great influence on the area, as an effective preacher of God's gospel.
When everyday people take time to invest in others, what a difference we can make in our world!

Has God brought someone to mind that you can bless with encouragement? Let's all pull together for the kingdom of God!



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Priscilla - pulling together


Let's look again at Priscilla, a wonderful lady found in the New Testament.
First, we see that Priscilla and her husband had a combination of spiritual gifts. Our gifts are blessings from the Lord, and help us in our efforts, great or small, to increase His kingdom.
Let's look at their gifts, and look at how they used them . . .

First of all, they had the gift of exhortation. When we dig into the root of the word, that literally means to "come alongside someone to admonish, to encourage, or instruct."
They were encouragers!
That's a God-given ability, and is oh, so important. People who have this gift are able to speak from the heart, to the heart of other believers. They always seem to have just the words that someone needs to hear, no matter what the situation. They help people find solutions to the obstacles facing them. And they encourage them to never, ever give up.

Priscilla must have had this gift. She worked daily with her husband (and then with Paul, too) at their craft. She encouraged them when business was slow, that God would provide for them. She worked all the harder and encouraged them again, when business picked up, and it seemed they might never get out of the mountain of orders for tents and other canvas items.

The next gift that they shared was the gift of discernment. If we have this gift, we can distinguish, or judge, the things of God and the things of Satan. We can easily filter through the confusion to say what is right, and what is wrong. These folks even have a gift for telling what is good, better, and best! We see an example of this in Priscilla and Aquila's dealings with Apollos, who was teaching from a pure heart, but did not have the full story of Christ. They were able to take him aside quietly and instruct him, and he went on to accomplish great things for God.

Priscilla especially had the gift of ministry -- serving others. Joyfully. Lovingly. Not carping or complaining. (Ouch, just hit my own toes there a little bit.)  The gift of ministry, of service, is given us by the Father, so that we can serve others. It's like a built-in sensor that "pings" when we find someone who needs our help; and we are truly happiest when we are helping others. People with these gifts prefer to serve behind the scenes; put them in the spotlight and they are not comfortable!

Hmmm. It's not really enough to have the gifts, is it? We need to use them.
Priscilla and her husband were fully engaged in the service of God. They were pulling together with Paul and the other believers. They were part of the team.
You know, there are only two married couples in the book of Acts. One couple served the Lord, and God greatly blessed them. The other couple served self, and so God dealt with them in His way.

If we are married, or if we are single, we need to prayerfully consider our gifts and decide where we can serve the Lord. We can serve as a married couple, or as a single, or as a family, or as a church class. Using our gifts will strengthen our faith and keep us happier!

We'll finish up with Priscilla tomorrow.





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What are we listening to


I know that we've mentioned this before, but do we often think about what goes in our ears?

And that it has a direct route to our brains?

Paul told us:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
I think that just about covers it, don't you? Pretty good guidelines for our listening!

This song has been "stuck" in my head in the last day or two:
'Cause the Fruit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. 
Yes, I used to work in Vacation Bible School every year!!

What are we listening to, today?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pulling together - Priscilla


Our lady this week is an awesome example of teamwork. Whether we're married or single, young or old, we are part of the team that is tasked with spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ! Am I right?

(I see your heads nodding.)

This week's lady is called Priscilla. And we find her story in the book of Acts. This is the first place that she and her husband are mentioned. Let's look at chapter 18:
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 
11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
We see them again, further down in the chapter:
18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

This book is known as "Acts," or "the Acts of the Apostles." But I think we would be more accurate, more to the point, if we said this book was about the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Are we in agreement? (Grin)

We see in these pages men and women who were not superstars. Not highly educated. Not popular. Not wealthy. Not powerful. But they accomplish mighty things!

And this couple we meet in the passage above were ordinary people, too. Here's the difference that made their lives exciting, and made them extraordinary: they were willing to be used by God. They were perfectly willing to "pull together" with others, to accomplish God's work.

Verses 2 and 3 in chapter 18 mention that they were husband and wife, and also that they were tent-makers. They were personal friends of Paul, and labored with him:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: (Romans 16:3)

They were "sold out" for God; they were so fully invested in His work that the local believers called Priscilla and Aquila's home their church.
The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (I Corinthians 16:19)
And we know that at some point, they had risked their own lives for Paul and the other believers.
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.(Romans 16:4)
Wow!
These were not super-saints. They had no fan club. They were not featured on the cover of any magazines for their efforts. They were not like Paul, or Peter; they had different gifts. But they were willing to pull together. They were willing to serve.

We can learn a lot this week from them!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday slowdown

The things that I love
And hold dear to my heart
Are just borrowed
They're not mine at all
Jesus only let me use them
To brighten my life
So remind me, remind me dear Lord

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then
Show me where you brought me from and
Where I could have been
Just remember I'm a human and humans forget
So remind me, remind me dear Lord

Nothing good have I done
To deserve God's own Son
I'm not worthy of the scars
In His hands
Yet He chose the road to Calvary
To die in my stead
Why He loved me I can't understand

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then
Show me where you brought me from and
Where I could have been
Just remember I'm a human and humans forget
So remind me, remind me dear Lord

Alison Krauss



Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Shulammite shepherdess, conclusion


Yesterday we discussed how the Song of Solomon was a beautiful and pure (but honest) passage of poetry that described the commitment and delight of man and woman.

Many scholars feel that we've not heard the deepest message of the Song unless we read it as an expression of the relationship and communication between man and God; some say more than this, it's the communion between Christ and His church.

And perhaps they are correct -- if we look at one of the earliest Jewish books, called Targums, we see this in the preface:

                  This is the Song of Solomon, the prophet king of Israel, which he sang
                   before Jehovah the Lord.

So, it's indeed possible that this passage isn't just a human love song. This could be a song about his own relationship to Jehovah; the early church fathers viewed it in that light.

Remember when we touched on the book of Ecclesiastes? When you read that book, you read of a man's search throughout his world for something that would satisfy his heart. All humans have a longing in their hearts for something real, something true, something larger than themselves. Personally, I believe that God put it there. He instilled that longing so that we would search for Him.
Let me get back on track here . . . the message of Ecclesiastes is that if a man (or a woman) gains the world, it just isn't enough.  If we gain the world, our hearts are still empty, because our hearts are so much greater than the object of our love. But our Lord is so mighty, so merciful, so loving, that the heart in love with Him will never be able to fully know the depths of His love, concern, and care. Christ is even greater, larger than our hearts.

Each and every passage in this passage of poetry, then, can be reverently considered at this higher level -- the level of a heart totally sold out and committed to the Lord. And if we take it that way, it matches up with other teachings that we are familiar with. It reveals, too, that marriage is a key to human life.
Whoaaaah.
Why did I say that? Are people who are not married supposed to be discouraged by that?
Nope.
Let's think about this. Paul says in Romans that we were "married" to our old life of sin, and that when we become Christians, we begin what will be a battle for mastery of our lives. The whole story of the Bible is that it's either God Who masters us, or the devil. We cannot give ourselves to both of them -- there must be a choice, just as when a man or woman chooses their life mate. Does that make sense now?

That's why when we read in this poetry about the delight that the bride and bridegroom experience with each other, we are reading a beautiful description of what God intends the relationship to be, between Himself and each one of us. That's why we see this commandment in Matthew:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37)
It's the "first and greatest" commandment, because out of that flows everything else!

In Ephesians, we see this:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . (Ephesians 5:25)
And we see this:
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
The love of a husband and wife is just an earthly picture of the love between Christ and His church -- between Christ and the believer.

One day the whole world will experience the springtime of Song of Solomon 2:11-13a:
See! The winter is past;    the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth;    the season of singing has come,the cooing of doves    is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit;    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Our Lord Jesus Christ will return at last, to claim His bride: the church, the believers who are committed to Him.  How much better is this, than to be "married" or mastered by the devil, who is constantly looking about for those he can control:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)
He is our adversary; Jesus is our Advocate.  Satan, and the old life of sin, are our opponents; Christ is our Champion, our Beloved Jesus!

The devil wants to carry us away; our Savior wants to protect and save us. Let's devote ourselves anew to a real and committed relationship with Him!




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Shulammite shepherdess


Did you finish your reading? (Grin)
I know, right? I'm doing good to read a chapter or two, much less EIGHT!! But I think this was a good assignment . . .
I'm hoping that since this is a passage of much discussion over the years, that we'll have some comments and discussion here. If you don't agree with my take on things, please feel free to chime in and say so! We all learn from each other!

So, why is this the Song of songs? There are many songs that speak in tender terms of the love between a man and a woman, but this particular song was incorporated (at the Spirit's guidance) into the Scriptures. The same One Who created man and woman wanted us to have this Song -- and I think that it reveals the heart of God to us, too.

Let's dive in!

In the Bible, we find the subject of sex is handled very frankly, and very honestly. I believe that is how God intended us to view it. We can see that the Song is a love song, and that it describes frankly, but with purity, the delight of a man and a woman in each other's love, and in each other's bodies. It's not obscene, nor is it pornographic.

These eight chapters are almost like what we would call a musical, in our era. The characters who speak or sing these lines are Solomon, the young king of Israel; the Shulammite shepherdess; and sometimes the chorus ladies -- could be those in the city, or those in Solomon's harem. Yeah, I know, God told him not to get tangled up that way, but it happened. Remember what I said about the Bible being frank and honest? (Grin)

Let's lay the background for this musical, before the players get on the stage, shall we?
Over in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us that he undertook expeditions to find out what life was like on various levels. Instead of hunkering down and never leaving his palace, he went out into the world to see things for himself. Once, it says, he disguised himself as a simple country lad, working as a shepherd or vineyard hand. From my studies, I think this is when he met the shepherdess. They fell in love, and after they had promised themselves to each other, he went away. When he has been gone for some time, she cries out to him in loneliness.

Suddenly, the announcement comes that the king, in all his splendor, is coming to visit the region. The girl may have listened with interest, but it doesn't really distract her, for she is longing for her lover. But then words comes that the king wants to see her -- why? She goes into his presence, and discovers with joy that he is her beloved. He takes her back to the city and they are married in the palace.

Did ya know that the word "Shulammite" is actually the feminine form of Solomon? I guess we could call this lady we are studying Mrs. Solomon!

Did ya know, also, that even in the very poetic and figurative language here, we can always tell who is speaking (or singing)?  The bridegroom always refers to her as "my love," and the bride calls Solomon "my beloved."

And speaking of poetry, this truly is figurative and flowery language, no? If any young man today were to say this:
Your teeth are like a flock of ewes    that have come up from the washing;all of them bear twins;    not one among them has lost its young. (Song of Solomon 6:6)
I kinda think he'd be misunderstood, don't you? (Smile) It's obvious that this is the language of love among the ancient peoples.

Song of Solomon, in its eight chapters, describes married love as God intended for us to enjoy it. The full freedom to share mutual satisfaction, such as is described here, is possible only within the total "one-ness" that marriage permits. Total fulfillment can only happen when there is total commitment to each other. And that is emphasized in the book, when the bride gives her advice to the ladies of Jerusalem . . .
adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,    by the gazelles or the does of the field,that you not stir up or awaken love    until it pleases. (Song of Solomon 2:7)
Being able to experience love like this in marriage is the result of not rushing into love. (Remember the song, "You can't hurry love"?) Waiting for love to develop on its own, and not rushing into relationships is the secret to the commitment and delight that is described here.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,    as a seal upon your arm,for love is strong as death,    jealousy is fierce as the grave.Its flashes are flashes of fire,    the very flame of the Lord.Many waters cannot quench love,    neither can floods drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7a)
God planned for all of the delights in this passage, to be part of the experience that committed men and women share as a part of marriage. So, this whole book is a plea for purity in life, and chastity in relationships, until the time of marriage comes.

But as scholars have noted, this book is also a beautiful picture of the delight of a committed Christian and the love of a holy God. We'll explore that tomorrow!