Song of Solomon 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He planned intimacy for us to enjoy

Tom and I recently celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary.  We thought we were really in love the day we got married, but when I think about our love today and how much it has grown over the years I realize our early love was just a drop in the bucket of what it would become.  Our young couple in Song of Solomon has just embarked on their marriage journey; and as can be expected, it is with great excitement. 

@ Song of Solomon 4
You are beautiful, my darling, beautiful beyond words. Your eyes are like doves behind your veil. Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are as white as sheep, recently shorn and freshly washed.” (1-2) Solomon, you sweet talker!  Well, he started out right – every woman wants to be called beautiful, but the references to farm animals are lost to me.  For the shepherdess woman, however, these words held their own special charm.  Solomon wooed his new bride with compliments, and compliments are never lost on anyone.

“Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Come down from Mount Amana…” (8)  The young man invited the young bride to come away with him as they started their home together and asked her to leave all the beautiful mountains and places she may have known in the past that held meaning for her.  This was the beginning of their marriage as Jesus described in Matthew 19:5-6, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Leave and cleave, one flesh, forever – this is God’s plan for us.

I must admit that even today, after all these years together, when I catch a glimpse of my husband across a crowded store or room and our eyes meet, my heart often does a little thing.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but take it from me, it’s all good.  I’m relatively sure that Solomon understood it when he said, “You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride. You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes.” (9)

We may feel somewhat like voyeurs as we read the passionate words of this young couple so desperately in love, but the love language they share and the commitment they profess should only serve to enrich our personal relationships to be what God has intended.  Then, when we think of God’s love for us that is really too intense, too deep to be contained in simple words such as these, we should be challenged to come away with Him.  May we be inspired to leave all the things familiar to us in exchange for a time of intimacy with Him because His deep love has captured our hearts. 

Moving Forward:  I’m exceedingly blessed by His love and by his love today and so very thankful for both. 

Tomorrow @ Revelation 7-11

Song of Solomon 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He satisfies all our longings

“Are the stars out tonight? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright, ‘cause I’ve only got eyes for you…”  This old love song comes to mind every time I read the love story of the couple in Song of Solomon.  What a delightful portrayal of the passion and purity of love between a man and a woman!  Solomon tested our obedience with the Proverbs, he challenged our minds with the philosophy and questioning of Ecclesiastes and now he delights our hearts in Song of Solomon.  This book is not only an intimate love story about the covenant between man and wife, but it’s also a beautiful portrayal of God’s eternal covenant with mankind and Christ’s commitment to His bride.

“Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine.  How fragrant your cologne; your name is like its spreading fragrance,” (1:2-3) said the Shulamite woman.  From the very beginning, we understand that the Song includes the passion of love.  In fact, at one time or another, it expresses three of the four meanings of love recently discussed (December 3 @ I John 4-5).  God intends for us to enjoy all forms of love, and here the young woman spoke of eros or the pleasure of love.  We can’t separate ourselves from the desire of this love because it is God’s gift to us to enjoy, but through the Song, the young woman delivered a challenge to the chorus of women around her.

“Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and wild deer, not to awaken love until the time is right.” (2:7)  Throughout scripture, especially the writings of Solomon, men are confronted with the challenge to remain pure, but now the gauntlet is passed to the women.  This love is reserved for permanent, monogamous marriage, and what a challenge for women today who are confronted at every turn with the enticement of premarital or extramarital sex.  For men and women alike, we will never experience the excited passion of Song of Solomon that God intends for us by diluting its intensity with lustful substitutions of any kind.  They only cause us to crave more and more and never satisfy what only God can give when He divinely blesses our marriage bed.

“I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots,” responds the King. (1:9,KJV)  I must admit that being compared to a company of horses is not really the love language I would want to hear at this point; but in fact, it is one of the greatest endearments a husband can express, outside of his wife’s ravishing beauty, of course.  With the term love in this verse, the King declared that his beloved was his friend and companion, the one he was familiar with, a love that was phileo.  Along with all the other joys of marriage, my husband and I are best friends, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (2:4) For the first time in the Song, the Hebrew equivalent to agape is used for love, the selfless, pure love from God.  The King’s banner represented a covering, a protection, an intimacy for the one he possessed and who possessed him, and God’s love for us is all this and more.  Be still my heart…

In response to our reading today, my heart is full of love for my husband and for my God who has divinely blessed our marriage covenant.  I can’t help but thank Him for the fulfillment of His love covenant with mankind in the coming of His Son to redeem us.  The joys of love while here on earth are but a foretaste of the perfect love we will share with Him through all eternity. I can only imagine. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful for my husband – thrilled and protected by his love and selfless commitment.

Tomorrow @ Revelation 1-6

Ecclesiastes 11-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He rewards our obedience to Him with eternal life in heaven

My husband and I are avid readers.  While he manages to read five books at a time, a little here and there until he has finished them, I enjoy reading one book at a time and giving it my full attention.  A real treat for me that doesn’t happen often enough is reading a well-written novel.  I have a friend who pages ahead occasionally to find out what’s going to happen and has been known to read the end of the book first.  I worry about individuals who do this.  There’s nothing like a plot building, collecting all its intricate parts and then exploding at the end with a grand finale.  Who would want to ruin that by reading ahead?  Almost like a novelist, Solomon has been building a story in Ecclesiastes, and today we read his grand finale.

We’ve read through some rather dark moments in Solomon’s life over the last twelve chapters: “Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless! …Everything is wearisome beyond description…all meaningless—like chasing the wind.” (1:1,14)  Solomon had tried everything on earth to bring meaning to his life, but nothing worked. After years of searching, he finally came to this conclusion, “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?  God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him.” (2:24-26)  Everything is fleeting, at best, apart from the eternal God.

Solomon also brought us words of encouragement and understanding, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven,” (3) and “To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.” (5:20)  We can toil and strive to get ahead of God’s plans for us, but Solomon concluded that living in our moment and accepting His timing will bring the most peace during our brief stint on earth. 

@ Ecclesiastes 12 – The Grand Finale
“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.” (13-14)  Living with unbridled devotion to the One who created us and gives us breath, never assuming that role as our own, is the very least we can do to show our love and respect to God.  Obedience is a natural result of our devotion to Him.  Whether it’s our job, our family or sports, if we’re devoted to it, we are going to play by the rules.

Solomon’s statement that God will judge everything we do should confirm in our hearts that eternal life is inevitable otherwise there would be no need for judgment.  “He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (3:11) Our hearts yearn for that day when we will live with God for all eternity as recorded in the Revelation.  I must admit, the Bible is one book where I’ve paged ahead to see how it ends, and guess what?  For those who love God, it’s all good!

Moving Forward: With a heart of devotion to Him, I move through this day in obedience to His commands, ever mindful of my eternal home. 

Tomorrow @ Malachi

Ecclesiastes 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  His Word provides the wisdom we need to keep sharp!

A few years ago a friend and I prepared a meal in her home for our families.  My job was chopping veggies, so I searched through her drawer for the best knife I could find.  Now, it needs to be understood that in food prep, it’s all about the knife for me.  Maybe that comes from my Italian heritage, I don’t know, but I want my cutting knife to carry the right weight in the handle, fit easily in the hand and cut like a dream.

On that day I couldn’t find a knife to fit any of those requirements.  The knives were so dull they couldn’t cut through butter…almost.  I ask my friend if she had a sharp knife, and she replied, “No, I can’t have a sharp knife. I would cut myself.”  She didn’t get it.  My job was tedious, to say the least.  Aarghhh…

The other day I spent some time in my daughter’s kitchen doing food prep and once again my job included chopping veggies.  In her drawer was the perfect knife, great balance, great fit and the sharpest of blades, and I whipped through those veggies effortlessly.  My daughter got it.  A sharp blade requires less effort for the task and provides greater safety in the process.  Bottom line – we have to keep our edge. 

@ Ecclesiastes 10
“Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.  That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” (10)  Well, obviously Solomon got it, and there are some lessons to be learned from a dull ax.  Whether we realize it or not, a sharpened ax will lose its edge over time with use or without use.

An ax that sits on a shelf without being used, no matter how sharp it once was, will begin to lose its edge over time through oxidation from humidity and other elements. Only when it is taken off the shelf and sharpened will it once again be useful to do the job it was intended.  Sometimes we go through periods in life where we feel we are sitting on the shelf, not very useful and, well, kind of oxidizing.  That is where we’ll stay unless we sharpen up – sharpen our skills, our training and get up-to-date in our thinking.  It’s amazing how just sitting in on a local training course or an online session in our field will get our creative juices flowing or open doors for the future.  We have to keep our edge.

An ax will lose its edge from overuse as well.  After a couple of hours of chopping, slicing and dicing the other day, my knife was starting to get a little dull, but I knew my son-in-law would be able to fix that in no time.  When a knife starts to dull, it doesn’t go as easily through the onions or whatever we are cutting and that provides a little play in its action where a slight turn of the blade can cause it to go places where we don’t want it to go. It’s a subtle deterioration that slowly moves to a risky venture for us.

We so often are slicing and dicing our way through life, and I mean that in only the kindest of terms, and over time we have dulled our edge.  Our work takes a greater effort than ever before and even our safety may be at stake.  This is when it is time to reevaluate the tool, our skill or our vocation by putting down the ax and picking up the sharpener.  Perhaps a little sabbatical is in order or once again attending a class or a refresher online, something that will sharpen our edge and help our efforts moving forward.  I once read, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

Most important is our walk with the Lord – we don’t want to lose our edge.  If we sense our relationship with Him is taking more effort and feeling a little dull, it’s time for some sharpening, stepping away from the day-to-day for some alone time with Him.  He said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

And “That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.”(10)  Thank you, Solomon, for your wisdom today and encouragement to keep our edge sharp!

Moving Forward:  No dull ax here, I want to keep sharp for Him so that my efforts will accomplish the most for the Kingdom. 

Tomorrow @ Zechariah 8-14

Ecclesiastes 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  God takes care of the injustices in life so that we can live free

I remember a discussion I had with my dad many years ago regarding World War II and Adolph Hitler. In a study about Hitler, my teacher at school had left room for the possibility that Hitler had not died in the war. I’m not sure how much disgust and ire a 5th grader can muster about a past war, but I know that I was very upset.  That this monster could possibly still be alive and breathing was more than I could handle, and I immediately approached my dad about it when he got home from work.

Without a doubt, dad’s answer revealed his heart on the subject.  He thought there was enough proof that the evil man had died in the war, but if he had not, Dad hoped that the Jews had imprisoned him and that they were dishing out the kind of judgment he deserved.  My dad was not a vindictive person at all, but no one wants to see crimes of this nature left unpunished.  From our conversation, my indignation dissipated somewhat because I believed that justice had been served one way or another. 

@ Ecclesiastes 8
“I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor…In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!” (9,14)  Solomon was disgusted as well that people seem to get away with evil at times, and the injustice of it made him feel as though life was meaningless.  It’s not so much a matter of wanting revenge, but it’s our nature to want to see people get what they have coming to them, whether they deserve good for their good deeds or evil for their evil deeds.

“But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God.” (12-13)  Well, they may prosper here on this earth, but without repentance, eternity doesn’t look good for them.  The godly, however, look forward to the joy of eternity in heaven, and eternity is a very long time.

To counteract these injustices that occur on occasion, Solomon had a suggestion, “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (15)  From all of Solomon’s writing, we understand that he was not suggesting that we act irresponsibly in response to the unpunished evil that we see, but rather that we change our focus to the good things in life.

We have to let go of evil and injustice over which we have no control.  I’ve known too many dear souls that have allowed this very thing to eat at them until they are ill and depressed.  I’ve always believed that we allow evil to win when we let it diminish our joy and peace in life.  Evil that is out of our hands is punished best when we disregard its future and leave it to God to handle.  Our hurt and disgust will roll off of us like water off a duck’s back, and as Solomon suggested, let’s enjoy life. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful today that I don’t have to carry the weight of injustice and unpunished evil over which I have no control.  God will handle it all.

Tomorrow @ Zechariah 1-7

Ecclesiastes 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He gives the health and wealth we need to live a contented life

Planning a wedding with my daughter was one of the happier stages of my life.  I say stages because it really was quite a process.  Planning a wedding with my daughter was also one of the more stressful stages of my life.  A once-in-a-lifetime event always comes with extra pressure – one chance to get it right.  The wedding day held all the regular tensions plus a few last minutes glitches.  An hour before the wedding was to start; I was running around like the proverbial chicken with no head.

The church wedding coordinator, called the “Wedding Nazi” by some, caught me as I raced down the church aisle loaded with boutonnieres, etc.  She grabbed my arm and walked at a snail’s pace down the rest of the aisle.  “I’ve got to hurry,” I told her.  “No,” she said, “you’ve got to slow down, take some deep breaths or you will never remember this day,” and we strolled down the aisle together.  She was my “Wedding Angel” who saved the day for me, and I cherish the wonderful memory of a beautiful wedding.  Sometimes we just have to stop and, yes, smell the roses regardless of the drive to do and to be. 

@ Ecclesiastes 5
“It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.” (18-20)  Go-getters and Type A’s probably take exception to Solomon here, and there’s nothing wrong with working to provide for our families and doing what we can to improve our situation.  After all, most of the inventions of the last century came from this mindset.  But, when our drive removes all the pleasure from life, and we never enjoy the fruits of our labors, we really have missed the point.

I can’t imagine spending every day of my life doing a job that I dislike.  Out of high school, my husband wanted to be a pharmacist because he had heard they made a lot of money.  While some people enjoy the stability and structure of counting pills, it would have been a miserable life for him because he is an adventurer, and 40 years of youth ministry has certainly been an adventure for him.  Solomon expressed the peace and contentment that comes with accepting what God has provided and planned for your life.

Paul certainly got it, “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippians 4:11-12)   No striving, no rat race, no regrets, but contentment through Paul’s secret:  Christ who gives strength to do all things. (13)

When we accept the health and wealth that God has provided for us, we are so busy enjoying life that we forget about what we haven’t had or what may have been taken from us, and the past holds no regrets.  We just let it go…ahhh…deep breaths…and life is full of beautiful memories. 

Moving Forward: I’ll walk in contentment today, enjoying every step because of His faithfulness to provide just what I need for today.

Tomorrow @ Haggai

Ecclesiastes 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: All that is meaningful in life comes from Him

Many individuals feel a need as they begin to age to make a record or a memoir of their years on earth.  Some memoirs are filled with funny escapades and joyous moments, some are tell-alls written simply to embarrass others, and some memoirs are just plain sad with stories of disappointments and tragedy.

Most memoirs are filled with both the hills and the valleys of life, like the one written by my husband’s Aunt Ottie.  She was in her 80’s when she decided to write it all down – finding the Lord as her Savior, fulfilling God’s calling on her life as a Kentucky mountain missionary, raising a family, losing a husband and God’s faithfulness through it all.  I loved reading it because it’s a story that lifts the spirit.  Ecclesiastes is a memoir of sorts that doesn’t have quite that same effect due to the negative outlook of the author, most believing it to be Solomon.  However, mixed in with all his pessimism are some wonderful truths that make it well worth the read.

Solomon begins with, “Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless!… Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied…I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.” (1:1,8,14)  This sounds like someone having a really bad life.  We struggle through life trying to achieve and accumulate a fraction of all that Solomon had, and then he has the nerve to say that it is all meaningless.  I guess he would know.

In his pursuit of a meaningful life, Solomon tried pleasures of all kinds that included drinking, gaining material possessions, philosophy, and even hard work, but it all was meaningless to him, like chasing the wind, a pointless pursuit to say the least.  The real problem was that at some point, Solomon left God out of his life.  God blessings without humility can become a very destructive thing in life, and Solomon, the wisest man on earth, had done a very foolish thing when he became distracted by all his blessings and deserted the God of his father.

Solomon painted a dismal picture of life and its meaning without God, but thankfully, a moment of clarity came to him as he neared the end of his life. “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from Him?   God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please Him.” (2:24-26)

Forgive me if I sound a little Solomonesque, but I often think of each day that God gives to us as a flower.  We can enjoy our flower, smell its fragrance, enjoy its beauty and make the very most of it or we can ignore it, cast it aside or even step on it.  The choice is ours.  Our flower will fade by day’s end, but tomorrow is another flower from God’s hand, and it just seems we would want to enjoy what He has handed to us. I question how we can glory in any achievement or gain we have experienced yet disregard the One who gave it to us.  I guess it would be, as the man said, meaningless. 

Moving Forward:  “And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.   But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (I John 2:17) Looking forward to that day, the flower that never fades!

Tomorrow @ Habakkuk