There we sat in the middle of the hot wilderness. Barrel cactuses surrounded us in this foreign land. Civilization was nowhere in sight. Our thirty-plus passenger shuttle bus had coughed its last mile in the desert of Mexico. The “promised land” we called home was so far away. Would we ever make it? It did turn into the trip that never seemed to end, and as a teenager, it was an adventure.
Now that I am a pastor, it would have been a terror. How we survived when we only had a sleeve of Oreos, a gallon of water, and a football, I cannot recall. I remember our angry tirade against the barrel cactus that popped our football more than I do the details of our rescue. However, on that missions trip in Mexico, we knew God was watching out for us. I don’t think our tow truck driver’s name was Immanuel, but I do know God was with us because it was more than coincidence the way God rescued us. It’s when you are in the middle of the desert, secluded from everything, you begin to feel alone.
You may feel God has abandoned you. The Jews certainly could have felt God was distant. Esther and her people had lived in captivity for 70 years. Some of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem, but they were struggling to get the colony established. Where was God? God did not show up personally, through His messengers the angels, nor really through the prophets in Esther’s story, but you sense God’s unseen hand working to deliver His people. Yes, the enemy plotted to erase the Jews from this world, but God was with them. It was more than coincidence the way God works to rescue them.
Can you sense God’s unseen hand in your life? Just the other day, the Lord brought a name to mind. It was someone I have prayed for intermittently for over a year now. As I saw the name, I again prayed God would intervene and encourage this person. Two days later, my phone rings. As I glance at the name of the caller, I nearly gasp in disbelief. It was the very person God brought to mind earlier. It was one of those moments where you can sense God’s unseen hand working.
Your life is not a string of coincidences. It is the carefully calculated plan of God. He never wastes a moment or an experience. Look today for the way God is moving in your life.
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)
A few years ago, I remember hearing about a man by the name of Harold Camping who was predicting that the Lord would return on May 21, 2011. Come to find out, this was not the first time that he had made a prediction about the Lord’s return. Earlier he had predicted the Lord’s return on May 21, 1988. He then moved it to September 1994. Camping will go down in history with the rest of the false prophets who have tried to speculate the timing of an event that God has left hidden. The Lord clearly stated that “…of that day and hour knoweth no man…” (Mt. 24:36). When men try to pry into the hidden things of God, it always results in spiritual disaster.
In Deut. 29, a new generation of Israelites stood on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Moses would pass away soon and Joshua would assume the leadership role. Moses reminded the people of some final instructions before they entered the land. Moses told them of the future judgment that would come for their disobedience, their future blessing for their obedience, and their present duty before God. God’s expectations and judgements were clearly revealed to the people. It was likely hard for the people to comprehend some of these sayings. Therefore, Deut. 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God revealed certain truths to the people. Deut. 30:11 says, “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.” God’s Word was not hidden from them. God had given them what he wanted them to know and they were responsible to live in light of God’s revealed truth. The secret things referred to the future details that God had not made clear. The Israelites were to walk in the revealed truth but not pry into the hidden things of God.
Many people struggle with the “secret things” of God. We think that we have a right to have every question answered and to know the ins-and-outs of God’s providential dealings with us. But the Bible makes it clear that it is the “things which are revealed” that belong to us. God has revealed Himself to mankind through His Word. There are things that God has not revealed to man. However, that which He has revealed in His Word sufficiently provides “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). An old Puritan proverb said, “Never let what you don’t know disturb your faith in what you do know.” Don’t get bogged down in speculating about things that are out of your control or things you cannot understand. Rather, focus on living in light of God’s revealed will and trusting in God’s revealed character.
The book of 3 John is one that we often will quickly skim through on our way to the much more interesting book of Revelations. In this closing epistle of the Apostle John, we see him referring to himself as the “elder”, no doubt referring to his old age. Certainly John knew that he would soon be seeing his Savior once again. He writes this letter to a dear friend of his named Gaius. While there are several other times the name Gaius is mentioned in the NT by the Apostle Paul, this is likely a different Gaius and one who we know very little about. It would seem that Gauis may have had some type of leadership position in an unnamed church that John had a direct connection to.
In this book we see John point out the character of two individuals. First of all, we are introduced to a man named Diotrophes. This man was a thorn in John’s side. In verses 9 and 10 we see that he likes to put himself first, did not “receive” John, and likely a reference to John’s authority as an original apostle. Diotrophes also did not welcome other believers and even was involved in putting some out of the church. Clearly this man had a major pride problem. Whether he was a pastor or not we aren’t sure but even if he was, he certainly thought a lot more of himself than he should have and acted almost as we would expect a dictator would.
In contrast to Diotrophes, we see another man mentioned named Demetrius. While we know very little specifics about him, we see from verse 12 that he “had a good report of all men.” This is another way of saying that everyone spoke well of him, including John himself. He is also noted to be living in the truth. So he was well known as a good and godly man, in stark contrast to Diotrophes. It’s interesting to note that these two men were both involved with the same church yet were virtually opposites of each other when it came to character. May we emulate the character of Demetrius and not allow any position we may have at church cause us to be lifted up with the same pride that we see in the life of Diotrophes.
In language, be it English or another language, we use figures of speech far more often than we realize. Recently, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released a campaign to change animal related idioms in the English language. Instead of “Kill two birds with one stone,” they advocate using “Feed two birds with one scone.” They replace “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” with “Don’t put all your berries in one bowl.”
In my opinion, PETA doesn’t understand the idioms because their replacements don’t quite communicate the same, but the same could be true of English translation of Hebrew figures of speech. We will see a lot of these through the remainder of the Song of Songs, so it’s important for us to read this book (as we should all books) doing our best to understand what the author intended to communicate.
If I said to my wife, “Your hair looks like a flock of goats,” or “Your teeth look like freshly shorn sheep that just walked up out of the river,” needless to say, I probably wouldn’t receive “husband of the year” honors. However, if you look at each of the figures of speech that Solomon uses in chapter 4, you will notice that each one points to tenderness, (doves, sheep, goats, deer, thread of scarlet) while many of his wife’s idioms in the book refer to Solomon’s strength.
One thing in this passage that seems especially odd to us as English readers, is Solomon’s reference to his bride time and again as “my sister, my spouse.” The Hebrew word for sister was a common term of endearment. In English, we might say “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “pumpkin,” all of which might seem weird if you weren’t a native English speaker. Solomon is expressing his deep tender affection for his wife.
From a practical side, let’s look at Solomon’s words in 4:12-15. He refers to her as a closed in garden where there is delicious fruit and refreshing water. Think about a really tough day you’ve had: you are stressed out, there seems to be no end to the pressure, and it seems like everyone is against you. Wouldn’t it have been nice to just escape from all the pressure into a walled off garden where nothing could bother you? In this garden, there’s a nice cold natural spring pouring out water so that you can take a drink while you relax there. There’s also some delicious fresh fruit for you to enjoy. All of a sudden, that stressful day just melts away in that protected environment. Would your spouse compare you to a safe place of refreshment and enjoyment? When your husband or wife comes home from a stressful, pressure filled day at work, where it seems like everyone is against them, do they feel safe and refreshed in your presence or do they still feel the pressure of the day?
This book may seem a bit strange at times to us as English readers, but its principles are just as applicable in our culture as they were in the Ancient Middle East.
I wonder if I was the only child who thought life on earth was forever. As a young boy, I frolicked about my neighborhood seemingly without a care. Whilst growing up, I was taken to church every Sunday. Everything the priest said was for old folks, I thought. I will listen to that “religion” stuff when I get older was my mindset. Although my particular church did not interpret the Holy Bible correctly (leaving out the need for a personal relationship with Jesus), it taught me that there was a God in Heaven who attends to the affairs of this world and cares about its inhabitants.
Now that I have grown older, my perspective has changed. I realize I will not live on this earth too much longer. I have more years behind me than ahead of me. But, believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will now reside forever in Heaven with Him. Solely based on the sacrifice that Jesus provided on the Cross. Nothing that I have done at all (Ep. 2:8,9). I repeat-nothing at all!! If we think we had anything to do with our salvation, we are saying we had to help Jesus with it; that His death was in vain. My friend, that is blasphemy on the high seas. If you feel that way, please do not do so in my presence. I do not want to be caught in the nuclear holocaust that will envelope you someday.
Last night we had a lovely time, with friends and family, watching a live rendition of the Nativity. I remember thinking there may be people in the audience who know nothing of the Saviour; who think it a mere tale. Then I looked at the little donkeys, and thought, no one had to tell them of a Saviour, for they believe. Think of the connotation there! As the shepherds did on the night of Christ’s birth, we too should praise God for all He has done (Lk. 2).
We have become so materialistic at this time of year. It is a dreadful time (if we look at it with human eyes). Praise for God is far from most of our minds, but looking for the biggest and best toy is. My father told me, when he was a little boy, that he was lucky to get a piece of fruit Christmas morning. Can you imagine? But there was more of a dependency on God in those days and we were better for it.
My nightly reading read, “LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away” (Ps. 144:3-4). Please do not wait until the eleventh hour to come to the Lord; He may come at 10:30! God has a gift for each one of us. Our only obligation is to open it!