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We have been working verse by verse and chapter by chapter through the book of Ecclesiastes on Wednesday nights in our Bible study.  Last night, we completed our look at the least studied book in the Bible.

This book is not filled with words that you would ever find in a greeting card.  It is a realistic but pessimistic commentary on life.  Solomon was at the end of his life – a full life crammed with accomplishments, wealth, wisdom and power.  But his conclusion, after pursuing all these endeavors and succeeding in just about everything he attempted, was it was all pointless.  He used words like futility, vanity and meaningless.

As I said, inspirational quotes for greeting cards do not appear within these 12 chapters.  But what does appear is an authentic and extremely raw look at life.  The frustration and depression we feel about the world from time to time but would never bring up in a small group at church is exactly what Solomon put into words.

And through his dissection and analysis of this life “under the sun” he learned a valuable principle.  The foundational principle of life he defined was not relevant for his era only.  This principle is foundational today as well.  The timeless truth Solomon uncovered in all his study, thought and experience was this:

Fear God and keep his commandments (12:13)

That’s it.  The answer to the age old question of the meaning of life is made up of 6 words.

This idea of fear is not terror but rather reverence and healthy respect.  It carries the idea of submission and love – of worship.  We only find purpose in life when we approach God in this manner.  What we see “under the sun” is all temporary – pointless.  But when our focus is on loving and pleasing God by following him and his plan for our lives, then even life in the here and now has meaning.

Live with lasting purpose today!

A dear friend of mine shared a quote with me yesterday from Oswald Chambers’ devotional work, My Utmost For His Highest.  The quote came from the devotion for Monday.  I have read Chambers’ book before and found it to be extremely meaningful.  It has certainly stood the test of time.

But this quote was unfamiliar to me and it has continued to rock me to the core.  Chambers commented on Matthew 6:25 which says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you put on.”  His simple comment was this:

Jesus summed up commonsense carefulness in the life of the disciple as unbelief.

I have lived by the mantra that we are to live by faith but God gave us a brain to be able to think through things to make logical choices.  I still hold to that truth but Chambers’ words have me doing some self-examination.

Do I ever make choices based on commonsense and not on faith?  Do I ever hold back and over-think things, all in the name of being careful and wise when I should move forward in faith?

Chambers challenges each of us to evaluate our motives and reasoning processes.  We should never want to operate from a misguided place of feeling we are in control.

I do not want to be guilty of unbelief.

The truth of this lesson?

Worry about nothing, simply trust!

It has been overcast for several days here.  Part of the haze is smoke from agricultural burns in Mexico.  But nonetheless, we have not seen the sun much for the past few days.  But this morning, I got to the office early.  I was moving back and forth from prayer to scripture reading with my back to the windows.

As I sat, facing the wall reflecting on “pressing on” (Philippians 3:12-14), I saw the wall suddenly illuminate.  The sun had broken through the clouds and smoke.  The wall continued to brighten – except the area affected by my silhouette.  The wall shown with the sun’s light except for my outline.

As I watched and reflected, the brightness was gone as quickly as it had appeared.  But the experience caused me to think.  When Jesus shines, the last thing I want to do is to be a hinderance.  I would much rather be a clear display of Jesus at work and not someone who blocks Jesus’ light and keeps people from seeing him.  I believe the remedy begins with transparency between myself and the Father.  As there is less and less of me to get in the way, there will be more and more of Jesus shining through.

I am a work in progress – clay in the hands – being transformed daily.  But my prayer is that Jesus will be able to shine through me today.

How about you?  Will people see Jesus when they brush elbows with you today?

Do you ever run into those folks who brighten your day just for being around them?  How about those who you know have experienced great loss and yet God’s joy just shines through them?

This morning I had the opportunity to have breakfast with a friend of mine who brightened my day with his strength of character and the joy that keeps him going.  He is coming up on the anniversary of a tremendous loss – a loss that would be crippling for most anyone.

As I sat across from him and listened to what is going on in his life this week, I could see the change in physical appearance – slight but real.  He endured the struggle of the flooded river a year ago but the storm that caused that initial struggle to survive left bigger struggles ahead.  The loss of his family in that storm quickly minimized his initial struggle.  He lives with that loss every single day.

But since that dreadful day, God has continued to use him as a testament to God’s faithfulness.  The joy he possesses today is a result of a faith in God and the peace that comes in knowing his family shared that same faith.

As I sat with him this morning, my day was lifted to look into the eyes of one who has endured so much but yet with strength and hope.  His joy, even in the midst loss, reminds me we serve a faithful God.  He reminds me that we may not ever get over tremendous loss in our lives but through the strength of God we get through it.  His life will never be the same but that does not mean it can’t be meaningful.

What an example of how its done!

I had the blessing of meeting with a group of local pastors yesterday.  We gather several times per year.  There is always something humbling about getting together with folks who are in the trenches with me and listening to what God is doing in other churches and ministries.  We often isolate ourselves and begin to think what we see is all there is.  But when we remember we are part of something so much bigger than what we see day to day, our load seems to get a little lighter.

I also had the privilege of leading the discussion at our gathering yesterday.  We talked about the importance of taking care of ourselves – particularly our own souls.  I belieListening With Hand to Earve that when I stand before God’s people each week, I will have nothing of value to say if I have not spent time with God the week before.  So we started with that idea.

One of the questions I asked the pastors to reflect on (and ask themselves regularly) was “What is the last thing God said to you?”  So I ask that question of you – and myself – today.

At first blush, we might shrug the question off with a pious, “God speaks to me everyday through his word.”  While that is true, I challenge you to be specific and concrete.  What specifically has God said to you lately?

Over the next couple of posts, I will be sharing some things God has been saying to me.  And I challenge you to share with me, one thing God has been saying to you lately.  You can leave a comment here or just email me with your thoughts.  I always love to hear how God is moving in the lives of his people.

Spend some time today searching your heart for the answer to the question.

Be blessed!

This little guy gave me a shock early one morning last week.  I was in my office and at my desk early that morning.  It was still quiet in the building as I was getting my day started.

As I wBird Outside My Windowas focused on sermon preparation, I heard a loud bump on my window followed by another.  I knew what had happened – a bird had flown into the glass.  So I got up to inspect the area outside my window expecting to find a bird laying dazed on the roof.  Instead, what I found was a bird sitting nonchalantly on my window sill as if it was a normal day in its little life.  It seemed fine but it caused me to wonder why the bird had flown into my window – not once but twice.

As I inspected the situation, I realized that at that time of day with the sun’s position, the window gives a reflection of the palm trees and the bay.  So the bird mistakenly thought it was flying toward the water.

As I have considered this interruption to my morning, I have seen an application to the church.  How often have people been turned away from the church because when they look at the church, they see a reflection of the world?

Jesus teaches us that we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).  We are to be set apart.  We are to strive to live in a way that honors God – which means we are not going to look like the rest of the world.

But I wonder.  Could it be that – sometimes, just sometimes – in our humanness we look more like the world than our Father in heaven?

We must stay diligent to live in the world but not be of the world.  We must stay focused on living to serve God and honor him.  This does not mean to live antagonistically toward the world, but rather to live a humble existence of love and service allowing God’s love to shine through us.

Our hearts and actions should reflect our Father and his love.

God in heaven, shine through us today so that those around us don’t see a reflection of the world but instead, see only you!

                                                                                                       Amen

Giving Our Best

Sunday, I was in my office early. I had not slept well through the night – waking up almost hourly with the sermon on my mind and heart. Each time I awoke, I would begin to pray for God to speak into me and then speak through me the next morning.

It is not that I had not prepared for the sermon. Truth be told, I had more information in my notes than with many sermons. I felt my points were clear and the content consistent with the text. So I couldn’t understand the anxiety. Even now, two days later, I am not sure what was going on.

I would like to say that through the worship experience, people were moved to action. I wish I could write about how God used my turning to him to really make a difference in the hearts of his people.

I trust God moved in the hearts of the people, but I didn’t see an overwhelming display. But this experience has reminded me of an important truth – it is never about me. I can put hours into a sermon and feel good about how it will go but what I have to remember is that my role is not to invoke some kind of response. The point of the sermon is never to manipulate.

My role is to be faithful and trust completely in the Father. My calling is to work hard during the week and go to the pulpit with my absolute best each and every Sunday. Then I must trust God to take it from there.

Remember today that God wants your best – the very best you can do – and leave the outcome to him.

Be your best today!

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