Ecclesiastes 5 - 8
Fear GodEcclesiastes 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
The Vanity of Wealth and Honor8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Ecclesiastes 6Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good — do not all go to the one place?
7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
The Contrast of Wisdom and Folly
Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
this also is vanity.
7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.
16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
Keep the King’s Command
Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is like the wise?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his face is changed.
Those Who Fear God Will Do Well10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
Man Cannot Know God’s Ways14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
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Receiving the Baton
By Bob Kauflin 10/1/2010
As I run the final laps of my race on this earth (however long the Lord allows that to be), one of my greatest joys and desires is to serve the next generation.
When I was in my twenties, I assumed, somewhat arrogantly, that my friends and I had better ideas than anyone who was older than we were. That covered everything from music styles to leadership practices to how to raise a family.
Thirty years and many humbling experiences later, I’m aware that no generation starts in a vacuum. Whether we know it or not, we’re standing on the shoulders, wisdom, and experiences of those who have gone before us, and we should seek to learn as much as we can from them.
I realize that sounds a little selfserving coming from a guy in his midfifties. But many of the young leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with, especially in the areas of church music and worship, understand better than I ever did the importance of benefiting from the past while forging a new path into the future. And I thank God for them.
Last year I gave a message on transferring ministry responsibility to the next generation. In my preparation, I came across some principles for passing the baton in a relay race that are surprisingly relevant for young leaders.
The race is about the baton, not the runners
A relay race is meaningless unless the baton is successfully passed from one runner to the next. A runner without a baton is running in vain.
For Christians, the “baton” is the gospel. As he neared the end of this life, Paul wrote to Timothy, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). These are the words of a man who knows he will soon face death and is more aware than ever what must be passed on. “Guard the good deposit.” Guard the good news that Jesus Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1:10). Of all that we receive from those who have gone before us, nothing is more important.
When we’re being mentored, we naturally hope to pick up ways of thinking, practices, and methodologies that are helpful. That’s a good thing. When we spend a lot of time with someone, we might even develop similar vocal inflections, mannerisms, or a way of laughing.
But whatever else you learn from those you’re looking to, make sure you receive the gospel. Whoever your teachers and mentors might be, they aren’t as important as the gospel they’re proclaiming.
The point isn’t to become the next Billy Graham, the next John Piper, or the next whoever. The point is to be faithful to the unchanging gospel: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). As you apply what you’ve learned from others to your life and ministry, make sure you don’t miss what matters most.
A relay race involves more than one person
In the often individualistic world of track and field, the relay is a unique race. It requires teamwork that other races don’t. The runner who crosses the finish line is integrally dependent on those who have run before him.
Likewise, we need those who have gone before us. We’re running the same race. Hebrews 11 is a clear reminder that we are but one piece of the glorious tapestry God is weaving together for His glory.
Having a relay mindset means being one of the faithful men Paul describes to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2). What can keep you from being part of the relay team? Rarely interacting with those from another generation. Spending the majority of your time reflecting on the ideas of your peers. Criticizing any idea or practice that doesn’t rate high on the relevance or coolness meter. Only reading books that were printed in the last decade — or worse, confining your reading to the blogosphere or Twitter.
Cultivating the humility that recognizes the need for voices older and wiser than your own isn’t easy. But it’s well worth the effort.
Runners must develop a mutual dependence and trust
Relay runners spend hours together practicing their handoff. They study each other’s habits, know each other’s speeds, and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
While simply listening to teachings of more mature Christians will bear fruit, a secure transfer requires a bond of trust. That trust is developed through shared experiences, open-ended discussions, applying the gospel to sins and successes, and demonstrating a steadfast trust in God in the midst of disagreements and difficulties.
Work hard to find someone you can not only learn from, but share life with. Practice eagerly learning, humbly receiving, and faithfully implementing what you’re learning, all the while trusting God’s Holy Spirit to bring fruit through your labors. Make it easy for those who have run the race before you to pass on what they’ve learned.
After all, before too long, you’ll be passing the baton to someone else.
- 1 Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God
- 2 True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God
- 3 Nuestra adoración importa: Guiando a otros a encontrarse con Dios (Spanish Edition)
- 4 The Power of Words and the Wonder of God
- 5 Worldliness (Redesign): Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World
The Peace that Passes
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 10/1/2010
The Bible is a book that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Look at it from one perspective, and it’s rather a small book. It occupies less space on a shelf than a dictionary. Some versions you can even carry in your pocket. Yet when we consider all that is within it, it’s a rather large book. It equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). Its riches can and will occupy our meditations into eternity.
Many, if not all, of the Bible’s parts have much the same quality. Jesus gives the most famous, most significant, most far-reaching sermon in all of history, and yet it covers just three chapters, Matthew 5–7. In those short chapters, Jesus tells us how we may receive the blessing of God. He speaks to how His people are to relate to the broader world, calling us to be salt and light. He explains how His Sermon on the Mount relates to the first “sermon on the mount,” the giving of the law at Sinai. He expands our understanding of the Mosaic law, tells us how to love those within the kingdom, and shows us how to serve those without. He teaches us how to pray, and how to fast, then reminds us that our treasure is in heaven.
All of this fits nicely into such a significant sermon. These are matters of the first importance, fitting themes for this cosmic exposition. But then, Jesus does something most of us wouldn’t expect — He tells us to stop worrying. Why this? Why here? Sure, avoiding anxiety is important and valuable. But couldn’t this have waited for another sermon, for a less auspicious occasion? Precious few freshly minted seminary graduates would include such an admonition in their first sermon. Not many pastoral candidates would choose this application to conclude their candidating sermon. But Jesus includes it. Why?
Our first clue is this — Jesus doesn’t merely tell us to not worry. Instead, He tells us what we should not be worrying about: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (6:25). Stranger still, in this brief sermon, Jesus reiterates this point: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things” (vv. 31–32a).
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is, before He tells us to seek the kingdom, telling us what life looks like inside the kingdom. This is how you love; this is how you pray; this is how you obey. And this, He tells us, is what you don’t do — be anxious about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. This mindset defines the people of the kingdom; it sets us apart from the Gentiles. This is the mark of Christians. You will be recognized, Jesus tells us, not because you have no food, drink, or clothes. Your Father in heaven knows you, like the Gentiles, need these things. What will set you apart from the world around you, what will separate you, is that you will not worry. You will be at peace. You will have but one priority — to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
We should be encouraged to remember that Jesus preached this sermon to the choir. That is, Jesus isn’t here castigating the scribes and Pharisees. He is talking to His own. The same is true with that first sermon on a mount (Ex. 20). While all men everywhere must not worship false gods or construct idols, while all men must honor God’s name and His Sabbath, while all men must respect those in authority, keep covenant, and so on, God is speaking to His own people here. He is saying, “I rescued you from Egypt, because you are Mine. I am carrying you on eagles’ wings, because you are My people. I will establish you in a land flowing with milk and honey, because you are My beloved. When you get there, be sure not to murder each other. Don’t steal the property of your neighbor. Keep covenant with your wife.” In like manner, Jesus is telling us not to worry not because we are never tempted to do so, but precisely because we are so tempted. He is preaching to the choir because we aren’t choirboys. We do fret. We do fear. We do follow the patterns of the Gentiles.
Our calling, then, is twofold. First, we need to learn to believe that our Father in heaven cares for us. Jesus in this sermon makes this abundantly clear. God provides for the sparrows, for the lilies of the field. He knows what we need, and He will provide. Second, though, we must repent of our fears. In the end, this is what marks the Christian, not that we are sinless but that by His grace we repent when we fall. When we repent, we have been promised that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When peace passes, when it slips from our grasping hands, we rest here, and thus rest in that peace that passes understanding.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
By Keith Mathison 11/1/2010
The book of Revelation seems to lend itself to either obsession or neglect. In the first church I attended as a new Christian, our pastor preached through the entire book of Revelation at least twice in a two-year span of time. We were convinced that Revelation was the key to understanding today’s headlines. At the other end of the spectrum are those who think Revelation is too difficult to understand and give up trying. The book is difficult, but it also promises a blessing to those who hear and keep what is written in it (1:3). Despite its difficulty, therefore, it is worth studying.
I discussed Revelation at some length in my book From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. Here I simply want to summarize a few points that may make understanding this part of Holy Scripture a bit less complicated. First, and probably most important, is the fact that Revelation cannot be fully comprehended apart from a good understanding of God’s earlier revelation to His people. The book of Revelation alludes to and echoes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book. Revelation also reveals the ultimate fulfillment of previous biblical promises and prophecies. In short, if you want to understand Revelation, get to know the rest of the Bible first.
The second point to consider is the book’s structure and outline. This is a disputed issue among New Testament scholars, but despite the disagreements, the basic outline and flow of the book can be grasped. The book begins with a prologue (1:1–8). The first major section of the book includes John’s vision of Christ and the messages to seven churches (1:9–3:22). John continues with his first vision of heaven (4:1–5:14), which leads to three series of judgment oracles. The judgments associated with the seven seals are first (6:1–8:5). This is followed by the judgments associated with the seven trumpets (8:6–11:19). Before the final series of judgments, John includes an interlude about the conflict of God’s people with evil (12:1–15:4). The judgments associated with the seven bowls follow (15:5–16:21). The next section describes the judgment of the harlot Babylon (17:1–19:10). This is followed by the transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem (19:11–21:8). In the final major section, John describes the new Jerusalem (21:9–22:9). The book concludes with an epilogue (22:10–21). If this basic outline is kept in mind, it is much easier to grasp the meaning of the book.
A third point that has caused some difficulty is the date of the book’s composition. There are two main options. Some have argued for a date between AD 64 and 70, while others have argued for a date around AD 95–96. Most contemporary scholars believe the book was written at the later date, and this, I believe, has contributed to the difficulty of interpreting the book. The evidence for the earlier date is quite strong, and if the book was written at the earlier date, it is much more comprehensible. John indicates a number of times that his prophecy will be fulfilled very soon (1:1, 3, 19; 2:16; 3:10–11; 22:6–7, 10, 12, 20). If the book was written between AD 64 and 70, before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, then these references to an imminent judgment make perfect sense. We will realize that many of John’s prophecies in this book are judgment oracles against Israel.
The final point that must be considered is the basic hermeneutical approach one should take. Throughout history, four basic approaches have been suggested: the futurist, historicist, preterist, and idealist approaches. The futurist approach is the most popular. Those taking this approach understand everything from 4:1 forward to be a prophecy of events that are yet to occur. The historicist approach understands Revelation to be a prophecy of church history from the first advent to the second coming of Christ. According to the preterist approach, most (not all) of the prophecies in the book were fulfilled not long after John wrote the book. The idealist approach understands John to have been using symbols to express timeless principles concerning the ongoing conflict between good and evil.
As hinted at above in the discussion of the date, the preterist approach makes the most sense of the book. John himself says the prophecies of the book will be fulfilled soon, not thousands of years later. Furthermore, he repeatedly identifies his book as a “prophecy” (1:3; 19:10; 22:7, 10, 18, 19). This means the way we approach earlier prophetic books should instruct the way we approach this one. Many of the Old Testament prophetic books deal with impending judgments on Israel and surrounding nations. They also contain sections referring to ultimate future restoration. This means we already take a basically preterist approach to most of the Old Testament prophetic books. The same approach should be taken to this New Testament prophetic book. It too refers to an impending judgment of Israel while also pointing forward to ultimate restoration. Once we grasp this fact, the meaning of the book of Revelation becomes clearer.
Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.Keith Mathison Books:
- 1 Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope
- 2 The Shape of Sola Scriptura
- 3 Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper
- 4 From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
- 5 Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?
- 6 A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture
- 7 Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason
- 8 When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism
Thriving at College
By Alex Chediak 11/1/2010
College represents a minefield of temptation for the Christian student. It is often the first time a young person raised in a godly home is under the direct, ongoing influence of both professors with secular agendas and classmates with immoral ambitions. Character-polluting influences can be readily discovered even at many Christian colleges, where freedom from Mom and Dad results in some experimenting with sin, perhaps manifesting an unconverted state.
But college also represents an incredible opportunity for unparalleled spiritual and intellectual growth. How can a Christian thrive at college instead of flirting with sin or rejecting his faith? First, by not negotiating Christian morality (Eph. 5:3–11). Befriending non-Christian or marginally Christian students need not include practicing activities that clearly displease God or defile your conscience. Second, by loving God with your mind — seeking to be the best student you can possibly be, given the measure of gifting with which you’ve been entrusted, fruitfully cultivating your God-given talents into skills that prepare you for the vocation with which you will serve the Lord after graduating. In the meantime, being a student is a vocation, and the work of a student is intrinsically good and a gift from God. Apply yourself in this season of preparation. Third, by seeking to grow in godliness within a community that provokes you to vigorously kill sin (Rom. 6:12–14; Heb. 12:1–2), to put away childishness, and to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God” (William Carey). In short, college should be a launching pad into all that accompanies responsible Christian adulthood.
Christians in secular universities sometimes wonder to what extent they can learn from non-Christian professors. Not wanting to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:2a), they may minimize the value of academics, giving larger priority to Christian relationships and campus fellowship organizations. But if Daniel and Joseph are any indication, it is possible (and commendable) to excel in even hostile environments (Dan. 1:20; Gen. 39:2). Because God’s common grace is distributed to all, non-Christian professors have a wealth of expertise in their respective disciplines. Pay attention to their lectures and assiduously complete their assignments. Learn from them even while you scrutinize their philosophical underpinnings. In fact, to the extent that you excel in their classes, you will win not only their respect but the respect of others in your chosen field.
As a college freshman, I took philosophy from an atheist. After getting a B- on my first exam, I went to see the professor. I asked him how I could do better. He taught me to synthesize philosophical perspectives and to succinctly and fairly express an opponent’s view before giving a refutation. His advice has made me a better thinker, debater, and writer to this day.
Non-Christian peers also afford you the opportunity to practice true Christian tolerance. The sentimental tolerance of our day suggests that relational harmony requires that truth be relative: what’s true for me need not be true for you. Only then can we get along. But biblical tolerance involves treating others charitably and respectfully even when we believe they are in error. Truth remains objective, absolute, and outside us. We can share meals, play sports, and study with non-Christians, honoring and being blessed by the imago Dei in them, while (as opportunity allows) vigorously refuting non-Christian beliefs (from materialism to amorphous spirituality) and winsomely presenting arguments for the Christian faith.
The academic competition of college puts on display the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), which can be a source of undue anxiety for many. Some apparently have five talents, others two, others one. Joe gets A's in calculus and physics with little effort, while Jason works his heart out to get B's. Unfair? No, since nobody has anything that they have not received (1 Cor. 4:7), and every talent we receive is to be fruitfully cultivated for the service of God and neighbor. Furthermore, our divergent levels of gifting help us discern our calling. Failing in engineering may be God’s means to lead you into a fruitful career in accounting and business. We work coram Deo, not unto man (Col. 3:23; 1 Cor. 10:31), so we’re free to rejoice that God gifts others in different and sometimes greater ways than He gifts us. To love is to stop enviously looking up or haughtily looking down. Moreover, learning from better students and helping weaker students is both a way of honoring them and a means of enhancing your own competence.
Lastly, fight workaholism with a godly view of recreation. Some recreation is essential. But to avoid its abuse it should be intentional, limited, and restorative. The attitude we bring to it should be one of God-dependent thanksgiving — a recognition that we can rest from our labors because only God is infi nite (Ps. 121:4–8). In rest we humbly embrace our finitude. But just as importantly, the attitude we take from leisure should include thankfulness for God’s gift of work — even the preparatory work of college.
Friend, may your college experience truly launch you into a full-orbed, God-mastered adulthood.
- 1 Thriving at College: Make Great Friends, Keep Your Faith, and Get Ready for the Real World!
- 2 Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More
- 3 Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree without Going Broke
- 4 With One Voice: Singleness, Dating & Marriage to the Glory of God
- 5 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life: Defining Your Dating Style
By Scott Devor 11/1/2010
I began my college years ready to conquer the world for Christ. The reality of my journey, however, tells quite a different story. College, for me, was a roller coaster — from incredible joys to the most debilitating doubts I ever experienced. Recalling these years once again, I joyfully recognize God’s providence, even through the dark valleys I walked.
Although I had decided to attend a secular college with professors who were predominantly non-Christian, there was still a great deal of good to be found, and it came in the form of learning — both in and out of the classroom. Part of this learning was discovering who I was: I was introspective, always asking questions, and very interested in understanding how people think and how the world works. This led me to major in philosophy.
In the classroom, I continued to learn many profitable truths from the secular philosophers I studied: Thomas Hobbes taught me of the great wretchedness in man and the need for a remedy (for Hobbes, the remedy was government). Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Camus taught me the folly of life without God and the utter despair that accompanies that worldview. And Blaise Pascal helped me understand these two truths in light of Jesus: “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.” (Pensées (Dover Thrift Editions)) While the Lord gave me grace to understand some things right away, many struggles took years for me to finally overcome.
Not too long ago, I came across the following definition of Christianity on the internet:
Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
This definition represents the majority view among the professors I encountered at college. This vehement skepticism is probably why 75 to 90 percent of high school seniors who profess Christianity abandon their faith by the time they graduate college.
The world I entered as a college student was a God-ignoring culture filled with more “isms” (pluralism, relativism, individualism) and more addictions (drug, alcohol, pornography) than I dreamed possible. More than that, college was a continual onslaught of objections to Christianity. Professors and students would ask: How could a book written by so many different authors contain no errors? Doesn’t science disprove God? Who would believe in a book that describes floating axe heads and talking donkeys and snakes? Doesn’t Christian faith preclude rationality? If God is so good, why is there so much evil in the world? Good questions. But not questions without good answers.
It was my junior year in college, and unanswered questions about Christianity were fixed in my mind. I began doubting the faith. At this point in my life, I had been heavily involved in the church, teaching numerous adult Bible classes and ministering to the youth. Even with all that involvement, I was still sinking slowly into a mire that sought to consume me. To make matters worse, I was engaged to a wonderful Christian woman, and I was too scared to tell her or anyone else about my doubts.
At the end of my junior year, the doubts became too great for me to bear, so, by the grace of God, I went to my pastor to explain what was happening. I had many unanswered questions that seemed irresolvable. I unloaded some of these on my pastor. He responded: “It’s clear that you don’t want any part of Christianity if it isn’t true, so go find out — test it — and hold fast to the truth (1 Thess. 5:21).” His words gave me courage to ask the difficult questions and seek out the best answers. It was at that point that God began to turn my darkness into something very beautiful.
I sought out brothers to help bear my burdens (Gal. 6:2). These brothers spoke the truth of God to me and were the means by which God preserved my heart and mind throughout college. Just as a broken bone heals back stronger, so the Lord took my brokenness and strengthened my faith (Ps. 34:18).
Many of our modern universities are profoundly alienated from God; thus, struggling in college comes as no surprise. Let us remember that we are not alone (Heb. 13:5). For we have the Great High Priest who knows our struggles, who relates to us, and who has overcome the world (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4). Christianity is not to be lived in isolation: We must look to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and look to godly men and women to help bear our burdens.
Lyrics Change Laws How Music Might End Abortion
By John Ensor 1/27/17
Percy Bysshe Shelly once said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In A Defense of Poetry, he explains, “The great secret of morals is love, or a going out of our nature. . . . To be greatly good, [a man] must put himself in the place of another. . . . The pain and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.”
Poets, or artists in general, help us think sympathetically with the plight of others. Doing so, of course, is Christ’s Golden Rule: do for others what you would have them do for you — what you imagine you would want done in your defense if you were the one being targeted (Matthew 7:12).
Poetry Precedes Politics | In this sense, lyrics come before law. Poetry precedes politics. Can you even think of the Civil Rights Movement apart from the song “We Shall Overcome”? I cannot. Yes, politicians were needed to secure equal rights and protections in the law. But upstream from politics were preachers and poets — wooing and warning, clarifying and calling, exposing and exhorting, summoning and singing, “We shall overcome someday.”
Twenty-five years prior to these marches, Abel Meeropol, a white, Jewish, New York City poet, saw a picture of a lynching. He set out to stop it — by writing a poem. That poem became Billy Holiday’s 1939 song “Strange Fruit.” Her rendition provided moral imagination for millions of people and pierced their passive disregard. “Not my business” became “That’s wrong, and I will do something to stop it.”
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Per Amazon | John Ensor is an Evangelical pastor, who for the last 25 years, has helped lead the prolife moment as a speaker, a writer and a developer of pregnancy help medical clinics. He currently serves as the President of PassionLife Ministries; and leads their effort to train up Christians in biblical ethics, prolife apologetics, and pregnancy crisis intervention services, in nations where abortion, infanticide and gendercide is most concentrated.
Prior to this, John served as the Director of Urban Initiatives for Heartbeat International, working with minority churches to develop pregnant help services in Boston, Miami, LA and Pittsburgh. When he is not overseas, John lives in Atlanta, GA.
John Ensor Books:
Innocent Blood: Challenging the Powers of Death with the Gospel of Life
Answering the Call: Saving Innocent Lives One Woman at a Time
Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart
The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God's Grace Stand for Life: Answering the Call, Making the Case, Saving Lives
The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family
The Rockefeller Conscience: An American Family in Public and in Private
Experiencing God's Forgiveness: The Journey from Guilt to Gladness
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 78Tell the Coming Generation
78 A Maskil Of Asaph.
32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
By John Walvoord
Jeremiah 37:1–17. None of the king’s attendants or the people paid any attention to the prophecies of Jeremiah (vv. 1–2 ). Zedekiah, however, sent word to Jeremiah to pray for him (v. 3 ). Because Pharaoh’s army had come from Egypt and attacked the Babylonians, the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem was lifted (vv. 4–5 ).
Jeremiah instructed the king that when Pharaoh’s army would go back to Egypt, the Babylonians would return, attack the city, and burn it down (vv. 7–8 ). God stated through Jeremiah that they should not be deceived, that Babylon would certainly come and destroy them (vv. 9–10 ).
When Jeremiah attempted to leave Jerusalem, he was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned (vv. 11–15 ). Jeremiah, however, was brought in secret to King Zedekiah in order that he might know whether there was a word from God. “‘Yes,’” Jeremiah replied, ‘You will be handed over to the king of Babylon’” (v. 17 ). This prophecy was fulfilled ( 2 Kings 25:5–7 ).
Jeremiah Delivered from Prison
Jeremiah 37:18–21. Jeremiah’s request to be taken out of the dungeon and be given bread was heard by King Zedekiah, and he ordered him to remain in the courtyard of the guard.
Jeremiah Thrown in a Cistern
Jeremiah 38:1–13. When Jeremiah continued to repeat the prophecy of God that Babylon would capture the city, he instructed the people to leave the city because those who remained would die “by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life; he will live” (v. 2 ). These prophecies were fulfilled in connection with the Babylonian captivity.
The officials complained to the king that Jeremiah should be put to death because he was discouraging the people. The king allowed them to do what they wished. The result was that Jeremiah was placed in a cistern where, ultimately, he would have died (vv. 5–6 ).
Ebed-Melech, an official in the palace, went to the king and reported that Jeremiah had been thrown in the cistern, and the king commanded that he be taken out (vv. 7–10 ). So Jeremiah was taken out and remained in the courtyard of the king (vv. 10–13 ).
Zedekiah Again Warned
Jeremiah 38:14–28. Called in by Zedekiah to give a word from God, Jeremiah reported that if he surrendered to Babylon, he would be spared and the city not burned. If he did not, he would not be spared and Jerusalem would be burned down (vv. 14–17 ). Zedekiah revealed to Jeremiah that he was afraid of the Jews, but Jeremiah urged him to obey the Lord and it would go well with him (vv. 19–21 ).
Jeremiah predicted that the women in the palace would be brought out to the Babylonians (v. 22 ). They would say that Zedekiah had been betrayed by his trusted friends. When Zedekiah’s feet sank in the mud, he would find that his friends had deserted him (v. 22 ). The prophecy was repeated that those who go to the king of Babylon would be rescued, and if they did not go to the Babylonians the city would be burned down (v. 23 ). Zedekiah urged Jeremiah not to tell anyone what he had told the king (vv. 24–26 ). Jeremiah did not reveal what he had told the king (v. 27 ), and he remained in the courtyard until Jerusalem was captured (v. 28 ). Jeremiah’s prophecies were fulfilled.
The Fall of Jerusalem
Jeremiah 39:1–18. These prophecies were literally fulfilled. When the Babylonians finally conquered Jerusalem, Zedekiah and many others attempted to flee, but they were overtaken by the Babylonians (vv. 1–5 ). Zedekiah’s sons and the nobles of Judah were killed before his eyes. Then they blinded Zedekiah, bound him with bronze shackles, and took him to Babylon (vv. 6–7 ). The sad result of ignoring prophecy was graphically portrayed in these incidents. The Babylonians set fire to the city and the palaces, took the people of the city to captivity in Babylon, and left the poor of the land behind (vv. 8–10 ).
Jeremiah was given favorable treatment by the Babylonians and was allowed to remain with his people. Jeremiah sent word, however, to Ebed-Melech, the Cushite, that the Lord would protect him from destruction and rescue him because he had put his trust in the Lord. Ebed-Melech was the one who caused Jeremiah to be rescued from the cistern ( 38:7–9 ).
Jeremiah 40:1–6. Jeremiah was chained along with the other prisoners to go to Babylon, but when he was located he was released and allowed to choose whether to go to Babylon or stay behind (vv. 1–4 ). Jeremiah elected to remain behind (v. 5 ). Jeremiah stayed with Gedaliah and others who stayed behind (v. 6 ).
Jeremiah 40:7–41:18. Many people who ran away came back and began to settle down in the land. Gedaliah was warned about a plot to assassinate him but did not believe it. In keeping with the warning, Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah of royal blood, assassinated Gedaliah ( 41:1–3 ). Those who came to Gedaliah, bringing their offerings, not knowing he had been killed, were slaughtered by Ishmael, except for some who claimed to have treasure (vv. 4–9 ). The rest were made captives (v. 10 ). Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.
Ishmael, however, was overthrown and had to flee for his life (vv. 11–15 ). Those who had participated in the overthrow of Ishmael were afraid that the Babylonians would punish them, and so they escaped to Egypt (vv. 16–18 ).
Officers of the Army Go to Egypt
Jeremiah 42:1–22. The people who were left came to Jeremiah and asked him to pray to the Lord to find out what they should do (vv. 1–3 ). They promised to obey the Lord (vv. 4–6 ). Jeremiah prayed for them and the Lord answered (v. 7 ). They were told to remain in the land with Jeremiah and God would bless them. If they would not stay in the land and chose to go to Egypt instead, they would be destroyed (vv. 13–18 ). Jeremiah warned them that because they were disobeying God and going to Egypt anyway, God would destroy them (vv. 19–22 ).
Jeremiah Taken to Egypt
Jeremiah 43:1–13. In disobedience to God, the people went to Egypt. Jeremiah delivered the prophecy of God that Pharaoh would pursue them into Egypt and destroy them in fulfillment of this prophecy (vv. 8–13 ).
The Continued Rebellion of Israel
Jeremiah 44:1–14. Jeremiah delivered the word of the Lord to those in Egypt, that God’s anger would be against them and that they would be the object of cursing and reproach. They would all perish by sword, famine, or plague. This was fulfilled in history.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
2/1/2015 All Things Well
Back before electronic calendars and smartphones, many of us used something called a Day-Timer. I got my first professional Day-Timer when I joined the staff of a church at nineteen years old. And though I haven’t used a Day-Timer in more than a decade, I recently came across an old one, and when I opened it I was immediately drawn to the words that I wrote on the front page of my calendar: “The busy man is a lazy man.” From my first Day-Timer to my last, I wrote those words on the front page so that every time I opened it, I would be reminded not ever to become an overscheduled workaholic, running around like a chicken with his head cut off, too busy and too rushed to do anything well. Borrowing from something C.S. Lewis wrote, it’s the lazy man who does not properly schedule his time, who cannot say no, who does not plan ahead properly, who is often late for appointments, who is always rushing around, not calling people back in an appropriate time frame, and so on.
I have worked hard over the years never to let myself become busy. Still, most people who know my schedule would likely call me busy. For example, my next available scheduled lunch appointment is three months away, most of my phone calls are scheduled weeks out, and most major calendar items are typically scheduled more than a year or two out. Nevertheless, I am by no means busy; my schedule is simply full. My dedicated assistants work hard to meticulously maintain my schedule so that I have ample time to attend to urgent pastoral matters within the church, such as responding to a family in crisis, visiting a dying church member in the hospital, or counseling someone facing a major predicament. Furthermore, such scheduling allows me to care properly for my wife and children, spending all the time with them I possibly can so that we can be together, play together, and rest together. For what does it profit a pastor if he gains the whole church but loses his family?
Both labor and rest are creation ordinances given to us by God before the fall. They are given to us for our good and for God’s glory, and God calls us to work hard so that we can rest hard. By God’s design, the most revolutionary thing we could do in our busy, fast-paced society is take one day every week to rest and worship with our family and friends. However, we are living in a generation that doesn’t rest well because it doesn’t know what it really means to work hard, plan well, and say no to various opportunities and activities. And too often, the culprit is the local church that programs its people with so many activities that people have no time left to spend with their families and friends to enjoy life together and rest together—let alone take care of widows and orphans.
In many cases, our inability to rest says more about the busyness of our hearts than the busyness of our schedules. As Christians, we are called to labor well and rest well, and only when we do both as God has directed us will we find the right balance in life.
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned this day, July 25, 1866, as General of the Army, being the first officer to hold that rank. His courageous victories during the Civil War catapulted him into national prominence and in 1868, he was elected America’s eighteenth President. To the Editor of the Sunday School Times in Philadelphia, President Ulysses S. Grant wrote: “Your favor of … asking a message from me to the … youth of the United States … is this Morning received. My advice to Sunday schools, no matter what their denomination, is: Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
The greatest discernment is not to point out devils and recognize the enemy in every a situation, though that is a part of the equation. The most important thing is to recognize when the Lord is truly moving, so we do not miss out on His fullness. The watchmen on the wall had a two-fold responsibility in Old Testament times. They sounded an alarm when they saw the enemy approaching. But this was not their primary task. The greater responsibility was to watch for the king coming, so the gates could be opened and the inner chambers prepared for him. Without the King in our camp, we are powerless against the adversary. As we open our hearts to Jesus, we can trust Him to lead us in the way everlasting.
--- John Crowder
The Ten Commandments have lost their validity…Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision…
--- Adolph Hitler
I used to ask God to help me.
Then I asked if I might help Him.
I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me.
--- Hudson Taylor
What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.
--- John Bunyan
Faith, like gold, is for use and not for ornament.
--- Frank W. Boreham
Mushrooms On The Moor
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
How The War Of The Jews With The Romans Began, And Concerning Manahem.
1. This advice the people hearkened to, and went up into the temple with the king and Bernice, and began to rebuild the cloisters; the rulers also and senators divided themselves into the villages, and collected the tributes, and soon got together forty talents, which was the sum that was deficient. And thus did Agrippa then put a stop to that war which was threatened. Moreover, he attempted to persuade the multitude to obey Florus, until Caesar should send one to succeed him; but they were hereby more provoked, and cast reproaches upon the king, and got him excluded out of the city; nay, some of the seditious had the impudence to throw stones at him. So when the king saw that the violence of those that were for innovations was not to be restrained, and being very angry at the contumelies he had received, he sent their rulers, together with their men of power, to Florus, to Cesarea, that he might appoint whom he thought fit to collect the tribute in the country, while he retired into his own kingdom.
2. And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple.
3. Hereupon the men of power got together, and conferred with the high priests, as did also the principal of the Pharisees; and thinking all was at stake, and that their calamities were becoming incurable, took counsel what was to be done. Accordingly, they determined to try what they could do with the seditious by words, and assembled the people before the brazen gate, which was that gate of the inner temple [court of the priests] which looked toward the sun-rising. And, in the first place, they showed the great indignation they had at this attempt for a revolt, and for their bringing so great a war upon their country; after which they confuted their pretense as unjustifiable, and told them that their forefathers had adorned their temple in great part with donations bestowed on them by foreigners, and had always received what had been presented to them from foreign nations; and that they had been so far from rejecting any person's sacrifice [which would be the highest instance of impiety,] that they had themselves placed those donation about the temple which were still visible, and had remained there so long a time; that they did now irritate the Romans to take arms against them, and invited them to make war upon them, and brought up novel rules of a strange Divine worship, and determined to run the hazard of having their city condemned for impiety, while they would not allow any foreigner, but Jews only, either to sacrifice or to worship therein. And if such a law should be introduced in the case of a single private person only, he would have indignation at it, as an instance of inhumanity determined against him; while they have no regard to the Romans or to Caesar, and forbid even their oblations to be received also; that however they cannot but fear, lest, by thus rejecting their sacrifices, they shall not be allowed to offer their own; and that this city will lose its principality, unless they grow wiser quickly, and restore the sacrifices as formerly, and indeed amend the injury [they have offered foreigners] before the report of it comes to the ears of those that have been injured.
4. And as they said these things, they produced those priests that were skillful in the customs of their country, who made the report that all their forefathers had received the sacrifices from foreign nations. But still not one of the innovators would hearken to what was said; nay, those that ministered about the temple would not attend their Divine service, but were preparing matters for beginning the war. So the men of power perceiving that the sedition was too hard for them to subdue, and that the danger which would arise from the Romans would come upon them first of all, endeavored to save themselves, and sent ambassadors, some to Florus, the chief of which was Simon the son of Ananias; and others to Agrippa, among whom the most eminent were Saul, and Antipas, and Costobarus, who were of the king's kindred; and they desired of them both that they would come with an army to the city, and cut off the seditious before it should be too hard to be subdued. Now this terrible message was good news to Florus; and because his design was to have a war kindled, he gave the ambassadors no answer at all. But Agrippa was equally solicitous for those that were revolting, and for those against whom the war was to be made, and was desirous to preserve the Jews for the Romans, and the temple and metropolis for the Jews; he was also sensible that it was not for his own advantage that the disturbances should proceed; so he sent three thousand horsemen to the assistance of the people out of Auranitis, and Batanea, and Trachonitis, and these under Darius, the master of his horse, and Philip the son of Jacimus, the general of his army.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston
by D.H. Stern
but one who heard [what was said] will testify successfully.
by Frank W. Boreham
It is a keen, clear, frosty winter's night, and I am sitting here in a cheerfully lighted dining-room only a few feet from a roaring fire. An immense chasm sometimes yawns between afternoon and evening, and it seems scarcely credible that, only an hour or two ago, I was out on the river in an open boat, fishing. It was a glorious sunny afternoon when we pushed off; the great hills around were at their greenest; and the only reminder vouchsafed to us that to-morrow is midwinter's day was the glitter of snow away on the top of the mountain. The water around us, reflecting the cloudless sky above, was a sea of sapphire, out of which our oars seemed to beat up pearls and silver. Arrived at our favourite fishing grounds, we lay quietly at anchor, and for a while the sport was excellent. But, later on, things quietened down. The fish forsook us, or became too dainty for our blandishments. The sun went down over the massive ridges. A hint of evening brooded over us. The blue died out of the water, and the greenness vanished from the hills. Everything was grey and cold. As though to match the gloom around us, we ourselves grew silent. Conversation languished, and laughter was dead. We turned up the collars of our coats, and grimly bent over our lines. But the cod and the perch were proof against all our cajolery, and would not be enticed. At length my hands grew so cold and numb that I could scarcely feel the line. My enthusiasm sank with the temperature, and I suggested, not without trepidation, that we should give it up. My companions assented to the abstract proposition; but, with that wistful half-expectancy so characteristic of anglers, did not at once commence to wind up their lines. I was, therefore, just on the point of setting them an example when one of them exclaimed excitedly, 'Wait a second; I had such a lovely bite!' That was all; but it gave us a fresh lease of life. For half an hour we forgot the hardening cold and the deepening gloom, and chatted again as merrily as when we baited our hooks for the first time. It was a bite; that was all. But, oh, the thrill of a bite when patience is flagging and endurance ebbing out!
It is because of a certain cynical tendency to deride the value of a bite that I have decided to spend the evening with my pen. 'A bite!' says somebody, with a fine guffaw. 'And what on earth is the good of a bite, I should like to know? A bite is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring! A bite is of no use for breakfast, dinner, tea, or supper! Bites can neither be fried nor boiled, measured nor weighed. A bite, indeed!'—and once more the cynic loses himself in laughter. That is all he knows about it, and it merely supplies us with another evidence of the superficiality of cynicism. The critic is sometimes right, but the cynic is never right; and the roar of laughter that I hear from the cynic's chair, as he talks about bites, is, therefore, rightly translated and interpreted, a kind of thunderous applause. Why, in some respects, a bite is better than a fish. Only very occasionally does a fish look as well on the bank or in the boat as it appeared to the excited imagination of the angler when he first felt the flutter on the line. I have caught thousands of fish in my time; but most of them I have dismissed from memory as soon as they went flapping into the basket. But some of the bites that I have had! I catch myself wondering now what beauteous monsters they can have been.
'Well, and how many did you catch?' I am regularly asked on my return.
'Oh, a couple of dozen or so; but, oh, I had such a bite! . . .'
And so on. It is the bite that lingers fondly in the memory, that haunts the fancy for days afterwards, and that rushes back upon the angler in his dreams.
'Oh, I've lost him!' one of my companions called out from the other end of the boat this afternoon. 'He got off the line just after I started to draw him in; such a lovely bite; I'm sure it was the biggest fish we've had round here this afternoon!'
Of course it was! The bite is always the biggest fish. There is something very charming— something of which the cynic knows nothing at all—about this propensity of ours to attribute superlative qualities to the unrealized. It is a species of philosophic chivalry. It is a courtesy that we extend to the unknown. We do not know whether the joys that never visited us were really great or small, so we gallantly allow them the benefit of the doubt. The geese that came waddling over the hill are geese, all of them, and as geese we write them down; but the geese that never came over the hill are swans every one, and no swans that we have fed beside the lake glided hither and thither half as gracefully.
A young girl comes to my study. She is tall and comely, and her face reveals a quiet beauty. But she is dressed in black, and the marks of a great sorrow are stamped upon her pale, drawn countenance. My heart goes out to her as she tells her story. It was so entirely unexpected, so totally unthought of, this sudden loss of her lover. Just as she was dreaming of orange-blossoms for her own hair, her fingers were employed upon a wreath of lilies for his bier. As she sat in the church on that dark and dreadful day, the organ that she fancied greeting her with a wedding march set all the aisles shuddering to a dirge. And her unfinished bridal array had all been laid aside that she might garb her graceful form in gloom. As I looked into her sad eyes, swollen with weeping, I fancied that I could see into her very soul, and scan the secret pictures she had painted there. The happy wedding, with all its nonsense and solemnity, its laughter and its tears; the pretty little home, with his chair of honour, like a throne, facing hers; his homecoming evening by evening, and the welcome she would give him; the children, too—the sons so handsome and the girls so fair! What art gallery contains paintings so perfect? I saw them all—these lovely visions hung with crape! And as I saw them, I reverenced our sweet human habit of attributing impossible glories to the unrealized.
And what about the parents of the baby I buried yesterday? Are there no pictures in these stricken souls worth viewing? As you pass through these chambers of imagery, and view one of these exquisitely painted pictures after another, you have the whole splendid career mapped out before you. Such triumphs, such honours, such laurels for his brow! The glory of the life that would have been is spread out before their fancy, sketched in the fairest colours! Thus tenderly do we set a halo on the forehead of the unrealized! Thus charitably do we let the fancy play about the fish we never caught! Let the cynic hush his sacrilegious laughter! There is something about all this that is very human, and very beautiful.
And just because it is so beautiful, it is worth analysing, this thrill of joy that I feel when the fish tugs at my line. I shall try to take the sensation to pieces, in order that I may find out exactly of what it consists. I suppose that, really, the secret is: I am pleased to feel that my bait has some attraction for the fish that I now know to be there. It is horrid to keep on fishing whilst your mind is haunted by the suspicion that your hooks are bare, or that they are baited in such a way that they make no appeal to the fish that may be swarming around you. The sudden bite settles all that, and you feel every faculty start up to vigorous life once more.
Now, as a matter of fact, there are few things more pathetic than the feeling that sometimes steals over the best of men, that there is nothing in them to attract the affection, the friendship, and the confidence of others. The classical instance is the case of Mark Rutherford. How his lonely soul ached for comradeship! 'I wanted a friend,' he says. 'How the dream haunted me! It made me restless and anxious at the sight of every new face, wondering whether at last I had found that for which I searched as if for the kingdom of heaven. God knows that I would have stood against a wall and have been shot for any man whom I loved as cheerfully as I would have gone to bed, but nobody seemed to wish for such a love or to know what to do with it!' Here is the poor fisherman, who feels that he has no bait that the fish want. It was not as though he caught the perch whilst the cod fought shy of him. 'I was avoided,' he says elsewhere, 'both by the commonplace and by those who had talent. Commonplace persons avoided me because I did not chatter, and persons of talent because I stood for nothing—there was nothing in me!' But, just as he was giving up, Mark Rutherford felt the line tremble, and knew the ecstasy of a bite! He was suddenly befriended. 'Oh, the transport of it!' he exclaims. 'It was as if water had been poured on a burnt hand, or some miraculous Messiah had soothed the delirium of a fever-stricken sufferer, and replaced his visions of torment with dreams of Paradise.' The world holds more of this sort of thing than we think. A writer who cannot get readers, a preacher who cannot get hearers, a tradesman who cannot get customers—it is the same old trouble. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole world seems to be pouring its contempt upon the unhappy fisherman. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until a man feels that there is nothing in him, nothing in him, nothing in him; and the contempt of his fellows leads to the anguish and hollow laughter of self-derision. Oh, what a bite means at such an hour! 'Blessed are they,' exclaims poor Mark Rutherford, 'who heal us of our self-despisings! Of all services which can be done to man, I know of none more precious.'
But even a bite may do a man a great deal of harm unless he thinks it out very carefully. It is certainly very annoying, after waiting so long, to feel that the fish has come—and gone again! A fisherman must guard against being soured and embittered just at that point. It was the tragedy of Miss Havisham. Everybody who has read Great Expectations remembers Miss Havisham. In some respects she is Dickens' most striking and dramatic character. Poor Miss Havisham had been disappointed on her wedding-day; and, in revenge, she remained for the rest of her life dressed just as she was dressed when the blow staggered her. When Pip came upon her, years afterwards, she was still wearing her faded wedding-dress. She still had the withered flowers in her hair, although her hair was whiter than the dress itself. For the dress was yellow with age, and everything she wore had long since lost its lustre. 'I saw, too,' says Pip, 'that the bride within the bridal-dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure, upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.' Poor Pip! And poor Miss Havisham! Miss Havisham had lost her fish just as she was in the very act of landing him. And she had let it sour and spoil her, and Pip was frightened at the havoc it had wrought.
The peril touches life at every point. It especially affects those of us who are called to be fishers of men. It is a great art, this human angling, and needs infinite tact, and infinite subtilty, and infinite patience. And, above all, it needs a resolute determination never on any account whatever to be soured by disappointment. When I am tempted to wind up my line, and give the whole thing up in despair, I revive my flagging enthusiasm by recalling the rapture of my earlier catches. What angler ever forgets the wild transport of landing his first salmon? What minister ever forgets the spot on which he knelt with his first convert? In the long and tedious hours when the waiting is weary, and the nibblings vexatious, and the bites disappointing, let him live on these wealthy memories as the bees live in the winter on the honey that they gathered in the summer-time. Yes, let him think about those unforgettable triumphs, and let him talk about them. They make great talking. And as he recalls and recites the thrilling story, the leaden moments will simply fly, the old glow will steal back into his fainting soul, and, long before he has finished his tale, he will find his fingers busy with another glorious prize.
Mushrooms on the Moor (Dodo Press)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Am I blessed like this?
Blessed are … --- Matthew 5:3–10 .. ---
When we first read the statements of Jesus they seem wonderfully simple and unstartling, and they sink unobserved into our unconscious minds. For instance, the Beatitudes seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly and useless people, but of very little practical use in the stern workaday world in which we live. We soon find, however, that the Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost. They explode, as it were, when the circumstances of our lives cause them to do so. When the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance one of these Beatitudes we say—‘What a startling statement that is!’ and we have to decide whether we will accept the tremendous spiritual upheaval that will be produced in our circumstances if we obey His words. That is the way the Spirit of God works. We do not need to be born again to apply the Sermon on the Mount literally. The literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is child’s play; the interpretation by the Spirit of God as He applies Our Lord’s statements to our circumstances is the stern work of a saint.
The teaching of Jesus is out of all proportion to our natural way of looking at things, and it comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with. We have slowly to form our walk and conversation on the line of the precepts of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit applies them to our circumstances. The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of rules and regulations: it is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
Selected poems, 1946-1968
All agree that tzedakah, giving to those in need, is one of the most important mitzvot in the Jewish religion. But there is disagreement on exactly how and when that mitzvah is to be carried out. Moshe ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam, or Maimonides (1135–1204) wrote in the Mishneh Torah (Laws of Gifts to the Poor, chapter 10): “There are eight levels of tzedakah.” These are, in ascending order:
1. Giving grudgingly.
2. Giving graciously, though not enough.
3. Giving after being asked.
4. Giving before being asked.
5. When the recipient knows the giver,
but the giver doesn’t know who received.
6. When the giver knows the recipient,
but the recipient doesn’t know who gave.
7. When giver and recipient don’t know one another.
8. Giving a loan or providing a job.
Israel ben Yosef Al-Nakawa (fourteenth-century Spain) had a different approach. In his work Menorat HaMaor, he spoke of “Five Levels of Tzedakah.” They are, also in ascending order:
1. Pledging in public (merely for the honor)
and then not giving.
2. Pledging publicly but with good intentions.
3. Giving anonymously, so that only the poor person
knows who gave.
4. Giving secretly, so that even the poor person
doesn’t know who gave.
5. Giving a loan or providing a job.
One could imagine the author of our Midrash writing an addendum to the above lists:
There are two levels of giving tzedakah. The lesser level is to leave a bequest, so that the money is given after one’s death. Thus the giver enjoys his wealth while he is alive, and after he is dead and can no longer derive benefit from it, it passes over to those who can. Such a person is likened to the acacia tree, of which it is said, “From the acacia there is no benefit except in cutting it down.” Only when it is no longer alive and growing can others make use of its resources.
The higher level of tzedakah is to give to others while one is still alive. For in this manner, there is a twofold benefit: The recipient is helped now and does not have to wait for the death of the giver; and the giver has the reward of seeing the results of his or her mitzvah. Such a person is likened to a fruit tree, of which it is said, “While it stood, its fruit fed us; after it was felled, its wood warmed us.”
Exodus 25–27 lists acacia as the sole wood used in the construction of the mishkan, Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness.
You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright. (Exodus 26:15)
Thus, the acacia could be cut down and made into long, wide boards.
How ironic that the Talmud records this anonymous axiom—“The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down”—without acknowledging that the acacia actually has an important and sacred use in traditional Jewish life before it is cut down. Two of the primary ingredients in the ink for Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot come from the acacia tree. One is גּוּמִי/gumi, “gum acacia,” also known as gum arabic, a thickening agent made from the dry sap of this tree. The other is אֲפָצִים/עֲפָצִים/afatzim, “nutgalls” or “gallnuts,” made from a growth on the acacia.
Why, then, did the Rabbis claim that “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down” when it did have clear uses even before it was cut down? Perhaps this is a case of Rabbinic exaggeration: The acacia does not produce an edible fruit. Or this may be a case where many people were not aware of the usefulness provided by the sap and gall of the acacia.
Thus, it is not really true that “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down.” For Jews, there is nothing more sacred than a Torah scroll, and the Torah scroll requires an acacia before it is cut down. We should not judge a tree merely by its fruit. We also need to look at its inner essence, where we discover that there is great worth and benefit. So, too, we have to look inside people and discover that their real worth is often not what appears on the surface.
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
To grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
--- Ephesians 3:18–19.
Stand still and admire and wonder at the love of Jesus Christ to sinners—that Christ would rather die for us than for the angels. How Great Is Our God They were creatures of a more noble extract and in all probability might have brought greater revenues of glory to God; yet that Christ should pass by those golden vessels and make us vessels of glory—what amazing and astonishing love is this! This is the envy of devils and the admiration of angels and saints.
The angels were more honorable and excellent creatures than we. They were celestial spirits; we, earthly bodies, dust and ashes. They were immediate attendants on God; we, servants of his in the lower house of this world and remote from his glorious presence. Their work was to sing hallelujahs, songs of praise to God in the heavenly paradise; ours, to dress the Garden of Eden, which was only an earthly paradise. They sinned only once and only in thought, as is commonly thought, but Adam sinned in thought by lusting, in deed by tasting, and in word by excusing. Why didn’t Christ suffer for their sins as well as for ours? Or, if for any, why not for theirs rather than ours? We move this question not as being curious to search your secret counsels, O Lord, but that we may more admire the love of Christ, that surpasses knowledge.
The apostle, in admiration of Christ’s love, affirms it to surpass knowledge—that God, who is the eternal Being, should love the human when it had scarcely a being (Prov. 8:30–31), that he should be enamored with deformity, that he should pity us when no eye pitied us. Such was Christ’s transcendent love that our extreme misery could not abate it. The deplorableness of our condition only heightened the flame of Christ’s love. It is as high as heaven—who can reach it? It is as low as hell—who can understand it? Such is his perfect, matchless love to fallen people. That Christ’s love should extend to the ungodly, to sinners, to enemies who were in rebellion against him (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10)—yes, not only so, but that he should hug them in his arms, lodge them in his bosom, dandle them on his knees—is the highest refinement of love (Isa. 66:11–13).
--- Thomas Brooks
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Man of Habit July 25
William Romaine was a safe and predictable minister in eighteenth-century England—until he sat under the preaching of George Whitefield. For the rest of his life, Romaine was a fiery evangelical in the Church of England. His zeal confounded church leaders, and he lost both friends and positions. In at least one church, officials refused to light the building where he spoke, forcing him to preach by the light of a single candle held in his hand. But Romaine’s revivalistic preaching drew larger and larger audiences until all of London was affected.
While Whitefield traveled around the world and Wesley throughout Britain, Romaine held down the fort in London. That was his citadel, and he became the rallying point for London’s Anglicans who loved the evangelical truth.
Romaine was a man of habit. He took breakfast each day at six, reading from the book of Psalms as he ate. Dinner was at half-past one, supper at seven in the Evening, after which he took a walk. He conducted family prayer at nine in the Morning and at nine at night. Bedtime was ten.
He lived to be 81, working unabated until his final illness. On Saturday, July 25, 1795, Romaine found himself unable to go down the stairs. He settled on an upstairs couch in great weakness, “giving glory to God.” In late afternoon, he was heard to whisper, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” A little later, a friend bent over and said, “I hope, my dear sir, you now find the salvation of Jesus Christ precious, dear, and valuable to you.” Romaine replied, “He is a precious Savior to me now.” A little later, as though seeing the Lord, he cried, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Blessed Jesus! To thee be endless praise.” And about midnight “as the Sabbath began” he took his final breath. His friends planned a private funeral, but thousands showed up. Fifty coaches followed the hearse, and multitudes on foot. His critics had long since folded their tents. The city loved him, and it loved his truth.
You are true to your name, And you lead me along right paths. I may walk through valleys as dark as death, But I won’t be afraid. You are with me, And your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
--- Psalm 23:3b,4.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - July 25
“He left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.” --- Genesis 39:12.
In contending with certain sins there remains no mode of victory but by flight. The ancient naturalists wrote much of basilisks, whose eyes fascinated their victims and rendered them easy victims; so the mere gaze of wickedness puts us in solemn danger. He who would be safe from acts of evil must haste away from occasions of it. A covenant must be made with our eyes not even to look upon the cause of temptation, for such sins only need a spark to begin with and a blaze follows in an instant. Who would wantonly enter the leper’s prison and sleep amid its horrible corruption? He only who desires to be leprous himself would thus court contagion. If the mariner knew how to avoid a storm, he would do anything rather than run the risk of weathering it. Cautious pilots have no desire to try how near the quicksand they can sail, or how often they may touch a rock without springing a leak; their aim is to keep as nearly as possible in the midst of a safe channel.
This day I may be exposed to great peril, let me have the serpent’s wisdom to keep out of it and avoid it. The wings of a dove may be of more use to me today than the jaws of a lion. It is true I may be an apparent loser by declining evil company, but I had better leave my cloak than lose my character; it is not needful that I should be rich, but it is imperative upon me to be pure. No ties of friendship, no chains of beauty, no flashings of talent, no shafts of ridicule must turn me from the wise resolve to flee from sin. The devil I am to resist and he will flee from me, but the lusts of the flesh, I must flee, or they will surely overcome me. O God of holiness preserve thy Josephs, that Madam Bubble bewitch them not with her vile suggestions. May the horrible trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil, never overcome us!
Evening - July 25
“In their affliction they will seek me early.” --- Hosea 5:15.
Losses and adversities are frequently the means which the great Shepherd uses to fetch home his wandering sheep; like fierce dogs they worry the wanderers back to the fold. There is no making lions tame if they are too well fed; they must be brought down from their great strength, and their stomachs must be lowered, and then they will submit to the tamer’s hand; and often have we seen the Christian rendered obedient to the Lord’s will by straitness of bread and hard labour. When rich and increased in goods many professors carry their heads much too loftily, and speak exceeding boastfully. Like David, they flatter themselves, “My mountain standeth fast; I shall never be moved.” When the Christian groweth wealthy, is in good repute, hath good health, and a happy family, he too often admits Mr. Carnal Security to feast at his table, and then if he be a true child of God there is a rod preparing for him. Wait awhile, and it may be you will see his substance melt away as a dream. There goes a portion of his estate—how soon the acres change hands. That debt, that dishonoured bill—how fast his losses roll in, where will they end? It is a blessed sign of divine life if when these embarrassments occur one after another he begins to be distressed about his backslidings, and betakes himself to his God. Blessed are the waves that wash the mariner upon the rock of salvation! Losses in business are often sanctified to our soul’s enriching. If the chosen soul will not come to the Lord full-handed, it shall come empty. If God, in his grace, findeth no other means of making us honour him among men, he will cast us into the deep; if we fail to honour him on the pinnacle of riches, he will bring us into the valley of poverty. Yet faint not, heir of sorrow, when thou art thus rebuked, rather recognize the loving hand which chastens, and say, “I will arise, and go unto my Father.”
Morning and Evening
ON JORDAN’S STORMY BANKS
Samuel Stennett, 1727–1795
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
In this day of the “throwaway” and the temporary, Christians must live according to their belief in eternity. The apostle Paul reminded the believers at Corinth that if their hope in Christ were related only to this life, they would be the most miserable men of all (1 Corinthians 15:17–19). The anticipation of God’s tomorrow makes it possible for Christians to live joyfully today—regardless of life’s circumstances.
He liveth long who liveth well! All other life is short and vain;
He liveth longest who can tell of living most for heavenly gain.
--- Horatius Bonar What Canaan was to God’s chosen people of the Old Testament, the “heavenly places” are to New Testament believers. God has raised us up with Christ so that even now we can sit with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Living in Canaan, our spiritual heavenlies, should be the Christian’s daily experience as well as a foretaste of our eternal glory. We, like the Israelites, must faithfully follow our Leader and foresee and enjoy our possessions now.
Samuel Stennett was one of the most respected and influential preachers among the dissenting or non-conformist groups of his times. He pastored a Baptist church on Little Wild Street in London, England, for an entire lifetime. The tune, “Promised Land,” is one of the many traditional melodies used in the United States during the early part of the 19th century. The hymn was first published in its present form in 1895.
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.
All o’er those wide extended plains shines one eternal day; where God the Son forever reigns and scatters night away.
No chilling winds nor pois’nous breath can reach that healthful shore; sickness and sorrow, pain and death are felt and feared no more.
When shall I reach that happy place and be forever blest? When shall I see my Father’s face and in His bosom rest?
Chorus: I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; O who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.
For Today: Numbers 14:7–9; Isaiah 35:10; Revelation 21:1–4
Determine to set your sights and values more strongly on eternity and heavenly gain. Go forth with a buoyancy to your step and this song upon your lips ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XCVII. — THE Sophists also felt the invincible and insupportable force of this argument, and therefore they invented the necessity of the consequence and of the thing consequent. But to what little purpose this figment is, I have shewn already. For they do not all the while observe, what they are saying, and what conclusions they are admitting against themselves. For if you grant the necessity of the consequence, “Free-will” lies vanquished and prostrate, nor does either the necessity, or the contingency of the thing consequent, profit it anything. What is it to me if “Free-will” be not compelled, but do what it does willingly? It is enough for me, that you grant, that it is of necessity, that it does willingly what it does; and that, it cannot do otherwise if God foreknew it would be so.
If God foreknew, either that Judas would be a traitor, or that he would change his willing to be a traitor, whichsoever of the two God foreknew, must, of necessity, take place, or God will be deceived in His prescience and prediction, which is impossible. This is the effect of the necessity of the consequence, that is, if God foreknows a thing, that thing must of necessity take place; that is, there is no such thing as “Free-will.” This necessity of the consequence, therefore, is not ‘obscure or ambiguous;’ so that, even if the doctors of all ages were blinded, yet they must admit it, because it is so manifest and plain, as to be actually palpable. And as to the necessity of the thing consequent, with which they comfort themselves, that is a mere phantom, and is in diametrical opposition to the necessity of the consequence.
For example: The necessity of the consequence is, (so to set it forth,) God foreknows that Judas will be a traitor — therefore it will certainly and infallibly come to pass, that Judas shall be a traitor. Against this necessity of the consequence, you comfort yourself thus: — But since Judas can change his willing to betray, therefore, there is no necessity of the thing consequent. How, I ask you, will these two positions harmonize, Judas is able to will not to betray, and, Judas must of necessity will to betray? Do not these two directly contradict and militate against each other? But he will not be compelled, you say, to betray against his will. What is that to the purpose? You were speaking of the necessity of the thing consequent; and saying, that that need not, of necessity, follow, from the necessity of the consequence; you were not speaking of the compulsive necessity of the thing consequent. The question was, concerning the necessity of the thing consequent, and you produce an example concerning the compulsive necessity of the thing consequent. I ask one thing, and you answer another. But this arises from that yawning sleepiness, under which you do not observe, what nothingness that figment amounts to, concerning the necessity of the thing consequent.
Suffice it to have spoken thus to the former part of this SECOND PART, which has been concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, and which involves, indeed, all the Scriptures, and all our forces, and those invincible. Now let us proceed to the remaining part concerning Jacob and Esau, who are spoken of as being “not yet born.” (Rom. ix. 11).
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Dr. Al Fuhr | Dr. Ted Hildebrandt
Ecclesiastes 5 Inevitability of Death Motif
Ecclesiastes 6 Enjoyment of Life Refrains
Ecclesiastes 7 Fear of God
Ecclesiastes 8 Ecclesiastes 1-6 Text Exposition
Brett Meador | Athey Creek
How to Come to Church | Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
s2-281 | 12-29-2019
Heavenly Minded (Happy Death Day)
s2-283 | 01-12-2020
m2-286 | 01-15-2020