The Midweek Bridge 20 October 2021

Thank you to David for providing this message

Amos 2 verse 1 – 16

In the eighth century BC the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had experienced an extended period of peace and prosperity in which the rich had got richer and avaricious, neglecting their social responsibility to those not so well off. In trading with the nations around them they had added pagan beliefs and practices to their religious observance forgetting their covenantal relationship with God. Amos was called by God to remind them of their responsibilities both in the worship of God and their moral responsibility to each other.

We have already read in chapter one that Amos starts his prophesies by addressing the nations around Judah and Israel who had once been their enemies but now with whom they had developed a cordial trading relationship causing Judah and Israel to compromise their religion. Having dealt with Damascus, Gaza, Tyre and the Ammonites Amos now turns to the Moabites.

Prophesy about Moab

1:  This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Moab, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king,

2:  I will send fire upon Moab that will consume the fortresses of Kerioth. Moab will go down in great tumult amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet.

3:  I will destroy her ruler and kill all her officials with him,” says the LORD.

Amos starts his prophesy with the same formula as before inferring that there are numerous issues that God has against the Moabites. God, however, focusses on one event when the Moabites desecrated the body of the King of Edom by burning his bones as an insult to the King and his people.

God pronounces a terrible fate on Moab, their capital city destroyed by fire and the nation’s leaders all killed in a violent military invasion. Ultimately, Moab was conquered by the Babylonians and disappeared from history.

Although they were a pagan nation their sins offended the moral and social standard that God, the Lord of all nations, expects of his creation, and that their corrupt behaviour influenced God’s chosen people Judah and Israel into error.

Prophesy about Judah

4:  This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, 5:  I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

Amos now turns his attention to God’s chosen people. The word of the Lord is the same for Judah as it was for the surrounding pagan nations because although they enjoyed a special relationship with their God they had broken their side of the covenant by disobeying the law given to them through Moses and by worshipping false gods. God’s judgement was duly executed by the Babylonians when they conquered Judah and took many of the people into exile.

The judgement against Judah is bad enough but when God turns to Israel he is scathing in several respects. It is important for us to remember that it was God’s plan that the Messiah would descend from the line of David and therefore it was essential that Judah should survive this time of judgement.

Prophesy about Israel

6:  This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.

7:  They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.

God starts his judgement of Israel using the same formula as before. His first complaint against them is the fact that the rich ruling elite are totally corrupt. Their judgements were based on the bribes of silver they were offered and they would even insist on taking the sandals from a poor man who had no other way to pay. They had no compassion and felt no responsibility for those less off than themselves contrary to God’s law.

Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.

8:  They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.

The Israelites were also morally corrupt, they ignored God’s law regarding incest and sexual relationships and compounded their sin by committing their sexual acts beside the alter using the garments that people had left as a pledge against their debts as a bed. These garments, under the law, should be returned to the owner each evening. Added to that they profaned their God by drinking the wines that had been given as fines.

9:  “I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below. 10:  “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites.

God reminds the Israelites of the remarkable story of their being led out of Egypt by Moses and how God had given them the Promised Land which had belonged to the Amorites or Canaanites. They were his chosen people!

11:  I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD. 12:  “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

God stressed the fact that he maintained a relationship with Israel by raising up prophets among them who were able to speak his word to them. In addition he placed Nazirites among them who took vows devoting themselves to the worship of Yahweh, abstaining from wine, not cutting their hair and refusing to touch a dead body. Such people were a reminder that God’s covenant was still relevant. These people who were reminders of God’s special relationship with Israel had been silenced on the one hand and forced to break their vows on the other. No one was allowed to remind the Israelites that they had obligations to their God!

13:  “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.

14:  The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. 15:  The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life. 16:  Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the LORD.

In order to demonstrate God’s judgement on Israel Amos uses an illustration from his farming experience. The nation will be crushed under the heavy judgement of God. We know from scripture that Israel was conquered by Assyria, the population scattered throughout their empire and Israel ceased to exist as a nation.

Last week Ian clearly applied God’s judgements through Amos to our present age. We are an affluent country but we still have families in severe need. We see our Christian morals and principles regularly undermined both by law and society. As Christians our prophetic voice is ignored and treated with disdain and yet we must be true to our calling to be a light in the world in both our words and actions, living out the Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world.

14:  “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

15:  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

16:  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matt 5).

Prayer

Heavenly Father, Please help us as your people to be salt and light in the society around us, loving them as our neighbours and boldly living out the truth of the gospel. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, the way, the truth and the life. Amen

The Midweek Bridge 13 October 2021

Thank you to Ian for providing this message

“For God so loved the world”

Reading: Amos ch.1 – This is a hard passage to read but I would recommend reading it before starting this study and then keeping your Bible open.

Prayer: – Lord, there are many hard words in this passage but please help us to grasp the importance of their message to our hearts at this time.

Heb.ch.1 v.1/2 reads – “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through him he made the universe.” 

One wonderful fact of that statement is that – “God spoke.” The message the Son speaks to us today affirms and confirms the words spoken through the prophets. God never abandoned those who were faithful to him but also frequently reached out, in his grace, to a rebellious people. – “God spoke.” – Why does God speak to the nations? Perhaps we can see the answer in God sending Jonah to Nineveh – they repented and God blessed them.  In Luke ch12, Jesus told a story of the “Rich Fool” – to him God said – “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” – Did that man heed that warning given to him in his final hours? – Do we listen to God’s warnings, which are given in love? – Do the words given to the prophets still speak to us today? – Do we need to pay attention to them?

Amos ch1 v.1 tells us a little of the man God chose to deliver his message to Israel – a shepherd from an insignificant village called Tekoa which was a few miles south of Jerusalem. As a shepherd he was likely to have driven flocks several miles – anywhere from Egypt to Damascus thus spending many hours in the wilderness. The period was around 760 to 746BC, a time of a divided nation; the ten tribes under Jeroboam of Israel and the two tribes under Uzziah of Judah; they were often at war with each other. But, this first chapter is addressed to the neighbours of Israel, warring, gentile nations.

Also, in verse 1, there is a reference to a great earthquake and in v.2 we read that the pastures of the shepherds and the top of mount Carmel were drying up at the sound of God’s voice roaring from Zion; so, Amos starts his message in a time of environmental disasters and wars – not too different from modern times.

This first chapter is addressed to five neighbours of Israel – Damascus – Gaza – Tyre – Edom – Ammon – For each one the message starts with – “For three sins – even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.”  This indicates how repeatedly these nations have sinned against God and his people. God is very angry with these neighbours of the land of Israelwho were frequently at war with the two nations of Israel and Judah; God will not withdraw his punishment.

Let’s just summarise the sins of these nations:

I wish to start with Edom because these were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, and therefore were considered a brother nation to Israel. However:

Edom – v.11 – “he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion.”

Gilead was a mountainous region of Israel on the other side of the Jordon; it was a rich, fertile land. However:

Damascus – v.3 – “she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth.”

Gaza had been under the control of the Philistines for many years and was constantly at war with Israel; here she was doing some slave trading with Edom.

Gaza – v.6 – “she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom”

Again, with Tyre – more slave trading with Edom:

Tyre – v.9 – “she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood.”

With Ammon, a descendant of Lot, terrible violence against the innocent:

Ammon – v.3 – “he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend its borders.”

  • Betrayal and unrelenting conflict
  • Violent destruction of villages
  • Removal of whole communities
  • People trafficking
  • Violation of women and children

Do you see any similarities in modern times?

The punishment for each of the five nations begins with – “I will send fire upon the walls of – – – – – and will consume their fortresses.”  For each nation the walls of their security and the fortresses of their defences would be destroyed by fire; fire has no compassion. Then the different systems of government would be destroyed or taken into exile.

God’s punishments include – – Fire – the violence of war – governments overturned – environmental disasters. – Does this have an echo in modern times?

God was not warning the nations of some haphazard disasters. In this chapter, 9 times God says – “I will” bring about the disaster – God is bringing about the punishments upon the people. 5 times God says – “I will not turn back my wrath.” – God is angry, he is not going to change his mind, he will reveal his wrath to the nations.

If we just look at the first 20 years of this century, do we find similar sins as those of the five nations listed here in chapter 1 of the book of “Amos” and, many more, even worse crimes against God, his creation, his people and humanity in general? God was angry in 760BC, do you think he is any less angry now? 

Just as today, in the days of Amos there were people of faith who desired to serve the Lord. Many had witnessed and experienced the terrible sins listed in chapter 1 of Amos. Do you think they would have been encouraged by the words of God’s judgment against the nations; would the people of faith realise that God had heard their cries and hadn’t abandoned them? Is the message of the judgment actually evidence of God’s love, mercy and justice? The prophet Isaiah followed very shortly after Amos. In Is.22 v.4, we read – “Therefore I said, ‘Turn away from me, let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.’” – Just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem God weeps over the suffering of his people. Has God not got the right to be angry at what he sees today? Yet he still offers grace and forgiveness.

 Is God angry today? Rom. 1 v.18 reads – “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”  In Amos ch.1 God said – “I will not turn back my wrath.”  But later, in Rom. 5 v.9, Paul writes about Jesus – “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” We have a Saviour. God’s wrath remains but – “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jn.3 v.16

God was speaking to the nations through Amos. He could have just proceeded with the punishments they deserved but – “God spoke” – he offered opportunity to repent. In effect, God was offering a way of forgiveness and salvation. In Hebrews ch.1 we read – “but in these last days he has spoken by his Son,” – God is still speaking; God is still offering a way of forgiveness and salvation but the judgment is still very much a reality for those who don’t repent and accept the eternal salvation won for God’s people on the cross.

Does the message of Amos speak in our times?

Prayer: – Lord, daily we see terrible crimes of evil in the world, often directly against your people. Our prayer is first for the suffering church that you will strengthen them and encourage them. But then, Lord, we ask for forgiveness for our neglect in giving the warning of judgment and offering the forgiveness and salvation won by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Empower your church, Lord, to speak with your voice and authority in this fallen world, a world that you love.

Amen

“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”   Jer.8v.21/22

The Midweek Bridge 6 October 2021

Thank you to John for providing this message

Prayer:  God, our Judge and Saviour, teach us to be open to your truth and to trust in your love, that we may live each day with confidence in the salvation which is given through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction
Today we come to the last in our series of mid-week messages, which started in early May, on the book of Ecclesiastes. “At last!” you may say, breathing a sigh of relief! You are not alone in that feeling. Over the centuries Ecclesiastes (“The Teacher”) has provoked some readers to dislike it, resent it, despise it. It has been charged with being aimless, boring, repetitive, even blasphemous.

But I have come to appreciate this book for its honesty, its courage, and its faith. The Teacher perceives the emptiness and absurdity of life apart from God. He exposes hollow ambitions, and the arrogant assumptions of those who try to guarantee and control their future. (How the Covid pandemic has underlined that message for us!) He reminds us that the world is full of injustice and loss. Life is not fair. And The Teacher grapples with the problem of death, which ruthlessly stamps “FUTILE” on human efforts to be in command of our fate.

Yet this apparently grim book ends with a clarion call to a life-changing faith in the living God.

Reading: Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

You may know the popular TV game show called “Pointless”, hosted by Richard Osman. The aim is to score as few points as possible.
In this final chapter of Ecclesiastes, The Teacher has ended his words (v8) in the same way he began (chapter 1 v2): “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” – meaningless, empty, pointless. The final verses of the book (vv9-14) are a kind of epilogue. They are not pointless, but pointed.

1. TEACHINGS WITH A POINT (vv9-12)
The Teacher was not a proud academic who didn’t bother with less intelligent people. He aimed to communicate the truth clearly, with skill and integrity (vv9-10).
Verse 11 describes teachings that have a point (or several points). A goad is a stick with a spike on the end, used for driving cattle. We talk about being “goaded into action”. So wise teachings are not just for imparting information – they are aimed to elicit action.

These verses point us to the greatest wisdom teacher of all – the Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. He described those who hear his words and act on them as like wise people building on rock; whereas those who hear but do not act are like foolish people building on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus spoke words of authority, grace and truth. “No-one ever spoke the way this man does”, they said (John 7:46).

Here is a challenge to all Christian teachers and preachers – indeed to all of us who have the opportunity to speak of the Christian faith to others, whether one-to-one or in larger numbers. Do we communicate clearly, seeking to express truth with “just the right words”? Do we aim to speak words which will stick in people’s memory and stir them to action?
May our words, like The Teacher’s, have a godly point to them – not be pointless.

2. THE POINT OF ARRIVAL (vv13-14)
Here is the point of our existence: this is the goal we were made for. God has set eternity in our hearts (3:11), so nothing less than the Eternal God will suffice. Verse 13 ends (literally) “This is the whole of man”, i.e. this is all that there is to being human.
In the words of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly (1644):
            Question: What is the chief end (purpose) of man?
            Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.

What a contrast to the vanity, the pointlessness with which Ecclesiastes has confronted us!

“Fear God and keep his commands” puts us in our place, and puts all other fears and hopes in their place.This is an Old Testament instruction. But it has not been superseded or abolished by Christian faith. Rather, it is fulfilled as we love and trust and obey our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17).

The final verse of Ecclesiastes is like a bracing shower of cold water, to wake us up. In Derek Kidner’s words, it is “sharp enough to hurt, but shrewd enough to jolt us out of apathy. It kills complacency to know that nothing goes unnoticed and unassessed, not even the things that we disguise from ourselves. But at the same time it transforms life. If God cares as much as this, nothing can be pointless.

CONCLUSION
The ultimate answer to the cry of “Vanity” is summed up by the apostle Paul as he writes to the Corinthians: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”….Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 58)

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Prayer
Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city, where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

The Midweek Bridge 29 September 2021

Thank you to Mark R for this message

Let’s pray:

Lord, Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law. Amen

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

“ The average life span for a human being is about 4000 weeks”

So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”;
2 ¶ before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return afterfn the rain;
3 ¶ on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind grain cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly,
4 ¶ the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint.
5 ¶ Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring,fn and the caper berry has no effect; for the mere mortal is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street;
6 ¶ before the silver cord is snapped,fn and the gold bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well;
7 ¶ and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8 ¶ “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.”

I felt stunned when I read that comment a few weeks ago.

It reminded me of that verse in James 4:14 which says:

‘Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring  —  what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes’

And so we begin with those opening words in Ecclesiastes 12:1:

“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”

Having retired last year, I’ve found myself reflecting on what psychologist Erik Erickson calls the ‘8 stages of life’, and particularly the ‘retirement’ stage, what he calls that conflict between ‘integrity and despair’.

Sounds a bit depressing doesn’t it! But his point is that this last stage of life is a time to reflect back on our lives.

Do we look back on our years with a sense of fulfilment, maybe through our families, our work, and contributions to things that will outlast us, for example our children and (great!) grandchildren, or friendships, work, community/ church involvement etc…

Or do we look back over our years with a sense of regret, ruminating over past failures and mistakes, feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness?

We find the writer of Ecclesiastes reflecting in chapter 12 on this last stage of life with a vivid understanding of the ageing process…

Verse 1, ‘the years approaching when you say I find no pleasure in them’

Verse 2, ‘when the sun and the light…grow dark’ ( is he referring to dimming eyesight that will eventually require a cataract?!!)

Verse 3, when ‘strong men stoop’.

I saw my tall brother at my son’s wedding recently and noticed how this 6’3” man was now becoming increasingly stooped…

Verse 4, ‘when people rise up at the sound of the birds(!), but all their songs grow faint’ (how is your hearing these days?!)

Verse 5, ‘then people go to their eternal homes and mourners go about the streets’. There was a time when most of our church celebrations were baptisms and weddings, but now it may well be that friends’ funerals are the most regular occurrence…

And in verse 6 comes that phrase that is repeated from verse 1…”Remember Him…”…”Remember your Creator “…

Of course this is the most important phrase that is omitted in Erikson’s last life stage, and also across the other 7 stages too…

“Remember Him…”

As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:16:

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be”

Whatever stage we’re at in life, whether we’re looking forward with anticipation, or looking back with regret, the Bible tells us that what matters are these 2 words: ‘Remember Him…’

Remember Him, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (verse 1)…

“Remember Him, before the silver cord is severed…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (verse 6,7)

And what are we to remember?

The message of Ecclesiastes, that “ everything is meaningless”…

As Augustine said in his famous quote about God:

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”

Or as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, ‘He (God) has set eternity in the human heart’

We were made for more than a life spent in a meaningless search for the futility of what the world seems to offer through its endless enticements.

Even King Solomon himself who had everything a human being could ask for ends his reflections on his life with these words in verse 8:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

But Jesus came that we could discover ‘life in all it’s fullness’

He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’

Jesus came to reveal where real life can be found.

The Invisible God became visible in Jesus Christ.

He came to show us that life doesn’t have to be meaningless, that through His death on the Cross we can know the forgiveness of our sins…

We don’t need to look back on the past with regret or despair, as we look at Him, we can be assured that at the cross all our sins, failures and mistakes have been taken away.

Remember Him, remember His words on the cross: “It is finished”

And through His resurrection, we can know the promise of eternal life.

Whatever age, whatever stage, wherever we are in our 4000 month journey through life, true life, both now and for eternity, are to be found in Him.

“Remember Him…”

The Bridge 22 September 2021

Thank you to Ian for this message

Where is your heart?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3 v.16

Reading – Ecclesiastes 11 v.7 – 10 – the verses are in italics below.

Prayer: – Lord, open our hearts to receive your word and to recognise your love, forgiveness and grace.

This year, on September 15th, all faithful Jews celebrated the Day of Atonement – (Yom Kippur). It is a day of fasting and looking back on their sins; a heavy day but necessary preparation for reconciliation. A few days later, on the 20th of September, began the Feast of Tabernacles; another title is the Feast of Ingathering.  During this week of joyful celebration, climate permitting, Jewish families leave their homes and live in flimsy booths (eating and sleeping). This is to remind them of the time of the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, a time when they were totally dependent upon God and his faithfulness in meeting all their needs. During this festival one book they may read and meditate on is the book of Ecclesiastes – the contrast of a life without God and a life in his presence – the shortness of life – the potential vanity of life – but also eternal hope for those who believe.

The interpretation of these verses from Eccl. 11, and how you respond to them, will depend upon your answers to the following questions:

  • What gives you the deepest joy?
  • What gives you the greatest happiness?
  • Where is your treasure? Jesus said – “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
  • So – where is your heart?

Initially, I am going to assume that you are busy storing treasure in heaven and therefore your joy and happiness are to be found in the Lord; that you have peace with God and, through his grace, know his presence in all that you do.

Let’s look at these beautiful words from the teacher – .7 Light is sweet, it pleases the eyes to see the sun. We do live in a very beautiful creation. the wonder and beauty of the world God has made. – v.8 – However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. Walking with the Lord in our daily life – long or short – we are free to enjoy every day. –  But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Yes, there are difficult and testing times but, as Paul tells us in Rom.5 – “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  – Everything to come is meaningless. – Indeed, many problems of life will come but, for those who are in Christ Jesus, – Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord; – such problems are just a passing vapour.

The teacher continues – v.9 – Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, – We have to confess to many stupid moments in our young lives but in Jesus we come to understand forgiveness and grace and retain that peace with God – but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. –  But, praise the Lord, we also know that – “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– v.10 – So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigour are meaningless. Yes, no matter what stage we are in life they are just brief moments – a vapour – for they are all steps to an eternity in Christ in the presence of the Father of compassion. Jesus said – “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

But all that depends upon where your heart is which is where your treasure is. What gives you joy and what gives you happiness? Look at those same verses in Ecclesiastes ch.11 but as one who has pushed God out of his life; perhaps, like John Bunyan’s pilgrim, you have met “Mr Wordly-wiseman” and, wishing to sample the benefits of such worldly wisdom, you wandered off the path of redemption. Where is your heart?

Yes, enjoy all that you can under the sun; creation is still beautiful. You can walk along singing “What a Wonderful World” even though worldly wisdom has rather damaged it. – But – But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. – there will be dark days; what will they produce in you in this unfair world under the sun? – Bitterness, jealousy, fear, insecurity? 

v.9 – Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see. – Ah but, – where the heart is following the path of worldly wisdom, is the joy the heart gives the swiftly delivered, ultra-processed, brightly wrapped, low-cost type and what do your eyes see? – but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. – Ah – the judgment. Heb.9 v.27 reads – “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” – that’s a key message given in Ecclesiastes.

At the judgment the question will not be – what riches have you possessed?  It will not be – what have you achieved? –  It will not be – what wonderful places have you visited? – They are just a passing vapour, meaningless. No, the question will involve – Who have you become?

Let me put that another way: Paul tells us that – “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – so, the questions could be – How much love have you got in your treasure trove? – What sort of person have you become in your short life?

Where is your treasure and where is your heart? Without God, no matter how enjoyable, life is short, a passing vapour, meaningless. Yes, there is the judgment but, in his love and mercy, God reaches out to you offering you forgiveness and eternal peace with him. Don’t keep pushing him out of your life. In Christ there is a depth of joy that is beyond measure

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this:

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Rom.5 v.8

Prayer: We can only thank you Lord for your great mercy and faithful love. Help us to receive your grace and be filled with the joy of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

The Midweek Bridge 15 September 2021

Thank you to Richard for this message

ECCLESIASTES 11: 1-6

Good morning everyone….we carry on our study of Ecclesiastes and today look at Ecclesiastes 11: 1-6.

Let’s pray – Father would you open our eyes to see you today and desire your wisdom in all we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Ship your grain across the sea;
    after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
    you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

If clouds are full of water,
    they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
    in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
    whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

As you do not know the path of the wind,
    or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
    the Maker of all things.

Sow your seed in the morning,
    and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
    whether this or that,
    or whether both will do equally well.

It was said that there was a lady who wouldn’t do anything without talking to some sort of spiritualist; it could be a palm reader or a mind reader or anything. So desperate was she one day about what the future held, she spoke to a friend and blurted out: “I don’t know what to do – should I talk to my mind reader or palm reader?”

The friend thought about it for a while then said: “I’d go for the palm reader. At least you know you’ve got a palm!”

People can be so concerned about what will happen that they are simply paralysed with indecision and doubt. So our writer says in verses 1-4: get on with your life. You don’t know what will happen – whether a tree falls this way or the other; you don’t know. So don’t waste your life wondering – get on with it.

Years ago when I was the guy in charge of the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association Camp, we had a tricky situation where two girls had to be put in a tent alongside other girls they didn’t know. They were moaning about it and I started fretting about what I should do and should the girls be moved to another tent and would they get on there; but the 15 year old girl – Becky – who was in charge of the tent simply said: “Well – I’ve just got to get on with it.” That’s the advice our writer would give.

And as Christians, if we are not careful we can start to get in a flap about whether this will happen or that. So our writer says in verse 5:

As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.

Here our writer links the miracle of the body being formed with how God does what he does. How is it possible for a body to be formed? How does life start in a mother’s womb? However it happens – it’s a miracle. And so it is with God – we don’t know why or how He does all he does.

And if you could completely understand the work of God – somehow God would not be God. So Deuteronomy 29: 29 is very helpful here:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

In other words there are things that God will not reveal and things that he will. The danger is that we attempt to know the things that we can’t know; and not know the things we should!

So our writer in saying that God is the “maker of all things” is describing God at work. He is at work. Now. Working away. And things might look a mess. It may look completely confusing. How could God permit this? Why doesn’t God do that? But God will do what He will do.

So we are instructed to not worry about that; nor worry about how things will end up. So at this point – we may conclude we should do nothing (if God has everything under control). The writer emphatically disagrees; we should work – and “get on with it.”

I guess the question is what is it we should we do? When I was younger I think I instinctively thought that God used people to be missionaries. Or vicars. Or something like that. Those were the type of things that God called people to. Well – that’s right of course. But the Lord also speaks to us where we are now. In what we are doing now. And the danger is we can be so “dreamy” of what will come and what we may or may not do for God then – or so desperate to get out of the situation we are in now – that we miss the fact that we can serve our Lord in the here and now. In the ordinary – in the normal – in the work we have to do now.

Acts 17: 26 speaks of God placing you within certain boundaries. So I simply take that as meaning that however I got to where I am today, somehow, by some miracle, God has permitted that. Now if that is the case: if God intended for me to be where I am today – then how can I serve him?

And in that – we need to get on with the task we are doing – with God. So this might mean praying in each situation, seeking his help at all times, being alive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as He guides us, doing each task for God, praying for and being a blessing to those we meet, being an encourager to those who need encouragement, smiling and being gracious to the checkout assistant – when everyone else is being aggressive, and most importantly, being obedient to all the Lord is saying.

So our focus is not about what the future holds in this situation or that situation but on being with the Lord now and serving him in the here and now. And we are to get on with it.

May the Lord add his blessing to this reading.

In Jesus’ name

Amen

The Midweek Bridge 8 September 2021

Thank you to Ian for this message

Welcome back after the summer break, we hope you have returned with your vision for the Lord refreshed. We pick up Ecclesiastes again – at first sight a rather strange book but actually a very rich teaching on some of the realities of Christian life in a confused world; hence the title of this next study.

In the world – but not of it – don’t panic

Prayer: Open our hearts Lord to your wisdom as we study your word.

Reading: Ecclesiastes 10 – The text is included in italics below

In order to understand and then to explain this chapter I had to go back to some of the management principles of my earlier days. The Peter Principle – (1969) – demonstrates that people are promoted to the level of their incompetence – where they then remain. When Laurence J. Peter wrote his book, he could well have developed some of his ideas from Ecclesiastes ch.10. One reality we have learnt from the previous chapters is that – “Under the Sun” – the world is a very unfair place; largely because people have rejected the wisdom from heaven and prefer to do their own thing in their own strength. This does make life difficult for those who wish to be obedient to God and follow his ways. We live in a world of bad management and we have to learn how to understand it and to survive as Christians in it.  I hope the following will help and encourage us. We will look at it block by block.

v.1 – As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honour. – v.2 – The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. You may recognise verse 1 as a probable source of the phrase – A fly in the ointment. One important lesson for the Christian is that we are human and make mistakes; we are not perfect. – How do we react when things go wrong? – We live in a world where if we get 99 things right and one thing wrong everyone remembers the one thing we got wrong; how does the incompetent manager deal with it? – How do we deal with it if one of our team gets something wrong? – Do we throw the whole jar of ointment away? – Verse 2 Tells us that the wise person will lean to the right – traditionally the side of strength and reliability. A good manager will carefully file the 99 good points in a safe place and reach out to gently restore the one situation that’s gone wrong. The foolish – ‘boss’ – leans to the left – the weaker, unstable, less coordinated side.

V.3 – Even as he walks along the road the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is. – 4 – If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. – V.3 shows that the fool lacks basic common sense and whatever his reaction it will only demonstrate his incompetence. – But then, how should the Christian react when he gets things wrong? – V.4 advises us to keep calm, it echoes the teaching of self-control and patience from the New Testament; to humbly hold on and trust.

Let’s continue following the steps of the unwise boss – v.5 – There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: -v.6 – Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. – v.7 – I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.  – By definition slaves do as they are told whereas princes are independent thinkers. A foolish boss will establish a team of yes-men, those who don’t challenge their leader, so fools will be placed in high positions. The princes – the educated, the forward looking, those who might challenge the leadership, these have to be kept under control so they are placed in roles out of harm’s way.

If foolish team members are not doing the task they were actually trained for there are potential problems; as follows – v.8 – Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. -v.9 – Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. This does not only apply to practical jobs, there are many pits and walls in business; self-dug pits and walls with snakes that block the pathway of the unwise. There is a price for the raw materials of business, to try to obtain them without basic wisdom and the necessary skills can create terrible consequences.

V.10 warns us of the folly of using a management team that lacks the basic training – v.10 – If the axe is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success. Leadership demands confident decision making, hesitation can mean all is lost.  v.11 – If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. To hesitate once the box is opened can be costly; what’s inside can bite; to call yet another meeting is not the answer especially if there are no wise folk in the team, only a foolish boss and a group of dithering yes-men.

Imagine such a meeting; perhaps you have been in a few – v.12 – Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. – v.12 – At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness – v.14 – and the fool multiplies words. A meeting without purposeful leadership goes around in circles and at the end, should the boss ask for the outcome – no-one knows what is coming – who can tell him what will happen after him? Why should this be? – v.15 – A fool’s work wearies him; he does not know the way to town. – we can all get lost in a desert but a fool cannot even find his way in a town.

A team of yes-men, competent as servants, they do exactly as they are told and never challenge the boss but, one day the boss retires. Possibly on the boss’s recommendation, the most competent person at saying yes and doing as told is promoted to the level of incompetence; the new boss. The only way of survival for the newly promoted but incompetent boss is to gather one’s cronies around and feast them all day. Hence – v.16 – Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.

Fortunately, there are some genuinely good managers who have found the keys to good management; they have sufficient common sense and are well trained so – v.17 – Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness. – No cronyism and buying of support.

We do often find ourselves in a world of foolish management and unfairness; this can be in any organisation, – business, government, church, college etc. – but how does the Christian survive? In v.4 the teacher warns us to stay calm and hang on in there. Peter, the apostle, tells us to – “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet.5 v.8) In v.18 below the teacher warns us not to be lazy – v.18 – If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks. We must look after our own house, – our own spiritual house.

We know the benefits from fellowship around a table but we live in a world where – v.19 – A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes merry, but money is the answer for everything. It is a world of partying in which money is the driving force; a world in which the fool rises to his level of incompetence; don’t be drawn into it or drowned by it.

Again, the teacher warns us – v.20 – Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say. Do not allow frustration and bitterness to control your thoughts or your private conversations – “a little bird told me” – even our bitter thoughts can be blown on the wind and caught by the birds. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for yourself – remember, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The – “Peter Principle” – is a rather cynical look at management which doesn’t offer much hope; however, a Christian manager, will feel at times stretched beyond their level of competence. There may be moments when you find yourself in a situation in which you haven’t a clue what you are doing then – stop – look around you (with compassion please) and recognise that we live in a world where many of us feel we operate at the level of our incompetence – but – we are not alone. At such times we are made aware of our dependence upon God and his faithfulness in all our daily situations. To walk humbly is the key to good management and, what’s more, to walk humbly enables us to walk with God; that is the beginning of wisdom. To walk humbly also enables a manager to work with sensitivity and compassion within a team.

Next time you find yourself in a meeting of foolish bosses then sing the following chorus to yourself:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of his glory and grace.

There is always something to learn even if it is what not to do in the future.

In John 17 v.15/16 – Jesus prayed – “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not.” – We do live in a confused and often rebellious world but don’t panic; ask the Lord what he is teaching you in your present circumstances for he is with you in whatever situation you are in.

Prayer: Lord help us to be aware of your presence, your purpose and your provision in all the daily circumstances of our life.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present age according to the will of our God and Father, to him be glory for ever and ever.”

Amen – Gal.1 v.3 – 5


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