Watching Daily At Wisdom's Gates

A Yorkshireman's take on life, death, and eternity

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Joy

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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.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.8.15.ESV

I’ve rediscovered as a trainee teacher the bad attitude of many students to their “toilsome” studies. I’ve already tried to instil a Solomonic attitude in them- to make the best of the situation they’re in. Ecclesiastes might have a reputation as a pessimistic book, but realistic is a more realistic description of it.

Instead of moaning about life, it’s best to make the best of whatever life throws at us. Even if and when life is toilsome and hard, it’s best to have a positive attitude. Half of how life goes might be circumstantial, but half could be described as attitude: what we make of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

When Solomon talks about life “under the sun”, he’s referring to life without reference to God. So whether someone’s an atheist or not, he’s still giving universal principles. Whatever our religious affiliation or otherwise, it makes life better for us to have a positive outlook.

Some people think that life is simply a matter of eating, drinking and working. Those are all important, but ultimately they are all gifts of God. These aren’t to be idolised but to inspire thankfulness to Him.

“God Almighty, thank You for the gifts of food, drink and work. Please help us to be joyful for all Your goodness. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Words

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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. 
Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.5.2.ESV

I think this verse is pertinent not simply to the spoken word, but also to the written word. I need to be careful, much as I love writing, to not simply “write for writing’s sake”. As it says elsewhere, “where words are many, sin is not absent. 

When things are going well, we may be tempted to boast, as if divine providence is our doing. And when things aren’t going well, we might be tempted to moan at God. Both attitudes are wrong.

We would do well to remember that God is Sovereign and Almighty. We on the other hand are mere mortals. He’s enthroned in heaven; we’re made of dust, and to dust we’ll return.

Reflecting on God’s divinity and our fragility should be enough to quiet us before His Majesty. That consciousness should help us not to be too wordy. We should think before we speak, for all our words will come into judgement.

“Sovereign Lord Almighty, thank You that even when You judge our words to be too many, through faith in Christ, He is judged in our place. We’re sorry for our sinfulness, in His name, amen”

Solomonic Wisdom For Lockdown Days

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Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies— so the living should take this to heart. 


A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time. 


Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise. 


Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

Ecclesiastes 7:2‭, ‬4‭, ‬10‭, ‬14 NLThttps://bible.com/bible/116/ecc.7.2-14.NLT

Without wishing to excuse my “Healthy Fear” post, it was a rather ungrateful moan about life in general at the moment. I qualified this somewhat with my post about the importance of “Contentment” in every circumstance.

But I’ve also been chastened by David Ettinger’s post “Stop Longing For Things To Return To Normal”. It reminded me of Solomon’s caution not to long for the “good old days”, because it’s unwise.

I find it quite interesting that Solomon doesn’t even deny that the old days were good, he just says that nostalgia is unwise. Best to be progressive in the best sense of the word- focusing on how we can improve our futures even as we seek to conserve what is good from the past. I think we can be conservative and progressive in the best senses of both words- being “salt”- conserving what is good from the past and present, and “light”- enlightening a progressive way forward for the future.

Even by bemoaning the lack of good things like meeting in person with God’s people to worship Him and closeness with others, I’m showing an insensitivity to the need to “socially distance” out of love for neighbour and respect for authority.

Even if it were to get to the point that the restrictions became unreasonably restrictive (if it hasn’t already), I could still consider Jesus’ words that those who are persecuted (denied the freedom to worship together) for righteousness sake, are “blessed”/made happy by God! So there’s no room for a conspiratorial pity party, no matter how sorry for ourselves we may feel.

Back to Solomon, and this time is giving us a grim reminder of our priorities: we need to Prepare To Meet Our Maker. Death [and taxes!] is the only certainty in life. It has been and pretty much still is a taboo in the West, and possibly the extreme reaction to this virus has exposed that. But if it gets people thinking about their own mortality and the imminence of death and judgment by a holy God, that is no bad thing.

Yes, I can moan that there are plenty of other incurable diseases out there that our reaction to hasn’t been so extreme, but if this plague gets us considering eternity, then that is a positive out of a negative. To be honest, as I’ve pontificated before, as it says in Revelation, I don’t think there’s much room for hope of a revival from newly enlightened people about the need of salvation, instead, many have and will curse God for inflicting this plague on them.

We need to consider, as I’ve said before, that we have no reason to feel entitled before the Almighty. He owes us nothing but condemnation to hell for our rebellion against Him. We on the other hand owe Him our every last breath, which is a gift from Him.

I conclude with Job’s wisdom for the kind of intense suffering that many are going through these days: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord”.

Dancing

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a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.3.4.ESV

In the words of a song, “life is full of light and shadow, o the joy, and o the sorrow”. Happiness and sadness seem to uneasily coexist in an unresolved dance. Solomon states a simple but profound truth, there is a time for both joy and sorrow at different points in life.

The new testament adds new layers of meaning: “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”. So we aren’t to just be happy or sad individualistically, but also in solidarity with one another. And the new testament says to always rejoice, so it is possible to rejoice in the face of bad circumstances. 

Jesus says blessed (happy) are those who mourn (are sad) because they will be comforted. So even if we are unhappy, that’s not the end of the story if we belong to Him. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. 

“Father God, thank You that even when we’re sad, You comfort us in our sorrows. Thank You that unhappiness will soon be a thing of the past, through faith in Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen”

Boldness

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I thought I’d give a summary of what my (online) church was about today: boldness!

First we considered the persecuted church. In the face of much opposition, they are bold to stand up for Christ. In the West on the other hand, we’re afraid to speak up for our Lord for fear of being mocked and derided.

Numerous strategies in order to become more bold were mentioned, including praying for it, and studying the book of Acts, which is full of the bold exploits of the early church to make Christ known.

To be honest, as some of my recent posts have suggested, boldness hasn’t been on my list of priorities recently. I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated about covid- restrictions (notwithstanding my concern about the virus itself), and trying to teach myself the secret of contentment with God’s help, and that of His word.

But thanks to church this morning, I’ve come to see that a lot that has preoccupied me recently has been rather egotistical/self centred.

As we were reminded at church, one of the main reasons we’re not teleported directly to heaven upon believing in Jesus is to call upon other people to believe in Him. That takes boldness, granted, but it also takes love for others, and preoccupation with wanting what is best for them.

Sadly these last few days at least, I’ve been wrapped up in my own little world, and not focussed upon telling people the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was timid temperamentally as a child, but since university, I’ve become more extroverted/emboldened. What matters now is not so much that I am bold, but that I have compassion for the lost, and zeal to make the good news known to them.

May all God’s people boldly and lovingly rise up to make Him known, to His praise and glory, both now and forever, amen!

Contentment

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“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things; through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:11b-13

I feel a bit convicted having admitted in my “Healthy Fear” post that I’m feeling frustrated with the restrictions placed upon us at the moment.

In the verses I’ve quoted, at the time of writing, Paul was imprisoned for his faith. Eventually, in all likelihood, he would be martyred for his faith in Jesus. And here’s me feeling sorry for myself because I feel a bit restricted!

Tying in with that is the talk this morning at church about boldness. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we should feel sorry for those who don’t know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. We should be boldly declaring the good news of salvation in Him, instead of selfishly feeling sorry for ourselves.

So yes, God give me contentment, and the boldness to make You known, this week, and until You call me home. In Jesus’ name, amen!

Unity

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that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 
John 17:21 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.17.21.ESV

At first glance, Jesus might sound like a pantheist here, talking about everything becoming “one” with God. But when Jesus talks about us being united, He doesn’t mean we become one big, indistinguishable blob! Some illustrations the Bible uses for the united church of Jesus are a building and a body. Buildings and bodies have many parts but one whole.

Another illustration of the spiritual reality that Jesus is talking about would be marriage. A husband and wife become “one flesh”, but they are still two people. Us becoming united with God by His Holy Spirit doesn’t mean to say we become indistinguishable from Him, just that we’re in the closest possible spiritual relationship with Him.

Jesus and His Father are one. They are united in being and purpose. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. And as Jesus is now united with God the Father in heaven, we the church are now the body of Christ on earth.

If sinners like us are to be united with the Holy God, it seems like an impossible task. But nothing is impossible for God. By Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, we can be presented to Father God pure and blameless on the last day.

“Heavenly Father, we’re so grateful that sinners like us can be united with Your holiness, through Jesus’ sacrifice and the work of Your Spirit, to Your honour and praise, amen”

Healthy Fear

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To paraphrase Jesus’ words, “Do not fear that which can kill the body; fear Him who can cast soul and body into hell”.

In other words, we don’t need to succumb to the pandemic of fear that’s sweeping the word regarding the infamous virus.

We tend to see fear as an unhealthy thing, but there is one type of fear that is healthy: fear of the Lord. The Bible says a lot about this type of fear, going as far as to describe it as “the beginning of wisdom” in more than one place.

“Doesn’t God’s perfect love cast out fear?” you might legitimately question, if you’re knowledgable of the verse to that effect in 1 John. Yes, but we don’t get to enjoy God’s love in perfect fearlessness until the new creation.

So if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the love of God is the infinite end of wisdom.

The UK has been one of the worst affected countries by the virus, thanks in large part to the fact that elderly sufferers were moved from hospitals to care homes to die and thereby to massage the figures of hospitalised deaths from the virus- an absolute scandal of course.

But as Christians and churches grapple with how to respond to government restrictions, I think we need to tow that fine line between an American propensity to rebelliousness, and a British habit of shrugging our shoulders and making do. This consideration comes largely from a podcast the other week by Speak Life, a UK evangelistic charity that you can search for on YouTube.

Even as the “Rule of Six” comes in to the UK, places of worship are exempt (notwithstanding restrictions regarding social distancing). So my church which has been online is hoping to meet in person in a few weeks in the community centre we hire (which has been understandably cautious).

How are things where you are?

The numbers of infected in my area are rising, but still relatively small. Personally, I’m starting to feel a bit frustrated at the rather arbitrary and slightly draconian seeming restrictions, which feel a bit like attempting to use a sledgehammer to crack, well, a virus!

I totally get the imperative to love our neighbours, to be responsible, to obey God-ordained authorities and all that. But I’m also aware that, with reasonable adjustments, we should be able to meet in order to fulfil a Biblical imperative to not neglect meeting together to encourage one another in humanity’s primary raison d’être- to love, to worship and to enjoy a relationship with God as our Heavenly Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit.

In historical pandemics, when all around have been afraid, Christians have loved and served their neighbours practically, putting themselves at risk, in harm’s way in the process. Even just by maintaining a joyful, trusting confidence in God in perplexing and concerning times, we are providing a witness to people of the God who we ought to fear, but who casts fear out by His perfect love.

I’m so grateful to Him that I can testify that I’m not afraid. This isn’t because I’m a particularly courageous- or reckless- person, but simply because of the grace of God in my life. To Him be the praise, the glory and the honour, both now and forevermore, amen!

Helper

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And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 
John 16:8 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.16.8.ESV

Jesus promised His followers a Helper in His absence, the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t just mediate our relationship with God and make us feel good. Through us, He convicts the world on a number of fronts.

Firstly, the Holy Spirit convicts the world regarding sin. The world is sinful. There are epidemics of racism, sexual perversion and gender confusion, never mind unkindness and cruelty. The world might not like the fact it’s not evolving and progressing positively, but that’s a sad fact.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit convicts the world in regard to righteousness. We are sinful, but God is righteous. There’s a great gulf between us, that is only successfully bridged by the cross of Christ.

Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world in regard to judgement. We deserve condemnation, but through faith in Jesus and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, we can be justified. There is hope for reconciliation between us sinners and the Righteous One.

“Lord God, thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit, even though He makes us uncomfortable with His convictions. Thank You for revealing how we can be reconciled to You, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen”

Prune

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Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

John 15:3 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.15.3.ESV

Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches. Father God is the vinedresser. We often think of the pruning that God does of us as affliction, or maybe even excommunication from the metaphorical vineyard of God.

But in this verse, Jesus suggests something different. At first glance, with His talk of cleanliness, He’s going on a brief and inexplicable tangent from vineyards. But a little understanding of Greek could help.

The Greek words for “clean” and “prune” are pretty much the same. So a vinedresser was said to “clean” the vine by cutting away all the dead ends. So another way of translating this verse is to say we’re pruned by Jesus’ word.

If we allow Jesus’ word to define us, to mould us and to conform us to His likeness, we’re being pruned, or cleaned by Him. This isn’t to say that God can’t bring such good outcomes from bad circumstances, just that that isn’t Jesus’ emphasis here. 

“Heavenly Father, thank You for cleaning us up and pruning away anything in us that isn’t honouring and glorifying to Your great name. To Your praise, amen”