Monday 30 November 2020

Go tell it on the Mountain

It is fascinating that we grow up singing songs, carols and hymns without fully knowing the story behind the words. A beautiful song like God Tell it on the Mountain is often sung during our Christmas worship services and although the words are easy enough to interpret, there is a remarkable story behind the words:

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching, Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens, There shone a holy light:

The hymn has its origins in the slave communities of the deep South in America. It is believed to have been composed by a humble slave who expressed his innermost thoughts in the words of a song. He would have been illiterate, yet would have held onto the incredible stories of Jesus’ birth, retold ever Christmas. With no opportunity of visiting Bethlehem in real life, he imagined a scene that transcended his own pain and suffering, and called others to pass on the message of hope and peace.  

Many of the spiritual songs like Go Tell It On the Mountain could have been lost to our ears, if it weren’t for people like John Work and his son John Wesley Work Jnr. As a family, they were instrumental in saving numerous songs from this era and subsequently compiled many of the African-American spirituals into famous collections.  

John Work was the driving force behind his local church choir and he used their remarkable singing gifts to keep the music alive. The choir boasted a number of singers from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who helped spread the popularity of these songs as they were given opportunity to travel the world. If it weren’t for this miracle, Go Tell It On the Mountains may have remained a local song, sung only on a small farm in rural Tennessee.

As Jane Schroeder says, “it is the spirit of the words that provides the song's real power. As an unknown, humble slave revealed his own prayers and faith, he had little knowledge that the inspiration he felt—probably the only thing of value he ever possessed—would touch millions with the news not only on the mountain, but “over the hills and everywhere.”

We are challenged to remember that the Good News of Christ’s birth transcends our circumstances and the present sufferings we face. There is always Hope where Jesus is found. 

Living in Grace


Sunday 29 November 2020

Hark the Herald Angels sing


As we enter into another glorious season of advent I am going to reflect on a few of the traditional hymns, carols and wonderful new Christmas songs. There is so much depth in each of these that I felt if would be interesting to find out a little about these musical messages.

The song Hark the herald angels sing, was written by Charles Wesley and was supposed to have been inspired by the sounds of London church bells while he was walking to church on Christmas Day. Wesley wrote the “Hark” poem about a year after his conversion and first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings.”

Scholars tell us that George Whitefield, a student and eventual colleague of Wesley’s, adapted the poem in 1753 into the song we now know today. It was Whitefield who penned the phrase “newborn King.”

It is said that the initial music that Charles Wesley used for his poem was a little slow and solemn, so the hymn didn't reach it's full potential. It was only a hundred years later, when Felix Mendelssohn wrote his score for the words, that the poem really came alive. 

Of course the most profound part of the poem has to be the words, which portray the Angels proclaiming the birth of the Messiah. The words of the Hymn point us to the passage in Luke 2:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Living in Grace

Thursday 26 November 2020

Sharpen your axe

"If the ax is dull
and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
but skill will bring success."
-Ecclesiastes 10:10

This verse always reminds me of Stephen Covey's lovely story which speaks to us of  'sharpening the saw'. We often feel we don't have time to stop and get our 'tools' sharpened, but we then plod along using blunt tools to try and do an effective work. The time we take to pause to get things 'sharp' is well worth it in the long run. 

Jesus practiced this in his own life too. He took time to get his priorities straight and this made his ministry deeply profound and effective.

What are you doing to keep yourself sharp for the Lord?

Living in Grace

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Ironies of life

As Solomon heads deeper into chapter 10, he starts to reflect on some of the ironies of life. He even goes so far as to say that these ironies are almost evil in some ways. This is what he says about some decisions made by leaders, politicians and rulers.

"There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants!" - Ecclesiastes 10:5-7

I don't think he is being derogatory about uneducated people gaining positions of leadership, but rather about rulers appointing their cronies to positions of power, when those people are not qualified for the job. Then in the same way, people who are skilled in certain fields are over-looked for leadership. This kind of treatment is not going to get your subjects excited about serving on your leadership team.

“You don't necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets than the life of citizens always do that every day.”
― Israelmore Ayivor

Living in Grace


Tuesday 24 November 2020

Be careful with your words

I wonder how many times Solomon said something in anger, only to realise that he should have responded with a more controlled tone of voice? The reason I suggest this is because he mentions this a number of times in Ecclesiastes and in Proverbs, which makes me wonder. Take these words as an example:

"If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest." - Ecclesiastes 10: 4

Or in the New Living Translation...

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit!   A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

His most famous quote about this subject has to be "a quiet word turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1).

I think we all get his point! We can often change the course of an aggressive conversation by watching how we speak or what tone we use.

What do you think?

"Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed." -Abraham Joshua Herschel

Living in Grace


Monday 23 November 2020

Fly in the ointment

In old English there is a saying that goes:

"'Tis that dead fly in the ointment of the Apothecary."

We know it more as 'the fly in the ointment', which refers to a small glitch in an otherwise good plan.

Reading through Ecclesiastes 10, we note that this idiom has it's origins in the time of Solomon. I am struck by how ancient wisdom has been carried into our modern era and how we can still understand the concepts of people like Solomon.

"As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
    but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as fools walk along the road,
    they lack sense 
and show everyone how stupid they are." - Ecclesiastes 10:1-3

Some thoughts are timeless.

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, "And this too, shall pass away." - Abraham Lincoln

Living in Grace


Sunday 22 November 2020

What kind of King?

Our passage from Ecclesiastes today fits in very well with our overall theme as a Christian Church. Today is known as Christ the King Sunday and we obviously celebrate the Lordship of Jesus, as well as the end of the liturgical calendar. With the benefit of hindsight and thousands of years of history we slowly comprehend that Jesus came as a different kind of King. The world has a picture of what lordship looks like, which is why many people took a while before they understood that Jesus was the King of Kings.

"I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good."
- Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

Let us not miss our king of Kings this year. Of all the years, 2020 is the time we need to get on bended knee and admit we are in need of a Saviour-King.

Living in Grace

Thursday 19 November 2020

Unexpected times

"Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them."
- Ecclesiastes 9:11

Perhaps we could all agree that this year has been a very tough year for most of us and in some ways 2020 could be the 'evil times' that Solomon refers to in today's scripture. If I stop and take note of the fallout and the stress of this year, it certainly seems as if many people have been tripped up by the unexpected nature of Covid. These 'evil' and 'weird' times have trapped many good and godly people - we have become ensnared in issues we never dreamed would occur. 

In order to offer us hope, despite these circumstances, I want to remind us of the words of Jesus. He lived with the poise and balance that we all seek to have in our inner worlds. Jesus knew what his destiny and purpose was and he trusted his Father to guide him through the uncertainty of our world.

John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Matthew 6:13 - And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Living in Grace

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Time and chance

What do you make of these words from Ecclesiastes? Is Solomon suggesting that it is just a matter of 'fate' when things happen to us or can we believe that God is still in control of how things turn out?

"I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all."
- Ecclesiastes 9:11

I would agree with the following:

Anyone can run the race of life...
Anyone can fight in this battle...
You don't have to have academic degrees to put food on the table...
It is not only pupils in the A class who make lots of money...
People with little education have won public office and positions of leadership...

BUT, I am not sure of the word 'chance' - The Living Bible says it like this:
"but it is all by chance, by happening to be at the right place at the right time."

Of course, TIME catches up with all of us, but I would feel comfortable using the word 'God's will' instead of Chance. It just makes me feel that God is more in control of things, compared to Chance.

What do you feel? 

"Thy fate is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Living in Grace

Tuesday 17 November 2020

No more work!

I think that if we had to say to everyone in world, "you don't need to work anymore, but you will still get paid," most people would say, "Oh yes please!"

Of course this is never going to happen, but it does open up a question concerning how we view our work and how we spend our days.

  • If you asked a teenager - they would prefer not to do any work.
  • If you asked a busy person, they would argue that they work too hard. 
  • And then there are the pensioners who would love to still be at work in some kind of way. 
  • And of course, there are those who are struggling to find work - they would love to have a job.

Solomon's word to us today reminds me that we should be grateful for the work we have and that we should honour the Lord with the work of our hands.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." - Ecclesiastes 9:10

Paul said something similar in Colossians 3:23: 

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters"

Sam Ewing wrote: "Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all."

Living in Grace


Monday 16 November 2020

The forgotten name

Anyone who is among the living has hope - even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

"For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even their name is forgotten.

Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun."
- Ecclesiastes 9:5-7

Solomon uses very strong imagery in these 3 verses for today. The image of a live dog and a dead lion is fascinating. I guess he assumes that a live lion would defeat a dog in battle every time, but there would be no fear in a dog if the lion was lying dead. What do you make of this point?

The other image that struck me was that the person who lives for themselves will receive their reward in this life only -  and when they are dead, their name will be forgotten. What a strong reminder to live for God and for others? The name of a person is such an important thing and when someone is willing to win at all costs they will inevitably end up crossing other people to get what they want. This will tarnish their name and make others think less of them.

"A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble." - Charles Spurgeon

Living in Grace

Thursday 12 November 2020

A Common Destiny

When you are young you think very little about death and the after-life. As you begin to experience loss, death and aging, so it begins to enter your thought process. Solomon's advice in Ecclesiastes is not just for those of us who are old, but he is trying to impart a message of mortality to the younger generation. I don't believe it is to be morbid, but rather to help the youth discern their decisions with a clear perspective on life in general. We all share a common destiny and none of us can escape it.

"So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

As it is with the good, so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." - Ecclesiastes 9:1-3

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.”
― Thomas Merton, Love and Living

I am not sure if I agree 100% with Einstein's sentiments in this next quote, but he does make a similar point to Solomon.

“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.” - Albert Einstein

Living in Grace

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Joy will accompany us

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it."
- Ecclesiastes 8:15-17

Today's reading teaches us that God desires 'joy to accompany us' in the toil of our lives. This is such a tremendous promise. Hold onto this today.

Thomas Merton - Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.

Living in Grace

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Is this what contributed to some of our Wars?

In this month of November we remember many historical conflicts and those people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of a better world. The 9th November marked the collapsing of the Berlin wall, while the 11th will call us to pause and remember all who died in the 'Great' wars of the 20th Century. As I was reading through Ecclesiastes today I tried to find a link between these verses and the outcome of violence, conflict and war.

"When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless."
- Ecclesiastes 8:11-14

Is it possible that if the engineers of war had been stopped before they got out of hand, that we would have seen less blood-shed in our world? Is it possible that if the majority of criminals realised that they would not get away with their evil schemes, that we would have less crime and pain in our world? I think it is worth chewing on. I don't have a concrete answer, but just questions.

"There is always inequality in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded and some men never leave the country. Life is unfair." - John F. Kennedy

Living in Grace

Monday 9 November 2020

Avoiding the inevitable?

We would do well to remember that every scripture passage was written in a time and context. So, when our friend Solomon is musing about various things we need to reflect on what is happening in the world about 3000 years ago. What do you think is happening in his world when you read these words?

"Since no one knows the future who can tell someone else what is to come? As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.

All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless." - Ecclesiastes 8:7-10

There were 2 points that I found interesting:
1. None of us knows what will happen in the future, so we can't tell others what is to come. We need to entrust our time and lives into God's hands.

2. We can't contain the wind (although we can now harness it) - and so none of us can stop our own death. What we can do is prepare ourselves as much as possible and then live our lives to the fullest.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
― Mark Twain

Living in Grace

Sunday 8 November 2020

Wisdom shows

Joycyjoy on Twitter: "📖Ecclesiastes 8:1 (NIV) Who is like the wise? Who  knows the explanation of things? A person's wisdom brightens their face and  changes its hard appearance.…"

As we forge on ahead deeper into Ecclesiastes we will note a slight change in mood from Solomon. In today's reading he seems (well to me at least) to shift from being very depressed, to becoming more reflective and offering some 'fatherly' advice to his listeners. Listen to his heart as he writes:

"How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things.
Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.

Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would. Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants. His command is backed by great power. No one can resist or question it. Those who obey him will not be punished. Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble." - Ecclesiastes 8:1-6

I have underlined the last verse because this was the one that stood out for me today. Do you note the connection with his comments in chapter 3 (A Time for Everything)? 

Is there something from these verses that resonates with you today? One of the other thoughts to strike me was how Solomon mentions that wisdom 'lights up a person's face.' Have you ever noticed that before?

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me." - John 14:1

Living in Grace


Friday 6 November 2020

Did he really say that?

It is very easy to misunderstand what Solomon is saying in some parts of chapter 7 and he could easily be labelled as a sexist. Just have a look at some of these words to see my point, but then I want to clarify the context of what he is saying.

"I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.
... Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”
(Ecclesiastes 7:26, 28-29)

Firstly, we must remember that Solomon is the guy who refers to wisdom as a Woman in book of Proverbs. We can conclude that he does respect women in many ways, but would also have been a "man of his time", with many different views on the role of women in his kingdom.

Secondly, the woman he is referring to in verse 27, is the 'seductive' woman, and not all women! Ecclesiastes (like Proverbs) were used as teachings to the young men of the Jewish communities, informing them of all the virtues and vices in life. He wanted the younger guys to be cautious of this as they could land up in trouble. He could just as easily used this passage to instruct our young women in today's world too - that we should be wary of anyone who tries to seduce us in anyway. 

Thirdly, his statement about not finding one righteous woman (out of a thousand) and only 1 righteous man, is interesting. However, we must remember that it was only the men who were given religious instruction in their generation - so this actually makes the men look far worse than the women. The men had all the correct teaching and still they didn't get it right. 

Solomon's conclusion is that although God created us to follow Him, we have all turned to go our own way. And so we need to draw a connection to the Gospel's here, where we see the gift of Jesus rescuing us from our sin.

Hope this makes some sense to us all.

Living in Grace

Thursday 5 November 2020

Still haven't found what I was looking for

"This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. " - Ecclesiastes 7:28-29

We are tempted to look at people who seem to have everything and believe that they are happy with life. It is almost as if we just assume that having a lot of "things" will be the golden ticket to our happiness. We have covered this ground before, but Solomon is honest enough to admit that he still hasn't found what he is looking for. It was the singer, song-writer, musician and poet, Bono who also added his lament to Ecclesiastes 7.

"I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for..." 
This year has been one of those moments to test all of our hearts. It is my prayer that we continue to lean into the mercies of Jesus and trust that God satisfy's your deepest longing.
Living in Grace

Wednesday 4 November 2020

A Prayer for Matric Students

Prayer For Exams - For Tests and Finals - YouTube

It is one thing to share a prayer for students writing exams, in a general sense, but it is another thing entirely when one of your own kids stands at the starting line of their Final Exams. This is a prayer I wrote for all Matrics, but it is unashamedly personal in nature. You are welcome to share this with others who may need some encouragement. I have never had a student say 'No' to a prayer before any exam :)

Living in Grace


Dear Lord

As our Matric students begin their Final Exams we ask that you would comfort them and grant them your peace as they finish off their last preparations. The time has come for us to let go of the ‘trial runs’ and ‘practise sessions’ and to trust that the moment of truth will only be a small step for them in the end.

May the challenges before them not seem insurmountable and please help our kids to rely on the collective learning they have received over the last 18 years. Remind them that although these next 6 weeks are vital in their preparations for the future, they are not the only thing that will define them. Our Matric results are an opportunity to start our adult lives on a certain path, but each student is worth so much more than 7 symbols on a school certificate.

We also ask that you would give each parent and guardian enough patience and love in order to support our children through this next important milestone in their lives. We ask you to put our hearts at ease and although we may try to steer our kids on a particular course, allow them to discover their true purpose in you.

Thank you for all the teachers, staff and community members who have given of themselves during this tough year. May they also feel rewarded for the progress they have nurtured in each child’s life. Help and enable us to celebrate the student who scraps a D symbol with hours and hours of extra work, as much as the student who achieves another A with seeming ease. Each child is to be celebrated and we thank you that you love each one of them.

Lastly, we thank you Lord for your promise of hope and guidance for all who turn to you.

In Jesus name we ask these things.  Amen.