“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of beads.” (Song of Songs 1:10 NASB)

We are eaves dropping on a bit of romance these days on SoS Saturday. We are listening in as the Shepherd King describes His maiden fair. Last week we heard Him tell her of how He loved her cheeks as they expressed the depth of her emotion and passion for Him.

Today we overhear His musings about her neck.

So how is it with our maiden? Anytime He is in the room, she turns to see Him, to look Him over, to see what He is doing and with whom He is talking.

Her neck is a compass turning her head—her attention—ever northward—toward her King.

The neck is our most vulnerable feature. Exposing your neck to another is a sign of trust and submission. I trust you not to exploit this weakness, and I submit to your will and ability to rule me.

There is a phrase used in the older translations of the Bible, which means obstinate—stiff-necked. It is a neck that is unbending, immovable, unyielding.

So, you see, when the Shepherd King speaks of the maiden's neck He speaks of her will and submission.

When Jesus looks at us, He considers our neck.

How is your neck? Are you quick to turn toward the sound of His voice? Are you moved by His call on your life? Do you drop those things that would offend Him when your conscience whispers “No”?

Or does Jesus have to battle to get your attention? Are you slow to turn from your own way? Does your heart cry out the anti-Gethsemane prayer – Not Your will but mine!

There is another lesson in the neck though.

Victory is in the turning.

Often, when we Christians do our spiritual accounting, we only count victory as having complete dominance over our sin. I am only victorious in a battle with sin when I no longer even think of committing it.

This could not be further from the truth.

God is pleased with the turn of our neck toward Him. He knows it is a process we must walk through. He understands the weakness of our flesh.

Hey—He throws a party the day you decide to follow Him, at your very first turning. And every turn you make in submission to Him, even a small turn, pleases Him.

He knows your current struggle and sees your desire to be free and follow Him in that area. He is cheering for you! He hurts with you when you fall and fail. He is there to draw you once again.

Don’t give up in your struggles to live a godly life. I promise He has not given up on you.

Hope that helps

See you next week.

Ben

In my ponderings, I ran across six of the saddest words I’ve ever read.

I found them right in the opening to the book of John.

…His own did not receive Him. - John 1:11 NASB

The “Him” here, thus far, has only been identified as “The Word” and “the Light.” We’ll learn later in the first chapter that the old apostle is talking about Jesus Christ.

John establishes first that Jesus and the God of the Jews are One in the same.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. - John 1:1-2 NASB

Next, He tells us that this same Jesus, the Word, is the agency through which all things came into being, He’s the creator.

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. - John 1:3 NASB

But the heartbreak comes down in verse 11.

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. - John 1:11 NASB

This creator of all things actually made a covenant with a people. He chose to reveal Himself to the Children of Israel.

He chose them

He brought them out of slavery

He established them in the land of promise

He protected them

He gave them a land and made them a people

But when He came to reveal Himself to His people

they rejected Him

they hated Him

they mocked Him

they scourged Him

they crucified Him.

There have been times when I’ve been unwilling to receive Him. Even as a child of God, even after He saved me and I received His free gift of salvation, there have been times when my heart closed up to Him. Has this ever happened to you?

He chose me

He revealed Himself to me

He delivered me from the power of sin

He blessed me with all spiritual blessings

He protected me from the punishment of sin

He joined me to a people who were not my people

And yet there are times when I don’t receive Him

When I set Him aside

When I don’t pursue Him

It is sad, isn’t it?

Lord Jesus. I am so thankful that you came, lived, and loved me/us. Forgive me and help me walk with my heart open to you today, moment by moment. I don’t want to be remembered like these you record in your Word who did not receive you, though you came to them.

You are a good, good Father, and I thank you for speaking through Your Word.

Don’t leave feeling guilty. Conviction comes from time to time to call us back to a place from which we’ve stepped away. Today is a good day to step back into the arms of the Father. He’s right there at the end of the lane, waiting with open arms. Every time we open our hearts to receive Him, He opens His arms to receive us…

…And great rejoicing ensues!!

Hallelujah!

Thanks for stopping by today.

See you again soon.

Ben

2

“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of beads.” (Song of Songs 1:10 NASB)

As we look at the Shepherd King’s[i] words toward our maiden fair we are going to see Him use dozens of word pictures. Last week we looked at an example of an image from nature, this week we see Him muse about her appearance.

He will get pretty explicit as the song goes on, and I will attempt to make some sense of how it applies to the believer’s life.

Today we start with cheeks.

What good are cheeks?

Read the Cheeks!
Read the Cheeks!

They are like the emotional thermometer God has installed in each one of us. They rise and fall with our moods, and flush and pale with our passions.

Emotions are a funny thing in the church. For many years, centuries perhaps the church has frowned upon any display of emotion. I can remember as a 20 something singing a song in church where the lyrics said “I lift my hands up, unto Thy name” and looking around to see 8 hands in the air, in a room of 150 people.

We, the Church, have a limited view of God’s emotions as well. We have a God who is happy and smiling the day we repent and come to Him, and then angry with us every day after that, because we are not walking in complete submission to His will.

This is messed up.

God created us with a broad range of emotions and passions, and they are intended to bring the most out of our lives. There are ways to experience each of our God-given emotions in a way that pleases Him.

When He looks at us, our cheeks bring Him pleasure. He sees them flushed with the thrill of His presence and raised in joy and anticipation. Our passion for Him can't be hidden.

What about these ornaments?

Ornaments are adornments made for us by skilled artisans to bring out the beauty in our cheeks.

This may sound crazy, but I believe one adornment is worship. When we worship the Lord we engage our emotions, and take the skillful work of others—Poets, Songwriters, Musicians, Artists—and let it bring out the beauty in our emotion. We let our emotions do that for which they were created – bring Glory to Jesus.

Does that make sense?

I know it helps me.

BenThanks for stopping in.

See you next week.

Ben


[i] For the purposes of this series the Shepherd King represents Jesus in our reading of the Song, and the maiden is the individual believer. You can see the discussion on this in my earlier post – “Interpretation - #SoS Saturdays

2

If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women, Go forth on the trail of the flock, And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds. (Song of Songs 1:8 NASB)

When our maiden asks how to get back into a good place with Jesus, He gives a three part answer.

Last week we looked two of the 3 – the bookends.

The first is to live in community—"go forth on the trail of the flock."

The last is to have leadership in your life—"By the tents of the shepherds."

Today I want to talk about the one in the middle. I kind of stepped over it last week.

“And feed your little goats” (Song of Songs 1:8 NKJV)

medium_2470532891

As you'll remember, she got into this mess by taking on everything anyone suggested for her. Too much responsibility before she had matured enough to hold on to Jesus in the midst of it. Believe me, if you hang around the church for a bit, you will find plenty to do.

But get this, the solution is not complete abstinence from participation, not pulling back out of fellowship and ministry altogether. Not at all.

The solution is found in walking in community, submitting to godly leadership, and taking on the care and feeding of YOUR little goats.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Where the NKJV uses the word feed, the NASB says pasture and the NIV says graze. This young Jesus Lover is not told to come up with an amazing revelation for a mature flock, but to lead the ones that the Lord has drawn to her into safe and nurturing fields where they can graze in safety.

At one time in my life, there was a brand new Christian in my workplace. She was like a wonderful sponge and would eat up anything put before her. The biggest challenge was to keep her from listening to some of the crazies on the radio and TV and get her hooked up with some good safe Bible basics.

This is exactly the method Jesus used when restoring Peter. Do you remember? Peter had failed the Lord and really felt like he had no right to be taking up any more of Jesus time. He was ashamed because he totally blew it when he denied the Lord three times at the very moment that Jesus was in big trouble.

But Jesus came to him and asked him 3 times (once for each denial?) “Do you love Me?”

Each time Peter affirmed “You know I love you”

And each time Jesus said “feed my sheep,” with slight variations.

Jesus had the same restoration advice for Peter as he did for our maiden

But here is the important thing. He does not say, “get involved, do whatever they ask of you, ” He say to care for the ones I put in your care. Our involvement must be Spirit led and directed or it will crush us every time.

We were created for works that God designed for us and designed us for. These are the only works you will be able to do well long term. [Tweet This]

So today, start saying “No” when the Spirit is not giving you a “Yes” and start feeding the little goats that the Lord has drawn to your side.

Thanks for stopping by today!

See you next week

Ben

photo credit: zaser via photopin cc

…O fairest among women... (Song of Songs 1:8 NKJV)

He speaks! Verse 8 contains the Shepherd’s first words in the Song.

MagicmirrorFairest of them all!

With all our girl is stressing over:

  • The conflict of inner and outer cleanliness
  • The abuse of her mother’s sons
  • The disrepair of her vineyard
  • Her feeling of separation

See how He addresses her.

Most beautiful among women (NASB)

He sees her as beautiful—most beautiful—the fairest of them all!

The common meaning of the word fair does not do this verse justice. If it weren’t for Snow White’s evil witch and her mirror query, most of us wouldn't even know that fair can mean beautiful.

Let me explain something amazing about Jesus here.

Heb 12:2 says that Jesus, for the joy set before Him endured the cross. The reason Jesus went to the cross, is that He could see something about you and me that we, even today, are not seeing clearly.

You say, I am dark and beautiful, but Jesus says, I see the one My Father created unto good works. I see a completely successful, with fully realized potential, son or daughter. I saw you while you were still my enemy. I saw you when you were actively hostile toward Me. You are why I laid down my life.

Now you may not walk in your full potential, but God sees you that way. You are beautiful to Him.

raw diamondThink of the diamond cutter who sees the finished gem in the dirty rock. God can see what He created you for.

Don’t get me wrong, you will answer for what you do with all that potential, but when you turn your faces toward the Shepherd, He sees what you can be, and loves you and puts all His unlimited resources into action to get you moving toward that amazing ‘you’ that He envisions.

Turn your attention toward the Shepherd today and walk toward the ‘you’ He sees!

Remember:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 NASB

There is much more to say – so come back next week.

BenDirector3CroppedYou’re beautiful

Ben

2

Tell me, O You whom my soul loves, Where do You pasture Your flock, Where do You make it lie down at noon? (Song of Songs 1:7 NASB)

Three major detractors pulled our maiden away from spiritual vitality into a kind of religious funk. She didn't like what she saw in the mirror, her elder brothers and sisters were dousing her enthusiasm and finally, her own relationship with the Lord suffered neglect. The intimacy she brushed up against in her first encounter with the Lord faded in her memory. The pull of ministry stirred by her early passion, under the pressure of her peers, caused her to step away from her first love.

Like the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, she was getting the good stuff done, but leaving ‘One Thing’ undone.

Today, she get’s it. It drives her to prayer. And check the focus of her prayer

Tell me, O You whom my soul loves, Where do You pasture Your flock, Where do You make it lie down at noon?

The fastest way to bring life back to a withering vine is to reconnect to The True Vine.

Above the din of her distress, her heart cry makes itself audible once again—I just want to know Your tender care.

Let’s walk right through it.

First – You Lord are the ONE my soul loves – she identifies herself as a Jesus Lover. She knows her life has been out of balance. But her desire for intimacy with the Lord takes back the ground her distresses gave up. Her vineyard succumbed to the chaos of nature—the old nature.

Next – Where do You pasture Your flock? I want to be where You are. I know you will care for me. I know you will help me prune my vineyard. I know time in your presence will recenter my heart and life.

Finally – Where do You make it lie down at noon? I understand a sheep will only lie down and rest in the heat of the day after it has been thoroughly fed and watered. For the sheep to lie down it must be completely satisfied!

Here Solomon inserts into this Song of Songs a throwback to his father's wonderful Psalm, the Psalm of the Shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
(Psalm 23:1-3 NASB)

Her heart cries out for His tender and loving care.

If you're like me, the business of life and ministry can get you running so hard, you edge away from time spent with the Lord in the secret place. You see that Jesus, who faced every temptation we do, faced this pull too. When He learned of the death of John the Baptist, He longed to be alone with His Father, but the press of the crowd kept Him from immediate retreat. He pushed through ministry, not brushing anyone off, but still focussed on getting into the quiet place. (Mark 6:17-46)

Don’t let life and ministry be the undoing of your vineyard.

Call out today and tell Jesus, the Great Shepherd, that you want to be fed in the green pastures, and drink from the still waters.

BenSee you next week!

Ben

2

My mother’s sons were angry with me (Song of Songs 1:6 NASB)

For the last two weeks, we looked at the Maiden’s first big problem. She felt dirty on the outside but had beauty on the inside.

Today we get a look at a second crisis in her walk with the Lord – Momma’s boys.

It is interesting to me that she does not say “my brothers.” Instead, she calls them "my mother's sons." Are these some kind of wicked stepbrothers?

First, we have to understand the age-old question – who’s your momma?

The great commission in Matthew 28, puts the job of evangelism squarely on the shoulders of the Church. And throughout the ages since then the Church has been in a motherly role. It is her job to make disciples. A young babe in Christ is said to need mother’s milk of the word.

Consider:

Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Gal. 4:26)

My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, (Gal. 4:19)

As apostles of Christ…we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children (1 Thes. 2:6-7).

The interesting thing to me here is that the Church is made up of people and these people are our brothers and sisters.

But as a new believer you might feel more like an outsider, and so we find the phrase “mother’s sons.” Our girl, new to the faith, feels a bit outside the camp.

Worse than that, after her intimate encounter with the King, she has a zeal and passion that sets her apart.

I know that many of you have been there. You are (or were) that passionate guy or gal who just won’t shut up about the Lord. You’re the ones in the lobby of the Church talking about your God encounters throughout the week, while everyone else is talking sports and fashion.

Ray Comfort (writer, speaker, evangelism teacher) says (I paraphrase here) that when he was a young Christian he had great zeal and passion, and told everyone he ran into about Christ. He was on fire. And over the years (long pause here) he has never cooled off. He is still on fire for the Lord with the same zeal and passion for the Lord as ever he had.

I love that. I feel like that is my story. I might say that years and experience have given me a different perspective on some things, but the passion is there, and one of my favorite things is to see a young Christian, full of that “first love.”

So here is the problem. There are many in the Church who have left their first love. And when they run into our maiden – our zealous, passionate firebrand – they feel a twinge of conviction.

So begins the unsanctified bucket brigade. They immediately start dousing our maiden’s fervor. They don’t want to be around her, they don’t have that same passion, and are not as consumed by a desire for the presence of the Lord like her.

This causes a reaction in the maiden—perhaps a twinge of self-righteousness? Our holy zeal can develop an edge of condemnation. Why aren’t they where I am? Why don’t they want to talk about the Lord? Why don’t they want to spend their Saturday on the street with me preaching to passers-by?

And so, strife infiltrates in the Body of Christ.

Take a step back today and consider – are you a firebrand in the hands of the Lord, or are you in the bucket brigade?

We all need correction, and I want you to stop and listen to the Lord today.

Put Down your Buckets!

Those of us in the Church for years need to be cheerleaders, mentors, equippers, throwing logs (or even accelerants) on the fires burning in our young brothers and sisters. Put down your buckets!

Those of us who are full of zeal and passion be careful with not to write off your elder brothers and sisters. Many have known your zeal and inwardly want it back.

God put us together for a reason, so we can “spur one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV)

BenThanks for reading today.

See you next week

Ben

"Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me."  - Song of Songs 1:6 NASB

There are three books in our Bible attributed to Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. We know the Song is a love story, but Ecclesiastes is the musings of a man frustrated by the futility of life. In it, he uses the phrase "under the sun" twenty-seven times, in the NASB.

Solomon uses "under the sun" to mean "in this life," and throughout the book, it's a look at the natural life.

Where Ecclesiastes comes across as a huge "why bother" toward life in the natural, Song of Songs demonstrates that life in the Spirit sets a purpose in our hearts and a love for life and ministry.

Paul echoes Solomon's disparity in Romans 7.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. - Romans 7:21-25 NASB

And this is where we find our Maiden this morning. Right at the end of Romans 7.

Don't look at me. I'm ashamed of what I have become in my life "under the sun." Life directed by my old man, my lower nature, has left its mark on me. If you stare at me, I'm afraid it's all you will see. I'm marred by the sun.

When Adam and Eve surrendered to the will of the evil one, their first move was to cover up, and next, to hide.

LIfe lived in the shadow of shame leaves us hiding from the Holy.

It takes courage, and the call of the Spirit on our lives to cry out with David,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. - Psalm 139:23-24 NASB

We'll get there, but today, we're hiding in the bushes.

Lord, we need to hear Your voice today, reassuring us that You are willing and powerful enough to heal the damage done by a life lived "under the sun."

Thanks for stopping by today.

God is able!

Ben

4

I am dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. (Song of Songs 1:5 NKJV)

Our girl spent the evening in the King's courts and experienced His personal care for the very first time. Now she knows what Isaiah learned in the year that King Uzziah died.

Leonard Ravenhill

Leonard Ravenhill, the revivalist from the last century, often preached a sermon from this text (Isaiah 6) using the outline, Woe, Lo, and Go. You can listen to it, or even download it, at SermonAudio.com. It's wonderful.

He outlines Isaiah chapter 6 like this:

"Woe is me! For I am undone." (vs 5) When I get into the presence of the Lord the first thing that strikes me is how I really don’t belong here. I am filthy, dirty, DARK and unfit for the Kings Presence.

"Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." (vs 7) The blood of Jesus purges opens the way for me to enter this place, and not be consumed.

"Go, and tell this people." (vs 9) Intimacy leads to productivity. When I see how consumed my Holy Savior is with His people, I am drawn into His vision and His mission. My only response can is, "Here am I, send me." (vs 8)

So let's look at our maiden. She spends the evening in the King's presence and when she gets home she begins to examine herself. One look in the mirror tells her the whole story. She is earthy, from working outside and from the years in the hot sun of the Middle East.

She is dirty from "everything under the sun." This is the phrase Solomon used in Ecclesiastes to talk about the world's influence. Jesus told Peter to sit still while He washed his feet. Peter did not need a bath—just the cleansing from the dust of the roads of life.

Then she remembers His words to her—He says I am lovely—I picture this like the scene in West Side Story. Maria dressing for the dance. “I feel pretty,” and our dark beauty dances about the dressing chamber remembering her evening with the King.

Tents and Curtains

The tents of Kedar she speaks of dot the white sands of the wilderness. Made from dark animal skins, they stand out in stark contrast to the white sands. She highlights the dramatic contrast of life in the sands and dust of these base tents, to the pristine curtains she observed in Solomon's courts. These spectacular curtains adorned what was possibly the most beautiful palace of all time.

Dark and dusty on the outside, beautifully adorned on the inside.

So it is with you and I. Any time spent in introspection, gazing into the mirror of the Word, will turn up dirt—things you know you need to change—places you know you need to do better—things that stir up shame.

It leads you to repentance—to a clearing of yourself.

Then you take the bread and cup of God’s love and see that He has made you lovely and perfectly acceptable in His sight—more than acceptable—desirable! You are the apple of God’s eye, the rose of Sharon, the lily among thorns. You are the object of His passion. In the bread and wine, you can see the immense value the Savior has placed upon you, and the love lavished without regard to cost.

Like the coal from the altar in Isaiah's vision, the bread and wine remind you of your purged state. You may have the outward appearance of filth, but you have been washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb.

Hallelujah!

O the joys of the presence of the Lord!

Come back again next week, won’t you?

Ben

The work that follows is so beautiful and full of Father's heart, I implore you, read every word. Cheryl McGrath, who blogs at Bread for the Bride is a woman after God's own heart and brings her strong gift for words and her ability to connect with the heart ofGod to us in this posting. Follow the link to read the full post.Really—don't miss a word!

The Magnificent Pursuit

pexels-photo-24289-pursuitHe watched intently, wordlessly, as they departed the sacred Garden where all of them had walked together.  There they had communed, talking, laughing and celebrating each other’s presence, while Spirit-breeze, the Ruarch, gently caressed their faces and the sunset marked the end of another perfect day in Eden.  This day the sunset would not find them together, this day Eden would be lonely without the presence of the man and the woman.  This day would never be forgotten by either God or human. 

But even as His tender heart struggled with, endured and finally embraced the searing, unfamiliar pain of the unimaginable separation another emotion was rising forcefully within Him.  Resolve.  He had been betrayed and rejected.  The freedom which had set apart the man and the woman, created in His very own image, had become the means of their treachery.  Still, He would not have contemplated denying them that freedom.  To do so would have meant they were less than His image, like the beasts of the field or the fish with which He had filled the oceans. [Read more here]