Archive for January, 2013

Ecclesiastes 12

Ecclesiastes 12 seems to focus on what can happen if we get consumed by the world around us.  The author reminds us that connecting with God early is important, before we get swayed by the negativity of the world around us.  “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near”.  Statistics show that it is increasingly difficult for people to come to know Jesus the older they get.  The days of our youth are critical in our spiritual formation.  As parents, it is so important that we help our kids understand who Jesus is and what it means to have a relationship with Him.

The chapter has a long list of descriptors around what life is like just prior to death.  “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.  That’s a pretty matter of fact way to describe death. But the reality is that our time on earth is not the main event.  It is but a speck on the timeline of eternity.  That doesn’t mean it is not important, in fact, it is very important.  It determines the rest of eternity.  So how we live matters.  The choices we make are critical and eternity changing.  Life matters – we need to live it well and God’s way!

The writer boils it all down to this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”.  Pretty simple way to lay out God’s plan for us.  He is looking for obedience.  Plain and simple obedience.  We are to fear God – which is putting Him in His rightful place in our lives and recognizing that He alone is the Creator and Controller of all things.  And then we are to keep his commandments – which have been written down and given to us clearing in His Word.  We don’t have to guess – He wrote the manual for how we are to live.  What’s left is for us to choose to obey, or not.

And in case you think this is really a suggestion, not a command, the writer clarifies it for us.  “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”.  Read that again and let it sink in.  Notice the word ‘every’ used twice.  Nothing is going to slip under the radar.  There are no secrets.  You didn’t get away with something like you may have convinced yourself.  Others may not have caught you, but you will have to explain it when you stand before God.  Judgment is coming.  And the reality is that God will hold us responsible for what we have done, or in some cases haven’t done.  He has set the standard and unfortunately we will fall short.  That is why Jesus came and died on the Cross.  Because without that gift of grace, we are not good enough.  We will fail when it comes to the obedience test.  Don’t fail the test.  The result is eternal!

Ecclesiastes 11

Ecclesiastes 11 reminds us that life is a mystery and we really don’t know all the details.  Only God sees the entire picture.  “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything”.  God is the creator of life.  He pours life into the womb as a child begins to develop.  He is the creator and giver of life.  And He does make everything.  He isn’t just a contributor to life and creation.  He is the entirety of it.  We need to keep that very focused and clear.

Since life is a gift from Him, we need to live it accordingly.  “So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember….”  Life is not a guarantee.  It may not be long, and can end at any time.  So we need to live it that way.  We need to live fully every day.  And we need to live with a grateful heart rejoicing in the gift of life that God has given us.  We have absolute control over our attitude and gratefulness.  We can decide each day to wake up with a heart full of joy.  Joy is a choice.  Gratitude can become a way of living.  It is how we should respond to God’s blessing of life!

We also need to remember that life matters and is serious business.  “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment”.  We definitely should rejoice and enjoy the gift God has given us.  We need to have a cheerful heart that causes us to flow with praise of His goodness and love.  But we also must remember that how we walk will impact our eternity.  So life is not just a game.  It isn’t something we go through for some number of years and then it is over.  Life is the basis for our eternity.

That needs to be the balancing truth to Solomon’s eat, drink and be merry approach.  We are to enjoy life and life it fully.  But we also much keep in mind that God will bring us to judgment.  We will stand before our Maker one day and give account for how we lived.  We will fall short on our own merit – sin will disqualify us from entry into His presence.  And being very blunt – if all we approach that judgment seat with is our own accomplishments – we are screwed.  We will fall short and spend eternity away from our Creator.  The good news is that He knew that.  God knew we could not make it on our own, so He sacrificed His only Son on the cross to cover our sin.  He has provided a way for us to be good enough to stand before Him on judgment day and gain entry into eternity with Him.  But that gift of grace only works if we accept it, and make Jesus Savior and Lord of our life.  It only covers our sin if we make it our own relationship.  Have you taken that step?  Are you covered by His blood?  If not, the future doesn’t bode well.  Today is the day to make that decision!

Ecclesiastes 10

Ecclesiastes 10 brings us a lot of clarity around wisdom and being a fool.  The writer begins by reminding us of the impact of a fly in the ointment.  The point is that a dead fly can cause an odor that overwhelms the ointment’s smell, thus rendering it ineffective.  It doesn’t take a lot of bad to offset the good.  He writes it this way: “a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor”.  Unfortunately we can undo a lot of very good by making a few poor choices.  That is the way life works.

The following verse can really appear to be almost political, at least if you want to stretch it.  “A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left”.  But there were no political parties when this was penned, so we can’t apply it that way, at least as a scriptural truth.  We can however, see that there is a big gap between a wise man and a fool.  They are distanced from each other.  It isn’t a small gap either, it is 180 degrees different.  Wisdom and being foolish are not two points on the same line.  They are the ends of the continuum between the thinking of God, which is wisdom, and the thinking of man, which is foolishness.  We will fall somewhere on that line between those two ends.

Does it matter?  Scripture says it does.  “Wisdom helps one to succeed”.  That seems pretty obvious, but how often we fail to live that way.  We don’t seek wisdom from God, which means we slow down and stop and seek God’s face to hear His wisdom.  We rely on our own thoughts and often find folly from our heart.  We don’t speak that way.  “The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him”.  We blabber on with our own words and fail to realize the power of the spoken word.  Wisdom needs to come into our heart because scripture tells us that out of the abundance of our heart, our mouth speaks.

In a lot of cases, wisdom means keeping our mouth shut.  We often say a lot more than we should.  God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – we need to listen more than we speak.  And that is really true if we are shooting off our mouth as a fool.  “Even in your thought, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter”.  Words get around.  There are no secrets except for those unspoken.  Our words often find their way to unintended places.  We can make excuses all day, but when we utter thoughts out loud, the chances are high they will be carried somewhere beyond our intent.  We need to carefully consider what we speak.  It does matter.

Ecclesiastes 9

Ecclesiastes 9 reminds us of the reality of death.  We are going to die.  Life is short, and it matters.  Our writer begins by reminding us that God is in control of all things.  “But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God”.  Everything we do is in God’s hands.  He is the author of life.  He knows all our deeds.  He examines each and every bit of what we do.  And the sad reality is this: “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead”.

We often hear people say that man is generally good.  That isn’t what scripture tells us here, or in many other places.  Truth is that man’s heart is full of evil.  We are not by nature good, but unfortunately sinners by nature.  We fall short of God’s requirements.  We live in the madness of sin.  And it is the reality of our life.  We can change that – by allowing God to have control and letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit take charge.  But left to our own heart, we are in a heap of trouble.  We all will die.  And scripture reminds us that what seems so important to us here on this earth will be quickly forgotten here.  “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten”.

Does that mean that what we do doesn’t matter?  Absolutely not.  Life matters much.  God has called us to put off our sinful ways and live a life pleasing to Him.  We need to live well.  And we need to live that way every moment “for man does not know his time”.  I can assure you that your time will end, but I do not know when it will happen.  So we are told to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love….because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun”.  God has given us life so we can live it fully. Jesus came to give us life in abundance. We are to live it with those He has placed in our patch and enjoy it – walking with Him as we work.

We are told to work with all our might.  Check out what the writer says about work.  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”.  Work is another thing we need to do with all we are.  It matters how we perform in the workplace.  It is a reflection of who we are.  And believers, more than anyone, should give their full effort in the workplace.  It reflects on our walk with Jesus.  The writer ends reminding us of the power of wisdom. “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools…. wisdom is better than might”.  Solomon asked for wisdom as his gift from God.  We would do well to ask for the same.  Wisdom is powerful.  It can defeat might.  We need to seek wisdom, but also listen to the wisdom around us.  It is better than might!

Ecclesiastes 8

Ecclesiastes 8 teaches us about wisdom and the impact of evil.  It begins with “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine”.  We learn throughout scripture that wisdom is a very powerful gift.  And it is a gift.  We can’t figure it out on our own.  God alone is the author and giver of wisdom.  Man cannot learn it or discover it on his own.  “I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun”.  We don’t figure it out.  God reveals it to us.  He enables us to have wisdom.  My definition of wisdom is ‘seeing things through God’s eyes with God’s perspective’.  It is the ability to see things God’s way.

We go on to learn that man is not immortal physically. Here is the newsflash.  Every one of us will die.  There is no other outcome.  Life is short, it will end, and we need to prepare for it before it happens.  “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death”.  So many people believe they will have another day, so they put off preparation.  That is so foolish and the opposite of wisdom.  The truth is that we will be dying before we are likely ready or expecting it.  Death comes on its timeline, not ours.  And the only response we should have is to be prepared.

Preparation happens in multiple ways.  We first need to get right with God so we are ready for the time we stand before Him to determine our eternity.  Death ends our physical life, but not our spiritual one.  In fact, we move from the physical realm to the eternal spiritual place.  The determining factor is what we have done with our sin.  And that boils down to what we have done with Jesus.  He alone is the solution for sin.  He alone can set us free from the punishment of sin, which is eternal separation from God.  We also need to have prepared our legacy plan and set up what will continue after we are gone.  That consists of getting things ready for life after we are dead.  We can’t do it after the fact.  It can only be prepared ahead.

The author reminds us of the impact of sin.  “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked”.  Sin is what wickedness really is.  Sin is missing God’s mark, falling short of His requirements.  We all sin.  Scripture is clear about that.  So the bottom line is that “it will not be well” for us.  We will be spending eternity away from God if we don’t deal with it.  Sin is an eternal problem that can only be solved with an eternal solution.  Jesus is the solution.  His love which led to death on the cross provides us grace that can set us free.  Have you received that gift of salvation?  If not, today can be the day!

Ecclesiastes 7

Ecclesiastes 7 gives us some wisdom.  “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools”.  The writer reminds us that honest interaction is the best way to relate.  We often don’t want to hear the truth, but being praised and hearing the song of fools is not really good.  The better way to relate is to speak the truth in love, even when it is hard.  Rebuke is never fun, but often so important and powerful in the life of the one who receives it if delivered well.  Of course the purpose of rebuke is not to be better than another, but to speak truth and help shape another into God’s ways.

The writer goes on to talk about a subject I wrestle with, patience.  “The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit”.  Are you a patient person?  Patience is a willingness to wait.  Often it means to wait on God’s timing, which is difficult.  We often want to believe that patience is a sign of weakness.  But it isn’t, rather it is a sign of true strength.  We tend to idolize the proud in spirit who seem self-confident and want to be noticed as such.  But pride is often the thing that comes before the fall, and we see here that what the world often says is more, is actually less.  Patience is the character quality we need to seek.

For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it”.  Wisdom is such a precious gift.  We need to realize that it is valuable and worth pursuing and protecting.  Wisdom and knowledge preserves life. It is a very important thing to gain and protect.  It is a gift that we should cherish and hang on to tightly.

The writer also reminds us that none of us is good enough to make it ourselves.  “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins”.  Everyone is a sinner.  Not most of us – all of us sin.  Scripture tells us here and in other places that there is NOT anyone who is righteous.  We cannot live a life that is that perfect.  Sin is unfortunately something we are all guilty of.  We fail, and fall, and sin.  It is the reality of the world we live in and the life we live.  That is why Jesus is so important.  He is the only way to deal with our sin problem.  What have you done with Jesus?

Ecclesiastes 6

Ecclesiastes 6 gives us some pearls of wisdom we can build upon.  The writer continues his clarity around vanity in living – how we focus on the wrong htings that don’t make us fulfilled and satisfied.  He reminds us again that stuff is not the answer.  Look at the “man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity”.  Stuff won’t fulfill us.  Money is not the answer, no matter how much we acquire.  You don’t have to look far to find that the wealthy are often the most unhappy people of all.  It is not the key, and turns quickly to be vanity.

He continues and tells us that family is not the answer either.  He really exaggerates the fact by talking about a “man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things”.  Don’t mistake what is being said here.  Family matters and is a blessing.  But family alone does not fulfill, no matter how big it becomes.  A hundred kids is a bunch, but that won’t fill the God sized hole inside of us, even with all that love coming our way.  Only God can fill the hole in our hearts.  Anything else will not suffice.

He continues to illustrate it another way by saying “Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good”.  Time isn’t the answer either.  Living a thousand years is a long time, but that alone does not meet the deep needs in our life.  We have to find satisfaction in the Creator of time, not in the moment no matter how long it lasts.  He goes on to remind us that life goes quickly.  It is like a shadow.  It does not last forever.  And we never know when it will cease to be ours.  “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow”?  We can only experience God’s plan for our life by lining up with His plan.

We can get sidetracked by our personal desires and chase things that really won’t satisfy.  “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite”.  We need to get focused on what God is doing and has told us will work.  It isn’t in wandering that we will find joy, but rather in walking in His ways and following His plan.  That is the power of knowing what He has given us as a path through His Word.  Are you in the Word finding the sight needed to walk with Him?  He has given us the map.  We just need to read and follow it!

Ecclesiastes 5

Ecclesiastes 5 has some solid instruction and wisdom.  It begins with these three very simple yet important words.  “Guard your steps”.  The context here continues to tell us to guard our steps when we go to God’s house, but the reality is that we need to guard our steps all the time.  How we live matters.  There are consequences to our choices, whether it is in our foolishness in how we enter God’s house, or how we live the daily routine of life.  We need to wake up and realize that what we do matters.

The first example is how we speak.  Words matter too.  “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God….therefore let your words be few”.  Let’s face it.  Most of us a pretty loose with our mouths.  We let words fly without thinking about their impact or consequences.  We need to learn to think first and then speak.  We need to be quiet until we have considered the words we will speak. “Let not your mouth lead you into sin”. That is never more true than when we are talking with God.

Why?  Because God hears our words.  And that is particularly true when we give a vow to God.  “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow”.  God expects us to do what we say.  And it needs to be done without delay.  Obedience is the requirement.  There is no room for anything less.

The other main lesson here is that money is not the answer.  “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income”.  Our needs will never be satisfied by money or stuff.  It will not satisfy the deepest needs we have.  God does provide all we have.  He is the source of every good thing we have, including our money and wealth.  “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God”.  It is a gift from God.  We might fool ourselves into believing we do something to generate wealth, but truth be known, it all comes from God and is His.  We are just entrusted with it.  To God be the glory!

Ecclesiastes 4

Ecclesiastes 4 talks about the reality of life.  It isn’t always a happy thing.  Life happens, and sometimes it just stinks.  There is oppression and death and evil and toil.  There is envy and foolishness. It can be “vanity and a striving after wind”.  Have you ever tried to catch the wind?  You can tell where it is coming from, but you can’t grab it.  You can’t see it or catch it.  It blows around and through and over and under.  It does what it wishes and while we can try to change it, we can’t stop it.  We can’t bottle it up and contain it.  Life is like that.  It happens.  We can direct it somewhat, but we can’t stop it.  Life happens.  It is the way it is.

This chapter contains a very famous truth.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up”!  There is power in two.  This is often applied to marriage, and while it certainly fits there, it also applies in every relationship.  God designed us to be part of community and relationships.  We were not created to live a solo life.  We are part of His body and Kingdom.  We are part of something bigger than ourself.  That is true in every relationship we are in.

He goes on to reinforce it this way.  “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone”?  Have you ever experienced the power of heat that happens when you lie close to someone else.  The multiplier effect of more than one body is significant if you are trying to keep warm.  We see it in the animal world when they huddle together.  But two can generate more heat because it does not dissipate so quickly.  It is a powerful principle and truth.

And as if two illustrations were not enough to drive home the point, the writer gives us yet another.  “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken”.  There is strength when two of us are bound together.  This may be a better illustration of marriage.  Three strands can signify husband, wife and God.  The triple power of that relationship can withstand almost anything if it is bound tightly.  The enemy often comes after one – husband or wife – and tries to isolate them and destroy the marriage that way.  We need to remember the illustration of the cord and the power that comes from being bound tightly, particularly with God.  The writer also reminds us of the folly and foolishness of one “who no longer knew how to take advice”.  There is power in the counsel of others as well.  We are not meant to live this life alone.  There is power in two!

Ecclesiastes 3

Ecclesiastes 3 begins with some very well known words: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”.  The writer reminds us that God has a time for all things ordained in His creation.  He has put the world in place the way He has, and created order and nature in very specific ways.  God is in control.  He has a plan.  And it all fits together in that plan as He has created it.  There is a list of contrasts that show the truth of His plan – that there is a time and season for each of these things:

Verse Item Contrast
2 a time to be born a time to die
2 a time to plant a time to pluck up what is planted
3 a time to kill a time to heal
3 a time to break down a time to build up
4 a time to weep a time to laugh
4 a time to mourn a time to dance
5 a time to cast away stones a time to gather stones together
5 a time to embrace a time to refrain from embracing
6 a time to seek a time to lose
6 a time to keep a time to cast away
7 a time to tear a time to sew
7 a time to keep silence a time to speak
8 a time to love a time to hate
8 a time for war a time for peace

Quite a list of contrasts isn’t it?  The writer gives us a full picture of the extremes in life.  He contrasts the good and the bad and tells us that in God’s economy and plan – there is a time for all of it.  God created His world that way.  “He has made everything beautiful in its time”.  Even things that are considered bad, can be beautiful in God’s timing.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  And there are no surprises to Him.  God has created us in His image.  “He has put eternity into man’s heart”.  We’re created in His image with an eternal future.  How we live in regard to dealing with our sin problem will determin where we spend that eternity – but there is no doubt that we all will have eternal life.  “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work”.  How we live matters.  It will determine our eternal destiny.

So what is The writer’s analysis of how we should respond to these truths – that there is a time for all things under God? He shares a couple things for us to consider:

  1.  “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man”.
  2. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it”.

Let’s face it.  The writer’s view here is that God is the author and controller of all.  And man’s response should be to enjoy what God has created and live well.

He goes on to say it another way.  “God has done it….that which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been”.  The reality is that we spend far too much of our lives trying to change what God has already done and ordained.  He wrote the story.  He created it all, and has a plan that will be accomplished.  We can spend life trying to change it, or we can embrace what God has created and planned and join Him.  Life is about how we line up with God’s plan.  “God is testing them”.  That is the reality.  Life is a test and there will be a final exam.  The questions will be few, but so very important:

  1. What did you do with Jesus?  Did you receive Him as Savior and Lord to pay the price of sin and to cover you with grace?
  2. What did you do with all that I entrusted to you in your life?  Did you take what I gave you and use it to serve people?

We can get all consumed with trying to make things the way we want them.  Truth is, we don’t have that much clout.  God determines what happens and in what season. We’d be a lot better off if we recognized the truth that the write shares with us.  “I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot”.  Our best response is to realize God is in control, and rejoice that He allows us to be part of His story.  We are here by His grace and mercy.  He doesn’t owe us anything.  He isn’t at our command.  The sooner we get our place figured out, the sooner we can enjoy our very special part in His story!

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