Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Race Is Not To The Swift

I apologize for my delay in updating the blog. If you've been following along, you know that we are scheduled to talk about Ecclesiastes chapter 8 today. Because I'm already a week behind, I'm going to do a quick wrap-up on chapters 8 & 9 in hopes that I can finish on schedule. Chapter 8 has a few major themes. First, there is a discussion about how to interact with those to whom you answer. Paul reminds us in Romans that the "powers that be" are ordained of God. That doesn't mean that God approves of or sanctions the actions of governmental rulers, but it does mean that He is an advocate of order and justice. Solomon reminds us that there are some who rule over others to their own hurt (Ecc 8:9). The bottom line is this- we all answer to someone. We should respect those in authority over us and we should also be kind to those we are supposed to be leading. We all ultimately answer to the Highest authority. Paul says that one day "every knee will bow" and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The remainder of chapter 8 describes conditions of inequality and unfairness that exist in this present age. We have all lamented the fact that bad things happen to good people. And good things happen to bad people. But Solomon's advice is not to dwell on these things. Many are not in relationship with God because they are angry over the injustice and inequality that exists in this world. The bible makes no denial against this claim. As a matter of fact, the scriptures are filled with examples of "bad things" happening to "good people" (the relative goodness of any of us is possibly suspect since Paul says "there is none not one" in the book of Romans). Solomon's advice is to enjoy the life that God has given you (Ecc 8:15). Of course, Solomon desired to understand the mysteries of life and so he applied himself to "know wisdom" (verse 16). But in the end, he was content with the answer that there are some things that only God understands. And we would do well to take his advice regarding matters that we absolutely cannot make sense of.

Chapter 9 begins with a strong statement of the sovereignty of God. The Preacher says that our lives are in "the hand of God". This is both a comfort, and at the same time, a source of struggle for us. Struggle, I say, because there are times that we wish God would immediately intervene and remove our suffering or eradicate injustice. But as Solomon will explain, there are things that happen in life because people are at the right place at the right time. First, he laments that one event happens to everyone- good, bad, religious, agnostic, devoted or lazy. And that event is death. If there is one recurring theme in Ecclesiastes, it is the brevity of human life. James compares it to a vapor. Solomon frequently refers to it as a shadow. The wicked of this world are attempting to experience all of their joy in this present world. This attitude stems from a belief that this life is all there is.

Now if I can paraphrase verses 7-10 in chapter 9 it would be "take time to stop and smell the roses". There is an unfortunate and erroneous perception that many have regarding the nature of God. Some view Him as merely some far-removed deity who seeks to make men miserable. We get some clue about the nature of God from Jesus however. His decree on earth was that He had come to give life, and give it more abundantly (John 10:10b). Obviously Solomon understood this before the New Testament had even been penned. And so his instructions are to be happy, enjoy your food, enjoy your family, wear your nice clothes and good-smelling fragrances. And above all, be thankful because this is the portion that God has assigned to you. These simple things that bring us pleasure, are actually God's design for us. He doesn't want us simply to endure life- but to enjoy it!

He then describes something that we have all observed time and time again. The race is not to the swift. Sometimes the smartest guys don't make the most money. Sometimes the best team doesn't win on a given day. Sometimes people are simply the beneficiaries of being at the right place at the right time. Perhaps many of us have had the unfortunate experience of being passed over for something we felt deserving of. And maybe someone else got the very thing we desired because they had a relationship with the person with power to promote. And to top it all off, trouble seldom comes with adequate warning or notice. Solomon says that man "does not know his time" (vs 12). Just as an unsuspecting fish gets hooked or a bird gets snared in a net, so it is with us. Trials often come when we least expect them.

Next, Solomon inserts a parable about wisdom. He recounts a story of a poor wise man who (through his wisdom) was able to defend his little city with few people against a powerful king with a great army. When all was said and done, no one commended the poor man for his wisdom. Instead, his good deed was soon forgotten, and his wisdom unappreciated. So it is with us today. Godly wisdom is often scorned, while the "counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1) is praised. But regardless of how men fail to appreciate and perceive the value of wisdom, God (and Solomon) still champions the virtue and superiority of wisdom over might. On a rather somber note, the chapter ends with this truism: "one sinner destroys much good." It has been said that we should never underestimate the power of an individual. It's true- one man can do tremendous good. Some of the greatest leaders of mankind have had to stand when no one else was willing to stand with them. But the same is true of evil. You have probably heard an expression like "one bad apple..." or perhaps the scriptural phrase "a little leaven leavens the whole lump".

We are coming to the conclusion of our study, but I thank you for taking the time to read and study along with us. I look forward to sharing again with you soon!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Longing for the good old days?

Ecclesiastes 7:10 Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise. (NLT)

Chapter 7 in Ecclesiastes is pretty long. It reads a lot like a chapter in the book of proverbs; filled with practical and eternal wisdom. I'm afraid that I could get really mired in a total summary of the chapter so I'm going to choose some select passages to apply today. The beginning of the chapter sets the tone for the rest of it. A "good name" is more valuable than anything else in life (vs 1). The following verses contrast the man with eternity on his mind and the man with partying on his mind. There is a time for celebration. Solomon had already said in chapter 3 that there is a time and a season for everything- including dancing and celebration. But here, he describes the man whose chief aim is to make life a big party. His waking hours are spent looking forward to the next one. The man with eternity on his mind however is likened to the man "in the house of mourning"(vs.4). Solomon doesn't mean that wise men just love to go to funerals. But the lesson here is that wise men are thinking about their mortality and where they will go in the days when life is over. We all have an appointment with death (Heb 9:27).

Solomon then gives some good advice about friendship and attitudes. Don't hang around with people who simply flatter you all the time. It's good to have some friends with wisdom who will tell you the truth even when it hurts. And don't be consumed with anger, because anger "lodges in the bosom of fools" (vs 9). The book of Proverbs also warns us not to choose people with angry dispositions as friends (Prov 22:24). Yes, we are all guilty of losing our tempers on occasion, but the point here is that some people are constantly angry (thus the phrase "lodges" in the bosom of fools- anger doesn't simply visit this man- it LIVES with him).

Then the Preacher instructs us not to long for the "good old days". I've already mentioned the "Egyptian Fever" that plagued the Israelites that God delivered from Pharaoh, so I won't revisit that story here. But many of us cannot embrace what God is doing in our lives in the present, because we are so preoccupied with the way things used to be. In verse 13, Solomon says "consider the work of God". We can't be obsessed with the past because God is doing something in our lives in the present- even if we can't appreciate it. Someone once told me (and they were probably quoting some other great theologian) "God is always at work redemptively in our lives- especially when we don't feel it". Lives are riddled with frustration because we are trying to "make straight what God has made crooked" (vs 13b). Sometimes (not always of course) the source of our frustration can be traced back to the fact that we do not consider or appreciate what God is doing. This is a lesson much easier for us to discuss than do though isn't it? Agreed.

Eccl 7:14
14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. (NIV)

I think we ought to celebrate our victories. I love to acknowledge when good things happen. And I love to hear when someone else receives a breakthrough. One of the reasons I believe we should celebrate these times is because they don't last forever (despite what some false teachers would have you believe). In fact, God has ordained that we also have times that are not so pleasant. If your theology is such that you believe God is only at work in your life when everything is going great, you will become disillusioned when trouble arises. The LORD meant what He said when He promised to never leave us nor forsake us. That includes even the most difficult of times and circumstances.

Now I want to take a moment and appreciate some of the humor in the bible. I do find humor there- whether it's intentional or completely unintentional- look at Solomon's advice:

Eccl 7:21-22
21 Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you--22 for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others. (NIV)

Someone once told me- the person who will gossip to you will also gossip about you. But perhaps the focus of Solomon here is not to pay too much attention to what people are saying about you. Regardless of how good you are (whether in theory or in actuality), you are going to have some critics. And rest assured, if you are really striving to accomplish something- someone is either going to envy you or criticize's just part of the human experience. But Solomon gives us what I think is a humorous dose of reality- there have been times when every one of us have been critical of someone else.

Ecc 7:29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. (KJV)

It's unfortunate but the Creator receives much blame for things that He had nothing to do with. The Garden of Eden is a picture of God's design and desire for humanity. The suffering, injustice, and tragedy that is all too common to the human experience actually has its origins with mankind- not God.

Rom 5:12
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- (NIV)

Sin entered the world through man. And death (and all of things that accompany death- sorrow, sickness, tragedy, violence, malevolence, etc.) came on the heels of sin. Paul reminds us not to be too hard on Adam because "all sinned"- yes that means you and me!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter!

Mat 28:6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (KJV)

I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a wonderful and glorious Easter Sunday! I'm about to preach a sermon entitled "Resurrection" at my home church (Liberty Worship Center). I'll attempt to get the audio of the service online sometime soon.

Jesus is Alive!!!