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Bursting the Bubble of Wealth

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that i must leave it to the man who will come after me.”  -Ecc 2:18

Wealth is an amazing thing.  I was blessed to grow up in a home that while not “wealthy” certainly provided me with a life of ease.  I didn’t have to work to put food on the table, my parents didn’t take my birthday money for gas money, and I always had presents under the tree at Christmas.  I lived a blessed life.

However, there are those who had much more money than I.  Families and people who could have bought and sold all that I had twenty times over and never made a dent in there money.  This also is a blessing.  How then can Solomon find any fault or struggle in the gaining of money and wealth?

Solomon, who was one of the richest men who ever lived, says that even the accumulation of wealth is ultimately vanity and striving after the wind.  He uses these three points to show how living a life that is about money and wealth is a life empty of any reason to live.

  1.  Ultimately we don’t get to Keep It

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that i must leave it to the man who will come after me.” -Ecc 2:18

Solomon begins by simply recognizing the inevitability of his own demise.  Solomon knows he will die.  Sooner or later his life is going to come to an end and everything he has ever owned will pass on to his relations.  He will no longer own any of his stuff and he will have no say over how it is spent. Solomon will have worked his whole life only to give his money to those who didn’t earn it.

Ultimately that is what will happen to all of our wealth.  We can only enjoy it while we are here on this earth.  We can use it for good or evil.  We can use it all or nothing.  The only thing we can’t do is take it with us. 

2.    Ultimately we cannot Protect It

“and who knows  whether he will be wise or a fool?  Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun.” -Ecc 2:19

Solomon not only recognizes that one day he will die, but also that when he goes his idiot kids are gonna get everything.  Solomon realized there is no way to be sure that his kids spend his money well.

There is a difference that has been pointed out between being wealthy and being rich.  I can never remember which is which, but the basics are “a wealthy person made there money,  a rich person inherits it”.  Our world is filled with examples of people who ran into this problem. A hard working father/mother builds up a fortune only to see there children with no morals or work ethic tear that fortune down.

Solomon points out to us in these verses the futility of living for money.  Even if you were to get all you could hope, and are ok with passing it on when you die.  You do not get to decide what is done with it once you are gone.  Whoever gets your stuff gets to decide how to use your money.

3.    Ultimately we cannot Enjoy It.

” What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?  For all his days are full of sorrow…”  Ecc 2:22-23a

Solomon continues as he points out one simple truth that we all understand even if we don’t say.  The more wealth you have, the more worry of loosing wealth.  Solomon acknowledges that all his work and toil to attain such wealth has caused his heart nothing but “sorrow and vexation”.  When you work for wealth you heart is never satisfied.

The sad truth of wealth is that no person if they set wealth and riches as there goal ever said “now I have enough“.  They continue to work and worry and snuggle to get more and more always believing that the next hundred or next thousand will satisfy. Solomon is trying to show us early in life that the only thing that satisfies our desires is Christ/God.

“For apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases Him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. ” Ecc 2:25-26

In the last few posts we have talked about Solomon’s frustrations with life.  We have “burst the bubble” of many vanity that plague the human race.  However the ultimate point is summed up in these last two verse.  All pleasure and joy and good things are given to those who strive after Him.  To those who are not believer he has given the ultimately futile task of gathering and collecting.  I pray that anyone reading this finds there satisfaction in God, and not look for it in the business of collecting.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2016 in Ecclesiastes, Uncategorized

 

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Bursting the Bubble of Pleasure

“‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold this also was vanity”  Ecclesiastes 2:1

As I work on this lesson I find myself realizing that this is the stage of life, as Solomon describes them that I find myself.  I am enraptured with pleasure.  Good friends, good food, and good fun are the places where I find joy.  So it is with a heavy heart that I must write that these things fun and enjoyable as they may be cannot bring lasting or ultimate pleasure!

Solomon continues his discussion of useless things here in chapter two of Ecclesiastes by bursting the soap bubble of pleasure.  He comes to it as a man just off a night of self reflection, and begins to discuss the parts of his life where pleasure and achievement were everything to him.  

It is in this discussion of his life of pleasure that Solomon makes note of two things that are important to understand about pleasure and achievement.

  1.  Pleasure is Good, but Too Much is Sorrow

“Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”               Prov. 14:13

Pleasure is a gift of God!  There can be no denying this fact.  For some reason back in the middle ages and even before people got a view of God as this heavenly school teacher who was just there to wag a finger and take away all the fun.  At one point a child even using his imagination was considered a sin, but this is not the God we see pointed to in our bible.

The God we see in the bible is a God who led his people to a land of pleasure flowing with “milk and honey”.  A God who threw feast and party for every little event in the lives of the Jewish people.  Even James in the new testament says “every good and perfect gift is from above”

There is a down side to pleasure though, this comes in the law of diminishing returns.  The essence of this law is that the more you do something the less pleasure you will get.  This means that to get the same amount of pleasure you will have to increase your activity.  We see this most acutely in drug addiction.  At first one hit of whatever drug you use will get you high, but as you continue using you need more and more of that drug to get the same high.

The Law of Diminishing returns holds true weather you pleasure is gained from drugs, sex, gambling, video games, or any other pleasurable activity.  If all you are gaining is pleasure than it will eventually turn sour and sorrowful.

2.   Achievement is Good, but Cannot Bring Happiness

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.”  -Ecc 2:7

Solomon was, as has been said before, one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Due to his wisdom he was also one of the greatest kings both Israel and the world had ever seen.  Solomon outlines some of his greatest achievements here in this chapter.  He achieved more than any other king of Israel and yet he still found no lasting joy in his achievements.

No one can say that being productive and having great works and achievements is a bad thing.  The Bible has plenty to say on those who are lazy and slothful, but achievement can have its own dangers.

Achievement for achievement sake, however, lends itself to becoming an escape to the rest of life.  Those who become “workaholics” fall to the same vanity and uselessness that we discussed about pleasure.  Eventually the law of diminishing returns causes you to need more and more; and bigger and bigger achievements.

However, Achievements also has its own unique struggle and that is the struggle of becoming a god to yourself.  When your good works, and your achievements become so  important that God becomes a secondary character in your life.  You begin to elevate your own interests above the interests of others.  The ultimate end of this struggle comes as you get to the end of your life and there are no more achievements to be gained.  Then you become useless, and your god is no more.

Solomon looked on pleasure and achievement and pronounced judgement.  Without God they are useless and vain pursuits.

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Ecclesiastes

 

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Bursting the Bubble of Wisdom

“And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven” Ecc 1:13a

Before i begin to describe what Solomon has to say on the subject of wisdom and its uselessness, I feel i should take at least a second to explain the title of my blog.  In studying the book of Ecclesiastes I was struck by a description of vanity that was given by Waren Wiersbe:

“It is whatever is left when you pop a soap bubble.”

So as we look into the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes we should be looking for those things that remain after Solomon bursts a few soap bubbles.

Solomon started out his final book on wisdom describing the monotonous way that life seems to progress.  Nothing new happens and everything just cycles back to where it came from only to cycle back there again.  It is strikingly similar to how many eastern religions view life!

On the surface you can see where these religions might get this idea, Solomon lays it out clearly for us.  All of life that we can see is cycles, so why not believe that our lives are just on a cycle as well.  What use is being good, or moral, or kind if we are just the latest cycle of a never ending pattern?

It is these traps of wisdom that Solomon describes as first catching his mind.  In these very verses he changes from historian to philosopher as he applies all his wisdom and learning to the problems of life.  Solomon then comes up with three basic principles that he sees in life.

1. Life is hard, but ultimately from God

“I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.”

Solomon found that ultimately life is a gift from God as is work, but that does not mean that life is in any way easy.  Since the fall of man the work that God gave us has been cursed to be hard (Gen 3:14).  The gift of God was corrupted and what was meant to be a joy and a purpose has turned into a chore.  However we are still called by God to work and to find joy in him as we do the work that he has given to us.

2. Life once lived cannot be changed

“What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.”

Solomon was using his wisdom not only, to look at what life was about now, but also to  examine his past life.  He uses this proverb to illustrate the point that to try and spend our days making the past where we messed up look strait is just “vanity and striving after the wind.”  There is only one who can make our lives clean and that is God.  Solomon ultimate statement here is that you can spend your whole life trying to make up for what you did, but it won’t change anything.  Instead we should live our lives for Christ who has forgiven our pasts and made purposeful our future.

3. Life’s problems cannot always be solved

“And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.  I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.”

Solomon uses his last moments talking about wisdom to make clear that he was the smarted and most knowledgeable man that had ever lived at his time and the one thing he figured out was that he would never have it figured out.  You could search for answers till you are blue in the face and still never find them because they are questions that will not be answered this side of heaven.

Solomon, in fact, figured out what philosophers years after him would describe this way:  “Ignorance is bliss”  He figured out the dirty secret that the more you know the more you understand that you don’t know anything.  The smarter we get the more we realize its all useless because we can never truly have all the answers.  That is why Solomon ends this chapter with this simple statement:

“For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Ecclesiastes, Uncategorized

 

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Working and Waiting Without Complaint

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”  – Matt 24:36

…………………………………………………………………………….Waiting is the worst!

Whether it is waiting for a sentence to begin or waiting for the next season of your favorite show to come out, it is universally excepted that the waiting is the worst part!  It has only gotten worse in our culture of now.

Waiting touches us all as christians in one of our weakest areas, the area of patience.  We like to believe that we have patience, after all we wait for things all the time, but if we were honest with ourselves we would see that the only time we truly practice patience is when we have no other choice.

Is it any wonder then that James calls us to patience in the waiting of our Lords return!

“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”  – Matt 24:37-39

Matthew makes clear in his gospel that no one knows the day or the hour that Christ will return to gather up those who follow Him.  He also makes clear that just like when Noah was on the earth Christ’s return will be at the time when we are not expecting it and are just going about our normal lives.

Matthew goes on to say that in many places there will be two working and one will be taken and another left behind. (Matt 24:40-42) He warns us to stay awake and alert for the coming of the Lord.

“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Finally Matthew uses the analogy of a thief coming in the night to tell us to stay alert and be ready because the Lord will return at the hour we least expect.  These verses in Matthew serve to prepare our minds for what James calls us to later on, a call to patience in our suffering on this earth.

James tells us three things that we should know if we are to wait for our Lord the way that he and Matthew call us to do.

1.  Wait As A Farmer Waits

“…See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.”  – James 5:7b

A farmer is one of the best examples of patience we have in our world today.  He literally spends an entire year waiting for his crops to grow, waiting for rain, and waiting for the harvest.  Is it any wonder then that James calls us first to wait like a farmer waits.

A farmer though he is waiting is also very active in his waiting.  He does not just sit on the porch and look at the field and hope for growth, but instead goes out and tends to those fields, nurturing and caring until the time of harvest.  This is what we are called to do as well, we are called to be active in our world for the Gospel to be nurturing and caring for this world and its people until the time of harvest.

2.  Wait Without Complaint

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged;  behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  – James 5:9

How many of us when asked by our parents, boss, or authority figure to do a task do it with absolutely no complaint.  If we all answered zero we would be very close to correct.  Most of us if asked to do something that is not what we want to do in that moment will grumble and complain like we were asked to kill our best friend.

James and ultimately God is calling us in these verses to wait on his coming working in the fields (see point 1), and to do so without grumbling or complaining.  He is calling us to a life of following Him knowing that Christ’s return could be any day.

With this call to a life without grumbling is a warning that the one who will judge us is just outside the door.  The image is that of an authority figure who you are grumbling about being just on the other side of the door hearing every word.  It is a vivid reminder that our Lord is near at all times.

3.  Wait As The Prophets

“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  James – 5:11

The prophets we an amazing group of men.  Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elisha, Elijah, and Isaiah all count themselves among this group of amazing men.  What then is it that James is calling us to follow about these men?

Is it there passion?  Or perhaps is it there strength?

No!  James is calling us to follow there steadfastness, and faith.

Now in language steadfastness means much the same thing as patience, however the evoking image of steadfastness is being immovable even in the midst of a driving force.  See all of the prophets were calling forward to a time that was coming, constantly saying that what they were prophesying was near at hand.  However, very few of them lived to see all of there prophesies come to pass.

This is what James is calling us to!  Calling us to be the workers in the field active in planting and nurturing the harvest, to do so without complaint or grumbling, and to be steadfast in our work even if the end is not in our time.  He calls us to this because as James says “the coming of the Lord is at hand”

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Why, Why, Why?

Why, Why, Why?  The single most annoying question to infect the ears of a parent, teacher, or pastor.  This question is a never-ending circle of cause and effect that if brought to its final conclusion can end up at the creation of the world every time!*

James, however takes this question in three different routes to answer three specific questions as to why we as a people fall into the trap of Worldliness.

Question 1:  Why do we fight among ourselves?

If you have lived in this world longer than a few minutes you already know that arguments and quarrels are something we cannot seem to shake.  Every day seems like another fight and another time when “they” are wrong and “we” are right.

The church is not immune to this problem.  Even in the time of James there was fighting and strife inside the people of God.  As James, with the direction of the spirit of God, attempts to address this issue he uses a culprit that has already appeared in his book as the cause of all our sin….Our Own Fleshly Desires.

In James 1:12-15 he spells out how our base desires are what tempt us into sin and cause us to seek after other things.  By that same note James here in chapter 4 says that it is the fight between our old and new flesh that causes arguments and quarrels.

“You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.”  James 4:2

James says that we desire things in our life both fleshly and spiritual and we cannot obtain them so we murder, steal, and fight.  However he leaves us with what is the base problem “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

Question 2:  Why are my prayers not answered?

So all of our quarrels can be summed up in that we do not have the things we desire, and we do not have the things we desire because we do not ask!  It seems so simple all we have to do is ask God and he will give it to us!

Again if you have been involved in Christianity for any length of time you have run up against the statement, “God did not answer my prayer”.  Putting aside the fact that “no” is just as much an answer as “yes”,  we encounter the problem that not everything we as Christians have prayed for has come to pass.

James once again has the answer.

“You as and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”     James 4:3

So the reason that we do not see prayers being answered is because like the people of James’ day we are praying wrongly.  We do not see health and wealth pouring from the sky precisely because we are praying for health and wealth.

You may ask then, “How should I pray?”

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'”  Matthew 6:9-13

The Lord’s Prayer, as it has come to be know gives us a great instruction on how we should set up our prayers.

1. Adoration of God The Father

2. Request for the will of The Father

3. Request for what we need to do The Fathers work.

4. Forgiveness for when we have disobeyed The Fathers words.

Question 3:  Why can’t I have it all?

We are by our very nature an adulterous people.  Every good thing that God has done for us and we still try and find ways to sneak the world into our lives.  It is from that lack of commitment that this final question spawns.  “Why can’t I have both the world and God?”

James again in answering these three questions lays out the answer to us beautiful in his letter to the people.

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”   James 4:4

Anyone who has been married can tell you that its not as easy as it looks from the outside.  As a man I can attest that the other women do not get uglier just because I am married (like I thought they might) nor do my thoughts get easier to manage.  Rather, I now focus my mind on my wife so that she is my every thought.

This is how James speaks about our relationship with God.  The world and all it offers us does not get less appealing just because we give our lives to Christ.  Rather, we are called to focus on God above all the things of this world.

Just like a marriage, James says that our relationship with God is one of a singular nature.  I cannot expect to flirt with other women and not have my wife be mad at me. Likewise, we as a Church cannot have friendship with the world and still be a bondservant to Christ.  We must be committed wholly to Him.

In answer to the question Why, Why, Why, James simply replys…Love God, Seek His Will, and Ask in His Name.

*(ex.. Why does a grasshopper hop – cause it has legs – why does it have legs – cause God made it that way – Why did God make it that way? – Cause he created the world, now be quiet and go to bed!)

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Count The Cost And Come

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28

Ten years minimum is how long Naomi had spent in the far country of Moab.  Ten years that from what we know had brought her nothing but heartbreak and misery. She has spent enough time away from God to know what it means to be under his favor. So it should be no surprise that when Naomi hears in the fields of Moab that the LORD has returned to his people and they have food again, she wastes no time delaying but sets out for home.

It must have been a strange sight for anyone that day to see three women hauling all the possessions they had in the world down the road that led out of Moab.  Even stranger when, for what to passers by must have seemed like for no reason, these three women stop moving completely and have a “sob fest” right in the middle of the road.  As a man I can tell you I would have just felt absolutely awkward even walking near a group of crying women.  Why are they so sad? Why are they in the middle of the road? How do i keep from making this more awkward? All these and more would have been questions going through my mind.  Yet what happened in that road is probably one of the most profound moments in the Book of Ruth (a book just jammed with profound moments.)

Naomi doesn’t want to be a burden. Like so many people, older people especially, she just wants to finish out her life with a little dignity.  She doesn’t want to drag these young ladies down with her to a situation that they were in some ways obligated to follow.  Naomi decides to give them an out. If you have ever seen, Harry and the Hendersons, you will know the situation well.  Naomi knows how hard it is to join another culture first hand, and so she is throwing all the facts at these women she can to get them to run away, “for there own good.”

There is allot you can unpack from this segment of scripture, but one I want to focus on is this, Naomi is telling these girls to count the cost of giving up everything, and at the same time telling them what they will have to endure.  To come with her means conversion to Jewish tradition, laws, and religion.  There is an undeniable cost to that situation.  How often are we then this honest with people about the cost of following Christ.  Christ himself was very clear that it was a hard road.  Do we tell people what to expect and what will be expected, or do we try to hide the details until we think they are ready?  What is amazing is that as Naomi describes the struggles we see the very two reactions that come from honesty about the cost of A life with Christ.

Orpah (The Realistic World)  Orpah gives us a picture of, if the scripture is to be believed, is the majority of our worlds response to the Gospel.  She is in no way an evil person she loves Naomi, weeps over her leaving, and kisses her goodby in a genuine way.  Orpah’s problem is the same as many of our friends in the world they may “believe” in God and even think his way of life is best, but when the cost is laid out for them they find that they love there life in the world much more than they love God.  If only they didn’t have to give up their pleasure, their power, or there free will to follow Christ.  If only the cost was not so high.  Instead they leave like the rich young ruler,  “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Mark 10:17-27

Ruth (The Blessed Believers)  Ruth is the beautiful opposite to Orpah.  Orpah took the easy way out and went home.  Ruth throughs all her previous life at Naomi’s feet and tells her that all she ever was or had know was now her past and her future is all with Naomi.  What Ruth did was brave, and also scandalous.  Just like that we as believers were once presented with the truth and had to count the cost.  It was laid out in Mat 10, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  To follow Jesus is to abandon anything we once had and any family who does not believe and take up our cross and follow Him.

That is it then as we go through our lives we have been presented with an honest choice, and are obligated to give others the same honesty.  Go back to the world and live in peace till judgement, or take up your cross and follow Christ.  The second is infinitely harder, but also infinitely better.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2015 in Ruth, Through the Bible

 

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