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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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Under Pressure…(bum bum bum ba-dum bada bum bum)

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself”    – 2 Cor 1:8

Its funny, how many things in this world can be both good and bad for us depending on the context. Fire can bring heat and also burn buildings, water can bring floods but also sustain life, and spiders kill mosquitoes but also are scary (and of the devil), but the most intriguing of these dualitys is pressure!

Pressure is one of the greatest things that are involved in our lives.  With enough pressure and time (and coal) you can get diamonds. With correct pressure and students you can get leaders.  However, even though pressure can make great things it can also (as a recent event in my life can attest) be a crushing unbearable burden.

Pressure, in Christ, can come in many forms.  It comes in wise council and instruction, in discipline and punishment, in encouragement and fellowship, and in faith and prayer. However, like most things there is a very fine line between too little and too much. There is a fine line between just the right amount of council and not enough, between discipline and encouragement, and between safety and faith.

How do we appropriately apply pressure?

1.  Pressure is Best Applied Differently

“Even in my short ministry life I have learned that what will turn one person into a diamond will crush another into dust.  There was a old preacher who said ‘good leaders play checkers…great leaders play chess’.  The idea is that everyone in this life needs pressure in different ways and when you learn to “play” everyone according to there needs you are approaching great leadership.”

2.  Pressure is Best Applied Evenly

“Diamonds, as we all know, are made over long periods of time due to constant and even pressure.  Likewise, when we put pressure on others ,even in Christ, we need to apply that pressure evenly over time.  In fact going from no pressure to massive pressure is like taking a red hot skillet from a red hot stove to a cold water tub…much more likely to crack than clean.”

3.  Pressure is Best Applied Singularly

“Some may not agree on this point, but it is one that I believe in with my whole heart.  The best ratio of people applying pressure is one to one.  Through my entire life the time where I have seen people be cracked and burdened by pressure the most is when every acquaintance decides they should be the one to apply pressure. This causes the pressure in that persons life to increase to the point where they are “smooshed” by all the advice.

In the end all that can be said about pressure is that it is very important, and very dangerous.  It should be handled with care and concern for the person “under pressure”.  If our goal is to produce diamonds then we need to allow for time and not rush the process with more pressure.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Theology of Faith

 

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The Life

I am…, the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but through me.”  John 14:6

In previous posts we have talked a lot about Christ and what He said about Himself in John 14:6.  We went over every detail of the names He gave Himself to his followers so that they would be able to know more about Him, and we talked about the implication of those names.

He called Himself “I AM” which showed how He is always the same and can sustain and save us.  He called Himself “The Way” which showed He gave direction to the lost, safety to the traveler, and rest for the weary. He called Himself “The Truth” which showed He gives freedom from worry, death, and pride.  Now we get to the most important of them all “The Life.”

Life is such an important concept, in fact, the right to life is one of the only truly universal beliefs.  There is no culture where life is not held sacred. Now certainly there are those who take the right to life more seriously.  We in America for example, hold it to be one of our “big three” rights along with liberty and happiness. Without life we would literally not exist.

So what is Christ implying when He calls Himself “The Life?”

1. He Implies A Connection To All Things.

There is nothing in this world that does not connect to God. Whether it is a slug on a leaf or a king in his castle, God is intimately acquainted to all the world. Not only is He connected but he cares about all things. Luke 12:6-7 even tells us that God knows every sparrow sold at market, and every hair on our head.  God is intimately connected to this world!

2. He Implies A Ownership Of All Things

If Christ is “The Life” then that implies a certain amount of ownership. The psalmist says,”For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (50:10). The implication of this verse is that all the world belongs to God.  How then can we expect to ever repay God for all the good things that he has given to us?

3. He Implies A Purpose To All Things.

If Christ not only has a connection with us and an ownership over us, then it must be to that he has a purpose for us.  Think of all the things you have owned.  They were created with a purpose and bought for that purpose.  Now if we as people do not create things without purpose why then do we believe our God would do so? The bible itself proclaims: “For I know the plans I have for you says the LORD, plans to prosper and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”  – Jeremiah 29:11

Christ, however, does not finish this statement with names.  He finishes with a purpose, and that purpose is to lead all who would be seeking to His father, the author and perfecter of our faith.  The Father in whom our salvation lies!  So no matter if you are seeking who God is (I AM), where God is taking you (The Way), the mysteries of the gospel (The Truth), or the meaning of life (The Life); remember this.

No man comes to the father but through me.”  John 14:6

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in John 14:6

 

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The Truth…(Part 2)

I am…, the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but through me.”  John 14:6

So if this is true (see The Truth…Part 1), if we truly are afraid of God because of the truth He knows about us.  Then what is he telling us by saying that he is “The Truth”.  Surely it is more than just a quaint nickname or a halfhearted metaphor. Is He possibly revealing apart of his nature?  Is He saying that He has nothing to hide from our searching of Him?

What Christ is ultimately saying then when He gives himself this “nickname” is that we can search, ponder, and question Him all we like.  That no matter what accusation or slander we as people can throw at Him, He can take it all and not be changed!  Because as we said before “The Truth” is the most accurate interpretation of all of the facts, and when you put all the facts together the only interpretation you can have is that God is in control!

So what comfort does this truth give us?

1. This Truth Gives Freedom From Worry.

On the subject of worry Billy Graham had this to say: “Anxiety (worry) is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and his will for us” When we worry we are taking our sites off of God and putting them on the troubles of this world. “The Truth” is that if we do as God has told us in his word (Phil 4:6-7) we can be free from the stress that worry brings!

2. This Truth Gives Freedom From Pride

Pride is a cancer of the mind that allows us to believe that we are above God. It allows us to say that we know how to run our own lives and no one can tell us any different. This stems from what gamer’s like me call the illusion of choice, the idea that we can change the ultimate outcome. “The Truth” is that anything that has been done was already know at the beginning of time, and nothing we can do can change the outcome that Christ will win!  When you understand that, you are free from the pride that control can bring.

3. This Truth Gives Freedom From Death

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

The saying goes that the only things for certain are death and taxes.  The story of the bible is one of redemption and salvation from death.  Not from physical death as some skeptics say, but from a death of the soul.  This death is caused by a complete separation from our God.  None of us will know how this truly feels on earth because we are all connected in a small way to Gods love.  “The Truth” is that God, taking on the form of a man, came down to this earth to save us from this separation!

So what is “The Truth”?  The truth of God is this, that He loved this world and everyone in it so much that he was willing to sacrifice His flesh and blood.  He did this even after we as a people had turned our backs on Him and distorted His perfect world.  “The Truth” is that His salvation is free to anyone who will come and ask it of Him.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in John 14:6

 

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