Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes: 7:1-5;8-10: A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to head a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes may have been King Solomon, or it could have been someone who was considered a teacher or a subject, rather than a King. The importance of this writing is found in the profound wisdom of the writer, as he examines our own human experiences. The author searches deeply into our time on earth and concludes that all of our hard work and busyness is, in the end, “meaningless.”

The NIV study Bible gives us further insight into what wisdom has taught the writer of this book. In the introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer lists seven important lessons that he has learned from wisdom.

Humans cannot by all their striving achieve anything of ultimate or enduring significance, they cannot fundamentally change anything. This often causes us to act foolishly. All of our striving, “under the sun”, leads only to disillusionment.

Wisdom is better than folly – it is God’s gift to those who please him. It is needless to expect too much even from such wisdom – to expect that human wisdom is capable of solving all problems.

Experience confronts humans with many apparent disharmonies and anomalies that wisdom cannot unravel. Of these, the greatest of all is this: Human life comes to the same end as that of the animals – death.

Although God made humankind upright, people have gone in search of many “schemes” for getting ahead by taking advantage of others. The author says that even humans are a disappointment.

People cannot know or control what will come after them, or even what lies in the more immediate future.

God keeps humans in their place.

God has ordered all things and a human being cannot change God’s appointments or fully understand them or anticipate them. The world is not fundamentally chaotic or irrational. It is ordered by God, and it is for humans to accept matters as they are by God’s appointments, including our own human limitations. Everything has its “time” and is good in its time.

Wisdom is attempting to teach us to:

Accept the human state as it is shaped by God’s appointments and enjoy the life you have been given as fully as you can.

Don’t trouble yourself with unrealistic goals – we must know the degree of our human capabilities.

Be prudent in all your ways – follow wisdom’s leading.

“Fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13), beginning in your youth before the fleeting days of life’s enjoyments are gone and “the days of trouble” (12:1) come when the infirmities of advanced age vex you and hinder you from the good things of life.

Source used: NIV Study Bible, page 1005-1006, Introduction to Ecclesiastes.

Over the next few weeks I will be doing a devotional on different scripture from the book of Ecclesiastes. I believe that there are many truths in this book that are useful and necessary for us in our daily walk with God.

The writer ends the book with this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (12:13b-14).

 

 

The Power of the Unseen

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This last month has been a blur for me as I have cared for my mother while she has been in the hospital, then rehab, and then the hospital again. She has had a difficult month as she has battled various attacks on her body by some vicious infections. My mother is a very strong woman and I have seen this past month her desire to live and to be able to return home again. I have been encouraged by her determination and also by her ever stronger faith in God, as she and I have relied on God when all hope seemed to be lost.

The scripture reading for today reminded me that, in spite of the many hardships that we face as Christians, they are nothing when compared to the promise of eternity with our God in heaven. We will suffer while we are living on this earth, but one day, one glorious day, our suffering will end and we will finally “see” what was previously “unseen.”

My mother was seeing her body wasting away and I was greatly concerned about her ability to get well from all of the bad things that were attacking her body. Yet in the midst of her suffering, I witnessed her great faith and trust in God as we prayed together and talked about what was ahead. I listened one day as we prayed the 23rd Psalm out loud and she didn’t miss a single word. She prayed that Psalm so beautifully that day and I had a certain sense of peace that no matter what happened, that God would take care of my mother. I was really struck by the way she put special emphasis on the words at the end of the 23rd Psalm, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” She prayed the 23rd Psalm that way because she believed it.

The Apostle Paul seems to be telling us to not dwell on our momentary troubles but to realize that our pain and our struggles today are achieving for us an eternal glory that will be much greater than we can ever imagine. Paul is encouraging us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.” The things that we can see are temporary things but the things of God that we cannot yet see are eternal.

Throughout my mother’s sickness we have had many people praying for us and we have felt those prayers. She could feel those prayers as she was laying in her hospital bed, suffering but yet comforted, because she knew that many people were praying for her. I could also feel those prayers every day I got into my car and drove the one hour each way to the hospital. Your prayers helped me to get through those long days and your prayers for rest were also answered. God was there with us this past month and as we believed, God helped us through this difficult time when my mother was very weak and suffering.

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:7: We live by faith, not by sight. I couldn’t agree more with that statement from Paul. There are things that happen in this life that I cannot understand or even begin to comprehend. However, my focus remains on God and on the things of eternity that are unseen. I live by faith, not by sight, and I continue to trust and believe that my loving and caring God is renewing His children day by day.

 

 

 

 

 

Wrestling with God

Scripture Reading: Genesis 32:22-30

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

I have always had a difficult time with this passage about Jacob wrestling with God. However, since I have been doing this “wrestling with God” myself for the last few days, I am beginning to understand how powerful this passage is for believers in our daily lives.

Most often when we face challenges or difficulties, we assume that these hard times are because of fate or the world that we live in. We blame other people or many times we blame the evil one for these complicated moments in our lives. If we are honest with ourselves we usually just want to give up when faced with difficult times. That would seem to be the better option for most of us because then we are not forced to deal with decisions that are demanding and complex.

In times like these it is important to remember and recognize that God is present and at work in our lives in the midst of our problems. It could be that God is giving us these challenges so that we will learn to rely less on ourselves and more upon God. As humans, we seem to have the need to be constantly reminded that we can’t do it on our own, we need God’s strength and guidance.

Often when we are faced with trials we look to the world that we live in for answers or for direction. In doing so, we turn our attention and focus away from God. It is through these challenging moments in our lives that we must draw closer to our creator and lean on Him.

Consider for a moment that God is placing these strenuous moments in you life in order to make you stronger. In James, chapter 1: 2-4 we read: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

My message today is, don’t give up, continue to persevere and cling to God for direction and answers. When we develop perseverance, we learn to seek God first, when faced with life’s difficult challenges or decisions.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Scripture Reading: Lamentations 3:19-23
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The author of the book of Lamentations is uncertain, although many ancient Jewish and early Christian traditions ascribe it to Jeremiah. Jeremiah has been called the “weeping prophet” because he so often would express the anguish of his spirit. Jeremiah was a prophet of doom and not surprisingly he only attracted a few close followers. God commanded Jeremiah to not marry and raise children because the Lord was going to soon send a divine judgment upon Judah that would sweep away the next generation.

Lamentations is not the only OT book that contains individual or community laments. (A large number of the Psalms are lament poems, and every prophetic book except Haggai includes one or more examples of the lament genre.) Lamentations is the only book however, that consists solely of laments.

The book of Lamentations mournfully expresses the people’s overwhelming sense of loss that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as well as the exile of Judah’s inhabitants from the land that God had covenanted to give Israel as a permanent national homeland.

In 1923, Thomas Chisolm wrote one of the greatest modern hymns about the faithfulness of God from this text in Lamentations. In the first stanza he writes about the character of God and how it does not change. God is compassionate and that compassion will last into eternity. In stanza two he writes about God’s faithfulness in maintaining the order of the universe. In stanza three he writes of God’s faithfulness in forgiving our sins and providing strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Each stanza leads to the great culminating chorus that declares the victorious words of Jeremiah, “Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin And a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, With ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, as your followers we know Lord that you love us. We believe that you watch over our lives and that you guard us each and every day. Help us to remember that your love is unfailing and your compassion is everlasting. Give us the strength and the hope to arise every morning remembering how great your faithfulness is to each one of us. In spite of what the previous day has brought into our lives, we awake with a new hope, a hope for a better and brighter day. And we have the promise that you are there Lord and that your compassion upon us will never fail. Amen.

Sources used:
NIV Study Bible Zondervan
Dailyencouragement.net

Liberia

Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:34-40

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in , I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

In November of 2006, I had the opportunity to visit the country of Liberia, in West Africa. My home church, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, had given some assistance to a church there outside the capital city of Monrovia. Commission Baptist Church is the name of that church in West Africa and it is led by a truly wonderful and loving pastor. At the time I visited the church, Liberia was just beginning to recover from a brutal fourteen year civil war in which many lives were lost. Most families in the church had to cope with the loss of one or more family members.

Our church had given financial assistance to Commission Baptist Church to rebuild the roof on their church. The roof was removed and the church was almost destroyed during the civil war. The church was very important to the congregation and they wanted to get their place of worship back in the best condition possible.

One of the first things that I noticed when we arrived at the church was a hand made sign that read, “Just one step and God will do the rest.” It was several days later however, that I really began to recognize the significance of those words to the people of Commission Baptist Church.

We were in a meeting with the deacons from Commission Baptist Church and some deacons from other area congregations. I started telling the deacons about how our church feels a calling to do mission work. I told them about the bread burners – a retired group of men in our church who decided to go out into the community feeding the hungry and sharing the love of Christ. I shared with them how several Sunday school classes volunteer to prepare and serve lunch at Our Daily Bread, for the homeless in our community. I told them about Touching Taliaferro with Love, the summer camp to help disadvantaged children in the poorest county in Georgia.

I told them about the group of church members that went to Louisiana to help people recover from the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. I shared with them the story of people in our church that volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Pastor Weah, the pastor of Commission Baptist Church, later told me, “That’s what I am trying to get my congregation to be aware of. We are called to move beyond the walls of this church and go out into the community and share the love of Christ with people that do not know Christ.” “We have to move beyond our comfort zone and be out among people who are different.”

This pastor was speaking to his congregation that had lost practically all of their possessions and who were struggling daily to feed their families. And their pastor was asking them to go out and help others – and share the love of Christ with their neighbors and with complete strangers. I’m sure that they had to wonder how they were going to be able to do that when putting food on their table each day was a major concern. Pastor Weah would later tell his congregation that it is not about what we as humans are able to accomplish, it is God’s will that will be carried out if we listen, obey and are faithful. We can’t be afraid of the unknown, or fearful of others who are different from us. We can’t let our own individual limitations stop us. Just one step and God will do the rest.

As followers of Christ we are called to help others and to show compassion to others. We learn to think less about ourselves and our own needs and more about the needs and concerns of others. And when you do this you have the promise of Jesus to “take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

Prayer:
God, help me to be more aware of how I can help my fellow human beings. Help me to not be judgmental and to be more loving, like the example that Jesus gave us to follow. Take away my selfishness and give me a desire to help others that truly need some love and compassion in their lives. Amen.