Friday, July 30, 2010

A Picture of the Kingdom of God

I have spent the week as the leader of the Splish Splash Camp at Camp Fontenelle. The camp is for students who will be entering 4th through 7th grade. I can hear them upstairs getting ready for lunch. Many of the 35 students come from rural Nebraska. Four are from The Water’s Edge. 13 of the students came from the Wesley House, an urban ministry serving children in north Omaha.

We have had water fights, went ice skating (frozen water), played at the water park in Fremont, went down a giant water slide many times, visited the swimming pool, played games, climbed trees, slept in tree boats (, sang songs, had times of devotion and Bible Study, worshipped by the campfire, went for a hike, and made lots of smores.

At 40 years old, I am old enough to be the kids’ dad (and am one of the kids’ dad). I’m twice the age of all the counselors. I’m even old enough to be the camp director’s older brother. I hope the kids learned something from my teachings by the campfire at night. Regardless of what they learned or experienced, I learned a lot this week.

The kids taught me about community. Strangers quickly became friends and friends quickly became family. As I type this, we are near the end of our fifth and final day. The kids are beginning to realize their experience is about over. They are currently signing t-shirts and exchanging addresses. The stranger becomes family. And so it is with the Kingdom of Heaven.

I was inspired by the counselors. They showed me what it meant to be a servant. Four of them and myself didn’t seem to be enough sometimes. But they pressed on. Their day starts at seven in the morning and ends sixteen or seventeen hours later. No breaks. No rest. Not much pay. Just a lot of responsibility. I never heard any complaining; I only witnessed patience, kindness, and love. They treated each child like the child belonged to them. Two of the four counselors were not from the United States: a young woman was from the Czech Republic and a young man was from South Africa. The only thing that impressed me more than their compassion for the kids was their passion for God. Servants in love with a Savior: another picture of the Kingdom of God.

As we dream about the future of our church, these simple lessons taught by children are a wonderful place to start.

1. Inviting the stranger to become our friend and inviting the friend to become our family. If you are new, I invite you over the next few months to join a small group where you can develop new friends and new family.

2. Servants in love with a Savior. If you are not currently serving, I invite you over the next few weeks to join one of our many serving teams. It is a great way to make friends, serve people, and love God.

The best is yet to come…


Friday, July 23, 2010


Kids. I have two of them. Both are boys. Benjamin is nine and David is three. Amber was out of town most of last week, so I got to spend lots of time with them. We played games, went swimming, wrestled, made a few trips to Sonic, and had fun. They are a joy and a blessing to me. One of my prayers for them moving forward is they will be a joy and a blessing to others throughout the days of their lives.

I worked with a bunch of kids at Vacation Bible School this week. The pre-school and elementary games were usually where I ended up. It was wonderful to see the kids playing, praying, singing, learning, relating, and growing. Each one of these children is loved by God. A special place exists in God’s heart that can only be filled by the love of each child. I’m so grateful for the dozens of leaders and volunteers who made this week possible for each of these children.

Next week I’ll be leading a camp for a bunch of 3rd through 6th graders. Thirty sets of parents have entrusted me with the care of at least one of their children for an entire week. I am looking forward to meeting each of these children, having fun with them, and hopefully helping them grow in their relationship with God.

This summer, some of our teenagers went on trips to Minneapolis, Colorado, and West Virginia. They sang, painted, tore-down, fixed, and built. They had an opportunity to serve, pray, relate, give, forgive, help, love, and connect. Many of our adults gave up vacation or income to mentor and serve alongside of our youth. The trips are a wonderful example of ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things through a great big God.

Today we get to hear the children from Vacation Bible School sing. We also get to hear some of our older students and leaders share about their recent trips. God can use whoever He wants to speak to whoever He wants. I know that God will use the young to speak His grace, power, and love to all of us this morning.

Then Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. –Matthew 19:14-15

After the food is gone, the instruments are pack-up, and the chairs are put away and we go about our business for the day, I have a challenge for us: I pray we become a congregation who places the highest priority in raising children who love God and love others. It’s my dream that together we raise my children, your children, and God’s children.

The best is yet to come…


Friday, July 16, 2010


Here is my column for Sunday morning on prayer and what is coming up in my family's life...

Assuming I am woken up by an alarm and not by a three year old, I generally start each day by praying. I use prayer as the foundation for my relationship with God and with people. I usually read some Scripture and pray about how it applies to my life as a husband, dad, friend, and pastor. Then I pray for ten families in the church who I am praying for that week. Each week I send out a letter to all people who registered their attendance in worship at least four times in the previous year (we start with the As and are on the Gs right now). When you get the prayer letter, send me your prayer requests, I want to pray for you! I also pray for the prayer requests submitted on Sunday morning or requests emailed to me during the week. You can always email me your prayer requests to I spend time praying for the church. The past few days I have been praying for the students on the mission trip, the leaders of Vacation Bible School as they prepare for VBS this week, and for The Water’s Edge as we prepare to launch a new worship experience in the fall. I conclude by praying for God to use me in some way during the day. A half hour or so later, I usually feel energized and ready to start the day.

Over the next few weeks I invite you to pray for my family and me. Tonight, Amber will leave to be a therapist at a camp for children of military men and women who have died in combat. Amber’s dad is a retired Air Force officer and she, as many of you know, is a marriage and family therapist. When this opportunity become available for her, it was clear this was the right thing to do at the right time. Pray that God will use Amber and others to continue a process of healing in the lives of these children.

Shortly after Amber returns home, Benjamin and I are headed off to camp. I am the leader of a camp for 3rd to 6th grade students. Thirty students will be participating in the camp, including ten from the Wesley House, a great ministry that works with kids in North Omaha. It’s a water camp, so pray the kids have lots of fun and make friends. But pray even more that the students grow in their relationship with God. Say some prayers for the leader as well. I’ve never led a camp for kids this young before!

The week after the camp all four of us are going on vacation! Pray for a week of rest and rejuvenation. We are looking forward to our time together. The week after we get back, as hard as it is to believe, school starts. It seems like it was just last week when we picked Benjamin up on the last day of school.

As we share our lives together, it is a blessing to pray for you and I am grateful for your prayers.

The best is yet to come…


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spiritual Bankruptcy

Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

1 As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor.

2 A wise person chooses the right road; a fool takes the wrong one.

3 You can identify fools just by the way they walk down the street!

4 If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

5 There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake 6 when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. 7 I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants!

8 When you dig a well, you might fall in. When you demolish an old wall, you could be bitten by a snake.

9 When you work in a quarry, stones might fall and crush you. When you chop wood, there is danger with each stroke of your ax.

10 Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.

11 If a snake bites before you charm it, what’s the use of being a snake charmer?

12 Wise words bring approval, but fools are destroyed by their own words.

13 Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions, so their conclusions will be wicked madness;

14 they chatter on and on. No one really knows what is going to happen; no one can predict the future.

15 Fools are so exhausted by a little work that they can’t even find their way home.

16 What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant, the land whose leaders feast in the morning.

17 Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader and whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk.

18 Laziness leads to a sagging roof; idleness leads to a leaky house.

19 A party gives laughter, wine gives happiness, and money gives everything!

20 Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts. And don’t make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom. For a little bird might deliver your message and tell them what you said.

This chapter is similar to the Proverbs Solomon wrote. I'll focus on the verses regarding money.

Government leaders, businesses, families, and churches can get trapped into thinking that money can meet all their needs. We throw money at our problems. Just as the effect of wine is only temporary, the soothing effect of the most recent purchase will wear off as well so we keep wanting more and more and more. An excessive love of money is dangerous because we believe that wealth is the easiest way to get everything we want. Those who pursue the empty promises of wealth will one day discover they have nothing because they are spiritually bankrupt.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Ecclesiastes 9:13-17

13 Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. 14 There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. 15 A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. 16 So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.

17 Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than the shouts of a foolish king.

The preacher sees advantages to wisdom, but they are much more subtle than the more obvious advantages of power. His advice is profound: Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than the shouts of a foolish king. Long-term it is better to be influenced by the wise rather than powerful.

This is relevant in today's culture. Culture shouts to us with messages about what is good for us and what is not good for us. Some of this is wise. Much of it isn't. Sometimes culture can tell a lie better than Christians tell the Truth. One of the marks of a follower of Jesus is to embrace the quiet words of God and influence culture.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

1 This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor. 2 The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t.

3 It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. 4 There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!”

5 The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. 6 Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. 7 So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! 8 Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

9 Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. 10 Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.

11 I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

12 People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man”. The preacher beat Nietzsche to the punch by a few thousand years. Both were wrong. Hope is the expectation that tomorrow can be better than today. Life under the sun teaches that hope is a fairytale. Life under the heavens teaches that hope is a gift from God which allows us to persevere when times get tough. Life under the sun teaches the end is a painful and tragic death. Life under the heavens teaches the end is not death, the end is life.

Here is a sermon I did a few months ago on hope.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Ecclesiastes 8:2-16

2 Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would. 3 Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants. 4 His command is backed by great power. No one can resist or question it. 5 Those who obey him will not be punished. Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, 6 for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble. 7 Indeed, how can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen? 8 None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle. And in the face of death, wickedness will certainly not rescue the wicked.

9 I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. 10 I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. 11 When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. 12 But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. 13 The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows. 14 And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!

15 So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun. 16 In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night.

The preacher has made a discovery that is quite obvious: life is unfair. He gets very frustrated and returns to calling life meaningless. His response is to eat, drink, and enjoy life.

Unfairness was a central theme in the culture which Ecclesiastes was written and in remains a central theme in our culture today. The Christian response to uinjustice is not self-medicating with food and drink. It is standing up against injustice and marginalization where ever and when ever they present themselves.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:2

1 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.

And the day you die is better than the day you are born.

2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies— so the living should take this to heart.

3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.

4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

5 Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool.

6 A fool’s laughter is quickly gone, like thorns crackling in a fire. This also is meaningless.

7 Extortion turns wise people into fools, and bribes corrupt the heart.

8 Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.

9 Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

10 Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.

11 Wisdom is even better when you have money. Both are a benefit as you go through life.

12 Wisdom and money can get you almost anything, but only wisdom can save your life.

13 Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?

14 Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

15 I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people. 16 So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? 17 On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? 18 Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.

19 One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!

20 Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.

21 Don’t eavesdrop on others—you may hear your servant curse you. 22 For you know how often you yourself have cursed others.

23 I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. 24 Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. 25 I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness.

26 I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.

27 “This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. 28 Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! 29 But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”

1 How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things.

Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.

It is painful to read this. The moment the preacher is figuring things out (he has some wonderful stuff) and and is making sense he retreats to frustration and makes no sense. He concludes:

I have not found what I was looking for. Even though he still hasn't found what he is looking for, he still is looking. He doesn't give up.

Here is a wonderful, modern day translation of this text.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blaming God

Ecclesiastes 6:1-12

1 There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. 2 God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth! This is meaningless—a sickening tragedy.

3 A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. 4 His birth would have been meaningless, and he would have ended in darkness. He wouldn’t even have had a name, 5 and he would never have seen the sun or known of its existence. Yet he would have had more peace than in growing up to be an unhappy man. 6 He might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?

7 All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. 8 So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?

9 Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

So the preacher's bad day continues and he blames God for his mess. What little theology he has isn't very good at all. Does he really think his discontentment is because of God? Or, is it because the preacher has messed up and he is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions? It is the latter of the two, of course, and the preacher isn't the only person to be a part of the fellowship of people who blame God for their own mistakes.

The preacher does stumble on to an exceptional bit of wisdom that all of us need to hear:

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Broken Promise of Wealth

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20

8 Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy. 9 Even the king milks the land for his own profit!

10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! 11 The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!

12 People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep.

13 There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. 14 Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. 15 We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us.

16 And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind. 17 Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry.

18 Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. 19 And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. 20 God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

The preacher returns to money and specifically the broken promise of wealth. The promise of the world is that money will buy happiness. The world, or living under the sun, as the preacher says, is unable to deliver the promise it makes.

He makes some keen observations:

  • Those who love money will never have enough.
  • Hoarding riches harms the saver.
  • We all come to the end of our lives naked and empty-handed like the day we were born.
  • Life is to be enjoyed and to leave the world a better place than how you received it.
  • True wealth comes from God.

Money can't buy love. It can't by the love of God or the love of people. If anybody knows this it is Solomon. Resources are necessary to live. Resources are a poor thing to live for, because in the end they disappoint.

Seasons of Life

Here is Sunday's Column

We all go through seasons of life. Some of them are short. Some of them are long. Some are painful. Some are joyful. Some we chose for ourselves. Some we wouldn’t choose in a million years.

This week I went to Methodist Hospital and held a little baby. The boy weighed about seven pounds. For several years he will be physically dependant on his parents and others to care for him. For several years after that he will be emotionally and relationally dependant on others to care for him. He is in the season of infancy.

I took my nine year old son, Benjamin, swimming one night this week. He is entering the season of youth. I look at the pictures of him when we moved here five years ago. He has transformed from a little boy to a big boy. He doesn’t play with trains much anymore. He builds Legos nowadays. He even watches television shows with people in them and not cartoons characters.

A senior-to-be in college and I went running early one morning. He and I talked about life. In the next year he will be moving from being college-aged to being an adult. I talked to him about what I’ve figured out about life. About things I would do the exact same over and over again. And about things I wish I had done differently. I know, however, he will have to figure out some things for himself. After all, that is one of the things adults do.

Thursday night, I had pizza with a young couple (I won’t give names, but he is the bass player in the band and she sings and plays the violin) who are going to get married next month. I shared with them the four habits of highly dysfunctional relationships. I listened to their hopes and dreams. It was a joy to see their excitement as they are getting ready to move into their next season of life.

I wore my robe twice this week. One time for the funeral of a good man and a friend. He was in his 80s and had been married for over 60 years. Last Sunday morning, shortly after our worship service ended, he breathed his final breath. His new season of life is eternal life with God. A state of life where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. No more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

The other time was a wedding Saturday night. Brad Krebs and Julia Lyons got married at Dietz Memorial United Methodist Church, a beautiful site for a wedding. It has been a pleasure to see them move from a season of dating to a season of being engaged to the new season of marriage.

Solomon writes: For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. –Ecclesiastes 3:1

Right now you are in a season of life. It may or may not be one I described above, but you are in a season. You won’t be in this season forever. Learn from the seasons of yesterday. Embrace today’s season. And prepare for the seasons of tomorrow.

The best seasons are yet to come…


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Let Your Words Be Few

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

1 As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. 2 Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.

3 Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.

4 When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. 5 It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. 6 Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.

7 Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead.

A big shift in the preacher's writing happens in chapter five. We see less of "life is meaningless" and more practical advice.

The advice is about as practical and simple as it gets:

  • As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut.
  • Don’t make rash promises.
  • Keep all the promises you make.
  • Don’t let your mouth make you sin.
  • Talk is cheap.

The point is to use your words wisely and to let your words be few.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Poverty of Power

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

13 It is better to be a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who refuses all advice. 14 Such a youth could rise from poverty and succeed. He might even become king, though he has been in prison. 15 But then everyone rushes to the side of yet another youth who replaces him. 16 Endless crowds stand around him, but then another generation grows up and rejects him, too. So it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

The preacher has arrived at the top and he sadly discovers the view isn't as good as he hoped it would be. Power, prestige, and position are poor goals for life. These three delicacies are the desire of many, but once the meal is consumed, the person is left hungry, unsatisfied, and longing for more. Basing our lives on the where we stand in relationship to others is a sure recipe for failure. An alternative and better plan is to seek God's approval. His love never changes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Cord of Three Strands

Ecclesiastes 4:1-12

1 Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. 2 So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living. 3 But most fortunate of all are those who are not yet born. For they have not seen all the evil that is done under the sun.

4 Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

5 “Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin.”

6 And yet, “Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”

7 I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun. 8 This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It is all so meaningless and depressing.

9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

The preacher's bad day continues. He recalls the tears and the loneliness of the oppressed. By the depths of his words (saying the dead were better off than the living and the best case scenario is not to be born - see verses 2 and 3), I have a feeling that the preacher was the one who felt isolated and alone. Like the preacher, we have both observed and experienced isolation.

The broken promise of the world emerges in verses 7 and 8. The preacher discloses that wealth doesn't provide the contentment, satisfaction, and meaning he was looking for. Jesus pretty much says the same thing when he says: What does profit to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul? - Mark 8:6

Then the preacher writes one of the greatest truths of life and some of the most profound words ever written in verse 12: A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. The preacher is looking back on his life with lament and regret. He had everything he didn't need and didn't have the one thing he needed: the love of others and the love of God. The preacher discovered, the hard way, the people are meant to live in community with each other and with God. No replacement exists for such things.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Time for Everything

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.

2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do people really get for all their hard work?
10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.
11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.
13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
14 And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him.
15 What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.
16 I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt!
17 I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.”
18 I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals.
19 For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless!
20 Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust.
21 For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?
22 So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die.

You would be hard pressed to find more beautiful words than the words written in verses 1 to 8. Three lessons can be learned.
  1. Life is varied. Life has laughter and life has tears. Sometimes we embrace. Sometimes we turn away. Each day is a new journey.
  2. Life is cyclical. We are born and we die. We plant and we harvest. We face good days and not so good days.
  3. Truth is paradox. Death makes life more meaningful and urgent. War makes peace more desirable. God takes the bad and makes it good.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Working for the Weekend

Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

12 So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king?). 13 I thought, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. 14 For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. 15 Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” 16 For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

17 So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

18 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. 19 And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! 20 So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.

21 Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. 22 So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? 23 Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.

24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? 26 God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.

Verse 24 is as relevant today as it was when the preacher penned these words thousands of years ago. The words remind me of that old Loverboy song, Working for the Weekend. We work so we can eat, drink, and be merry so that we can recharge ourselves to work so we can have the resources to eat, drink, and be merry. And then we repeat the process over and over and over again. The preacher tried this pattern of life and it didn't work for him. We try it and it doesn't work for us either. We all have this feeling in our heart that more exists to life that working, eating, and drinking.

The finding here is simple: satisfaction, meaning, and contentment in life is tragically and ironically lost as one searches for ultimate satisfaction, meaning, and contentment in earthly things. True satisfaction, meaning, and contentment in life cannot be found apart from God.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Absurdity of Pleasure

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

1 I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. 2 So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” 3 After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

4 I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. 7 I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. 8 I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

9 So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

The teacher tried pleasure to find meaning and contentment in live. Simkhah is the Hebrew word for pleasure. It means self-indulgent and foolish pleasure as opposed to legitimate enjoyment of life. The self-indulgent and foolish pleasures are found in his laundry list of pleasures:

  • Silly laughter
  • Wine
  • Foolishness
  • Large houses
  • Vineyards and gardens
  • Slaves
  • Greed
  • Power
  • Sex

The teacher was the judge who convicted himself of excess. He was the jury as well and the sentence was among the cruelest of sentences: the meaningless life.

We can learn two things learn from the teacher's mistakes:

  1. More is not necessarily better. Modesty, humility, and balance are essential to a life full of contentment, purpose, and satisfaction.
  2. Short-tern decisions effect our long-term well-being. We often make the easy and convenient choice that gives us instant gratification instead of the difficult and right choice that gives us long-term contentment.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Folly of Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

12 I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. 13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

15 What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” 17 So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

18 The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

The word wisdom first appears in verse 13 and reappears 25 additional times in the book. It should be noted that wisdom (hokma) is different from knowledge (da 'at) in verse 18. Knowledge refers to cognitive thinking: knowing something in one's head. Wisdom (hokma) is a complex word. It is a combination of knowledge and truth which is used for moral choices and social interaction. It is cognitive and affective knowledge. It is knowledge of the head and the heart.

Verse 12 is a plea that materialism and power will not provide contentment and satisfaction. He was a king and lived in Jerusalem. The wealth and power associated with this position still left him feeling empty.

Verse 13 deals with frustration. The teacher is frustrated that he isn't able to fully comprehend God (under heaven). Paul deals with partial knowledge in 1 Corinthians 13:12 - Now we see a poor reflection in a I know in part. In frustration, the teacher writes words of despair and describes life as a tragic existence. Note similar observations from the New Testament coupled with grace: Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. -John 16:33 and And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39 The teacher has yet to experience the comic overcoming the tragic, love overcoming hate, and grace overcoming sin.

The remaining verses discuss the folly of wisdom. The teacher made a false assumption that wisdom would provide him what he desired in life. He was wrong. He uses a wonderful play on the word wind which can also be translated as Spirit of God. Chasing God is a what he was doing, but he found chasing God to be like chasing the wind.

Materialism and wisdom, the teacher says, don't lead to satisfaction and contentment in life. Both possessions and wisdom can be (and are) beneficial, but neither of them can replace a loving relationship with God. In a cruel form of irony, the loving, ongoing relationship with God is the one thing the teacher didn't have and it was the one thing he needed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Meaningless Life

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
1 These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.10 Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11 We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

The teacher woke up on the wrong side of the bed and it went downhill from there.
He starts off in verse 2 with the word hebel which translates into the English word meaningless. Hebel is best translated as useless, unreliable, or meaningless. What is meaningless? The word in verse 2 is kol which means all or everything. The bottom line is that the preacher is struggling to find any meaning in life. Have you ever been there before?
The word work in verse 3 is amal. It doesn't mean honest labor. Rather it has negative connotations such as being tired, troubled, or oppressed. The phrase under the sun means of this world as opposed to heaven. It is the physical world and not the spiritual world.
The teacher is troubled by the world he lives in. He lays his head on the pillow at night and has this feeling deep in his gut that there has got to be more to life than what he is currently experiencing. He longs for satisfaction and contentment (verse 8).
Nothing being new is a theme for verses 9 to 11. Obviously change and invention happens in the physical world, but the writer just sees matter being reorganized. Life to him is predictable and boring. Verse 11 also notes the teacher's feelings of insignificance.
So, if you feel the life is meaningless, you are not alone. If you are tired, troubled, and oppressed, you are not alone. If you long for satisfaction and contentment, you are not alone. If you feel bored and insignificant, you are not alone.
We are all of the above some of the time and some of the above most of the time. The teacher gives us a raw and honest picture of who he is and most likely a decent snapshot of who we are. He longs for meaning, rest, peace, justice, satisfaction, contentment, excitement, and significance. He doesn't find it under the sun. He, and we, should look elsewhere.