Standing in Truth: “The Firm Stance” – 1 John 5

Immediately after teaching last Sunday night, I left for Orlando, and flew in the early hours of Monday morning to Washington, DC and then on to Columbus, Ohio. The meetings I planned to attend were about a half an hour away from the airport, so I needed to rent a car and drive north to the hotel where I was staying for two nights. I rented a full sized car this year, because last year the little compact I had was all over the icy and snowy roadways. I had very little control. This year, with a full sized automobile that was heavier, I felt somewhat safer, but driving on snow and ice is never fun! The problem with sliding down an icy road is you don’t have any real control – and that can be dangerous. It isn’t only the lack of traction that is troublesome, it is the fact that many other people have no traction, but drive like they don’t know they have little control.

As it is in driving, so it is in life. Many people are moving through life and seem to think they have more control than they truly do. They slide through life without making much real controlled contact. They live “fast and loose” with little saving, and even less care for maintenance of the things they own. They don’t seem to notice they aren’t in control of their appetites, much less their outcomes. The problem with sliding through life is that we cannot give God control of a life that is held by the forces of others. We may theologically agree that we must yield our lives to Jesus, but we can only surrender to Him what is in our grasp in the first place!

Did you ever go ice skating? I went years ago, because someone told me it would be a romantic thing to do on a date. Here is what I can tell you: It wasn’t romantic the way I did it! If you only skated occasionally or weren’t particularly good at it, you will know exactly what I mean when I say that two uncontrolled novices on the ice holding hands will only end up as larger “ice sweepers.” Each person straps on their skates and moves out across the ice wobbling and gesticulating wildly with no real control. When they hold hands, neither has much control, but they feel more at ease with someone else helping them to remain upright. Inevitably one falls and pulls the other down with them. There is nothing romantic about lying on cold, hard ice.

Here is my point: for a believer, surrender to Jesus is our call. Sadly, by the time many hear that truth, they have largely lost control of life, and find it difficult to give God what is His in their life. For some, they have surrendered so much of their physical ability by poor life habits, they cannot be as fully used in surrender of their body. For others, they have so ingrained a lack of emotional control and burst out in anger, etc. they can scarcely surrender their heart while allowing their emotions to run wild. The Apostle John wrote to the early church an essential truth that we must learn, and after a time of following Jesus, we must live. He wrote 1 John 5 to say, in essence, two things…

Key Principle: Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

The principle tips off the fact that the last chapter of this letter can be easily broken into two parts:

• The first part we can entitle: “Five ways we show true love in following the Savior” found in the first twelve verses of the chapter (5:1-12).

• The second part we may call: “Seven ways we show firm trust” and they are found in the balance of the verses (5:13-21).

Fortunately, we have a practical guide on “how to” love and take a firm stance, rather than just a command to do so. I frustrate when I am instructed to do something but I don’t know how to accomplish it. Take a moment and look at the first half of the chapter for the way a believer shows love to his Master and Savior…

Five Ways We Show True Love

First, John shared that we truly love God when we show real love to God’s Son. He wrote:

1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

In short, any parent can explain it this way: If you want to show you love me, show love to my children.

Some of you know that our family has struggled for three years now with the diagnosis and treatment of our youngest daughter of an illness that has ravaged her immune system. The pharmaceutical products that helped to keep the symptoms at bay are toxic, and are causing great troubles for my daughter as she tries to gain control of something that seems bigger than she is. Along the way, she and her husband moved into a little house in town to raise our first grandson, Malachi. As we were preparing the home for their little family, Tom came to my aid and designed and built a screen room on the side of their home. It was one of the profound times my family felt truly loved here, as Tom suffered in the hot summer sun to build something purely out of care for Sara and her family. I will never forget it. I will never be able to repay it. I saw his love for my family, and his care for me as his pastor and friend. Honestly, if you want to show love to me, show it to my children and grandchildren. I know you all understand because I know so many of you!

According to John, the impulse I felt was like one God Himself feels toward those who acknowledge His Son. Look at the words of verse one. John insisted that a believer trusts that Jesus was Messiah (the Greek form of that word is “Christ”) and that His birth was directly from God. The Gospel according to Luke could not be more deliberate about the means of conception of the child in Mary’s womb – God entered her and placed the baby inside her. This was not a human act; it was a Divine move, unique to Jesus.

In addition to acknowledging that Jesus truly WAS the child of the Father in Heaven (and not of some Roman soldier or cheap Nazareth affair), John made the point that loving the Heavenly Father can be directly measured by love for His Son. God showed His love in sending His Son. A believer shows His love in submitting to Jesus AS His Son. There is no option that allows one to claim they love God and follow Jesus, but do not believe that Jesus was uniquely placed in the womb by their Father in Heaven. Modern attempts to distance from the “Virgin Birth” of Jesus are, according to 1 John 5:1, swipes at loving the Father.

In 2010, Albert Mohler wrote an article “Must We Believe the Virgin Birth?” in response to an article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Mohler wrote:

In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary? Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?

In another article from 2015, this one from World Net Daily, author Bob Unruh mused about the reports of a “problem” with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth belief. He wrote:

More people might come to church if Christians would drop “fairy tale” tidbits like the Nativity story. That’s the belief of a minister in Cairns Church in Milngavie, Scotland. … Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.’” The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.” He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.” He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity.” Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment instead,” he advised. “The virgin birth,” he said, “leaves people hung up…Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”

What is amazing is how little regard doubting preachers have given the words of 1 John 5:1. John argued that loving God was seen by accepting that God sent Jesus in a miraculous way. Jesus was BORN OF GOD, not in a “birth is always such a miracle” sense, but in a unique way, signifying acceptance and thereby love of the Father.

A second way we properly show love as God’s children is we follow God’s rules. John continued:

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

Loving God’s Son isn’t the only way we show we love to God Himself. In fact, one way to show we love God is to show true love to His children. How do we do that? Are we to offer gifts to each child of God we meet? In a way, “Yes” is the answer to that question. John remarked that when we walk in obedience to God’s Word, we HELP other believers. That sounds strange at first, but if you think about it – it really isn’t.

Some that hear this lesson served in the military. Sadly, some of them served in trenches on active battle fronts. If you talk to soldiers in those places, they will tell you that when it is really tough, when things get desperate, they are not fighting for their country, for their family or for lofty ideals of democracy – they are fighting for their brothers in the hole next to them. Christians should consider this mentality carefully. Instead of obeying God’s Word to advance our reputation of obedience, or even to show ourselves steadfast – part of the reason we do it is for the other believers around us. Let me say it this way: When you walk with God in obedience, you become a reliable brother in the foxhole. We can count on you, and don’t have to worry about you properly reflecting the values and training of a believer. Never give the grenades to the novice in the foxhole if you want to have a band of surviving brothers!

A third way we show that we gratefully love God is when walk with an understanding that in light of what He has given us, He doesn’t ask too much of us. Note verse three:

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

Focus on the last part of that verse for a moment. John wrote: “His commandments are not burdensome.” Do you agree with that statement? Does God ask too much when He asks me to willingly give my life choices to Him? Shouldn’t I get to pick my college, occupation, mate, local church, mission in life and main hobbies? Why wouldn’t God think that is “asking a bit much” when He demands I surrender all to Him?

Part of the answer can be found in understanding what God did for us. God gave His Son to be born, mishandled and brutally murdered in horrid fashion – that we might understand His love. Jesus gave His life to the mission of redemption, and gave His body to brutal and vulgar men to crush. The cost of our salvation was great if we take into account the sufferings of Messiah for us. At the same time, those same costs are more than one thousand times greater when we consider WHO JESUS IS, as the One Who gave Himself. Colossians 1 argued that Jesus is the Creator, the unifying glue and the ultimately Holder of all things – and yet HE DIED for us! It isn’t just about what Jesus did – it is equally about Who Jesus is!

If you were swept into a dangerous current, and I pulled my body out onto a limb and reached down into the water to grab your hand and you were saved – you would probably be grateful. If I dove in to rescue you, imperiling myself and saved you – you would probably be honored. If my son jumped into the water and grabbed you to save you – but lost his own life – you would be deeply indebted. If my son were the prince of the whole realm and he gave his life for you – you would be humbled, and no doubt become a model servant of the King. Jesus died for you – but He is the King above all Kings, and the very agent of Creation.

Because God did so much for you at such a high cost to Himself, are His commands to follow Him burdensome? Because He has designed human history and given you a role to play in the “story of God” is your part too hard?

Let me ask you candidly: Based on all that Jesus did for you, are you living like what He is asking of you has become simply too much to expect?

There is a fourth way to faithfully love God. We must steadfastly follow what He has proclaimed and unapologetically take our stand in a lost world.

We live in a lost world that is not at peace with God. When we follow God, there will be a struggle, simply because we are not in step with the world when we follow Christ. John reminded:

1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Can you see it? The terms of our faith are terms of conflict with the world that eventually overcomes them. Evil doesn’t win. Godlessness won’t prevail. When you came to Christ you came to the side of a conflict which will end in the victory of the Creator. John continued:

1 John 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

John made the argument that belief in Jesus as God’s Son meant believing He came in the flesh, and died after physical suffering. He entered in water and left in blood. He wasn’t a moral story – He was a physical Savior. We stopped mid-verse. Let’s continue in verse six:

1 John 5:6b …It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this: He has testified concerning His Son.

The Spirit of God through the Word of God and the testimony of the people of God has made clear that we do not follow after cleverly devised myths – but we proclaim the truth. Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus came as the Eternal Son of the Living God. Jesus was God in human skin, the Word made flesh. He was the expressed image of His Father, one with Him. The church must proclaim that truth. Skeptics will scoff at the notion – and that should have no bearing on whether we cling to the message.

Dear ones, our message is not our own. We are not to make it more palatable. We do not act as PR spokesmen for God. He isn’t running for office. Our job is to proclaim with clarity the truths He shared in His Word. It is not to make the world believe – it is to lovingly, graciously but pointedly tell the truth as He shared it. We love Him when we stop worrying about His popularity and pay more attention to our clarity.

A fifth way to honestly love God is to take Him seriously in our own hearts. We must not simply defend His Word before the world, but must take to heart all that He has commanded us to do and become in His Word.

Our walk with God cannot and must not be a show. It is to be personal, real and deep. John wrote:

1 John 5:10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [designated] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this – that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

We have a simple message: Know Christ and find life. The converse truth is a devastating one: Reject Christ and you will face permanent exile from God in death. That is what the Bible teaches. That is what we hold dear in our hearts. That is what defines the family of God for us.

In the end, loving God is about being faithful to Him in our hearts, representing Him faithfully with our mouths, and showing His goodness with our hands. Jesus wants people who choose to love Him, and thereby show love to His Father.

Seven Ways We Show Firm Trust

That isn’t all Jesus wants. The rest of the passage made plain He has a second desire for those who follow Him. We are to trust Him because He has revealed the truth – as only He can. Firm trust sounds like the bullet points of belief! Here are seven statements we can know that ground us firmly.

First John said we know that following Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life. He wrote:

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Consider the fact that John was writing during times of sweeping persecution, when standing for Christ may have meant hanging by the neck or bowing before the axe of execution. Do you see why “eternal life” was an essential thing to consider in the face of trouble?

Pastor Don Baggett wrote a few years ago:

My little grandson is just beginning to walk. For a little while, we would see him standing in the floor all by himself, but then when he realized that he was standing alone, he would just sit down. He could’ve most likely walked at that time, but he lacked confidence. Now, we expect him to quickly gain confidence, and when he does, his crawling days will be history. He will not keep crawling, because walking is a lot better than crawling. … We want to see him properly maturing at every age level, because we believe, as he does that, his life will be more fulfilling. We want him to have confidence in his abilities, so that he can get the most out of them. I want you to consider how important it is for you, as a Christian, to have confidence before the Lord. It is only as we have confidence, that we will take bold steps of faith. It is only through our confidence in the promise of His word, that we will be able to display confidence before Him, as we live out our life. I think it is safe to say that a Christian who lacks this confidence has not understood who Christ is in him and who he is in Christ.

Secondly, John said we know our Savior listens to us right now when we call to Him. It is a wonderful truth (especially when trouble strikes!) He said it this way:

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

John made clear: Jesus listens to us. He loves to hear our voice. We don’t pray repetitions of rote to earless stone. We serve a Savior Who has bent to hear our heart’s cry.

Third, John told us we know life here is a battle, but we can ask Him to empower us to help others in the family.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We need to remember that we were not promised a life without struggle. In our family we will encounter those who are failing to heed God’s warnings. Some will get sick and experience pain. We can offer advice; but we can do much more. We can intercede for them and pray. When we do, we have confidence that God can act through us for them.

Fourth, John reminded us that we know those who follow God follow what He said, and that makes us able to remain strong before a lost world. John wrote:

1 John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Don’t get lost in this verse. Remember how John defined “sin” in this letter? When we studied a few lessons ago, we encountered 1 John 3:4:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – They make up their own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He is the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

Fifth, we know we don’t belong here. The world is still dominated by the wicked one until the end comes. He wrote:

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

The lost state of the world is no indicator of the power of God. This is His story, and evil will reign until He says it is done.

Sixth, we know that life here is fleeting, and Jesus has opened the door to a life that doesn’t end. He wrote:

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

We are instructed to be content and confident in Jesus through His promises as the Scripture revealed them.

• You may recall in Philippians 4:11 where the Apostle Paul remarked he learned to be content “in whatever circumstance” he found himself. He learned this, the verse clearly says. Therefore, contentment is a lesson to be learned. We can learn to experience what David did when he wrote: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Contentment is learned when we are more concerned with God’s glory than our wants. Can we really feed our senses all week and our Savior on Sunday? No! We will not be content if we try.

• Paul also wrote to a younger servant of Jesus in 1 Timothy 6:6 these words: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” By this we can discern that contentment is an incredible asset in life.

• Paul went on to describe in 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “Having food and clothing, we shall be content.” With those words, Paul made clear that contentment is a choice we make.

• In order to assist us in that choice, Peter reminded us in 2 Peter 1:4: God “has given us exceedingly great and precious promises.” Perhaps focus on these is the great ticket to finding true contentment, and living out true confidence. We must take hold of the promises He has given us to gain confidence, and in that we will learn contentment.

Our confidence about life is directly linked to our unmoved trust in the word of God. When we become supremely confident that God will, in fact, meet all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) we will learn to be content. Jesus has conquered death and promised we will as well. He has promised life, relationship, joy and peace. We can have them when we take Him seriously.

Finally, we know that we can easily forget what we know and live ruled by our desires.

Idolatry is living in a state where we choose to derive our chief joy in someone or something other than the God Who has made all the promises that keep us firm in following Him. John warned as he closed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Honestly, idols sneak into your heart. You start by interest in something, and you find yourself trusting them more than you trust God. St. Augustine was remembered as saying:

Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using the One that ought to be worshiped.” (Note: We can’t be certain the saying was his, but it has been attributed widely to him).

Author Dan Allender wrote the book The Wounded Heart and offered this definition:

Idolatry is placing our longings for what only god can provide in the hands of a creature instead of the Creator. When I live for my work or my wife, I have made them my false god.”

It seems that people install a ‘god’ in their own minds that meets the needs they self-define. They prostrate themselves to worship that god, but in reality, they worship themselves – their senses, their wants.

John’s closing instruction to those who read his Epistle was this: Stay on guard from placing yourself at the mercy of your wants and desires. That isn’t what Jesus wants for us or from us…

Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

Not long ago, a sad item ran in a newspapers picked up from the sub-Asian region and broadcast by the wire services around the world. Apparently a man spotted that his dwelling was on fire. He saw that his family had made it to the street safely, but he wasn’t content to stand and watch as the village tried to put out the fire. He ran back into his burning dwelling to get both his valuables and an ivory idol trusted by his family for generations. It was the headline that stuck in my mind: “Man dies trying to save his god from fire.”

Stop and consider something for a moment… If The Jerusalem Post had posted a report two millennia ago, it could easily have read: “God dies to save man from fire.” That wouldn’t have been a story; it would have been a report. It is what He did… and He did it for US. He gave Himself for us.

The Search is Over: “The Fool on the Hill” – Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

One day in 1967, Paul McCartney sat down at his dad’s piano at the family home in Liverpool, England and began playing variations on a D 6th chord. He played for about five minutes, back and forth, with no particular direction when he noticed a series of notes that seemed pleasing to him, and he repeated them a few times. As he thought about the repetition, his mind floated to a picture of an eastern mystic that he heard interviewed on TV some days before. The man seemed detached from the world around him, but he was perfectly fine with the world thinking his life was a disconnected waste. “The Fool on The Hill” became Paul McCartney’s major contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour, and it was written sitting at that piano. Later, McCartney played the tune and sang some of his impromptu wording for John Lennon. When Lennon told him to write the words down, McCartney shrugged and said, “I will remember them.” He opened the song with:

Day after day, alone on the hill, the man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. And he never gives an answer… But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning around…”

Was the mystic smart and ridiculed or dumb and disconnected? In the song, it is hard to tell. He may be wise but unwilling to communicate to those around him. A close look at the words of the song are bound to leave you unsure of what the songwriter’s intent.

Yet the picture lingers. Sadly, when we look about in the world, we see people who seem unaware of how foolish they appear to others. Becoming wise isn’t a simple matter for many of us. In fact, if there are two places we can easily stumble when it comes to wise living, they are where we receive counsel and how we develop proper patterns in life. Think about it…

First, we need to learn to accept counsel exclusively from reliable sources.

Much of “growing up” is learning who we can believe in! All of us have believed some report from the web that wasn’t factually true. If we did the really embarrassing thing, we passed it to others. The recent surge of issues regarding “fake news” demonstrates the most recent version of a constant battle between truth and rumor, slander and scoop. It is amazing to watch how many people will make decisions about crucial things based on an article they read or a report from social media – only to discover the whole thing is at least speculation and at worst downright fabrication.

For instance, have you noticed how many so-called “health products” have a low-toned voice disclaimer about how there is no actual representation to “make your health better” when that was the subject of the whole advertisement? I am amazed when they present a forty-five second commercial of how their product will surely make your life better and solve your health issue, and then have a fast speaking and low-toned voice tell you at the end of the ad that what you saw doesn’t actually represent any verified claim that the product can really help you at all!

Does following a claim by “shady sources” make you look foolish? It certainly can. Consider this story:

The New York Daily news reported on December 5, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina was arrested after he opened fire inside “Comet Ping Pong” in Washington D.C. The pizza restaurant was named in a “Reddit post” as the secret location of a child sex ring, run by then-candidate Hillary Clinton. After his arrest, Welch told police he decided to “self-investigate” whether the so-called “Pizza Gate” conspiracy theory was true — that Clinton and her campaign chief were operating the ring in the restaurant’s back room. He took a rifle and went to DC to check it out.

Getting information from unreliable and unconfirmed sources can be both embarrassing and dangerous.

In addition to this, there is another practice that separates the wise and the one who lacks wisdom…

Second, we must develop habits that work out successfully in the world.

It isn’t your imagination. Some people just can’t seem to “land on their feet” in life. They exert some effort to be successful, but they seem to keep failing, year after year. If you ask them, they aren’t really sure why, but they know something is wrong that is holding them back from becoming all they were meant to be. You see it in the worker that doesn’t seem to advance in the job. You detect it in the person who can’t seem to land the job in the first place. You see it in the person who seems constantly stirred but their expended energy doesn’t help them progress. Some will tell you honestly they don’t know what line they missed, but they feel they didn’t get some piece of instruction other people did. They aren’t trying to be wrong, but they need wisdom to identify their weaknesses and spot paths to successful living.

Solomon had much to say about wisdom, and nearly as much to say about foolishness. From the middle of the ninth and through the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes, the wise king reminded us of the two skills developed by the wise…

Key Principle: Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Solomon opened with a view of “how to find proper sources for the truth” in 9:13-10:7.

Discerning Good Sources: Cautions about seeking counsel!

It is obvious to all of us that sometimes we need help finding direction. Since wrong counsel can lead to devastating consequences, Solomon offered some tips to keep in mind when seeking wise counsel. If Orson Wells radio experiment in “War of the Worlds” taught us anything long ago, it made clear that where we get our perceptions and our news can impact dramatically how we respond to life. Solomon opened with some words that may surprise some of you…

First, wisdom doesn’t always come from the place you would think to look for it.

For some reason, our prejudice has much to say about who we listen to – even when they don’t demonstrate a pattern of wisdom. He warned:

Ecclesiastes 9:13 Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. 14 There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siege works against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom.

The scene was a small walled town surrounded by a large and well-resourced army. As the siege ramps were being constructed outside the wall to make holes and breaches in it, a small group of men gathered inside to weigh their options. The words of a poor man who was wise made sense to the leaders of the village, and they executed a plan based on his theory of negotiation. They were pleasantly surprised when the plan succeeded and peace came to the city. The point of the portion was to remind a student that people think they know who will offer the truth that delivers – but these men got it wrong. The poor man was wiser than the town councilmen. We must grow to understand that some attained success without any real knowledge of how it happened. They don’t have a formula – they simply were in the right place at the right time. When pressured to offer direction to you, they may be unable to do so. Just because someone has had success, does not mean they can instruct you on how to have success – apart from instructing you to follow God’s Word.

Second, when wise counsel comes from an unlikely place, it often isn’t always valued as it should be.

Solomon continued his words concerning the poor wise man with a sad note:

Ecclesiastes 9:15b “…Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded.

He may not look the part, but your dad may be a very wise man. Your mom might know what you really need to hear right now. They may have never been in leadership of a Fortune 500 company, but they very well may have pulled a family through a tough time and paid every debt created along the way. Just because the world doesn’t see them as particularly wise and recall their mammoth struggle to put food on the table and pay for your braces in Jr. High, doesn’t mean they aren’t champions at budgeting. Don’t forget the people who got you to where you are. Don’t overlook the sacrifices because your familiarity bred a heart of contempt for them. Look carefully at what people have done in their lives with what they have been given. If they had little but stretched it to cover the needs, they are perhaps wiser than the one who had much and struggled little. If they managed much, they probably can help you get organized.

Let’s face it: Our world places great value on people who can throw a ball and little value on a child care worker who holds a baby. We will pay enormous sums of money for those who can catch a pass, but are quite stingy when it comes to one who will care for our loved one in their last days, when they need constant help. My point: the value system of the world doesn’t reflect what is truly important. A wise men or woman learns to look carefully and remember those who have cared for you, taught you and helped you along the way. Don’t look past those who the world may not recognize, and again, don’t forget who helped you become the person you are.

Third, we must learn to listen carefully for wise counsel over the most pronounced voices.

Solomon discovered the loudest mouths were often attached to the smallest minds. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:17 The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

There is a difference to being “in charge” of the room and being right in our opinion. Having authority placed upon us should humble us, not make us think we are automatically smarter than everyone else in the room. Just as I recognize Scripture teaches believers to respect authority, I must also recognize those of us who are in the position need to become wise enough to quiet down and listen to the other people. A shouting “ruler” (as Solomon put it) isn’t right because they are louder than all the other voices in the room.

A wise word leads us to act on truth. It must be heeded because of what it is – not because of the package in which it is presented. Many in our world are distracted and follow the flash and tinsel, but not the truth. Look past the package. Develop and ear to hear truth and wisdom whether it is presented well or not.

Fourth, never forget wrong counsel can do untold damage – and it doesn’t take much.

Wrong answers matter. Wrong directions can bring perilous consequences. The king wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. 10:1 Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.

These sayings reinforce the “one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch” idea. In 9:18, Solomon made clear that wise living offered grand protections, but needed to be embraced for all to bring safety to a community. Think about it. One unwise fire builder in the forest imperils all the other campers. Time and again, Solomon will remind us that a community is only as strong as the least wise among it. Building the Great Wall of China would only keep out the Mongols until one gate keeper was bribed. All the effort of the Kingdom to protect itself from invasion was undermined by a single traitor. The saying isn’t to leave us in despair; it is a warning. We must educate and train those among us who are weak and underdeveloped in wisdom. Our young are idealistic, but often don’t have the experience to understand how a policy that clearly offers them help in the short run may not be best for the society in the long run. Parts of our nation have been deeply wounded by the behaviors of some students, and it appears they haven’t been offered wisdom to connect their ideals with practices that will build a strong society. It isn’t their fault as much as it is ours. We must raise them up in wisdom.

Not only can one bad soldier cause the downfall of the squad in the field of conflict, but a little foolishness mixed into otherwise wise planning can spoil results. You need to lock the back door as well as the front. That was the point of the first verse of chapter ten. It doesn’t take much poison to ruin the whole pot of stew. Wise is the society that watches what is put in the pot as its young are trained. We aren’t trying to be uncooperative, but we cannot and must not allow an agenda of social experimentation to infect the education of our young. It has devastating consequences. Let me offer an illustration if I may.

Children mimic what they see at home, both on media and in the behaviors of those in charge. If there is no respect for authority developed in the home, but rights are constantly echoed, the child will have little regard for those in whom enforcement of the law has been placed. They will learn little in regard to personal property. They will see the values of peaceful protest and turn them into a destructive riot – while actually believing they are both exercising their rights and helping their community. They will harm others and destroy property while believing they are being heroic and helpful. Respect must be taught. Boundaries are a learned idea. When someone feels they have the right to destroy my automobile because they have encountered injustice by the local police, they are simply wrong. When that idea is allowed to fester, they will begin to believe violence is a practical tool. I have lived and worked with people who thought the violent bombing and destruction of a bus of school children was a legitimate form of protest. It is not. It is murder and mayhem – and we must teach that your rights stop at my nose. You don’t have the right to hurt people or property that is not yours to make a point no matter how valid your point may be. Children must be taught that sometimes how you argue erodes and even invalidates the point you are trying to make. That is wise instruction.

Fifth, recognize there will be choices and watch the path of the would-be counselor before taking their advice.

Solomon encouraged seeking mentors, but warned to watch them before accepting them in that role. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. 3 Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.

Verse two isn’t political; though in our current day it may seem like it can be obviously applied that way. In Solomon’s day, “left” and “right” weren’t code words for liberal and conservative. The point he made was simpler: Fools choose a path different than wisdom directs. Wise people are called to live differently than the accepted foolishness around them. Solomon noted that if one looks closely, they can spot the fool.

Look at verse three and ask this question: How did Solomon indicate I could tell a fool? The answer is this: Watch the path they walk upon, the direction they take, and the way they walk it. In other words, if you would receive counsel from them, look at the way they have lived. The longer I live, the more I see it. There are those who are wise and quiet. There are those who are foolish and loud. There are those who are ready to pass wisdom to me, but have no evidence their path of wisdom has been applied to their own walk – at least not for very long.

I want to take advice of health from someone who is healthy. I want to take my advice on work from one who has a long track record of working diligently. I want to take my counsel on marriage from someone who demonstrates they have a good one over the long haul. Degrees mean you have encountered information in a theoretical form for a specific duration of time. They don’t guarantee that I can apply truth any more than reading a recipe makes me a chef. Look for people who have lived in a way you seek life to go. Watch their walk before you accept their talk. That is wisdom at work.

Sixth, choose positions carefully and prepare to hold your ground thoughtfully when challenged.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 10:4 If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.

Don’t be defensive and loud, but rather confident because you chose your positions well. Don’t abandon your moral post because it makes the person in charge upset. Calmly stay by the values you have thoughtfully formed. The results of bringing a testimony of truth and solid values into a meeting will diminished rapidly if you abandon your positions when challenged. Learn truth. Accept it. Stand by it. When those who have power test your resolve, stand by what you know to be true with kindness and confidence.

Every now and then in a class I test this idea. I will ask a question, and a student will raise their hand and offer an excellent answer. From every angle, what they answered was correct. Yet, if my facial expression changes as though what they said is somehow painful, many will back off their answer to try to please me as their teacher. Solomon argued that we should so carefully form our positions in wisdom, that we are prepared to stand by them when they are tested.

Seventh, don’t be surprised to learn that titles don’t tell the whole story.

Live for a while on the planet, and what Solomon wrote next will become painfully obvious. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— 6 folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. 7 I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.

Solomon noticed two things: Not everyone who has the position is in the right place and not everyone who lacks position is undeserving of a great position. I have worked in many places, but I have noticed something that may be true where you work. Often in the office there is a boss who depends heavily on a worker. In that same office, many of the workers could leave and little would be affected by their absence. Yet, there is one person, often a low-ranking clerk of some sort who carries the office on their shoulders. They can find what no one else can. They know all the little idiosyncrasies of the machines and can make them all work when needed. They understand the computers, the printer and know where the relevant files are kept. They may not be in charge, but they effectively run the place. When they aren’t available to help everyone, the whole work place slows progress.

The point is that titles don’t tell the whole story. Many who work hard and keep things running aren’t the ones with the titles at all. They know the work, they do the work – but another is placed in charge of the work. In my own work, much of what is essential to getting things done is performed by others around me. I am responsible, and I am affirmed when it goes well, but I am often not in the room when the real labor occurred.

All seven ideas we just reviewed teach one idea: Wisdom must be learned, but we must carefully select the sources from which we accept that learning. That will help us bypass one of the two great pitfalls that lead to a wise life. There is a second. When I discover the proper places to source wisdom, I must learn to adapt my life to conform to what I learn. Solomon would say it this way: “You must develop wise habits”.

Developing Good Habits: Wise Words for Successful Workers!

The first habit Solomon mentioned has become the mantra of many shops and factories. It is this:

Safety first!

Ecclesiastes 10:8 He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.

The fundamental habit we must teach to our young as they begin to drive / work/ play/ is this: pay attention to what you are doing. Distraction can kill you. Leave the text until you stop the drive. Learn to work cautiously and be careful to look at the dangers of the task. Youthful exuberance can easily lead one to believe that sheer power will overcome all obstacles. It won’t. Careful use of resources and power will keep you from harm.

The other night I at a friends and we watched a few minutes of one of the reality shows that place people in ridiculously harsh environments as they practically kill themselves to win a prize, or simply to prove to themselves they can survive no matter what apocalypse may come upon them. The young man was collecting fire wood, but had no tools to chop it to size. He decided to take a boulder and hurl it at the wood placed at an angle against a rock. If never occurred to the young man that hurling a rock in close proximity may not work. The rock may bounce back and hit you. The branch may break and part of it will spring upward toward you. He tossed the boulder with great force and got a face full of wood smacking him in the forehead. Fortunately, all he hurt was his head, but that didn’t seem to be working very well even before… so there was little loss. Not to sound cruel, but it is hard to underestimate how little some people think before they do something that will definitely leave a mark.

Second, prepare your tools!

Wise people work on the tools before they work on the job. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:10 If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

It always feels like if you don’t plunge in, you are wasting time. That isn’t true. Solomon would tell you to get the right tools and prepare them well for the work you are about to do. Probably referring to this text, some historians quip that Abraham Lincoln once put it this way: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six of them sharpening my axe”! (From My Study Windows by James Russell Lowell (Professor of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College), Section: Abraham Lincoln: 1864, Page 166, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View).

It is a simple picture: a man who wants to chop down a tree reads in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to “Do it with all your might!” As a result, he grabs his axe, finds a tree and begins to hack and wack away. Preparation would have saved his arms and increased his efforts. Ecclesiastes warns against taking simple wisdom of a Proverb and thinking in a superficial way while failing to see how complex and difficult life can be. The Bible isn’t a single verse, but many blended, some that balance others. This is such a verse.

I read one day that painting professionals realize the importance of surface preparation in achieving maximum paint performance. Most paint coating failures can be directly attributed to inadequate surface preparation which affects coating adhesion. When you want to get the paint flowing, the most important thing is to keep the can closed and prepare the surface.

When I was in school, back in the dark ages just after the wheel was invented, I had to take classes in both Greek and Hebrew. When I was doing that, I ended up thinking what MOST students think part way through the process. I thought I was wasting precious time. “How will this help me reach lost people?” I would ask myself. The answer comes from Solomon: “You are sharpening the axe. In the end this will save me time not waste it.” I will never rise to be great language scholar (although I continue to work on my English!) but gaining facility in the languages has enabled me to follow commentaries and make your own decisions about whether versions are right or wrong. The tree falls more easily because the axe was forcibly sharpened by my professors.

Remember this: Truth is never invented; it is only discovered. Discovery takes time. If God revealed it, chances are good that somebody else in the church history has seen it before. If you will take the time to work at preparation, learning and discovery – joy will come in the easier work.

Third…Practice, Practice, Practice!

Solomon told us what we heard in little league. You won’t hit the ball unless you practice. Unpracticed players embarrass themselves. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:11 If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.

A snake charmer is only impressive when the snake follows the script. Practice of the craft helps avoid the embarrassment and loss that comes with the snake doing what is natural and not what is practiced. The Bible calls believers to DO, not just to KNOW.

Let’s be honest: We only truly believe the commands of the Bible that we actually practice. We can easily claim, “We believe in witnessing.” The obvious question is this: Do you intentionally share Christ with people? If not, I would submit you either don’t really believe in it, you don’t recognize the lost-ness of those without Christ, or you just don’t care all that much about other people and their plight. Our problem, when we look honestly at it, is often that we know far more than we do and we teach people to know more that we teach them to apply what they know in practice. Filling notebooks with Bible insights isn’t the objective. Thinking that writing things down is the point is a mistake. The truth is you don’t judge an army by how soldiers sit in the mess hall and eat. The real judgment is made based on how the army performs in battle against the foe.

Fourth, don’t speak or act like you know what you don’t!

Now Solomon offered another caution that should become our wise practice:

Ecclesiastes 10:12 Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13 the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. 14 Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?

He offered this thought: A few helpful words are better than long predictions and detailed guesses. Beloved, we need great thinkers who work through deep thinking – but not all of us are that deep.

Each generation needs its C. S. Lewises and J. R. R. Tolkiens, and G. K. Chestertons, its Blaise Pascals but they are rare among us and always were. Be careful not to try to sound like you are, if you are not. The wisest people I know are unafraid to admit what they don’t know. Know what you know, but know what you don’t. That is a good habit. When you hear these words: “Somebody will have to teach me about this, I just don’t know,” you are hearing wisdom.

Fifth, be careful with your resources.

Don’t waste what you have been given – you may need it. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:15 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 16 Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. 17 Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness.

With time on the planet, the young grow old – and some grow wise. You can note wisdom when you see someone who learned to conserve their energy for doing something important. Immature people blow through resources without thinking ahead, always believing more resources will come. Solomon would say this: “Don’t!”

Sixth, plan time to maintain and manage things.

Gaining something is one thing; keeping it is another. Solomon noted:

Ecclesiastes 10:18 Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. 19 Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.

Everything you own takes maintenance. Every relationship does as well. Preparation and maintenance may not be glitzy, but it keeps the roof from leaking on your dessert at the table! If you want to have a great life, take time to maintain what is important.

Seventh, watch your mouth about those in charge.

Solomon began with learning who to trust, and he ends with learning who NOT to trust. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.

We get the saying: “A little birdie told me” from this verse. Respect isn’t a put up job – you need to cultivate it even when you think no one is listening. It will show eventually. Learn to respect those in authority. Don’t just put it on – do it as a matter of your own heart.

It is fine to disagree with those who lead us, but don’t confuse your opinion with real conviction. They are not the same thing. Opinions are things you argue about; convictions are things you are willing to die for. Our world needs men and women of godly, biblical convictions who refuse to waste their voice on matters of opinion. Throughout history, people who have had the greatest impact for God were not the most knowledgeable, nor the most talented, but rather those who stood unapologetically for conviction rooted squarely in the Word.

Wise people learn two essential skills: how to discern good sources and how to develop successful habits.

Mary Bartels wrote this years ago in Guideposts: Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, If this were my plant, I’d put it in the loveliest container I had!” My friend changed my mind. “I ran short of pots,” she explained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”- Mary Bartels Bray, reprinted from Guideposts, June 1965.

I wonder if that is you. You were planted here in an old tin of a body, but your beauty is just beginning to show. Wisdom is living out God’s truth. If you do it well, the beauty of the Designer will show through!

The Search is Over: “The Incredible Journey” – Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were for house chores. For the uninitiated, these are horrible punishments devised by mad men and women in the school of parenting, that were created to add misery to an idyllic childhood. My mother graduated from “Mom U” with a degree in “wake them up early on Saturday to dust something that didn’t look any different after it was dusted.” In spite of it all, somehow my siblings and I survived to tell the tale of such inhumane treatment…After chores, the remainder of the morning was normally given to the little “knob-type” television that was in the room with the couch we were allowed to sit on. There was another room with couches and chairs, and I am not certain what it was for, but we were only allowed there on Christmas when the tree was set up in that room. In the “TV room” we collapsed on the floor and couch and watched science fiction theater – a Philly area treat that was a combination of the weird and a dab of science sound. One implausible movie after another treated us to strange ideas. One I happen to remember was the 1966 film called “Fantastic Voyage,” a tale of a submarine crew who was tasked to shrink to microscopic size and venture into the body of an injured scientist to repair the damage to his brain.

It really was a fantasy for the biology nerds of my day! At one point, an arteriovenous fistula forced the crew to detour through the heart, and they were further forced to induce cardiac arrest to avoid turbulence that would crush their little vessel. They passed through the inner ear, where all personnel were ordered to remain absolutely silent to prevent massive waves of turbulence. The lungs were a highlight, where they had to replenish their supply of oxygen in the small ship. I recall a number of scenes from the movie, but don’t really remember the whole of the plot. I can say this: it was a journey to behold, even if it was the stuff of imagination.

Enough of make believe – we came to deal with real life. God left us a record of the wisest man ever to walk the earth, and he told us of a journey as well. This one wasn’t fiction, but it did unveil a fantastic voyage. It was the story of how life on this planet was designed to work, and what skills needed to be learned to navigate the troubles inherent in a fallen world.

In short, Solomon observed life, and as he observed intently some of the texture of it, life frankly scared him. He gazed and pondered the depths of some of the hardest to explain facets of our human experience, and it didn’t settle him. In fact, when he looked at how unpredictable life can be it was disconcerting. He contrasted that with how very predictable its end will be in death, and that didn’t exactly lift his spirits either. Finally, after careful and contemplative consideration, he came to the conclusion that many people on the planet are, well, just plain nut cases. Honestly, they are fruit cakes. He lost sleep over his observations. Then, as with many great minds disturbed by studying too intensely for too long a time – he decided to write down his observations. His work is intense at times, depressing at other times – and all true to life. He noted that in some ways, life is predetermined. In other ways, life is really what you make it. He would say it this way…

Key Principle: Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Solomon didn’t hate life all the time (though he admitted he did on occasion). He simply made a factual record that apart from understanding that we are created and have a purpose in our Creator – life doesn’t make sense. In fact, it isn’t even appealing to think about a cosmos disconnected. The remarkable thing is he wrote that before our modern curriculum developers who have sold American educators that very message. Make no mistake, Solomon said that life disconnected from God will drive people over the edge. Here are some of his telling observations in Ecclesiastes 9.

First, he saw that in the short run, we don’t know what we will face – and that is a problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:1 For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.

He acknowledged that God is in control of our lives, but we cannot predict from day to day what we will experience. He is not cruel or erratic, but we live in a fallen world riddled with sin and its effects. Without our ability to see His complex plan in the midst of the world devastated by our rebellion against God, we will not be able to perceive how everything works, and it will always appear event are nothing more than “loose ends” while living under the sun.

Look even closer at his words.

He opened with words about emotional response. He said he “took to heart” the reality of life’s unpredictability. In a moment he will make clear how unpredictable life truly is, but in his opening line, he showed an honest assessment of how it feels. The truth is that life hurts. On the face of it, because we can’t see what is coming toward us, we cannot fully emotionally prepare for it. Life can and will hurt you, and you won’t know why at the time it happens. That isn’t happy news, but it is the truth.

Second, he noted along with the reality of pain the truth that being righteous or wise doesn’t offer us the ability to predict the difficulties and blessings we will face along the journey. Our education may inform us on the specifics concerning what we face once we are in it, but that learning will never really prepare us for the pain of the experience. No amount of wisdom offers you a crystal ball on your future.

Finally, he made plain one of the most powerful emotionally packed qualities of life – the reactions of others. Because we live in a fallen world, we are surrounded by people who are deeply flawed and damaged by the fall. Much of the pain we will face in life will be directly connected to how others deal with us. People may be loving and kind toward us, but may just as likely be hateful and troublesome. We may be at perfect peace with everyone we know, when someone enters our life that intends to do evil. We may do right, but that is no guarantee we will be repaid with a life filled with fair and reasonable people.

Ask health department workers who went to their annual Christmas party luncheon after a training session on December. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino. Sayed Farouk and his wife Malik came into the community research facility with weaponry and left behind 14 dead and 22 injured, some very severely. A few minutes before he left to get his bag of weapons, Farook posed with four fellow county employees in front of a Christmas tree in a conference room. The murderous couple left behind a 6-month-old daughter, who was taken into foster care, according to family members. “That’s very hard for us to comprehend.” said David Bowdich, who was the in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office.

Solomon understood the incomprehensibility of the reactions of people. Though he knew nothing of Christmas parties or high-powered rifles, he knew that nothing in life guaranteed that others would treat you fairly or evenly humanely. It isn’t a given that how you act will set the tone for how others treat you. A decent, hard-working, peace-loving young man of color may face hideous prejudice. A loving, kind and helpful janitor may be shot dead next to his bucket because of someone else’s incomprehensible world view. Because you do right, you are not somehow insulated from the actions of others who do not intend to be fair or just. That was Solomon’s observation.

Solomon summarized and restated the notion of unpredictability later in his speech using these words:

Ecclesiastes 9:11 I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Let’s face it, life here holds no guarantees except one – it is temporary.

Second, though we live with unpredictability in the short run, in the long run, we know what we will face – and that is an even bigger problem! He reminded:

Ecclesiastes 9:2 It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.

“In short,” Solomon argued, “Everyone faces death. It is our reality.” Scan the pages of the newspapers. On the front pages you may be challenged by how outrageous the behavior of some people became as they took on police and ended in the morgue. Flip back a few pages to the obituaries. You will find kind people who went to bed one night and left their body for eternity. The circumstances for the two were very different, but both people woke up the morning before their death for the last time. Death is the reality for most of us when it comes to exiting the scene on this planet. I don’t believe that is news to any of us – but we seem to manage to avoid living like we know that is the real situation we live with.

Look at the way Solomon faced it. He opened frankly and succinctly: “We all face the same thing.” He observed that it didn’t matter if we behaved or not, gave or not, religiously observed, or not, swore an oath, or not. Life on this planet normally ends at a funeral. There were only a few who bypassed it. Enoch appeared to get to God without facing all that others face. Elijah got a chariot ride to glory. Here’s the truth: You and I need to understand that we are very likely NOT going to get a chariot or beam up experience. We will likely face death. It will come to all of us, unless we are here at the return of Jesus for His own.

Solomon’s point was not that it doesn’t matter how you live. His observation was simple: the way you live doesn’t determine how you enter eternity – though it may reflect where you will spend that eternity. Though wicked and good, clean and unclean, observant before God and an ignorer of God all die – he didn’t argue that how they lived didn’t matter. He argued that how they lived didn’t insulate them from facing death. Death passed on all men. No one should assume their behavior grants them an exemption.

Later in the same speech, Solomon added to that truth and noted the best plans we can make will one day be interrupted. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:12 Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.

Not only is life unpredictable in its course, the timing of its end is often very unpredictable. No matter what your plans are for next year, it would be wise to bear in mind that you may not have a next year in which to accomplish your plans. I am not trying to depress you. The statement is simply true, regardless of how it makes you feel. Life offers no guarantees and death is seldom on someone’s schedule or jotted into their “Daytimer.”

In a way, Solomon began this lesson with the unpredictable course of life, and ended it with the predictable end of life – and both seemed like a terrible problem to him…

Third, Solomon observed the timeline between our birth and death. He noted (along with an unpredictable life course and its all too predictable but untimely end) the incredible stupidity and seeming insanity of many of earth’s residents. Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 9:3b “…Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Not only is life unpredictable and death certain, but Solomon made plain that people don’t make sense of how to navigate the journey very well. He used the term “evil” and “insane” to describe the way people live – and that was before they issued driver’s licenses to all the people in our neighborhood! Have you been amazed at the risks some people take to get from one place to another? Have you wondered how in the world they could think what they were doing was in any way “normal?”

Perhaps you think calling people insane is an impolite way to refer to them. I would ask you to “keep an open mind” on that point. On August 15, 2013, HuffPo reported this:

A pair of would-be Chicago restaurant robbers have proved not every crime has a “mastermind” behind it. Chicago police and prosecutors say Mario Garcia, 39, and Domingo Garcia-Hernandez, 28, went to the Clifton Grill in West Rogers Park late Sunday demanding food and telling the owner, “I will kill you, I have a gun with me,’’ the Tribune reports. Concerned for his customers’ safety, police say the owner told the men he was too busy but to come back in an hour — and they did. According to CBS Chicago when the men showed up a second time just after midnight, they demanded $100 in addition to food. The owner told the guys he needed to get his wife’s check book, which bought him enough time to call police. The men were charged with one count of attempted aggravated robbery each. Garcia-Hernandez is also charged with possession of a replica firearm, United Press International reports. According to police, the replica used: a squirt gun. The two men are due in court Aug. 19.”

Honestly, I have lived on the planet fifty-five years, and I am still taken by surprise when I read the news about how some people make decisions on how to spend an evening!

Everything we see in the passage leads us to the negative. Life is unpredictable. Death is certain. Our neighbors on the planet are lunatics. Wow. How in the world can we look at all this and not leave the lesson depressed? Fortunately, the ancient king didn’t just point out how bad a state we are in, he offered words of counsel on navigating the insanity through the rapids of unpredictability.

Stop for moment and listen to him – but hear ALL of what Solomon said. He wasn’t done at verse three. Life really isn’t as bad as all that. In fact, in many ways life is incredible. It can be beautiful. It is surely humorous.

If you aren’t laughing enough, it is because you aren’t looking at the whole scene or you are hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Life is unpredictable – but it is often hilarious! We face death – but we don’t have to make that the punctuation mark of every sentence along the journey! Listen to the positive counsel of the wise king:

First, learn to live optimistically. Hope carries us through the unpredictability of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:4 For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6 Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.

Solomon shared something that growing up I thought my grandma made up : “Quit whining, there is still hope if you are breathing!” His method of sharing the truth was more philosophical. He said a dead king is worse off than a living pauper – and used the animal kingdom to show it. He simply made the point that we only contribute to the story until our time is done on earth – then our insights don’t matter (unless you are in the movies or an author).

I get the chance to both write and be on film. One of the beautiful things about writing is that long after you are here, your thoughts can live on. One of the ugly things about film is that you realize how much older you look now than when your series began! One of the key complaints the recently deceased Carrie Fisher made about playing Princess Leia was that people met her at fifty and sixty and were disappointed that she didn’t still look like she did when she was scantily clad in galactic wear at age 18. Film captures you at one moment and locks you there in the minds of others.

Don’t overlook the happy thought tucked into verse four. While we live, we need to see hope. People die faster on a battle field from hopelessness than they do from water or food deprivation.

• Hope is the new beginning for every ending.
• It is the belief that there is a remarkable and unwritten chapter of the journey yet to come.
• Hope waits for a new dawn and sees it as a new chance to take on troubles in a different way.
• Hope helps you focus on the opportunity inside the problem.

Solomon isn’t “pie in the sky” about life. He stated the obvious. You are still breathing. How about figuring out a way to make that a good thing? He went on…

Second, learn to live contentedly. Your Creator has planned some stunning moments in your journey.

He said it in simple words…

Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.

Obviously Solomon is assuming you are doing what pleases God when he makes his reference in the text. The statement doesn’t apply if you are ignoring His Word and doing evil. At the same time, if you are doing what God told you to do, Solomon would tell you to do your best to have some FUN on the journey. That was his point when he added the words “with a cheerful heart.” Take what God has graciously provided for you and add some cheer to your day! Dreariness isn’t spiritual, in spite of the many examples you may have seen in life. Godliness isn’t glum. Spirituality isn’t suffering in silence.

The fact is that a contented life comes from being happy with what God has provided – not becoming complacent about a desire to better yourself. Contentment isn’t an excuse to lay back and quit work; it is not about that at all. It is more about finding joy in what you DO have, instead of living in a dream world of what you wish you had. Contentment is a state of your heart – it isn’t locked into circumstantial response.

Honestly, some of the poorest people I know have lots of money – but they don’t know how to enjoy their life. Solomon would say: “Never let the things you want blot out the celebration of the things you have!” Remember: It isn’t how much you have in life, who you know in life or where you are in your life, that will become the driving forces of happiness. What you believe about each of those things in your life drives your happiness. If you learn to see the beauty of what you have, you will enjoy life much more.

Third, learn to live each day like a celebration of life. Each sunrise offers new opportunities to learn something new and enjoy something more deeply.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.

This too can be misunderstood if you don’t know the context of Scripture. Solomon isn’t calling us to be hedonistic to enjoy life – it is hedonistic to make enjoyment the chief end of life. Look closely at the verse…

He referenced clean clothing and a clean appearance (a well-oiled head) to suggest that we take the time at the end of the work day to clean up and enjoy the cool of the evening. He who works all the time celebrates little. You will find the more you learn to celebrate the mundane and daily parts of life, the more life will offer you to celebrate.

I LOVE to open a coffee can for the first time, and let the vacuum seal release all the aroma of the beans. I get very excited to tear the seal on the top of a jar of peanut butter to release the wafting smell of the once crushed and imprisoned nuts. I love the smell of a campfire, when it doesn’t include the smell of burning sneakers. I am fascinated by the ocean – and can watch for hours the waves crashing against the rocks or onto the sandy shore. Who can resist a laughing baby?

I know these things seem small, but they are the daily joys of life. The same rain that causes the child to cry – because recess will be indoors – makes the farmer smile. Life is, more often than not, how you choose to view what happens. Solomon would tell you to go to work and give it all you have – then come home and clean up and get ready to take pleasure in the small things.

Fourth, learn to live in rich relationship. Invest in them early and keep them fresh for a lifetime.

If I am excited about any part of this lesson, it is this part. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 9:9 Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

If you read the verse carefully, you will notice that Solomon didn’t down play how hard life is. He called your daily work “toil.” He called your life fleeting. He admitted that work took up much of your life’s blood and energy. Yet, against the backdrop of all that labor, he happily advised we find a good mate, and stick with him/her all our days.

I would be remiss if I didn’t use this time to be honest with you about marriage. There are seasons to life, and there are seasons to relationships. Those who don’t go the distance may never know the joy of making it through the tough times. Not every day is bliss, but the accumulated collection of life with a satisfying mate cannot be matched in life.

Let me take a moment to offer a few reasons to stick with it even if you’ve seriously considered giving up on your marriage.

First, half of the problems in your current marriage will be with your for life – because your spouse isn’t the whole problem. Let me kindly suggest a few of the problems in your marriage have to do with you. You can’t move on if you take YOU with YOU to happy land.
Second, starting over isn’t as romantic as it may sound. Do you really relish restarting the process of finding someone to trust, love and respect starting from scratch?

Third, when you break a marriage, you tear something you often cannot mend. Maybe it will rip the heart of your children. Maybe it will crush your credit. Maybe it will destroy your mate’s self-confidence. None of those things are good.

Finally, the person you married is still buried inside the cantankerous person eating breakfast cereal across the table. Maybe you have been taking each other or granted. I don’t know. May I suggest you pray like mad and give your best to making it work?

Honestly, there are no perfect marriages. There are flawed people who choose to grow together and stay at it in spite of their imperfections. Your spouse shouldn’t be compared with a movie character or cardboard cutout of perfection.

To the young I offer only this: Choose wisely the wife or husband of your youth. The days will slip away, and your figure will go with them. Pain will leave its mark on your brow all too soon. Don’t choose based solely on externals – because they don’t last long. Find someone you can honestly spend life with and be thankful they are willing to have you.

Fifth, learn to live fully. A half done life is less satisfying than a runny egg on your breakfast plate.

Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

You get one chance at life – don’t waste it. Don’t half live it. Give it all you have. You can sleep when you are dead. For now, put some energy into BECOMING. Put your best effort into the important things. Don’t take life for granted – you will be left with nothing but regrets if you do. Solomon would summarize the whole of this lesson this way…

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible.

Life Is Beautiful was a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film about a Jewish Italian book shop owner named Guido who used an overactive imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

In 1939 in Italy, Guido arrived to work in a city where his uncle operated a restaurant. He was a comical and sharp young man, and he found a woman and fell in love, stealing his wife from her own engagement party (to another man) on horseback. They married and had a son, and settled into owning an operating a little book store. War broke out and Guido is seized, with his family. They are forced onto a train and sent to a concentration camp. Guido never saw his wife during their internment, but he got creative and pulled off stunts, like using the camp’s loudspeaker to send cryptic messages to assure his wife that he and their son were safe. Though many are executed in the camp, Guido works to hide their true situation from his son. He convinced his son the camp was a complicated game in which he needed to perform the tasks his father gave him to earn points. He taught his son that whoever got to one thousand points first won a tank. He said if he cried, complained or said he was hungry, he would lose all his accumulated points. Quiet boys that hide from camp guards earn extra points. Though at times reluctant, the boy went along with the game. Guido maintained the story right until the end when, in the chaos of shutting down the camp as Allied forces approached, he told his son to stay in a box until everybody left and he will have completed the game. Guido ventured out to find his wife, but was caught by a soldier and marched to be executed. While he is walking to his death, Guido passed by his son one last time, but stayed in character and played the game, winking at his son. The next morning the camp was liberated and Guido’s son was reunited with his mother. It wasn’t until years later that truly understood his father’s story and the sacrifice he made for his family.

Guido didn’t need a good life to make his son’s life a good one. He needed to teach optimism and contentment. He needed to make each day a celebration. He needed to love more deeply the partner God gave him. He needed to throw himself into living with all he could – even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. It made the difference in his son and changed the world while he was in it. You and I need the same thing.

Though life is unpredictable and short, it can be incredible!

The Video Introductions for the New Testament are Complete!

Our “One Hour. One Book” videos on each Bible book reached a milestone this past week as we completed and posted to the site ALL of the New Testament videos. There are still a handful of videos from the Hebrew Scriptures that are not posted, but we will have them up soon. The New website is:

It contains a carefully prepared introduction and survey of each book of the Bible that was taped in our classroom in Florida. Our hope is that people unfamiliar with any part of the Bible will find the video introduction helpful, It is currently in use in Bible studies and the series has regular viewers in 114 countries.

The Search is Over: “The Watermarks of Wisdom” – Ecclesiastes 8

We have all met them, and some of us live with them. Each of us has in our life someone who seemingly knows a great deal about health food, but even a cursory look at them shows they are unhealthy in their lifestyle. We may have a friend who can explain in detail the benefits of regular exercise, but they are grossly overweight and extremely undeveloped in the muscle department. Perhaps we have in our life someone who has incredible insight into raising children, but their own children seem like hellions. Another friend may offer tremendous advice on how to play a cello, but they cannot seem to hold the bow. There are people who know theory, and then there are people who have learned how to practice that theory consistently.

I mention this because in Biblical terms, there are people who know the theory of a godly lifestyle, but do not live consistently according to Biblical principles.

They get the idea of a walk with God, but they don’t consistently practice one – at least not according to the way God has expressed in His Word He wants them to practice it. They are not hard to find; they are all over the place in the Christian world. They can quote Scripture, but don’t seem to connect their bad habits and ungodly practices with violations of the very truths they memorize. Though we all have areas of life that are not consistently surrendered to God, that isn’t what I am talking about. For most of us, areas in which we struggle to surrender control are points of conviction. That is not true for these unwise friends. They appear satisfied that godliness is mere memorization, theological prowess and theory – whether or not it seems to be showing in their life choices. Solomon would call the unwise, and openly challenged that lifestyle as he explained the workings of godly wisdom in Ecclesiastes 8.

When we studied chapter 7 we noted that Solomon made clear two things were required to have wisdom: we must grab God’s Word and “take a knee” (or bow to worship Him). That was a great beginning point, but Solomon continued his message concerning a wise life. He made an important point that should separate the practical sheep from the theoretical goats.

Key Principle: Wisdom connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Remember that Solomon was the third king of the United Kingdom of the confederate tribes made from the sons of Jacob. God presented him at the beginning of his reign the gift of a profound ability to connect truth to practice in life – what the Bible simply calls “wisdom.” Because God’s gift filled his life during the early days of his administration, it also filled his thinking and speech. Few Biblical writers spent as much time on the subject, because few had as much wisdom in their life as he did.

Though he later drifted far from it, Solomon began as a wise man, and became an avid student of wisdom.

He understood what wisdom is and how its practice helps enrich the lives of people. He knew why wisdom was and is essential. Since the whole of our discussion will be about the use of truth in life – let’s say it the way Solomon would as we study the Word of God written through his quill:

Wisdom is connecting truth to life. It is grasping the principles designed by our Creator and demonstrating their value in the practice of our daily life.

Pick up your Bible and look at how Solomon opened the discussion on seeing wisdom in practice. He posed the idea in a question:

Ecclesiastes 8:1a Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?

He wasn’t asking an open-ended query; he was making a point. We all need wise people in life when trouble comes. How do we know when we found one? Solomon’s point was that when you see a wise man or woman, you will know that is what they are. Wisdom isn’t a mist, it is discernible. It is both practical and practiced. Let’s face it, when you need to reach out to someone you feel you can trust, how will you be able to discern if they are wise? Solomon used the question to hook us, but went on in his speech to answer the question. Read the rest of the verse:

Ecclesiastes 8:1b …A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.

The king first counseled that you take a discerning gaze at the face of your “would be” counselor in the tumultuous moment. He made the point that wisdom changes the countenance of the wise. It offers deep satisfaction to its possessor and a certain confidence you need for troubled times and hard advice in the difficult moments. When we don’t know what to do, panic often shows on our face. When we have the confidence of practiced truth that has bridged this gulf before, we show peace on our face in spite of the storm all around us.

That is one way to identify the wise, but it is not the only way to discern one in whom wisdom is operating well. In addition to the countenance, Solomon took the time to make clear in the rest of his message that because wisdom is the practice of truth, it can be clearly demonstrated in behavior consistent with God’s revealed facts about life.

Since wisdom is living according to God’s design, it is best revealed in (at least) six important “marking” behaviors.

Solomon asserted that wisdom can be seen. If we are following God’s direction, people will be able to tell by watching our behavior. What should they look for?

First, wisdom directs proper respect of authority

Entitled and disrespectful people have not connected God’s Word to their life properly. The very first behavior that revealed a wise person mentioned by Solomon was in relation to how they act under authority – perhaps because it is one of the first lessons we learn in life from our parents at home. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:2 I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” 4 Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.

When the king discussed respect, he did it in terms of royal authority – though it applies to all authority. Solomon’s view in this equation was admittedly from the top (as he was the king of his land), but he is careful to explain both the defining characteristics of respect and the ways in which respect for authority shows wisdom.

When our society was more rooted in Biblical ideals, people were taught to respect an office because of the office. Today, people openly reveal that no one is entitled to their respect if the office holder does not “earn” it. In fact, you will hear people espouse the idea that “I respect myself too much to offer allegiance to someone simply because they hold an office or position. They have to convince me of the value of respecting them.”

That may sound reasonable to you, but it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t moral. It isn’t wise. In the end, a society that requires every individual to earn your respect will give you unending opportunities to disregard authority while they are busy trying to convince you of the value of doing what you are told. Teachers in such a society become beholden to complaining students and absent parents. Police officers get arguments instead of compliance. Bosses get under performing and over-expecting workers.

No one is arguing that public servants and people in charge don’t need to behave well. That is a separate issue. The issue is this: the mark of wisdom is clear when we show respect for those in authority over us. Look at the verses again more slowly:

Solomon began with the notion that wisdom directs respect as an acknowledgement of God’s control and placement of those who are over us (8:2). Did you notice how linked human authority was with that of Divine authority? Ultimately, lack of respect for human authority structures is rooted in an expression of rebellion against the God Who appointed the authority over you. For this reason, it is difficult for anyone to really understand the coherent logic of respect without a firm belief in God. When the Scripture argues the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, this is a significant part of what such an ideal entails. Consider this:

The book Family and Civilization was the obvious magnum opus of Carle C. Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught for many years at Harvard University. Zimmerman demonstrated the connections between the rise and fall of the nuclear family and the rise and fall of their respective civilizations, with particular attention to ancient Greece and Rome, medieval and modern Europe, and then finally the United States. He traced the family structure from tribes and clans to modern nuclear families and then to the broken families of the twentieth century. (The book was published in 1947). He showed the consequences of each family structure for the bearing and rearing of children; for religion, law, and everyday life; and for the fate of civilization itself.

That may not sound interesting, but the compelling analysis predicted many of today’s cultural and social controversies and trends, including youth violence and depression, abortion and homosexuality, the demographic collapse of Europe and of the West more generally, and the displacement of peoples. One magazine lifted a quote from the book as follows:

“…Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied: Marriage loses its sacredness…is frequently broken by divorce; traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost; feminist movements abound; there is increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general; an acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity and rebellion occurs; there is refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities; a growing desire for, and acceptance of, adultery is evident; there is increasing interest in, and spread of, sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.” – Confident Living (author unknown), November 1987, p. 34

Don’t get lost in the verbiage; his point is clear. Zimmerman showed the lessons of the family are what bring respect or rebellion to the public square. The cohesiveness of the training at home has everything to do with the crime rate, the social conscience and the public sense of respect for one another.

Solomon went on to note that respectful observers of authority stand by the one appointed by God and are not willing to abandon or betray them easily (8:3). Loyalty is a treasured commodity by those who learn respect. People who learn to show rightful respect to those in charge will reap the benefits of that knowledge.

Jerry Jenkins wrote a book that I read and used many times about twenty years ago, called Twelve Things I Want My Children to Remember Forever. The book was reprinted many times, and captures some basic lessons the author felt were essential as his children grew up. One chapter was entitled: “Some people have the right to be wrong.” In that part of the book, Jenkins made clear those in authority do not have the right to hurt you, nor to press you to do something that is illegal, immoral or ungodly – but they DO possess the right to tell you how to do the work they have hired you to do – because they are the boss. The coach has the right to call the play – even if you think you know better. The employer has the right to demand that you arrange the tasks he or she gives you according to their priorities, even if they don’t make sense to you. Respect demands that we not need to be fully consulted to be wholly compliant to those in authority.

Wisdom connects the value of respect for authority to the practice of daily living. Godly people take every opportunity to show respect… but that isn’t all…

Wisdom also informs timing, and as have been said, “Timing is everything.”

Wisdom separates play time from work time. It teaches balance between work and leisure and informs us what is essential for that moment. Solomon wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. 7 If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?

The king noted that even in the midst of heavy times, there is a moment when relaxation, laughter and release are appropriate. Because we don’t know what is about to happen, we must learn to govern our sternness and our intensity for the long haul. Reckless people play when they should be working. Unwise people take no breaks. Wisdom reminds us we can’t expend all our energy in the first quarter of the game. Timing and careful execution of both our work and our play show we have gained wisdom. But there is more related to this idea…

Wisdom reminds us of our limitations.

Fools fight battles they cannot win. Wise is the person who recognizes the right place to expend their energy. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:8 No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. 9 All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.

This proverb is dense with idea. The beginning of verse eight reminds us that we don’t have unlimited power, and we aren’t in charge of our own finish line. If you keep reading, the verse reminds us there are evils of the world that break into our life and we cannot control their assault, nor rebuff the need to drop everything we are doing and march in resistance to their evil.

Ask those who were drafted and they will tell you they understand this concept well. They didn’t go to war because they knew the people that were disrupting the peace of the world community. They went because we sent them. They didn’t know the enemy, and they didn’t care. They were living life until they were conscripted to fight – and there was nothing they could do to stop the dramatic changes that were about to happen to them. From haircut to wardrobe to training – it was out of their control. They went from freedom to being told when to eat and where to sleep.

Wisdom reminds us there are things in life that we will not have the strength, the intelligence or the latitude to adjust. We will be told, and we will comply. At the height of our personal strength, we are still weak and subject to authorities and forces bigger than ourselves. Solomon would say: “Don’t get too big for your britches!”

One of the noticeable traits of people who are entitled is they believe they offer greater wisdom than their life experience would normally afford. Another one is they feel deeply valuable, even when they have actually produced much in life. It is easy for the unwise to believe they know and can do almost anything – but wisdom teaches us some of our limitations. The candidate can make sweeping changes the elected official may not be able to pull off. Wisdom teaches us this often through powerful life experiences.

Wisdom reminds us of the difference between real faith and public piety.

While we are learning about limitations, we also learn about what is REAL in life. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:10 So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.

The king observed some who lived poorly but went to worship regularly. He noted the fact that little of them was remembered after their life ended. Wisdom teaches that a good life is about impact on your life to others – not simply your attendance in places where good things are taught.

Solomon would ask: “Do you want to have an impact even after you are gone?” The answer to having one is not how many hours you spent in Bible studies and worship meetings – it is in how much you DO for people. You know the hours you spend learning and preparing. Others only know the hours you spend serving and doing. Wisdom reminds us to get out of the chair and get busy in the lives of people.

I believe the reason many believers struggle to serve is they get lost in the preparation. They know their own inner weakness and don’t trust themselves to be fully ready to serve others. They wrestle, year in and year out, with private sin and personal failures, and use these as an excuse to spend more time in preparation, and little time in serving. Sadly, they don’t realize that it is ONLY in serving that people are changed.

If making an impact is important to you – I urge you to begin to measure your life by how much you are serving others. Wisdom teaches that servants change others while students focus on themselves. We must go past preparation and into service to do what will be remembered.

By mid-chapter Solomon changed tempo in the narrative. The second half is still about wisdom, but it added a dimension. The king wasn’t only concerned with the application of wisdom to individuals as the first half of the chapter demonstrated, but also to public society. The remaining verses concern how wisdom plays out in the public square. After all, he was a king.

Wisdom instructs a community to offer swift judgment to deter crime.

Solomon began with wisdom concerning judgment of those who have been unwise. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.

The point of the text is clear: Timely and reliable jurisprudence are marks of a wise society. An erratic court leaves justice wanting. A long held judgment that isn’t carried out becomes a joke. Solomon wasn’t pressing for a lynch mob to deal with criminals, but he made clear that a system with unending appeals is not a system that will deter people from crime. Years ago, when I was living in the Middle East, one of my European friends made a comment that stuck with me. He said: “The truth is if you were going to murder someone, the best place to do it is in America. You have more ways out of judgment than any justice system I can think of.” I am not sure if he was right, but I know there are many times I feel that way when looking at the cases that roll past me on the news ticker.

In our system, we have several grounds on which one may appeal for a reduced sentence or even acquittal that have nothing to do with whether or not they committed the crime. Out of compassion, we allow for mitigation of punishment based on what we perceive to be the mental state of the criminal, the passionate motivation for the crime, and a host of other conditions. While we have grown more compassionate in our judicial system, we may also be unwittingly creating more criminal incentive by offering so many ways out of taking full responsibility for our public actions. Solomon’s concern was not the swiftness of the proceedings to prove a man or woman guilty – but rather the length of time between a guilt finding and the execution of a sentence. In other words, wisdom says that twenty years on death row encourages more crime.

In the modern legal world, the idea of deterrence is generally not held in high regard. Biblical wisdom directs that when we have passed judgment on a criminal, their sentence should be swiftly executed in order to signal to others the seriousness of the crime and the certainty of the judgment.

Move for a moment from the county court room to your own living room. Most of us learned how serious Mom was about what she commanded by watching our siblings. She would tell our brother to take out the trash, and he would say, “In a minute, mom!” We would hear her voice change and her command become more shrill. “Get this trash out.” We would watch to see how far our dear brother could push the situation before they obeyed. If Mom walked in and said, “Take the trash out in the next minute or you are grounded for one week” you would recognize the swift result for ignoring obedience. How would that change the way you responded to mom next time she spoke?

Despite what some will tell you, deterrence and example should be part of the formula for a just society. Wisdom makes clear that while the guilty are being handled, the “not yet criminal” eyes are watching intently.

Wisdom reminds us of real justice and what truly works in the end.

Solomon offered another word on justice that is worth recalling as well:

Ecclesiastes 8:12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. 13 But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. 14 There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.

Solomon knew some would do wrong and seem to get away with it. Some would even profit from their misdeeds in the short run. Even for those who appeared to gain longer life and richer bank accounts, they weren’t really getting ahead. Their life was a mirage of richness – because they were facing God’s wrath in the end.

Solomon made an astute observation about our life on earth: If you try to judge fairness in life while you journey here – you will be left depressed. It is true! Sometimes the bad guy defeats the good guy here. Sometimes the good guy goes through great difficulty and dies at the hands of his enemy while the crime boss lives in luxury and dies in his bed peacefully. Here is the catch: the whole story doesn’t happen here. Death is just the beginning of another unending experience. What is unfair on earth will be made right after life here.

Remember the theme of the book? Life under the sun doesn’t make sense because the answers aren’t found in the material world. The cosmos doesn’t hold the meaning of it all, God does.

It doesn’t matter how many plays end badly, how many movies proclaim falsehood and how many songs try to convince you otherwise – evil will not win. Hate, murder, lies and injustice will be made right before the face of the Perfect One. If I didn’t know that, I would lean toward agreement with the radical skeptics and Nihilists – none of this appears to make much sense. Thank God for His Word! We have not been left here without a way to put a sense of burning injustice to rest.

Wisdom offered conclusions on priorities.

Solomon drew two important conclusions about the world by looking through the prism of God-given wisdom. They are worth sharing, and God let us have them in His Word.

First, he noted that enjoying life as a walk with God in every step of life made time here a blessing.

He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.

Life is not a curse, though we live in a fallen world. Over and over again, Solomon made clear that God provided life under the sun. God assigned our task of work. God offers moments of fulfillment – a full belly, an unstoppable “tears running down your face” time of laughter, an inner sense of deep satisfaction in a job well done. Each of these moments is to be treasured, and must never be taken for granted.

Dear ones, we have each other for a very short time. All our life here is the mere vapor of only a few moments. We have the joys of a beautiful sunrise and the stunning vista full of colors of sunset for a few more days to enjoy. If we choose, we can waste our life raging at what we don’t like about living in an incomplete and fallen world, but that is like spitting into the wind: We won’t change the world very much and we will get ourselves all wet and more miserable in the process.

Look very closely to the words of Solomon. He “commended” pleasure. The word is “shabach” which is literally “to praise.” In short, Solomon congratulated pleasure. He said, “You are good, and I am glad I have you in my life!” I am sad to say that many believers find that hard to believe. They seem to feel the godliness is glum at its core. I want to say this in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood. God gave you the pleasures of life. The fact that there are hedonists in this world is no excuse for you to see all pleasure as secret sin. God INTENDED you to enjoy your life – IF you would keep Him at the center of your joy, fulfillment and happiness. A God-centered life is the only kind God counts as a fulfilled life.

Let’s say it this way: God wants you to have a party, but only if He is invited!

He doesn’t want the party to become more important than our walk with Him. He must become our chief joy, or we have settled for something less than we could have. He gave us much to celebrate along the journey, but wants it to be the best it can be for us – and He IS the best for us.

Solomon offered a second observation. He wrote, “Don’t think you will ever make sense of all of life – you won’t.”

Ecclesiastes 8:16 When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night – lit. “see no sleep in his eyes”), 17 and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, “I know,” he cannot discover.

There is no command of God for you to figure everything out in life. You are to know Him and listen to His Word. In fact, godly wisdom only comes to one who is open to receive God’s Word. Musical notes fall to the floor without meaning if the audience is deaf. So it is with the wisdom from God.

It is also important to remember that a journey with wisdom truly is the road less traveled. Kent Lenard wrote a few years ago:

In a recent NCAA cross-country championship held in Riverside, California, 123 of the 128 runners missed a turn. One competitor, Mike Delcavo, stayed on the 10,000 meter course and began waving for fellow runners to follow him. Delcavo was able to convince only four other runners to go with him. Asked what his competitors thought of his mid-race decision not to follow the crowd, Delcavo responded, “They thought it was funny that I went the right way.” Delcavo was one who ran correctly.

Wisdom is practicing God’s truths in life. It is what you earn after decades of listening to God’s Word when you wanted to talk and give Him your insight and counsel. If you would have it, you must travel a different path. You can’t afford to simply memorize and get theoretical. Wisdom makes you act. It gives you strength to stand when no one else will.

Wisdom can be observed. It isn’t a mysterious ethereal concept locked in theoretical sophistry. It is practical. It is daily. It connects God’s direction to the normal choices of life.

Who was United States Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas? I suppose you could call him a “Mr. Nobody.” No law bears his name. Not a single list of Senate “greats” mentions his service. Yet when Ross entered the Senate in 1866, he was considered the man to watch. He seemed destined to surpass his colleagues, but he tossed it all away by one courageous act of conscience. Let’s set the stage. Conflict was dividing our government in the wake of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson was determined to follow Lincoln’s policy of reconciliation toward the defeated South. Congress, however, wanted to rule the downtrodden Confederate states with an iron hand. Congress decided to strike first. Shortly after Senator Ross was seated, the Senate introduced impeachment proceedings against the hated President. The radicals calculated that they needed thirty-six votes, and smiled as they concluded that the thirty-sixth was none other than Ross’. The new senator listened to the vigilante talk. But to the surprise of many, he declared that the president “deserved as fair a trial as any accused man has ever had on earth.” The word immediately went out that his vote was “shaky.” Ross received an avalanche of anti-Johnson telegrams from every section of the country. Radical senators badgered him to “come to his senses.” The fateful day of the vote arrived. The courtroom galleries were packed. Tickets for admission were at an enormous premium. As a deathlike stillness fell over the Senate chamber, the vote began. By the time they reached Ross, twenty-four “guilties” had been announced. Eleven more were certain. Only Ross’ vote was needed to impeach the President. Unable to conceal his emotion, the Chief Justice asked in a trembling voice, “Mr. Senator Ross, how vote you? Is the respondent Andrew Johnson guilty as charged?” Ross later explained, at that moment, “I looked into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, and everything that makes life desirable to an ambitions man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.” Then, the answer came — unhesitating, unmistakable: “Not guilty!” With that, the trial was over. And the response was as predicted. A high public official from Kansas wired Ross to say: “Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.” The “open grave” vision had become a reality. Ross’ political career was in ruins. Extreme ostracism, and even physical attack awaited his family upon their return home. One gloomy day Ross turned to his faithful wife and said, “Millions cursing me today will bless me tomorrow…though not but God can know the struggle it has cost me.” It was a prophetic declaration. Twenty years later Congress and the Supreme Court verified the wisdom of his position, by changing the laws related to impeachment. Ross was appointed Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Then, just prior to his death, he was awarded a special pension by Congress. The press and country took this opportunity to honor his courage which, they finally concluded, had saved our country from crisis and division. Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 56-58)

The Search is Over: “Walking in Wisdom” – Ecclesiastes 7:9-29

A New Year begins… We all want to start off the year well, don’t we? Some of us have been reminded to make use of January 1 to hit the “reset” button and try to change some things about ourselves. Perhaps a diet change is necessary. Maybe we will start to head to the gym a few times each week. Some people will make resolutions to change some aspect of their life beginning today. The website Statistics Brain offered some idea of the numbers of people who make and attempt to follow through on resolutions, based on 2015 numbers:

• Percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions 45 %
• Percent of Americans who infrequently make New Year’s Resolutions 17 %
• Percent of Americans who absolutely never make New Year’s Resolutions 38 %
• Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8 %
• Percent who have infrequent success 49 %
• Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year 24 %

Their final analysis was this: People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

When we read that only 8% of the people who make such self-promising resolutions will attain that goal, we are tempted to discount the whole process. Yet, there is more behind the numbers. We mustn’t laugh at people longing for self-change – goal stating like this can help us identify areas in which we are secretly disappointed in our everyday choices. January 1 seems to afford us a moment to look introspectively at our life, recount the last twelve months and try to start anew. The truth is, in order to truly make a change in our behavior we must first see the value in a new behavior and then follow through on the change. If we don’t see real value in the change, we won’t take action and be consistent in making things happen. If we don’t work to follow through, change will be a short-lived idea.

Consider this: Jesus followers gather together regularly to consider a selection from the Bible for that same purpose – to examine our daily walk through life and evaluate the need to make changes. In addition to giving us the way to “find God,” the Bible offers teachings of wisdom that help us see the value of connecting specific life choices to the outcomes of life. Each passage of God’s Word either offers us a reason to walk as God instructs, or a method to do so. In the Biblical text, wisdom is not an abstract idea; it is the ability to take the principles of the Creator and apply them to the normal situations of life. Biblically speaking, therefore, it is impossible to really be “wise” in that sense without knowing God and recognizing His authority as well as understanding the specifics of His instructions. Let’s say it the way King Solomon did in Ecclesiastes 7…

Key Principle: You cannot learn wisdom without both grasping God’s Word and intentionally submitting to God’s rightful place in your life.

The short way to say this is: “Grab a Bible and take a knee.” We have to grasp the teachings of the Word and then bow before the Author.

The problem with some people is they will not take the time to listen to the Word. For those who DO avail themselves of its teaching, they face a second problem: human pride. We are simply tempted to resist doing what God instructs – either because we don’t see the value or we don’t revere Him sufficiently to make change. Some time ago, Bible teacher and Christian philosopher Dr. Ravi Zacharias reminded his readers that many simply don’t think they truly need God’s instructions in life. They choose to live as though they can “pull off life” designed by the Creator without a word from Him. They think themselves intelligent, effective and complete without His instruction. He used this little story to help us understand them. He wrote:

There is a story told about one-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Ali was flying to one of his engagements and during the flight the aircraft ran into foul weather. Moderate turbulence began to toss the plane about. Of course, all nervous fliers well know that when a pilot signals “moderate turbulence,” he is implying, “If you have any religious beliefs, it is time to start expressing them.” The passengers were instructed to fasten their seatbelts immediately, and all complied but Ali. So the flight attendant approached him and requested that he observe the captain’s order, only to hear Ali audaciously respond, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The flight attendant, however, did not miss a beat but quickly fired in reply, “Superman don’t need no airplane either!”

The truth is that some think academic or material advancements confer wisdom without God. According to God’s definition, that is not so. It is because of such arrogance that many of us seem willing to easily cast aside Biblical standards and prohibitions without considering how unwise that is. Zacharias noted: “G.K. Chesterton aptly advised that before pulling any fences down, we should always pause long enough to find out why it was put there in the first place.

The Bible’s recipe for wisdom begins with reverence of the Lord (Ps. 111:10). It celebrates every word that connects the Creator’s grand purposes to our daily choices. Think of how this ideal is framed in Proverbs 3:

Proverbs 3:13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. 14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver, and her gain better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast. 19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. 20 By His knowledge the deeps were broken up and the skies drip with dew.

If you look closely, you will note the writer included:

• The marvelous result of wisdom – it brings happiness.
• The incredible value of wisdom – it is more precious than jewels.
• The lasting promise of wisdom – it offers long life, riches, honor and peace.
• The remarkable heritage of wisdom – the world was founded on it.
• The wonderful Author of wisdom – truly God created all things based on foundational principles He has willingly revealed!

God’s instruction in practice is wisdom, and it reveals the essential underlying principle of “how things were designed to work.”

Solomon knew the value of living truth in practical ways. He also wisely understood what it took to make changes that matter in life. As we turn back to consider carefully Ecclesiastes 7, we find a record of his commitment to making wisdom known, and citing its value. The passage contains two kinds of statements:

Proverbs about the value of wisdom – to help us see the value of making changes to live in line with the Creator’s purposes.

Practical instructions, both negative and positive, on how to live wisely.

Because proverbial writing often sounds like a group of people reading individual fortune cookies around a table in the local Chinese restaurant, we need to re-shuffle the order of the verses and group them by theme to build Solomon’s case. This is a common technique when studying this type of Biblical literature.

Note that Solomon first reminds us of the value of wisdom throughout the passage. He shared in this portion reminders that wisdom offers three critical advantages in life:

It offers protection – It is valuable to preserve life right now – not just helps us at some future time!

Ecclesiastes 7:11 Wisdom along with an inheritance is good And an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.

Solomon notes that saving up and leaving something to your children is a good thing, but not nearly as helpful as leaving them with the tools to practice wise living. Because assets can make future things possible, they are valuable. Because people can make things happen, they must know how to act prudently with those assets. Consider this:

• Money can assist you in living a healthy life, but doing so will require deliberate healthy choices.

• Wealth may help you build a layer of protection against unwanted intrusion, but you will still need to be shrewd in your life choices with friends.

• All the security money can buy won’t help someone under guard who unwisely “ducks” their security detail to go off for some fun unprotected.

For reasons such as these, teaching our children to connect what God says about life to their daily choices isn’t designed to hinder them – but to help them. Lessons in wisdom aren’t designed to keep them from having fun; but to provide the means for a long and satisfied life without the guilt they would otherwise face for making poor choices.

Wisdom connects us to the manual of the Maker – and we function more safely when performing according to and within our design limitations.

In addition to protection, wisdom offers direction reminding us who we are and who we are NOT. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:19 Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There is power – political, military and popular – and then there is one who knows how to live as God intended. Of the two, the latter is greater in real power. It is important to remember that wisdom offers a path when simple displays of power may not. Real strength comes from knowing the specifics of what God says will work.

At the same time, almost in the same breath, Solomon noted in verse twenty a humbling truth: “No one does right all the time!” Though we must not use this as an excuse for our lax behaviors, we have to admit that we will never get everything right – and that should humble us. We will constantly war inside ourselves. We will always fight the flesh within, the influence of the world without, and the powers of darkness around us. Even though God has given us the wisdom to gain victory, it is likely few, if any of us, will master the complete empowering of God to stand consistently on the Lord’s side. We just have to be honest – and in doing so we will remain rightly humbled. That will help to season our speech with grace.

Wisdom offers valuable direction, but doesn’t guarantee success in flawed beings like us.

Beyond protection and direction, wisdom offers warning of dangerous people and situations!

Ecclesiastes 7:23 I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? 25 I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. 26 And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. 27 “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28 which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. 29 Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”

Solomon acknowledged that learning truth isn’t easy. He worked at separating truth from ridiculous theory. During his search, he found himself particularly tempted to trip in the area of self-control in relation to his sensuality. In his life, he recognized his libido often overcame his common sense. This was a forecast of the downfall of his life that would one day become obvious. He knew he was weak in this area. Time proved that to be true. He discovered along the path of life a handful of men who were able to see past his wealth and power and walk in integrity before him. In all that time, none of the women he met did so.

The text doesn’t attempt to paint all women in a bad light, though it is understandable how one could conclude that. The insights of Solomon regarding women are set in a specific context. First, he admits that he is tempted to see them in a wrong way – looking through the filter of physical beauty and sensuality. Second, he faced the fact that as King, women approached him with their own agenda and some knowledge of his weakness. Many men were equally crafty, but lacked the attraction to which Solomon was susceptible. Because of the pressure many believers feel to conform to the world’s views today, even some Bible teachers will hedge on the truth found here – but we must not. Solomon offered an important insight: Women who met him seemed intuitive about his weakness for them – and many attempted to play into that weakness. If you follow his story to the end, you will find that Solomon had little chance to meet a woman who reflected integrity – not because they didn’t exist – but because they couldn’t get access to him.

In the end, wisdom is designed to trumpet dangers ahead. If Solomon had listened to his own words and understood how perilous God said our hungers can be to our success in life – his story may have ended very differently.

He possessed wisdom until he allowed want to drive it out. He allowed passion to dull the stabbing pains of warning. How many believers walk this same tragic path!

The passage highlighted the fact that wisdom offers clear benefits. The remainder of the passage addressed how to walk in wisdom.

Let’s spend a few minutes in the rest of Ecclesiastes 7. You may note that some of the instruction was expressed in negative terms. Look closely at the recurrence of the words “do not” in verses nine, ten, sixteen, seventeen and twenty-one. Others are given in affirmation, positive truths in places like verse thirteen and fourteen where the writer calls us to “consider” something. In all, Solomon offered seven instructions on living wisely. He told us to:

Live deliberately: Do not allow emotions to control your life choices.

Ecclesiastes 7:9 Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools.

If you let your anger and other negative emotions drive your life, you will disconnect from God’s way to live. The two characteristics that most show a Christian life are giving and forgiving – and angry people don’t do much of either.

Whether you believe it or not, control of your heart is most often by consent of your will.

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t “fall in love” – you want something and choose a way to get it…

Along the same line, when you blow up, you LET anger control you. Can I prove it? Have you ever been in a very angry discussion with someone and the phone rang. You went from stern, perhaps even loud and hostile, to a disarming “Hello!” in one moment! The outburst of anger was quelled in a second, when you decided it was appropriate to speak kindly!

Guy Glass wrote a classic story about anger. The story is told of a young boy was driving a big hayrack down the road and it turned over right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out and saw the young boy crying and said, “Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now lunch is ready. Why don’t you come in and eat with us and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.” The boy said, “No, I can’t. My father is going to be very angry with me.” The farmer said, “Now don’t argue, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.” The boy said, “I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.” The farmer and the young boy went inside and had dinner. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, “Well, don’t you feel better now?” The boy said, “Yes, but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.” The farmer said, “Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, “He’s under that pile of hay.”

Well, maybe that story is more about bad judgment, but who could resist telling it? The serious point beneath the words of Solomon: “anger resides in the bosom of fools” should not be quickly passed by. In the Bible, though not exclusive, the common use of the word “fool” is used in association with a person who does not know God, or has concluded that God does not exist. In places like Psalm 14:1

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.

Just as wisdom is “the connection to God and the principles by which He had built our world” – so a fool is person who attempts to live a fulfilling life in a willful state of disconnection from God. Sadly, many in the world are what the Bible referred to as “fools.” Add that idea to what Solomon shared in Ecclesiastes 7:9. He may well have been saying that those who choose to live a disconnected life from God can become a natural harbor for anger. The astounding thing is that Solomon offered this observation long before social media! If one looks only at the comments section of any religious forum, this appears to be a serious problem. Anger and disconnection appear to be related in the same way that psychologists identify angry youths from poorly “bonded” children.

Here then is wisdom: Walk closely to God and be open to forgiveness of others. The two will work together, and they will help you live in peace.

Live presently: Living in the past is terribly unwise and grossly unhealthy.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.

We should appreciate our past, but not worship it or try to dwell too long in it. Yesterday is gone. The sights and smells, the people and the places – they are all the stuff of memory. They can be precious, and they can draw us to tears. At the same time, we should be warned… Our memories can play tricks on us. We don’t necessarily recall the past the way it truly was. We can be tempted to recall the good and not the bad or vice versa.

We should celebrate the past and be grateful for God’s faithfulness that brought us through it. I recently heard a story that I thought celebrated well.

I sat with an old woman of many years, as she stared downward at her wrinkled and misshapen hands. She asked me, ‘Have you ever looked at your hands, I mean really looked at your hands?’ I looked down. I slowly opened both hands and studied them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. Honestly, I had never really looked at my hands closely, and I listened intently to her words:

“Stop and reflect for a moment about your hands and how they have served you throughout your years. My hands are now wrinkled, shriveled and weak – but they have been the chief tools I have used all my life to reach out, grab and embrace life. They caught my fall as a toddler, when I crashed to the floor, unsteady on my feet. They put daily food in my mouth and pulled the clothes upon my back. My mother folded them the first time and taught me to pray. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband’s rough hands tightly but wiped my tears gently when he went off to war. They have been dirty one day and bleached with cleaners the next. They have been softened by creams at times and scraped and raw on others. They have been covered with warm gloves, as well as swollen and bent. They were adorned with a wedding band and held my precious newborn son. These hands wrote countless letters to my wonderful husband and trembled and shook endlessly when I buried my parents and then later my spouse. They have held my grandchildren, consoled my neighbors, covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. These hands are the mark of where I’ve been in the journey of the ruggedness of life. But more importantly, it will be these hands that God will snatch up and lift me to His side someday soon.”

There is a woman who knows how to celebrate her life without trying to stay in the past of it.

Wisdom says: “Live now. Yesterday is a memory. Make new ones today for tomorrow!”

Live sensibly: Keep a balance between the serious and the silly.

You may be surprised to hear that Solomon has a sense of humor. Some of you may be surprised to hear that ANY preacher has a sense of humor! Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:15 I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

On first glance, this doesn’t sound Biblical – even if it is in the Bible! If the words took you by surprise, look more closely at them. Solomon said:

Some people take every moment too seriously. They press endlessly as if every decision will bring some catastrophic result. They don’t seem to connect the fact that some things seem to “just happen.” Good people do the right thing and it doesn’t always work out. He pleaded: “Don’t make every step like it is monumental. Which breakfast cereal you choose probably has no eternal consequence.” On the other hand, he made clear that we shouldn’t frolic through life taking nothing seriously – because idiocy often results in physical harm. See YouTube where you can watch people do incredibly dumb things that land them in the emergency room.

Here is wisdom: Be careful, but fastidious. Be healthy, but not a hypochondriac. Be fun, but not careless. Balance your life between the fun and the serious – and learn to time the two appropriately! Remember: a bow always bent is easy to break.

Live graciously: Don’t take everything people say to heart.

Along with learning when to take something seriously, Solomon added a note about the words of others…

Ecclesiastes 7:21 Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

Learning to be gracious to others when they hurt you is a watermark of maturity in your faith walk. Those who need justice forget there is a God Who cares for that. We aren’t here to right every wrong – though you cannot tell by the way we so freely express what is “wrong” with our neighbor. Teach those God has given you to teach and offer to the rest a public grace.

Along the same line, remember that people don’t always mean what they say. Sometimes they say something badly. Sometimes they are hurt, lash out and later regret what they said. Often they express a feeling that holds a stronger reaction than they actually feel once the moment has passed. Solomon reminds: “You have done that, and so have they. Don’t make too much of it. You will end up bearing wounds that a gracious thick skin will keep from you.

So often it seems the man who offers an insult writes it in sand, but the man who receives it, sees it chiseled in bronze. Gracious hearing is also a standard of maturity, and cultivating thicker skin will make you doubly a promoter of peace.

Live soberly: Recognize that you can’t fix everything and everyone.

Solomon offered a simple word to the fixers among us:

Ecclesiastes 7:13 Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent?

What a good word! There are things we are to work at and try to fix in ourselves. There are also things we cannot fix.

We cannot fix all that is broken in life. We should always be compassionate, but we cannot take responsibility for all the troubles of another. If we have no limit to our help, the recipient will learn to do nothing for themselves.

We can’t fix other people, either.

We can’t change someone who doesn’t see any issue in their own behavior. We also need to be very careful to recognize that HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. Over the years I have noticed that some broken people who continually refuse to seek necessary help turn to break those around them. Compassion can leave a soft vulnerability that allows us to be deeply wounded. Ask anyone with an addict in their life.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the most broken people busy themselves fixing everyone else, because they see no way to fix themselves. They spot the splinter in another looking past the log in their own eye. They demand from the people in their life what they cannot summon from within themselves. They remain broken no matter how much you give them, how many hours you hold them, and how many rescues you offer them. We must love them – but that doesn’t always translate into doing what they want done. In Solomon’s words: “We have to leave room for God to work in people and situations.”

Live thankfully: There will be good and bad days, but every day is still a gift.

Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

Here is a great word from a wise man and the Spirit of our Creator: Don’t lose your head in the day of prosperity anticipating that every day will be like that one. You won’t win every day. Not every day is harvest day. The long hours of plowing may well pay off – but don’t live like every day is payday. At the same time, remember that hard times help you appreciate easy ones. It isn’t God’s plan for you to know that everything will always work out. That may be offensive to you, but that is the truth.

There is one last piece of wisdom Solomon offered…

Live expansively: Live and learn! Grow your life and expand your horizons – don’t be stuck in a rut.

He wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 7:18 It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.

Learn to grow. Build what you are learning now on what God has taken you through in the past. See all of life as God’s opportunity to show you new things.

Instead of throwing up your hands in troubled times and shouting “Why, God?” we should say something else. How about “What am I supposed to be learning, God?” We should seek to see HIM in the clouds of trouble. He is faithful, and if we pass into the cloud, it is only that we will learn to trust what we cannot see in Him.

In front of you is a new year. You can grow, or you can ruminate on the things you have already been and experienced. Wisdom says: “Hold on to what God taught you and GROW!”

You cannot learn wisdom without grasping God’s Word and intentionally submitting to God’s rightful place in your life. Grab a Bible and take a knee.

Let me close with a simple word about the days ahead. “Five frogs were sitting on a log. Two decided to jump off the log. How many were left? Actually there were five left. Just because two decided to do something doesn’t mean that actually did it. Your plans aren’t what will change the coming year; your action is.

In the 1920s an African-American youth growing up in Cleveland met the world famous runner Charlie Paddock, who came to his school to speak words of inspiration to the student body. Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive” in his day. He encouraged the children to dream big! That young boy decided he too wanted to an accomplished runner. He took his dream to the track coach of his school. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to your dreams. The first wrung is determination! And the second wrung is dedication! The third wrung is discipline! And the fourth wrung is attitude!” The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He won the 100 meter dash and broke the Olympic and world records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name was Jesse Owens. He had more than a dream. He put things in order in his life to make the dream become reality.

The Search is Over: “Leaving a Legacy of Godliness” – Ecclesiastes 7:1-8

In a meeting with mission leaders a few months ago, one of the principal speakers made a comment that set in place something I had been feeling for quite some time. When you hear it, it may not make immediate sense. Think it through and perhaps it will help us discern a path to some changes about how we reach out, and about how we set the pattern of our teaching in the coming days.

He said, “We have come to many fields with the Gospel, seen genuine conversions to faith in Jesus Christ, and raised a generation of pagan followers of Jesus. They know the Gospel and are regularly a part of the church, but they live thoroughly immersed in pagan thinking and superstitions not at all compatible with their faith.

He went on to express that although the “way” to God was clearly expressed to them, the “walk” with God was not. His prescription was this:

If we would teach the Old Testament stories to the people, they would see more of the daily practice of a God-walk.

All the leaders in the room identified with the notion that we don’t seem to be moving deeply past the Gospel into its implications in daily life in many of those who claim to come to Jesus on mission fields around the world. For instance:

• There are still quite a few who claim Christ as Savior who are wrapped up in practices of a type of “Voo Doo” in a few fields, even among those who hold church positions on Sunday morning on the island.
• There are many Christians around the world who continue to carefully consider the feelings of their long-dead ancestors before holding any celebrations in their homes because of their pagan superstitions.

These are just a few slight indicators that in finding Jesus, some we have reached may have found a new afterlife, but not a new lifestyle for daily living now. The strength of their cultural surrounding seems to overpower the lessons of the Word of God. It is heartbreaking for those new to the field to realize how far into paganism and false teaching many Jesus followers still live. Though that is a very real problem, my concern today, however, isn’t simply about far-flung fields of people who are being reached by our mission efforts – it is perhaps a bit closer to home. I believe we may be doing the same thing right here in our hometown churches. Let me explain.

One news cycle this past week illustrates my chief concern about the way we train a generation of Jesus followers here at home:

A social media content provider once named the “bored at work” network is now called “Buzz Feed.” It has become a globally distributed digital media organization read by about 80 million people every month. You cannot spend time on Facebook or similar outlets and not see their name as a source for some “news” content. This week they attempted to flex their muscle to lean into a story that may have backfired a bit. They went after a popular married couple on television, not for anything the couple said or did, but simply because of their faithful attendance at a Bible believing church each Sunday, where their pastor has been on record as believing the definition of a biblically-based marriage.

Buzz Feed ran an article that castigated the beliefs of the pastor taken from clips of his sermons in order to cast a pall on Chip and Joanna Gains, the couple featured on “Fixer Upper,” a show taped in the Waco Texas area. You may know them as a humorous couple that fixes homes and includes their family in the process. The article challenged their right to be on HGTV if they believed the teachings of their pastor – that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that activities outside of that are sinful according to the Bible. HGTV has a history of pushing out people for such things. In this case, it appears to have backfired. The couple said nothing publically, and there is no record of their private belief. Even those who normally beat the drum for such social change seemed to have felt this might be an attack reaching too far. That set up what I saw as the chief problem.

CNN stepped in to “report” both the “news item” and the apparent controversy over someone going to a church where the Bible is preached and yet being allowed to be popular on HGTV for fixing up homes. They weighed in while attempting to purport “sensitivity” to viewers who love and follow the Bible, all the while making the idea sound both outdated and quaint, but then added a statistic (which may be false). The anchor said, “Half of all Christians believe Chip and Joanna Gain’s pastor would be correct on his stance that marriage is defined and restricted in the Bible as between a man and a woman.” That statement got me thinking…half believe something so clearly written in the Bible.

From what source did the other half get their ideas? Clearly, culture is pressing believers hard here as well. This isn’t just a phenomenon on the mission field.

Jesus followers seem to learn how to find God, but are quite weak on how to follow God.

As we open Ecclesiastes, I want to assert that we aren’t wasting time on ancient proverbs left by King Solomon long ago. These words are God’s Words – and they are given with the purpose of helping you learn a WALK that matches your profession to know Jesus. The world may grow increasingly hostile to God’s most basic revealed truths – but the church MUST assert both the Gospel, and the life implications of walking with God in order to meet its responsibility to pass truth to the next generation.

Ecclesiastes 7 is a chapter filled with straight talk about life – principles revealed by God’s Spirit on how to live. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: Careful instruction on simple daily choices will pass the baton of godly wisdom to navigate life successfully from one generation to another.

Deliberately set aside the idea that COMING TO JESUS was a mere “aisle walk” after an invitation in church, or a momentary response to a preached message.

Jesus doesn’t want you to agree that He came, know He walked, believe He died for you – and then go on and live by your culture’s rules until the day you die… when you will get rewarded for that hand raising of aisle walking in Heaven. That isn’t the Christian life at all – but too many seem to think it is.

Christianity is journeying through life with Jesus. It is living in a way He wants us to live and walking WHERE He wants us to walk. Passing these truths, then, are passing the lessons of legacy – the passing of our faith in daily practice.

There is much in the chapter, so we will break it in several lessons. As you open the first eight verses, look at a word that is repeated – the word “better.” It appears four times in the first three verses alone. Obviously, Solomon was making a series of comparisons that push us toward choices in daily life. Here are eight of them as the passage unfolds – each about leaving something better behind us.

God wants to call you to a BETTER way of living than the culture will call you to live. Each of these teachings will challenge something about our culture’s approach to what is truly important.

It is better to focus on your reputation than on your cologne or your figure.

Our world will tell you it is better to focus on how you look, how you smell, how you walk and what you wear. They will offer you a thousand products that will cause others to pay attention to you, to like you, to approve of you. Godliness chooses a different direction…

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

Solomon spoke the Word of God and said in effect that a lasting reputation of your character and accomplishments (the things which make for a ‘good name’) must be considered more significant in our eyes than an expensive smelling cologne (in his day they used aroma infused oils and ointments for that purpose). To look and smell good leaves an impression. To be a man or woman of character and accomplishment leaves an even more lasting one.

Note the second part of the verse. He wrote, “To finish life well is more significant than to begin life well.” Obviously, beginning well helps greatly. A stable family life, a loving set of parents, and a home where God is worshiped and love is displayed are wonderful. At the same time, many of us won’t have all those advantages. What counts is not the world as it was when we got here, but the little corner of the world we created. Are we leaving the planet better than it was when we arrived? Have we made any difference at all? We shouldn’t overestimate our worth, but we should strive to make a difference in the world – one that includes being a man or woman of compassion and integrity. If no one cries when we leave, it is obvious we haven’t made a difference in many people. If they throw a party when we leave, the difference we have made isn’t a good one.

Both of the parts of the verse are about reputation. The first makes clear that INNER WORK on our character is more important in the long run than OUTER WORK on the body. The second reminds us that the reputation we finish with outstrips the memory of our cute entrance into the world. Here is the bottom line: If you choose to work on the outside, you will run out of options to make it look better. Some of the prettiest people you will meet didn’t take the time on character development they should have – watch how they treat people.

In our society, we reward a man or woman who can handle a ball with millions of dollars and great fame. Often, they are plucked from a high school or college, and have little or no character training on handling massive wealth and fame. Their external ability rewards them while their inner character (in its undeveloped state) destroys them.

Choose to work on the inside. Get regular showers and keep yourself presentable, but work harder on the inside than the outside – because the inside won’t fade like its shell.

It is better to consider life as short and finite. It is a precious gift in part because it doesn’t last long.

The world around us attempts at every corner to teach us we have more time than we do. Popular shows make us laugh. Consumer goods make our lives more comfortable. Even learning is filled with entertaining tools. We flip though magazines that show us colorful places we can travel, exciting experiences we can plan for our next vacation. In all of it, there is little to draw attention to the brevity of life – unless they are selling you some kind of insurance policy. Godly thinking moves opposite the culture. God said,

Ecclesiastes 7:2 It is better to go to a house of mourning, Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.

Don’t get lost in the proverb. Solomon wasn’t telling us that we should choose our next vacation at a cemetery. He wasn’t cautioning you to cancel the Christmas party and hold a “wake” instead. Look at the end of the verse, and you will see the point. It is about what “we take to heart,” or where we consider the best place to learn serious things about life. Solomon argued, “If you allow yourself to recognize that we are all on the planet for but a short time, you will gain better insight into how to spend each day.”

If there is anything implied in most of the advertising you encounter, it is this: Next year can be better than this year. It can be more exciting. It can thrill you with experiences that will take your breath away – if you buy our product or service…and that is the goal. It is as if we should live life with an eye on how to make it less painful and more exciting. In some small way, that may not be so bad. Yet, the problem is this: The clock is ticking, and you aren’t getting younger. You may be reaching a stage when you can afford to do some of those experiences, but your body will no longer endure the abuse of them. Things are falling apart, and you are spending more time and money getting them glued back on and trying to make them work something like they once did.

The brevity of life should help me set better priorities, and live with “ends” in mind. Standing at a grave side should never be an entertaining scene of happiness – but it can be a place to learn something critical. It can be a place of change. It can remind us that today is precious, and life is a wonderful gift not to be taken lightly.

Go to the party. When you do, let the brevity of life remind you to hug the people you love there, and to tell them how important they are to you. Share with the little ones how Jesus has made your life wonderful. Become the positive person they WANT around. Remember, time is passing quickly. You can waste years of life in feuds of little or no importance. Don’t waste your life – that is the lesson from the house of mourning.

It is better to learn what to take seriously and not simply value the momentary reactions of people.

The world looks for the boisterous display and calls its possessor ‘happy.’ Life is judged, more often than not, by surface reactions and what seems to “make people happy” in the immediate. Some would say, “The louder the laugh, the happier the man.” Happiness and importance seems to be increasingly placed on the party atmosphere, and distraction from the sobering realities of responsibility. Godliness looks in the opposite direction. The Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:3 Sorrow is better than laughter; for when a face is sad a heart may be happy.

Don’t read this one too quickly, because the translation can lead you in the wrong direction on its surface. Godliness isn’t glum. Look more closely at the words…

• The term for “sorrow” (Hebrew: kaw-as) is a term that is generally used for negative feeling, as in the word “vexation” or “provocation”. It isn’t the simple term for being sorrowful. It is the word used in the Torah for moments when the children of Israel did something evil that provoked God to a response. It is a word of “something that stirs the heart” and is usually used in the negative sense.

• The term “laughter” is the word (Hebrew: sekh-oke) for a joke, or a frivolous moment. It isn’t a word limited to the action of laughing – but often used in a much broader way as a moment of lightness.

A better way to think of Solomon’s proverb, then, may be to say it more like this:

Something that touches us deeply inside is better than a fleeting joke. Long after our face gives way from the laughter of the joke, our heart may still ponder the treasured lesson of the more vexing situation.” (Paraphrase).

Everyone likes to tell the joke that makes others laugh. The reaction is immediate and affirming. The fact is that you are more important in the learning of another when you offer truth that will cause them to ponder and stew over it – if it is true and helpful. For those who would walk with God, true happiness is found in the midst of the loving commitments to do what is hard to build another – not the self-oriented pleasures consumed for my pleasure.

• Parenting is hard, but godly parenting is pleasing on a deep level.
• Giving my best, day after day, in a job I do not enjoy is difficult, but honoring God in my best efforts at work promises to be immensely satisfying.
• Pushing for a serious cause that I know is important to my Master may take years and can be exhausting – but it will be rewarding when I recognize I expended my energies on things that matter.

A sobering countenance and a stirred spirit can profit me – because it presses me to stand by what I believe I am called to do, and do it for the Lord. Ask a teacher. Ask a mom. Ask a hard working factory man. Life can be rewarding on a deeper level than just a comedy club diversion.

Besides that, Solomon would warn you not to judge the book by the cover when it comes to satisfaction. A serious countenance encompasses a greater possible emotional range than an uproarious laughing spell. Lots of people are boisterously laughing on the outside, but bleeding from life on this inside. They hurt a thousand different ways and cannot even find a way to show it. You cannot judge deep satisfaction by surface appearances.

It is better to ponder inside the lessons gained in pain than to seek diversions of pleasure.

I have often noted how close bars locate to funeral homes. Our world offers one constant prescription to pain and loss in life – the distraction of pleasure. They consistently preach, “You have been through much; it is time for fun!” There is a deep reticence to spending quiet time pondering the lessons of pain. Godly living doesn’t so quick instruct us to take the pressure off. The Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:4 The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Note the issue of the text is where we spend our time thinking. The issue is where the mind dwells. Fools keep thinking of how to have constant pleasure and fun. Wise men and women take a sober look at the lessons of life and try to suck from the marrow of the experience. Foolish people try to block pain and take little time to learn when offered distracting pleasures.

There are times we should sit quietly, shut off the TV, put away the cell phone and quietly allow the painful moments and difficult lessons to settle in our minds. Constant noise is consistent distraction. Some of us would rather watch bad re-runs than carefully consider the difficult words shared by someone who loves us, but wants us to begin to take greater responsibility for our lives.

We can seek to let deep pain make us better people, or we can run from the lessons that only come from tough blows. Someone has said, “God speaks to us in our joy, but shouts to us in our pain.” I wonder if the call to distract might not be, at least in some cases, an avoidance from God’s voice.

It is better to gain from correction than to be undeservedly affirmed.

The world wants to give participation awards to keep anyone from feeling as though they didn’t measure up to the standard. They are missing the benefit of the lessons that come with correction and loss. Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man, Than for one to listen to the song of fools.

Affirmation is important, especially to a child. Every psychologist will confirm that idea. Yet, some in our time, have turned over-affirmation into a trite thing, robbing it of its value. Last summer, Pittsburg Steelers star James Harrison took a public stand when he returned his six and eight year-old children’s “participation awards” for local sports stating,

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

That statement caused a bit of a firestorm in the youth sport’s world. Ashley Merryman, author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing was interviewed and shared, “The benefit of competition isn’t actually winning. The benefit is improving. When you’re constantly giving a kid a trophy for everything they’re doing, you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about improvement. I don’t care that you’re learning from your mistakes. All we expect is that you’re always a winner.’ Merryman continued:“I like kids. I want them to be happy and do well. But I’d much rather have a 6-year-old cry because he didn’t get a medal than have a 26-year-old lose it because they realized they weren’t as special as they thought they were.”

Now don’t lose your footing here if you don’t entirely agree. Simply consider the biblical side of what is being said: Correction can hurt in the short run, but is invaluable in the long run, if it comes from someone who is truly “wise.”

Don Yeager, writing for Forbes this past summer wrote:

A $2 billion a year industry has grown up around some parent’s need to reward their child with meaningless awards just for joining a team. And as it has, we have all fumbled an important life lesson for our children. Prizes won’t increase motivation—it actually lowers it. Why would a child attempt to improve when he or she is treated the same as the kid on the sidelines chasing butterflies? Unfortunately, the “helicopter parenting” crowd has already profoundly affected our society. Study after study on millennials show an increase in depression, anxiety, and a lack of coping skills with disappointment. How do we reframe this discussion with a generation of young people that have been sheltered from the harsh realities of losing? Simple: They have to be taught that losing is okay…if you learn from it…Our youth must learn how to handle both winning and losing in order to have a realistic perspective on life. Being celebrated for just competing hurts the player more than anything, because it prevents that lesson from taking root…which ultimately stunts that individual’s growth. The great ones in sports and business all know that you don’t get participation trophies by showing up for work. Winning and losing is a consequence of competing—and we’re all competing every single day in the professional world. We should never treat life as though it lacks hardships or that failures don’t happen. Instead, we can use these moments to make us better.

There is a great quote that summarizes this idea:

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Regardless of how you feel about participation awards, know this: Learning to gracefully accept wise correction and integrate the lesson into your practice is absolutely essential for improvement. Blaming the referee does nothing to improve the skills of any player.

It is better to work hard toward lasting gain than settle for the momentary instant benefit.

The world makes many important things look easy. Do you want a good marriage? Find someone beautiful and do fun things together. Go to the right parties and wear the right clothes. Do you want to be successful? Learn to find that right “break” and “be discovered” by the important person. If you aren’t successful, it is probably because you haven’t yet been discovered for who you are! Godly thinking offers wisdom that draws our attention in the opposite direction. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:6 For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility.

On first look, the verse sounds like laughter is the culprit. It sounds like we shouldn’t tell a joke or seek to make another laugh. That simply isn’t the point at all. Look at the imagery Solomon used.

If you make a fire in the wilderness of Israel, you have very little wood to use. The place is desolate, and the best wood can be found in some of the valley floors, referred to in our day by the Arabic term “wadis.” There is sufficient wood to build a small campfire, and there are some bushes that offer very hot coals (like the Rotem bush that grows in the Judean desert). Among campers, we know the best fires aren’t the ones with the big flames, but rather the best red cooking coals. A fire that looks very small can cook a good dinner or heat a coffee pot. Thorn bushes are airy and can create a flash fire, but not make many useable coals on which to cook or keep you warm. The issues are sustainability and usefulness. Herein is Solomon’s lesson:

The loud affirmation of a fool won’t sustain you.

Momentary popularity by people who don’t know what they are talking about won’t help you or anyone else accomplish something of real value. Don’t focus on acceptance by other people. Don’t focus on popularity. Focus rather on knowing your God-given purpose through the gifts and abilities He has given you, and develop them to be most useful.

It is better to remember that people are always more important than things.

The world communicates a “dog eat dog” ethic of life. In a naturalist world, there is only morality when there is consensus on right and wrong. “Wrong” is defined in that system as a time when we perceive people are “hurt” by something. The man or woman of God is called to see it differently. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:7 For oppression makes a wise man mad, And a bribe corrupts the heart.

Solomon mentioned oppression and bribery. Both have a common underlying element. Both invest more worth in power and treasure than people. An oppressor sees more value in holding onto power than he sees in caring for the weak. A man of bribery sees greater value in winning through money than in justice for the hurting. In both cases, people are secondary to a higher goal.

In God’s economy, people hold a higher place than fortune, fame, power or pleasure. One who would serve God will do so by serving people.

Accomplishment is sweeter when you push ahead humbly and patiently than when you feel entitled to easy victory.

The world beckons us to enjoy the peak without the climb. We should have a wonderful, warm and family-filled Christmas without hours of shopping, decorating and cooking. We should have friends gathering to carol the old songs together without spending hours with them in tears and struggles over the year. We should have happy children without being proactive parents. Godliness looks at life as a gift, but also as a humbling set of hurdles over which one should patiently jump. Solomon said it this way:

Ecclesiastes 7:8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.

Our lives are shaped by a variety of things, but some of them are painful. Sometimes we OBSERVE the shortness of life, and the seriousness of its implications. Sometimes we have to pass through the experience of choosing the serious over the nonsensical. Sometimes we have to learn from the pain of correction. We always learn more when we do what we do for God’s honor and according to God’s pattern.

Practical and direct are the words of wisdom. They aren’t flashy, and they aren’t easy. They require careful forethought and disciplined response. That doesn’t make life less fun – it makes it more enduringly meaningful.

We cannot preach John 3:16 and ask people to come forward and receive Christ and expect they will know how that choice affects daily choices the day after that. Wisdom is living out truth in practice. The Bible has so much more on how to live than a simple “way to find God.” Finding God is essential, but it is also incomplete.

The single most effective method to keeping people from living out their faith is hiding that such a thing is in any way necessary. If all I need to do is find God in a momentary response to some message I heard, there is no compelling need for me to understand the many verses that regard following God throughout my life. Such verses simply act as ‘filler’ between those all-important “John 3:16 moments” that dot the 1189 chapters. Many in our day have been trained to believe this, evidenced by their choice to both make a public claim as a “Christ follower” and at the same time live as though that title has little bearing on their daily choices. That isn’t what Jesus called men and women to do. It isn’t the faith portrayed in the Bible at all. Jesus taught both a commitment, and a lifestyle that reflected it.

Careful instruction on simple daily choices will pass the baton of godly wisdom to navigate life successfully from one generation to another.

In 1926, a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Vance Millar died, leaving behind him a will that amused and electrified the citizens of his Canadian province. Millar, a bachelor with a wicked sense of humor, stated clearly that he intended his last will and testament to be an “uncommon and capricious” document. Because he had no close heirs to inherit his fortune, he divided his money and properties in a way that amused him and aggravated his newly chosen heirs. Here are just a few examples of his strange bequests:

• He left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two prominent men who were well known for their opposition to racetrack betting.
• He bequeathed shares in the O’Keefe Brewery Company (a Catholic beer manufacturer) to every Protestant minister in Toronto.
• But his most famous bequest was that he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in the ten years after his death.
• This clause in his will caught the public imagination. The country was entering the Great Depression. As people struggled to meet even their most basic economic responsibilities, the prospect of an enormous windfall was naturally quite alluring. Newspaper reporters scoured the public records to find likely contenders for what became known as The Great Stork Derby. Nationwide excitement over the Stork Derby built quickly. In 1936, four mothers, proud producers of nine children apiece in a ten year time span, divided up the Charles Millar’s bequest, each receiving what was a staggering sum in those days – $125,000. Charles Millar caused much mischief with his will. This was his final legacy to humanity.

The Search is Over: “Strands that Bind” – Ecclesiastes 6

The word “Lilliputian” means something trivial or tiny. The term comes from the Irish author Jonathan Swift, who wrote in the early 18th century Gulliver’s Travels, where he told of an imaginary country of Lilliput, a place inhabited by people a mere 6 inches tall.

The full name of the work is Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts and it weaves the travel tales of Lemuel Gulliver, a man who was first a surgeon, then a captain of several ships (1726, amended 1735). After a brief outline of his life and history before his voyages, part one recalls the fictional “Voyage to Lilliput” supposedly beginning on 4 May 1699. Gulliver washed ashore after a shipwreck and found himself a prisoner of a race of the tiny citizens of Lilliput Court. In order to keep this dangerous monster at bay, ropes that appeared as little more than strands were lapped across the sleeping giant as Lemuel lay on the beach. The Lilliputians needed assurances that Gulliver would not harm them. No single strand was large, but together, they were enough to hold Gulliver in place. In short, Lemuel Gulliver was in bondage.

I mention this classic of English literature because it illustrates something Solomon observed about men of his day. He would likely say it this way: If there is one word that describes the unbeliever… it is BONDAGE! He wrote in Ecclesiastes 6…

Key Principle: Though men may have many things, without a relationship with the God those things have no ultimate meaning!

Though they seem free – without a connection to their Creator Who gives life meaning, men are actually in bondage, held by six tough strands that keep them in fixed in place. As the chapter opened, Solomon shared that truth by stating it as an observation.

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men—

Note that Solomon observed the fact, and made clear it was a common occurrence for the men of his time. He first cautioned them to…

Wake up to see the cords (6:2-7)

You never address a problem you don’t admit to having. Solomon watched the people around him, and observed six problems, each that acted as a “cord”.

First, there was the cord of “unfulfilled busyness” (6:1-2).

Solomon noted the prevalent evil of…

Ecclesiastes 6:2 …a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.

Many a man or woman has worked tirelessly to gain wealth only to die before they had the time to really enjoy the fruits of their retirement. Here, the idea seems a bit different. Did you notice the word “foreigner” for the person who enjoyed the results of the other’s labor? For some people (apparently many in Solomon’s observation) they worked, perhaps at innovation or invention – but were consumed with the process and development of their vision, and didn’t take the time to enjoy their own success. Perhaps they developed great machines and vast systems to produce incredible products. Maybe they simply built the “better mouse trap.” In any case, they were sadly unable to stop creating and begin enjoying what they have produced.

This is a good word for the mom or dad who is “always on” in the instruction and modeling mode. There are times you need to sit back and smile at the little man or woman you are molding and shaping. Constant work doesn’t produce proper joy. We need to laugh with our children, enjoy their creative minds, and sometimes even join them in their silliness. It is possible to raise godly and responsible children, and have absolutely no fun in the process. It will be some “foreigner” that will benefit in the marriage – but you won’t see the benefit unless you take time to look for it.

How sad to work and work at a project that is successful, only to get caught up in the next level of the vision without any break to enjoy the labor. “Don’t do it!” Solomon warned. Many people do, but you don’t have to!

Second, there was the cord of the uncertainty of people (6:3).

In addition to forgetting to break the strand of the unfulfilled busyness, Solomon observed another tendency. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he

Solomon knew that people will let you down, no matter how many are in your life. It doesn’t matter how close they have been to you emotionally (like your children) they will still fail you. Without satisfaction and contentment that isn’t dependent upon the relationships of your life, time will bring only more pain, uncertainty and trouble! Let’s face it: People are erratic and unreliable. In the proverb of Solomon the man had an extremely large family and an incredibly long life – but more people didn’t equal more satisfaction – only more responsibility.

The way Solomon made known the point of the proverbial saying was through the notion of a “proper burial” that he mentioned near the end of the verse. The man certainly had plenty of heirs to care for his burial, but in his case, they didn’t follow through on their duties. In the time of Solomon, the act of burying a loved one was of even greater import than it is today. The initial burial was temporary. The body was washed and smeared with an oily based cream along with a number of spices that aided in the degradation of the body. After a time, the tomb was opened and the bones of the loved one were gathered and placed into a repository beneath the bench upon which the body was originally prepared and allowed to degrade. As the bones went into the repository, the loved one was again mixed into the pile of bones of their family members from which they came. Since the process often took in excess of eighteen months, less attentive sons would not commit the bones to the repository, but got too busy to finish the proper burial.

Think about how this verse relates to the sentence before it. Could it be the sons learned continual work from their father, and now could not find the time to honor him with a finished permanent burial? Perhaps the fact that we are too busy when they are young won’t be clear until they become like us in later years.

Consider Harry Chapin’s words that pick up this theme:

My child arrived just the other day; He came to the world in the usual way…But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay; He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew; He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad – You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

My son turned ten just the other day; He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad; come on, let’s play. Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s okay.” And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed – And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah, You know I’m gonna be like him.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, he came from college just the other day. So much like a man, I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?” He shook his head, and he said with a smile, “What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys – See you later; can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.” He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time. You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu – But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me – He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me…

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.” (Harry F .Chapin, Sandy Chapin • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

It is true, what they say, “We grow too soon old and too late smart!” We teach a pattern and then are surprised when they follow our footsteps.

The truth is you cannot make your life about other people in the sense that you are dependent upon them to act in a way that brings you continual happiness. You cannot even really place your trust in the most responsible of them to be utterly reliable. People may try to please you, but in time you will find they fail you. One hundred children later – the man still couldn’t get a decent burial put on by his kids. In the end, Solomon would warn you not to put all your trust in people.

Third, there is the cord of the faded fame (6:4).

One of the reasons we shouldn’t trust in people too much is that we are all afflicted with short memories. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:4 …for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity.

Some of us may be picked out for “stardom” in some limited way – but most of us won’t. We all want to be remembered, but despite our desire, the world won’t stop when we are gone. All the hard work to become famous will quickly fade away and a generation later, no one will recall what we worked so hard to achieve. Fame is fleeting and the public’s memory is fragile.

I was reading a note the other morning that offered the testimony of a pastor I heard of, but never met. He was telling of a time shortly after he moved to California and began preaching, when troubles overwhelmed him. On the surface, it looked like his life was going well. He had a wonderful wife, three children and a fast growing congregation. What most people didn’t know was that one of his children expressed no relationship with Jesus, and was defiant in the home. The rebel child eventually took to the streets and filled his life with drugs. Our pastor friend, at the height of the growth of the work where he served, was preparing to resign, as he felt disgraced and grieved beyond any reasonable measure. As that was going on, another pastor, an acquaintance from meetings knocked on his door. He told our friend to “Get in the car” and they went for a drive to a nearby correctional facility. Parked outside, the driver turned and explained that for several years his daughter was housed in that place, and it nearly destroyed his life and ministry. Our friend began to cry and unburdened his life. Who doesn’t need a friend like that?

Solomon would warn you – most people don’t respond that way. Some will gossip. Some will condemn. Some will explain what you did wrong after the fact, and you will end up with a greater sense of guilt. We were wired to need others, but apart from the relationship with God, our need of others will not satisfy. More often than not, it will become a way of keeping us from coming directly to our heavenly Father.

We see it in counseling all the time. People who really need to pray, want to talk to a counselor, but not to God. They have no peace, because they seek it in the wrong place.

Some of you may recall the low action comedy of yesteryear named “Cheers” If you don’t recall the show, you may remember the theme song that reminded us that “Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.” It is nice to be recognized, but we dare not build our self-esteem from the recognition of others. It is wonderful to be loved, but sometimes loving means being tough – so we cannot judge our lives by popularity – even among those we raise in our homes.

Solomon’s argument was that a miscarriage passed into and out of life quickly, and never felt the sting of making so little a difference on the planet. We must reckon with the truth that we will never make that much a difference in the world apart from fulfilling our God-given role in this life.

Fourth, there is the cord of the shadows (6:5).

Solomon continued his observations of the fortunate miscarriage as compared to the living miserable who trust in things that cannot satisfy. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:5 It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he.

The wise old king could not perceive a single benefit to a life without satisfaction. He called the never living “better” because they didn’t experience to pains and insecurities of life without the surety of a walk with God.

Perhaps you have watched George Bailey one Christmas in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The theme of the work was very much about this verse. Is it better to have “never lived” or to face the problems of life with loved ones and friends.

The 1946 American Christmas drama was produced by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a decade before. Jimmy Stewart famously played George Bailey, a man who had consistently given up his dreams in order to help others. Under extreme pressure, he attempted suicide on Christmas Eve but was saved through the intervention of his “not so professional acting” guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.

In Capra’s film, the meaning of life was found in friends. Solomon would have accepted none of that as a premise. He knew the truth. Life without a connection to its Author, the One Who made sense of it all, was nonsense. He pressed the idea even further with two more cords that fasten a lost man, one unconnected to the Creator, to the Earth.

Fifth, there is the cord of meaninglessness (6:6).

At the core of many of Solomon’s remarks is this one – life apart from God brings no lasting satisfaction regardless of how long it lasts. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:6 Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?”

Without an intimate connection to God there is no enduring sense of purpose. Without that sense of purpose grounding our life and our accomplishments, there is little to truly look forward to but the grave!

Tucked into the twentieth chapter of the second book of the Kings in Scripture is a reminder of the folly of more time without the change of one’s heart toward God. Hezekiah had been a great king and loyal follower of God, until he read his own press clippings, and found himself satisfied in where he was, apart from a growing relationship with God. An illness overtook him, and a prophecy came that he was facing his own end. As he lay dying, he pleaded with God for more time. God heard his prayer, and told him that his life would be extended. Instead of using the additional time to build his walk with God, he went back to the life of distance from Him, and lived an addition fifteen years. The problem with the extra years is that time wasn’t all he needed – a renewal of commitment to God was the true need. A few years into the extended period of his life brought a new baby to the household – the little prince that would become King Manasseh upon Hezekiah’s death. Manasseh grew up in a household with a father who had a reputation for righteousness based on a past walk – and Manasseh got none of the reality of a walk with God. Until near the end of his long reign, Manasseh afflicted Israel with his grievous overt sinful character. Hezekiah got more time, but without using it to build his walk with God, it became a curse to the nation, not a blessing.

Time on Earth isn’t what you need to satisfy you – a deep connection to your Creator will fill the true need. You need to know why you were placed here, and what your life purpose truly is. That is found in your God. Apart from Him, life can be long, but the cord of meaninglessness will bind you through each year.

Solomon offered one more cord…

Sixth, there is the cord of appetite (6:7).

This is a terrible cord to remind us of at the holiday season, but I suspect he is not simply referring to a buffet table my wife prepared. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:7 All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.

Haven’t you felt the tug of that cord on your life? Have you ever wanted something and thought it would bring a lasting satisfaction or peace – and they you got it. Within a few hours (perhaps) you were already planning the next purchase of an attachment for the thing you just got, so you could THEN make it satisfy you. On and on it goes. We never have enough. Things never quite fill the hole!

Rev. Mark Opperman wrote,

God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green & yellow vegetables of all kinds, so that man and woman would live long and healthy lives. Then Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. Then Satan said to man, “Do you want fries with that?” And the man said, “Super-size them!” And man gained many pounds.

God created healthful yogurt so woman might keep her figure that man found so fair. Then Satan brought forth chocolate, and woman gained pounds. God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.” Then Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained more pounds.

God said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.” Then Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter, and man gained girth and much bad cholesterol.

So God brought forth running shoes and man resolved to lose his extra pounds. Then Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so man would not have to toil to change channels. And man gained even more pounds.

God brought forth the potato – a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. Thus he created sour cream dip also… and man clutched his remote control and ate his potato chips marinated in cholesterol. Satan saw it and said, “It is good.” and Man went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed, & created quadruple bypass heart surgery. Then Satan created HMO’s.” (Mark adapted this from text at:

We all know what it means to be tempted with something that is not a need, but a want that is disguised as a need. C. S. Lewis made these insightful observations about such tempting waves:

No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.” (Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)

If you have struggled with a diet, I don’t have to explain the cord of appetite. You already know it!

The Summary: Life tied down to the earth is drudgery (6:8)

Solomon summarized the six cords that he observed in one single statement of life…

Ecclesiastes 6:8 For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?

Men work to meet their needs, and yet cannot get all they need. Most don’t even grow in the process!

In short, men without God simply are not free men. They are tied to the Earth from which they have tried to draw their fulfillment and sustenance.

• Some work by don’t get the fruit of their labors.
• Some feel the tug of unreliable people around them.
• Some hurt because they recognize people won’t remember them for long.
• Some feel life is filled with missed opportunities and failed dreams.
• Most know it is hard to be optimistic about the grave without God.
• Few get satisfaction for their appetites.

That is lost man’s condition. He is tied down. He is frustrated.

Yet, Solomon knows it IS possible to break free! He knows that we must first change our mind before we can grasp new hope. He offered instruction.

How to Break Loose the Binding Cord (6:9-12)

Essentially, Solomon made the process of breaking the cords clear in four steps:

The first step requires that I stop trusting in a dream of the future and take a sober look at now (6:9). Solomon expressed it this way,

Ecclesiastes 6:9 What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind.

It is better to live in the reality of now. Some people dream their way through life.

Tom Jacobs, a staff writer at Pacific Standard Magazine wrote an interesting article about the young people just graduating from High School a few years ago. He follows the publishing of a statistical study with analysis that showed,

Twenty-five percent of blossoming Boomers admitted that “not wanting to work hard” might prevent them from getting a desired job. Among the Millennials, that number increased to 39 percent. (These trends were consistent regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.)

In other words, nearly half of the students surveyed admitted they wanted the benefits of work they weren’t really committing to do. Tom continued,

What’s the matter with kids today? “Youth raised during times of societal instability (e.g., unemployment) and disconnection (e.g., more unmarried parents) were especially likely to endorse materialistic values,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, when a larger percentage of the nation’s economy was oriented toward advertising messages, youth were also likely to prioritize materialistic aims.”

There it is. The cost of the broken homes of America and the politics of economy have conspired to leave a generation who lean now toward things to make them happy – even though things seem more elusive to many. Some researchers hoped for this group to steer away from materialism toward the simple life. He wrote,

“Numerous social observers suggested that children (growing up in the current economic downturn) might reject materialistic values and return to frugality and thrift,” they note. “The current data argue against such predictions, given that the dislocation and insecurity wrought by high levels of unemployment and other economic woes are associated with higher levels of materialism later in life.” …Perhaps we should call them the “Frustration Generation.”

Studies don’t get it all right, so we must look at them with healthy skepticism. At the same time, it is clear that many today seem to think “something will happen” that will make them successful that will take them almost by surprise when it comes. “The big break” philosophy that is growing seems to see the height of the mountain of success, without the climb to get there. Solomon waves us off and says: “Get real! What you see is not a dream, it is reality. Deal with it.” People who think “It will somehow happen” live in a dream world that survives off someone else’s hard labor. We must get real. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy dreams

A second step Solomon offered is this: We must stop fighting the things that are not ours to change (6:10-11).

Ecclesiastes 6:10 Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is.

There are many things about my life that are already determined and defined – and I waste my energy fighting those. That doesn’t mean I cannot have some ideals worth fighting for – it means I have to choose fighting for ideals that are possible. I will not convince the world of the evils of breathing, and I cannot take a stand to call people to stop all taxes and yet have an organized society. Anarchists are often idealists run amuck.

There are things you can change and should seek to try, both personal and societal. Activism is encouraged and even called for in God’s Word. The problem is, some people take on causes against things God has already defined and set. You can’t beat some things because God didn’t give them to your charge. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy idealism.

A third step Solomon offered toward casting off bonds is this: We must recognize we can learn much, but even that won’t offer you all the answers (6:11).

Education is great, and learning is necessary, but it won’t solve every problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:11 For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?

There are problems too deeply rooted in the fallen world for us to pull out. There are connected issues we won’t see, even with our many studies and careful observations. We can’t fix everything – we can’t even really understand everything. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy expectations.

Finally, Solomon offered the positive that can unbind the cords of man (6:12). He offered two rhetorical questions:

Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?

The two questions begin: “Who knows?” and “Who can tell him?” Both have the same answer: Man’s Creator. He alone knows what is best – you don’t know even when you think you do!

“Why do I need God?” the young man asked me. “I have health, strength, a good job and great friends. Things are going fine for me without Him.” He said, “You will not always have any of the things you mentioned.” I replied, “Your health will fail as will your strength. Your friends will be right beside you until they cannot. If you look around you, there is vast evidence of those truths. There is MUCH about life that cannot be seen in the present.”

If in watching all the stages of life we can learn anything, it is this: We often don’t get the answers until after we really seemed to need them. Experiences that are painful are often helpful – but only after the fact.

Solomon ended where life begins – with God.

He created you. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Your DNA was intentionally and carefully combined from many others in a complicated formula played out from the beginning of time. He is the only One Who knows you makeup at that level, and the only One Who sees your destiny and contribution to the tapestry of His story called human history.

He is the Designer. Why seek your answers from any other place? Solomon made the ending observation that without asking Him, your life will be like “a shadow.” It will look like something, but not have a lasting discernible impact. God knows why you are here, and God knows what story He is telling. Why not talk to Him about your life and its purpose?

Standing in Truth: “Identity Check” – 1 John 4

We live in a world where, for many people, deception has become a normal tool of daily life. Companies make promises about products their developers know they cannot deliver. Ordinary people present a life of extraordinary happiness on Instagram that few of them actually have. In fact, if you want a fascinating rendering of how far online deception has gone, you need to read an article by Curtis Wallen from July 2014 in The Atlantic Magazine called: “How to Invent a Person Online.” It opens this way:

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist. I know that because I created him.

The author then described how he created an identity for someone who was never born and will never die – but they appear as one who is very much alive. They can travel, shop, protest and in some places even vote as a citizen – but they aren’t real.

It isn’t really a secret that people fake identities. Parents constantly warn their children to be careful when engaging someone on the web, for fear they are not the person they claim to be. You don’t have to look far to understand the scope of the problem today:

Take a moment and check “Google” under “fake identification” and you will find the Florida state constitution section 322.212 (5) (a) stating: “It is unlawful for any person to use a false or fictitious name in any application for a driver license or identification card or knowingly to make a false identification”…

Yet, immediately below that link is another link on the list called:

“GreatFakeID: Scannable Fake ID Cards where you can “Buy scannable fake id cards with UV holograms from GreatFakeID. Best IDs with all security features replicated and made from the best updated id templates.”

Yes, we live in a world that is hard to fathom. The criminals don’t even seem to work as hard as they used to in order to violate the law. At the same time, this isn’t a new phenomenon. For those who study the history of faking identification papers and the forging craft, the name “Adolfo Kaminsky” is almost always included among the best known historical forgers. Listen to a bit of his story and you will know why.

Born in 1925, Kaminsky worked during WWII as a member of the French Resistance, specializing in the creation of high quality forgeries of identity documents. He is credited with saving more than 14,000 Jews. In Israel’s modern history, he is also noted to have assisted scores of Jewish immigration fleeing to the British Mandate for Palestine. After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Kaminsky’s family was moved and his mother was killed. Still a teen, Adolfo Kaminsky entered the Resistance. He was charged to watch a railway station and sent messages to London about trains. By 1943, Adolfo worked in an underground laboratory in Paris forging identity papers for Jews and people sought by the Nazis. The Kaminsky Lab became the main producer of false IDs for northern France and Benelux. He was quoted as saying: “Keep awake. The longer possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die.” After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, he joined the French Army and marched to Germany. He was engaged by the French military secret services, where his fake IDs were given to some spies sent to detect the location of concentration camps while the war was still ongoing. Kaminsky was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance for his live-saving work.

What made Kaminsky famous was his work with chemicals to wipe old ID cards and repurpose them. The Nazi’s struggled to keep new identification markers valid with such excellent forgers working behind the scenes.

It is important to note that forgery, fake identification and falsely misleading people concerning your identity is actually an ancient problem. Biblically speaking, it was a long-standing problem for the church, as Jesus followers were often confused by fakes who infiltrated their ranks and were accepted by naïve and hopeful Christians. Even in the first century, false followers abounded. People gave them food and shelter. People embraced them and cared for their needs. Some people were bound to take advantage. As a result, John took the time to pen out some of the basic markers that help us identify a believer. Essentially, 1 John 4 was given to teach a key truth…

Key Principle: There are four primary characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Look closely at the opening verse where John set out the basic issue he wanted to address.

The Problem (4:1)

He couldn’t be clearer as to the difficulty they faced. He wrote:

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It may not have been comfortable for them, but the people were called upon to test the spirits behind the words and actions of the teachers who traveled about, claiming they offered truth from God. Since some of the Word was not yet written and most of it was not yet disseminated widely, the verbal prophets were very much a part of the “ground game” of the church in the early years. Some were truly sent by God, but others were seeded into the mix by the enemy of Christ. As awkward as it sounded in practice, John was forced to instruct them to test for authenticity. If the text stopped there, the obvious problem would have been: “How?”

John offered traits that could be scrutinized under examination. They were markers of authenticity, and they were to be carefully observed BEFORE the person was accepted as a teacher for God.

At the same time, these markers can also be good self-inspection tools to help us add to our faith the marks that will make our commitment to follow Jesus obvious. John offered four marks, so let’s take the time to look at each as he presented them.

Our Certainty of the Truth (4:2-6)

The opening verses that revealed the marks of a Jesus follower are thoroughly immersed in the subject of truth. He noted, there are essential truths that must be affirmed to be considered an authentic follower of the faith. Look at some of them in verses two and three:

First, the teachers needed to demonstrate they knew Jesus as He was presented by the Apostles. He wrote:

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

It appears clear enough: God’s Spirit is at work through those who acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah has come to the earth, that He came from the Father in Heaven, and that He came as a man. In the time of John, the fake followers could be identified by teachings outside of those claims. Regardless of how well they put words together, they were fakes if they didn’t believe and wholeheartedly teach that Jesus came in the flesh, from the Father, as the Savior.

Second, though fakes may have abounded (then, as now) the believers were to remember the power of God in the Gospel and not be discouraged. He reminded them:

1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

How discouraging it can be to see the many false varieties of our message that float around. There is the Jesus plus some strange conspiracy theory version of the faith. There is the Jesus came, but not as a real man version. Variations are literally all over the internet. Some of them came because Bible teaching has been sloppy and haphazard. Some came because people who didn’t know the Savior wanted to be part of the church anyway. Some came because the enemy placed bad seed among the good. In any case, believers need to remember that God isn’t losing, and His power isn’t really under a challenge. He is patient, not impotent.

Third, the confidence believers have for the truth of our message won’t be reflected in the world at large. We should be wary of one who easily has the ear of the world – for it is hard to speak the truth and keep it. He wrote:

1 John 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Look at the emphatic way John notes that we can KNOW the truth and reckon the errors. He made clear that some teachers will light up the world’s audience, because they speak the language of the world as one of them. He also clarified that our message will not necessarily find a popular hearing, but that has nothing to do with its veracity. The world outside of Jesus doesn’t naturally warm to our message, because it lives in rebellion to the God Who created them. Any presentation that demands surrender to Him will be rebuffed by a world that doesn’t want to follow God.

Tim Patrick wrote: “There used to be a television game show entitled “Truth or Consequences.” Most people who are old enough to remember will associate that show with Bob Barker. He was the game show host for approximately twenty years. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion. You and I have been given the task of discovering truth or facing the consequences. In I John, John teaches us the importance of knowing the truth. “My dear friends don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God.”

In the end, a primary mark of the believer is their commitment to the truths presented to us in the Gospel. Jesus came from God as our Savior, and put on human skin as a man. There will be resistance to that message. There will be popular innovation to that message. A mark of the follower of Jesus is allegiance to the truths passed to us in the Word, and a steadiness to continue to proclaim those truths regardless of their popularity at any particular time.

Our Care for One Another (4:7-13, 20-21)

John offered a second marker of identification for the purpose of authentication. We aren’t just a truth organization; we are a people organization. He wrote:

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Note how clearly he presented the truth that love is a marker of authenticity. John both called for love between brothers and sisters in the family of God, and made the point that such a love becomes a marker that separates those of us who know Him from those who do not. That love is expressed in giving, just as our Savior did. Someone wrote a few words that showed how distinctive love is in our world:

There once was a builder who didn’t overcharge for his work.
Once there was a physician who healed the sick for free.
Once there was a man who prepared lunch and fed people at no charge.
And you know what they did to Him?
They crucified Him!

Don’t get cynical – that isn’t the point. We must recognize that our love follows a pattern, and is commanded for a purpose. God expressed love with purpose to us, and we should be purposed in our love as well. John wrote:

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us; that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Read very carefully verses nine and ten and you will immediately discover how the love of God was made clear. God sent His precious Son to us. It is repeated twice in the two verses. God’s love is found in God’s gift. This wasn’t sentimental feeling; the Son was given with a mission. He satisfied the debt for our sins, and God offers new life through Him.

The term “manifested” simply means “made plain to see.” God’s love was made clear in God giving what was needed, though it was dear to Him and cost Him greatly. True love is not some delightful feeling or dream of togetherness – it is acting to meet and need because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. God doesn’t love us because He will benefit from our response. He loves us because He chooses to do so.

Our love is supposed to be “plain to see” like Gods love.

There’s a story of a young American engineer who was sent to Ireland by his company. It was a two-year assignment. He had accepted it because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee. Their plan was to put their money together and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They wrote often, but as the lonely weeks went by, the girlfriend began expressing doubts about his being true, exposed as he was to the beautiful Irish lasses. The young engineer wrote back. He declared with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of the two years, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!” (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 17-18. Contriibuted by: SermonCentral PRO)

The love we show is supposed to follow the pattern God set in sending Jesus. It should be a giving love, a practiced love. John wrote:

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

• If God’s love required giving that which was precious – so must our love do so.
• If God’s love cared for our needs – so must our love do for others.
• If God’s love was made plain in action – so we must act to show love.

When God’s Word challenges us to “love one another” it isn’t a call to like on another and spend a few minutes in a weekly meeting catching up with a hug. Love is about sizing up the need of another and acting deliberately to meet that need – even if it comes at a cost to you. That is the love we are called to have. That is the love that makes clear we are authentically part of the family. There is an old Jewish legend that speaks to this:

In the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill, each night dividing the grain they had ground together during the day. One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, “It isn’t fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without. But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he’s old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning. Then one night they met each other halfway between their two houses. They suddenly realized what had been happening and embraced each other in love. The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and here it is that my temple shall be built.” So it was. The First Temple is said to have been constructed on that very site.

Time and again, John echoed the words “love one another” to the followers of Jesus. It is as if when called upon, John would answer “Agapomen Allelus” or “Practice God’s love to one another.” This is the call to the believer. This is a grand mark of identity. What do you say about this love?

• When some drink wine while others abstain–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When some young leaders press forward with new ideas while others want to preserve our traditions–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When a marriage is in trouble and people are taking sides–what do you say? (Let us love one another).
• When people come with expectations but no support: what should we say? (Let us love one another).
• When someone hurts me and I want to hurt them back–what must I say? (Let us love one another).

Don’t forget, even when you feel you have no love of your own to give them – we have God’s love to offer them.

We got it for free, and we can pass it to them for the same price. When you share God’s love, you offer a portrait of God to another who travels in a world where His face isn’t always easy to see. John said:

1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

Author David Ward explained the verses this way:

Think of Christmas lights wired in series. First the electricity comes into the wire, then to the bulb and through its filament. Finally it goes back into the line, on to the next bulb, and so on through the entire chain of lights. As it flows out not only into each of those lights but out of each of those lights, the entire circuit is completed, and the string of lights is bright. If there’s a light that’s loose, or a filament that’s broken, then it receives the electricity but doesn’t pass it on to others. In a sense, God has wired us like these Christmas lights. He has wired us to receive His love, and He has also wired us to pass it along to others. We have God’s love to give.

Can you see how practicing God’s brand of love becomes a grand identifier of the believer? It is so practical, it may seem to elementary. John continued a little later in the chapter…

1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

The simple but profound truth is that as much as a commitment to the truth identifies the people of God – so loving acts in the Savior’s name do as well.

Our Confession of the Savior (4:14-15)

The third marker John pointed out was that of the “confession” of His people. Earlier John made the point that truth marked the life of an authentic follower. Here he noted the “confession” or the WORDS of the believer are an identifier. We don’t follow vague ideals and sentimental notions – we have specific expressed beliefs. John pressed believers: Listen to our words and you will hear a constant confession of our belief:

First, we openly testify that God truly sent His Son to save us:

1 John 4:14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

God entered human history to save us in His sending of Jesus – that is a deliberate theme of our teaching that cannot be missed. If we offer any other basis for an intimate relationship with God but the completed work of Jesus at Calvary – we are not authentically Christian. If we promise an eternity with God based on anything by Jesus’ payment for our sin – we are not speaking truth. The first part of our confession is the God sent His Son to save us.

Second, we repeatedly state without apology that Jesus is no other than God’s Son. John reminded:

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

John seems transfixed on proclaiming the identity and work of Jesus – because that is the enduring mark of the believer. We believe man is born estranged from God and without the ability to earn a way to God without the work of Jesus. Our belief isn’t some mere theological exercise. John makes clear there is an objective set of truths that were a part of the true confession. Look back over history and it will become very clear that not everyone who holds a Bible and quotes from it, speaks with its intent.

In November 1978 US Representative Leo J. Ryan of California visited the People’s Temple (a California-based cult) in Guyana. His group went to investigate reports that some of the people there were being held against their will. The congressman and his party were ambushed and killed. A few days later, at Jonestown, Guyana, soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of bodies of cult members who had been shot or committed suicide by drinking cyanide based Kool-Aid. Rev. Jones, 47, lay near the altar with a bullet wound in his head. The death count was 780. Here is a brief report of what happened in those final moments: “As Jones talked over the loudspeaker on the beauty of death and the certainty that everyone would meet again, several hundred cult members gathered around the pavillion. They were surrounded by armed guards, and a vat of Kool-aid mixed with cyanide was brought out. Most cult members drank it willingly—others were forced to. They started with the babies. At least 80 infants and children were fed the deadly potion, and then the adults took it. Everything was calm for a few minutes and then, as the cyanide-induced convulsions began, it got all out of the order. Children were screaming and there was mass confusion. Shortly afterward, everyone was dead.” (Illustration 1552 in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, by Paul Lee Tan)

We have a faith that can be expressed in these simple terms. God made man without sin. Man rebelled, separating himself from God. After a time, God sent His Son to model life with God, and then pay for our sin on the Cross at Calvary. We have received that payment, declaring it as our basis for a personal relationship with God. All these ideas come from the Bible, and we believe, with apology, they are all true. That is our confession.

Our Confidence in the Future (4:16-19)

John offered one more marker…

• With absolute allegiance to the truths passed by our fathers to us in the Word;
• With authentic and costly love to our brothers and sisters in Christ;
• With constant confession of the person and work of Jesus on our lips – believers have yet one more identifying mark.

That identification marker is OPTIMISM. We are incredibly confident about the future. John put it this way:

1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

Christianity teaches both coming judgment and a positive outlook for the future! That seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t. Bathed in the love of God, and living out the truth of God with the people of God, we do not fear meeting God. In fact, most of us can’t wait to be with Him!

John wanted you to know how to spot the fakes and how to recognize the real followers of Jesus…

There are four characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Jack Kelley, foreign affairs editor for USA Today, tells this story: We were in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, during a famine. It was so bad we walked into one village and everybody was dead. There is a stench of death that gets into your hair, gets onto your skin, gets onto your clothes, and you can’t wash it off. We saw this little boy. You could tell he had worms and was malnourished; his stomach was protruding. When a child is extremely malnourished, the hair turns a reddish color, and the skin becomes crinkled as though he’s 100 years old. Our photographer had a grapefruit, which he gave to the boy. The boy was so weak he didn’t have the strength to hold the grapefruit, so we cut it in half and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at us as if to say thanks, and began to walk back towards his village. We walked behind him in a way that he couldn’t see us. When he entered the village, there on the ground was a little boy who I thought was dead. His eyes were completely glazed over. It turned out that this was his younger brother. The older brother kneeled down next to his younger brother, bit off a piece of the grapefruit, and chewed it. Then he opened up his younger brother’s mouth, put the grapefruit in, and worked his brother’s jaw up and down. We learned that the older brother had been doing that for the younger brother for two weeks. A couple days later the older brother died of malnutrition, and the younger brother lived. I remember driving home that night thinking what Jesus meant when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down our life for somebody else.”

Standing in Truth: “The Mark” – 1 John 3

I have some marks on my body that remind me of moments in my life. On the back of my left thumb there is a scar I got from slicing off the skin from the back of the knuckle with a glass bottle that broke in Jerusalem. On my left hand, my ring finger cannot straighten all the way out, because Aaron Michaud threw a football to me and it broke the finger. I smile, because I caught the pass – and that was the important thing! I have a dent on my face where Mikey from down the street stabbed me in the eye with a pencil. My left wrist has a long scar from the operation to make that hand work again after it was paralyzed by a skiing accident. Of course, there is also the long scar, the metal bar and the thirteen screws in my leg that abruptly ended my kickball career at the church.

If you are like me, your body is a map of ghosts of activities past.

Things that we dedicate time and energy to, have a way of leaving a mark on us. That makes me wonder: “What marks have my commitment to Jesus made on me? What truly marks a believer?” 1 John 3 offers an answer. John essentially taught…

Key Principle: Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

In other words, the mark of Jesus can be seen in my desire to follow His commands, and stop deciding my future and my choices on my own. That choice will make any follower stand out. It will also bring a reaction from the world around the believer…

Imagine you were born into a wonderful family with two incredible parents. Tragically, they were killed in an auto accident when you were a child, and you were taken to an orphanage. For a few years, you became a part of the lives and rhythm of the place. One morning, you met the people who were adopting you. You went home with them and became a part of your new family. A few months later you came back to the orphanage and the children you used to play with didn’t accept you anymore. That isn’t a myth…it is your story if you are a Jesus follower.

God created us for Himself. He walked in the Garden with man until rebellion separated us and death came. We became children of the fallen world under a rebel prince. One day our Creator sent a Rescuer Who paid the price for our sin. Sometime later, that One came to bring us into the family of God.

John’s argument, as he opened the third chapter of 1 John is this: God adopted us. His choice of us changed who we are… but it made us different from the rest of the children – and they reject us because of it. He wrote it this way:

1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Observe closely how John put the argument together.

First, God made us into His children, and that was a powerful statement of love by God.

Second, as God’s children, the world no longer identifies us as “one of them.”

Third, as His children, our will is being shaped to be progressively more like the Son.

Fourth, His shaping includes working at purity in our lives. When I follow Him, rebellion gives way to obedience. The old way slips into the past as we focus on living out what God has said.

In that scenario, John began setting up a family contrast that led to a values conflict. The contrast was made plain in how we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Life decisions look different for one inside the family. John began by defining the basis of decisions by those who do not have a walk with God – those still in rebellion in the world without. He wrote:

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

Don’t misunderstand what he wrote. He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – He makes up his own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. They need consistent love as God defined it. To get it, they put together their own rules, their own standards and even their own “truth.” John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He was the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. There is no way to live as God would have a man live without a Savior. It is, therefore, fitting and proper for a Jesus follower to live differently. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

The Christian life is a life that can be seen, not just preached. It is a life of practice rooted in an intimate relationship with its Founder, the Risen Savior. It is knowing, loving and obeying the Savior out of love and thankfulness, not of compulsion. John argued that people who make up their own moral and ethical standards that are not in harmony with God’s Word display openly they don’t yet truly know how to walk with Him. In the short run, that could be simply a result of learning His way. In the long run, it will show outwardly the fact they lack a relationship inwardly. John’s reason for making the claim that one who is truly a Christian lives by the standard of Jesus became much clearer as he continued…

1 John 3:7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

It seems John’s greatest concern was that Jesus followers grow in discernment, so that we don’t become confused by those who make claims as Jesus followers, but then draw people away in serving according to a morality Jesus has no part in. If you break down what John claimed in verses seven to ten, that point is clear.

• In verse seven, John raised the alarm to be watchful because some desire to confuse in order to deceive. The litmus test that proves the integrity of their faith within is the fact that they cling to practices that are like what Jesus did and taught us to do.

• In verse eight, John unpacked this truth: If the standard of the person is based on the system of the world and not of Christ, they belong to the world and serve the world’s prince – not the Savior. Because they serve the prince of rebels, they appear in opposition to the way of Jesus. Our Savior stands in direct opposition to a world that desires to make a different right, and different moral construct, a different way to find peace and contentment.

• In verse nine, John reiterated: People who know God intimately follow His standard. They wouldn’t dream of making up their own way and thinking God is happy with that. They have within the Spirit of God, and conviction would critique their poor choice. They have the example of Jesus, and they would sense quickly their way was the wrong way. They have become a part of the family of God, and they would not, they could not be comfortable acting like a child without a home and family.

• John laid out the fact of the clear marker that delineates the difference between a true follower of Jesus and one who claims to be but is not. He noted the one who follows Jesus follows the standards and model of Jesus. He loves the others who follow Jesus and sees them as family. The one who has no regard for the follower of Jesus has no true surrender to Jesus inside.

What may read like a high resounding theology is actually a very simple statement. People can fake a commitment to Jesus, but if you watch them closely, the cloth of their life is thin. Claims are a veneer surface, but life has the tendency to quickly wear through our verbal assertions. When we call for people to follow us, we open our lives to inspection for the kinds of works that Jesus would do. We invite people to evaluate the source of our moral premises and principles. In that investigation, when we show ourselves to follow the pattern of the world and not the Word – we quickly expose the reality that we are not truly following Jesus.

John didn’t want believers to follow people that made claims that were separated by the actions of the one making them.

Today people are queasy about being “judging people” because they have been poorly taught the way of Jesus. They will say things like: “We shouldn’t judge others – that is for God to do.” On the surface that sounds like a call to give others the benefit of a doubt. Yet, what it most often means in contemporary society is that we have no place in discerning whether someone’s claim is real. That simply isn’t true. John couldn’t call on people to match life with word in order to resist being deceived if that was wholly inappropriate.

Add to that, we couldn’t make simple judgments about who our children should spend time with if we weren’t allowed to make such judgments. We are being trained to believe that all forms of discriminatory activity are intrinsically wrong. That is false. We have to discern between one who is what they appear to be and one who is playing a role in order to deceive us. We cannot and will not be obedient to God if we renege on that responsibility. John pulled his readers back to the sign of “brotherly love” when he wrote:

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

John exposed what may have been one of the first overt signs of having an inner surrender to God – caring for the people God placed around us. That love wasn’t just a surface politeness with a raging jealousy beneath. Cain’s heart toward God was wrong, and it showed openly when he willingly spilled the blood of his brother. Love is seeking the best for our brother, not seeking their harm out of our brokenness. In his epistle, James claimed that we lash out at others because something is wrong within. Here, John made plain that our treatment of our brother in authentic love for them is a telltale sign that we truly know God and are walking with God. We can share love because the inner conflict has been stilled.

Earlier in this lesson I made the claim the world wants the benefits of a walk with God even if they do not have one. When we carefully consider the issue of “having love of others” that is clearly the case. People who do not know God want people to love them. We are hardwired that way. People are deeply relational unless supremely damaged and emotionally disrupted. They want to have rich and enduring relationships. Yet, without the way the Lord designed relationships, that is very problematic.

Let’s be clear: Follow the world’s design for relationships and you will not find satisfaction and lasting love in them.

Hook up and you will find quick pleasure, but you won’t make a life partner. Sleep around and you won’t find someone who is deeply invested in caring for your needs for life. Hang out in the world’s version of a mating dance and you won’t discover someone who knows a great deal about building a solid moral home. Remember what John wrote? He claimed: “People who know God walk like Jesus did. When they follow the pattern of Jesus, they build relationships with people based on sharing God’s love with them. That is what Jesus did. They give of themselves to help another even when the other has little or nothing to give back. That was the Savior’s example. In short, they understand love. The world has neatly defined self-interest, self-pleasure and self-seeking as love. It isn’t, and it won’t produce lasting satisfaction like real love will. People who club their way to “finding real love” will find others who don’t understand what God meant when He invented the word. That is a room of needy takers, but love is about giving.

There is a stark contrast between the selfish sentimentalism that passes as love in our world and how God told us to act toward one another. As a result, when we teach and model truth, it exposes the false premise of the world around us. It is bound to get a reaction. John continued:

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.

Though it may not be immediately clear, there are really two thoughts here.

First, we must understand the world often reacts to the truth badly, because they have been taught to cling to a lie. At the foundation of the world, the prince of deception has confused and deceived with not one, but a series of contradictory stories that fluster and frustrate those who search for the truth. He has literally overwhelmed the truth with alternative explanations of origin, purpose and destiny, keeping truth buried under a pile of garbage.

Is there a god? Maybe, but now there are literally dozens of them to sort through to try to find the One Who is true. Were all things intentionally created? Perhaps, but it may be that there was a big bang or a lightning bolt to primordial ooze, or aliens that planted the human colony. Maybe we don’t even live in a real world. We could all be hooked to some big umbilical cord and be dreaming. The notions of origin and reality go on and on and on. Is there more than the material world? “We don’t know,” they say. “We cannot know,” they teach. Yet we are trained to live as though this is what counts.

When you have been thoroughly educated in the ways of the world, you will see life as material and earthly – and think of God as you would fairies and unicorns – something fun to think about but highly unlikely to the educated mind. As the world is coaxed away from any allegiance to the message of the Creator found in the Bible, they will see “equality” as all eliminating distinctions and “freedom” as cutting all boundaries. Yet, the militancy that is found in their version of equality will quickly show itself, and the abuses against the weak will become swiftly apparent in their fallen view of freedom. I don’t want to be abstract. Here is the truth: when the world teaches that love can be found drifting from one sexual encounter to another, killing of the inconvenient unborn becomes a necessity. When they rethink equality, they are willing for all deviant behavior to be allowed – but they are not willing to accept any plea against that behavior as anything but HATE SPEECH.

In our brave new world, people keep committing sin that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden – but now they can legally redefine it as right and good. The new definition for morality is whatever makes people happy. The problem is the foundations of society aren’t built to withstand that kind of thinking. Our system was built with a Biblical world view. Mortgages are based on the idea that people should feel wrong about not paying what they owe. Elections are based on the idea that one who offers a compelling vision of the future that convinces the electorate should have the opportunity to try to make their vision reality. Child rearing was based on the notion that a biological pair would come together in a life-long commitment to each other and build a safe space for children to be carefully patterned.

When you tear into the foundations, the building begins to crack.

Welcome to a society where killing a whale is inherently evil, but killing the unborn is your right. Sitting in a restaurant smoking a cigarette is immoral because it affects those around you, but redefining marriage and teaching our children in our schools that their Bible is woefully outdated and their parents are just misinformed is the unmitigated right of the state. My point is this: People immersed in the fallen world don’t react well to truth. It isn’t clear to them, and we don’t appear to be what we truly are at all.

Beside the fact that people who are immersed in the fallen viewpoint of the world don’t generally respond to moral truth in a positive way, there is a second meaning to verse thirteen. Believers will be prone to forget how much God’s way contrasts with the world, and how utterly uncomfortable we make people who have no commitment to God. That is why John made the abrupt statement that we would eventually find ourselves on the back end of hatred.

There was a time most believers would have said John’s term “hate” was too strong. I don’t think that time is now.

We have been living with a growing hatred and it is just below the surface – ready to pounce when it can find the power to do so. It is the reason we have recently worked to circle the wagons with believers and anyone with which we can find help in to stem the political and intellectual tide.

• As Jesus followers, we have to remember we hear the media with different ears than others. When our Biblical beliefs, foundational to our world view, are mocked because we don’t believe that a man with male parts can simultaneously be a woman because he feels like it today – we don’t feel like we are stretching the truth.

• When we demand that a baby be protected from those who would thrust an instrument of death into their skull weeks before they are born, we don’t think we are being hateful. We think we are defending human life. We aren’t cutting off freedom, we are making sure that life is not demeaned.

• When officials enlist our schools to force curricula concerning Freud’s made up gender ideology, we don’t believe Christian parents are being hateful to teach their own children the Scriptures. We believe we are preserving the parent’s right to pass their beliefs to their children. We don’t believe that diversity and tolerance mean we can allow them to rewrite morality daily with no care for the people and  institutions it may destroy.

We don’t believe we have moved the goal posts or redefined things. We aren’t creating new letters and phobias with each new semester. It isn’t us. Most of us really are not activists. We believe in our future – but feel responsible for what was passed to us.

• When bakers and photographers can’t choose to opt out of involvement in something that violates their faith – we don’t want to see their businesses destroyed in the name of tolerance.

• When nuns are forced to provide funding for birth control, we don’t think our country becomes more free. We feel like our government is attacking us, and ignoring Biblical values.

We get tired of being called names because we still believe what the Bible teaches – but John cautioned we should understand why it happens. Ironically, we can point out how many of those beliefs set forth in the Scriptures are what gave us the freedoms and foundations of the very society that are under attack. Honestly, hate is looking less and less like a word too strong for how the world feels if one looks at media, the world of education or in the realm of entertainment.

John continued…

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

If a telltale sign of real life in Messiah is obedience to the Word, it is also in the commitment to loving brothers and sisters and clinging to one another. John elaborated:

1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this; that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

John asked a very fair question. How can we claim we love our brothers if we don’t practically care for them. How can we say we love the weak if we offer no defense for them? How can we claim we love the needy if we do nothing to help them attain what they need?

In fact, John waved off the notion that one could claim love at all – unless it was surrounded by evidence in deeds. He wrote:

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Further, he offered encouragement that if we show love and care for others – it will help us INSIDE. We will have an assurance within that we are truly following and actively walking with God. We are following our Master, and we can KNOW it. He wrote:

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

It seems counter-intuitive, but John argued that when we give away our heart, it grows stronger. When we care about others, we gain confidence in our faith. When we give away what He has given us, we open ourselves to receive yet MORE from Him. In the end, John offered a simple summary of the believer. On the one hand it is about the One in Whom we have placed our trust. On the other hand, it is about the brother for whom we are willing to readily give our life away:

1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

John couldn’t be clearer. There are those who reckon the commands of Christ something that blesses us when we follow them. There are others who believe they need to figure out life on their own, and make their own standards of right and wrong behavior. One is invested in the word, the other keeps their ear to the ground for the ever-changing moral code of the world. Here is his point:

Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel written by Mitch Albom published in 2003. The story chronicled the life, the death and the afterlife of an amusement park maintenance man named Eddie. He died in a heroic attempt to save a little girl from an accident in an amusement park on a ride that was about to fall. Eddie died and went to heaven, where he encountered five people who had a significant impact upon him during his life.

I read the book a decade ago, and it has stuck in my mind because of some of the writer’s keen insights about life. It wasn’t written by a Jesus follower, and it isn’t a Christian book – but it had some excellent insights into life.

On Eddie’s birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions and Eddie realizes a little girl will be crushed by the ride. He threw himself toward the girl, intending to pull her to safety, but was killed…He awoke to find himself uninjured, young and much more energetic. He met a man he had known from his childhood and, Eddie finds out that he is dead, has gone to Heaven and has embarked on a journey through five levels of discovery. He met a man who died when Eddie and his brother threw a baseball that landed in the middle of the road, and caused the man to have a heart attack and pull over the car and collapse. From this, Eddie learned his first lesson which is that there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.

The second person that Eddie met was a former captain from the army. He reminded Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp. Their group escaped after a long captivity and set the camp on fire during their escape. As the fire blazed, Eddie saw a shadow running from one of the huts he lit, although he never identified the figure. The Captain confessed he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire, which would have certainly caused Eddie’s death. This saved Eddie’s life but left him with the severe limp that Eddie repeatedly blamed as his main obstacle for missing out on a life outside of the maintenance of the park. He also learned about the sacrifice of the Captain as they spoke. The man died when he deliberately stepped on a land mine that would have destroyed the truck taking Eddie and his company to safety. Eddie learned his second lesson about the importance of people’s willingness to make sacrifices for others, big and small.

There are three more scenes in the book (I won’t ruin it for you). What stuck in my mind was the Captain. He knew his duty was to his men – because that was drilled into him in his training. He also knew that duty had become something that was more than a job. It was something that changed his heart. He loved the men. He wanted to show his obedience to the commands he was given – but that was only a part of his life. He loved doing it. It filled his life. The great quote that captured the idea was this: “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.