Category Archives: The Majesty of God

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Here’s a special treat.  In the last several posts we have chewed on Ecclesiastes, but how can we scoop its message all together?  It seems so full of contradictions – just like you!  Scholars have tried for centuries to make sense of it.  But, Ecclesiastes is about real life, real life that throws curve balls.  Recently, my son sent me a wonderful You Tube about Ecclesiastes.  These guys really get it.  I couldn’t summarize the book any better.  Check it out.  But do yourself a favor and wait for a moment when you can really watch and listen.  It begins with a short Hebrew song and then goes way deep.   Click HERE.

But wait, there’s more!  No, not steak knives…    This same group produced a beautiful song based on the teachings of Ecclesiastes.  You’ll find it HERE.

And, If you missed this short series, the first one is found HERE.

Grace and peace.

Seasons

If you want to write a hit song for Millennials, here’s how (that is, according to a joke I saw recently):  First you start with some banjo.  Then all the musicians shout “Hey!”   The body of the song should contain complaints about life by Millennials.  Then another “Hey!”  Finish with a bit more banjo, played faster and fading out.  Like any good joke, it’s an exaggeration based on a bit of truth.  And the truth is, young people tend to complain when things aren’t going the way they hoped.  And write songs about it.  It’s not just Millennials.  My generation did it back in the 60’s.  “I’m just a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my days.”  We sang that with earnest looks, even though our “days” were just getting started.

But, spend time with an old farmer, someone who has struggled through the ups and downs of a tough life, and you’re much more apt to hear a fiddle tune than a bunch of complaining.  The farmers I have known are well acquainted with the fact that life ebbs and flows through good times and bad, and that complaining only makes it worse.  In fairness to Millennials, their generation is also known for a desire to “keep it real.” And in time, by “keeping it real,” they will be known for patient acceptance of life’s various seasons.  Because those seasons are real.

Perhaps the most famous section of Ecclesiastes are these next verses.

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Try to identify exactly which of these seasons you have experienced and when.  Call to mind any of the ways you experienced God’s influence and care during them.

A Reminder

Why do people whisper in an art museum?  Never could figure that out but suppose it has something to do with awe.  Stand in front of a Rembrandt and somehow you don’t feel like talking.  At least not out loud.  And yet, in most church settings, as people come bopping in, laughing, calling to their friends, there seems to be no sense of awe.  This is nothing new and it is understandable.  You can see a Rembrandt and you can’t see God.  It’s easy to forget where you are and what you are doing.

But God is here.  Not just in church, but here, with us as we go through life.  And when we pause, to talk things over with Him, here’s a reminder from Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

There’s a great scene in the movie, Papa, where a cub reporter, who idolizes Ernest Hemingway, and has sent him a fan letter, answers the phone and discovers it is his hero calling.  Once he’s gone through the “Who is this really?” routine and knows it really is Hemingway on the phone, suddenly he can hardly form a single word, much less a sentence.  That’s the idea here.

That is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, I guess we better start with a quick word of prayer.”  Or, “Ralph, would you say the blessing?”   If we could open our eyes to see Jesus, Himself, seated in the meeting or at the table, such lines would seem insulting.  Like, “Before we tell you what we think you should do, God, we’re just going to say a few religious sounding words to kind of set the right tone…”

If we are in our right minds, we fear God.  This means treating Him with appropriate reverence, respect and a willingness to let Him call the shots.  It means recognizing He is God and we are not, not even close.  There is no more important setting for the fear of God than when we are about to address Him and listen.

Vantage Advantage

You are  going to die, so what’s the point of living?  According to the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes, there is no point. Once you are dead, theres no difference between the wise person and the fool.  They wind up in the same condition and will both, eventually be forgotten.

Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:15 -17)

But this hopeless outlook changes when we do not limit our perspective to only that which happens “under the sun.”  (See Part 2 for further explanation)  

If you look at a piece of stitchwork from the back side, it doesn’t make much sense – bunch of tangled, knotted yarn hanging down.  But if you look from above, you see a beautiful picture.  That’s the vantage point advantage.  When we look at our circumstances from God’s vantage point, seeing things as He does instead of merely from “under the sun,” life seems less hopeless and pointless.  We begin to see life as a gift from a generous God.  

This principle is stated and restated many times and ways throughout Ecclesiastes.  It’s a recurrent theme in all of scripture.  Without God, everything looks pointless because we die.  But when we are reverently mindful of God, the outlook changes.  So,

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:18 -19)

Why God Won’t Listen

Don’t bother praying for those people; it won’t do any good.  That’s what God said!  He said, it’s a waste of time to pray for them because I’m not going to listen and I won’t help them.  Really?  Who was He talking about?  ISIS?  Babylon?  Nope.  He was talking about His own, Chosen People.  He’d had enough.  Here it is, straight out of the Bible:

16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.  (Jeremiah 7:16)

Obviously His own people had done something very offensive to lead to that attitude from the same God Who rescued them from slavery, provided them a land “flowing with milk and honey,” and protected them from their hostile neighbors.  What had they done that was so bad?

17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.  (Jeremiah 7:17-18)

Today, this same evil masquerades as religious tolerance.  “All gods are the same; all religions are equally valid.”  “I won’t teach my children about God because I want them to choose which god to worship – if any.”  Go far enough down that road and you can forget about praying.  The real God won’t be listening.

But, in case this sounds to you as though God has an ego problem, consider, when He brought His people out of slavery, the first thing He taught them was this:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2-3)

His motivation was not for His own fame or esteem but for their well being.  Here’s the rest of what He said to Jeremiah:

22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.  (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

Laced through all the tough, “don’t bother praying” passages in this prophecy, is the invitation and plea for His people to turn back and be restored.  God isn’t being cruel.  He alone is God.  He knows what works and what does not.

Not so “Meek and Mild”

Jesus chased people out of the temple courts with a whip.  Why?  They were using the place to make money.  Another time, as He tipped over their tables and chased them away, He said:

“‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’  (Matthew 21:13)

If those guys had been paying attention to God’s Word, they’d have known better. Jesus was quoting from a complaint by God written several hundred years earlier.  Here’s the first half of what Jeremiah wrote:

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?   (Jeremiah 7:11a)

Religious shysters were nothing new in Jesus’ day.  They are still at it today.  A quick Google search, using “pastor” and “swindling” will give you 401,000 hits!  Apparently those crooks aren’t paying attention either.  Instead of shaking down the flock they’d be shaking in their boots.  Here’s the rest of what God said:

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.  ( Jeremiah 7:11)

God wasn’t kidding…

Not so Fast

The folks were fasting but God was not impressed.  Why not?  They really were making themselves hungry, really were going without for a time.  But God belittled their efforts.  In effect, He said, “You call that a fast?  Are you kidding?  That’s not fasting, not even close.”   Check it out for yourself: it’s in the 58th chapter of Isaiah.  But here is the nub of it:

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  (Isaiah 58:5-7)

The Dumb Thing

One of the oldest bits of wisdom in the Bible says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Except God didn’t say it like that.   Speaking through His prophet, Jeremiah, He said:

13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  (Jeremiah 2:13)

Cisterns hold water but they can’t fill themselves.  You have to do that.  If the cistern is leaky, then you have to keep filling it, even if you haven’t used any of the water. Moreover, have you ever tasted water stored for a long time in a cistern?  Funky stuff.  So then, why would anyone exchange a continuous spring of fresh, clear water for a cistern they had to dig and fill which would give them brackish tasting water?  Be dumb, right?

And why, God asks, would anyone turn away from the continuous interaction with God, Who gives strength, peace, joy, insight, love and life itself, in order to make up his or her own god out of dead stuff?  Dead stuff like wood, stone, metal, plastic… or money.  One of most common reasons people turn away from God is to pursue more money.  But money is very much like a broken cistern.  You have to fill it yourself.  It leaks away when you aren’t looking (If you don’t believe me, check your wallet:  Not as much money in there as you thought, right?)  And money doesn’t satisfy like it promises to do.  Most of the time the aftertaste of money is brackish.

Don’t be dumb.

Ancient Paths

Do you still use your “Veg-e-matic,” or have you gone back to your kitchen knife and cutting board?  There’s a reason you see so many infomercial products on garage sale tables.  The old, tried and true methods, generally work better.  They’ve stood the test of time.  It’s important to remember that when you consider whether to buy the next better mousetrap.  Or idea.

Our culture has majored in tearing down old, tried and true ideas.  We celebrate our freedom from them, proudly following new, contemporary ideas.  But history has seen many Veg-e-matic ideas tossed on the garage sale “free pile.”  There really is value in paying attention to the wisdom of generations past.  I’m not talking about ideas like the world is flat.  I’m specifically thinking about knowing the value of living with a deep respect for Almighty God, a responsiveness to His guidance.  People abandon that idea, thinking it will tangle them up in old superstitions.  But check it out:  that old idea is tried and true.  What it really does is bring peace:

This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.  (Jeremiah 6:16a)

Making Movies

I’d be very surprised if the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” convinced anyone to abandon atheism.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect movies like that mostly feel good to those who already know God’s not dead.  I’m pretty sure God does not need to be defended.  Why?  Because He isn’t dead!  He’s all powerful and His purposes prevail.  If He was dead, then maybe we’d need to work hard to prove He wasn’t.

That’s the idea humorously and ironically illustrated by these guys:

24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.   (Acts 19:24-27)

Any so-called god who can be “robbed of divine majesty” because of something someone says is no god you want to follow.   I’ve seen many movies about faith in God that have stirred my soul.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not down on God movies.  It’s just that the real God doesn’t need our movies; He makes His own:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.  (Psalms 19:1-4)