The Big Reveal on the Meaning of Life

Ecclesiastes 12

Thursday, July 21, 2022

After plodding through Ecclesiastes 1 and 3 over the last two day’s devotions, we are finally at Ecclesiastes 12, where Solomon has his reveal about the meaning of life.  Verse 1 starts out the chapter with, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them.”  

The next 7 verses highlight why the elderly may not find pleasure in their old age – because they experience things like fading eyesight, losing hearing, developing tremors, stooping because of osteoporosis, losing teeth, unable to sleep – and then die.

So what does it mean to “remember your Creator?”  Is this like “remember to take out the trash?”  No.  And it entails a lot more than just thinking about Him once in a while. When you’re tempted to enjoy the pleasures of sin, remember your Creator.  When you’re tempted to live your life in rebellion against God, remember your Creator.  When your peers are doing something you know is wrong and you’re tempted to join in, remember your Creator.  It means putting God at the forefront of your thoughts, dedicating your life to Him, and living for Him.

I think there are several practical reasons to start serving the Lord while you are young.   Here is a partial list:

  • Life in a close relationship with God is satisfying and fulfilling, so the earlier you start that relationship with Him, the longer you’ll experience meaning in your life.
  • By accepting God while you are young, you will spare yourself a lot of pain and problems that you would experience in a life of rebellion against God.
  • You may want to live it up while you are young and plan on a “death bed confession” (giving your life to the Lord just before you die).  But we never know when we may die.  Accidents happen.  And you don’t want to suffer the eternal consequences of not devoting your life to the Lord.
  • You may get dementia as you age, and won’t be able to make a decision for the Lord late in life.
  • As people age, they get more set in their ways and find it more difficult to change.

I think Solomon is giving good advice, “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  

At the end of Ecclesiastes 12, we finally come to Solomon’s conclusion when seeking the meaning of life.  Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14 read, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Fear includes a lot more than being scared of God.  It includes being in awe of Him.  Giving Him reverence.  Giving him glory.  Giving Him your life (living for Him).

To paraphrase Solomon, the bottom line is this:  

You can live your life your own way, and experience a life that is meaningless and unfulfilling, then die.  Or you can live your life God’s way, and experience a life that is meaningful and fulfilling, and then die.

Either way, you will die.  And when Jesus returns, you will face judgment.  If you have lived your life your own way, you will face condemnation and the second death.  If you have lived your life for God, you will receive commendation and will enjoy eternal life.

The only rational choice is to “fear God and keep his commandments.”

You don’t have to be rational.  But you do have to choose.  Choose wisely.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. Look again at the list of reasons to start serving the Lord while you are young. Is there anything else you would add to it?
  2. If you have started serving the Lord, when did you start? Why was that a great time to do it? If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?

The Scary Gardener & Reckless Vine

John 15

April 12

I have a story to tell you. It’s the scariest horror story and, simultaneously, the greatest love story. I’m not talking about ghosts falling in love. No, I’m talking about a garden. 

We’re all little branches in a big, beautiful garden. It’s our job to grow fruit to please the Gardener. 

A day is coming, however, when the Gardener will cut off the fruitless branches—the diseased, dead, good-for-nothing twigs. 

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned”(John 15:6).

It’s scary to think about the judgment that is coming—about the branches thrown into the fire. The Bible is filled with examples of people meeting God’s wrath, like a flooded Earth, a pillar of salt, a plethora of plagues, and people dropping dead. That day is coming for us, too. This begs the question, are you living in a manner that is consistent with your calling to be holy, to bear good fruit? 

I have good news for you, Little Branch. There is a Vine who is crazy about you. His job is to keep you close, to hem you in, to wrap around you, and cover you in grace. This Vine is Jesus, and he says: 

“Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).  

I took this picture of a vine in my sister’s backyard. Look at the way it twists, turns, and loop-de-loops to seek out and envelop a branch. The love Jesus has for you is the same. It’s reckless and unrelenting. It’s the well that never runs dry, the shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one, and the blood-stained body on the cross. 

The same Jesus who first told us to “Come,” also tells us to “Abide.” To remain. To stay. To obey. 

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10a). 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion & Reflection Questions: 

  1. As the old hymn says, are you ready for judgment day? Are you bearing good fruit? 
  2. What commands do you struggle to obey? Where in your life do you need a good pruning? 
  3. How has Jesus’ love changed your life?

God Over All the Kingdoms of the Earth

2 Kings 19

March 18

A good leader, a bad leader, a boasting field commander, mourning, praying for those left, searching for a word from the Lord, reports of fighting here and there, a large impressive bully nation, a pleading king. It’s almost enough to make me look for a time and date stamp to check what century I am reading of. Am I reading the headlines of the newspaper today, or from 2 Kings 19, an account of when the small country of Judah and her king Hezekiah were being bullied and intimidated by Sennacherib the king of Assyria?

For a better understanding, we might need to back up a couple hundred years from where we are reading in 2 Kings. It is tricky fitting the whole wealth of Old Testament history and beauty and lessons into 105 days, as our Bible reading schedule this year dictates, but let’s catch up on a couple hundred years here. The end of last week we were reading of the son of King David, King Solomon – the third king of Israel. His reign over Israel was blessed by God and Israel prospered. However, after King Solomon the kingdom divides into the 10 northern tribes of Israel (which rejected the rule of the line of David and created their own system of worship since they no longer held Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple) and the 2 southern tribes then called the nation of Judah.

Israel would have one bad king after another. But still God was active and at work in their nation, as we saw with the powerful ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in our readings earlier this week. But it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the nation that had chosen to reject God. Israel would be overtaken by the bully nation Assyria (see 2 Kings 17). This was God’s judgment on a country that had rebelled against Him.

And now, Assyria was coming after the nation of Judah. Hezekiah, the 12th king of Judah and from the line of David, had been king 6 years when Israel had fallen to Assyria, within the next 8 years Assyria had attacked and captured all of the fortified cities of Judah, except the capital city of Jerusalem. Scared Hezekiah, feeling desperate to save his nation, had even tried paying tribute to Sennacherib king of Assyria – striping the temple and palace of all its gold and silver. But still, Assyria advanced and now they were at the gates of Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s field commander, had just delivered an intimidating speech to the occupants of Jerusalem – promising protection and life if they surrendered and destruction and death if they did not. He tried convincing the people saying, “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (2 Kings 18:32b-33). And, that is where we are when we read 2 Kings 19.

The king, the leaders and the people are scared. Assyria has already conquered so many, including Israel and the fortified cities of Judah. It seems perhaps this will be the end of Jerusalem and all Judah as well. Hezekiah sends his advisers to the prophet Isaiah asking for prayer for the people. Isaiah replies – Don’t be afraid. God heard the boasting blasphemous words of the field commander – and God is preparing a surprise for them.

Sennacherib sends a written intimidating message to Hezekiah. I love what Hezekiah does with the letter. He takes it to the temple, spreads it out before the Lord and prays:

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

(2 Kings 19:15-19)

What a beautiful prayer that lays it all out before God. First, acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done – no small matters. Go back and read it again to hear the awe and reverence in Hezekiah’s voice. He knew he was speaking to the creator of heaven and earth! How awesome is that? Then, bringing before God what was on his heart. What do we want Him to look upon, and listen to? Yes, God already has heard it and seen it all. Hezekiah wasn’t surprising God or giving Him new information. But He was asking God to act on what Hezekiah was seeing and hearing, what was important to Him. And, believing that God could do it, he asked for deliverance, not just to save their own hides – but “so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” (2 Kings 19:19).

God did answer this prayer in such a way that all those kingdoms knew that He alone with God. That night, the angel of the Lord visited the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000. Sennacherib and the rest went running home. Sennacherib survived, for a short time, only to be assassinated by two of his sons. Hezekiah lives to have more prayers answered in the next chapter.

But here we are today, surrounded by more conflict, and more bully leaders, and more scared leaders and still One TRUE God over them all. Perhaps now is a good time for more heartfelt prayers to God. We know more righteous judgment from God is on its way – both now and ultimately at the end of this age when His son Jesus returns to earth. We so look forward to a time when the faithful from all nations and kingdoms are gathered before the throne – no longer waving national flags, if now their allegiance is to the Lamb of God.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Hezekiah’s strongest weapon was not his armies or alliances or his gold and silver – but his heartfelt prayer to God. How can we better use prayer in our own time of desperate need? How can we better use prayer for the nations in conflict today? What do you want to make sure God hears and sees? Tell Him about it, even though He already knows.
  2. Hezekiah praised God for His creation. I wonder if, or how much, Mr Darwin and the theory of evolution has blocked the prayers of “believers”. What do we truly believe in today? When we strip God of His power and His creation, do we also strip Him of His power or desire to act on our behalf? What are other ways we fail to recognize God’s greatness and power? What do you believe God can do and will do and has done?
  3. Do a little word study on nations or kingdoms – how do they show up in Scripture? What about in Revelation?

What Jesus do you See and Hear?

Matthew 11

January 11

Having just sent out the 12 for the job he had trained and empowered them for, Jesus took a beach vacation. No, just kidding, that’s not what Matthew 11:1 says. Jesus hit the road, too, teaching and preaching in the towns of Galilee. He met up with a lot of different people along the way and he had different responses and directives for them based on who he was talking to or talking about. In a humble way he answered the questions the followers of John the Baptist asked about who Jesus was, saying look at the evidence. Consider what you see and hear. We would be wise to also follow this advice when examining who this Jesus was – and is – and will be. Jesus is known as being a man of love who spoke wisdom. And that is so true! Let’s consider what we see and hear from Jesus in this chapter to see what we can learn of him.

Jesus commends John the Baptist. It is obvious he knows John well, and thinks very highly of him and the job he has done, even comparing him to the Old Testament prophets. However, Jesus doesn’t hold John on such a high pedestal that no one else can reach him. In fact, he curiously states that, “He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

Jesus points out inconsistencies and short-comings in the understanding and actions of his generation. He pretty much calls them immature (like children). He calls them out for their critical, know-it-all spirit. They don’t like John the Baptist and his ministry. He is doing it wrong and they know better, he must have demons, the people said. Then Jesus comes along and they don’t like Jesus and his ministry, either. He is doing it differently, but still wrong and they know better, he must be, “A glutton, and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners”, the people said. (Matthew 11:19) When in fact, it wasn’t the current generation that knew what was going on at all. It was Jesus who saw clearly what they had completely missed, more than once.

Jesus continues with harsh (but righteous) judgment for those cities that saw his miracles and knew of his ministry but did not repent (change, turn from their sins to begin a new life). He said it will be worse for them than it will be for Sodom (which was totally destroyed), because if Sodom would have seen the miracles of Jesus they would have surely repented.

People love the “Come-to-me-I-will-give-you-rest” Jesus. That appeals to many in this tired generation. Today even the loved-the-sinners Jesus is quite popular. Perhaps we are more comfortable with sin now than those in Jesus’ time who couldn’t handle Jesus because he wanted to be with the sinners. Loving the sinners like Jesus loved is the hip modern thing to do, as long as the sinners (including me) aren’t required to actually repent and change, right? Or, perhaps it was Jesus’ love for them that made him want to be around sinners, so they could see and hear him in action, so they would see the need to change, so they would indeed repent, so they would be spared the judgment coming to the unrepentant.

As a whole it seems, we would rather dismiss the woe-to-you-unrepentant-people Jesus as a bit outdated and unpopular. But this Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He spoke different things to different people based upon their response to him and His Father. The love-the-sinners Jesus is indeed the same as the woe-to-the-unrepentant-cities Jesus. Jesus is love. Jesus is judgment. What will he say to me? That will depend on how I will respond to him?

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What words might Jesus have for your generation? For you? What might he see (and say) clearly that others have not?
  2. Is there an area of your life that is in need of repentance – changing/starting over, giving up the old sins, in exchange for a new life? What’s your motivation? How will you start? Who can help? What would Jesus say?
  3. What are your feelings as you read through this chapter? Any verses you are confused about? What do you think God’s purpose was for including each section in this chapter?

Know God’s Plan

Micah 3-4

Yesterday, we read about God’s words to a people who were on the breaking point. To be fair, Israel had seen a lot– civil disputes, mass religious wars, a kingdom divided. But here, Israel is facing its final days as an independent nation.

So we read Micah’s desperate attempts to warn his people– Israel and Judah both– that their only hope is to return to the LORD. Chapter 1 talked about the coming destruction. Chapter 2 talks about these “oppressors,” who are likely people of political or financial power that are abusing the people around them.

In chapter 3, Micah now addresses two groups of people: the political leaders and the prophethood. Micah tells the leaders that they “hate the good and love the evil,” (3:1). The prophets that Micah confronts were likely professional “prophets” that lived in the king’s court. They may or may not have been followers of the LORD and they were not like the prophets that God chose for Israel. Micah says they prophesy peace when it gets them something to eat (3:5) and teach the masses when it gets them paid (3:11). 

On and on, Micah confronts everyone in the nation who has shown corruption, greed, selfishness and evil. He closes chapter 3 by saying  these ways are going to leave Zion, God’s holy city– flattened to a plain. 

And then Micah’s message does a complete 180-degree turn. In chapter 4, he starts giving some really good news. He says that the house of the LORD will be a meeting place where everyone turns to know God (4:2). He says that God is going to bring the weak, lowly, hurt, sick, and anyone who’s been abused, and He is going to personally make them strong (4:6-7). 

And here we begin to see what we call “God’s redemptive-historical plan.” That’s a fancy way of saying that God’s plans span thousands of years. And although Israel rejected and resisted God, He would not give up so easily. God sent His Son Jesus into the world to be an atonement, a light, and a leader for all of humanity. And in this way, every good thing that God has promised to mankind will be made true in Jesus our King.

If this isn’t good news enough, wait until tomorrow, when Micah is going to have even better things to say! 

-Levi Salyers

Read or listen to the Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Micah 3-4 and Revelation 9

My Creator God

Psalm 104 & Jeremiah 13, 14

Our family loves camping and finding new places to hike or kayak through God’s beautiful world. The variety of his creation is truly amazing! Desert, forest, plains, mountain, ocean. We love them all and the chance to explore a new little corner of His world we haven’t seen yet. And, along the way, trying to capture a photo to remind us of the beauty and creativity we had the privilege to see.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful poem of creation. I would love to make a photo book or photo wall with pictures from our family hikes and travels depicting each verse and phrase.

“He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vs 2) – sunshine blazing in all His glory

“he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (vs 2) – expansive blue sky from horizon to horizon

“He makes the clouds his chariot” (vs 3) – white and multi-shades of gray amazing textured rolling clouds with shafts of sunlight shining through with the brilliant blue sky behind

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines” – hot springs bubbling from the ground and flowing down the mountain side

You get the idea. There would be photos of waterfalls, lightening, mountaintops, ocean waves on the shore, rainstorms, the moon, plants and animals, sunrises, sea creatures, and people. Each one accompanied with God’s text.

I recently taught a unit on creation to the adorable children in children’s church. And it was so much fun spending a week (or more) on each aspect of God’s amazing creation. We brought in shells and rocks and leaves and bird feathers to touch and play with. We matched plant photos to foods we eat and counted plant products in ingredient labels. (Do you know how many plants are in a box of Cheerios or mac’n cheese?) We classified plants and animals and brought in a bird expert. We watched videos and explored books on clouds and planets and sea creatures and the animal kingdom and the incredible human body. And all the things that we take for granted everyday.

Not only is God’s world a beautiful world – but so incredibly functional, too! He thought of EVERYTHING! The more I learn of science and the human body in particular, the more I am amazed at His creation.

I have never made anything nearly as intricate or useful as the smallest, tiniest, most simplistic, most ‘insignificant’ part of God’s creation. But, I do like to create quilts – little scraps of colored fabric (which came from a cotton plant) sewn together in patterns to make a cozy cover to bring comfort and warmth. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to meet someone who explained that those quilts just came to be one day – that it grew from nothing and became strings that wove themselves together and the fabrics cut themselves into the perfect shapes and even stitches magically formed just as they were needed to piece the top together and the materials used to create the final layered project appeared at just the right time and space and lined up just so to automatically go through the final steps to create my quilt. Foolishness. It is foolishness that leaves out the thought, intention, desire, creativity, vision, purpose and ability of me, the quilt creator. Or, equally painful – maybe they would give all the credit for the making of the quilt to another.

It makes sense that the Creator of the Heavens and Earth wants us to enjoy and admire His creation – and give Him all the credit He so much deserves. But, what happens when people don’t? What happens when they take away the glory that belongs to God and call it chance instead or give it to another? What happens when they refuse to listen to God’s words – the first recorded words being – “Let there be light”? What happens when they attribute God’s creation to another? We see in the book of Jeremiah. “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!” Jeremiah goes on in today’s reading to describe the drought, famine and sword that will be used in judgment of those who have stubbornly turned from God. Jeremiah 14 ends with God telling Jeremiah to speak to the people, telling them to acknowledge their guilt and wickedness and sins against Him and ask God to remember His covenant. The final verse of chapter 14 says,

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.” (vs 22 NIV)

Not only did Our Great God create this world for us – He made a covenant with us – He has power still today – and He holds out a blessed hope for those who acknowledge and worship Him for all He has done, is doing and will do.

Thank you God for your incredible Creation – help me see and appreciate each amazing part!

Thank you God for the rains today – help me see you at work today!

Thank you God for the hope you set before those who believe and worship you alone – a New Heavens and Earth that will be beyond all we can ever dream or imagine!

You are our hope – for you are the one who does all this!

-Marcia Railton

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 13-14 and Psalm 104

The Great Debate

Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.

What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.

The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.

In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.

The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.

Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.

There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we continue on our…

Your Life is Not Meaningless

But it is Fleeting – so Live Wisely!

Ecclesiastes 12 13 NIV sgl

Ecclesiastes 7-12

In Ecclesiastes 7-12 the author, the Teacher, continues to discuss things that are “havel”, vain, futile, fleeting and temporary. (If you haven’t yet, go ahead and read yesterday’s devotion on Ecclesiastes 1-6 for a deeper understanding of “havel”.)
The author accepts that death is the end of every person and it is important to accept that fate and live with one’s face toward death. Much of the last half of this book is the reality righteous and wise people suffer the same fate as those who are wicked and foolish. However, we must not let this reality change how we read the entire book of Ecclesiastes. The author writes in 8:12-13 “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. 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.” While it is TRUE that the wicked and the righteous both end their lives in death, the author holds that there is good for a righteous person. Still, seek righteousness and wisdom because even a little foolishness can ruin one’s life. (10:1)
For you younger readers, the author commends that you seek out wisdom and that you remember God today! At this point in your life (12:1) There will be days of difficulty as life goes on, but in our days of joy, remember God. God is the one who gives comfort, joy, happiness, and strength on the days when the world is dark, the clouds are gray, and the pains of life are crowding in. Because the childhood and the prime of life are fleeting, temporary and transitory, enjoy them now. (11:10)
We are nearing the end of the book. We have been asking the question : “what lasts? What do people REALLY gain for all they do?” The last two verses of the book tell us what lasts : How we have lived, whether we kept the commands of God and feared him. All this in our life will be judged. Of course, this has been hinted before; now it is explicitly and clearly stated. If we believe, as some have, that the Teacher is a cynical, morose, or even godless man, then the last two verses are a radical departure. However, if this is a man who loves God and understands the futility, vanity, temporariness, FLEETING nature of life, then the final verses in Ecclesiastes are an understandable conclusion.
This of course effects how we read many passages. The author says “eat, drink, enjoy your labor, be merry!” (5:18, 8:15, 9:7) These passage show us that our labor, what we do, are not meaningless, but they are precious because of their very fleeting nature. The teacher says in 9:9, “Enjoy life with the woman you love all the days of your fleeting life…” You know you are precious to God. Your life is not meaningless, but it is havel, transitory, temporary. What we have in this life is not meaningless drudgery of existence, but the temporary good things are to be enjoyed, and to seek the eternal good things, doing the will of God and fearing him.
In the short time of our discussion we missed many interesting passages, some that are difficult (about death and sorrow) and some that are encouraging (about enjoying pleasure on the earth). But, my friends, remember : The entire duty for all people is to do the commands of God. We know that since Christ has come into the world “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23) As you continue to believe in the name of Jesus, may you love one another as you seek how to live wisely today!
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+7-12&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be 1 Kings 10-11 and 2 Chronicles 9 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Who Are the Wicked?

Job 17-20

Job 19 25 27 NIV (1)

 

Just who are the wicked?  What does it take to wear that label?  The three friends have talked much about the fate of the wicked – and they have even placed Job among the ranks of the wicked.  Job often speaks of the wicked – and hotly contests that he is NOT one of them.  How do you know?  How can you tell?  What is the criteria for wickedness?  Is it possible there are many who will be surprised to learn they fall within God’s wicked classification?  We don’t ask these questions to play judge and jury on the rest of the world – but for the very real task of keeping ourselves where we need to be.  On the wicked-righteous continuum we have some strong candidates for either extreme, but what about everyone else?  It gets quite muddled in the middle.  It’s a big question for a little devotion – but let’s see what we find here in the pages of Job.

 

First of all, let’s restate from previous days that we can’t tell who is evil by seeing who is suffering – as Job’s friends are arguing.  Yes, sometimes our sins bring very real consequences of suffering.  And, yes, wicked people will ultimately be judged and pay for their wickedness.  However, suffering does not necessarily equate with wickedness.  In Job’s case we know that God was pleased with Job’s righteousness, but still allowed Satan’s attacks against him, even though He would be blamed for them.  There are many reasons one may be experiencing suffering (more on that another day soon), but we cannot assume that all suffering people must be wicked people.

 

We can find some truth regarding the wicked in Zophar’s speech in chapter 20.  He says, “For he (the wicked) has oppressed the poor and left them destitute” (Job 20:19).  We know this is true of the wicked from many other passages, including the separating of the sheep (the righteous) and the goats (the unrighteous/wicked) in Matthew 25.  In this parable how well you do – or do not – care for others, especially the disadvantaged/least of society (those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers in need of being invited into your home, the cold and underdressed, the sick, the prisoner) will determine whether you are ultimately saved with the righteous or doomed with the wicked.  I don’t know about you, but this convicts me.  I have some work to do on regularly seeing the needs around me and adding these commitments and opportunities to my calendar – actually making them a priority not just an intention.   In this parable many believers were surprised by their placement with the wicked – and I believe that will be true in the day of judgment as well.  Seriously take the time to evaluate and challenge yourself regularly.

 

Some people may be feeling pretty comfortable right now because they do make it a priority to care for others.  But, there will be more than that required as well.  In Bildad’s speech in chapter 19 the evil man is synonymous with, “one who knows not God.” (Job 18:21).  Looking ahead to chapter 21 Job says of the wicked: “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.  Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?’ ” (Job 21:14,15)  To know God and know His ways – so you can serve.  Faith and deeds.  How do we know God and know His ways?  Reading His Word is the best way I know.  I fear there are many today who would much rather create their own god with their own ways.  So they create a god who condones their actions and attitudes and beliefs.  It is a trap we could all fall into – unless we are grounded in seeking out and knowing the One True God and His ways which are revealed for us in His Word.

 

It is that grounded faith in God that is keeping Job going even as his world is falling apart.  He is hurting.  He is questioning.  He is still believing.  He knows that his Redeemer (the one who will care for him) lives and he can not wait for the day he will see him face to face (Job 19:25-27).   May we too look forward to that day – and not be caught by surprise.

 

Know Him and His Ways and Serve,

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s reading of Job 17-20 can be read or listened to here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+17-20&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Job 21-23 as we progress through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with Evil

Job 14-16

Job 16 11 12a

I am (generally) a rule follower.  I love a good list of rules so I know exactly what I can and cannot do – and exactly what YOU can and cannot do.  I vividly remember having a long fuzzy imitation lion tail pinned to my rear end as punishment from my 2nd grade teacher for being a classic “Tattle Tail”.  For some reason she didn’t think she needed my help in sorting out who broke what rule when.  For some reason she thought the whole class would function smoother if everyone focused on their own behavior and sins – rather than rushing to point out and wait for punishment on everyone else’s sins.  For some reason I was the person suffering when my classmate got away with murder  – well, I don’t even remember what he or she got away with, but I know it didn’t include the loss of life.  I would have made a pretty good police officer, but I am not that brave, so I run a home daycare instead.  Even better – I make the rules AND I police them.

 

While Job is suffering from his huge losses he is also tormented by his questions for God regarding why am I the one suffering when I have worked hard to be righteous and follow your rules?  Why do the wicked get away with anything and everything – sometimes even murder.  Does God need me to point out to Him who broke what rule when?  Job and I echo the psalmist who wrote one of my favorites – Psalm 119 – “It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken” (vs 126) & “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (vs. 136).  Get THEM God!  Not me.

 

In today’s reading we begin a second round of “counsel” from Job’s friends.  In the first round Eliphaz was a bit sympathetic with Job, but he has become edgier and less patient with Job and his questions.  However, rather than answer why the righteous suffer while the wicked get away with evil, Eliphaz spends his whole chapter arguing (quite incorrectly) that indeed, “All his days the wicked man suffers torment” (Job 15:20).  He would like to believe that the wicked never prosper – when in fact, we all know better. Eliphaz began with some truth: “Let him (the wicked) not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return.” (Job 15:31).  There will indeed be judgment and payback for those who do evil, but not on our time schedule – on God’s.  He is insinuating that since God pays back the wicked (now), and Job is suffering, Job must have been wicked and deserving of the trials.

 

Job’s rebuttal begins in painful chapter 16.  He starts by saying “Miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:1).  And then he shares several nightmare images of how he feels God has attacked him: “God tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me” (Job 16:9), “He has made me his target; his archers surround me” (Job 16:12,13), “Again and again he bursts upon me, he rushes at me like a warrior.” (Job 16:14).  And, Job goes on.  The only encouraging tidbit is at the end of the chapter when he alludes again to an intercessor who could plead with God on behalf of man and he also realizes that at least at death his suffering will end.  Not too cheery.

 

It’s really a depressing few chapters as we fail to see the big picture, but just get a snippet of the erroneous arguments, poor examples of comforters and a picture of a man deeply struggling with loss, grief, evil and his vision of God.  If only Psalm 73 had already been written – it would have been a perfect interlude for Job that offers real truth and hope.  It’s like a mini book of Job, all in one Psalm.  I encourage you, even though it is not part of today’s reading – turn there and read the Psalm.  The writer, Asaph, begins with similar questions as Job – after all, who hasn’t asked them?  Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer (sometimes with a tattle tail pinned to their behind, pointing finger still in the air)?  Take special note of verse 16 & 17.  What made the difference in Asaph’s understanding?  How, where, when can we do what Asaph did?  Does verse 21 & 22 remind you of Job, or maybe even yourself at some point? What did Asaph gain from his new perspective and understanding?  How can we put ourselves in a position that is near God? (verse 28).

 

Today I will leave you with just one more final question.  This one comes from the NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups which is chock full of great discussion questions.  In a reflection section relating to Psalm 73 they ask, “How would you explain to a child why God does not knock down bullies and troublemakers at school?”

 

God Bless Your Seeking with Growth & Love,

Marcia Railton

Recovering Tattle Tail Seeking God’s Sanctuary

 

 

Here’s today’s passage to read or listen to – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+14-16&version=NIV

And – here’s Psalm 73, your bonus chapter for the day https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+73&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Job 17-20 as we follow the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

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