Yes! There Is Good News!
Bill Rollins has been publishing each week a column in the local Elk Horn, Iowa paper for the past several years.
Note the original publication date on each blog post
Note the original publication date on each blog post
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” As I sit here reading this first line of chapter 12 in the book of Ecclesiastes, I wonder how many of you reading this article would consider yourselves to be classified as “youth”? I suppose the concept of youth is relative; and yet those of us who are “older” know a little something about youth and how fleeting it is. “Yesterday I was young and now I am old,” says the poet.
This opening line reminds me about what David said in Psalm 95:7, “Today when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts ….” In other words, don’t wait, pay attention to His words today! I mentioned in our last article that this chapter was quite unique to the book in which it is found. It is a poetic allegory given so as to open our eyes to the brevity of life. “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.’” (Verse 1) I just returned from a visit to my oldest sister who is becoming crippled up with arthritis – she finds no pleasure in the days ahead of her. But she still has the opportunity to “Remember her Creator.”
Let us take a verse by verse look at this poetic allegory. Verse 2: “(Remember your Creator) before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark and the clouds return after the rain.” - The days of carefree cheerfulness and prosperity see their decline for the elderly and even the sun does not come out after a shower. Verse 3: “When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop.” – The keepers of the house might mean the hands and arms. They are no longer strong and they even tremble a little. “When the grinders cease because they are few” – perhaps a reference to the end of a full set of teeth (they had no false teeth in Solomon’s day). “And those looking through the windows grow dim” – no cataract surgery in those days either!
Verse 4: “When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” – without wheel chairs and walkers, access to the out of doors became difficult. The duty of grinding the grain was given to the more youthful of society. “When men rise up at the sound of birds but all their songs grow faint” – The older I get, the harder it is to sleep late in the morning and without my hearing aids, I miss some of the bird songs. Verse 5: “When men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets” – I use to enjoy roofing houses; alas no more! “When the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred” – Quite possibly, the almond tree blossoming refers to one’s hair turning gray and silver; the grasshopper is no longer spry. And “desire”? Well, as one gets older, the less it is stirred (enough said?)!!
This is a beautiful picture of the wearing down of the human body. My pulling it apart for explanation has in ways diminished its effect. Read it in full for yourself from your bible. It is here that we finally see the outcome of this aging process; “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember Him before the silver cord is severed or the golden bowl is broken.”
More on this beautiful piece of poetry in our next article. The conclusion of the matter is just around the corner.
We’ve been looking at the book of Ecclesiastes and considering the phrase, “under the sun.” Solomon uses it 29 times in this short book. We have ascertained that he uses this phrase as an expression to point out our fleshly existence here in this world.
In chapter 4:1 we read, “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place “under the sun.” If there is one thing I know, it is that God is not an oppressor. He is a giver and a giver of good things. I believe we established this in a previous article. No, it is man who is shown to be the oppressor. Solomon goes on to say in verse 4, “And I saw that all labor and all achievement which springs from man’s envy of his neighbor is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” The use of this phrase actually sets the parameters for how we should look at this book. It becomes the lens though which we see Solomon’s lessons for us. Let’s consider chapter 2:17-23; five times in these 7 verses we read the phrase “under the sun.”
Solomon starts off saying, “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 wind. … I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun … all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun is also meaningless … My heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” At one level it sounds almost depressing; as though Solomon were about to have a breakdown.
But then in verses 24-26 we are told the real message of this book and we dare not miss it. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness…” So now we are shown the difference. Do things, under the sun – meaningless!! Do things to please God – priceless!!
Without God in one’s life we are given this stark picture of a man striving under the sun for no real reason. Solomon was perhaps the richest man in the world – ever! He had it all. (See Eccl. 2:4-11 for a deliberation of what he amassed.)
If we had the time and space, we might go through this book of wisdom, verse by verse but for now, let us go beyond the use of this phrase “under the sun” and consider the last two chapters – for in them is the really good news. (Yes, there are some good lessons though out the book: chapter 5 – stand in awe of God; chapter 7 – the wisdom of having a good name.) Chapter 11 tells us to cast our bread upon the water and give portions to the needy; sow our seeds in the morning; enjoy the creation around us and take joy in our living; be happy and follow the way of our hearts, banish anxiety.
Chapter 12 is quite unique and we should take some time to look at it in our next article. In it we are given a beautiful poem of wisdom and finally are told the conclusion of the matter – good news.
The opening words of the book of Ecclesiastes let us know that “everything is meaningless, yes utterly meaningless.” Verse 1 along with verse 12 gives us the understanding that it was King Solomon who penned the book. He is the man who was given great wisdom from God and yet went astray. This in itself should cause us to sit up and take notice of what could lead a man of wisdom to walk away from the true God. Something to think about!!
But as I said in our last installment, “It is my opinion that Solomon came back to his senses and saw his error. And so the book of Ecclesiastes may be seen as his book of repentance.” In his book of proverbs Solomon makes this observation: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Solomon was trained by his father, King David, in the ways of God and when he was older he came back to it.
So why, pray tell, should a book that opens up by telling us everything is meaningless, be the one that can lift us up and help us find satisfaction is all that we do? Good question, I’m glad you asked!!
But before we tackle that issue, let’s do a short outline of the first two chapters. Chapter 1 verse 1-11: everything is meaningless! Chapter 1:12-18: wisdom is meaningless! Chapter 2:1- 11: pleasures are meaningless! 2:12- 16: wisdom and folly are meaningless! 2:17-26: toil is meaningless! OK, enough of this Bill, where am I going to find the good news?
There is a clue to this answer in a phrase that Solomon uses 29 times in this short book of only 12 chapters. The phrase “under the sun” is inserted by Solomon in very strategic positions to help us see where the vanity and meaningless activities come from. Let’s consider some of these examples. The first instance is found in chapter 1:3, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” Well, the answer to this rhetorical question is “he gains nothing.” In other words, you can’t take it with you. (This reminds me of the story of the rich man who meets St. Peter at the pearly gates with a wheel barrow of gold ingots. St. Peter takes a look and asks the man why he is bringing paving material into the kingdom. Ah yes, streets of gold!!!)
We are ultimately just consumers. We earn, we spend, and we leave the rest to others when we die. Jesus put it this way in John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” The term “flesh” is used here to indicate our life here on earth – it is a wonderful experience that we have been given; but without God, without the hope of eternal life, without the hope of glory, there is no profit in our fleshly existence. As Solomon put it, “no gain from labor under the sun.”
In Chapter 2 Solomon writes this, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. … yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” We will consider this catch phrase some more in the next article.
There is an innate desire within each one of us to find satisfaction through the things that we accomplish. I have had the opportunity to visit with and to counsel people who find their lives unfulfilled. Perhaps you have found yourself in this situation, wondering what it is all about. Is there a meaning to our routines that we attend to each and every day?
Do you enjoy your work? Perhaps the first question to ask is; do you have work to do? Work in itself can be a great help in finding some inner peace and satisfaction. Unfortunately, many today feel that it is all about a paycheck. This is a false motive. There is a line in a song that I very much enjoy; it says, “Work like you’re worth more than money.” Think about that. Is the life you live only worth the money you earn? Money is just a medium of exchange – I exchange my time at work for money, and then I exchange that money for things. And some people think that the more money they have the more they will feel fulfilled or the happier they will be.
A long time ago I learned a precious lesson and it has accompanied me these past many decades: the more things you own, the more they own you! What is it you really want in life? Well, I began this article talking about finding satisfaction through the things we accomplish.
There is a book in the bible that, in my opinion, addresses this subject. It is a book that I enjoy reading when the things of this life have gotten me down. It has the tendency to help me center myself in the true meaning and reason that God has placed us here on earth. The book of Ecclesiastes is a part of the bible called “The Wisdom Literature.”
This book was written by Solomon and I believe it was written during the latter part of his life. Perhaps we all know that when Solomon was very young, he was given rulership over all the nation of Israel from his father King David. God came to him in a dream one night (the episode is found in 2 Chronicles 1) and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” In verse 10 Solomon said, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” First of all this is an amazing request, and second, Solomon had the understanding that this nation belonged to God.
Solomon started off really well and impressed all he met with his wisdom and with his wealth. He reigned very wisely until his wealth and power went to his head. In 1 Kings Chapter 11 we learn how his many foreign wives turned his attention away from God and toward false gods. But it is my opinion that Solomon came back to his senses and saw his error. And so the book of Ecclesiastes may be seen as his book of repentance.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl. 1:1) This first line of the book doesn’t sound like a real pick me up at first blush but hang on – God willing, in the next few weeks, we will do a little study of this book to see if it contains any good news.
Why take on something and do it half-heartedly? That is the question I asked several articles ago, and I believe we should ponder it awhile. There seems to be a huge disconnect in our society today. I am used to sitting with some of our teenagers these days and being virtually ignored because they are very busy with their phones. But just recently I had the opportunity to be in the company of some adults (by this I mean an over the age of 50 group) and found myself wondering what to do while all of them were texting or reading texts. Wow, you talk about doing something whole heartedly; we seem to be a society glued to Facebook, Twitter and any other self-inflicted form of the small screen!
OK, I got that off my chest – I just wish we could have as much zeal for our God and Father as we do for the many forms of entertainment we have surrounding us.
Just what is it that you and I own? I suppose our answers might contain things such as our house, car, furnishings, some land and whatever toys and trinkets we may have. But I find it interesting that in Psalm 24:1, we read, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” In other words, God owns everything in this physical world! Oh, and yes He even owns us. So can we claim to own anything? Well, as I see it the answer is yes; we do own one thing and that thing that we own is time.
Each and every one of us has a 24 hour day to live in and to utilize. How many of these days we may have is not, for the most part, up to us to determine. God has determined the length of a day – one full rotation of the earth around its axis. God has determined the length of a week, “For in six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Ex. 20:9-10) God has determined the length of a month (originally it encompassed the time that the moon took to make its circuit around the earth). And lastly, God has determined the length of a year – the full circuit of the earth around the sun.
God has given all of us the gift of time - 24 hours in a day - and just what are we doing with it? Sleeping, eating and working take up a large portion of our time; this we know. But how about the rest? May I suggest that we might categorize the rest of our time as opportunities to give of ourselves; in other words, our time is broken into increments of love. If we are married, we give of our time, in love, to our spouse. If we have children, we give of our time, in love, to our kids, etc. (You get the point.), and the time we work must be incorporated here. The critical two questions then become 1) how much time do we devote to self-love and 2) how much time do we devote to our love of God?
Might I suggest at this point that our time really becomes the only commodity which we are able to invest. Where will we get the greatest return for our investment? The answer to this is in your hands alone.
In our previous article we took a look at a couple of prayers given by a couple of prominent men of the bible – David and Daniel. So, we know that they were men of prayer. But how often did they pray?
We are all familiar with the episode in the book of Daniel concerning him being thrown into the lion’s den. But do we know why this happened? A decree was issued by the king of the Medes and Persians that anyone found praying to any god or man beside Darius the king, would be thrown into the lion’s den. This episode is found in the book of Daniel, chapter 6. In verse 10 of this chapter we read, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem, Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had once before.” Daniel’s practice was to pray three times a day and he did so openly, even though it might cost him his life.
And what about King David? This man who wrote the lion’s share (Excuse me, Daniel; no pun intended.) of the Psalms tells us this in Psalm 55, “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me for my thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice.” We find here that David prayed as Daniel did, three times a day!! Do you pray three times a day? Let me include myself here – do I pray three times a day?
How near do we want to draw to our Heavenly Father? The bible tells us in several places, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our strength and all of our life. (Deut. 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30) It tells us to serve the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our soul. (Deut. 10:12) It tells us to seek the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our life. (Deut. 4:29)
I once brought up these examples of praying three times a day and a listener raised his hand and pointed out what Paul had to say. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 Paul writes, “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In Colossians 4:2 he writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” In Philippians 4:6 he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, devoted to prayer.”
Paul sets the bar pretty high for us as we consider our relationship with our Heavenly Father and talking with Him in prayer. But, let’s remember where we started out; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” (Acts 2:42)
Oh, this “awe” thing, and being filled with it; I am sure it is good news!! Don’t forget to pray.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” (Acts 2:42)
We picked up this scripture last week as we began to examine ourselves to see if we were “all in” when it came to wholeheartedly serving our God. We touched on the first three items: the apostles teaching, fellowship and the breaking of bread, in that article but saved the fourth item, prayer, for today. So let’s consider the concept of a “prayer life/”
If we begin by looking into the Old Testament for the word prayer, we will find the first use of the word in Genesis 20:7. God tells the king of Gerar that Abraham is a prophet and he will “pray for you and you will live.” We find in verse 17 of this same chapter that “Abraham did pray to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife … so they could have children again.” This first use of the word prayer expresses the idea of interceding on behalf of another. We may use this type of prayer when we find that someone near and dear to us has become ill or has lost a job, etc. and we intercede with God for them.
Another type of prayer may be for ourselves because we have sinned before our God and we need forgiveness. We find this type of prayer in what many consider the book of prayers, i.e. the book of Psalms. In Psalm 51 (of David) we read, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
We see an example of both types of prayer in the book of Daniel, chapter 9. Here Daniel is interceding for the people of God who have been exiled to Babylon because of their sins. In verse 4 we read, “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: ‘O LORD, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. … LORD, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame … .’” In humility, Daniel includes himself here.
In these two prayers – of David and of Daniel – we can almost hear how sincere they are and how from their innermost being they pour out their hearts to God. In this prayer of Daniel we begin to get into a third type of prayer, a prayer of praise and adoration to the great and awesome God who has created all things. In considering this type of prayer, I would like to take you to my favorite prayer in the entirety of the bible.
This is a prayer of David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20, “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” David goes on from here with more praise and thanksgiving but I will let you read it for yourself so you may be lifted up with his words. They are good news indeed.
There is a short quip that makes its way around sports teams: “All in!” I have seen it on the back of t-shirts and warm up jerseys of some athletes. It is a nice sentiment to remind teammates that they should take the game and the season seriously. Whether it’s in the weight room, the gym or the field, the team has a goal and each individual must be “all in.”
I have played many sports throughout my life and I have always tried to give my all, so I can appreciate the idea. Why take on something and do it halfheartedly?
In the book of Acts, chapter 2, where Peter gave his most beautiful message to the gathered crowd on the day of Pentecost, it says that “they were cut to the heart” and wondered what they should do. Peter told them to repent of their sins and be baptized, “every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This scripture continues in verse 40, “And with many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Wow, there were about three thousand who understood that they were living in a corrupt generation and they understood that Peter was showing them a way out.
Was it any better or any worse than the generation we are living in today? I suppose it is hard to say. They were under the control of a corrupt Roman government and their society was decadent and perverse – hmmm, I don’t think I need to comment here! But on that particular day three thousand people were cut to the heart when they heard what Peter had to say.
Do you suppose these people were “all in”? Let’s read on: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” I counted four things that pointed to their commitment. First, they were devoted to the apostles teaching. Today we call that the “The New Testament.” The other name for the New Testament is “the Apostolic Writings.” Is that where you are? Are you “all in” on that agenda? How often do you read the word of God? Secondly, they were devoted to “the fellowship.” Do you enjoy visiting with like-minded godly people, sharing in bible studies with comments and questions?
Third, how do you feel about the breaking of bread? The concept here is not really about communion but more about sharing meals together with brethren so as to join in with fellowship and perhaps spiritual conversation. Are you “all in” on these first three things? Think about it my friends, we also live in a corrupt generation and many are wondering where it is all heading. The fourth item mentioned above is prayer. We will talk about that very important subject in the near future – God willing. Remember, the definition of the word “gospel” is “good news.”
Paul tells us that “the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” And then goes on to tell us, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Why do we not want to do the things that are good for us? We humans are a strange lot! We want God but we want Him on our own terms and yet He is the creator and the giver of all good gifts. As James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Did you catch that? “He does not change like shifting shadows.” In other words He does not play “good cop / bad cop” with us. He is not a good God today but tomorrow He is not so good. (James 1:17) Elsewhere in the bible it says that He is the same yesterday, today and forever ... Hmmmm? Why is it that many of us think He has changed?
Do you like the Psalms? There are so many beautiful thoughts and tremendous bits of wisdom in the Book of Psalms. Might we take a quick walk through the 119th Psalm together? Verse 1: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.” Right off the bat, we have two beatitudes that tell us it is a blessing to keep His laws. Verse 11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verse 20: “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” Verse 46: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands.” Verse 174: “I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.”
This Psalm is the longest in the Psalter - 176 verses – and in each one we find words that lift up the law of God!! Did you know that Moses was not the first to receive these commands and laws? I have heard some say that these laws were just for the Israelites. But long before there was an Israelite, we are told that Abraham kept the laws of our God (who changes not!). And by the way, Abraham was not an Israelite; he was not a Jew. Judah, from whom the Jews get their name, was the great-grand-son of Abraham. When Isaac (Abraham’s son) was being blessed by God, we read this: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” (Genesis 26:4&5)
It was four articles ago that I mentioned how huge a subject is the topic of “law,” and we have only touched the surface. God’s law is good and keeping it is good news! And yet somehow we tend to see this world’s empty glory and run after it. The only way we humans can be filled and fulfilled is by allowing the God of the universe to guide us, to direct our paths and to fill us with His loving kindness. He has a plan and He is working it out. Perhaps I have said it before but in any text book all the answers are found at the end and so it is with the bible; in the end of the book of Revelation we find that God wins. Satan is defeated and destroyed; the righteous are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. God is good – amen.
No more locks, no more security cameras, no longer any need to keep your eye on your baggage or laptop at the airport, for everyone has come to see the benefit of obeying the eighth commandment of God! I know; that is a fantasy scenario in today’s world. But is there anything wrong with it? It is good to see the ramifications of “Thou shall not steal.”
Last week we began looking at the law of God and maybe trying to understand that it is we who have gone astray from our God and Creator and not the other way around. And so if this is true, then we must place the blame squarely upon our shoulders for the chaos we see around us. God gave us the law as a gift and He tells His people, “I have taught you decrees and laws … that you may follow them in the land … Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations around you, who will hear about these decrees and say. ‘What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?’ ” (Deut. 4:6) By the way, did you know that the original colonies of the 17 and 18th centuries, used these very laws of God to set up their own laws and judicial systems!
I mentioned in the previous article, that Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law. And to this Paul agrees when he tells the Roman church, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” (Rom. 7:7) And then he goes on to say, in this discussion on sin, that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” What should we twentieth century dwellers, make of this?
You know what? We all break the law. The scripture teaches us that, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) So the law of the state of Iowa tells us that the speed limit is 70 MPH on the interstate. Have you ever exceeded that? I have. And so I am a law breaker. This is a law of man, but Paul tells us later on in the book of Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” So where do we go with this whole concept of sin?
Allow me to cite a very recent example: I am a school bus driver. There are rules for the safety of the students, one of which is that the aisle must be clear at all times. This is actually a state law. On the last day of school, one of the pupils asked if we could forgo this rule because it was the last day. Hmmm. My answer was to ask her if it would be OK, because it was the last day, to ignore the stop sign at Hwy. 71 and just continue at 55 MPH on into Exira. Laws have reasons and laws have consequences.
God has blessed us with a beautiful set of laws. They are laws that will protect us and bring us security. And His laws are for our own good. A loving heavenly Father has told us what it is that we should do to stay out of trouble and, oh yes, He has told us just how it is that we should honor Him. The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” We perhaps chuckle at the ancient pagans and their idols; statues of wood, stone and precious metals. But if we are not somehow capable of keeping the simplest of laws made by man, can we really think that we do not break this first of the 10 commandments? “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalms119:97)