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Archive for Ecclesiastes


Life in the Same Lane

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Years ago the Eagles made popular a song titled, “Life in the Fast Line,” depicting the toil and pain that comes with living life filled with hard partying. If you change the song title and chorus to “Life in the Same Lane,” you’ll find a fair description of Ecclesiastes.

Beginning next week I’m going to start a series of posts on my reflections from this Book of Wisdom, which never seems to lose its relevance to contemporary readers.

This will be the second series of serious studies I’ve done in over a year, and I’m excited to dust off my exegetical and hermeneutical skills and share my insights with a public audience. When I left the pastorate a year ago I discarded every sermon I had written, so it feels good to get out some blank paper and study this book with a fresh perspective.

I hope you’ll find it helpful!

Categories : Ecclesiastes
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When Life Feels Random

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:   

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
   a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)

While poetic, reading these verses without their context can leave the reader somewhat frustrated. They seem to reduce one’s existence to random, chaotic and arbitrary experiences. Life is unjust, unfair and unjust. I think the writer’s point is clear: this is the stuff that happens in life, and if you live long enough, you’ll experience every event in these couplets. But the good news is that we don’t have to stop with verse 8. The following verses offer some insights as to how to navigate the undulations.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12, NIV)

Here are six observations from these verses.

  1. Embrace the Mystery. Life can be unsettling and leave us filled with questions. We want answers and believe we deserve them, but maybe the goal is not the answers. Maybe the goal is the next best question. Instead of demanding answers, form better questions.
  2. Enjoy the Beauty. It has been said that the purpose of art is to make us feel small in appropriate ways. I think that’s true of music and creation as well. The counsel to enjoy life’s beauty challenges us to life our eyes from life’s small irregularities and focus on things that are glorious.
  3. Engage the Eternal. We have been created as spiritual beings, able to live beyond our own horizon. The ability to possess eternal insight helps us see what ultimately matters now. Eternal perspective yields clarity on the present moments we experience.
  4. Find Joy in Sorrow. The spiritual fruit of joy is available to us, even in the midst of toil and trouble. That’s why we are able to laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.
  5. Do Good for Others. The text calls us to serve, regardless of present circumstance. Lest we forget, the greatest way to serve God is to serve our fellow humankind.
  6. Finally, Be Content. Satisfaction is something everyone should aspire to have. More often than not, contentment is achieved in the small and simple more than the grand accomplishment. Think about Jesus. His ministry was surrounded by loaves, fishes, children, donkeys, mangers and mites. He wasn’t a reductionist. He just saw value in the people and things we often overlook.

The counsel of Ecclesiastes is helpful to me, and I hope you’ll consider these suggestions from chapter three. I hope you will find them beneficial as well.

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Impressing Solomon

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About a year ago I came across a portion of Ecclesiastes that I found to be striking. I hadn’t noticed it before, but it was a game changer. If you take Solomon as the writer of Ecclesiastes, you’ll recognize him as renown for his exceptional wisdom. He was so wise, kings from around the region would come to learn from him. He was a writer, a composer, a scientist, a philosopher, an architect, a rancher, an economist, and, well, a husband. This unique combination of wisdom, skill and experience would have made him rather difficult to impress. With at least this one exception.

“Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12-16, NLT)

In short, the story Solomon recounts talks about a nameless, poor man who was esteemed to be a small part of a small place. When overwhelmed with the possibility of defeat, he stepped forward with a plan. Notice he didn’t save the town, he knew how to save the town. As an act of desperation, the city fathers implemented his plan and so the day was saved. The kicker is that the “savior” didn’t get a parade or a plaque. He didn’t even get a gift card to Applebee’s with a thank you note. Nothing.

From this curious vignette in Ecclesiastes, I want to offer three observations.

  1. You are not limited by who you are not. You don’t need a position or a title to accomplish whatever is before you. We don’t know anything about the nameless man. Yet none of those issues formed a low ceiling for him.
  2. You are not limited by what you don’t have. It’s interesting that Solomon points out the fact that the man in his story was poor. He writes as though he was surprised, as though money and wisdom are one and the same. But this man was poor, and evidently despised because of it. But he didn’t let that limit himself.
  3. You are not limited by what people don’t know about you. Remember the passage when Jesus walked into Nazareth, teaching with authority and healing afflictions? The people said, “Who does he think he is? Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” The Nazarenes knew what they knew about Jesus, but they didn’t know what they didn’t know, which was that Jesus was the Messiah. You don’t have to opt into the cultural phenomena of shameless, self promotion to get the job done. It’s ok if people don’t know everything about you, including what you had for dinner last night. The goal is not to be a well known person. The goal is to be a person worth knowing.

I hope you’re having a great week. If you’re enjoying these posts from Out of Ur, feel free to forward them to a friend!

Categories : Ecclesiastes, Wisdom
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