Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 7, Wisdom Adds Wealth

Yesterday Solomon told his son that wisdom would bring him health. Today he tells him that wisdom will bring him wealth. And what is he to do with that wealth? "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." (Proverbs 3:9-10) Solomon counsels, "Never forget that you owe all your thanks to God for your blessings. Always be sure to honor Him with your firstfruits. If it weren't for Him you wouldn't have them."

The Lord said through the prophet Malachi, "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.'" (Malachi 3:10) This food was to be used for the purpose of helping to support the priests and their families and to give assistance to the poor. People in ancient Israel didn't have any type of income programs for senior citizens or for low-income families. The priests provided aid to the poor from the temple storehouses, but there had to be food in the temple storehouses or else they couldn't help anyone. To withhold such tithes from God was to withhold aid from one's fellow man. Solomon and Malachi both agree on this and they promise a blessing for the one who obeys, saying something like, "You can't outgive God! He blesses you, then you give a tithe back to him from your blessings, then He blesses you some more!"

Solomon now inserts some fatherly advice, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12) Moses said the same thing, "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you." (Deuteronomy 8:5) Job also gave similar counsel, "Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17) The Lord Jesus agreed, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent." (Revelation 3:19)

Solomon is saying to his son, "When you mess up...and you will because everyone does...don't be angry with God if He disciplines you. It's for your own good so you won't make the same mistake again. If He didn't love you like a son He wouldn't bother. Earthly fathers don't discipline other people's children; they only discipline their own. Their own children are the only ones they have authority over. In the same way your heavenly Father only disciplines His own children. Judgment awaits those who are not His children and He will deal with their wicked deeds. But when the Lord corrects you it's because He loves you, just as I have corrected you because I love you."

Earlier in the book of Proverbs Solomon pointed out that wisdom helps a person make money. An article from 2016 estimates Solomon's net worth in today's currency as $2.1 trillion. On a list of the wealthiest historical figures he holds the number one spot. But this type of wealth never made him happy. He learned the hard way that money can't buy happiness. Only when he added the wisdom of the Lord to his life was Solomon able to enjoy his blessings. "Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed." (Proverbs 3:13-18)

If I had to choose between living with peace of mind and living with vast wealth, I'd have to choose peace of mind. Solomon says that godly wisdom provides this. For many years he lived in sin and excess because his wealth allowed him to obtain anything he desired, but he had no peace of mind. His thoughts troubled him. His conscience bothered him. As we learned in our study of Ecclesiastes, he tried everything he could to distract himself from the emptiness in his heart, but eventually he had to face it and deal with it. What he was missing was God in his life. No amount of money was going to fill the empty space in his heart that God was meant to fill.

In explaining to his son what true wisdom is, Solomon will later say, "Wisdom's instruction is to fear the Lord." (Proverbs 15:33a) That is first thing real wisdom teaches us. If we miss this we miss the whole point. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10a) We must begin there and all other things will follow. If we leave the Lord out of our lives then we might as well remain ignorant in every other way, for without the fear of the Lord we will never accomplish anything that benefits our souls or the kingdom of God. The fear of the Lord is our starting point for running the race of life. We won't run it successfully or happily or in peace of mind without Him.

Below is a cute and peppy little song to get our day started by lifting up the name of our God. It reminds us that in order to feel happy and fulfilled we must praise and honor Him.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 6, Wisdom Is Good For The Health

In case Solomon's son doesn't realize the value of wisdom yet, the king points out that living wisely lends health to the body.

"My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity." (Proverbs 3:1-2) We aren't promised that wisdom will make us extravagantly rich and cause us to live to be a hundred, but the odds of achieving these blessings are greater with wisdom than without it. Wisdom will tell us how to take proper care of our bodies so we don't abuse them. Wisdom will help us to manage our money responsibly so we don't lose it in foolish ventures.

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man." (Proverbs 3:3-4) Solomon asks, "Do you want people to like you? We talked before about not violating your principles to win the favor of the wrong kind of people, but if you are a loving and faithful person you will be liked by the right kind of people. You will have the approval of God and of those who love Him."

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) Our own understanding sometimes gets us in trouble. Our carnal minds tell us to do the wrong thing. In our limited human wisdom we are like very small children, incapable of judging what is best for us. But if we listen to our Father and follow Him, He will always lead us in the way we should go.

"Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones." (Proverbs 3:7-8) Solomon spent most of his life seeking wisdom. If we could give him an IQ test he would score higher than Albert Einstein. But his heart was far from the Lord and all his learning never satisfied him. He thought he could fill the emptiness in his heart by filling his mind, but it didn't work. There's nothing wrong with obtaining an education, since there's no value in being purposefully ignorant or lazy, but we can't expect it to satisfy the place in our hearts that only God can fill. That's the mistake Solomon made and now he wants to help his son, and us, to avoid making the same mistake. He says, "Don't be prideful and think you're a big deal just because you're smart! The only wisdom that counts for anything in this life or in the next life is whether you know the Lord. Fear Him and keep yourself out of sin. Then you can enjoy life the way it was intended to be the constant fellowship and favor of the Creator."

James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, has this to say about the difference between being wise in our own eyes and being wise in the knowledge of the Lord: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:13-17)

James is saying something to us that goes right along with what Solomon is saying to his son. He says, "Do you want to live with peace in your heart? Would you like to go through your days without anxiety about the future and about the destination of your soul? Do you want to live a life that's satisfying and fruitful? Do you want other godly people to like you and be friends with you? Then submit to the wisdom of the Lord. Learn of Him and follow Him. Then you will be the kind of person that other followers of God enjoy being around. You will keep yourself clear of many hurtful practices that might destroy your health and your mental well-being. You won't have to live with emptiness of heart but will be able to face each day with the confidence that you belong to the Lord and that He is with you all the time."

Who doesn't want to have good health and enjoy a long life? I think we all hope to achieve these things. And while the word of God doesn't promise us a specific amount of years on this earth, and while it doesn't assure us we will never have illnesses or disabilities, our odds of steering clear of things that will shorten our lives are greater if we follow God's instructions. For example, the Lord commands us not to murder anyone or steal from anyone or commit adultery. We could lose our lives in the commission of such sins. A court might find us guilty of murder and deserving of the death penalty. A homeowner might shoot us during a robbery. A jealous spouse might kill us for adultery or we might contract a deadly disease as a result of our sexual sins. There are other sins mentioned in the Bible that can shorten our lives, such as gluttony and excessive alcohol consumption. Taking foolish risks, something Solomon warned us about earlier in Proverbs, may shorten our lives. Being prideful about ourselves and thinking we know it all and believing we will come to no harm might lead us to engage in one stupid stunt after another until we finally go too far. But the Lord's wisdom will never steer us wrong. We can avoid a great deal of trouble and regret by following Him. And even if our faith in Him should lead us to a martyr's death, to die for the cause of Christ is better than to die for the cause of sin or foolishness.

There are things in my past that I regret, but I've never regretted committing my heart and life to Christ. I've never been sorry I decided to follow Him. I've never heard anyone say they regretted they decided to follow Christ. Let's be the kind of men and women who can commit to that which gives wisdom to the mind, health to the bones, and life to the soul. Let's say the same words that are included in the lyrics to the little song below, "I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back."

  1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  2. Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
    Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
    Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  3. The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  4. Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  5. Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    No turning back, no turning back.
  6. by S. Sundar Singh

Friday, May 26, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 5, Wisdom Gives Moral Guidance

Solomon has been cautioning his son about getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. He has counseled him to seek the Lord and His wisdom so he won't fall into trouble. Today he provides several examples of how godly wisdom helps a person live a moral life.

"Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways." (Proverbs 2:12-15) According to several commentaries I consulted, Solomon is telling his son that wisdom will protect him from those who are tahpchoth: subversive. And wisdom will protect him from those who promote taphach, which means a change of course but indicates a desire to incite acts of sedition against a government, against a religion, or against commonly accepted modes of honest and lawful living. These type of persons or groups particularly like to target those who are young enough not to know better. They actively recruit young people who want to feel a part of something big, who want their voices heard, who think they can change the world, and who are too inexperienced to recognize they are being used. One example of this would be the Hitler Youth of World War II. Another example would be the young men and women who join terrorist groups like ISIS.

Solomon says, "My son, wisdom will protect you from such things. You may not be old enough to recognize lies and frauds from experience, but godly wisdom will give you discernment in such matters. You will be warned in your spirit that something is wrong and you will avoid falling into this trap."

Wisdom will not only protect the king's son from falling for the lies of men, but it will also keep him from falling for the lies of women. "Wisdom will save you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life." (Proverbs 2:16-19) Solomon paints the portrait of a woman who was once on the right path but has now gone astray. She is not a pagan woman, for she took her marriage vows "before God". But now she has cast her vows, and her husband "the partner of her youth", aside. She runs after other men and entices them with her hechelikah words, which means smooth or oily words. Her words sound nice to a man's ears. She flatters him and says all the right things. She knows all the right words to make him feel special and appreciated and respected, but her goal is to drag him down into sin with her. He will hate himself by the time she is through with him.

Solomon advises, "The wise man does not get mixed up with an adulterous woman. That path leads to nothing good. It might even cost you your life. Her jealous husband may kill you, or one of her other lovers may kill you, or you might contract a fatal disease from such a promiscuous woman. Even if you manage to keep your physical life, what will such a sin do to your spiritual life? Your relationship with the Lord will die a little bit every day as long as you live in sin like that." The Apostle Paul agrees with Solomon, saying, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18) We think of sin as something we commit against God or against our fellow man, and most of our sins fall into those categories, but sexual sin is a sin we commit against ourselves. That path leads to nothing good, as Solomon warns his son.

If his son will follow the words of wisdom he can escape a great deal of trouble in this world. "Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it." (Proverbs 2:20-22) The king says, "Sin is pleasurable for a season, but the day of reckoning always comes. Don't live for instant gratification. Don't fulfill your needs in ungodly ways. Don't join in with the wrong people in order to feel accepted and appreciated. Remember who you are in the Lord. He loves you. He wants to provide everything you need. He will reward your faithfulness. But He will not reward sin."

Humans have been created with a need for love and acceptance. If God had not created us this way, we wouldn't form families and communities. We would never accomplish much of anything because we would all be doing our own thing and we wouldn't be able to work together to form societies or governments or nations. Even the Lord Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship of the disciples. He needed their company and their support, as evidenced by His request that they watch and pray with Him on the night before the crucifixion. There's nothing sinful about wanting to be loved and accepted; sin creeps in when we violate our principles in order to gain someone's love or approval. If gaining acceptance with a particular person or group involves saying or doing things contrary to God's laws and commandments, then we don't need to become involved with that particular person or group. What we need is to remember who we are in the Lord, that we are "accepted in the Beloved". (Ephesians 1:6) We need to remember this, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) We are not our own; we are Christ's. What greater honor could there be? What better acceptance could we ever hope for? Our Lord, who was able to save us by His own blood, is also able to provide godly friends for us. Let's seek His wisdom when choosing our close friends so that we end up with relationships that encourage us in our faith. Let's seek His wisdom when joining any group or activity so we don't end up with the wrong crowd wandering down the wrong path. If we are wise in the Lord, as Solomon says, we will avoid many of the troubles of this world.

(I will be out of town for three days during this holiday weekend, so we will pick back up with the blog on Tuesday. I wish you all a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 4, How To Stay On The Right Path

Solomon tells his son that the Lord gives godly wisdom to the one who seeks it. The one who follows the Lord can stay out of trouble.

"My son, if you accept my words, and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding---indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." (Proverbs 2:1-5) God passed along fatherly advice like this to His people Israel, pointing out that He can easily be found by the one who seeks Him, "I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants 'Seek me in vain'." (Isaiah 45:19a) The Lord Jesus spoke similar words in Matthew 7:7-8, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." We can have as much of the Lord in our lives as we want! The one who seeks Him will never seek in vain.

Solomon continues, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones." (Proverbs 2:6-8) The king sounds like his own father David, a man who knew and loved the Lord. Solomon had such a thirst for knowledge that he spent a great deal of his life furthering his education and studying every subject he possibly could, but without the Lord's guidance this education could do little to help him be emotionally and spiritually successful in life. It was only when he applied himself to building a relationship with his Maker that Solomon found satisfaction in the things of this life and a sense of peace about the life to come.

When a person gives his heart to the Lord and commits to following Him, then and only then does he attain true wisdom. "Then you will understand what is right and just and fair---every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you." (Proverbs 2:9-11)

Why is it that we can't find wisdom on our own? Because we are so easily led by our fallen natures. In our human way of thinking, a particular solution to our problem may appear to be correct, but it might lead us into sin. We are like little children in some ways, because left to our own devices we will make up our own rules....and they will be rules that satisfy our most basic instincts. They will be rules that tell us it's okay to do unto others as they have already done to us, or worse yet, they will be rules that say it's okay to go ahead and do wicked things unto others before they can do wicked things unto us. We can't be trusted to make up our own moral and spiritual codes for living. We must depend on the One who is completely holy and righteous and trustworthy to set out these rules for us. We can't count on ourselves to recognize right from wrong without the Lord's guidance. This is why Solomon will say in Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."

Ancient Jewish tradition teaches that David is the author of Psalm 119 and that the words contained in it are intended as instructions for his son Solomon. He speaks of the wisdom that can only be attained by studying the laws of the Lord and points out that knowing God's word is what makes a person truly wise. If a person is following the Lord, he can't help but stay on the right path, for God will never lead him in the wrong direction. "Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on Your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey Your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey Your word. I have not departed from Your laws, for You yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." (Psalm 119:98-105)

Why wander off by ourselves in the dark? Let's allow the word of God to shine a light on our path.

Our worship song for today is based on our passage from Psalm 119.
Thy Word

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 3, If Wisdom Were A Person

Solomon gives wisdom a personality as if it were a human being with a voice.

"Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech." (Ecclesiastes 1:20-21) He says, "Godly wisdom is not hard to find. She's out in the open. She raises her voice and invites us to learn. I spent many years of life pursuing the wrong kinds of wisdom and knowledge, while all along the right kind of wisdom was pursuing me."

This is what the voice of wisdom asks, "How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?" (Ecclesiastes 1:22) Wisdom encourages the listener to take stock of his life. How long will he keep going down the wrong path? How many more years will he waste by living apart from the Lord?

The action taking place in verse 22 is similar to the action that takes place when the Holy Spirit goes to work on us. His is the voice that troubles our consciences. His is the voice that promises something better in exchange for our sinful way of living. When we stop trying to shut our ears to His words and actually start listening, His is the same message that wisdom delivers in the next verse, "Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you all my teachings." (Ecclesiastes 1:23) 

Repentance comes first and fellowship with the Lord follows. Then the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, "will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you." (John 16:13-14) Our Lord wants us to learn of Him. He desires to pour out His thoughts to us. He wants us to pour out our thoughts to Him. This is how we develop human relationships and this is how we develop a relationship with God, by two-way communication. He will make known to us His teachings and will lead us in the right direction. He says, "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3) 

What does wisdom have to say of the one who continually resists godly wisdom, who has no desire to repent and live a life that honors the Lord? "But since you refuse to listen when I call and since no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you---when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you." (Proverbs 1:24-27) Wisdom remarks, "In the day when the trouble you've brought on yourself falls on you, I will have nothing to say but, 'I told you so.'" Solomon may have learned this imagery from his father David, who told us not to fret over the evildoers in this world, "The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming." (Psalm 37:12-13) David pictures the Lord laughing at those who think they will obtain victory over His children. In the same way wisdom laughs at those who think they can commit evil deeds and get away with them.

"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord. Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes." (Proverbs 1:28-29) Wisdom is not saying that there will come a point when the person who wants to repent can't repent. She's saying something like this, "You wouldn't listen to me when I daily cried out to you. You wouldn't heed my warnings. You wouldn't accept my wisdom. Now that you're in trouble and are experiencing the natural consequences of your deeds, you want me to come and bail you out, but it's better for you to endure these hardships and learn your lesson." 

Wisdom is speaking about learning lessons the hard way, as Solomon did. She's not saying God will cover His ears and refuse to accept anyone's sincere repentance. As any parent knows, sometimes it's better not to step in and keep a child from having to deal with the consequences of his rebellion and disobedience. If someone constantly makes all the problems go away, the child will never learn to take responsibility. God dealt with wayward Israel in the same way a parent would deal with a disobedient child, by allowing them to reap the consequences of their continual rebellion so they would learn not to stray from Him. He allowed calamities to come upon them because this is how they behaved,  "All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations," and, "My people have forgotten Me days without number". (Isaiah 65:2, Jeremiah 2:32) Yet when they learned their lesson and repented, the Lord did not close His ears to their cries. This is what He promised to do when that time came, "Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

Why should we seek godly wisdom? Because wisdom says, "For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:32-33) Solomon is speaking more in legal terms than in spiritual terms. To live an honest life is to be free of the fear of being called before a judge or of being cast into prison. Doing what's right keeps a person from being afraid someone will suddenly serve a warrant on him or break down the door or seize evidence of a crime. Obeying the laws of the land and the laws of God keeps a person out of a great deal of trouble. Solomon isn't promising us that hard times will never come into the lives of the godly. We know better from our study of Job and we know better from our own experience. But he's saying, "Do you want to live in peace? Do you want to go about your business and enjoy your blessings? Then you must live wisely and honestly."

These verses also have a spiritual application. God cannot bless disobedience. To do so would be to reinforce the behavior, the same as rewarding a child for disobedience would reinforce the behavior. If our lives are ruled by godly wisdom, we need have no fear of God's wrath. He may allow troubling circumstances to come into our lives for other purposes, but they won't be coming into our lives in order to discipline us. We will be able to endure them with clear consciences, with the encouragement of knowing there is nothing between us and God. He will be our comfort and strength. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 2, Don't Run With The Wrong Crowd

Solomon gives the type of fatherly advice a man might give to a son in his teens or twenties, but this advice is useful for us at any age. It has to do with not falling in with the wrong crowd and with not giving in to peer pressure. Sometimes we think just because we're older we are too experienced to allow the opinions of others to affect our behavior, but the truth is that at any stage of our lives we might be concerned enough with pleasing others to agree to doing something wrong.

"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." (Proverbs 1:8-9) He says, "Remember how you were raised! Your mother and I taught you right from wrong. Don't throw these instructions aside when you go out in the world on your own." Solomon broke some of the Lord's commandments, but as a king the Bible tells us he rightly judged cases according to the laws of the land. In this sense we can be certain he taught his son a moral code. He may not always have set a godly example, but he probably did set a legal example. His son would have known not to do the things that all cultures consider wrong, such as robbery and murder, subjects that will be discussed in today's passage.

My father, who went on to be with the Lord when I was only nineteen, was not a Christian until the last two or three years of his life. But even before he came to Christ he was one of the most honest men I ever knew and I can clearly recall him telling me, "There's never a good reason to tell a lie." Like Solomon, he didn't live his life for the Lord until close to its end, but he knew right from wrong and was able to teach me principles for honorable living. My mother has now passed on as well, but she was a woman who became a Christian at the age of eighteen and was a faithful servant of the Lord her whole life. She taught me about Jesus at such a young age I can't remember a time when I didn't know who He is. She was able to pass along to me the commandments for godly living. Together my parents laid a firm foundation for my life. I have not forgotten my father's instruction or my mother's teaching. I've made mistakes, some of which I'm afraid would shame them if they knew, But because they taught me right from wrong, I know it when I mess up. It bothers me. It's difficult to stay in that situation for very long because my conscience won't allow me any peace. This is why Solomon understands the value of teaching his son right from wrong while he's young. He says, "Carry these values with you wherever you go. They will beautify you like a garland on your head or like a chain around your neck. They will bring you honor and not shame."

"My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them." (Proverbs 1:10) Solomon warns his son, "If you start running with the wrong crowd they will talk you into doing sinful things. They are a bad influence. They will pressure you into doing things you know you shouldn't do." The author of Psalm 1 pronounces a blessing on the one who does not hang out with the wrong crowd, "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers." (Psalm 1:1)

"If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for innocent blood, let's ambush some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot'---my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood." (Proverbs 1:11-16) One minute Solomon paints a picture of simply spending time with the wrong crowd; the next minute he illustrates a scene of robbery and murder. He left out all the steps that take place in between, but I think he does this for dramatic effect. Of course a young man doesn't start keeping company with a rough crowd so that he can eventually end up going to prison for robbery or murder. In the beginning he probably just thinks these guys are cool in a rebellious sort of way. He wants to be considered cool and rebellious too, so he starts hanging out with them at school. Next, in order to maintain their approval, he starts joining in with their pranks. Over time he will begin to share their scornful attitude toward all authority figures and rules. He will become so used to saying "yes" to anything they suggest that his conscience will stop screaming at him when he breaks a legal or spiritual law. From that point on, he might agree to anything, even armed robbery or murder. That level of sin doesn't happen all at once, but it progresses step by step, as a king like Solomon knows from judging so many legal cases. Many a young man has stood before him who started out hanging with a rough crowd to look cool only to end up committing shocking crimes.

Solomon points out that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The wise person who knows the truth can avoid falling for a lie. "How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!" (Proverbs 1:17) He counsels, "Learn to recognize the characteristics of a person who lacks a moral code or spiritual values. Then you will be able to avoid him. Just like a bird who spots the net in time to keep from getting caught in it, you will be able to change course and escape without harm."

The one who falls in with lawbreakers and sinners is not wise, for such people are really setting a trap for themselves. "These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it." (Proverbs 1:18-19) The king states, "The man who leads a life of crime is ruining himself. He thinks he's only hurting others, but he will pay for his wrongdoing. He will pay when the earthly judge finds him guilty. He will pay when the heavenly Judge finds him guilty. He may temporarily rejoice over the gold and silver he took through violence, but what use will that be to him when he stands accused in a courtroom? He might have believed he wasn't suspected in a murder because he was very clever in going about it, but as Moses once said in Numbers 32:23, 'be sure your sins will find you out.'"

Solomon's advice is wonderful for the young person about to go out into the world. It would make a great graduation speech. But his advice is also valuable to those of us who are middle-aged (like me) or older. It's a part of human behavior to want others to like us and approve of us. God created us with a need for friendship. But we must choose our close friends wisely. They need to be people who will encourage us in moral and godly ways, not people who will tempt us to go down the wrong paths. The Apostle Paul would have agreed with everything King Solomon says in today's passage, for he said something similar, "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Corinthians 15:33) This doesn't mean we can't interact with unbelievers or include them in activities or show them the love of Christ. I have friends who aren't Christians; all of us probably do. The Bible is telling us to be careful of who we place in our inner circle of friends. What is the character of those closest to us? Can they be counted on to give godly advice? Do they follow legal and spiritual laws? Would they be concerned if they saw us going down the wrong path?

The Lord Jesus had a group of twelve fairly close friends, but His inner circle consisted of Peter, James, and John. These three men sometimes made mistakes because they were human, but from a moral and spiritual standpoint these three were the closest to having a heart like that of Jesus, so these were the three with which He spent the most time. He knew their hearts and that they had it in them to become such fierce spiritual warriors that they would be willing to die for their faith if it came to that. That's the kind of people we want in our inner circle! That's the kind of people who won't lead us in the wrong direction.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 1, Introduction

The book of Proverbs is written mainly by King Solomon, the man who asked the Lord for wisdom, which the Lord graciously granted, saying, "I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." (1 Kings 3:12) The only one who has ever possessed more wisdom than Solomon is the one who is both God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who pointed out the foolishness of those who would not listen to Him and said, "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom; and now someone greater than Solomon is here." (Luke 11:31) The Lord Jesus backs up the authority of Solomon's words by using him as an example of wisdom. God further legitimizes Solomon's writings by allowing them to become part of the Holy Bible as inspired Scripture. As such, they are enormously valuable to us for godly living.

Having just concluded the book of Ecclesiastes, we know that Solomon endured a mental and spiritual crisis when he reached the latter years of his reign. He looked back on the way he had lived his life and concluded that he had spent most of it "chasing the wind". This is because he married many foreign women and not only allowed them to keep practicing their pagan religions, but was led astray by his carnal passions into idolatry himself, at least to the point of building altars for these women to their false gods. We are told that as he grew older, Solomon's heart "was not fully devoted to the Lord his God" and he "did not follow the Lord completely". (1 Kings 11:4,6) The years of looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places began to take a toll on him. As he entered the final decades of his life, he was forced to face the emptiness in his heart and to wonder why he could no longer take pleasure in the things that filled his hours when he was younger. He concluded at the end of Ecclesiastes that the root of his problems was his failure to fear God, which in a spiritual context means to honor and revere Him, to acknowledge His authority, to believe in His righteousness, and to accept on faith that He has good intentions toward mankind. If Solomon had retained this attitude at all stages of his life, it could never have been said of him that he was not fully devoted to the Lord. He could never have looked back on his life and said, "Meaningless! It's all meaningless!"

I have come across a few articles and commentaries that attempt to make the case for Solomon remaining in his state of apostasy, but I must respectfully disagree. Would God allow the writings of a reprobate to become part of the Holy Bible? Would the Lord Jesus have pointed to Solomon as an example of wisdom? Would God have given him the second name of Jedidiah on the day of his birth which means "beloved by the Lord"? Why did the Lord love him before he had done anything good or bad? Because God already knew him. Before he was even born or had spoken a word wise or unwise, God knew his heart and knew he would eventually become a man who could be inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this same way God knew Jacob and Esau before they were born, seeing what type of men they would finally become, and He knew Jacob would have a heart for Him but Esau would be a profane and irreverent man.

The Bible tells us that Solomon sinned, but it also tells us that everyone is a sinner. If someone were to pick and choose portions of my life where I've messed up and publish them in a book after my death, then people might conclude that I perished in apostasy and am not in heaven with the Lord. But that wouldn't be looking at the whole story. We can't conclude that Solomon isn't in heaven with the Lord, because when we look at the whole story of his life we get an entirely different picture. He was a man who grew up in the faith, followed the Lord at the beginning of his reign, then was seduced by the power and wealth that allowed him to obtain any worldly pleasures he desired. If we stopped right there we would shake our heads in pity over Solomon's lost soul. But the Bible doesn't stop right there. The Bible provides us with the writings of Solomon's final years as king, writings that prove to us that he regretted the years of debauchery, writings that clearly display a relationship with the Lord.

A man who does not know the Lord could never have written the book of Proverbs. He wouldn't even want to write it. The book of a man who does not know the Lord would never have been given space in the holy Scriptures. I don't believe Solomon's soul was lost at all. I believe he wandered away from the Lord for a time and became entangled in all the wrong things, but I also believe he speaks from experience when he says, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Solomon was started off on the way he should go by his father David, the "man after God's own heart". (1 Samuel 13:14) When he became old, Solomon returned to his spiritual roots. He remembered the truths he had been taught. He recalled the example his father set for loving the Lord. This prodigal king made his way home.

Solomon wants to help us. He'd like to prevent us from making the same mistakes he made. So he tells us the reason he wrote the book of Proverbs. "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young---let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance---for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise." (Proverbs 1:1-6)

He now makes the statement that is the theme of the whole book, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7) He says, "If you don't know the Lord, you don't know a thing. Until you form a relationship with Him, you can advise no one. Unless you commit to following Him, you will never have true wisdom."

Solomon speaks to us from the heart with words that come from a repentant and restored soul. This is why the Lord allowed the book of Proverbs to be included in the Holy Bible, so we could be counseled by the king.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 24, Don't Ignore The Lord While You're Young, Part Two

Estimates of Solomon's age at death vary, but most scholars think he was anywhere from his sixties to about eighty when he died. It's believed he wrote Ecclesiastes and Proverbs during the final years of his reign. We don't know what his health was like in the latter years of his reign, but he has already told us that for most of his life he denied himself nothing. He indulged in alcohol, in feasting, and in the pleasures of this world. Today he speaks like a man who feels old. I know lots of people who are as old or older than Solomon was when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, and many of them are still very active and in wonderful health, but Solomon is beginning to feel like an old man. He lived in a time before modern medicine. He lived in an age when he couldn't go to the doctor and have his cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, or blood pressure checked. He could have been suffering from one or more health problems. This is why he warned us yesterday not to waste our youth by waiting to serve God when we're older. He wishes he'd done more for the Lord while he still had the unlimited energy and the strength of body of his youth.

We are going to reread verse 1, which we studied yesterday, because it's a vital part of a thought that runs from verse 1 to verse 5. "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'---before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire is no longer stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets." (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)

Verses 1 through 5 are a metaphor for the failing strength of old age. Solomon skillfully and poetically paints us a picture of what happens as our bodies begin to show the wear and tear of life on earth. He says, "Serve God now while you're in good health. Don't wait til your eyesight begins to fail. Don't wait til your hearing becomes dim. Don't wait til your joints hurt and you can't straighten up all the way anymore. Don't wait til your hands tremble all the time. Don't wait til you can't sleep through a whole night but instead rise with the birds but are unable to clearly hear their songs. Don't wait til you're feeble enough to be constantly afraid of falling, afraid of driving, afraid of going about your business in the city. It's said that in the springtime man's heart turns to thoughts of love, but even that will leave you as you grow old. Youthful desires of the flesh won't matter to you anymore. You will take no more joy in the arrival of spring than you did in the arrival of winter. And when you reach the point of enjoying nothing at all, can the grave be far away?"

The picture he paints is gloomy, but we must keep in mind that these words come from the pen of a man who is clinically depressed. These words spring from a heart that never properly learned how to love the Lord. God can use us at any stage in our lives. Of course it's better to begin serving Him in our youth; this will help us avoid making a number of mistakes and having to live with regrets. But if we are committed to living for God, this is what He promises us at every stage of our lives, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green." (Psalm 92:12-14) The Lord is not necessarily saying we will enjoy good health all our lives, but that the person devoted to Him will be able to do something fruitful for His kingdom during every decade of life. It's a fact that our bodies are going to age, but it's also a fact that God will honor a willing spirit. As the Apostle Paul said in the latter years of his life, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16) The activities we are able to participate in may change as we grow older, but we can still be mighty prayers warriors of God even if we can no longer get down on our knees in the floor. We can still set a godly example for the next generation. We can still pass along godly advice. We can still give testimony to all that Lord has done for us.

Solomon doesn't realize it yet, but in his older years he is beginning to produce fruit. In his despair he wrongly believes the best years of his life are behind him. He thinks nothing is ahead of him but the grave. So he urges us to turn to the Lord before it's too late, before we waste our youth and energy chasing after all the wrong things like he did, "Remember Him---before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) 

The king looks back on his life and is grieved that he didn't do much for the Lord. Everything he did apart from the Lord failed to satisfy him. The years of his life look like a hundred miles of bad road and his regrets cause him to utter these words: "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Everything is meaningless!'" (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

We don't know how many years Solomon had left on the earth after he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, but at some point he was able to say this about the final years of his life, "Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people, He pondered and searched and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true." (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 Does this passage sound like it was written about a man who had nothing behind him but regrets and nothing ahead of him but the grave? Or does it sound like it was written about a man who found his way back to the Lord, a man who bore fruit in his old age? The depressed and almost suicidal king we find in the book of Ecclesiastes didn't remain in his woeful condition. He became "upright and true" through his relationship with the Lord. He was able to pass on advice for godly living to the next generation. The lessons he learned the hard way became lessons he could write in the form of proverbs to prevent us from making the same mistakes. He couldn't go back and undo the past and change the things he was so ashamed of, but with the Lord's help he was able to take a godly pleasure in the years that remained to him. Because he had the Lord in his life, he finished strong with no need to be ashamed of his final years on earth.

Solomon's son Rehoboam grew up watching the poor example his father set, but the king hopes it isn't too late to prevent his son from going down the wrong paths, so he says, "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails---given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them." (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12a) He cautions his son, "Heed the words of the wise. Like a goad pointing cattle in the right direction, they will point you in the right direction. Like a nail driven so firmly into a post that no amount of weight on it can cause it to fall, godly wisdom will keep you from falling into sin. The Scriptures should be studied and followed, for they are spoken by the Shepherd. Do not corrupt them by adding worldly wisdom to them. They are perfect just as they are because they come straight from the Lord. There is nothing we could ever add to them."

"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecclesiastes 12:12b) The king spent his youth and middle age reading and learning and listening to philosophers and puzzling over enigmas. But none of that profited him because he ignored what was right under his nose: the holy Scriptures. His studies exhausted him because they weren't able to lend his life the meaning he so desperately craved. This doesn't mean we should be ignorant and not obtain an education if it's available to us, but if we neglect the word of God and seek meaning in everything else but Him we are going to end up as depressed and full of regrets as Solomon. Life will seem as meaningless to us as it once did to Solomon.

All his studies, all his activities, and all his riotous living did nothing for Solomon. He felt empty and tired, almost unable to go on with life. He finally sees the light and realizes it all comes down to this: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) The king began this book by asking, "Does anything really matter?" Now he answers his own question, "Yes! Everything matters! There is a God in heaven and He has a purpose for every one of us. He has His eye on us at all times. We owe Him our praise. We owe Him our lives. We owe Him our faithful service. We may not always see the righteous rewarded in this world or the wicked punished on the earth, but we have eternal souls that will stand before the Judge someday. He will certainly set things straight then. Knowing that our lives have a purpose, and knowing that we have eternal souls, what should we do? We should live our lives for the Lord. He gives meaning to everything we do. He helps us to produce godly fruit at every stage of our lives. He gives us the strength to live honorable lives, lives we don't have to be ashamed of. Everything I've said in the book of Ecclesiastes can be summed up like this: God alone gives meaning to our lives."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 23, Don't Ignore The Lord While You're Young, Part One

Solomon is a man who knows how to really live it up in a worldly way because he has the power and the money to get anything he wants. He spent his entire youth experiencing anything his heart desired. Because he's been through it himself, he knows the tendency of youth to put off forming a relationship with the Lord. He understands the type of young thinking that might lead a person to say, "I'm not ready to give my life to the Lord. I want to sow my wild oats. I have plenty of time to make things right later." Solomon made a lot of mistakes in his youth by running after idolatrous women and not requiring them to convert to the God of Israel. Instead, because his lust led him to want to please these women, he allowed them to retain their pagan religions and he allowed himself to be drawn away from the Lord. The Bible tells us that Solomon "did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done". (1 Kings 11:6)

The king begins today's discourse with these words, "Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8) For the past few days Solomon has been providing us with proverbs that are helpful for daily living. It temporarily lifted his spirits to give us some good advice, but now he thinks, "Aw, what's the use of anything? No matter how careful we are to live right, we still have to live in a world where troubles come both to the righteous and the wicked. Yes, it's wise to enjoy the good days. It would be foolish of us not to appreciate them. But we should never forget that not every day of our lives is going to be good. What's the point of such a thing?" He's allowing the cloudy days to ruin the sunny days. His fears of the future are keeping him from fully enjoying today.

"You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10) Deep in his heart Solomon doesn't really believe there's no point to our lives on this earth. If he truly believed that, he wouldn't say, "Go ahead and live it up while you're young if you want, but you will have to answer to God for your sins. While you're young you have the strength and energy to indulge in anything your heart desires, but if those indulgences are ungodly there is a Judge before whom you will stand someday."

Solomon knows that when we are young we might decide to pour our boundless energy into the wrong things. Death seems impossible to us when we are that healthy. The day of judgment seems so far away that we don't trouble our minds about it. We can easily be seduced into thinking we should go out and experience everything there is to experience, whether it is sinful or not, and worry about the consequences later. But Solomon has learned all his lessons the hard way. He wants to help us avoid the mistakes he made in his youth. It's far better to use the health and strength and energy of youth to serve the Lord than to serve the flesh. "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'." (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

The king gives good advice when he says, "Don't wait until you're an older man like me to give your heart to the Lord. You might not be in good health when you reach my age. You may lack the strength to do much work for His kingdom. Doesn't God deserve your best? Go ahead and start serving Him now in the health and energy of your youth. Do all you can for Him before your back starts hurting every time you stand for longer than ten minutes, and before you get short of breath while teaching or preaching, and before your mind becomes too forgetful to pass along your wisdom to the next generation. Don't say to yourself, 'There's plenty of time to serve God when I'm older. I'm going to do what I want now and repent of it later.' You don't want to reach my age and be full of regrets about how you spent your youth. I wish I'd spent those years serving the Lord. Then I'd really have something to show for them, something honorable and good."

Yesterday is gone and we can't do anything to change what we did with it. But this day is still young. We have control over what we do with today and with all our tomorrows. Why not go through this day with Christ? Why not spend every day we have left with Him? It's far too dangerous to keep putting it off because no one is promised tomorrow. The reason life without Christ seems meaningless and pointless is because it is. But life with Him is fulfilling and meaningful. He intends for it to be. So why put it off any longer? If you don't know the Lord, there's no better day than today to commit your life to the One who promises us not only eternal life after death, but a more abundant life here on earth. (John 10:10)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 22, Being Wise With Money

The main theme of Solomon's advice today has to do with being wise with our money. There once was a time when he was concerned only with living it up, "A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything." (Ecclesiastes 10:19) When he was younger it was easier to ignore the gnawing emptiness in his soul by throwing money at his problems. If he was feeling down he'd host a huge party. If his thoughts troubled him he'd just get drunk. If he got bored he'd just begin a new building project. Solomon was the wealthiest king Israel ever had but spending money like it was water never satisfied him. He tried but it didn't work. He thought money was the answer to everything but it wasn't. Nevertheless, it's irresponsible not to be wise with money, and that's what he wants to talk about today.

"Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say." (Ecclesiastes 10:20) He advises, "Don't speak ill of those in authority over you. You never know who might be listening. Why bring trouble on yourself? The leaders of the nation are in a position to help you, but they are also in a position to hurt you." Have you ever heard the expression, 'A little bird told me'? This verse could be the origin of it, although the ancient Greeks had a similar saying.

The king now gives advice on investments. "Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land." (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2) He says there is value in both long-term and short-term investments. In addition, he warns that we should be wary about putting all our eggs in one basket. If we put all our money into only one thing and it goes under, then we're in trouble. But if we spread the risk, if one thing doesn't work out then perhaps some of the others will.

"If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap." (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4) The events of this world are uncertain. If we live in fear we will never accomplish anything with either our money or our talents. He uses the example of a farmer who is so critical of the weather, waiting for a perfect day, that he never sows the seed. Because he never sows the seed, he has no harvest. As humans we so often look for perfect timing. We want everything around us to come together in such a way that we will know it's the perfect time to marry, or to start a family, or to go back to college, or to make any other big decision. The fact is life doesn't often work that way.

Verses 3 and 4 made me think back to the early years of my marriage when it seemed like all sorts of unexpected circumstances were coming into our lives. We'd say, "When life gets back to normal we will do this or that." Some years later we looked at each other one day and admitted, "Life is never going to be normal, whatever normal is." We decided that if a thing looked wise to us, and we wanted to go ahead with it, we might as well. Why keep waiting for the perfect day to come so we can start enjoying life? We will be celebrating our twenty-third wedding anniversary in August and I can tell you life has never been for us what we might call "normal", but we have learned in many cases not to let that stop us. This is why Solomon says, "Go ahead and sow your seed at the proper time of year. Make some wise investments if you have the extra money. Marry the person you love if the Lord says that person is right for you. Have that baby you keep longing for. If you've got the time and income for it, go back and get your degree if you want to, or take classes that sharpen your talents. Don't keep waiting for the perfect day to start living! There is no such thing as a perfect day in a fallen world. Enjoy the blessings of the Lord today."

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in the mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things." (Ecclesiastes 11:5) We can't predict the future, but that's no excuse for living in fear. I often catch myself worrying about things over which I have absolutely no control. Sometimes I'm able to shrug it off by saying to myself, "Is there anything you can do about it? No? Then why even think about it?" It pays to live wisely and not take foolish and dangerous chances, but it also pays not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear. Remember when we talked the other day about how, in Christ, we can have a full and abundant and meaningful life? That's the kind of living He intends for us! He tells us not to ruin today by worrying about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:25-34) We are to trust Him with today and with tomorrow also. Our Lord got us through yesterday, didn't He? We can count on Him to get us through today and through all our tomorrows.

"Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well." (Ecclesiastes 11:6) Solomon is a man who made some mistakes in his life, but no one can accuse him of being lazy. He got up in the morning and went about his business. Even after dark he kept on working. He always had several projects going on at the same time and he enjoyed many hobbies and interests. No wonder his mind stayed so sharp all his life! He used some of that wisdom to grow his bank accounts and his investment portfolio. He educated himself in the fields that interested him and, if a venture looked likely to be profitable, he put some money into it. But since he couldn't predict the future anymore than we can, he spread the risk around because sometimes an investment paid off and sometimes it didn't. He wasn't blindly gambling with his money and throwing it around; he carefully considered which markets looked the most likely to make money. He put thought into how much to invest.

Solomon counsels us to work hard and to invest wisely like he did. We aren't to be idle out of either fear or laziness. We aren't to throw our money away on get-rich-quick schemes. We aren't to gamble our funds away in the hope that we might strike it rich or win the lottery. There is no substitute for good honest work and for living an honorable and godly life.

What perfect timing are you waiting for to do something great with your life? Maybe it's time to prayerfully consider whether you've allowed fear to paralyze you. I know what that's like because it happens to me too. There's something I dearly want to do but I keep talking myself out of it by saying, "It's not the right time! This or that is coming up. How can I do all these things at once?" But if a particular thing is God's will for our lives, He calls us to take a leap of faith when He gives us the go ahead. An imperfect world is pretty much incapable of producing perfect timing. There will always be reasons we can come up with to keep us from obeying God's will for our lives. Our own minds often talk us out of things because we're fearful of stepping out of our comfort zones. Also, Satan tempts us with doubts because the last thing he wants is for us to live joyful and victorious lives in Christ. Are we going to let those things stop us from fulfilling our destinies in the Lord? His calling on our lives is almost always going to make us feel uncomfortable at first. It will require faith and courage. It will ask us to follow Him wherever He leads. But what an exciting life that is! What a fulfilling life! What a life of meaning!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 21, Foolishness Puts Us In Harm's Way

Solomon continues on with his proverbs regarding foolishness and the consequences of it.

"Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake." (Ecclesiastes 10:8) Solomon's father David believed judgment would come upon anyone who dug a pit for someone else, "Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made. The trouble they cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads." (Psalm 7:15-16) Solomon will repeat this belief in poetic justice when he says, "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them." (Proverbs 26:27) Purposely causing trouble for others has a tendency to backfire.

The king is a man who can't help looking at both sides of the coin, though. We've already taken note in our study of Ecclesiastes that he's distressed by the fact that bad things still sometimes happen even when we are innocently minding our own business and living in a godly way. So now he points out the need to be careful even when we are going about our normal lives. He doesn't want us to commit the foolishness of being careless while doing potentially dangerous jobs. "Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them." (Ecclesiastes 10:9) The king is a man who believes in fate to a certain extent, so he warns us not to tempt fate by not taking the proper precautions. He's supervised many large construction projects in the kingdom and he's likely seen some accidents, many of them due to carelessness. If he lived in our times and was the foreman of a construction crew he would say, "Wear your hard hats, your steel-toed boots, and your safety glasses! Don't take a chance."

It's important to take care of our tools and to hone our skills and talents. This is wise and will help us be more productive at work, plus it has a spiritual application as well. "If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success." (Ecclesiastes 10:10) A person Solomon considers foolish might keep on chopping with a dull ax, not ever thinking to sharpen it. A wise person will sharpen it but, if no sharpening tool is available, the wise person will think about it for a while and then come up with a clever solution. Spiritually speaking, we are wise if we don't allow ourselves to become dull like an uncared-for ax blade. We are to daily sharpen our knowledge of God by spending time with Him in prayer and by studying the Scriptures. Like an ax that works better when it's sharp, we will work better for the kingdom of our Lord if we keep ourselves sharp.

"If a snake bites before it is charmed, the charmer receives no fee." (Ecclesiastes 10:11) The NIV translation varies here from the KJV translation. The KJV says, "Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better." In this case I feel the KJV translation makes more sense in light of the fact that Solomon feels (in both Ecclesiastes and Proverbs) that babbling is a side effect of being a foolish (morally and spiritually corrupt) person. The suggestion here is that the foolish person speaks before thinking about it, causing harm to the person he's speaking to. His words are like a snake that suddenly strikes. It's so important to think before we speak, especially when speaking to a person who is going through a difficult time. Words can wound in ways nothing else can.

In contrast to the words of a fool, the words of a wise person are like a medicine. "Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness---and fools multiply words." (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14a) Solomon observes, "As soon as the foolish man starts talking, his advice is very bad. And it doesn't get any better from there. By the end of his speech his advice is so bad that to follow it would be madness."

"No one knows what is coming---who can tell someone else what will happen after them?" (Ecclesiastes 10:14b) He says, "Beware of the person who talks as if he knows everything! No matter what subject comes up, he speaks on it as if he's an authority. That kind of person is always telling you what you should do and what the outcome will be if you follow their bad and ungodly advice. Don't fall for it!"

This next verse makes me laugh a little bit every time I read it. "The toil of fools wearies them; they do not know the way to town." (Ecclesiastes 10:15) I find this darkly humorous and I believe that's how Solomon intends his words to be taken. He counsels, "That person who is always telling you what you should do and how you should do it, that person who finds a good honest day's work too hard but instead goes about being a busybody.....why, he can't even give you directions to town, much less moral and spiritual advice! He hardly has sense enough to get in out of the rain. Don't waste your time listening to him. He is lacking in spiritual discernment and will lead you in the wrong direction." The Lord Jesus would agree with Solomon's words, for He said, "If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." (Matthew 15:14) We must be wise when we choose which examples to follow. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit when choosing our close friends and our mentors. A person who is spiritually blind is not going to be able to lead us anyplace good; they will eventually fall into a hole and will take us down with them.

The best example we can ever fellow is set by the Lord Jesus Christ. If we honor and obey Him, we will never fall blindly into the ditch. We live in a fallen world and hardships may come even while we're living godly lives, but at least we will be living close to our Lord who gives us strength and comfort. Far better to endure hard times with Jesus than to endure them without Him, for as men like Solomon and Job said, sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Life on this earth is unpredictable, but we are to build our lives on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ. Then we will be like the wise builder of Matthew 7:24-25 of whom the Lord said, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who build his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 20, Proverbs About Foolishness

In our passage today Solomon talks about the value of having wisdom, even if wisdom only does a person good while he lives in this world. He also provides us with some proverbs about foolishness.

First the king relates to us this true story, "I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, 'Wisdom is better than strength.' But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded." (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16) People from many other tribes and nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Being an intelligent and curious person, I bet he enjoyed hearing tales from their homelands and this may be how he knows the story of the poor man who saved the city. But no one seems to recall the poor man's name and this troubles Solomon. Why wasn't this man honored? Why wasn't he made the leader of the city? Why can't anyone even remember his name? He reflects on the fact that fame, like life, is fleeting.

Now he moves on into a series of proverbs. "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good." (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18) We need to always keep in mind that in the Bible a fool is a person who is spiritually and morally corrupt, one who is reprobate and has no heart for the Lord. There's a lot of spiritually and morally corrupt advice given to us in this world. Foolishness shouts very loudly so that it can be heard by everyone. But Solomon says to stop our ears to the voice of foolishness and listen only to the calm and quiet voice of wisdom.

He uses a very graphic description about how one fool can influence a whole group to do wrong, in the same way that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." (Ecclesiastes 10:1) The Apostle Paul warned against persons who claim to be Christians and attend church but who are morally corrupt and who constantly stir up trouble. He knew such a person could undo all the good things going on in that church. He or she could lead others astray, so Paul advises the congregation to ask a troublemaker like that to leave the assembly, excommunicating them in other words. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) This exclusion would hopefully bring them to their senses, but if not at least the entire bunch wasn't spoiled by one bad apple.

"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left." (Ecclesiastes 10:2) This is not a political statement. In Solomon's time the right hand was the place of honor. The most important guest at a feast would be seated at the right hand of the host. Another example of this is that the Lord Jesus sits at God the Father's right hand in the place of highest honor. What Solomon is saying is something like this, "The wise person sticks to the right path. His life is honorable. He does what he ought to do. But the foolish ungodly person always wanders off in the wrong direction."

"Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are." (Ecclesiastes 10:3) Solomon observes, "A person's true character can't be hidden for long. Even if he doesn't say much, we can simply observe by his behavior that he is an immoral person." The Lord Jesus made a similar observation when He said we would know a person's character by the fruit they produce. (Matthew 7:15-20) If a person claims to be a Christian, but there is no proof of it in the way they live, we are to wise to take note of this and to doubt their claims of belonging to the Lord.

"If a ruler's anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest." (Ecclesiastes 10:4) This is good counsel for our work lives. If we mess up and our boss yells at us for it, we should remain calm and respectful. Solomon recommends, "Don't get all huffy and storm out of the building, slamming the door behind you and losing your job. Things can probably be smoothed over. Your calm and quiet tone of voice will soon make your boss realize he is yelling and screaming like a foolish person, then he will become more reasonable." The king restates this principle in Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Next Solomon speaks of an injustice that bothers him. "There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves." (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7) Earlier in the book of Proverbs we found Solomon upset over the unfairness of the wrong people being promoted. He's seen foolish people placed in high positions and he's seen wise people overlooked. He's observed people lacking in leadership skills being given positions of honor, while those who live by godly principles are ignored and scoffed at. This is one of the many things in life he doesn't understand. To his way of thinking only those capable of making good decisions should ever be in charge of anything.

We can certainly understand his point. It would be easy to become bitter when we do what's right and are passed over. If we're not careful we will become angry and discouraged when the wrong people are put in charge. Solomon seems angry and bitter over situations like this, but later he will decide to leave such matters up to the Lord and trust Him to work things out. We know he did because the Apostle Peter will quote Solomon's words from Proverbs 3:34 in this speech to the church, "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:5b-6) Some versions of the Bible translate it as, "He will promote you in due time." We can't always trust our superiors to promote us. They may have a tendency to show favoritism to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. But we can trust God to keep track of our faithfulness. Our bosses may not recognize or reward us for our good honest work or for our godly character, but God will. He will do it in His own time and in His own way, but I'd rather have blessings from the hand of God than blessings from the hand of man because people can be very fickle. They may love us today but hate us tomorrow. Fame is fleeting, as Solomon pointed out. The name of the poor man who saved a city was soon forgotten by his fellow citizens, but we can be sure his name wasn't forgotten by God. Take heart if you're feeling passed over and forgotten. God is not blind to your godly way of living. He has seen your faithfulness. He knows you've done what was right when it would have been far easier to do what was wrong. He will promote you in due time.

The link below is to a cute little Christian song I often play in the car. It reminds us that fame and popularity are not what's most important in life. What's most important is that God knows our names because we are His.
He Knows My Name

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 19, The Grave Awaits Us All...And How To Deal With This Knowledge

The theme of today's passage may sound macabre, but some of the most beautiful words of the book of Ecclesiastes are found in Chapter Nine. Human intelligence is a tremendous gift, but in some ways a curse, because every day of our lives we are aware that we are going to die. This knowledge is with us at all times. It's amazing that along with such awareness the Lord has also created us with the ability to go about our lives and enjoy our blessings. Of all the creatures on the earth, man alone is constantly aware that a grave awaits him. Yet God has equipped us with something far more powerful than the fear of death: the capacity to relish the days we are given under the sun. Today Solomon's musings are not as depressing as we would expect, considering he is speaking on the subject of death, because he is also speaking on the subject of life and how we should live it.

"So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them." (Ecclesiastes 9:1) A man as intelligent as Solomon longs to know the future, but it's as hidden from him as it is from the rest of us.

"All share a common destiny---the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them." (Ecclesiastes 9:2) We may not know what the future holds, but one thing we know for certain is that death comes for every person sooner or later. Solomon says, "There's a grave for each of us, whether we lived godly lives or wicked lives. A funeral is ahead of us, whether we honored the Lord with sacrifices or whether we ignored Him. Somebody is going to carve us a headstone, whether we were men and women of our word or whether we were not."

"This is the evil that happens in everything under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all." (Ecclesiastes 9:3a) It strikes Solomon as unfair that both the godly and the ungodly must die. I'm not sure it would be much of a reward if the Lord allowed the godly to live in the flesh in a fallen world forever. Even if our bodies were immortal, we'd have to get up every morning and deal with the same old struggles, knowing they would never end. Solomon thinks he's weary now; imagine how weary he'd be if he knew he was going to live forever in a world he finds difficult to understand. That would be a curse rather than a blessing, but at this point in time the king of Israel is still looking at life through carnal eyes and not through spiritual eyes.

"The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." (Ecclesiastes 9:3b) The fact that men and women do cruel and depraved things on this planet should be enough to tell Solomon he doesn't want to live forever in a world that is cursed by sin. I don't watch or read the news nearly as much as I used to because it's almost always bad. The news is full of stories of cruelty, neglect, and murder. The headlines tell of people who have been defrauded by the latest scams. It's enough to make us say what Solomon says, "There is madness in the heart of humans!" Headlines on our computer or television screens tell us of wars and threats of war, of the devastation done by bombs and natural disasters. Who in their right mind would want to live forever in a world like this? Yet Solomon, because he has not yet made a full journey back to God, views life on this planet merely from his inbuilt instinct for self-preservation and says, "Anyone who is among the living has hope---even a live dog is better than a dead lion!" (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

"For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6) While it's true that once we die we no longer take an active part in anything that happens in this world, Solomon displays his doubts about an afterlife in these two verses. We've seen him going back and forth on this issue the whole time we've been in the book of Ecclesiastes. At times he seems to understand that man must face God after death. He has shown a belief in the judgment, that humans will receive the rewards or punishment for the lives they have lived, but at other times he appears to doubt whether there is a soul that endures after death.

During the long nights when he can't sleep, Solomon wonders whether this life is all there is. Just in case the human experience ends at the grave, he decides the least we can do is enjoy our days on this planet. He's wrong in his perception about what happens to us after the death of these frail bodies, but he isn't wrong in his advice to us today. His version of "living it up" does not include living in sin. He's not telling us to immerse ourselves in debauchery and excess, but instead makes some beautiful points about enjoying the blessings our God gives us in this world. He begins with this dietary advice, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Ecclesiastes 9:7) He instructs, "The Lord has chosen to bless you with food and drink. Relish them. It would be wrong not to be thankful for what He has provided."

"Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil." (Ecclesiastes 9:8) In Solomon's culture a white garment was worn on festive occasions. A white garment also symbolizes spiritual purity and a right relationship with the Lord. The king provides us with some fashion advice, "Wear the garments of happiness. Put on your face and dress your hair. Make every day a joyful occasion. Why go about looking sloppy and depressed when instead you can celebrate life? You are alive! You can smell the air and look up at the sun! As the author of Psalm 118 said, 'This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.'"

Solomon gives us marital advice, "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun---all your meaningless days." (Ecclesiastes 9:a) He still isn't sure life has any meaning at all, but he thinks at least we don't have to go through it alone. He says, "Your marriage partner, whom you love, is a blessing to you. The two of you can face life together. You have someone to encourage you in the hard times and someone to rejoice with you in the good times. Cling to that person. Be that person's best friend. Be joyful together whenever you can."

Next he gives us advice for our work life. "For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." (Ecclesiastes 9:9b-10) Solomon urges, "Be all in! Whatever you do, put your energy and your thoughts into it. Don't go through life in a daze. Be all there."

"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11) He points out something that all of us have probably noticed. The smartest person doesn't always become wealthy. The strongest person doesn't always win. The one who seems to deserve blessing and promotion and rewards isn't always the first one chosen to receive honors. This is because life contains circumstances that are beyond our control. Even so, we don't need to live in fear. Our God is with us, whether we have prime rib on the table or a grilled cheese sandwich, whether we live in a mansion or in a one-room apartment. He does not want or expect us to live in fear of the future. To our mortal eyes the world may appear to be spinning out of control, but at no time is anything outside of the Creator's control.

In conclusion of today's passage, Solomon circles back around to his theme of the grave that awaits us all. "Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them." (Ecclesiastes 9:12) He paints the picture of an unexpected death. Being young doesn't prevent death from coming. Being healthy doesn't assure us of another day on the planet. Solomon is depressed by such realizations but we have to keep in mind that he lived almost a thousand years before Christ. Wise and wealthy as he was, we are more blessed than Solomon ever dreamed of being, because we live in the church age and can have this attitude, "To live is Christ; to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) While we live, we enjoy the abundant and fulfilling experiences that come from walking alongside our Savior. When we die, we go to be in His presence forever. There is no reason for the Christian to live a defeated life. Christ has defeated every foe we ever had, including our own sinful natures and our enemy the devil. For the Christian, life is Christ and death is Christ....because in Christ there is no death.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 18, Injustice In The World

Today Solomon talks about injustice he has witnessed in the world. Those of you who studied the book of Job with us may see some similarities between Solomon's words and Job's words. Job too had witnessed that sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people.

The king begins by talking about something we can't change (the temporariness of life) and then moves on into something we can change if we want (our behavior in the world). "Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come? As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it." (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8) Life is short even if we live to be a hundred or more. With that in mind, should we spend our years doing good or doing evil? The Apostle Peter spoke not only of the temporariness of life but also of the temporariness of this world as we know it. He said, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." (2 Peter 3:10-12a) Both Peter and Solomon urge us to use our days on this earth by doing good, not by becoming ensnared in wickedness.

"All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried---those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 8:9-10) He says, "I've known some wicked men, men who thought they were better than others and liked to make big deals out of themselves. Even though they lived ungodly lives outside of the temple, they liked to be seen in the temple every time the doors were open. They gave large donations to the Lord's work and they were as popular as celebrities in the community. Their deaths were mourned as if they had been good men and their tombs were honored by visitors. What's the point of such a thing? What kind of world is this where an evil person is praised by his fellow man?"

"When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people's hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before Him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow." (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13) Solomon observes, "Punishment doesn't always come right away. When a man sins against God, God doesn't necessarily act against him immediately. The wicked person believes judgment is never going to come, so he keeps on sinning. He thinks, 'I've gotten away with it for this long; I'm going to keep on getting away with it.' Though he may live long on the earth, someday he will face the holy Judge. It's better to do right even if we don't receive our reward in this world. Those who fear God will fare much better in His courtroom than the wicked."

"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 8:14-15) Thinking on this subject has depressed Solomon. From a worldly standpoint it seems meaningless that good things would happen to bad people or that bad things would happen to good people. He can't solve this puzzle and he's not alone, for none of the men and women of the Bible fully understood such a thing. You and I can't completely explain it either. We know there must be a purpose for it, and that if a person does not receive what they deserve in this world they will receive it when they stand before God. But like Solomon we can become so caught up in puzzling over such a thing that it makes us sad and discouraged. He is weary of thinking about it. As he has done several times already in the book of Ecclesiastes, he throws his hands in the air and says, "I give up! I'm tired of trying to figure this out. Maybe all there is to life is to enjoy what we can when we can. No matter how long God lets me live I will never figure out why bad things sometimes happen to good people or why good things sometimes happen to bad people. All I can advise is to enjoy whatever good comes your way."

"When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth---people getting no sleep day or night---then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it." (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17) Solomon lived many centuries before the Apostle Paul, but he would have agreed with this statement, "Oh, the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33) The king says, "I can observe with my eyes all the things God has done, but I can't understand them. His mind is not like my mind. His wisdom is much greater than mine. There's no use walking the floor at night trying to solve this puzzle. It makes no sense for me to lose sleep worrying about it. God has made me the wisest man on the earth, but even I can't understand all the things He does. You should be wary of any man or woman who claims they do understand why God sometimes allows trouble to come into the lives of the godly or why He sometimes allows blessings to come into the lives of the wicked."

Suffering is something no human being can truly understand or explain. As Solomon says, be wary of anyone who claims to have all the answers. Things happen that make no sense to us from a worldly perspective. Some have even renounced their faith in God because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Because they can't understand this with the limited knowledge humans are given, they conclude God must be unfair and unrighteous. But we don't have to understand God to trust God. Job never understood why his grievous circumstances came upon him, but he never turned his back on the Lord. Solomon never understood why injustice wasn't punished immediately or why godliness wasn't rewarded immediately, but he never decided this must mean God doesn't exist. I've never understood some of the things that have happened in my life or in the lives of my loved ones, but a God who was willing to do anything to save our souls must have a purpose for the things that happen to us. We may not know the reasons for our problems, but we know our God is good. We know His nature is to care about us and to be invested in our spiritual growth. In times when we don't understand, we have to concentrate on what we do understand. Our God loves us.

Today's worship song link is below. It talks about holding onto God even when we don't understand what He's doing. It's one of my current favorite songs and I hope it blesses you.
Even If