Last night, as I was finishing my work, I was talking to a customer who said, “You don’t seem to be as frustrated by the chaos of Christmas like your coworkers.” Does that mean I don’t see the stress? Hardly. But today’s passage gives the very reason why we should not allow our circumstances to control our attitudes and responses!
If a tree falls over in the forest, where is that tree going to be if you find it the next morning? Exactly where it fell. It isn’t going to magically move or change. If the rainclouds are full, guess what? It’s going to rain! These may seem like obvious statements, but how true they are. Solomon uses these “duh” statements to illustrate our lives. To a great degree, much of your life is outside of your control. This might return our mind to Solomon’s common theme in this book: “Life is frustrating and worthless.”
Does this mean we should approach life with apathy? “Since I can’t control what happens, why bother trying?” On the contrary, in this passage Solomon gives us three good reasons why we should invest ourselves in whatever God calls us to do.
First, you should work hard because God may bless your effort! I had a couple of teachers in school who would pray, “Lord, bless these students according to how hard they studied.” I didn’t always like that prayer. (Maybe I didn’t study as hard as I should have!) If a farmer doesn’t plant any crop in the spring, how can God give him an abundant harvest? If a business man doesn’t have any clients, how can God bless that business? Similarly, whatever God has called us to do, we should work at it diligently, no matter how mundane or frustrating it may feel.
Secondly, we should invest because at the end of our lives, we can remember the good times. That’s not to say forget the bad times though. The bad times make the good times seem that much sweeter! If you are a child, you love recess. But in the summer, when there’s no class, you don’t appreciate the free time the same way. If you’re an adult, well…you probably already understand! The difficulties we face along the way – the frustrations, heartaches, and setbacks – make the joys feel that much more enjoyable.
Finally, Solomon says that the preacher was wise to pass on wisdom and understanding. In order to pass it on, he had to invest himself in learning. Learning is not the end, as he points out in Ecclesiastes 12:12, but if you haven’t learned anything, it is very difficult to help others learn. That teaching can poke and prod them in the right direction so that maybe they will not face the same frustrations you did!
If Solomon were asked to summarize this book in one sentence, it would be this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” If we would simply follow that simple pattern, our lives might seem less worthless in spite of the frustrations (vanities) we face.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” was coined by the tourism committee there. The saying was so popular it was in the newspapers, on billboards, t-shirts, taxis and people’s minds. It has become the most famous of all destination jingles and likewise one of the biggest lies in history. Once adopted, you could feel a change in the air. It lent a false sense of security as folk felt they could do anything and say good-bye to it, when they left to go back home.
Not so fast, nobody can leave sin behind that easy. Unless it is dealt with, it will haunt us like a relentless bounty hunter. The ‘strip’ in “Sin City” was always exciting with the nightly light and fountain shows. And the Fremont Street laser experience was spectacular. Anybody who came to visit us wanted to see it. We carried quite a few folk there. We never partook of the debauchery inside, but enjoyed the food and the many attractions outside.
Years later, we moved back only to find the ‘strip’ totally destroyed by the ‘stays in Vegas’ mentality. You can no longer walk at night without being molested or have wicked things in eye-shot. It used to be the only thing loud was the street preachers, but now they are drowned out and ostracized by hawkers.
I wonder why people take the advice of some talking head, but give no heed to Holy God. God has been in the business of ‘phraseology’ His entire life (eternally). When He speaks it is for the good of mankind; not some evil spew. Do they really think He cannot see them? We used to remind folk that God has night vision. They acted as if they believed the cover of darkness hid their sin. The Bible makes it clear that God is not limited by the framework of His Creation. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (Ps. 139:7-12).
God does not miss anything. Scripture says in Zec. 4:10, “…they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” As kids we would say, “You can run, but you can’t hide!”
Having read through Ezra and picking up in Nehemiah, have you asked yourself, “Why were the Israelites in exile?” Could you answer the question in less than five words?
Moses warned God’s people before they entered the Promised Land, “Beware lest thou forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:12 & 8:11). In the fullness of God’s blessings, they forgot the one “from whom all blessings flow.” The signature of their forgetfulness is their disregard to worship God sincerely. They gave tokens of appreciation, but the offerings were repugnant to God. They ignored the Sabbath which was designed to keep their life centered on God.
You may think Nehemiah was intense, but he did not allow this mistake to be repeated. Either you live desperate for God, or you will experience devastation which will drive you to God. Nehemiah chose desperation and he lived with an intensity which challenged the people around him.
How can you embody the same characteristic of desperation in your life? Look to Nehemiah’s prayer and you will find many pointers. He fixes his attention on God’s greatness and faithfulness to “them that love him and observe his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5). Then he deals with sin. Many of the great leaders of God’s people have recognized their sinfulness, individually and nationally, in God’s presence. Even Isaiah stated, “Woe is me! because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
This is unusual in our culture, but it would be healthy to consider humility. When someone is struggling, let’s say with alcohol, and they only talk about it as an “ism,” such as alcoholism, they do not have the power to change it. They are a victim of their circumstances. Once they own it as their problem, they can change. They can now be victorious with God’s power!
As long as we blame our national devastation on “those sinners,” we have disarmed ourselves. We are victims of our situation. If we respond as Nehemiah did and own the sin, we will live in desperation to be the salt and light affecting our society powerfully.
What sin should we confess personally and nationally? Consider the first chapter in Romans. It soars among the mountain peaks of the glorious gospel but dives deep into the sewage of man’s habitation. In this chapter, you will find the most sobering thought. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful” (Romans 1:21). Man’s blundering begins with the first trip of thanklessness.
Last week, we designated time to be thankful, but hopefully, it is a daily practice. Our nation reeks with entitlement, and it is eating us up from the inside, out. Consider praying, “O Lord God of heaven, I confess the sins of our people, which have sinned against thee. We have dealt very corruptly against thee. In the fullness of your blessings, we have forgotten You. Help us return to You. Mobilize your church to lead the way and start your work in me. Amen.”
By 1588, the Spanish Empire had become the largest in the world. Phillip II, the king at the time, was determined to gain control of the entire world and bring it under Catholic control. Protestant England, which had a population of only 4 million, was one of the countries that stood in the way. In 1588, Phillip II was determined to bring England under his control. Philip II organized an Armada with around 130 ships, 7,000 sailors, 18,000 Spanish soldiers, plus another 30,000 soldiers from the Spanish Netherlands. On May 28, 1588, the “Invincible Armada” set sail for England. From the beginning, the Armada was met with disaster. The huge Spanish ships were quickly met by the smaller, more maneuverable English ships. In a panic, the Spanish fleet decided to flee northward past the English Channel and around the coast of Scotland. The Spanish fleet encountered a series of storms and strong winds that destroyed many of the remaining ships. When Philip II heard of the loss, he said, “I sent the Armada against men, not God’s winds and waves.”
In Deuteronomy 20, God gave the Israelites instructions concerning war. The Israelite military consisted entirely of foot soldiers who would soon be in combat against seemingly stronger militaries. The Canaanites and other nations had the advantage of horses, chariots, and more manpower. Although these nations put their confidence in their horses and chariots, God reminded the Israelites that their confidence was in Him. He said, “…let not your hearts be faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (vv. 3-4). The enemies were more advanced in weaponry and larger in number, yet they lacked the one thing that determines victory in any battle. The Israelite’s enemies did not have God as their commander and warrior. The Israelites were weak in number and lacked weaponry, however, they had God on their side who had promised to fight for them and save them.
As Christians, we are in a constant war on three battlefronts: the world, the flesh, and the devil. It may be spiritual in nature, but it is still very real. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The world looks upon Christians as the underdog. They view the Church from the outside and see Christ’s flock as weak, foolish, and lowly. Yet, as believers, we must remind ourselves that, although we appear weak and foolish to the world, we are God’s channels through which His power flows. Although we are powerless in our own flesh, “greater is he that is in [us] than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Because God fights for us, we rejoice in the victory!
I remember some years ago having a long conversation with a man from my church that had just finished either reading a book or watching a message that had changed his mind about a certain doctrine he had always been taught. This new teaching said that a believer’s past, present and future sins were all forgiven at salvation; therefore, a Christian never had to ask for forgiveness again for the rest of their lives.
While I do understand the fact that as believers we will never have to worry about facing judgment for our sins, one of the verses in our reading today makes it pretty clear to me that we need to have regular confession of sin a vital part of our lives. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I believe it is pretty clear for the context that this verse is written to Christians and here we see very clearly the need for us to “confess our sins.” The word “confess” carries with it the idea of agreeing with God. No excuses, no sugar-coating it. Instead we need to agree with God about the wrong we have done and essentially take His side in how we look at our sin. Of course, this idea also includes the idea of turning from it and wanting God to take that sin away from us.
Then we see the promise of God of forgiveness if we do confess our sins. His promise of forgiveness is based on two things: His faithfulness and justice. Once God makes a promise, He is faithful to keep that promise. If I confess my sins, He will forgive me because He promised to and will be faithful to that promise. Secondly, it is only just for Him to forgive my sins. This idea for a long time baffled me. Why does it say God would be just to forgive me of my sins? He doesn’t owe me anything, does He? Think about the basis of our forgiveness. It’s on the finished work of Christ on the cross. So because the price of my sin was paid for on Calvary, it is only just for God to forgive my sins when I confess them. Now that’s some justice to be thankful for!