DO it ANYWAY

Ecclesiastes 9-12

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Thursday, February 2

So you’ve read today’s reading and are thinking, “Maria, you said King Solomon was going to give us uplifting counsel!”  On the face of it, these last four chapters do not seem very uplifting.  But I read a couple of things along with these scriptures that made me realize that what he is saying is in fact, very uplifting, practical, and real.

The first thing I read, you may have read before.  It is a version of a poem that was originally written by Dr. Kent M. Keith but was rewritten as a spiritual poem, presumably by Mother Teresa.

Do It Anyway
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies.       Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

This poem sums up exactly what King Solomon was saying! Verse 9:11 is a prime example of this idea that life isn’t fair.  You may work hard but not receive any rewards but verse 12: 13-14 says do it anyway!  God knows your works.
The second thing I read was the commentary in my study Bible, which I thought, wrapped up the book of Ecclesiastes quite well.

“God has not told man how to comprehend all the frustrating futilities of life, but He has instructed man to enjoy life as His gift (2:24), to make the most of every opportunity (9:10), and to live life with reverence toward God (12:13), accompanied by an awareness of future judgment (12:14), Solomon learned to live with life’s paradoxes by maintaining a proper attitude toward life and God.”

Solomon is saying life is rough and it doesn’t always go the way we think it should, but we need to do the best we can anyway and everything in this life is in God’s hands.
That sounds like pretty uplifting and practical counsel for all of us!
Tomorrow we will delve into Song of Songs, Song of Solomon, or Canticles. No matter what you call it, Solomon is clearly in a better mood in this book!
See you tomorrow!
Maria Knowlton

(Photo credit: http://www.slideshare.net/drrickgriffith/eccl-12v8-14-finishing-well62)

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Wisdom from The Princess Bride – And Solomon, Of Course.

Ecclesiastes 5-8

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Wednesday, February 1

I promise, King Solomon is going to offer us wise, uplifting counsel.  It’s just not going to be in today’s reading. Today’s themes are the futility of work ( we’ve heard that before), the wisdom of solemn considerations, the overall unfairness of life.
Chapter 5 opens with a warning to not pretend to please God with foolish words or hasty vows.  Solomon then warns against hoarding riches.  In verse 10 basically Solomon is saying, Mo’ money, Mo’ problems.
He does end the chapter with the positive observation that finding joy in one’s work and activities is a gift from God. If we are occupied with gladness of heart from God, we don’t have time to reflect, sadly I suspect, on the days of our lives.
Chapter 6 restates what Solomon said in chapter 4. In fact, in both he states that it would have been better to never have been born (verse 3 in chapter 4 and verse 3 in chapter 6) than to live a futile life.
I love verse 7:1.  We always celebrate the birth of a baby, in part, for all the hope the baby represents.  We celebrate not the death at the end of a person’s life, but rather the fulfillment of that hope.  Solomon is saying this celebration is better than the one at birth. In addition to celebrating that person, it reminds us of our own mortality and the need to make our time matter.  The following verses add to this thought.
When I was at Ball State for a whole semester, I was terribly homesick.  I found verse 7: 8, “The end of the matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”  I wrote it on a piece of paper and pinned it to the wall.  It reminded me to be patient, the semester would end soon and it would certainly be better than the beginning. I would learn something from this awful experience.  I don’t remember where I thought the pride  part fit in, but it made sense to me at the time! This verse meant a lot to me and got me through that semester.
Most of Chapter 8 seems to suggest that King Solomon believed that if you do good, you will be rewarded.  But some of the verses (10 and 14) point to the fact that sometimes the wicked are rewarded and the good are punished.  I have several friends who go to tanning beds.  I have several friends who do not.  Would you believe two of my friends and I, who have never seen the inside of a tanning bed, are the ones who got skin cancer!!!! Talk about not fair! I am not saying tanning is wicked or that I want my tanning friends to get skin cancer, but it is frustrating to do all the “right” things and still suffer.  I think King Solomon understands my frustration. : )
I suspect Solomon would agree with the grandfather in The Princess Bride.  “Who says life is fair, where is that written?”  It certainly isn’t written in this chapter (or any scripture for that matter)!  God has never promised His children an easy or “fair” life.  Solomon knew that.  But he also knew that serving God is the only way to give meaning to life.  He will reassure us of this in tomorrow’s reading.
Until then, Maria Knowlton

When asked to give a short bio of herself Maria said, “I have one great husband, two wonderful kiddos, and will be a nurse in 12 months!”.  Those who know Maria would also add that she brings joy and life to every project she attacks (be it heading up the school science fair, providing first aid at Family Camp, being a spokesman for Indiana Donor Network, attending nursing school, or teaching at church in northern Indiana).  She is a model of faithfulness as she points others to her faithful God. 
 
 

(Photo credit: https://dailyverses.net/ecclesiastes/5/10/esv)

Nothing New Under the Sun

Chapters 1-4 of Ecclesiastes (eh/kle/see/as/tees; which might rhyme with “meh – see the nasties”)

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Tuesday, January 31

Many Bible books were named from a key word near the start of the book, which often means they are named after the author. That is sort-of the case with Ecclesiastes, but the author’s name isn’t used in the book so it picks up a title the author took. In Hebrew that title could mean “lecturer”: it comes from the word for “gatherer” and the idea is that he gathered information and then passed it along. When the book got translated into Greek this lecture-teaching was described as preaching, so its title now is a word for “preacher.” You might wish that the name of the book was translated to English when the book was. (By the way, “ecclesia” is the Greek word that normally is translated as “church” in the New Testament). We read the book of Proverbs, a collection of wise statements that often gives advice. We read the book of Psalms, a collection of poems which often call on God. You could get the impression that our current book is a collection of downer thoughts about life. That is how a lot of people have read this book, and it is understandable if some of what we read in Ecclesiastes seems sad to us, but there is more going on here than that.

In over 20 places the book says a thing is “meaningless”, but that doesn’t mean “don’t do it”, it is more about looking at things from a long perspective and saying that the “meaningless” event or action doesn’t really change things. Certainly that is true if we look at things from the perspective of generations (1:3). The verses keep returning to the idea of our work, our labors. In the short term they can bring us satisfaction, and we are meant to accept that, it is a gift from God (3:13). But we also should be careful how we view things, never totally forgetting the big picture.

If you haven’t heard the song that Pete Seeger made out of the lines in 3:1-8, check it out (“To Everything There is a Season”). Part of the point of the verses is that we can never emphasize one thing as “the point” for our actions, what is pushed in one direction will also be pushed in another. Nothing we change stays that way forever.

An obvious example for this is eating. You can feel really hungry, say right before a church potluck that has been delayed, and then a few minutes after you eat you have no interest in food at all. But a few hours later you will be hungry again. You can’t eat enough to end the cycle, and we can ask how much importance there is in any one meal we ever eat – but we certainly cannot skip all of them.

So, that cupcake you ate the other week may have tasted good, but does it still please you? That binge-session on Netflix of sit-com episodes? Almost certainly meaningless. The test you are studying for may make a big difference to your grades – but for how many years will it matter what grades you received? It is possible to poke holes in every form of human labor and success, but “wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness” (2:13). The wise person may recognize, like the Preacher, that success is temporary in this world, but it is still better to be wise.

The Preacher / Teacher is described as a king of Jerusalem, and many people tag him as Solomon late in life. It may require being a powerful king to test all the things the Preacher tested, to see what would make him happy. He could do what he wanted, and none of it was enough. But some of the simplest things, the inexpensive things, can bring happiness to us – we just know that none of it lasts. “Happily ever after” doesn’t have much sense behind it, because people are not immortal, and the struggles of this world don’t just get skipped over for the people who want to serve God.

In a way this book is an extended piece of wise-talk, like Proverbs has, but directed to just one issue – what the point of this life is. If this world were the one God was aiming for in the first place we could expect the Preacher to give us a more positive answer, but this world is what resulted from sin. God is in the process of fixing things.

This is the book about “meaningless” (temporary) things where there is “nothing new under the sun” (in this world) and both wise and foolish people “chase after the wind” but can’t catch it, and get nothing from the chase. But along with all the comments about our work not changing things, or being undone or forgotten, we get comments about the endless importance of what God does (3:14). Maybe that is a hint at the future. What God does lasts forever, and God sent Jesus to die for us and God raised Jesus from death as the first-fruits of many who will come to immortality and live with him forever.

If you find yourself getting dragged down by anything this book says, you could question if that is because it is telling you truth you didn’t want to know about something that you have considered to be more important than it should be. But don’t ever let yourself get brought to despair by this scripture or by anything at all – always remember that the story is not over

-Daniel Smead

Daniel grew up in Missouri, then attended Oregon Bible College, Atlanta Bible College, and Columbia Theological Seminary. He has pastored in Eden Valley, Minnesota, and now attends the Pine Grove Bible Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He has worked for many years editing adult Sunday School lessons, and also writes some (slowly). He is trying to create a card game about the first few centuries of Church history (very slowly). He also recognizes in himself a tendency to focus on a thing(s) more than he should, and the need to put things in God’s hands and leave them there – so if that describes you, you are not alone. God bless you.  : )

(photo credit: http://keywordsuggest.org/gallery/386871.html)