We are excited about beginning our New Testament Bible Reading plan this coming Sunday. The rest of this week we will be hearing from various writers on what God’s Word means to them. Today, we are pleased to hear from Seth Ross, the Executive Director of the Church of God General Conference and Atlanta Bible College President.
Over the years, I have found certain portions of Scripture have come back to encourage me over and over. Revelation 21 is one of those chapters that encourages me when I’m down, it comforts me when I’m in pain, and it excites me when… well, all the time. When I’ve lost people close to me (grandparent, parent, etc) the particular verses below have given me comfort in what God has in store for us. On days when I’m not sad, this same passage excites me about what is coming and it gives me strength to make spiritual decisions that might not make sense to most people. In this special chapter, in this special section, there’s one special verse that gives me a sense of how much God loves for each of us individually and how much he really cares. This is what can encourage you to read the rest of the Bible through the year to see what else God has in store for you.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” ~Revelation 21:4
And now another exciting episode from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Here we find Solomon, as cheerful as ever, saying that he “hated life” and all the work that he had done. Not only does it not bring lasting satisfaction but anything that lasts beyond our life will likely end up going to some schmuck who does not deserve it, has not earned it, and will not appreciate it. A great misfortune indeed!
Verses 22-23 are kind of an “ah-ha” moments though. He uses the phrase “anxious striving” and states that “all his days” there is “pain and grief” and at night “his mind does not rest.” Solomon is talking about the drive that pushes many of us. It is a drive to provide a “better” life, to have more, to do more, and to never be … satisfied. This drive causes anxiety, pain, and grief. What does it get us though? We are never satisfied because we are never where we want to be and we never will be. Not here in this world at least. It frustrates our days and disrupts our nights. Think about it. When you set a goal, where you want to be or accomplish in a year, what happens once you have met that goal? You set another goal! “A chasing after the wind.”
Now Solomon is not condemning ambition or general goal setting. As a matter of fact he says in verses 24-25, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He goes on to say that the godly will be granted wisdom, knowledge and happiness. To the sinner… a consolation prize of fruitless labor! He will not have satisfaction in his work and may not even see the fruits of his labor. We see examples of this type of judgment throughout Scripture as well as in and around our lives. This is a temporal judgment though, in the here and now. A giving and taking away of that which will ultimately perish.
Then Solomon says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” He says activity for a reason and it is because an activity is something deliberate. It is a willful act and so for every willful act there is a time, a point in time, and a season, a duration. This opening line gives way to a poem on fourteen opposites, each of which happens in its own time. He illustrates this in a multiple of seven, which is the number signifying completeness. Additionally, he utilized polar opposites in a poetic form known as merism that suggests totality. In this way Solomon affirms that all activities, both constructive and destructive, and all responses to all things happen in their time. Too deep? Then let me break it down.
The poem begins with life and death, the beginning and end of life. Two events over which we have little to no control over. He continues with deliberate acts of one who begins and ends plant life, takes and saves human life, and constructs and destroys buildings. All concepts of life and death. From these thoughts he writes of our responses to such events: weeping and morning and their opposites, laughing and dancing and all of the joy found in them. He then switches from life and death to man’s interest in things and his affections towards people. This is followed with a period of mourning and the completion of the mourning, when one would begin again to move forward in life. Of course it all ends with concepts that are as significant as the ones he began the poem with. They are two of life’s basic emotions with war and peace being the most poignant expression of each one.
Truly, the burden laid upon us is that we have knowledge and understanding. We see this great big world around us and realize its satisfactions are too small for us. He has placed within us knowledge of eternity but we cannot fully grasp it yet. We know that we likely play a role in God’s plan but do not fully understand what God’s plan is for our lives. Despite this we can trust that He will “make everything beautiful in its time.” This is the burden God has laid upon us.
For those who do not know God, they may see Him as arbitrary but Solomon described the nature of God’s plan and what the appropriate response of men should be. He has seen it all from beginning to end. He knows the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. And to all will come His righteous judgment. For the wicked and the righteous, for the just and unjust, a time will come.
“But he says that we are like animals? That we have no advantage over them?”
We were all dust and have received life from God. To the dust we will all return so in that he is correct. We are like animals with no advantage. Verse 21 however shows us a difference. The fact that we are capable of contemplating what happens to our spirit is an advantage. This awareness is an advantage. To wonder at the awesome power of God and to be inquisitive enough to seek after Him. Again though, it is an advantage that is also our burden. To ask why we are here? What is our purpose in His plan?
The answers to all of this will come … in its time.
To be continued …
In the beginning of Genesis 39, Joseph has just been sold to a new master named Potiphar. During the course of the chapter, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into prison. The chapter ends as Joseph goes from being a slave to being a prisoner. Sounds pretty bad, right? Strangely enough, the chapter starts out by saying of Joseph the slave, “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.” The chapter ends by saying of Joseph the prisoner, “The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” So God was with Joseph and gave him success and prosperity even as a slave and a prisoner. Sounds very strange to me. It would seem to me that success would be not being a slave and not being a prisoner. But Joseph understood some things that many of us never understand.
We can learn a lot of good things from Joseph. Whatever happened in his life, he kept on trying to live for God. He continued to have a good attitude and he continued to work hard. He didn’t pout, become discouraged, depressed or cry out, “Why me?”
How about you? When you go through tough times, do you continue to seek God and discover His will? Do you try to keep a positive attitude? Would you keep working hard if you were in Joseph’s shoes? We will soon see how God’s plan unfolded in Joseph’s life. Feel free to read ahead in the Bible on this story of Joseph. It is way more interesting than a TV show.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We all have times when it feels like nothing is going right. School is hard, and you think maybe you should take a break. Your job is going nowhere, and it seems like your boss doesn’t like you. We’ve all been there! These are difficult times to trust God has a plan for all of us and even those times we feel like all our plans are for nothing. Take some time to reflect on the people you have contact with, could they be the people you need to share the message of Jesus and the salvation He offers. Sometimes when our plans seem to be failing, it is really God’s plan coming together!
In Acts Chapter 24 the Jews get lawyered up and travel to Caesarea because their convictions against Paul are so strong that they feel “justice” is imperative. Their case is simple, “We don’t want to take up too much of your time. Just believe us when we say this man is a pest and a troublemaker.” Then Paul makes another eloquent speech and isn’t interrupted this time. He takes every opportunity afforded him to bring up the hope of the resurrection. Paul points out that he agrees with the Jews on a lot of things and wants to worship as other Jews do in the temple. It doesn’t seem like Felix finds any fault with Paul, and yet Paul stays in prison for 2 years while Felix is governor.
It is estimated that Paul spent 5 ½ to 6 years in prison during his whole ministry. It seems like such a long time. We know that while he was imprisoned he would still try to further the work of God by writing letters, but I can imagine that he spent an agonizingly long time waiting on God to do something. How often did he pray for God to help him? How often did he think about how unfair it was that he was wrongfully imprisoned in the first place? How often did he regret that he couldn’t be out speaking and teaching? What was God’s purpose for the 2 year imprisonment anyway? No one really knows except God.
I teach the teenagers at our church and I remind them often that we must patiently wait for the LORD to reveal His plans for us. His way is worth waiting for. I wish I could spare them some worry and tell them that God has told me who they will marry, where they need to live, what kind of job to strive for…I would LOVE to be able to do that for them because I remember what it was like. So much of the time we have to just seek, wait, love, and trust that God knows what He is doing.
I love the book of Acts as we get a glimpse into Paul’s missionary journeys! In this exciting chapter (go ahead and read it all) Paul begins his second missionary journey with Silas.
Right off the bat we get to meet Timothy and Lydia – two faithful believers at their start. One thing I love about FUEL is looking out over the crowd and seeing the youthful energy and passion – and knowing that they won’t stay youth too long. It is fun to wonder who might one day be my pastor, or my pastor’s wife? Who might go on a missions trip with one of my children? Who might teach a class at FUEL to my grandkids (years and years from now)? The Christian life is a process of growth and ups and downs and new experiences and deeper maturity. It’s fun to see the first steps of this developing growth in our church youth – and in those touched by Paul’s ministry.
One of the signs of growing in your faith – which can even be difficult for those who have been Christians a long time – involves putting your own plans aside when God would have you go in a different direction. Here, Paul and companions (which now includes young Timothy) “were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (vs. 7). I wonder how the Spirit of Jesus worked this time: torrential rain flooded out the road, lost passport, contagious disease in town… Can you think of a time when you were upset by something that suddenly changed your plans? Looking back now, is there a chance that instead of circumstance or bad luck it was actually God leading you where He had a job for you to do?
Even when it looked like “bad luck” landed Paul and Silas into jail….God was at work. And, with continued faith in God and His plans, Paul and Silas were singing and praising God in their chains. At the time, they didn’t know that later that night an earthquake would open the jail doors and unfasten their chains. But they sang praises to God. They didn’t know that the jailer and his family would be baptized that very night, because of the life examples and testimonies of the faithful witnesses. But they were praying to God – and the rest of the prisoners were listening.
Beware of crumbling under your “bad luck”. Instead, keep growing your faith in God. Continue praying and singing praises to God. You never know who is listening and how it might also change their life and the lives of their family.