Friday, January 31, 2014

Better Than Life

- To David, God's unfailing love is better than life itself. Therefore, he continued to praise God and sing praises to Him even in the midst of great distress.
-
If we treat our life as a gift from the Lord and not as a right to be happy, safe, and secure...If we truly believe that God's love is better than life and remember that nothing can separate us from His love, then by His grace, we can be strong & confident in our faith and continue to glorify Him...come what may. God alone can satisfy our deepest longings. Jesus is all we ever need. He alone suffices. Anything else in life is extra.
- Life is hopeless and meaningless without Christ...without God's love for us. Because of God's unconditional and sacrificial love for us, Christ came to die in our place to give us eternal life (John 3:16). In Christ, we are complete/fully satisfied, lacking nothing.
- Like David, we should respond to God's love with praise and thanksgiving.
- My haiku based on Psalm 63:3-5.
Each breath that I take
Testifies of Your sweet grace
I live for You, Lord!

You alone suffice
Your unfailing love for me
Yes, better than life!

Fully satisfied
My lips will glorify You
As long as I live

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Power of God's Word

- God's Word is living, life-changing, active/dynamic as it works in us. God's Word is alive because God (the Author of the Bible) is always present. He speaks to us through His Word.
- God's Word has power to penetrate the inmost depths of the human heart, soul and spirit. Like a surgeon's knife, the Word of God cuts to the heart and reveals who we are and what we are not. It penetrates the core of our moral and spiritual life.
- God's word judges/examines/admonishes the innermost thoughts and heart attitudes. It discerns what is within us, both good and bad. It evaluates our every motive and desire.
- Spiritual surgery is necessary for our heart/life transformation. New creation. New heart. New mind. New desires. New ambition and purpose. New affections. New way of living.
- Be doers of the Word, not just hearers. In order to live out what God wants us to do, we need to first know what He wants us to do by reading/studying His Word. Then obey/apply it!
- S.H.A.R.P.E.R. (I don't remember where I found this acronym.)
  S ame as original (99% accuracy)
  H istorically accurate
  A rchaeologically verified
  R eliable manuscripts
  P rophetic
  E xtraordinary impact
  R elevant
- "How to increase your faith: Expose your mind to God's Word, more & more, more & more, more & more." ~James MacDonald

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thirst No More!

- Water from the well or from anywhere else has to be consumed again and again yet we will still be thirsty again and again. But the water Jesus gives will so completely satisfy us that we shall never thirst. Such is the refreshment of eternal life!
- We can draw a parallel to the repeated sacrifices required in the old covenant compared with the one-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God that fully satisfies God's wrath... that paid the penalty for our sins in full.
- God is called the Spring of Living Water (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). By saying that He would bring living water that could forever quench a person's spiritual thirst, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. Only the Messiah could satisfy the soul's desire.
- "What is the greatest crime in the desert? Finding water and keeping silent." (~Eastern proverb) We, Christians, have found the living water, but...have we been keeping silent? We live in a spiritually dry and thirsty land; yet we are often oblivious to this need. Have we committed the greatest crime in the spiritual desert? Are we truly loving others as ourselves? Are we doing all we can to reach the lost...to help quench their thirst by leading them to the Living Water...to show them that only Jesus offers lasting spiritual satisfaction?
- Are we looking for people and/or things to fulfill and satisfy us? They will not last and sooner or later, they will fail us or disappoint us, leaving us feeling empty/thirsty. Besides, they could become our idols if we place them above God or pursue them relentlessly, instead of God. People, places, and things are never meant to give us life's fulfillment. Christ alone is the Author of a fulfilling life! Only He can make us whole, complete, and fully satisfied.

"Thirst" by Phil Wickham

Wash over me like a tidal wave
Clean out what pulls me to the grave
Nothing left that You don't love

Take me where Your river flows
Heal the desert in my soul
Let it wash over my feet
All I'm asking for is just a drink

I thirst for You
Yes, my soul it thirsts for You
Even as the deer is panting for the stream
Even though my soul is thirsty
I thirst for You

Spirit of the living God
Would you fall afresh like rain on us
Burst the doors and flood the halls
Into forgotten rooms inside our hearts

And we will all be swept away
In the current of Your love and grace
Living water flow to me
All I'm asking for is just a drink

I thirst for You
Yes, my soul it thirsts for You
Even as the deer is panting for the stream
Even though my soul is thirsty
I thirst for You

One thing I ask and I would seek
To see You there in front of me
With nothing standing in the way
Just me before You unashamed

I thirst for You
I thirst for You
You're the well that won't run dry
Only You can satisfy

I thirst for You
I thirst for You
Living water flow to me
All I ask is just one drink
I thirst for You

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Vine and the Branches

- Jesus is the Vine; we are the branches. From the Vine comes the life; from the branches which receive life and nourishment from the Vine comes the fruit. Our abiding in Him connects us to the Source of Life and divine power and His abiding in us brings a steady supply of fruit. The condition of fruitfulness depends on our relationship with Christ. A branch detached from the vine is unfruitful, dead, useless.

- "Remain"--stay, dwell in, abide. We must cling to Christ like a branch attached to the vine because apart from Christ, our efforts are unfruitful. As branches, we can only grow and produce spiritual fruit so long as we continue to be connected to the Vine. This verse gives a beautiful picture of our spiritual union with Christ and our dependence on Christ.

- "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27b)--Christ in us means that we have access to unlimited supply of His power, strength, wisdom, and love.

- "Your fruitfulness comes from Me." (Hosea 14:8b)--Our spiritual life hinges upon living in active dependence on Christ. We must remain humble; we must resist the pride that may come as a result of fruitfulness. "Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (2 Corinthians 3:5)

- "Fruit"--spiritual fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, qualities of Christian character, Christlikeness, proof distinguishing who Christ's disciples are (John 15:8), lasting fruit/fruit that makes an eternal impact (John 15:16)

- Apart from Christ (having a disconnection with our Lord and Savior, our life-giving power), our life will be fruitless, exhausted, and wasted...we can do nothing worthwhile in God's eyes. We humans are prone to wander...prone to draw strength from our own flesh.
That's why we need to be intentional about how we live. Is Christ the Center of our lives? Are we one with Christ? When we remain in Christ and Christ remains in us, we will bear much fruit. That's a guarantee!

"O to grace how great a debtor 
daily I'm constrained to be! 
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, 
bind my wandering heart to thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above." 
(last stanza of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson) 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Time Alone with God

- Jesus often slipped away from the multitudes, seeking solitude to spend time alone with His Father. He took time to pray.

- We must follow His example by finding time to spend with God alone (away from others...from the distractions of the world). It is not always easy but it is vital. We have to breathe in before we can breathe out. In order to serve God effectively, our prayer life must be active. If we neglect our quiet time with God and think we can just go on serving God with our own strength and effort, we will crash and burn. Exhausted and burned out.

- How is our relationship with our Heavenly Father? Do we talk with Him everyday...many times a day...all throughout the day? Or we only talk with Him when we need something from Him?

- "Spend plenty of time with God; let other things go, but don't neglect Him." Oswald Chambers

- No Time For God....but
Time for work and play
Time for dance and shows
Time for pinochle and bridge
Time for lodges and politics
Time for Sunday golf and baseball
Time for newspapers and funnies
Time for novels and magazines
Time for fashions and radio
Time for television and gardens
Time for parties and parades
Time for everything under the sun
Except for God.  (taken from an old tract)
I would also add, "Time for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, emails, etc. but no time for God's Word" (real problem for some people). Sometimes it seems we just have no time for God. We seem to find time for everything else but have a difficulty finding time to pray, worshipread, study, memorize God's Word...to just spend time with Him, sitting at His feet. "If satan can't make us bad, he'll make us busy." (John West)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Book Review: The Reason for My Hope by Billy Graham

One of the most powerful four-letter words is "HOPE". If you watch (or read) the news, you easily see how much this world struggles with hopelessness. Billy Graham shares the reason for his hope: salvation which, in his opinion, is the most hopeful word in history. It's the same message he has been preaching for more than 70 years. In this book, he is urging readers to see the need for Christ with a sense of urgency. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings hope to us all. Jesus came to seek and save the lost; however, many people refuse to be saved. Many fail to realize that they are in need of a rescue. I enjoyed all the real-life stories shared in this book. I really appreciate Billy Graham's presentation of God's truths without any sugarcoating. He covers Who Jesus is, what sin is, Christ's victory at the cross, evidence of Christ's resurrection, Hell, authentic faith/true Christianity, transformation, carnal "Christians," the cost of following Jesus, and the second coming of Jesus Christ. He's spot on his diagnosis of our society. At the end of the book, Billy Graham explains clearly how you can be saved. I highly recommend this engaging & encouraging book! Christ's redemption story is the most beautiful story no matter how many times we read or hear it. It renews and refreshes our hope. If you're not yet a Christian, please do not disregard God's warning of judgment and God's offer of redemption as in the days of Noah. Jesus is our only Hope for Heaven--the only Way to salvation! Don't leave earth without Him!

"There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus Christ. You either believe Him and live for Him or reject Him and live for yourself." (p. 83)

"Becoming a Christian means no longer living for yourself but for God in obedience to Him...To say you believe in Him and then continue living as though nothing has changed is to deny the power of God in your new life." (p. 114)

"It is interesting that the ancient Greek word for butterfly is psyche, meaning the very life of the soul. The caterpillar's transformation is a wonderfully symbolic picture of the miracle work of Christ in transforming a lost soul into a vibrant believer." (p. 116)

"Hope in the Lord is not a wish but an absolute assurance that man can be snatched from the fire of destruction and be saved into new life--changed by the mercy of Jesus Christ and declared righteous before His throne of grace." (p. 154)

"Today those who rebuke the world for its immorality and injustice are considered intolerant, but God's warning is a rebuke on man's sin, and His salvation will not be granted to those who continue in it." (p. 171, 172)


 ~I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. All the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Press On

- "Press on"--continue moving decisively forward, continue doing something in a determined way, despite difficulties, dangers, distractions, or opposition. The verb is in present tense which shows Paul's lifelong commitment and constant action/daily exercise. He didn't just coast through life. We also must keep moving onward and upward with zeal and endurance.
- We are Heavenbound. Heaven is our true home, our destination (the finish line).
- Let's picture ourselves as we're in a race (we studied Hebrews 12:1 on Wednesday). Like a runner, we must strain every muscle, exert every ounce of energy, focus on the goal to win the prize, and press on. It's hard work but it's worth it. We need God's strength to run; we cannot do on our own strength. Paul's goal is to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all that Christ wants him to be. That should be our goal, too.
- We must never take our eyes off our goal (target) to win the prize.This takes concentration (intentional focus) because the world, the devil, and our flesh try to distract us from the goal. The reason for running the race is to win the prize. The prize is seeing Christ face to face and sharing in His eternal glory, enjoying eternal perfection in Christ and blessedness in Heaven. O to know Christ fully, to be like Christ, and to be in perfect fellowship with Christ for eternity! This upward call of God (that brings us to salvation) is only in Christ Jesus, by His grace alone. The call is from Heaven inviting and directing us to Heaven. This reminds me of Colossians 3:1-2, "Since, then, you have been raise with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."
- What is your purpose? What is important to you? What do you pursue in life? When our passion is the pursuit of Christ and our purpose is a personal relationship with Christ that guarantees being with Him forever, everything else is meaningless by comparison. What we're passionate about is that for which we will make time and make effort.

"When the pathway seems long,
When temptation is strong,
When your strength's almost gone--
That's the time to press on."
~Hess

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Live Wisely

- As we reflected upon Psalm 90:12 on Tuesday, we knew life is short and we must live intentionally with an eternal perspective. Today's verses remind us of the same thing. We must be very careful/prudent about how we live/how we spend our time on this earth. We should live wisely, depending on God's wisdom to guide us and walking in faith and obedience.
- "Unwise" or "foolish" used in the Bible refers to moral rather than intellectual deficiencies. The fool don't lack mental powers but they misuse them. They don't have the fear of God and they ignore God's truths/principles/wisdom.
- "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." ~Jesus (Matthew 7:24) The difference between a wise man and a foolish man is obedience!
- We should take advantage of every opportunity to do God's will and to glorify God.
- "The days are evil"--Paul was communicating to readers his sense of urgency because of evil's prevalence. We need the same sense of urgency! Just look around and you'll see how prevalent evil is in our world these days. Yesterday, our President rejoiced over one of the saddest days in history! Unthinkable! Over the past 41 years since the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973, approximately 57 million unborn children have been denied their fundamental human right/their choice to live. "The widespread acceptance of abortion is a symbol or sign of something deeper within our society that should also concern us greatly. This is the tendency today to decide moral issues or questions only on the basis of whether or not they are convenient or bring pleasure to a person." ~Billy Graham
- We must be very careful and intentional about being light and salt in this world of darkness. People need the Lord! Let's make the most of every opportunity to share Christ's love and His message of redemption with others! Let's live wisely with integrity and do all we can to point people to Jesus!
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"Live in such a way that those who know you but don't know God, will come to know God because they know you." (~Anonymous) Our lives as Christ's followers should make nonbelievers question their disbelief in God.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Run the Race with Perseverance

- We are surrounded by a vast crowd of those who had run their race for God victoriously (including all the heroes of faith in Hebrew 11). They are witnesses who watch us run in the course of our faith life. Their faithfulness is an encouragement to us. We are not the first to struggle with the problems we face. Others have run the race and won; we can, too.
- We must cast aside anything that hinders our relationship with God and/or our spiritual growth. We must immediately cast aside sin upon recognition and not allow it to entangle/entrap us. We don't want these things to impede our running or knock us off course.
- "It is not the ship in the water but the water in the ship that sinks it. So it is not the Christian in the world but the world in the Christian that constitutes the danger. Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it." ~J. Wilbur Chapman
- Let us run the race marked out for us with patient endurance (perseverance)! This "running" (Christian living) involves hard work and intentional focus. Don't give up when things get tough. Look unto Jesus, the Ultimate Example of the faith life! We must keep our eyes on Him Who is the Pioneer (Leader/Author) and Perfecter (Finisher) of our faith. We will stumble if we take our eyes off Him to stare at ourselves or at our circumstances.
- One of my life verses (favorite verses): "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24) May we all be able to join Paul in saying, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Number Our Days

- This is a prayer of Moses asking God to teach us to live our lives with an eternal perspective. It should be our prayer, too. Realizing that life is short helps us use the little time we have here on earth more intentionally and for eternal good.
- "A heart of wisdom"--a heart that fears (reveres) & loves God and shuns evil (hates sin). "The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding." (Job 28:28) Wisdom begins with choosing to depend fully on God, applying God's truths and principles in our relationships & daily circumstances, and understanding that both obedience and disobedience (sin) have consequences.
- "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16) Each day is a gift from the Lord. I want to live my days according to His Word and His will, spending my time on earth wisely and for His glory. I want to live each day in the light of eternity, keeping an eternal perspective with me always. "Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs." ~Jonathan Edwards
- Just being alive each day is not the same as "living." What are our days filled with? What do we want to see happen in our lives before we die? What would we like people to remember us for? What steps could we take today toward that purpose?  Whatever you do, don't waste your life.
- After reading Psalm 90, I recommend you read Ecclesiastes and reflect upon life :)! I've recently finished reading Life Stinks...And Then You Die by Bob Hostetler. It's a book about Ecclesiastes. If you're interested, you can read my review of the book here.
- I think this quote by Jim Elliot sums up about numbering our days and gaining a heart of wisdom :). "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Let us live intentionally in conscious communion with God and in the light of eternity in such a way that most glorifies God, always doing the will of God.
- To ponder: "If we could live every day as though it may be the very last one before the final judgment, what a difference it would make here on earth." ~Billy Graham

Monday, January 20, 2014

Be Imitators of God

- Just as little children learn to do things by imitating their parents, we, as dearly loved children of God, should imitate God, our Heavenly Father. Follow His example/footsteps.
- God's children are to live differently, not like the world. Can people see a family resemblance? We belong to God's family. "If we claim to have fellowship with Him (God) and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth." (1 John 1:6) "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
- Who is our role model? Who is our children's role model? The world tries to elevate famous singers/movie stars/athletes, etc. as role models. As Christ's followers, Jesus Christ should be our Ultimate Role Model! Copy Christ!
- I wrote the following poem in 1995. Each year I hope and pray that I will be more like Christ than the year before.

I want to be a sweet daughter

Who makes her mom laugh and smile,
Helps out when her mom gets older,
And does her best as a grateful child

I want to be a submissive wife
Who serves and supports her husband,
Loves and respects him even in the midst of strife,
Shares memories, struggles, sorrows, and fun

I want to be a caring mother
Who's always there for her kids,
Helping them grow stronger and wiser,
And become spiritually rich

I want to be a dependable friend
Who tirelessly encourages others
I want to be a cheerful giver
Who expects nothing in return

I want to be a fruitful missionary
Who wins lost souls to the Lord for eternity
I want to be a loving neighbor
Who puts above self concerns for others

I want to be a faithful prayer warrior
Who won't stop praying 'til things get better
I want to be a joyful worshiper
Who sings praises to the Lord forever and ever

I want to be a kind "Good Samaritan"
Who readily tries to meet any needs, assist anyone
I want to be a true Christian example
Who keeps trusting God through any trials and troubles

The secret lies in JESUS
Who lives within us
I want to walk in His love and in His light
I want all I say and do to be pleasing in His sight

What I really want to say is...
I want to be...like CHRIST!

- In order to become like Him, we must understand what He is like. God is love. Do we love like He does? Sacrificially, selflessly, and unconditionally! To imitate Him, we must know His attributes/His character. Keep reading/studying God's Word to know Him more.
- Prayer: Lord, please mold me and make me be more like You every day. May Your vision be my vision, Your passion be my passion, and Your compassion be my compassion! When the world looks at me, I hope and pray that they will say, "Like Father, like daughter." Help others to see not me, but only Christ in me. In Jesus' Name, I pray. Amen!


Friday, January 17, 2014

FIRST WildCard Tour: Life Stinks...And Then You Die by Bob Hostetler

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Leafwood Publishers (November 12, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ryan Self for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOB HOSTETLER is a writer, editor, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His thirty books, which include the award-winning Don't Check Your Brains at the Door (co-authored with Josh McDowell) and Quit Going to Church, have sold over three million copies. He has won two Gold Medallion Awards, four Ohio Associated Press awards, and an Amy Foundation Award. He is a co-founder of Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio. He and his wife Robin have two grown children, Aubrey and Aaron. Bob and his family reside in Oxford, Ohio.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Life Stinks . . . And Then You Die is a gritty, honest look at the world around us and the world inside us. It is based on an ancient book of wisdom that many consider to be the Bible's most perplexing book, Ecclesiastes, to a man who seemed to have every advantage--wealth, education, and power could possibly offer--but still struggled to find happiness and meaning. It does not offer platitudes. No easy fixes. It doesn't spackle over the rough reality of life in the twenty-first century. But it does offer perspective. And hope. And a plan for living well in spite of all that's wrong with the world and with us.


Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (November 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0891123776
ISBN-13: 978-0891123774

My Review:
Great title for my new year's first read, eh :)? Actually, I did enjoy the book. Reading Ecclesiastes can make some feel depressed while making others become philosophical :). I guess the latter is true for the author. He explores the wisdom that King Solomon shared in Ecclesiastes and explains how it can be applied to our today's lives. Each chapter ends with a prayer. Everything is meaningless but living doesn't have to be hopeless. This book will help you ponder on the brevity of life and show you how to live well in a sin-sick world with the proper perspective (eternal perspective). Be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers. Pursue God, not pleasure, popularity, or prosperity. Find your fulfillment and satisfaction in God alone. The book also includes a wonderful group study guide. Funny and witty! Inspiring and encouraging! Grab this book, then get up, go, and live with gusto for God!


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Life’s Just a Bowl of Cherries.
Rotten Cherries.

It begins with a single, beautiful butterfly. A monarch butterfly, or perhaps its look-alike, a viceroy.
The butterfly lands on the side mirror of a large SUV, setting off the car’s anti-theft alarm. The noise startles a squirrel, which loses its perch on a branch and drops into a bowl of nuts or grapes next to a sunbathing woman. Frightened, she leaps up and screams, distracting the man across the street, who is washing his car. He inadvertently sprays the operator of a front loader, who loses control of his machine and launches a large rock into the air. The rock flies over a building and lands on the tongue of a boat trailer. The boat on the trailer flips into the air like a missile and crashes through the roof of a house as the home’s resident stands in front fixing his mailbox. Hearing the clatter behind him, the man slowly turns around to see a gaping boat-shaped hole in the roof of his house. The television commercial ends with an announcer’s voice: “Life comes at you fast. Nationwide. Investments. Retirement. Insurance.”
That effective advertisement was one in a series of Nationwide Insurance commercials that ran for five years, each bearing the tag line, “Life comes at you fast.” Some of the commercials featured celebrities such as MC Hammer, Fabio, and Kevin Federline. Many became big hits, and the series spawned numerous parodies on YouTube. By any measurement, the commercials were a success.
The ad campaign worked, of course, because the commercials were funny. But they also tapped into a nearly universally recognized truth: life does come at you fast. Sometimes blindingly fast. And it often leaves gaping holes and burning embers in its wake.

When Life Goes South
No one who has lived very long can deny that life is not all fun and games. It comes at you fast and often leaves a mark. That is the reason for the title of this book: Life Stinks . . . and Then You Die. But that’s not to suggest that life lacks all pleasure. Not at all. There is much in life that is beautiful and wonderful—a baby’s laugh, a friend’s hug, a mountain lake, a pie pulled fresh from the oven. As songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote (and Louis Armstrong famously sang), many lovely features of this world—trees of green, red roses, “the bright blessed day” and “dark sacred night”—can prompt a person to think, “What a wonderful world.”[i]
And, truth be told, many people do seem to skip blithely through the meadows of this world with nary a wound or scar. Day after day seems to shine on them. They wake up each morning with a smile on their face. They meet and marry the person of their dreams. Their children are always clean and obedient. Their cars never break down, their friends never betray them, and their jobs never get “outsourced” or “downsized.”
But it seems to me that most of those people are still quite young. The longer a person lives, the more pain he or she experiences. The older a person gets, the more tempting it is to become cynical. Jaded. Or, as some might put it, simply realistic.
Though I write full time these days, I have in my short lifetime been the pastor of four churches—one in southeast Ohio, one in northeast Ohio, and two in southwest Ohio. Being a pastor is, in some ways, like having a front row seat to life’s highest highs and lowest lows. Pastors are present not only at jubilant events like baptisms and weddings, but also at less-happy moments in hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes.
I suppose I’ll always remember July 4, 1985, when my wife and I were called to the hospital room of two dear friends. We expected to hear the news that Bud and Becky had welcomed their first child into the world. But we learned instead that their baby boy, whom they had named Jonathan, was stillborn. We cried together, cradled that tiny lifeless form in our arms, and held a bedside memorial service for that precious child—and for his parents’ countless hopes and plans for him.
Another entry in my pastoral records is for a young man named Jason. Just weeks into his senior year of high school, eighteen-year-old Jason was killed in an automobile accident on his way to school. The honor student planned to take his girlfriend to their senior homecoming celebration, which was to take place the next weekend.
Bill was a man in the church my wife and I had helped to start in Oxford, Ohio. He had recently moved to the area in secret, having escaped his former high position in a satanic coven in Pennsylvania. He found our church, became a follower of Jesus, and made many new friends. He was baptized on the Sunday before Christmas 2002. Just two months later, however, one of his new friends went to call on him at his apartment. Bill didn’t answer. He had died of a massive heart attack in the middle of the night.
Those are just three of many people with whom I have hurt and cried over the years. The worst of it is, their experiences are not unique. Many others could share tales of one heartbreak after another, stories of disease, divorce, depression, abuse, addiction, poverty, and pain. Even if your life has been largely pleasant and generally positive to date, you have certainly endured some painful experiences—if you are old enough to read this book, that is. And while those experiences may not yet have pierced your optimism and sunny disposition, you may someday wonder (as many others do) if it is possible to live well when life seems to curdle and sour. You may hunger for hope. For answers. For something more real and lasting than well-meaning platitudes.
That is what I hope to supply in the coming pages of this book. However, I won’t be alone in that endeavor. I will rely on another guide, someone who experienced more of life, wealth, wisdom, and experience than I could ever claim.

Wiser Than Anyone
He lived roughly one thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. His father was king. And not just any king, but a man who molded a kingdom out of a bunch of fractious tribes and warring factions. The father’s name was David; the son was given the name Solomon. The father was a shepherd, a poet, and a warrior; the son’s very name was “peace,” a form of the word shalom.
Upon the death of King David, Solomon became the king in Jerusalem, sometime around 967 BC. He reigned for forty years, presiding over a period in Israel’s history that is routinely called the “Golden Age.” His kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in present-day Syria to the Arabian Desert and the Gulf of Aqabah in the south. His crowning achievement was the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was renowned for his wisdom, wealth, and accomplishment, some of which is described in 1 Kings 4:25–34:

During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.
Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses.
The district governors faithfully provided food for King Solomon and his court; each made sure nothing was lacking during the month assigned to him. They also brought the necessary barley and straw for the royal horses in the stables.
God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.[ii]

Some of King Solomon’s proverbs are preserved in the book of Proverbs, in our Bible. At least one of his songs—the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon—is also a part of our Bible. The ancient rabbis, as well as many more recent authorities, suggested that Song of Songs was written when Solomon was a young man, and Proverbs was written (and perhaps compiled) in the middle years of his life. But a third book is often considered to have been the product of Solomon’s mind in his latter years, when he had seen it all, done it all, and bought the T-shirt, so to speak.

A Fine-Hammered Steel of Woe
The book of Ecclesiastes is often described as the strangest book of the Bible. George S. Hendry called it “Disjointed in construction, obscure in vocabulary, and often cryptic in style.”[iii] F. C. Jennings referred to it as “an enigma” and an “arsenal” for attacks against the Bible as God’s Word.[iv] On the other hand, Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, praised it as “the truest of all books . . . the fine-hammered steel of woe.”[v] And novelist Thomas Wolfe said, “Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known.”[vi]
Dr. A. F. Harper says that “Ecclesiastes is . . . like a diary in which a man has recorded his impressions from time to time,”[vii] and Dr. Charles Swindoll describes it as the journal of Solomon’s “mid-life crisis.”[viii]
However, it is not universally agreed that Solomon wrote it. He is never identified by name in the book. Instead, the first verse ascribes the book to “the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.”[ix] It is a clear reference to Solomon, though some scholars say he couldn’t have written the book, because of some of the words and phrasing it uses. In any case, there is no doubt that not only the first verse but the entire book refers to and relies on the life, wisdom, and experience of King Solomon.
The author is identified by a Hebrew word, Qoheleth (or Koheleth), which, when it was translated into Greek, became “Ecclesiastes,” and in English is rendered “Teacher.” Hendry explains: “The word is connected with qahal, the public assembly, and it suggests the kind of wisdom delivered by the speaker to those in the outer court, as distinguished from the ‘hidden wisdom’ which is known only to those who have been admitted to the mystery of God (1 Cor. 2:7).”[x]
It combines connotations of “prophet,” “priest,” and “king.” But there may also be a broader intention in the use of that word—and in the way the entire book is presented, according to Ronald B. Allen, senior professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary: “Solomon might have written this wisdom book as a tract for other nations. . . . Solomon had entertained many dignitaries from other nations, including the queen of Sheba. The queen’s questions concerning the basic meaning of life might have prompted him to write Ecclesiastes to teach the Gentiles about the living God.”[xi]
For all these reasons, I will most often refer to the author as Qoheleth in these pages. In doing so, I hope to preserve the author’s apparent intention to evoke the king’s wisdom and authority while simultaneously assuming an added aura of mystery and universality. I will also conclude each of the chapters in this book with a prayer, to help you apply and internalize the content of the preceding chapter at a deeper level. I truly believe the inspired words of Ecclesiastes can change your life, and those prayers are key to that process. I hope you won’t skip them. In fact, I hope you will do more than simply read them. I invite you to take the time and thought to pray each one, even aloud, because I believe that sincerely praying those words (and, ideally, even adding to them, according to how the Holy Spirit of God is moving you at that moment) will make you a partner with God in applying his Word to your life and bringing about real and lasting change, which is the purpose for which I write.
In any case, Ecclesiastes is of great value, and perhaps never more so than in this day and age, for people like you and me. Dr. John Paterson writes, “It would have been a great pity and a serious loss if a book that is meant to be the Bible of all men made no reference or failed to deal with the mood of scepticism which is common to all men.”[xii]
Swindoll adds, “I am pleased that we have this ancient book available today to set the record straight. All around us are people who are buying into [an] empty, horizontal, who-needs-God perspective. Their . . . whole frame of reference is humanistic. We see it lived out in soap operas every afternoon and on prime time every night. We hear it in political speeches. We learn it in the halls of academia, on the streets of any city.”[xiii]
Is this life all there is? Is it best summed up as, “Life stinks . . . and then you die”? Is it inevitable for the potential and optimism of youth to falter and fade in the harsh light of disease, divorce, depression, abuse, addiction, poverty, and pain? Or is it possible to live well in spite of such dangers and disasters? Does the wisest man who ever lived have any wisdom to impart to us, thirty centuries later?
I think so. And I can’t wait to show you why.

* * *

Lord God, I am ready. I am open. I am willing and waiting to hear your voice speaking to me through the words of Qoheleth. Please use this “fine-hammered steel of woe”—this book of Ecclesiastes—as well as the pages of this book that follow and the time and attention I invest in them to shine a light on my experiences, struggles, disappointments, defeats—and victories. Use this book to teach me how to live well when life seems to curdle and sour. Use these pages to speak far more than well-meaning platitudes—speak your truth and your will to my listening ears and waiting heart. Impart hope. Give insight. Meet needs—not only my needs in this moment, but those that you know will arise in the days and weeks and months ahead. Guide me through this book so that when I have finished reading it will have been far, far more than an interesting intellectual exercise. Please make it a life-changing experience, in Jesus’ name, amen.




Chapter 1: Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries. Rotten Cherries.
[i] Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World,” 1967, Memory Lane Music Group, Carlin Music Corp., and Bug Music, Inc.
[ii] 1 Kings 4:25–34 nlt.
[iii] George S. Hendry, “Ecclesiastes,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised (London: Inter–Varsity Press, 1970), 570.
[iv] F. C. Jennings, Old Groans and New Songs: Being Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes (London: S. Bagster and Sons, Ltd., 1920), 1.
[v] Herman Melville, Moby Dick (New York: Pocket Books, 1999), 424–425.
[vi] Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again (New York: Scribner, 2011), 628.
[vii] A. F. Harper, “Ecclesiastes,” Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), 549.
[viii] Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 17.
[ix] Ecclesiastes 1:1.
[x] Hendry, 570.
[xi] Ronald B. Allen, “Ecclesiastes,” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 779.
[xii] John Paterson, The Book That Is Alive (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1954), 120.
[xiii] Swindoll, 16.


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