Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What About Mary?

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:34-35a).

What is the truth about Mary, the mother of Jesus?
  • Mary did not have sexual relations with God. Mormons believe that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary, but the Bible never says this.
  • Mary had a normal delivery. Though Jesus was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit, He was born the same way all human babies are born.
  • Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Matthew 1:25 says, “[Joseph] had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son.” The words “until she gave birth” imply that Joseph did have sexual relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Also, in Luke 2:7, Jesus is described as Mary’s “firstborn” child, which suggests that she had additional children. The New Testament repeatedly makes this claim (Matthew 12:46-50; 13:55-57; Mark 3:31-35; 6:3-4; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19). Jesus conception was unique; the conception of His brothers and sisters was ordinary. Finally, God designed marriage to include physical union (Genesis 3:24). Paul writes that not fulfilling one’s “marital duty” (under normal circumstances) is wrong (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
  • Mary was not sinless. Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the idea that she was born without any stain of original sin. However, Mary herself declared, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). A sinless person does not need a Savior.
  • Mary deserves our gratitude, not our adoration.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Rejection of Jesus



Part 1 of a Born to Die




















THE IDENTITY OF THE SUFFERING SERVANT


This week I caught a few minutes of Oprah’s Favorite Things episode. You have probably seen one of these episodes. Oprah reveals all of her favorite things and gives them for free to ecstatic audience members. This year’s list of Favorite Things included a 7-day cruise, a 52-inch 3D television, and a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. Obviously, these are very nice things and it’s always nice to get free stuff, but isn’t it true that these things can only bring temporary joy? As I watched the excitement of the studio audience, I thought of the indifference many people show toward the message of Jesus Christ. If we get excited about anything, we should get excited that Jesus came to earth to give us lasting joy. He was born to die for our salvation.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the fourth and final Servant Song in the book of Isaiah. Who is the suffering servant in this passage? (Judaism believes that Israel is the servant.)

The suffering servant is Jesus Christ.

  • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  • “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what was written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37). The book of Isaiah was written about 700 years before the birth of Jesus.
  • “Now the passage of the Scripture that [the Ethiopian eunuch] was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth?’ And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:32-35).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
  • “Isaiah said these things because he saw [Jesus'] glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41; see also vv. 36b-40). Isaiah 53:1 is quoted in verse 38.

A SHOCKING SAVIOR


The suffering servant is shocking in two ways:
  • His exaltation is shocking. Behold, my servant shall act wisely [prosper]; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted (52:13). In three other verses in Isaiah, God is described as being “high and lifted up”: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (6:1). “‘Now I will arise,’ says the Lord, ‘now I will lift myself up’” (33:10). “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (57:15). Conclusion: the suffering servant (Jesus) is God (“high and lifted up”) who became a man (John 1:1, 14).
  • His disfigurement is shocking. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle [startle] many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand (52:14-15). Philippians 2:5-11 declares that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a servant and was willing to die for us on a cross. But after His humiliation, He was exalted, and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

A DISAPPOINTING SAVIOR


Isaiah 52:10 declares, “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The “arm of the LORD” is God’s power in action (50:2; 51:5, 9). Israel failed to recognize the “arm of the LORD” when it was revealed to them. They didn’t believe that salvation could be accomplished by the suffering servant.
  • He was unexpected. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (53:1). Israel was expecting a glorious king or a mighty warrior, not a suffering servant. This is probably why the people of Bethlehem were amazed at the shepherd's news of the Messiah's humble birth. They were expecting something more. “And all who heard [the shepherd’s news] wondered [were amazed, astonished] at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:19).
  • He was unimpressive. For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (53:2). Jesus was an ordinary looking man. The people of his hometown thought it was crazy when He claimed to have been sent to them from heaven. “[The people of Nazareth] said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’”
  • He was unwanted. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. And as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (53:3). Jesus was dismissed as nothing special.
There are two great contrasts in this passage: (1) the contrast between the Servant’s suffering and His exaltation and (2) the contrast between people’s perception of the Servant and His true identity.

THE SEASON OF GIVING

In this first part of this Servant Song, we are shocked at the depths to which the Savior falls. But in the end, we will be overcome with gratitude that His sufferings were for us (vv. 4-6).

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Think about what Jesus gave up when He came to earth. What are you willing to give up for God and others?

Leaving Home for Christmas

People like to go home for Christmas. (We're planning on going home to New Brunswick the day after Christmas.) Many of the favorite Christmas songs talk about going home for Christmas.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree


Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays

'Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways

For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home!


But Christmas is really about leaving home. That's what Jesus did. Christ traded His throne in heaven for a manger in Bethlehem. He exchanged the praise of angels for the mocking of His enemies. He gave up the glory of heaven for the agony and humiliation of the cross.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich [spiritually]" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The McLeods' Countdown to Christmas

Starting December 1st, I am going to attempt to add a new post to this blog each day as I count down the days until Christmas. Right now, I thought I would share a few things our family is doing this year to celebrate Christmas.

A couple of years ago my wife Marsha made an Advent calendar (see picture). There are 25 little pockets on the calendar, and in each of these pockets we put candy. Every morning from December 1st to Christmas Day, our two boys, Connor and Cohen, will enjoy the candy for that day. (Our daughter Sophie, who is six months old, will have to wait until next year to participate.)

This year I decided to add a new tradition to our Advent calender. Not only will there be candy each day, but also a Christmas Bible verse. I was pleased that my boys thought this was a good idea. It's a simple way to remind our children of the real meaning of Christmas. (If you are interested, I could email you a document containing these verses.)

We also bought a Lego Advent Calendar. (Just what we need...more Lego!) When we finally decided we wanted to get one, I thought they might have been completely sold out. But I was happy to find at a local Zellers store what might have been the last available Lego Advent Calendar (at least in the city of Halifax).

Right now we are in the process of making a Silent Night Nativity display. Marsha ordered the pattern online and traced it on a piece of plywood. Last Saturday I cut it out, and Marsha just started painting it a minute ago. Hopefully, we'll have it out on our front yard sometime this week.

Next year, I think I might expand the display (possibly adding some shepherds). Plus, I might build a sign to display a Bible verse (maybe Luke 2:11). Then I thought of a really ambitious idea. During the new year I might make a website that will explain the truth about who Jesus is and why He came to earth. Then on my Bible verse sign I will include the address to this site. This would be an attempt to share the message of Christ with my neighbors.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do You Have Room for Jesus?

When Jesus came to earth, there was no room for Him in most people's lives:
  • The people of Bethlehem: 2:7) "And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
  • Herod: "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed" (Matthew 2:3). "Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (v. 13).
  • The religious leaders: "When [Herod] had called all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied" (Matthew 2:4-5). Bethlehem was only a short distance from Jerusalem. Why didn't they go?
  • The people of Nazareth: "They said, 'Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I came down from heaven"?'" (John 6:42).
  • The people of Jerusalem: "'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'" (Matthew 27:21-23).
Why do people today not have any room in their lives for Jesus? Some people (like Herod) are actively opposed to Jesus. Some people (like the people of Nazareth) don’t really understand who Jesus is. Some people (like the people of Bethlehem) are preoccupied with other things they think are more important.

If it is true, as the Bible says, that salvation is found only through faith in Jesus, then we must make room for Him in our lives.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jesus: A Good Man or the God-Man?

What does the name "Jesus Christ" mean? “Jesus” (Greek) is equivalent to “Joshua” (Hebrew) and means “the LORD saves.” The angel instructed Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “Christ” (Greek) is equivalent to “Messiah” (Hebrew) and means “the anointed one” or "the chosen one." He was the one chosen to be the world's Savior.

It seems everyone has an opinion about Jesus:
  • John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock and roll or Christianity.”
  • Mikhail Gorbachev: “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “Jesus cannot be the only way to God.”
  • Liberal Christianity: Jesus was a good man, but not the God-man.
  • Islam: Jesus was merely a man and a prophet and was inferior to Muhammad.
  • Judaism: Jesus was a false messiah.
  • Mormonism: Jesus was only a man who became one of many gods.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: Before Jesus lived on earth, he was Michael the archangel.
  • The Da Vinci Code: The deity of Jesus is an idea the church created later.
  • Jesus’ enemies: “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
  • John, the apostle: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).
  • Paul, the apostle: “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!” (Romans 9:5).
  • Thomas, the apostle: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
  • C. S. Lewis: “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him, ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the sort of thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

--Philippians 2:5-11

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Jesus Is Better Than Santa Claus

Depending on one’s beliefs, either Jesus or Santa Claus is the main character of Christmas. Here are ten reasons why Jesus is better than Santa:
  1. Santa lives at the North Pole. Jesus is everywhere.
  2. Santa rides in a sleigh. Jesus walks on water.
  3. Santa comes but once a year. Jesus is an ever present help.
  4. You have to stand in line to see Santa. Jesus is as close as the mention of His name.
  5. Santa’s little helpers make toys. Jesus makes new life, mends wounded hearts, and builds mansions in heaven.
  6. Santa fills your stocking with goodies. Jesus satisfies your deepest needs.
  7. Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly. Jesus has a heart full of love.
  8. Santa says, “You better not cry.”Jesus says, “Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.”
  9. Santa comes down your chimney uninvited. Jesus stands at your heart’s door and knocks.
  10. Santa puts gifts under your tree. Jesus became our gift and died on a tree.

Jesus and Santa from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Everything Matters



Part 16 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 12:9-14


GOD’S WISDOM

The Preacher’s first and last words in Ecclesiastes are “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2; 12:8). This is his evaluation of “life under the sun.” If all you have is this life, in the end, you have nothing.

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care (v. 9).

Though the wisdom of Ecclesiastes was taught by the Preacher, it originated from God, the “one Shepherd” (v. 11).
  • God’s wisdom contains both pleasing and painful words. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth (v. 10). The Preacher was concerned with not only what he said, but also how he said it. His words were pleasing (artistic): “For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven” (3:1). “Two are better than one” (4:9). “A dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words” (5:3). “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (9:11). His words were also painful: “All is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:14). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (7:20). “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (12:7).
  • God’s wisdom provides correction and stability. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd (v. 11). "Goads" were sharp sticks used to move (not injure) stubborn or wayward cattle. The wisdom of the Bible often corrects us like a goad. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Saul of Tarsus was corrected by the ascended Christ on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14)."Nails" may refer to stakes that secured a shepherd's tent. If we follow the wisdom found in God's Word, our lives will gain stability.
  • God’s wisdom is often incompatible with man’s wisdom. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh (v. 12). There are thousands and thousands of books written and published every year. Many of these books are good. Many of them contradict the truth of Scripture. We don't have the time to read every book out there. We must give priority to the book that God has given us.

THE FINAL WORD

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments (v. 13a).

The book of Ecclesiastes concludes with two commands:
  1. Fear God. Fearing God is a recurring topic in Ecclesiastes (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13).
  2. Keep God's commandments. There is a link between fearing God and keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:1-2; 8:6; 10:12-13; 13:4; 31:12). The attitude of fearing God should result in the action of keeping His commandments.
Why should we fear God and keep His commandments? Two reasons: (1) This is our purpose. For this is the whole duty of man (v. 13b). “For this is man’s all” (NKJV). (2) We will face judgment. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (v. 14). When motivating children to obey, you can use one of two strategies: the threat of punishment or the promise of rewards. (Recently, I motivated my two boys to read by telling them I would give them a penny for every page they read. I called it "pennies for pages.") For the unbeliever, God’s judgment will determine the degree of punishment; for the believer, God’s judgment will determine the amount of rewards.

If there is no God, there is no Judge. If there is no Judge, there is no final judgment. If there is not final judgment, there is no ultimate meaning to life. If there is not ultimate meaning to life, nothing matters. But there is a God. There is a Judge. There is a final judgment. There is ultimate meaning to live. So everything matters!

Two attitudes toward keeping God’s commandments: (1) “I have to obey God” or “I want to obey God.” For example, people often ask, "Is tithing mandated for today, or is it just an Old Testament command?" Others, who believe in tithing, ask, "Do I have to give a tenth of my gross income or my net income?" As Christians, instead of asking "What do I have to give?" we should ask, "How much can I give?" Remember, God didn’t give us 10%. He gave us Jesus.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

Are you demonstrating your fear of God and love for God by keeping His commandments?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Series: Born to Die

As we near the Christmas season, I am planning a new four-part Christmas sermon series called Born to Die. In this series, I will be preaching on Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the fourth and final Servant Song in the book of Isaiah. Of course, Christians believe that the Suffering Servant in this passage is Jesus Christ, who "bore the sin of many" (v. 12). Jesus once declared, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). As we celebrate Christmas once again, we need to remember why Jesus was born. He was born to die.
  1. The Rejection of Jesus (52:13-53:3)
  2. The Substitution of Jesus (53:4-6)
  3. The Humiliation of Jesus (53:7-9)
  4. The Exaltation of Jesus (53:10-12)
Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,

and shall be exalted.

As many were astonished at you—

his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,

and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

so shall he sprinkle many nations;

kings shall shut their mouths because of him;

for that which has not been told them they see,

and that which they have not heard they understand.


Who has believed what he has heard from us?

and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.


Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—everyone—to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.


He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is lead to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit found in his mouth.


Yet is was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

The will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Remember Your Creator



A series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 11:7-12:8


SMILE?

This week I watched an old Charlie Chaplin film called Modern Times. In the film, Chaplin’s character struggles to find success and happiness in the modern, industrialized world. Chaplin composed the film’s musical score. The romance theme was later given lyrics (based on the movie’s story) and became the popular song “Smile.” (You may remember it being sung at Michael Jackson’s memorial service by his older brother Jermaine.)
Smile, though your heart is aching;
Smile, even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near,
That’s the time you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you’ll just smile.
To me, “Smile” is a sad song. It tells us to smile, but it doesn’t give us a reason to smile.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher repeatedly tells us that life under the sun is “vanity.” It is frustrating, fleeting, and fragile. Is there a reason to smile?

In today’s passage, God is presented as our Creator. He made us, but we fell into sin. Sin brought death and condemnation. But God wants to re-make us. He provided a way of salvation. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for our sins. Through faith in Him there is eternal life. There is hope. There is a reason to smile.


REJOICE

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity (11:8).

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment (11:9).

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
  • Rejoice in your years, but remember that death is coming.
  • Rejoice in your youth, but remember that judgment is coming.
“Love God and do as you please.”—Augustine

Young Christians are faced with many important decisions, such as where to go to university, what profession to pursue, and whom to marry. They often worry that their decisions might not be in accordance with God’s will. They wish that there was a Bible verse that would show them exactly what to do. But there isn’t a verse that says, “The girl you should marry is Jennifer.”

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When you delight yourself in the Lord, His desires become your desires. So this means that we can do as Augustine said: “Love God and do as your please.”


REMEMBER

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” (12:1).

What does it mean to “remember” your Creator. Obviously it means more than to simply think about Him. I believe the Preacher is telling us to live a God-centered life—a life that gives priority to eternal values, not passing pleasures.

1. You can never remember your Creator too soon.

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”—William Shakespeare, Richard II

Some people say, “Age is nothing but a number.” But if you live long enough, eventually you will feel the effects of old age. In verses 3-6, the Preacher lists several of these effects. It is best to remember God at an early age and give our most productive days to Him—before “the days of trouble” (NIV) come and we can’t do what we used to do.

2. But you can remember your Creator too late.

After Adam and Eve committed the first sin, God said to them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The Preacher urges us to remember our Creator before “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (v. 7).

The apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). As Christians, we can smile because there is hope through faith in Jesus Christ. Our bodies are aging, but our spirits can be renewed each day.

People can forget about their Creator for many different reasons. (1) There is the forgetfulness of ignorance. Some people don’t know about the God of the Bible. If you have young children or grandchildren, it is essential that they are taught about God. This teaching should start in the home. (2) There is the forgetfulness of rejection. Some people don’t want to follow God and choose to go their own way. (3) There is the forgetfulness of preoccupation. In our culture that are so many things that distract us from God. (4) There is the forgetfulness of lukewarmness. Many churchgoing people are “Sunday Christians.” They go to church on Sunday but forget about Him the rest of the week.

The traditional view is that Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes. Solomon remembered God in his youth, but as time passed he forgot about God. “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 11:4). I am sure he was filled with regret.

What is causing you to forget God?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained



Part 14 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 11:1-6


YOU WILL NEVER REAP IF YOU NEVER SOW

Several times in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher states that life is unpredictable. We never know when tragedy might strike. I was reminded of this fact last Sunday afternoon when my Dad phoned and told me that my Mom and sister had been in a car accident. Thankfully, they were not seriously hurt. But judging from the picture of my sister’s badly damaged car, the outcome could have very easily been much worse.

Life is too short to always “play it safe.” In this passage, we find three rules for risk-taking.

1. Take risks boldly but wisely.

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth (vv. 1-2).

When the Preacher says, “Cast your bread upon the waters,” he is probably talking about sea trade. (However, others say that it refers to giving to the poor.) There were risks involved in sea trade: shipwrecks (shipwrecks in Halifax Harbour), piracy, dishonesty, etc.

It’s said, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” So the wise farmer would not put all his grain on one ship. Instead, he would put his grain on seven or eight ships (v. 2). He would diversify.

When people assess risk, they consider the potential loss, the probability of loss, and the potential benefit.

This week we will observe Remembrance Day, a day for remembering men and women who sacrificed their lives serving their country in battle. They knew the potential loss (their lives), but they were willing to take the risk because they valued the potential benefit (freedom for their nation).

We could think also of the risk of Queen Esther: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:14), and the risks of Paul and Barnabas: “Men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). For Esther, Paul, and Barnabas, both the potential loss and the potential benefits were great. The potential loss was death. The potential benefit for Esther was the saving of her people. The potential benefit for Paul and Barnabas was the salvation of many people.

Risk-taking for Christ requires: (1) commitment ("Cast your bread upon the waters"), (2) faith ("for you will find it"), and (3) patience ("after many days").

Hudson Taylor once said, “Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

What risk is God showing you that you should take? Be bold, but wise. Think of the potential benefits, not just the potential loss.

2. Take risks promptly.

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap (v. 4).

It’s often said that we are living in “uncertain times.” But aren’t we always living in uncertain times? Four times in six verses, the Preacher mentions uncertainty.

Uncertainty leads to inactivity (sins of omission). We are often like a farmer who never sows because he thinks it might be windy or never reaps because he thinks it might rain.

There will never be perfect conditions, but there will always be available excuses. Wayne Gretzky said, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Fools excuse; wise people repent.

3. Take risks expectantly.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good (v. 6).

Those who don’t try, never succeed. So take a wise, bold risk for Christ. Maybe you’ve taken a risk in the past and failed, and now you’re reluctant to try again. It’s often said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Diversify. William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”


MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES

Again, life is short. We don’t know how long we have in this life. So if God is showing you a risk He wants you to take, don’t procrastinate. Consider the following verses. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17). “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

What can you invest?
  • Your time
  • Your talents
  • Your treasure
Accept the risks; reap the rewards.

We shouldn’t do good just to receive rewards, but God promises that He will reward our labor—some way, somehow.

Don’t hold back in fear; step out in faith.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Be a Fool!



Part 13 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 9:13-10:20


PURSUE WISDOM

Twice in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that life is crooked (1:15; 7:13). And we need wisdom to navigate through the twists and turns of life. Where can we get this wisdom? From the Bible, God’s book of wisdom. If you’re traveling to New York City, you won’t find a straight road that goes directly there. If you’ve never been there before, you will need a map. The Bible is like a map. It might not give us exact instructions for every personal decision, but it does offer principles of wisdom for daily living. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The wisest decision we can make is to follow the Bible’s way to eternal life through faith in Christ.

In this passage, the Preacher talks about wisdom and folly.
  • Wisdom and folly are not measured by one’s IQ. There are many smart, stupid people in this world. You might know someone who is considered a genius, but lacks common sense. You don’t have to have a high IQ to be considered wise by God’s standards.
  • Wisdom and folly are measured by one’s obedience to God’s Word. The Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). If a person respects God, he or she will want to obey God’s Word, and obedience to God’s Word is the wise way to live. On the other hand, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). The fool says no to God’s wisdom. Is your mind filled with God’s wisdom? Is your heart determined to obey God’s wisdom?
  • Wisdom is valuable, but often unappreciated. "But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard" (9:16). In 9:13-16 we see an example of wisdom: a poor man’s wisdom was able to save his city against a powerful king. It’s sometimes said that “brains are better than brawn.” However, his wisdom was soon forgotten. Recently, there was a story of a group of nuns who were given an old Honus Wagner baseball card. It was badly damaged, and they assumed that it wasn’t worth much. They were surprised to find out that the card could be worth $200,000! Similarly, godly wisdom is valuable yet unappreciated.
  • The loudest voices are often the voices of fools. "The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools" (9:17). For example, the loudest voices in our culture mock the idea of sexual abstinence before marriage. But imagine all of the problems that could be avoided if people just followed this one piece of wisdom from Scripture.

A LITTLE FOLLY, A LOT OF HARM

A little bit of folly can cause a lot of harm. A reputation can be ruined in an instant. A few examples are (1) former President Bill Clinton, (2) actor Tom Cruise, (3) NHLer Patrick Kane.

A moment of folly can tarnish a lifetime of wisdom.

Wisdom is often forgotten, but folly is usually remembered. (Of course, with God there is forgiveness.)

Always be on guard against folly:
  • One foolish person. "Wisdom is better than the weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good" (9:18). It's often said, “One rotten apple spoils the whole bushel.” A foolish person in a group of young people can lead the whole group astray. One foolish person in a church can cause that church to split. First, don’t be that foolish person. Second, avoid that foolish person.
  • One foolish action. "Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor" (10:1). We are all prone to foolishness. We are all sinners by nature. In 10:8-9, the hunter, farmer, stonecutter, and woodcutter are injured due to their own carelessness. Don’t be proud and think that you will never fall into sin, or you will be like the hunter who falls into his own pit.
  • One foolish neglect. "Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks" (10:18). There are sins of commission (bad things we do) and sins of omission (good things we don’t do). James writes, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Are you neglecting to share an encouraging word with someone? Are you neglecting to share the gospel with a friend? Are you neglecting to spend time with your family? Don’t be guilty of foolish neglect.
  • One foolish word. "Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter" (10:20). We still use the expression, “A little bird told me.” Often when we say something foolish (especially in today’s world of email, twitter, and Facebook), people will end up hearing it somehow. Be careful what you say. “The walls have ears.” The Bible contains much wisdom about our words. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). If we need to begin a sentence with the phrase, “I probably shouldn’t say this but…”, then you probably shouldn’t say it! James, writing about our speech, says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). One foolish word can do great damage.

A HEART OF WISDOM

"A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s to the left" (10:2).

No, this verse has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing politics. It’s talking about the source of wisdom and foolishness. The source is the heart. Our heart leads us either in the right direction (“the right”) or in the wrong direction (“the left”). Jesus once said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). He also declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Again, we need to consult and follow the map, God’s Word. Fill you mind with God’s Word and determine in your heart to follow its wisdom.