February 9 – Hope and purpose

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-58

Be honest.  At times you may agree with the conclusions drawn by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes.  Life does have its mundane, routine dimensions.  In the rat race of life, there seem to be some “chasing the wind” moments of “meaninglessness.”

But life for the believer shouldn’t be a futile existence.  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 give you two encouragements not found in Ecclesiastes.  First of all, there is hope beyond this life!  The resurrection of Jesus offers you the expectation of life after this one.  At death, your spirit will depart from your body (Js. 2:26).  If you are a follower of Jesus, you will instantly be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).  God even values your body enough that He will one day transform and resurrect it (1 Cor. 15:42-44).  His children will be with Him forever (1 Thess. 4:17)!  That brings hope that can place a smile on your face in the midst of the most mundane of days!

Secondly, Paul makes clear that there is purpose in this life!  Not everything you do has to be meaningless.  Paul is specific in saying that you can know that “your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (1 Cor. 15:58)  Your service for Him has purpose.  It can make an eternal impact in the lives of others, and it can result in eternal rewards for you.  With that realization in mind, you are encouraged to “always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.”  The two adverbs in that phrase are important.  “Always.”  What would need to change in order for you to see yourself as constantly in His service?  Your mindset?  A specific activity?  Similarly, the word “fully” implies that you give yourself completely, without holding back or reservation.  Do you ever find that you are reluctant to give your all to the Lord and for the Lord?  If so, you are likely missing out on the sense of daily purpose that He wants to give you.  Hope and purpose are found in Christ!

Is your future hope secure?  Is your present purpose real?

Steve Kern

February 8 – Unless…

Read Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”  (Lk. 12:2)  Those words spoken by Jesus provide a sobering reminder.  No secret word, thought, or deed escapes the current scrutiny and future judgment of God, unless…  Well, we’ll come back to the “unless…” part later.

That reality of unavoidable, all-inclusive judgment is part of the final conclusion drawn by Solomon in your reading today.  He points out that there is nothing that will escape judgment.  From this and other passages, we understand that this includes every thought, deed, and action.  It doesn’t matter if anyone knows about it.  It doesn’t matter whether it is good or evil.  It is important, however, to understand other biblical principles that give further definition to this judgment.

  1. The judgment for those without Christ will include eternal torment and separation from God (2 Thess. 1:8, 9).
  2. Those who know Christ will not experience a judgment that determines destination (Heaven or Hell). Christ’s work on the cross has secured their eternal life with God (1 Jn. 5:11-13).
  3. Those who know Christ will, however, be subjected to judgment that takes even those hidden things into account (2 Cor. 5:10).
  4. For believers, good will be rewarded and bad will result in loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Things like thoughts, motives, conduct, and conversation are not moot points for believers.  If you know Christ, your eternity is securely in His hands, but your rewards will be a reflection of your life.  No wonder Solomon describes your duty as “fearing God and keeping His commandments…” (v. 13).

So what about the “unless”?  Is there a way to remove some of your less than stellar performances from the agenda for conversation at the judgment seat of Christ?  The answer is, “Yes, through confession!”  By admitting to God in repentance your own shortcomings, He removes those shortcomings from issues of judgment.  Are there things that you should clear up with Him now?

Steve Kern

February 7 – Too late

Read Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:8

It was tragic.  A funeral that caught everyone by surprise.  Days before…hours before…seconds before…he had seemed completely healthy and active.  He was only in his thirties.  He probably would have laughed at the suggestion that his life could end any time in the foreseeable future.  But end it did as he was struck unexpectedly by a vehicle.  His funeral was filled with people impacted not only by the reality but also by the suddenness of his passing.

That’s a true story.  Do I think something like that will happen to you today?  No.  I suppose it could be argued that we preacher types are given to the use of unlikely morbid stories in order to illicit a response.  That may well be the case, but I think you will have to agree that life is brief, isn’t it?  Whether you or I pass in one year, 21 years, or 51 years, we (and those close to us) will likely say that it was sooner than we had hoped!

No wonder Solomon, “the Teacher,” counsels his readers in Ecclesiastes 12 to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  In other words, don’t wait any longer to make the Lord an integral, daily part of your life.  Don’t postpone it for another day when you are older.  Some people promise, “One day, I will make that a priority.” Or “Don’t worry, I will deal with that before I die.”  But repeatedly, verses 1-7 point out that we should do so now.  Do it now, even if you are still “enjoying life” (v. 1).  Make it a priority now before your eyesight worsens (v. 2).  Give Him first place today before fears of the latter years of life increase (vv. 3, 5).  Seek Him before your hearing wanes or your stature changes (vv. 3, 4).  Remember Him.  Not just in a passing point in time, but as the daily Director of your life.  Remember Him before it is too late.

Why not pause now to surrender to Him control for today?  And tomorrow, do the same.  And the next day…

Steve Kern

February 6 – Listening to the Voice of Wisdom

Read Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

In the face of confusion and lack of clarity, I often find myself praying the essence of James 1:5:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  Thankfully, the Lord delivers on His promise.  And yet, I suppose it is valid to ask, “How will I recognize the voice of wisdom when I hear it?”  In Proverb-like style, Solomon peppers his writing in today’s text with some helpful insights.

  1. Wisdom may come from an unlikely source…like a poor man or a quiet voice (vv. 9:15, 17).
  2. The source of wisdom is not always remembered (9:15).
  3. Wisdom is preferable over strength (9:16, 18; 10:10).
  4. The way of wisdom may be quickly disregarded (9:16).
  5. Even a little foolishness can overshadow great wisdom (10:1).
  6. Wisdom is voiced in graciousness (10:12).

Even though wisdom may come to you in the form of a sudden thought, void of any other input, that is likely not the norm.  Instead, God’s wisdom is built upon the foundation of His word.  Jeremiah put it like this, “Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?”  (Jer. 8:9)  Similarly, God’s wisdom often comes through the input of other godly men and women.  Proverbs 24:6 reminds you:  “for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.”  Finally, keep in mind that godly wisdom has some very identifiable characteristics:  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”  (Js. 3:17)

If you find yourself today at an important crossroads where you really need God’s wisdom and guidance, make sure you are looking in the right places and listening to the right voices!  Remember that God is the ultimate source of it.  You can ask Him for it with boldness and faith.  Then, you can be assured of His response.

Steve Kern

February 5 – Life and Death

Read Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

King Tutankhamen was buried 3300 years ago.  Over the centuries, “Tut” was forgotten, in spite of his role as king and his apparent wealth.  Archaeologists stumbled onto his tomb without clear historical evidence that it was there or that he had lived.  As they opened the passageway into the rooms containing his mummified body and the valuable items, they found them much the way they had been left millennia before.  Tut had not used them.  Rigor mortis had frozen his body into position.

At first glance, King Tutankhamen seems to be a prime example of all that King Solomon suggests in Ecclesiastes 9.  Solomon depicts death and the grave as being dead ends.  According to his description, there is neither meaningful existence for nor lasting memory of the deceased.  No wonder he draws the conclusion that man should seek to enjoy this meaningless life, because when it is over, it is lights out!

Before we swallow hook, line, and sinker all that Solomon suggests, we must remind ourselves that he writes from the perspective of one “under the sun.”  His are conclusions one might draw from personal human observation rather than from divine revelation.  Although it is true that death is an experience that all mankind shares (Heb. 9:27), Scripture indicates that every person will have an eternal existence.  You will spend eternity in God’s presence in a place called Heaven or in a place of torment called Hell.  Your destination is determined by your response to the gospel of Jesus…that He died, was buried, and raised for your personal sin (1 Jn. 5:11-13; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9).

Meaning and purpose in the life of Christ-followers flow out of the realization that this life is brief and your opportunity to impact others for eternity is fleeting!  So, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (1 Cor. 15:58b)  Of course, that “always” starts now.  Don’t wait until tomorrow.

Steve Kern

February 4 – The Bad Math of Deservedness

Read Ecclesiastes 8:1-17

“I deserve better than this!”  “What did I do to deserve this?”  “She doesn’t deserve that!”  Phrases like that punctuate life for most of us.  They were also part of Solomon’s experiences as well:  “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.” (v. 14)  That observation has caused people throughout history to experience different responses on a continuum from mild frustration to total abandonment of faith.

Of course, the key word in each of those expressions is “deserve.”  “Deserve” suggests a logical, predictable, performance-based outcome.  It is like an equals sign placed in a mathematical formula.  The logic of “deserve” implies that your inputs on the left side of the equation merit a specific response from God on the right side of the equation.  The age-old complaint, however, is that this mathematical formula doesn’t always work!

Why doesn’t that kind of math work?  I suppose there are several reasons, but here are two important ones:

  1. Humans balance the equations in time while God does the math of justice over eternity. You can quickly lose sight of the fact that your rewards (and perhaps another person’s punishment) will not be fully unveiled in this life.  With that in mind, you need to be patient.
  2. Human math is performance-based while God’s is grace-based. God delights at times in passing on to people things they don’t deserve…not the least of which is salvation itself (Eph. 2:8, 9).  When we understand that, we need to throw out the “deserve equals sign.”

What was your most recent experience when you used the word “deserve”?  That is a dangerous word that, at times, does not fit well with the experiences of life.  It is like a bad math equality in our minds that is not always reflected in our reality.  Are there some specific current situations, in which you need to go back and change your math?

Steve Kern

February 3 – Come In Out of the Wind

Read Ecclesiastes 7:1-29

In 1974, a tornado destroyed the town of Xenia, Ohio.  “Pieces of Xenia” landed everywhere, including our back yard 120 miles away.  Just imagine being a resident of Xenia at the time and trying to find some of your lightweight valuables after the tornado!  Your efforts would be in vain.  That “chasing after the wind” is the word picture Solomon uses repeatedly to remind you of life’s meaninglessness.

Has life always been that way…empty and purposeless?  If not, what happened that caused it?  Anthropologists and psychologists have lingered long over questions like these.  Yet, Solomon gives us the answer at the end of this chapter, written in classic proverbial style.

This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.”  (v. 29)

You see, God originally made man with purpose and without sin.  Man carried fulfilling responsibility and enjoyed a right relationship with God.  But then, the first man and the first woman responded to Satan’s schemes.  They went searching for something they were told God was withholding from them.  Indeed, God had withheld things like suffering, pain, death, relational tension, and a purposeless “chasing after the wind” from those He loved deeply.  But Adam and Eve fell headlong into them.  Ever since their response to Satan’s schemes, all men and women have experienced the very things from which God had initially protected them.

At times, the vanity of life “chasing after the wind” is more obvious than others.  But it is perhaps never more real than when we step into the house of mourning (v. 2).  It is in the face of death that we truly ask ourselves, “What is it that is important?  What is it that has purpose?”

How, then, do people “come in out of the wind” and receive forgiveness from their wandering ways, reconnect with their Creator, and discover purpose in this life?  The answer is found in a letter with your mailing address on it.  The Bible tells us that Christ offers you forgiveness, divine relationship, and reason for living.  Check out stories of some people you know who have discovered that at www.iamsecond.com.

Steve Kern

February 2 – No Other Gods

Read Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Somehow, most people who try it are either unaware of the risks or think that they will be the exception to the rule.  And so they forge ahead.  They give inordinate priority to money, possessions, and wealth.  The result?  Those who are rich have a “camel through the eye of the needle” chance of entering the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24).  Those who pursue wealth walk a path filled with potholes (1 Tim. 6:9).  Those who love money tap into a root that branches into all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).

Solomon observed those realities as well.  But keep in mind that he is numbered among the wealthiest men to ever live.  He wrote not only from observation of others but also from personal experience.  He knew that those who love wealth would love to have more.  They are never satisfied (5:10).  To him it was clear that wealth can rob a person of peaceful sleep (5:12).  He wrote of how riches can harm the owner and disappoint the heir (5:13, 14).  He observed that wealth has no lasting benefit when a person departs this life (5:15-17).  He saw that the rich often lack opportunity to enjoy what they have acquired (6:1-6).  Yes, there is great risk involved in the pursuit of wealth!

Of course, a person cannot navigate through life today without money and, at least, some possessions.  The biblical alternative to the pursuit of wealth, however, is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).  When that pursuit has priority in your life, God promises to provide for your needs.  It is then that you are also able to find satisfaction in your work and even enjoy its fruit.  That is amazing!  It’s worth repeating.  When we give priority to the Lord and His ways, we experience His provision, work satisfaction, and life enjoyment.

Rather than attempting to be an exception to the rule, go with God’s sure plan.  Seek Him first!

Steve Kern

February 1 – The Sacrifice of Fools

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Have you ever offered the “sacrifice of fools”?  It is true…Solomon’s initial readers lived at a time when specific details about animal sacrifices and grain offerings had been outlined.  But this sacrifice of fools did not include the wrong animal or the wrong timing or the wrong method.  The fools’ sacrifice of which he speaks is likely just as possible today.  Here are some of its characteristics:

  1. A casual approach to God without considering His position. Perhaps you often hear an emphasis on a close, personal relationship with God.  That is biblically accurate and necessary.  Meanwhile, you must also recognize that He is “Our Father in heaven” whose name is “hallowed” (Matt. 6:9) while you are a human “on earth” (Eccl. 5:2).  Reflect His exalted position in your approach to Him!
  2. Too many words and not enough listening. When I read that idea in verses 1 and 2, I picture someone who babbles incessantly without pausing to listen.  These many words can be an indication of selfishness where a person thinks that this divine relationship is all about him/her.  Instead, you are instructed to “let your words be few” (v. 2).
  3. Hasty words and not enough consideration. This is often related to speaking too much, but not always.  It can be reflected in times when you open your mouth before engaging your heart and brain (v. 2).  Take time to reflect in your relationship to the Lord.
  4. Failure to keep a promise made to God. Vows to the Lord are much less a part of the Christian culture today than they were at the time the Scriptures were written.  Many believers choose instead to make no promises or at least to not make them public.  By so doing, no one knows when they fail.  Solomon, however, is not speaking against promises and vows.  He is encouraging the follow through!  Keep your promises!

I am guessing that all of us have been guilty of offering such a sacrifice.  Now, based on God’s word, we know to steer clear of those very real risks and bring true honor to the God of heaven.

“Therefore fear God!” (v. 7)

Steve Kern

January 31 – Finding Freedom from Futility

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-16

Solomon is right!  Living life “under the sun”…in a fallen world without the Lord…is a futile endeavor.  It is filled with all kinds of experiences that cause pain and sorrow.  Undoubtedly, you have had your own run-ins with that…perhaps in areas like those Solomon identified in this chapter:

  1. Oppression (vv. 1-3)- Injustice in the world places some people under the cruel hand of others who repress them. People experience it on the basis of race, gender, age, nationality, political affiliation, or…just because!  You’ll find it on the school playground and in prison camps.  But God places His people in this world as ones who will seek justice and free people from oppression.
  2. Envy (vv. 4-6)- James says that this is the root cause of fights (Js. 4:1-3). Solomon points out how it leads to anything but peace!  Meanwhile, God calls His people to be marked by characteristics like contentment and generosity.
  3. Loneliness (vv. 7-12)- Without others to go through life with, a person is inefficient in work, helpless in time of trouble, and overpowered by opposition. God, therefore, calls His people to engage in relationships where they seek to bless and help each other.

Your conclusions about life do not have to parallel the “chasing after the wind” bottom line that Solomon found.  If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, He has called you out of the world and has given you purpose.  He wants to use you as a voice against oppression and injustice.  His plan is that you find contentment in what you have instead of coveting what you lack.  He provides others in the body of Christ who can bless you and whom you can bless.  You must choose, however, to view life from His perspective!  You must view life from a vantage point that raises you above the natural, day-to-day experiences.  Your point of view must be forged in the fire of God’s word that offers you eyes to see the divine, eternal plan and will of God.

Steve Kern