December 2 – Open Letters – Expectations

Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

Open Letter to Expectations:

We all have them! Expectations are a part of our existence. Fulfilled expectations bring great joy! We receive the college of choice, job of choice, spouse of choice, the family, the house…you get the picture!  What about the experiences that finish the sentence…”I didn’t expect that…!”?

I am overjoyed with the parents I had, the spouse I have, the children I am blessed with, grandchildren. On the flip side, I didn’t expect to see my mom pass away when I was 25, I didn’t expect my children to have such struggles in life, and I didn’t expect to lose a grandson before I could kiss his cheek. You can finish the same statements with your own lists of joys and unexpected sorrows. This is life “under the sun.”  

For a little more than two years, a friend and I studied and talked about the book of Ecclesiastes. King Solomon is on a quest for meaning in life and is passionate in his pursuits to experience purpose and joy. He builds parks and houses and “denies himself nothing that his eyes desire; and refuses his heart no pleasure.”  He says “that his heart takes delight in his labor and that is the reward.” He expected this satisfaction.  It just didn’t last long enough. He surveys all that his hands had done and all he achieved and then admits that it has no meaning. He was looking for eternal fulfillment in a temporary earthly existence. We are like Solomon.

Do you remember who Solomon’s father was?  David.  He was, as a boy, a shepherd. I’m sure he didn’t expect to be a warrior for his nation and then a king.  As a shepherd, he writes a beautiful poem that refers to God as his shepherd. (Ps.23)

He is my Good Shepherd and His sovereignty is a quality no human has.  I praise Him because He was behind my existence and He is with me each moment of my existence and He goes before me and knows how many days my existence on earth will be.  

King Solomon admits that “everything is meaningless.” The Good Shepherd says, “I come so they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Will my expectations rule me or will I let the Good Shepherd lead me?

Through this song, be reminded of His goodness, regardless of the fulfillment of our earthly expectations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpqSbKYxd9Y

October 19 – I Will Remember: He Makes Everything Beautiful in Its Time

The following is a YouVersion plan written by the Billy Graham Center. To participate with this plan on YouVersion, download the app, create an account and click on the link here to participate:

I Will Remember – YouVersion Plan

Don’t forget to share your comments and takeaways every day!

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Psalms 30:5

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Verse 11 of Ecclesiastes 3 is the culmination of a set of contrasting pairs meant to assure us that everything that happens is pregnant with meaning: “He has made everything beautiful in his time.” A time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time for war and a time for peace. What, though, is beautiful about war or death, or killing or giving up, or throwing away or tearing down? 

Those of us who have gone through difficult times on a personal scale, and now many of us dealing with uncertainty on a global scale, can attest to the fact that tragedy and loss are never pleasing. Over and over in the Psalms, we see David expressing the enormity of his grief, anger, fear, anxiety, and depression to God. But over and over, we see the culminating effect of this pouring out of emotion to God: praise and discovering yet another reason we need God.

What is beautiful about war and death and everything bad that comes our way is that we are allowed to go deeper in our faith than we ever could in good times. When we are financially stable and loved by others, when we are healthy and have job security, our tendencies are to stray from complete and utter dependence upon God. This is simply human nature.

We drift unless something—Someone—continually finds a way to pull us back to the anchor of our souls. How many of us, after all, can look back on difficult times and see marking points of when our faith was richer and deeper? 

We cannot go so far as to say that war itself is beautiful. Or that a natural disaster is. Or that cancer is. Or that mass disease is. What we can say is that through these ashes is the possibility of God doing things beyond what we “can ask or imagine.”

We are forced into a place of dependence, and when we do so, we find our God has been waiting for us to run into his arms the whole time. Thus begins a new level of trust and faith that we would have never experienced otherwise.

Questions for Reflection

In the brokenness of our world today, where can you see glimpses of the beauty of which Ecclesiastes 3 is speaking? 

How can you speak that beauty into the lives of those around you who are dealing with fear and anxiety?

September 9 – A Changing Culture – Managing Money

Read Ecclesiastes 5:10 and Matthew 6:24

The subject of “money” is a tough one, especially for the Church. The Bible mentions several warnings of its temptations. Yet, we also know that money is a significant resource to help those in need and a natural effect of hard work and biblical perseverance.

So… to want money or to not want money?

My personal thought is that money in itself is not the problem; it is our desire toward it that gets us into trouble. Most people whose primary drive is financial gain lead themselves to their own suffering: arrogance, selfishness, elitism, loneliness, regrets of corrupted character, broken relationships from the sake of the pursuit. With a list like that, you’d think we would learn to stop our foolish desires toward money.

Ask a wealthy person and they will agree that “Money creates more problems than it solves.” Ask a financially strapped person and they will reply, “I will freely take those problems off your hands and not complain about it.”

I try to manage my outlook on money within two guidelines:

Never trade your calling or integrity for monetary gain. God will never ask this of you. Ever. In fact, you may be tested in very grey, minimal moments before given greater opportunity. I believe every success story of a Christian in business includes a moment where they had to say “no” when worldly logic would say “yes”. They must rise up and deny themselves an easy pass when even colleagues around them say “Don’t worry, no one will ever know” Make no mistake, there is no greater worship for those called into business than this moment. We are nothing different without our integrity. Stay strong.

Always remember that money does not buy happiness. No matter what I feel I want, God is all I will ever need. Happiness comes from being content. And, luckily, contentment costs us nothing. Rather, it is a hard-fought mindset that shouts to the world, “I do not need to need more!” There is something so freeing in that statement. Fight to find holy contentment.

If you are truly in need – be it food, shelter, clothing or medication – please reach out to us. That is what our church is here for.

If you do not need any of the above, take a moment to be thankful to God for all you do have, it’s more than most. If you live in plenty, pray about where you may be willing to deny yourself the next time you find yourself spending. There is nothing you can buy that feels better than giving!

Nate Torrence

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