Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – It’s Time

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So, I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (New Living Translation)

Maybe we enjoy celebrating the first day of a new year because it gives us a sense of having a clean slate. Perhaps we internally and/or unconsciously realize we wasted great chunks of time in the past year. So, we look forward to amending our ways and making new resolutions.

Time Is Finite

We cannot get it back once we lose it – hence, the lamenting of so much squandered time. We want to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

There needs to be a sense of purpose – of values which drive our goals and our actions – if we are to use our time in redemptive ways. Time is a gift, bestowed to us by a Creator who desires we steward that precious gift with sage understanding and wise discernment.

Time is a temporary commodity to be used for good purposes before the end of all time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time Marches On

Time marches inexorably forward, no matter what we do or don’t do. Therefore, we must respect, and learn to work with, it’s slow and constant movement.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning, three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would be in the hospital well before the sun sets.

We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that outside forces always seem to dictate what we can do and not do.

Time Is In Control

The cycles and rhythms of life can appear meaningless. We may feel as if we are prisoners of time. Yet, for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is.

Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Many Americans believe that by working hard and doing the right thing, we can shape our own destiny and prosperity.

However, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists we submit and move with the events, rhythms, and seasons God has established. Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial of the power and effects of time, it is no wonder many Americans are so unhappy with their lives.

In the experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Self-Control

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot force time to stand still. So, instead, we must focus on how we spend our time now.

It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue what is right, just, and good. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time.

What time is it?  It’s time to live in harmony with the clock, with God, and with others.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Peter 1:2-15 – We Have Everything We Need

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus, he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

Therefore, I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the greatest deceptions which befall humanity is the lie that we aren’t enough – that somehow we lack something in our core personhood. Another great deception is that God is holding out on us – that we’ve gotten the short end of things.

It is my hope and prayer that today’s New Testament lesson puts a stake through the heart of those twin deceiving vampires. Erroneous beliefs only suck the life out of us. Instead, we must imbibe deeply of sound theology which enables us to live robustly in this old fallen world.

The Lord is my shepherd;
   I have all that I need.

Psalm 23:1, NLT

We have everything we need to grow in grace. God’s provision for us is total and complete. By grace, we can discern between truth and error; endure hostility, hardship, even persecution; live with patience as we await the new heaven and new earth; and face anything in this present life with confidence and hope because we’ve been equipped for it all.

Core to all this provision is the very life of Christ. Jesus is the source of the power and grace needed to live this incredible life. The same resurrection power which raised Christ from the grave is available and provided to us.

Believers are not in some weird holding pattern, like a plane circling the airport waiting to land, twiddling our thumbs until Christ returns. No! This present life is to be fully engaged with the tools given us of faith, hope, and love. And those spiritual implements are sufficient to walk with boldness through the valley of the shadow of death.

It continually must be borne in mind that we are to take up the gifts given us and use them in our present sojourn on this earth. Let us put significant energy into our faith development through knowing our call to holiness; and knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, his power and suffering.

Carefully and confidently using our faith, we are to fully participate in God’s divine power through the qualities of:

  • Goodness. Cultivation of moral excellence is both helpful and needed in all our relationships. Goodness is like a seed planted. We need to give it proper amounts of water and sun and keep the weeds away.
  • Knowledge. There are two words in the ancient Greek for knowledge: one is a reference to acquiring information; and the other refers to actively using the information provided. The Apostle Peter uses the latter – an experiential knowledge which is wise, discerning, and discreet.
  • Self-Control. This is the ability to get a grip on yourself, to avoid controlling others and focus on all things within your own control. Ultimate control belongs to God; and we are called to self-control.
  • Endurance. To see the big picture, to look ahead and keep your eye on the goal, is the lived practice of endurance or perseverance. Everyone has patience. It’s rather a matter of whether we will tap into it, or not.
  • Godliness. The heart of godliness is awareness of self, others, and God – rightly relating to them all with wholeness and integrity.
  • Mutual Affection. Basic human kindness is imperative between two people, especially with fellow believers.
  • Love. This is the Christian’s consummate virtue. Whereas affection is to be mutual, love can always be done whether someone loves us back, or not. Genuine love can be directed at the unlovely, even enemies.

We are to be effective and productive in adding divine virtues to our lives. It’s not a matter of more but better.

Even a smidge of faith can move a mountain.

A kernel of goodness can produce a harvest of righteousness.

A little bit of knowledge can be turned into love.

Small self-control can develop into immense self-control.

Keeping our head up for a few seconds can help us see the goal and endure to the end.

One insight can create a cascade of godliness.

A single act of kindness can change a life forever.

Love, no matter how big or small, can change the world.

We possess all these qualities and are in want of nothing. We are enough because Christ is enough.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. – A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Proverbs 29:1-27 – Discipline Yourself

Some people refuse to bend when someone corrects them. Eventually they will break, and there will be no one to repair the damage.

When the rulers are good, the people are happy. When the rulers are evil, the people complain.

A son who loves wisdom makes his father happy. One who wastes his money on prostitutes will lose his wealth.

A nation will be strong when it has a fair and just king. A nation will be weak when it has a king who is selfish and demands gifts.

If you give false praise to others in order to get what you want, you are only setting a trap for yourself.

Evil people are defeated by their sin, but good people will sing and be happy.

Good people want to do what is right for the poor, but the wicked don’t care.

Proud people who laugh at what is right cause problems that divide whole cities, but people who are wise are able to calm those who are angry.

If someone who is wise tries to settle a problem with a fool, the fool will argue and say stupid things, and they will never agree.

If you always try to be honest, murderers will hate you, but those who do what is right will want you to be their friend.

Fools are quick to express their anger, but wise people are patient and control themselves.

If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will be evil.

In one way the poor and those who steal from them are the same—the Lord made them both.

If a king judges the poor fairly, he will rule for a long time.

Punishment and discipline can make children wise, but children who are never corrected will bring shame to their mother.

If the wicked are ruling the nation, sin will be everywhere, but those who live right will win in the end.

Correct your children whenever they are wrong. Then you will always be proud of them. They will never make you ashamed.

If a nation is not guided by God, the people will lose self-control, but the nation that obeys God’s law will be happy.

Servants will not learn a lesson if you only talk to them. They might understand you, but they will not obey.

There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.

Give your servants everything they want, and they will learn to be wasteful.

An angry person causes arguments, and someone who is quick-tempered is guilty of many sins.

Your pride can bring you down. Humility will bring you honor.

You are your own worst enemy if you take part in a crime. You will not be able to tell the truth even when people threaten you.

Fear can be a trap, but if you trust in the Lord, you will be safe.

Many people want the friendship of a ruler, but the Lord is the only one who judges people fairly.

Good people think the wicked are disgusting, and the wicked feel disgust for those who are honest. (Easy to Read Version)

I’m not much one for binary definitions of either/or. I find both/and to be a better approach to most things. So, when it comes to the nature versus nurture debate, it seems confusing to apply the either/or. Children are shaped by both their nature, DNA, and ancestral lineage – and the nurturing (or lack thereof) provided by their parents, grandparents, and significant people in their lives.

Both nature and nurture influence children so that the way of the parent tends to be the way of the child. It is extremely difficult for kids to rise above traumatic, abusive, or neglectful parenting and be virtuous. Violence, greed, and misdirected anger are vices both inherited and learned.

Even in loving homes directed by good hearts, a child can fall into bad companionship leading to bad behavior. And added to the mix, we are all profoundly touched by the fall of humanity. Our disordered loves, unhealthy habits, and dubious actions easily rub off on others, especially kids.

This is why self-discipline is so very important. It needs constant attention. There are too many obstacles and too much at stake to ignore wisdom and slide into an undisciplined life. The biblical proverbs help us to focus our attention and our efforts in healthy directions so that we might contribute to the good of our families and our society.

Reverence and trust in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The self-controlled and self-disciplined life leads to spiritual prosperity, emotional buoyance, and a mentality of abundance. Selfishness, and the lack of proper boundaries, quickly degenerates into foolish behavior and adversely effects the family and society.

Any garden variety fool can bluster on and cause a raucous, being insensitive and shortsighted to the consequences of their words and behavior. Foolish people scoffing and belligerently offering their unsolicited opinions helps absolutely no one. Indeed, it seems the fools around us are a dime-a-dozen.

The security and stability of both home and society depend upon wise order. Such order, applied wisely and graciously, avoids the extremes of harsh discipline and lax correction. It takes wisdom to make sound decisions in finding the sweet spot between too much and not enough.

Holding people accountable for their words and behavior, and doing it without a critical spirit, is at the heart of godly living.

A great deal of self-discipline is to force ourselves, and allow the Lord to bend our will, to exercise faithfulness in a responsible, regular, and robust way over all those whom we nurture and care for – without succumbing to ramshackle improvising, as if spontaneity were our only tool.

The wise sayings of the biblical proverbs are to be our merciful guide, keeping us on the road of life, not falling into the ditch on either side.

May it be so to the glory of G-d, and the shalom of our family homes, faith communities, and societal institutions.

Titus 1:1-9 – Effective Spiritual Leaders

From Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness.

Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began. God revealed his message at the appropriate time through preaching, and I was trusted with preaching this message by the command of God our savior.

To Titus, my true child in a common faith.

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city, as I told you. Elders should be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. This is because supervisors should be without fault as God’s managers: they shouldn’t be stubborn, irritable, addicted to alcohol, a bully, or greedy. Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled. They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it. (Common English Bible)

Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that spiritually solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece). 

There was no ambiguity with Paul about the importance of leadership. The Apostle clearly laid out his expectations that church officials must have a good reputation – not bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things. They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.

I find it interesting that very few biblical scholars view this teaching as an ideal to aspire – while many churches and believers think this is the case. There is neither any indication nor reason within the biblical text to think that Paul presented his expectations for the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way. 

Furthermore, Paul did not provide his instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service. No, it’s best to understand that Paul meant what he said. He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart. Good people provide good teaching and good wisdom. Selfish people with a self-centered agenda find ways to subvert or manipulate sound instruction to get what they want. 

Everyone in the Body of Christ is to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God. They are to be wise to all the shenanigans of myopic persons through understanding the commands and instruction of Holy Scripture. This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with confidence.

If a church or faith community feels the need to overlook character defects to fill empty leadership seats, then Houston, we have a problem. Any short order cook worth his salt would never crack open a rotten egg and mix it in with the rest to make an omelet. And any group of people who throw a bad egg into their leadership team had better be ready to get sick and vomit when meetings are called to order.

It is imperative that spiritual leaders possess the following:

  • A good reputation
  • Faithfulness and fidelity to their families.
  • A clear-mind and consistent good behavior.
  • Self-control
  • The moral courage to speak truth with grace.
  • A spirit and practice of hospitality.
  • An ability to communicate well so that people are built up in their faith.
  • Sobriety
  • Humility
  • Respectability
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Generosity
  • Compassion
  • Maturity
  • Sincerity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Purity

All these traits are needed for effective and godly spiritual leadership. Compromising on virtue will never end well. Upholding moral character brings blessing.

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” 

John R.W. Stott

God calls and sets apart individuals for service. The Lord desires to reveal and manifest the divine presence among people through leaders who reflect God’s good attributes. Jesus Christ wants his church to be built up through faithful service. The Spirit seeks to sanctify and empower for effective ministry.

Nowhere do we find in Scripture that a leader’s main job is listening to complaints. That’s because God has a zero tolerance policy toward murmuring, grumbling, and ingratitude. In fact, the New Testament clearly says to do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)

Neither will you find the church is supposed to operate just like an American form of democracy. Spiritual leaders are not representatives of the people to do their will. Instead, they are representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

That all means prayer to God and outreach to the world is the major work for spiritual leaders. And it takes virtuous and ethical persons leading to realize love to all kinds of people. So, feel free to exercise leadership. Just make sure that leadership is grounded in the God of integrity and the Word of grace and truth.

Almighty God, the One who gives good gifts to people, may every grace of ministry rest on divinely appointed leaders. Keep them strong and faithful so that your church may prosper in peace. Grant leaders wisdom, courage, discretion, and benevolence so that they may fulfill their charge to the glory of Jesus Christ and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.