Wisdom in the House of Mourning

January 30, 2022 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Meditations, Uncategorized, Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 7:1–4 (NKJV)

1 A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one’s birth; 2 Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

The last couple weeks have brought me face to face with death and given me several opportunities to go to the house of mourning. Yesterday I officiated a memorial service for Andrea Lundgren’s mom who passed away suddenly last week and this week I travel to Pennsylvania for the funeral of my friend Gregg Strawbridge who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 57.

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that as difficult as it is to face the death of loved ones and friends, there is a great deal of wisdom to be gained in the house of mourning. Better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting,” he writes. It is the one who takes time to consider his mortality who will grow in wisdom. So he writes that, Sorrow is better than laughter for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. As challenging as facing death is, facing it imparts to us wisdom – and Solomon offers two central pieces of wisdom in this text.

First, the house of mourning reminds us that our character is more important than our comfort. A good name is better than precious ointment,” he writes, And the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” It is far better to seek character than comfort, better to have endured hardship and become wise than to avoid discomfort and remain a fool. At the end of our lives, all our comforts are gone. But what remains is the testimony of our character. Consequently, Solomon tells us, the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth.At the beginning of our race, when we are born, it is impossible to tell what sort of person we shall be. But when the race is over, when we rest in our graves, then our lives reveal what we valued and what type of people we were.

So what of you? How will you be remembered? Have you been scrambling to get comfortable and neglecting your character? Have you been obsessed with your own cares and oblivious to the needs of others? Have you neglected the worship and service of your Creator? Have you decided to give up on your marriage oaths and divorce your spouse? Have you been consumed with bitterness and anger and frustration? Have you driven others away from you because you are so ungrateful? Then take heed: your character is far more important than your comfort.

Second, the house of mourning imparts wisdom because it reminds us that death is the end of us all. Millions of men and women have preceded us and millions more will follow; we shall all die. So why is it important to take this to heart? There is one simple reason: when we die, we will stand before our Creator and be judged for what we have done here on earth. The Apostle Paul reminds us, It is appointed unto men to die once and, after this, to face judgment(Heb 9:27). And the sober reality is this: none of us has character sufficient to face that judgment. We could spend every day in the house of mourning and never become holy enough to stand before God. Why? Because we have sinned, and our sins have separated us from God. Your sins, your character deficiencies, have separated you from God. Your greed, your lust, your anger, your covetousness, your selfishness, your bitterness, your worship of other gods – these things have separated you from your Creator and no matter how diligently you develop your character it will never be sufficient to deliver you in the day of judgment.

Your only hope, therefore, is a Savior. You need Someone to deliver you from judgment, Someone to endure the consequences of your sins so that when you die, which you certainly shall, you may be accepted by God rather than judged by Him. And now, hear the Good News: God has sent His only begotten Son to be that Savior. He has sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and to endure the punishment that we deserve in order that we might be reconciled to Him. The Bible declares that God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him(2 Cor 5:21). 

The house of mourning, therefore, is the house of wisdom. Through the death of loved ones and friends, God our Creator reminds us that character counts far more than comfort. But He also reminds us that our own character is deficient and that the only way we can face death and judgment with hope is if we place all our hope in the flawless character and sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. Reminded of these things, let us kneel and confess our sins, acknowledging our need of God’s mercy that we may have hope in the face of death. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Being Open-Handed and Generous

March 18, 2019 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Meditations, Thankfulness, Wealth, Work

Ecclesiastes 11:1–2 (NKJV)

1 Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth.

The Word of God is full of financial counsel and admonitions. Hence, the way we handle our money reveals whether we are men and women of faith or unbelief, whether we are wise or foolish, whether we are righteous or wicked. Because finances are such an integral part of our religious devotion, we include the bringing forward of our tithes and offerings each week in worship. One of the men who leads us in prayer also represents us in bringing forward the fruit of our labor to offer to the Lord. He sets the box of tithes and offerings before the Lord’s Table as a visible symbol of our intention to consecrate all of life, including our finances, to the Lord. We are mere stewards of that which the Lord has entrusted to us.

As we bring the tithes and offerings forward each week, we sing a song about finances. During Advent and Lent, times of preparation for Christmas and Easter respectively, we sing these verses from Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 – Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. So what do these verses mean and how should they affect our view of our finances?

The author of Ecclesiastes counsels us in these verses to be generous, open-handed men and women. The image of “casting your bread upon the waters” invites us to think of useless waste. After all, what fool casts bread on the water? It just goes to waste! Similarly, the miser insists that giving to others, being open-handed and generous, is a waste. What return is there from giving to the poor and being open-handed with one’s wealth? But our text assures us that there shall be such a reward: Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. So Proverbs 19:17 promises us: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and [the Lord] will pay back what he has given.”

The next verse reminds us to be generous and open-handed in this way because of the uncertainty of life. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. Unlike the unrighteous man who reasons from the uncertainty of life that he must hoard all that he has, the righteous man reasons from this same uncertainty that he must be generous and open-handed, giving a portion to seven, even to eight, so that if he is ever in like circumstances, the Lord will pity him. “Blessed is he who considers the poor;” Psalm 41:1-2 reminds us, “The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.”

So what of you? Are you open-handed and generous? Are you striving to be a faithful steward of that which God has entrusted to you? Or have you instead hardened your heart to the poor? Moses writes in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10 – “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs… You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.”

So reminded of our calling to be open-handed and generous with that which the Lord has entrusted to us, let us confess that we have often been selfish instead. We have often hardened our heart and shut our hand from those who are truly in need of assistance. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Need for Converted Wallets

February 19, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - OT - 1 Chronicles, Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Bible - OT - Malachi, Giving, Meditations, Quotations
Malachi 3:8–10 (NKJV)
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Martin Luther once remarked that every Christian undergoes three conversions: the first of his mind, the second of his heart, and the third of his wallet. Of these three, it may well be that we find the conversion of the wallet to be the most difficult. Charles Spurgeon writes, “With some (Christians) the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets.”
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. As we continue in this vein, let us address our practice of presenting our tithes and offerings before the Lord. Each week we sing a song about giving as we bring our tithes and offerings to the front of the sanctuary. Why do we do this?
Consider just a few of the many reasons: first, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord in worship reminds us that God lays claim to our wallets. God is the owner of all we possess and appoints us as His stewards to manage all our wealth in a way that honors Him. And Malachi insists that one of the ways we honor Him is by giving Him a tithe, or ten percent, of our increase. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse. Alongside such tithes are offerings, free-will gifts above and beyond the tithe which can be the fruit of vows we have made, an expression of gratitude for the Lord’s generosity, or an effort to help others who are in need. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of God’s claim on our wallets.
Second, presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us that worship is not confined to Sundays. What are our tithes and offerings but a token of the work that we have done throughout the week? The tithes represent the fruit of our work – all of which is done to the glory of God. There is no division between “secular” work and “sacred” work – all our work is sacred, performed in the presence of God to the glory of God. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of this.
Finally, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord reminds us that all we are able to achieve in our employments is a gift from God. As David prayed after collecting supplies for the construction of the Temple, “But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr 29:14). Of Your own we have given You – it is God who gifts us with intelligence, with opportunity, with ingenuity, and with skill to get wealth. So we are to give Him thanks – and one way we do so is by giving Him a portion of the wealth He gives us.
Presenting our tithes and offerings weekly reminds us, therefore, that God lays claim to our wallets, that all our work is to be done to the glory of the Lord, and that all we are able to achieve is a gift from Him. But it is not enough to know whywe do this; it is also important to consider how we are to do it.
So how are we to bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord? The other Scriptures we sing as we present our tithes give us sound counsel. First, Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 urges us to give generously. “Cast your bread upon the waters,” it says, “…give a portion to seven and also to eight.” These words counsel us to spread our wealth abroad. In Jesus’ words, we are to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon that we may be received into the heavenly dwellings. The tithes and offerings presented here are to reflect a pattern of generosity that characterizes the entirety of our lives. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to help those who are in need. We are to give generously.
Second, Paul urges us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 to give “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Even as God has freely given to us, He wants us to freely give to others. We are to give, not because compelled to do so, but because we recognize God’s generosity to us. He has saved us from our sin; He has provided for our daily needs; hallelujah, what a Savior!

So reminded of why we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord and howwe are to do it, let us confess that Luther was right – our wallets do stand in need of conversion. Let us confess that we are often stingy, and often give only grudgingly. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Sin of Drunkenness

June 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Holy Spirit, Meditations
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Today we continue to study Paul’s catalogue of sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us through Christ. These sins damage and distort the image of God in us, destroy our humanity and subvert community. Hence, God’s intention in Christ is to deliver us from such things. Today we consider drunkenness.
Throughout Scripture wine in itself is considered a gift from God, one of the blessings that He has given to the sons of men. The psalmist reminds us that God has given wine to make glad the heart of man. God created it to give joy and delight; this is its design.
As sinners, however, we often misuse the good gifts that God has given; rather than use wine for joy and refreshment, we misuse it for drunkenness, laziness, and destruction. So the Scriptures routinely command us to use and not abuse this gift of God. Solomon writes in Proverbs 23:29-32:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
In his list of qualifications for elders and deacons, Paul writes that no officer may “be given to much wine.” Likewise, he tells Titus to command the older women to “be reverent in behavior,…not given to much wine.” Drunkenness is the opposite of reverence and honor.
Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:18-20, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [a lack of self-control]; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart ot the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s words reveal that drunkenness dulls not only our physical senses but also our spiritual senses. And so the opposite of drunkenness is being filled with the Spirit – and how does being filled with the Spirit manifest itself? In singing. Drunks sing in folly; Christians sing in joy, delight, and self-control.
So what of you? Are you given to much wine? Are you misusing the good gifts of God? Or are you using these good gifts of God so that you might become more strong physically and spiritually?
Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, And your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, And your princes feast at the proper time— For strength and not for drunkenness!

Reminded that drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us kneel and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for abusing the gifts of God.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

October 25, 2012 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Church History, Meditations

Ecclesiastes 7:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, So that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
For the last couple weeks we have meditated on the nature of time and the way in which we as Christians are called to be a people anchored in the past and expectant of the future. We are a people whose history stretches all the way back to Adam, centers in the Second Adam Christ, and will culminate when that same Lord Jesus returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. We look back and we look forward.
The wisdom of looking back and looking forward at one and the same time is a discipline that we must cultivate. The folly of constantly looking back is that we imagine the past holds all the solutions to our present problems. If only we still wore prairie dresses and could go out and live the doors unlocked. We become ensnared by sentimentality. But Solomon warns us, “Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” A perusal of history reveals that many of the frustrations and struggles which we face in our own day have been faced many times before by our fathers. They were not ideal days – they were days of successes and failures, days from which we can learn but days to which we are not called by God to return. He has placed us where we are so that we might labor for the future.
The folly of constantly looking forward is that we naively expect that things will just work out. Of course the future will be better than the past – aren’t we Americans, isn’t this the land of opportunity, won’t the peace we enjoy now remain indefinitely? Well a quick glance at the history of humanity would reveal the absurdity of those questions. God rules in human history and allots times of prosperity and adversity in accordance with his will. He exalts one and brings another down. He kills and He makes alive. He prospers and He curses. He is the Lord; He does all these things.
What then is our calling at this point in our history? Listen to Solomon: In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.Currently, we are in a time of prosperity – so what is Solomon’s word? Rejoice! Be joyful and thankful, praising God for His mercy. Does this mean that the future will go on indefinitely this way? No – for He is the Sovereign Lord and orders all things in accordance with his will. So what are we to do? Worship Him, honor Him, seek refuge in Him and know that He does all things well and shall protect His people in both prosperity and adversity. He wants to keep us humble.
So let us this morning humble ourselves in the sight of God and confess that we are often ignorant of the past and naïve in our expectations for the future. Let us entrust ourselves to Him and pray that come prosperity or adversity we would honor His Name. Let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.
Our Father,
We have forgotten that you are the Sovereign Lord and that both prosperity and adversity come from your hand. In times of prosperity we praise our own labor and become puffed up and forget you. In times of adversity we blame you and grumble at your providences ignoring our own sins and your many mercies toward us. Forgive us our pride and folly. Grant us grace to serve you in times of prosperity and adversity – to rejoice in the Lord always, knowing that in Christ you are for us. All praise and thanks to you O Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.


October 12, 2012 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Church History, Meditations, Sanctification

Ecclesiastes 12:1 (NKJV)
1 Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:

We Christians are called to be a people anchored and rooted in the past. We are not to be consumed by the present, by the worries of today, the fears or luxuries before us, but are to call to mind the promises that God has made to our fathers and the deeds and wonderful works that He has done. We are to be saturated with a sense of history, of tradition. After all the book in which God has chosen to reveal Himself is a book stuffed with history, with stories of men, women, and children who feared and served God.

So listen to the words of the book, the commands to remember:

Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place.” (Ex 13:3)

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)

And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lordyour God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm…” (Deut 5:15)

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness…” (Deut 8:2)

“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth….” (Deut 8:18)

Remember! Do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness…” (Deut 9:7a)

Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt!” (Deut 24:9)

Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32)

Remember, remember, remember! We are to be a people of remembrance. For remember (!) that when our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he commanded us, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Our worship and our lives need to reflect this sense of grounding in the past. As James Smith writes in his book Desiring the Kingdom, “there is a deep sense in which the church is a people called to resist the presentism embedded in the tyranny of the contemporary. We are called to be a people of memory, who are shaped by a tradition that is millennia older than the last Billboard chart.”

But often we forget. Like our fathers we wander astray; we forget God’s goodness. We forget God’s promises. We forget the ways in which He has delivered in the past and so we are incapable of trusting him in the present.

Thus the children of Israel did not remember the Lordtheir God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side;” (Judges 8:34)

They did not rememberHis power: The day when He redeemed them from the enemy,” (Psalm 78:42)

… you have forgotten the God of your salvation, And have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold…” (Isaiah 17:10)

And this is where we are as a nation. We have forgotten God, failed to remember the wonders that God has wrought in the earth. We are consumed with the present; overwhelmed with the hip; distracted by the contemporary. And what of you? Have you been captured by the spirit of the age or are you remembering God? Let us kneel and confess that we have often forgotten God.

Being Passionate

February 22, 2010 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Ecclesiastes 11:9 (NKJV)
9 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 in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.

For some weeks now we have been considering the lessons which young men as part of the body of Christ teach us. Solomon reminds us today that young men are full of energy, vision, passion, commitment, goals, dreams and aspirations. And so he exhorts young men to thank God for this energy and enthusiasm. “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.”

The desires to conquer the world, to chart unknown territory, to discover new things – these are good and noble. The reckless abandon with which young men can press ahead and pursue dreams and visions, is a lesson which young men have to teach us as the people of God. Passion is a good thing. So Solomon urges young men to follow these desires. “Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes.” Take advantage of the passion which God has given you – dream lofty dreams, pursue outrageous goals.

Alongside these encouragements, Solomon delivers one reminder to young men in the midst of your passion: be tenacious in holding on to what is good and right. Too many young men allow their passions to direct them in ways that despise truth, goodness, and beauty. Their passions drive them to seek one more sexual encounter, one more drug enduced euphoria, one more victory at the gaming table. Notice what Solomon says, “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.” One day you will give an account for the choices you have made. One day you will answer to God for the way in which your passions have driven you. One day you will no longer be young.

In other words, Solomon is counseling you young men, that your passion can be put to either good use or evil use. If your passion drives you to honor the Living God and uphold His law, then rejoice for you are being precisely the type of young man He wants you to be. If, however, your passion is driving you to despise or ignore God and His statues, then you are in the clutches of the Evil One. Far from being a young man, you are nothing more than Satan’s tool. Too many young men have assumed that just because they feel like doing something, because they are passionate about it, therefore it must be right. Solomon teaches you otherwise. Passion is good – but it must be driven to achieving that which is honorable in the sight of God. Therefore your passion must be regulated by the Word of God.

What then do we as the people of God learn from young men today? Two things. First, the glory of passion. I fear that many of us have forgotten what it is to be passionate. John wrote to the church of Ephesus, “But this I have against you, that you have left your first love.” Have you forgotten what it is to be passionate? Then look at a young man and remember again and imitate him. Second, the danger of passion. We too must ask ourselves, “Have our passions driven us to evil?” Then we too must look at the Word of God and remember what it is we are to be truly passionate about.

Reminded that we have failed to learn the lesson of passion from the young men in our midst, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.