Ephemera

Everything is ephemeral – except the one eternal God

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Read: Ecclesiastes 1:2

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Reflect:

This is the motto of the Teacher, the echo and refrain throughout Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word translated “meaningless” is hebel, which literally means vapour or breath (not to be confused with ruach, which means breath, wind or spirit). Hebel conveys the idea of transience, emptiness, futility, vanity; whatever is insubstantial or worthless.

In Isaiah 57:13 and Jeremiah 14:14-15 and 16:19 (and elsewhere in the prophets and wisdom writings) hebel is applied to the ephemeral nature of idols, especially as compared with the eternal might of the LORD God.

At first, it seems as if the Teacher’s motto is a statement of utter despair, frustration and pessimism. I’m left wondering if this Teacher, this wise elder, is nothing more than a grumpy old man.

However, this idea of everything in the world being transient or fleeting is consistent with  multiple passages of Scripture which testify to a contrast between the ephemeral nature of the life and wealth of people and the enduring nature and value of the word of God. Isaiah compares the faithlessness of people to fading flowers and the temporary life of people to withering grass, in contrast to the steadfast, enduring word of the LORD (Isaiah 40:6-8). James warns the fall of the rich is like the destruction of a blossom’s beauty under the scorching sun (James 1:10-11).

Further on in his letter, James uses the exact same vapour/mist analogy as Ecclesiastes’ Teacher when he says (4:14), “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” I think the message of Ecclesiastes and the motto of its Teacher may fit surprisingly well with the wise teaching of James, who also warned (4:4) that, “friendship with the world means enmity against God.”

What is meaningless? An ephemeral life lived with no regard for the eternal God.

crux:

Everything is ephemeral – except the one eternal God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are eternal, immortal, everlasting, enduring. You have existed forever and will exist forever more. You are the Alpha and Omega, the Living One. I offer praise to you.

In contrast, I am ephemeral. My life is fleeting, my desires futile, my efforts insubstantial, my achievements transient. I am a mist, a vapour. I humble myself before you.

Thank you for Peter’s assurance (1 Peter 1:18-19, 23) that you bought me with the imperishable blood of Christ, that I am born again of the imperishable seed of your Word. Thank you for Paul’s promise (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) that my body will be raised imperishable, in glory and power, a spiritual body. I treasure my hope of sharing eternity with you, my eternal God.

Amen.

Dream

Misery awaits those who ignore the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ

Read: James 5

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8)

Reflect:

[This post is going to be a bit different from my usual meditation on the Bible. Bear with me, please!]

This morning, I woke from a terrible dream.

I dreamed that I was in a giant, colourful store with large glass windows all across the front, a store with everything necessary for life.

A woman was there, and when a man came furtively into the store, she pointed him out to me. “He comes here often,” she said. “Watch him.” She called out to the other people who worked in the store and they came to speak to the man, gathering at the front of the store.

But the man snuck off to another room, grabbed an immense painting, gilt-framed, a portrait of a family, and tried to take it. He would not listen to the others as they crowded around him, trying to speak. In the end he left the painting and slipped way out the door.

The woman spoke again to me: “If only he would listen! Everything in this store is available for free, if only people will receive it as a gift. Nothing here can be stolen, yet he always tries to steal, when he could have all this for free.”

She gestured around the store, and I saw that it was filled with food and clothes and all things that are needed for a good and pleasant life.

Next, I looked out the large glass windows that made up the front and side of the store. Outside, all was black and grey, stark and sombre. A black bitumen road lay in front of the store, coming right up to the window panes.

At first, I thought there was some sort of procession going past, but then I saw that no one was moving. Rather the road itself, beneath them, was moving, carrying them along as if it were a conveyor belt.

On the moving road, people stood and sat and even lay down, still and static as if in a tableau. No one made any attempt to leave or get off. Everyone was in shades of black and grey, there was no colour in them. It was as if I was watching a black and white movie panning from right to left, but there was no white, no lightness anywhere. Somehow I knew that some were Mormon, some Muslim, some of no recognised religion at all.

On the faces of the people were expressions of such misery and agony that I could barely look at them. I saw two men on the ground, lying as if dying or dead, but no one stooped to help them.

I turned to the right and my attention was caught by another man, outside the store but out of place because he was colourful and cheerful. He was green all over, and he looked like a living tree.

This man saw me looking at him, opened the door of the store and came over to me. He leaned over, looked me straight in the eyes and asked me, “Would you like me to explain what this means?”

All at once, I needed no explanation. I stared back aghast at this Man of Life and, through sobs, I spoke: “I will be so sad, so very sad, when my father dies. Then there will be no more hope for his escape.”

And then I woke, shuddering.

This morning Jeff preached on Revelation 8-10, including the seven trumpets of Revelation 8:6-9:21. The woe of which the trumpets warn is one and the same with my dream (Genesis 41:25).

crux:

Misery awaits those who ignore the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Read: James 5

Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are full of compassion and mercy. Please have compassion on my father and extend mercy to him. Please grant him repentance and faith.

You are the Judge, standing at the door. Please do not judge my father until you have first justified him and granted him your forgiveness and your righteousness.

Please help me to speak to my father today. May my words always give you glory.

Amen.

 

Birth

My desires birth my sin; the Father’s decision birthed my salvation

Read: James 1

Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18)

Reflect:

Two births are described here: the birth of sin, from evil desire and our (Christian) birth through the gospel. The former leads only to death but the latter prefigures the new creation. Sin is birthed by human hearts, but Christians are born as the heavenly Father’s firstfruits.

What does it mean that sin springs from the evil desires of the human heart? It means I cannot blame anyone but myself for my mistakes and bad choices, just as I cannot blame anyone else for my rebellion and disgrace. It was my fault that I went my own way instead of staying on the narrow way of Christ. It is my fault that I am frequently lazy, selfish, short-tempered or fearful.

What does it mean that new birth is a good and perfect gift from the Father? It means that I do not deserve new birth, I did not do anything to earn it and I could not do anything to repay my heavenly Father for it. It is free, ‘no strings attached’. It’s an outpouring of the LORD’s goodness and generosity, his loving-kindness and compassion, his mercy and grace, his choice and creation. I can do nothing to lose this new birth for I did nothing to win it.

crux:

My desires birth my sin; the Father’s decision birthed my salvation.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please receive my apology: I am truly sorry for my sin, my evil desires, my wicked rebellion against you who are my God.

Thank you for your choice to give me a new life as your saved, redeemed, adopted, renewed child.

I love you. You are good and generous, and I have benefited mightily from your grace.

Please allow me to share your grace with others.

Amen.

Alive

The LORD’s people are alive forever

Read: Deuteronomy 32

On that same day the LORD told Moses, … “There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.” (Deuteronomy 32:48, 50)

Reflect:

What did the LORD mean when he said, “You will die and be gathered to your people”? How was Moses to be “gathered”? Surely in death he would be separated from his people, the Israelites who would enter the Promised Land without him. So how can I understand this prophetic speech by the LORD to Moses?

It is necessary first to understand that Moses’ people were not only the Israelites who travelled with him. They were also the Israelites who had gone before. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, together with Jacob’s concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah. The twelve sons of Jacob and Dinah, their sister. The 70-odd descendants who went down to Egypt and the tens or hundreds of thousands who left Egypt when the LORD opened the sea before them. These were Moses’ people.

And when the LORD gathered Moses to them, he did so to a living people; people who had died yet were (and are) still alive. As Jesus said (Matthew 22:31b-32), “Have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” God’s people are alive forever, because Jesus paid the price for our eternal life with his blood.

crux:

The LORD’s people are alive forever.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are immortal, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, who was and is and is to come. LORD, you live forever.

Thank you for the gift of eternal life in perfect relationship with you, which you have given to me through your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for your promise that I shall spend my eternity with you, in the radiant splendour of your Son, with all my Christian brothers and sisters, through faith in Christ.

Thank you for Peggy and Daryl, who share this flight with me and will also be alive forever in your presence.

Amen.

Said

The LORD brings his people into his kingdom, as he has said

Read: Deuteronomy 31

“I am now one hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said.” (Deuteronomy 31:2-3)

Reflect:

There is so much in these verses. Moses is 120 years old and other than his first 40 years, raised in an Egyptian palace, he has had a hard life: 40 years a wandering shepherd in Midian and another 40 years a wandering Shepherd of Israel in the Sinai desert. Yet Moses is still disappointed, even if also resigned, because the LORD has barred him from entering the land God promised to Abraham’s descendants. Moses, at 120, would still like another 40 years, adventuring in the Promised Land.

Later, much later, Moses would visit the Promised Land as he met with Jesus, his long-awaited Messiah, at the mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-4), as Jen Wilkin pointed out at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. Meanwhile, God had a good plan for the immediate future: the LORD, together with Joshua, Moses’ apprentice, would cross over into the land ahead of the people. They would conquer the people of the land and wipe out all their despicable abominations of religious practices. The LORD himself would be with Joshua (31:23) as he took Israel into the Promised Land.

Today, I know that whether I see it or not, God is bringing and will bring all his chosen people into his kingdom, under Jesus our King. According to 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise … he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” As I leave this land today, I trust God that he will finish any conversations I have begun, that he will grow any gospel seeds I have sown, for his kingdom and his glory.

crux:

The LORD brings his people into his kingdom, as he has said.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you once again for the reassurance of your sovereignty. Thank you for the reminder that you order my life and you are capable of bringing your chosen into the kingdom of Christ Jesus your Son.

I pray for Ari, the Jew whom I met at McDonalds, to whom I explained the need to trust Jesus to reconcile him to you. I pray for the homeless woman I hugged, who just wanted shelter I had no means to give her. I pray for Liz and Sharon, the ladies who asked me what “gospel” meant as we visited Niagara Falls. I pray for Alistair, the gay man I met last night while we watched the sunset over the Toronto skyline from the Toronto islands, who feels excluded within the conservative culture of country Ontario. May you bring each of them into your kingdom, the kingdom of your Son.

I entrust them into your hands.

Amen.

Home

Jesus brings spiritual exiles home to God

Read: Deuteronomy 30

Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:4)

Reflect:

I know it is not good hermeneutics, good biblical interpretation, to read a verse like this and jump straight to its apparent applicability to my present situation, a foreigner half a world away from my home, for which I shall depart tomorrow.

The context  is Moses’ sermon series before Israel enters the promised land. It is clear that this verse was spoken and recorded as a promise to Israel that although their faithless descendants would be exiled, yet a remnant who returned to faith would also return to the land. Biblical theology enables me to see the Jesus connection, whereby it is Jesus’ death that brings spiritual exiles home to a reconciled relationship with God their Father. It is Jesus’ Spirit who enables faithful righteousness among an otherwise unfaithful, unrighteous people.

Now, I had a small upset today. I got mild hypothermia swimming 500m in Lake Ontario and very nearly fainted as I got on the bus to return to my hotel. (Yes, the world really does go black when you are on the verge of fainting.) So, despite my knowledge of proper biblical hermeneutics, I am comforted by the immediacy of the promise in this verse.

God will bring me home. Whether to my temporary home in my hotel, with my head between my knees as I pray silently, “LORD, help me,” over and over; or to my earthly home half the world away via a mis-booked airport shuttle, 25 hours of flights plus ten hours more of layovers and a five-hour drive; or to my heavenly home, through the veil of death or through my Lord’s glorious return. The LORD my God will bring me home.

crux:

Jesus brings spiritual exiles home to God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Once again I am overwhelmed by your loving-kindness, your grace and mercy, your compassion. You comfort me and reassure me.

You know what I need before I cry out to you. You brought an ambulance-trained bus driver to collect me from the lake just as I was starting to realise the full effects of my frigid swim. Never was I alone, though it may have appeared so to those who saw me walking and swimming and shaking. You were with me as you always will be.

Oh, how eagerly I look forward to coming home to my family! Make me just as eager to see you face-to-face when the time comes for me to come home to you. I love you. May I love you always.

Amen.

Grants

The LORD grants his people perfect rest through Jesus Christ

Read: Deuteronomy 28

The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. (Deuteronomy 28:7)

Reflect:

The thing about Bible reading is that the more you do it, the more you get out of it. Even a simple, short passage like this single verse has more to it than a surface reading would suggest.

The basic interpretation is that the LORD would ensure that Israel’s enemies will be defeated, as the first sentence states clearly. From the second sentence, the enemies would approach from one direction, but after they are defeated they would scatter:

from one direction = unity, cohesion
flee … in seven = disunity, disarray

There’s a bit more depth here; though it takes careful reading and biblical thinking to see it. It has to do with significant numbers in the Bible story. The word seven becomes, through the course of the Bible, shorthand for the seventh day of creation. On the seventh day God rested from the work of creating. Upon this seventh day pattern, God ordained sabbath rest for all his people.

seven (7) = sabbath; perfect completion, peace, rest, no work

So, while the enemies approach together and leave scattered, the more important concept here is that God will grant his people sabbath rest from their enemies. This is rest from work, rest from the struggle to achieve, rest from the battle to overcome. Far more than the temporary amelioration of hostilities, this is true, eternal rest.

So what’s the Jesus connection? It is Jesus Christ who grants this true and complete rest from our enemies: from Satan and his demons, from our past sins, from our character flaws, from our sinful nature. It is Jesus who grants rest from the battle with our enemies, within and without. It is Jesus who grants rest from the struggle to win our own salvation, because he provides it for us.

crux:

The LORD grants his people perfect rest through Jesus Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are a good, good God. You are a good, good Father. This is who you are.

You take great delight in granting good things to your people who are called by the Name of your Son Jesus Christ, the Christians. We are your new covenant people, the people redeemed and rescued by your only Son Jesus, whom you sent to die in our place.

LORD, you saved me from out of the clutches of the enemy Satan, that liar and deceiver. He fled before me because you drove him away. You have kept me safe, LORD, and you have granted me the sweet restoration and refreshment of fellowship with your people in Wichita, in Indianapolis and now here in Toronto.

LORD, may I long abide in the peace you have granted to me. Keep me safe from my enemies. Keep me safe because Jesus has defeated sin and death so I have nothing to fear. Make me a hope dealer.

Amen.