October 16, 2018: Love

October 16, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 44-46, Song of Solomon 1, John 5:16-30, 1 Peter 2:1-8 Song of Solomon 1: If Ecclesiastes is difficult to interpret, try the Song of Solomon! Throughout history, there have been basically two streams of interpretation. The first, and the most ancient, is to interpret the song as an allegory of God’s love, and in particular of Christ’s love for the church. The second, and mostly more recent, is to interpret the song as instead a celebration of human love. What is the right approach? Clearly, it is overly prudish to deny the human love element of this song. Some of the descriptions of this song are fairly graphic, or certainly physically romantic. On the other hand, we ignore the tradition of interpreting it as an allegory of Christ’s love for the church at risk of post-Enlightenment, modernistic hubris. How then should we interpret it? In my view, the basic approach…

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October 15, 2018: Conclusion

October 15, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 39-43, Ecclesiastes 12, John 5:1-15, 1 Peter 1:17-25 Ecclesiastes 12: Finally, we come to the “conclusion” of the matter. Remember the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes has been conducting an experiment. His hypothesis has been that life “under the sun” – that is, without reference to confidence about eternity or an intimacy of relationship with God – is meaningless. Whatever you do, whether it is work or pleasure or anything else, wisdom or foolishness is all meaningless “under the sun.” Now what is his conclusion to his experiment? First, up until verse 8, the “teacher” scans his eye over the life journey of a human being. He urges us to listen to his words and to learn from them before it is too late, to remember your Creator while you are still young. In this poem to old age there are stunning images – the grinders cease because they are few (“teeth”),…

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October 14, 2018: Meaning and Purpose

October 14, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 35-38, Ecclesiastes 11, John 4:43-54, 1 Peter 1:10-16 Ecclesiastes 11: We come now to another chapter of worldly advice under the premise of being “under the sun.” Such advice does not remove the reality that it is all still “meaningless” (verse 10). There is no real meaning or satisfaction to even the most practically sensible, exuberant, or even joyful life if you live with an “under the sun” perspective. But while these “under the sun” pieces of wisdom do not give you meaning, they do give you a way to live that is better than the alternative. By emphasizing the little good that even such good advice can provide, it also emphasizes how much we need a perspective “above the sun” – or a perspective from the side of the resurrection of Jesus that allows us to have a sure and certain hope in our eternal destiny. Great philosophers, like…

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October 13, 2018: Some Worldly Wise Advice

October 13, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 32-34, Ecclesiastes 10, John 4:27-42, 1 Peter 1:1-9 Ecclesiastes 10: Having explained how wisdom, while admirable, is not “under the sun” sufficient to provide a meaningful life, he now gives examples of wisdom’s usefulness nonetheless. There are various sayings in this chapter which – though not “under the sun” providing a way to a fully meaningful life – are still examples of savvy, common sense, practical wisdom. Better to be wise than a fool – even if in either case “under the sun” life is still meaningless. For instance, first, he notices how even a little folly in the mist of great wisdom can ruin everything: As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. We will have seen this pattern often enough ourselves. Some live wisely for many years, and then do something really foolish. And it seems to stain everything that was…

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Some Thoughts on What We Can Learn from the Ancient Church…on a Chilly Friday Afternoon

October 12, 2018:

The goal of the pastoral residency program at College Church is to give highly qualified, excellent pastors an opportunity to benefit from “on the job” training and mentoring, as well as specific interaction around important ministry educational elements. One of our seminars is on church history. We were looking this week at the “ancient” church. Our reading list accented the primary sources and focused on these resources: ANCIENT The Early Church, Henry Chadwick* Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Polycarp Martyrdom of Polycarp, Church of Smyrna First Apology, Justin Martyr Against Heresies,Irenaeus Apology, Tertullian Against the Arians, Athanasius Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, John Chrysostom The City of God, Augustine* The * indicated essential or strongly recommended reading. The point of the reading was to produce an essay or paper that answered this question: “In what ways was the ancient…

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October 12, 2018: Destiny

October 12, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 30-31, Ecclesiastes 9, John 4:15-26, James 5:13-20 Ecclesiastes 9: Most of this chapter is about how a common destiny awaits us all – wise or foolish. And in the “teacher’s” “under the sun” perspective, it is not really possible to know much of what life after death will be. In fact, he has a pretty depressing view of what awaits us. “in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Of course, this is a very different view to the New Testament’s description of life after death and the resurrection to come! Consider Revelation 21 verses 3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away…

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October 11, 2018: More Wisdom

October 11, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 26-29, Ecclesiastes 8, John 4:1-14, James 5:7-12 Ecclesiastes 8: The discussion about wisdom continues. It starts with a modified positive. “Who is like the wise?” indicating that to be wise is a good thing. But then “who knows the explanation of things?” indicating that no one is really, truly wise. Still, “a person’s wisdom brightens their face.” This modified positive discussion about wisdom carries on through chapter 8 until it comes to the end – when the penny drops. “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Ecc. 8:17). So, “under the sun,” real wisdom is not attainable. And even if someone claims they have attained it, they have not really. It’s the perspective of the inadequacy of this-sided, human, this-world, “under…

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October 10, 2018: More About Wisdom

October 10, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 23-25, Ecclesiastes 7:15-29, John 3:22-36, James 5:1-6 Ecclesiastes 7:15-29: This section continues the discussion that we looked at yesterday. The basic idea is that – as the “teacher” explores his various experiments related to answering his question about the meaning of life “under the sun” – he now comes to explore wisdom. Certainly wisdom has much to offer. It is better to be wise than foolish! And it is better to be wise than foolishly rich. But even wisdom does not ultimately satisfy “under the sun.” The final verse summarizes it nicely: God created mankind upright, but we have gone in search of many schemes. We are seeking, but not understanding; trying to be clever, but often falling short. Unable to grasp the true meaning of life. “I am determined to be wise – but this was beyond me.” Perhaps you consider yourself a clever, sophisticated, enlightened sort of person.…

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October 9, 2018: Wisdom

October 09, 2018:

Today's Bible Reading: Jeremiah 19-22, Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, John 3:16-21, James 4:11-17 Ecclesiastes 7:1-14: This section about wisdom really needs to be read in context of some of the verses that immediately follow it. Consider verse 15, “In this meaningless life of mine…” and then verse 16, “Do not be over-righteous neither be over-wise…” Or verse 22, “'I am determined to be wise’ – but this was beyond me.” He is “searching” but not “finding” (verse 28). In other words, while the first fourteen verses are full of much practical wisdom from which we can learn, the reason why they are here is to show us that even this kind of practical, pious wisdom is ultimately meaningless. Why? Because no one can really attain to the necessary wisdom that is required to experience the benefits of wisdom. And even if you could, there is a danger: the dour, “wise,” but sad scholar; the prudent but unexciting…

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October 8, 2018: Prosperity

October 08, 2018:

Today’s Bible Reading: Jeremiah 16-18, Ecclesiastes 6, John 3:1-15, James 4:1-10 Ecclesiastes 6: But, a person may well ask, what about money? What about prosperity and financial success? Surely that is something that has meaning, even “under the sun”? Well, let us consider that, says the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes. There are several reasons why money (and its pursuit) is not a satisfying object for a meaningful human existence. To begin with, he finds, actually, that those who are most wealthy do not really enjoy it! Was it John Paul Getty who was once asked how much money is enough, and he replied “just a little bit more”? “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.” In other words, it is better to enjoy what you have than to work hard to attain what you do not have and so not enjoy what you possess right now. And yet the very thing…

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