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Series Theme:  Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 19

Meditation Title: A Time for Everything


Eccles 3:1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven


Having reached a point of truth after all of his ponderings about the meaningless activities of life, in this new chapter Solomon considers the thought that although life seems meaningless from his jaded, somewhat godless perspective, nevertheless there is an order or rightness for living. Now it is no coincidence that this follows his declarations in the last three verses of the previous chapter where three times he refers to God. When atheists tell us there is no God, the one thing they cannot explain is why there is such an ordered world. They resort to mechanistic language such as ‘natural selection' but that goes nowhere near explaining how inanimate material came into being and then created life, all of which ‘works' with amazing order. It was that order which enabled the early scientists, who worked out of a Christian way of thinking – of an ordered universe designed by God – to investigate the world. We take for granted the orderliness of the world. If there was no God and it truly was all the result of random chance, then there would be no reason why it was not random chaos with things being very different from the incredible order that we see today.

Remember, Solomon was a ‘scientist' of his day. He had studied and explored (1:12), he had applied himself to understand everything (1:17) like no one before him, and few since. Solomon knew about life, and many of his findings about human behaviour are what form the book of Proverbs. Solomon knew about order and about timing. Order and timing go together. In the way God has designed things, one particular thing follows another particular thing – in a certain time. You see this in child development and in the development of all creatures. Watch the order that brings forth a butterfly. You can't change it and it takes time. Different animals have different lengths of time that they carry their babies in their womb. To bring to maturity ready to live in the world, it needs time. Growth is orderly development and it takes time. Wherever we look we are constrained by time.

Time appears again and again significantly in Scripture: he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4) The timing of salvation shows us that it was planned even before the Godhead brought the world into being. Then we see, when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4). The execution of that plan was brought into operation at exactly the right moment in history. As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51). The climax of the plan was being brought about according to an exact preplanned timing. The Passover, after three years of ministry was to be the climax resulting in the death of the Lamb of God. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

Paul understood this. Israel were utterly helpless in sin and in failure and spiritual barrenness under the Roman oppressors, after centuries of pointless squabbling. It was almost as if God waited for them to be at their weakest, and then He came in the form of His Son. The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Psa 110:1) For the ongoing working out of the plan, there is that same sense if timing. Jesus will continue to reign at his Father's right hand until he has achieved what the plan decreed. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25). It hasn't happened instantly. In accordance with the way God has designed all things, so with salvation, there is a gradual working out of the plan of salvation of the world.

Again atheists struggle with the idea that God developed the world gradually. Surely they say this slow gradual social evolution of mankind can't have been God. Why didn't He just bring it all into being as it is now, why wait all those centuries of social development? Because that is how God designs everything – to grow and develop slowly, in stages, one stage building on the previous one. Why didn't God accelerate it and give men ideas of great scientific inventions to bless mankind thousands of years ago? Why wait until modern history? Because three thousand years ago it would have been meaningless to them, so what they ‘invented' was on a par with the level of their knowledge then. Wherever we look it is the same – gradual development. Order. Timing.

When you look at your life, the same will be true. We can't rush maturity. It is a slow, gradual thing. There is no instant maturity. No, maturity takes time and experience. If that is true of me, it is true of all of us, and I therefore need to learn to be patient with other people and simply accept them where they are in their development now. Do you see, it applies in every area of life! In the days to come, we're going to let Solomon open us this line of thought for us and, with the Lord's help, perhaps come to a greater understanding of life than we've ever had before!







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Meditation No. 20

Meditation Title: A Time for Living and Dying


Eccles 3:2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,


We started out this new section yesterday reflecting on the truth that timing is important, that life is built around timing. Our starting point now, and it is the obvious place to start, is with being born. There is a time to be born. Being born and dying, the two ends of our life, and we have a say in neither of them. We speak about free will and all the choices God gives us, but that excludes the start and finish of our lives. We had absolutely nothing to do with our coming into this world. For some of us, our arrival was a surprise to our parents. For some, our parents wish we hadn't been born, yet the truth is that when God looked into the future from the beginning He saw us, knew us, and saw and knew that we would respond to Him and rejoiced over us.

With God there is this strange difference, that we struggle to understand, the difference between knowing we are coming and then seeing our arrival. It is strange because sometimes we say that God is outside of time and looks down on time and thus knows and sees everything all the time. Confused? Don't worry, the important thing is to remember that when we arrived on this earth, when we were born, the Lord rejoiced at our arrival because He knew we would become one of His children. David understood something of this when he wrote, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psa 139:16) God knew what you would be like, knew that you would respond to Him, and He eagerly looked forward to the moment of your arrival – the potential that was you had arrived and would soon grow into that person who would, one day, turn to Him and become a child of God.

My arrival came in the fullness of time. It needed my two parents, who needed two parents, who needed two parents….. That why the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are so important. They speak about a flow of history. That history had to flow as it did before I could come into being. There was indeed a time for me to be born, this unique person made up of the genes of preceding generations. For the person to be who I am today, I had to come into this particular part of history so that I would react to all the unique circumstances of this time, and those circumstances would react with my genes so that nature plus nurture plus God's activity would produce the unique person that I am today.

How much did God direct life and people to produce me as the person that I am today? That is probably one step too far for us to understand, but we are moving towards the understanding that God spoke and acted into life to help direct and bring about the person who is me, the person who is temporarily clothed with a human body of flesh and blood. It was this body that is the vessel in which the real me develops and who, one day, will leave this body for a new one (1 Cor 15:43,44). The mystery of the real me is indeed a mystery.

How life was imparted at conception, how a new spirit being came into being, is a mystery more than physical cells. When we move into eternity, will we find out that the real ‘me' was a spirit injection at that point of conception, a real genuine injection by God that produced what we call life, and which we take for granted? Did Job understand that? The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job33:4)

From that point it needed nine months (give or take a few days in most cases) to form me and prepare this body to be able, with some help, to survive on this earth. Then at the right time, my mother's body ejected me and my life on earth began. To achieve what this little baby is, an almost infinite amount of things had to happen on the earth beforehand. Now it begins.

Time passes and an almost infinite number of things (well a number of things beyond counting!) and this body slows down and one day stops. Again Job said, Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21) The psalmist wrote, The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty (Psa 90:10). As history has developed and health has improved, that may have even increased – yet none of us knows when death will come. All we know is that it will: “man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27). Yes there are serious illnesses and people die, there are accidents and people die, wars and people die, but most of the time we don't know why it is that the body just stops and heart beat and brain waves, the two usual measurements of the presence of life, cease.

Sometimes the very elderly seem to give us a clue when they say, “I've had enough of this life; I think it's time to go.” The Lord alone knows, but is there indeed within the divine plan, a length of life that is right for this particular body, this particular person? Yes, we know the Lord knows when we will leave here, but is there an optimum time for us to go, when all He has wanted of us has been achieved, and all the resources He has given our bodies are used up? The Lord can clearly extend life when He wants to (see 2 Kings 20:6, and Jesus raising people from the dead in the Gospels). He clearly removed people in judgment or discipline (see Acts 5:5,10, 12:23 ), so is it that at the appointed time, it is the Lord Himself who stops our bodies and takes the real us on into the next world?

When we came into the world at the right time, we were helpless. As we grew we were able to make our own choices and our own decisions. We lived the life we chose and that God gave. When the time comes for us to leave, will we be able to look back and say, “It has been good. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”? (2 Tim 4:7). May it be so!





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Meditation No. 21

Meditation Title: A Time for Planting & Uprooting


Eccles 3:2    a time to plant and a time to uproot,


Sometimes there are little phrases in Scripture that we hardly notice, or perhaps think unworthy of our attentions, yet ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) so let's see what this little bit of Scripture might say to us.

A time to plant is fairly simple and straight forward. There are definitely right times for planting different crops, different plants. All seeds need germinating and for germination to take place there needs to be the right temperature and the right amount of moisture. Too hold or too cold, too dry or too wet, and it won't happen. Thus the farmer or horticulturalist learns when the conditions are just right to start the plants off. But it's not only seeds is it, it's also seedlings. You may buy small ‘plug plants' ones that have been started off very small and which need bringing on before you plant them out. They need to get to a certain size and, even more importantly, to a certain hardiness before they can be planted out. For some plants they need a certain level of maturity before they can survive out in the open. The wise gardener also only plants these plants out when the threat of Winter or Spring frosts has gone.

Isaiah watched and wrote, When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” (Isa 28:24-26) Isaiah was aware that the farmer had to learn to prepare the ground. You can't plant or so before the ground is properly prepared, and as soon as it is prepared then you sow different seeds in different ways to cope with the ground and with the way they best grow. But you don't leave the ground otherwise it hardens up and weeds grow. He also learnt that you don't mix crops but you put them in their own space, when that space if available. If you are aiming for harvest, the farmer also learns how long it takes for plants to come to maturity ready for harvesting, and the time for planting is calculated back from the time when the conditions for harvest will be best ready for bringing in.

Now Jesus spoke a parable of the Sower, but it was really more about the seed being the word of God and how the different sorts of ground (our hearts) receive it (Mt 13:3-). If we are wise we let God lead us as to when to sow His word. Many young and enthusiastic Christians seek to sow the word all the time and they see little fruit. Yes we can sow it at any time, but there is a time to plant , for not everyone's heart is ready at this moment to receive the word. How do we know when someone's heart is ready for us to plant God's word in them so that it will start growing immediately?

When they show interest in us and in the things we do, when they start asking questions about spiritual matters. These are signs that the ground is ready for us to start planting. How many times have we tried to plant and the ground was just too hard and the word was instantly rejected. Our preparation can be praying for that person, that God will come and break up that hardness so that it is ready and wanting to receive the word. Then it will be a time to plant. We can also soften the ‘ground' by acts of love. That will also speed up the ground preparation to enable it to be a time to plant.

The second half of this verse doesn't seem so obvious: a time to uproot. When do you pull up plants in your garden? There tend to be two reasons why we pull up plants. One of them may be that they have come to the end of their fruitful life. Some plants are just annuals. At the end of the season they die and need to be pulled out and thrown away. The only spiritual parallel that I can see here is that of ministry or service. I believe there are times when God raises up an individual for a specific task at a specific time, and when the task has been achieved, no the Lord doesn't throw him away, but He anoints him for a different task and the old anointing dies. We sometimes try to continue on with projects when God has moved on. They were simply ‘annuals', there for a limited time. They fulfilled His purpose and then He moved on. Beware trying to make them live on! The other reason we pull out plants is that they either don't grow properly – may be stunted or disfigured – or they get diseased.

Now the Scripture does indicate that when we get stunted or diseased, then the Lord does do some drastic stuff. We are, of course, talking about spiritual matters here. So, for instance, Isaiah brought a word against Israel : What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” (Isa 5:4). He portrayed them as an unfruitful vineyard and went on, “I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed (v.5) He was going to have them uprooted, and that, of course, is what happened at the Exile.

In the New Testament we find the Lord uprooting the plants of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and Paul also spoke of some of the Corinthians dying (1 Cor 11:30,31). God was uprooting them and taking them home for the sake of the life of the church. When we find sin growing in our lives, it is obvious: we must uproot it and put it to death. If we find bad habits growing in our lives we need to uproot them and put them to death. Paul said, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5). Each of these things need uprooting if they start growing in our lives.

So, prepare the ground of your life, let God prepare your life, and let Him ‘plant' His word in you so that it grows and brings forth fruit. Work and watch to help prepare the ground of other people's lives to get ready to plant. If you see things that are unrighteous growing in you, be quick to uproot them. Don't let them grow and take hold. There a lot in this planting and uprooting!







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Meditation No. 22

Meditation Title: A Time for Ending or Starting


Eccles 3:3    a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,


I sometimes think that people that live in large towns or cities are less aware of the realities of life than those who live in the country. In the country there seems a greater awareness of ‘nature', of animals and the seasons. When our children were small we kept rabbits, a number of them. From time to time that scourge of rabbits, myxomatosis, struck and it was left to dad to put the poor creatures out of their misery. It was a time to kill. In the past decade we have had disease scares with cattle and with chickens and thousands have had to be slaughtered to stop the spread of disease. There are times when it is better to kill to preserve life than allow the living to remain alive and infect the rest of the population. When I read Genesis and read of the violence that plagued the world, I suspect that this was why the Lord had to bring the flood to put the world out of its misery and to start again. When I read of the Lord instructing his people to totally wipe out another people, I think we are on the same unpleasant ground: destroy in order that a spiritual virus will not spread and cause more destruction.

In the New Testament I find the words, Put to death and realise, it is a time to kill! “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” ( Col 3:5) and a little later Paul adds to that list,But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Col 3:8). There are these ‘viruses' which if allowed in our lives will grow and flourish, and the only answer is, without pity, to destroy them. It is a time to kill! Death is necessary when there is a threat to life and this is the only way out. When it comes to sin, we have got to kill of any remnants lest they grow and destroy us. It is a time to kill.

My wife, I think, must be a descendant of St. Francis of Assisi . We can look back in our family memories to the times when she rescued and sought to revive an ailing vole, a pigeon with a damaged wing, and numerous Bumble Bees that had run out of energy and just needed a little honey on a teaspoon to give them the ability to get up and go again. She was the one who patched up our children time and again when they cut themselves. She was the one who knew what to do when their temperature soared or they were violently sick. She knew it was a time to heal.

Today, possibly more than at any other time perhaps, we live in a society with damaged people, people who have simply been told they are stupid, or people who have been rejected as children when their father walked out, or people who were abused by the fathers before they walked out. As every new person becomes a Christian, it seems they come with an even bigger list of things that need healing up. When a whole society turns from God as ours has done, then the whole land needs healing:I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” (2 Chron 7:14) was God's response to a people who repented and sought Him. Healing of the mind, the body and the spirit is the work of Jesus. Sometimes we refer to ‘the Great Physician' because of His tendency to heal. Where there is ailing life, unless as we saw yesterday it has come to the end of its allotted time, the Lord comes with healing power. Jesus did it again and again when he walked the earth. Today, when he is given the faith, he does it still.

We have a long garden and I build sheds. It's almost a hobby and my family make fun of me for it. When we first moved into this home with its long garden the grass was very long, the garden unkempt from lack of attention by an elderly couple. Hidden away were a variety of sheds. As we slowly restored the garden, I found this new hobby, restoring sheds! But there were some that were too far gone and the only thing was to pull them down. It was a time to tear down. As a church leader for many years, I have watched church activities that have reached the end of their useful lives, and now the blessing of God had clearly left them. It was a time to tear down.

But there have also been times in our family's history when there was a new need was presented and so a summerhouse was constructed on a spare space. It was a time to build. When we first moved into our house and our family was just about to increase, we needed another bedroom and so it was necessary for me to build a big dormer across the back of upstairs to extend. It was a time to build. From time to time when we as a church have looked out on the community, and perceived a new need that the Lord was burdening us with, we realised we needed to put into operation some new work. It was a time to build.

This is what life is about. It is rarely static. We see bad things in our lives and we realise it is a time to kill. We see people coming in with hurts and anguishes from life and we know it is a time to heal. We see things built in the past which have passed their useful date and are now merely acting as monuments to the past, and we know it is a time to tear down. New needs are presented and new structures of caring, or whatever, are needed, and we know it is a time for building. Yes, there is an ongoing kaleidoscope of activities that make up the constant change of what we call life. Don't be afraid of it; it's what we do to ensure ongoing life and vitality to ourselves, our families, and our churches. Enjoy it.






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Meditation No. 23

Meditation Title: A Time for Laughter or Tears


Eccles 3:4    a time to weep and a time to laugh


We said yesterday that life is a kaleidoscope of change, but it is also a kaleidoscope of emotions. We mature when we realise this and when we learn to cope with all emotions. We also need to realise that emotions are our inner feelings expressing themselves outwardly. Now in Britain there are ranges of socially acceptable emotions and they vary depending on the area of the country where you come from, I have observed. Some areas and some social strata are more expressive than others. Some nationalities seem to be more expressive than others. We talk about the British “stiff up lip” meaning we don't easily show emotions, yet that isn't always true.

I have known, what tend to be lower income groups, where emotions are expressed very freely. There are other groups within society who have been taught that it is wrong to express emotion; historically that was probably to train the men to lead in the army and be an example to their men in not showing fear. In the women it was possibly to cope with their men going away to war and coping when they didn't come back. Yet many of us are taught “big boys don't cry” or “big girls don't cry” when they've been hurt. Thus psychologists will talk about repressed emotions. The truth is that God has given us emotions and they are the healthy way to express what is happening on the inside.

So, there IS a time to weep. We can weep from sorrow or we can weep with joy. Healthy emotions aren't afraid to be expressed. If you are watching a beautiful film that is touching, it is healthy to shed a few tears. If there is sadness, it is healthy to express tears. Those who are fearful of tears are fearful of losing control and falling apart. The person who always holds back their tears is in danger of becoming an emotional block of stone, but you can only hold it in for a limited time, and if we don't allow our emotions free play, then one day we may completely crack. The person who bottles in their emotions is unable to express them to their partner or their children, and the relationship is only a tiny part of what God intended it to be. Children who grow up never seeing their fathers express emotion are deprived and won't know what to do with their own feelings, and may be similarly stunted.

We should not be ashamed of tears. When a loved one dies, it is natural to weep. If they have been going through a serious incurable illness in great pain, there may be a sense of relief when death finally comes, and we simply find there are no tears because of the relief. That's all right; it's what you are feeling on the inside. When we weep with sorrow it will not go on for ever:weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). Perhaps if we had real freedom of emotions, we would express tears far more often as we see the hurt and pain of this Fallen World. Jeremiah wept over the fall of Jerusalem and the book of Lamentations is just that, a lament with tears over the awfulness of what had happened. Do we ever get similarly moved?

Laughter seems to be a particularly human experience. Clearly dogs express pleasure by wagging their tails and other creatures express pleasure in other ways, but examine and watch and analyse laughter and it is a strange human thing. Our faces contort, our breathing becomes rapid and we ‘hoot'. Psychologists say laughter is good for you, it is healthy. Check your life out. How often do you laugh? A life deprived of laughter is a sad life. Laughter comes with humour and different people find different things funny. Some things we find mildly funny and other things we find side-splittingly funny. It's a strange thing humour and laughter.

We laugh because we are happy: Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” (Gen 21:6) We laugh when we find ourselves in ‘funny situations' or someone inadvertently says or does something funny, and we laugh. Yet if we are kind and considerate there are times when we know it is nicer not to laugh else we will be laughing at someone and demeaning them by it. We can laugh as means of expressing our security when someone seeks to verbally attack us: the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” (Psa 37:13). Thus we can laugh in the face of adversity if we know the Lord is with us. Beware the laughter of unbelief: Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?” (Gen 17:17)

So laughter can be good or bad. It is bad when it mocks another or derides the word of God. It is good when it expresses happiness at good things happening, or laughs at funny things happening. Imagine a life entirely devoid of emotions; how dull it would be. In the TV and film series' Star Trek they created the character of Spock who was a ‘Vulcan' a race for whom emotions had been overridden. Spock compensated for his lack of emotions by showing his logic – ‘cold logic' we speak about. In a later series, the android, Data, was given emotions. Prior to then he had been this ‘cold' robot. When we read books, watch films, or listen to music, our emotions enhance the experience. God, who has emotions has made us in His image, and so we have emotions to help us be more complete people. The psalms are full of these emotions. It's the way the Lord has made us. Rejoice in our humanity.







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Meditation No. 24

Meditation Title: A Time for Mourning or Dancing


Eccles 3:4    a time to mourn and a time to dance,


These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn? Of course when someone dies! That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn? We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral if someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew dies. Perhaps we aren't so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it's when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can't imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!

In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it. Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I'm sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn't come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won't be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn't something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It's right to mourn for close loss. It's right to cry. It's right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We're not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life', recognizing that life has got to continue, but it's a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward please and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It's just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can't be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again. Yes, as we've said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can't laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn't go on for ever. You shouldn't mourn when it's a time of happiness. We can't mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don't feel the anguish of loss, don't try and pretend. Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That's what life is like; that's how we are made.






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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 25

Meditation Title: A Time for Gathering or Scattering


Eccles 3:5   a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,


Probably in life, stones are something you've never really thought about. They are a background feature, if you like, that almost get missed. For a gardener, stones can be a blessing or a bane. We can take them and build a rockery, or put them down to form a base on which we build a shed, but in the midst of the flower bed or a lawn they can be a real nuisance and need to be removed. Isaiah spoke of the need to get rid of, or scatter stones: He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.” (Isa 5:2) This was God clearing the ground so that Israel could grow and flourish. Travelling around the country you may see dry-stone walls, mile after mile of walls made by these stones wedged together. In old towns we may take for granted the buildings that have been put together with stone. Stone and stones are there all around us and most of the time we don't see them.

In Old Testament times, piles of stones came to have greater significance than we might think. See here with Jacob: So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. He said to his relatives, "Gather some stones." So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me today." That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, "May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:45-49) This pile of stones became a memorial. The first two names given to it, in Aramaic and Hebrew respectively, mean ‘witness heap' and the last one, ‘watchtower'. This pile of stones was to act as a reminder of a family relationship and that they were now under God's watchful eye.

Similarly when Joshua took the people into the land crossing the Jordon, the Lord instructed him, Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” (Josh 4:2,3) so that, In the future, when your children ask you, `What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (v.6,7) Again this pile of collected stones were to remind people in the days to come of the Lord's covenant with them and what He had done for them taking them through on dry land. Piles of stones thus came to be monuments or reminders of a relationship.

Thus be can see now how the parallelism works – and a time to embrace”. Embracing is a sign of unity, of harmony, of relationship. In other words, there are times when it is right to build relationships and create signs of relationship. The smallest precious stone on the finger of a young woman is a sign that a young man has covenanted to join himself to her. Many churches have ‘membership', a formal sign of wanting to join together and be a committed part of this local body of God's people. When we join a team to work together, there is this same sense of committing to something. If we'd lived in Jacob's day we'd have each gathered a stone and made a pile as a reminder of the point in time when we came together to work together in relationship.

But then there is a time to scatter stones. If the gathering together of stones was a sign of a relationship being built, the scattering of the stones is a sign that the relationship has come to an end. If it is a marriage that is a tragic thing for God's intent was that it should be a lifelong commitment. At other times there are unhappy disagreements and a parting of the ways. That happened to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36 -39) and, sadly, it sometimes happens with us. But there are other times when it is just right to move on and although the relationship may continue in the hearts of the two parties, for practical purposes it is ended. This is life. There are times for such relationships to come together, blossom and flourish, and then there are times with the circumstances of life, when it is time to part. There may be a final embracing, but thereafter it is a time to refrain. This is life, this is what happens.

I have referred in previous meditations to life being a kaleidoscope where you tap it and the colours and shapes change. Edith Schaeffer in her book, What is a Family?, uses the picture of a changing mobile – the sort of thing you see in a child's nursery that hangs there, moving, perhaps catching the light, held by the various strings but otherwise constantly moving. That is a good picture. We knit to our partner and a relationship is established. Children come along and new tiny, fragile relationships are created – and there is lots of ‘embracing'. They grow up and become teenagers and often there is a refraining from embracing as they learn to be an individual, and once they are through that, they too start forming a new relationship and we embrace them again in celebration and one day as grandparents we will embrace their new generation as well. It's a constantly changing mobile, a changing kaleidoscope, this life. Sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, but never the same.






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Meditation No. 26

Meditation Title: A Time for Searching & Giving Up


Eccles 3:6    a time to search and a time to give up,


Some of these “time for” sayings seem quite easy to understand; others not so. This one falls into the latter group. On the surface it is obvious. Have you ever had one of those occasions when something has gone missing and you've looked and looked and looked, but to no avail and so eventually you give up. The worst place, I've concluded, to drop small things, is in the grass of an unmown lawn! Yet one thing I have found through the years is to ask the Lord for help. Sometimes it is a simple, “Lord, please show me where it is.” and so often the prayer has been answered. Then there are the times when you've put something down in the home and just can't remember where you've put it. Well Jesus said to his disciples that the Holy Spirit, will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26) so I sometimes ask Him to do the same for me. Be childlike in your faith, for your Father loves to help His children.

Probably the greatest literal search in the Bible is that of the Magi: Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Mt 2:1,2) These were men who, by means beyond our knowledge, understood that God was drawing near to the earth and His Son was about to arrive. They are the classic example for us of those carried on searching until they found The One. There is a general principle in Scripture about searching: without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Faith catches a sense of God's will and keeps on looking until they find it. Indeed we are told that God has made the world in such a way that it will raise questions in us and we will go looking until we find. In Athens, Paul declared, God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (Acts 17:27)

God Himself gives us the prime example of one who would go looking and not give up: As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel,” (Ezek 34:12,13) and then, I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.” (v.16) God did this for Israel and He did it for us. I can look back on my life and, in the years before I came to the Lord, I can now see there were times when He was there reaching out to me, ‘searching' for me, calling me, until eventually I came.

In the Song of Solomon there is a poignant picture: I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves.” (Song 3:2). Are there times in our lives when it seems the Lord has stood back or seems to have distanced Himself from us? These are times when the Lord is checking us out. What is the greatest priority in our life? Is it to know Him? Do you remember Moses' words?if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) This is a whole hearted searching that is being spoken about, one that you will not give up on until you have found Him, until you have restored that sense of personal contact again with the Lord. Do you remember Jesus' words?Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7:7) The tense of the original verbs is “ask and go on asking, seek and go on seeking”.

However there are times when you go searching but deep down you know this is a fruitless search. When Elijah was taken in the whirlwind, the young disciples brow beat Elisha to let them go and search for him, and eventually we find, “So he said, "Send them." And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him.” (2 King 2:17) These young men didn't realise that this was a fruitless search and God had taken him to heaven. I recently came across a very meaningful comment that is appropriate here: ‘the poor are better of than the rich because the poor still think money will buy them happiness; the rich know better.'

Jesus said you can't serve God and money. If you are still searching for meaning through achieving a great name for yourself, or searching for happiness through making lots of money, these are searches that you would do well to give up on. Achievement and affluence are fine in themselves but if we make them the basis for our search for happiness, it's a fruitless search and we should give up. Happiness really only comes in a right relationship with the Lord and that means putting the whole of our lives in His hands – past, present and future. Searching for happiness without God in the equation is a fruitless search. If you've been doing it, give up now.

Searching for God with a whole heart is a search that you should keep on and on and on. Searching for happiness without God is a fruitless search, and you would be wise to stop it before you expend any more wasted energy. One search is worth keeping on; the other should be given up. Wisdom is knowing the difference.








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Meditation No. 27

Meditation Title: A Time for Keeping & Throwing Away


Eccles 3:6      a time to keep and a time to throw away


Sometimes Scripture is serious and other times it brings a smile to the face. I find for me, that this second part of verse 6 evokes the latter response. I had a conversation with someone only a few days ago which echoed a conversation I'd had previously with my wife. It had been about hoarding stuff. “We are natural squirrels” we concluded. We don't like throwing things away. We hold on to this oddment because “you never know it might come in useful one day.” Of course more often than not it doesn't; it just collects dust. I used to work as a college lecturer and we had a new head of department once who came into our offices, looked at the bulging files on a multitude of shelves and said, “I want you to throw away anything you haven't used in the past year.” I think most of us just transferred files to home but it did challenge us as to whether we really did need to hang on to all the past paperwork.

Today of course we store so much of it on our computers. My wife finds it impossible to discard old e-mails that no longer have any relevance, and wondered why the system was going slow! How about wardrobes? Do you have wardrobes or chests of drawers that have clothes in them that you haven't worn for five years? I'm a terrible decorator and splash paint all over me, so I have a cupboard where old clothes go to become “my work clothes”. My wife despairs of this cupboard, but it has a good purpose. It's an ‘almost throwing away' cupboard!

I notice with older people particularly, there is this tendency to hold onto things, but I suspect it is there in most of us in some measure. I believe for the older generation, who can still remember the feelings which came with the deprivations the Second World War. Having very little meant you held on to what you had. The younger generation, in the West at least, living in debt live with the philosophy of, if I want it I can have it (within reason, of course). The preponderance of charity shops in most towns is an indication of an affluent society that passes on things.

Check out my light-hearted banter above. There are pearls of wisdom in there. Are we hanging on to things that we never use? Could we give them to others who might make use of them? I think the idea of a church ‘swap shop', an evening where everyone brings in clothes and possessions they no longer want or need and see if there is anyone else who might want them, is a good idea. I think supplying the local charity shop is a similarly good way of recycling clothes and possessions that have still got life in them.

However, so far all of our ponderings have been in respect of material goods. What about ideas? What about attitudes? We live in an age of constantly changing ideas, and some of the new ideas are good and some not so good. A couple of years ago I came across an old copy of ‘Swiss Family Robinson', the story of a family marooned on a desert isle. I found myself horrified at the attitude in the book in respect of killing animals, and realised that in modern life there has been a change that says it is unkind to simply kill animals for fun. This was a simple example of an attitude change in the Western world.

As Christians we need to check modern attitudes and ask ourselves, are they Biblical? How does God feel about some of the things modern societies declare as right and proper? Old books often have negative references to people of other nationalities. Travel has done much to remove negative stereotyping. But check it out; how do you feel about other people? Are our attitudes towards others godly and Christ-like? If not it's time to throw them away. We live in an increasingly secularlised and materialistic world and we need to make sure we have not taken on board the attitudes of the world that are ungodly and materialistic. We need to throw out such attitudes.

Where there has been a taking on board materialistic outlooks, it may mean that we have pushed into the background some of the solid truths of our faith. Maybe it's time to do an inventory of our beliefs and bring to the fore the solid truths of the faith. It's time to make sure we hold on to them, basic things like every man is lost outside Christ (Rom 3:23), or that Christ cam to die for sinners of which I am the foremost (1 Tim 1:15), or without Christ I can do nothing (Jn 15:5), or everyone who has faith in Jesus will do the same things he does (Jn 14:12). These are examples of the sort of thing we need to make sure we are holding onto in the face of the world's attempt to erode our belief base. Let's make sure we hold on to putting God first (Mt 6:33, 22:37) and love for others a close second (Mt 22;39). It's easy in this materialistic world to let self-concern rise up and before we know what's happened, we've thrown out some of these fundamentals and we're really little different from those around us who don't know Christ.

What else is useful to consider here? Throw out all negative attitudes about yourself. Hold onto the truth that God loves you just like you are and he loves you so much that He's got better things for you yet. Where you've had trouble with other people, throw out the negative feelings about them, and hold onto the truth that God loves them and, if they've sinned against you, He wants then to repent and come to a place of wholeness. A simple check is, “Do I want God's blessing for everyone I know?” If that immediately raises some unresolved issues, then there is debris to be thrown out and truths to be held on to. Today's half verse may only be a few simple words, but if we take hold of them they may have tremendous consequences for our lives.









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Meditation No. 28

Meditation Title: A Time to Tear & Mend


Eccles 3:7    a time to tear and a time to mend


I can remember a time in the past when I took out an old work shirt (that I referred to yesterday) and went to put it on and yet saw that it had started splitting and so took the split and tore it right down as if to say, well let's confirm the end of this shirt, and then dumped it in the dustbin. Tearing in that situation was an indication of the end of its life, a sealing of its end. Once torn there was no going back; it was too far gone. There have been other times when, again, I've taken out an old pair of work trousers and noticed a seam starting to come undone. Being a typical male I appealed to my wife and she sewed it up. It was capable of restoration and there were years (!!) of life left in those old trousers!

Tearing has some interesting connotations in Scripture. For instance the priests were supposed to make their clothes in such a way that they would not tear: Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear.” (Ex28:32) A torn garment would appear scruffy and they were to be an example of holiness or completeness. Tearing there was a sign of unfitness to serve.

The word ‘tearing' is used as a violent action by the Lord taking away the kingdom from Solomon: I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” (1 Kings 11:11) Tearing thus indicates a strong emotion and strong action needed.

Tearing clothes was also a sign of mourning: “Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, "Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” (2 Sam 3:31) Torn clothes were thus a sign of anguish over the brokenness or finality of a life gone. There are many references in the Bible to people tearing their clothes as a sign of strong anguish.

Tearing is thus associated with death or the end of something. It doesn't just mean an accidental tearing of your clothes as you might do if you caught yourself on a protruding nail. No, the tearing in Scripture is all about the end of things.

Mending is very different; mending is about hope for the future. When my wife mends my trousers she extends their useful life. The only other time in the NIV Bible that the word mend is used is, “You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking,” (Psa 60:2) which is clearly about limiting destruction and bringing hope of restoration. If the destruction was complete there would be no hope for the future, so the psalmist cries to the Lord to mend the breaks to prevent that total destruction happening.

There is one other fascinating reference to something being ‘mended': “they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended.” (Josh 9:4) This was the Gibeonites who wanted to pretend to Israel that they had come a distance and were not in fact inhabitants of the Land to be destroyed. The fact that they came with old garments that had been mended was to give the impression of age. More often than not, if something is mended it is a sign that it is quite old; its life has been extended.

A word that does appear in Scripture considerably more often is ‘restore' which is what we do when we mend something. We seek to restore it so that its life can be extended. So in this short first half of verse seven, we see that Solomon is saying there are times when it is right to bring something to an end, and other times when it is right to extend its life. I have commented in these meditations before, that I believe there are times in church life when we need to bring an end to activities.

Only yesterday I commented to someone that bringing some ongoing activity to an end is not necessarily a sign of failure, merely that it has run its course. Bringing the thing to an end opens the way for something else to be brought into being. However there are times when some activity comes under the attack of the enemy and some upset occurs which threatens its existence. This isn't a sign of needing to end the activity but of mending it, repairing it, restoring it, bringing healing, support, counsel and comfort and encouragement to continue. We thus need to learn to discern when it is right to tear – to bring to an end – or to mend, and continue its life. What is the will of God for the thing we have in mind? To tear or to mend?








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Meditation No. 29

Meditation Title: A Time for Silence or Speaking


Eccles 3:7   a time to be silent and a time to speak


I was at a barbecue the other day, attended by about forty people I think, and I stood there at one point and looked around at the chattering that was going on. In some cases it was one to one, in other cases groups of three, four or five. One of the thing human beings do is talk – and talk a lot. Talking is the way we express relationship. It may be the very tentative opening words with a stranger, but even there we are seeing is some form of basic relationship can be formed, even for a few minutes. It may be the catching up on the news with someone you haven't seen for a long time; you are re-establishing the relationship you have, distant though it often may be. With others it may be just the ordinary, every-day type of chatter, but talking goes on wherever there are relationships between human beings. We talk because we know things and we want others to know them as well. We talk because we don't know things and we want to find out.


Today's verse has an almost ominous feel to it. There are times when it is better to keep your mouth shut and times when you need to speak out. I think standing before God is often a time when it is best to keep quiet. I know that at the times in life when I have been most aware of the holy presence of God, I just wanted to keep quiet. Speaking words would have spoilt the sense of beauty and wonder that was there. When Isaiah saw the Lord his first response was an indication of the awareness of the sinfulness of his mouth: Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). I always like Ezekiel's wisdom in saying the least possible when the Lord asked him if the valley of dry bones could live: He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezek 37:3). Smart move, Ezekiel.

Solomon understood this as well: A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov 17:27). The more you know the more you realise how much you don't know. Elsewhere he said, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). Be careful our words may either reveal what we're like on the inside or they may lead us into sin by speaking wrongly. James understood this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19)

One of the dangers of being a Christian is that we so often forget these warnings and feel we have all the answers and so we impose those answers on all we come across. The trouble is that they may not be ready yet to receive them. Jesus taught, Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6) I understand that to mean, don't pour out wonderful things of God to those who mock and deride and just haven't got open hearts. If someone walked up to you and said, “I'm a communist,” or “I'm a Jehovah's Witness,” we would immediately think, “Why are they saying that? They must want to impose on me their viewpoint of life.” Yet that is how many Christians act and speak. Yes, we do have the most wonderful news the world can receive, but are they ready to receive it.

If you're an evangelist you'll just scatter the seed of the Gospel anyway and your grace can cope with the rejection of many. For most of us, with our next door neighbour or the person we work with, our call is first to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds,” (Mt 5:16) so that they will ask you about why you are like you are: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) but even then,But do this with gentleness and respect,” so you keep the door open for further conversation if they are not ready to go far now. Peter was obviously very much aware of this, perhaps because the Gospels so often record him opening his mouth rashly. Is this why he speaks to wives: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Somebody once said something like, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

For most of us, speaking out the Gospel is not so much a case of ‘when' but ‘how'. We are always to be bearers of the truth, always to be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8) but it is knowing how to say it. A brash and arrogant speaking the truth simply creates hostility. That why Peter spoke of doing it with gentleness and respect. Perhaps this is another of those times when we need to shoot up an instant prayer, “Lord, please give me wisdom, show me what to say” (Jas 1:5). Jesus taught, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Lk 12:11,12). There is so much more that could be said about when to speak and when to remain silent, but we will have to rest with this for now.






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Meditation No. 30

Meditation Title: A Time for Love or Hate


Eccles 3:8      a time to love and a time to hate


To the unknowing this little half verse may shock. Well yes, I know we are called to love, but to hate? Oh yes, that's what Scripture calls us to do. Let's start by reminding ourselves that Scripture calls us to distinguish between good and evil, and right and wrong. Now we may take that for granted but the world in which we live increasingly seeks to blur the two and even deny the two. Solomon asked, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9). He knew that from the early Levitical Law there had been this call to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean(Lev 10:10). In the New Testament the writer to the Hebrews speaks about the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14).

Now if the first stage of our considerations is to think about being able to distinguish between good and evil, the second is to think about how we FEEL about good and evil. Let's simply summarise it by saying we are to love good and hate evil (Amos 5:15, Rom 12:9). This is not just simply feel nice about ‘good' but to love it! Not to feel just a bit nasty about evil but to actually hate it. Why? Because God loves good and hates evil.

Let's focus on the instructions in Scripture to love:Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Mt 22:37 ,38) andthe second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:39). So love God and love all other people. That's a good start. Next, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) and Love the brotherhood of believers.” (1 Pet 3:17). But there is more: But I tell you: Love your enemies.” (Mt 5:44) and to husbands, Husbands, love your wives.” (Col 3:19). There are a whole bunch of specific instructions. There is also a more oblique reference:Whoever would love life and see good days (1 Pet 3:10 quoting Psa 34) To counter the Plato-philosophy that says material is bad and spirit is the only good, it is worth remembering that this is God's world and He wants us to enjoy it and enjoy living. Christians are often not very good at enjoying or even loving life.

Let's move on to ‘hate'. We have already noted: Hate evil, love good (Amos 5:15 ) and Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Rom 12:9) but let's see some specifics. You love righteousness and hate wickedness.” (Psa 45:7). Here's the same thing and now it's the Lord who hates. Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” (Psa 97:10) Here we're called to hate evil because we love Him. The psalmist said, because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. (Psa 119:128) and I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law.” (Psa 119:163) There we hate untruth because of the truth of God's word. In both these instances we are to have very strong feelings of hatred of evil and untruth, because of the very strong opposite feelings we have of love for the Lord and love for His truth.

Solomon wrote: To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (Prov 8:13) When we know and respect the Lord there will be things that are totally contrary to His character that will utterly offend us. For this same reason, The righteous hate what is false.” (Prov 13;5) Isaiah prophesied, For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and in iquity.” (Isa 61:8) Jeremaih speaking of the past, prophesied, Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, `Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!' But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods.” (Jer 44:4)

Even Ezekiel prophesied against Edom, therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.” (Ezek 35:6). They should have hated the thought of killing others! When the Lord chastised Israel for their apostasy while carrying on coming to His feasts, He declared, I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” (Amos 5:21). In all of these instances we have seen either the Lord, the Lord's expectations or the Lord's instructions having very strong emotions against what is wrong.

To conclude we need to distinguish between loving the sinner and hating the sin. Elsewhere on this site I have given the illustration of a son. Suppose you have a son who you love with all your heart. He leaves home and goes astray. He falls into bad company, gets on to drugs, steals to buy drugs and becomes addicted. Now understand: if he comes home to you, you can still love your son with all of your heart while you hate the things he is involved in. You can let him know you hate what he does but that you still love him as a person. Your heart will still be for him to come back to good, but in the meantime you hate the sin he is involved with. The practice or the lifestyle is to be hated, the behaviour and the attitudes, yet still we may love the person and yearn for him or her. There's a time to love AND a time to hate.







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Meditation No. 31

Meditation Title: A Time for War or Peace


Eccles 3:8     a time for war and a time for peace.


The danger sometimes is that Bible study can become rather academic and we should always seek to apply God's word into our lives. Here, the big questions about going to war, are left to politicians usually and the rest of us just give opinions afterwards, but perhaps that is changing. However, to apply this verse as something with practical import, I would like to consider it at different levels.

The first level is exactly how it may first strike us, and we think of armies in conflict. We would all much rather there was never any war but the sinfulness of mankind means that leaders are sometimes far less than we might hope. Thus we may find ourselves going to war to defend ourselves against an invading oppressor as happened in the case of the Second World War. In a lesser measure that is the theory of how Western nations became embroiled in Iraq in the early part of the 21st century. Sometimes we go to war to defend minorities that are being wiped out and we fight to prevent genocide. Because it is a sinful world war sometimes becomes a necessary evil to prevent a greater evil. Sometimes knowing when is to be a time of war or a time of peace is not an easy thing. Prior to the Second World War Neville Chamberlain came back heralding ‘peace in our time' but it clearly wasn't.

In the Old Testament in the early years in the life of Israel , war was necessary to maintain the life of Israel which was threatened by the surrounding nations and indeed by the occupants of Canaan . After settling in the land, war occurred initially under David to establish the land, secure from surrounding invaders, but thereafter, after Solomon, war became a scourge that God used to chastise Israel whenever they turned away from Him. The simplest way of putting it, was that when they turned away from Him, the Lord stood back and allowed the baser instincts of the surrounding pagans to have free reign, which resulted in them attacking Israel , who eventually cried out to the Lord and came back into relationship with Him. A time for discipline became a time for war. When relationship with God was strong, it was a time for peace.

On a personal level for today, perhaps there are times when we need to ‘go to war' against injustice or unfairness in society. Sometimes it does need us to have a warlike mentality to rise up and campaign for the weak and oppressed. Sometimes righteousness demands that we leave our positions of cosy peace, and make the effort and rise up and speak out and work for justice in society.

In the spiritual dimension, the apostle Paul spoke of the Christian life as a ‘struggle': For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12). The implication is that we are in a spiritual war where we have to hold onto the ‘land' that we have been given when we become a Christian. Hence he says, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (v.13,14).

Elsewhere Paul used the language of war:you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Tim 6:11,12) There he was exhorting Timothy to resist the ways of the world. It is a war to hold onto the faith. To the Corinthians he said, I do not fight like a man beating the air.” (1 Cor 9:26) andThe weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4,5). This is all ‘fighting talk'. There is a war going on in which truth is the issue. Our battle is against sin and against unrighteousness and against deception and untruth. This is a war that will be going on throughout our time on earth.

Yet while this war goes on, there is another side of our lives where peace reigns. Merely because we are battling against the things we've just listed, it doesn't mean that we cannot have peace. Peace is the settled and contented state of knowing that you are God's child, at peace with Him and an inheritor of all the good things you have from Him, guarded and protected by Him every day. (Yes, there is a conundrum here: He protects and we fight! Think about it!) Today I can go into whatever the day holds with a sense of peace, in the knowledge that He knows, He is here, and He is here for me!

Yes, here is the strange thing for us as Christians living today. We are in a constant war. It IS a time for war. However, we are also living in the peace that God provides for us through Jesus. It is ALSO a time for peace. Be aware of both today.








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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 32

Meditation Title: The Burden of Work


Eccles 3:9,10    What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.


At times, Solomon's thoughts seem to go round in circles, except the second time round he sees it slightly differently. He has previously spoken of work or labour: “My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (2:10,11) However in that context he was talking about labour as a means of getting pleasure or satisfaction or a sense of achievement. He had undertaken great projects (2:4) and so on, but having done it all, he was still left wondering what it was all about, because it HADN'T left him with a great sense of achievement. Once he had done it, that was it!

But then he thought about it in terms of leaving it to the next generation and that too seemed pointless: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” (2:18,19).

Eventually, it just seemed tiresome: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless,” (2:22,23) and so, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24,25) Yes, almost somewhat begrudgingly he concludes that without God making some sense of it, it is all pointless. It was at that point that he moved in to considering that life is made up of seasons or times, lots of different ‘activities'.

Of course one of those ‘activities' is work, but he can't get away from his previous conclusions, hence he now says, “What does the worker gain from his toil?” I mean we might today answer, “Money to buy all the goods and pleasures that we have in modern life” but even in saying that we are saying no more than he has said already. Increasingly modern analysts are acknowledging that in the West we are a deeply unhappy and dissatisfied people. Indeed one man has recently written a book called The Age of Absurdity – Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy! He says exactly the same things as Solomon: lots of achievements don't satisfy; grubbing for money doesn't satisfy; storing up goods doesn't satisfy!

Yet still we have to work to provide food – today most of us work to get money to buy the food, but we still need to work. For some of us work is very fulfilling, but for many it is more like a burden. Indeed the reality is that it IS a burden laid on us by God. In the Garden of Eden, after the Fall, God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, `You must not eat of it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” (Gen 3:17-19)

Now why was that? Was it just God making life awkward for mankind? I don't think so! The Fall brought a separation between the couple and God and He ratified this by excluding them from the Garden. What this meant was that God's presence was no longer continually where there were and so His healing, restoring, life-giving presence was not there affecting the plant life like He had been before. Now He only came occasionally, we see as we read through Genesis, to meet with specific individuals who were open to Him. Mostly He stood afar off from mankind so as not to destroy them. But this meant that His life-giving presence was no longer there. This is the effect and meaning essentially of a curse – the removal of God's blessing of His life-bringing presence. Thus from then on it would be hard work to control the growth in the ground and there would not be the fruitfulness that there had been previously.

So yes, in the sense that it is work without God's presence and it now seems a burden, it is hard, but is there a sense whereby the Christian, submitting his life and work to the Lord, invites the Lord to come and bless his activity? David had known God's blessing on his life and Solomon had known God's blessing on his life so that he had prospered. Surely these were signs of what could be under God's lordship. The challenge thus comes, dare we surrender all to the Lord and ask Him to lead us into our career or vocation and then ask for His blessing on it so that we too prosper? Maybe this needs some thinking about!









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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 33

Meditation Title: Eternity


Eccles 3:9-11 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.


Now in the previous meditation we pondered further on the question of work, or toil, or labour, because that is where verse 9 was leading us, and verse 10 speaking of a burden seems to naturally flow on from that, but when we add on verse 11 Solomon seems to do an amazing turn about which leaves us then wondering was that what he had meant by God's burden? How do these verses knit together to make sense?

Well yes, he certainly starts from the point of talking about work and we've seen how he has felt frustrated about having to work with no ultimate meaning in it, and yes that does seem to be a burden that we cannot escape from without God. But then it is as if he says, but it's not only work, for that is only one facet of life; there is this whole much bigger thing of meaning to life, which again we don't seem to be able to make sense of.

Look at that amazing statement that he makes: He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, i.e. God has put within the hearts of every human being a sense that there is something more to life than just living out this material-based life for three score years and ten. There must be something more, something deep within us says. There must be ‘meaning' to life!

This is the major thing that undermines the platform of the atheist, because they say that there is no God, life is just chance, pure blind chance, and yet deep inside us we know that that is not so. Why is it that countless generations of students have sat around contemplating the meaning of life, if there is no such thing? Why is it that it has even formed the heart of some humour, this contemplating meaning? Some philosophers have struggled with this and, excluding God from their equations of thought, have brought themselves to the edge of suicide. A world without meaning or purpose seems a terrible thing to us.

Why? Is it because God has breathed life in to us and there is an echo of Him in every single human being and that echo is an echo of reality, of eternity, of Him?

So what is the burden of this feeling? It is that yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Without revelation from God we cannot know what the truth is. Why is it that there are so many world religions? Surely it is because of this sense from within that there is something more, and all religions except Judaism and Christianity are in fact mankind reaching out for this eternity, reaching out for some deity to make sense of life. Judaism and Christianity uniquely declare that God has revealed Himself – Judaism through Israel , and then Christianity through Israel and then His Son, Jesus Christ and finally through the Church.

Without God's revelation though, we are doomed to frustration, doomed to struggling to make meaning of it all by ourselves, and hence the many different world religions. We may not be able to prove God's existence, but once we accept it, suddenly everything else makes sense. This is where the Bible as a complete entity is so exciting because when we see it in its completeness we see the completeness of the revelation that starts with God making the world, and finishes with Him redeeming it and bringing something new into being at the end of the material phase of it.

Yes, that is the truth revealed in the Bible, that the material world as we know it is limited in time and space and there will come a point where it ceases in the present form. The Bible clearly states what will follow but our understanding of that is not clear (for it doesn't give us every detail) and which is why there are a number of interpretations of exactly how it will work out. Yet the truth is clearly stated, there is more than finite material existence, there is eternity, time without end, or timelessness!

And yes, there again we struggle to understand. We can use the words but our understanding is limited to that which God gives us. We are more than finite material-based human beings; there is an eternal element about us, something that will continue on after the material ceases to function and we lie down and ‘die'. That, as far as I can see, is the only reason for the existence of an eternal hell, a place where God's presence is not known, a terrible existence. It can only be because there is an element of us that carries on after life here, and when we choose not to be in God's presence (as many do choose) then ‘hell' is the only alternative. Oh yes, the concept of eternity carries with it many repercussions. Yet God has sent Jesus so that we don't have to end up in that God-less existence. Instead we can receive eternal life from him and that means life in all its fullness in God's presence in heaven. That is the wonder of the glorious alternative that is given to us if we will receive it.








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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 34

Meditation Title:  The Good Life


Eccles 3:12,13   I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God.


Sometimes there are verses that look so simple and straight forward that you wonder why bother with them, but which in fact speak of deep truths. I have that feeling about these two verses. As a Christian you might think these verses are too simplistic and miss out on all the potential of the Christian life but, I suggest, there are some foundational issues here that determine how we will reach out for all that potential.

Look at Solomon's starting point: “I know there is nothing better….” This man with all his wisdom and all his experience pushes all of his great achievements aside and says, THIS is actually the best way; there is nothing better that this! Now that is quite startling and especially to the modern mind that gets caught up in learning, in personal development, in achievement, in wealth and in possessions – and actually falls short in all of those things. Here, says Solomon, is the starting point for the good life.

He starts by speaking of TWO things : “to be happy AND do good.” Happiness is the first goal Solomon puts before us and yet most of this book is about his failure to achieve it and, as we commented in a previous meditation, it is the elusive element of modern life. Yes, so much of modern life is spent searching for that thing and many of us settle for the externals that we conclude must be the nearest we can get to it: having a good salary, achieving fame, obtaining ‘things', going out for meals and for entertainment. Now each of these things may be good in themselves but they do not guarantee happiness. Having a nice house, a partner who looks good, children who are doing well at school. Yes, all OK, but not guaranteed to bring happiness. Ultimately, he concludes at the end of the two verses, happiness is a gift of God or, we might say, comes to us from God when we have a relationship with Him. In fact if we don't have a relationship with him, we may have all the trappings and all the externals, but true happiness will always evade us.

But then he says, secondly, that ‘doing good' is the other thing we should be aiming for. But what is doing good? Is giving money to someone ‘doing good'? It may not be. Is working for a charity ‘doing good'? No, it may be a self-centred job, done for no other reason that to get money to live. No, good isn't about the outward working but the motivation behind it. Philosophers have debated whether anyone can truly do good for any other reason than self pleasure or self achievement. So how can we do good, and trust that it is good? The answer has to come with Solomon's ending – it is a gift from God, or it comes as God guides us.

But then he goes on and says something that seems too simple: “that everyone may eat and drink.” This is the first of a second two part goal. But doesn't everyone eat and drink? Doesn't everyone do this? Those are very much Western questions born out of the assumption that food and drink is readily available, but that isn't so everywhere in the world. So, yes, for us in the Western world, the vast majority of us will have food and drink, and even have it in abundance. In fact looking at excessive waistlines, some of us have too much and we'd do better to give some of it away to those who don't have it.

But this is linked with, “and find satisfaction in all his toil.” We've already touched on this in previous verses. The former part that we've just briefly considered was so obvious that we almost thought it unnecessary to mention and the implication is that the latter part should be the same – that we get pleasure from our work. However, a simple examination of much work in the Western world reveals that this is far from the truth. Perhaps it is something that we have taken for granted: work is hard, work is unpleasant, but we have to do it. Well for many of us, we have to do it because we have set our sights on a very high standard of living. For some of us we have to do it because we have caught the waft of riches and we've been hooked. Many of us sacrifice family relationships for such ambition. Perhaps we need to check our priorities and look at our lives afresh and turn to God and ask for faith and vision to see another way.

  Each of these four things – happiness, doing good, having sufficient supply and enjoying our work – is a gift from God. If we lack any or all of them, perhaps it is time to seek the Lord and ask for His wisdom to readjust our lives. The Bible is full of wisdom on how to live. If we disregard God's design, in whatever way, it may be the reason that we are lacking any of these four things. Submission to God's will is ultimately the crucial issue here, for did Jesus not promise, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) Disregard this at your own cost.








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Meditation No. 35

Meditation Title: God's World


Eccles 3:14,15    I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account .


People sometimes decry the book of Ecclesiastes as being dry and yet the truth is that it is full of amazing truths. These truths are sometimes stated in simply sentences which appear very obvious but for the person who will take a little time meditating on them, they reveal immense depth. Take the starting sentence in verse 14: “I know that everything God does will endure for ever.” We live in a constantly changing world and things and people come and go and certainly don't seem to ‘endure for ever', yet Solomon says that everything God does will endure or last for ever.

Now scientists and philosophers help us out here for they suggest that all the material and energy in existence remains constant, which fits perfectly here. God spoke and made matter, the matter that forms the universe and beyond, and it will continue, according to science in existence for ever. It may change its form but the general matter stays the same. Anything that we do in the world is made from existing materials. If we construct cities, they are simply made from existing materials. We create nothing; we simply change the form of existing material. Genesis chapter 1 is the greatest statement of faith that exists. There was nothing – absolutely nothing – and then God spoke and there was now something and that something took on recognisable form. Our minds cannot cope with the concept of absolutely nothing and, even worse, we cannot possibly comprehend how something that is material came from absolutely nothing. But even when there was absolutely nothing (have you grasped the enormity of the concept yet?) there was still God, for He is eternal and has no beginning or end – and that we can't cope with either!

So there is a finite amount of ‘material' or ‘energy' that comprises existence and nothing we can do can add to it or subtract from it. Solomon touched on this in chapter one when he spoke of the world going on and on and the rain and water cycle. Water is a good example of ‘material' that changes and moves and changes and moves. So is the world a great machine that just keeps on going, that really doesn't need God any longer, like Deists suggest? Well no, because the Bible shows that God intervenes in the affairs or running of His world, for it is His world and He can change it as He wishes because He alone has that power and ability. So if He wants to create some more ‘material' He can do so, and it will remain in existence for ever or until He changes it. He can remove it from the total mass of existence if He wishes or He can simply change its form if he wishes (the changing of water into wine is a simple example).

The person who never thinks about these things carries on unmoved, but the person who stops and really considers these things is left in awe of God. If there is to be any meaning whatsoever in this world, it must be because there is an all-powerful Creator who designed and brought it into being with a purpose in mind. What seems so staggering is that, as the Bible indicates, the world appears to exist only because God created it and He created it for our benefit. It is the environment in which we exist and live and respond to Him. What is even more amazing is that we appear to be able to bring God pleasure. God doesn't depend on us so He doesn't need us, but nevertheless He gets pleasure from us and even more amazing, we can get pleasure from Him, even though we revere Him and hold Him in awe when we encounter Him.

Solomon is fixed on this incredible understanding of the world and so adds, Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before.” It's this same sense that he had back in chapter 1 that life keeps on going and in one sense there is nothing new under the sun. The things humans do today have been done by others in the past. No, they haven't tinkered in the Genome Project before but in terms of general behaviour, mankind repeats itself every generation. Moreover, it will keep repeating itself. One of my favourite quotes is, ‘the one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.' Yes, we keep on making the same mistakes, we keep on learning the same lessons and so generation after generation does the same things.

But then he says something strange: and God will call the past to account.” It is like he is saying that God will ensure that what we have done in the past will have impact in the present. It's the same thing that crops up again and again in the Bible in different forms: what we do has consequences! If we suck all the oil reserves dry and burn up all the oil, one day we'll have to live without such a fuel. It is as simple as that. As we've seen above, God has given us a finite amount of ‘material' to play with. If we use it up and change it into something else, we'll no longer have it to play with for we cannot add to it. It's one of the restrictions we live with which economists call the ‘economic problem', the scarcity or limitation of resources, so economics is all about how we use our ‘scarce' or ‘limited' resources. This is the world we live in and we need to use it wisely.







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Meditation No. 36

Meditation Title: Judgment & Wickedness


Eccles 3:16,17 And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment--wickedness was there, in the place of justice--wickedness was there. I thought in my heart, "God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed."


We don't like talking about Sin but a lot of the Bible is about that subject. Solomon moves on to speak about ‘wickedness' which is Sin by another name, purposeful wrong doing that rejects God and rebels against Him. There's something else, he says, that I've seen as I've watched and studied what goes on here on this earth. I have looked for goodness, but even in the place that should be dedicated to bringing it to the world, it was absent. In the place of judgment – the courts – I found only wickedness. In the place of justice – the courts again – I found only wickedness.

Now there is something interesting to note here. I have often said that when you take God out of the equation you have nothing on which to base absolutes, nothing on which to fix what is right or wrong, and when that happens the very fabric of society starts disintegrating, as in the West at the present time. Push God out and you are only left with what each person thinks is right or, as it very often works out, what each person can get away with.

At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, in Britain, we have seen incredible examples of bankers and Members of Parliament feathering their own nests, people who used to be pillars of society in the eyes of many at least. Yet they are merely clear examples of what is a prevailing attitude in godless people. The truth is that as we, as a society, have rejected God, we did not realise this truth, that we had also lost our ethical foundation and so anything goes – or at least anything that anyone can get away with.

Now Solomon had lost contact with God as he had turned to the idolatry of his foreign wives and in those days, what the king did, the rest of the nation followed, and so in fact the same thing had been happening as I referred to in our own times. So in one sense it is not at all surprising that Solomon acknowledges that even in the places of judgment and justice there was only wickedness. There was nothing to stop that moral drift!

But there is still an echo of the knowledge of God in Solomon's heart and so, deep down at least, he knows that the Lord will not let this go on indefinitely: "God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” He knows that God will have to come and deal with the nation and that means that both righteous and unrighteous will feel the weight of God's judgment. In our own times, those of us who are righteous are feeling the same pressures being put upon us as the world around us as God brings judgment on the land in the way Paul spoke off (see Romans 1:24-28). Unless we live righteously and receive the grace of God to cope, we too will suffer in the same way as the rest of the world, but that should not be.

Yes, God does not just sit back and let the world go to hell. He moves behind the scenes bringing a form of judgment that will shake people and bring them to their senses, for His desire is to bring them back to Him, not destroy them (see Ezek 18:32 and 2 Pet 3:9b). That is always His objective and He only brings destruction and death when He sees that nothing else will get people's attention so change can come. The Bible is quite explicit about that and history clearly testifies to it. This is how God works.

So, concludes Solomon, “there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed." i.e. there is going to come a time of accounting for everything that is done, for every (wrong) activity and every (wrong) deed. God may appear slow in dealing with these things (and Ezekiel and Peter told us the reason why) but He DOES eventually act and deal with Sin.

There is a sense of negative gloom about Solomon's comments but of course, we need to remind ourselves again and again, he was writing from a place of absence of relationship with the Lord and while he could see all the bad things of ungodly life, he couldn't see any hope. The positives that are always there are that salvation IS there for those who will turn to the Lord, despite what the majority who are godless may be doing, and God's grace IS there for the godly, even in the midst of the judgment that the land may be experiencing. There may be Sin and there may be unrighteousness and ungodliness prevailing in the land, but that does not mean that God is not there for those who will seek Him. Don't be put off by the gloom and doom of a society in crisis; it is just the Lord bringing it to its senses. He is there for His children who He still wants to shine as light and to purify as salt. Nothing has changed!