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Ecclesiastes Series Begins

July 2, 2010 in News

One brief sentence captures the genius of this remarkable book:

Who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?  Ecclesiastes 2:25 (NLT)

It seems obvious enough, but it takes a lifetime to understand what that really means.

So it goes throughout the book of Ecclesiastes—one profound statement follows another through a twisting, turning labyrinth of caves running deep beneath the surface of life. Written by Solomon, this book proves why he truly was the wisest person who ever lived before Christ.

The book pierces superficial life with the questions people rarely dare to ask:

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow…
Ecclesiastes 6:12 (NLT)

Yet God gave us this book so we can tackle the deepest despair before it tackles us, like this little shocker that hits everyone, sooner or later.

But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NLT)

The book really throws uptight people for a loop, too:

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NLT)

Especially those negative, melancholic minds get warped by this book:

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind. Ecclesiastes 6:9 (NLT)

And just in case the negative melancholic misses the point:

Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.  Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NLT)

But those self-righteous, phlegmatic minds can’t scoff at their negative brethren for too long in this book:

A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time. Ecclesiastes 7:4 (NLT)

And the silly sanguine who plays the life of the party get a sober shock:

A fool’s laughter is quickly gone, like thorns crackling in a fire. This also is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 7:6 (NLT)

But then Solomon revives the sanguine heart:

So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Ecclesiastes 9:7 (NLT)

Of course, the high-functioning choleric also gets smacked:

One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:6 (NASB)

And there is insight for young men gawking at the pool this summer:

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.  Ecclesiastes 7:26 (NLT)

And for women who feel scandalized by such a sexist depiction of the fair sex:

“This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! Ecclesiastes 7:27-28 (NLT)

But for husbands nodding their head in agreement, we have this:

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Ecclesiastes 9:9 (NLT)

It’s a fun book! It’s a great follow-up to our Evidence series, because Solomon tackles the best arguments people raise against the knowledge of God. But he also gives the greatest comfort to broken hearts with these immortal words:

Joy to the World!

December 24, 2008 in Headlines

Rockin the Rusty Nail with some real joy!

Did you know “joy” is used almost 200 times in the New Testament? Did you know “joy” is the most frequent word used in the Bible to describe Christian life?

Christians are truly God’s “Joy to the World,” like we saw at the “2008 Christmas Gala.” It was a record-breaking celebration of joy with almost 200 people! A contagious enthusiasm called “joy” filled the room (especially evident in dancing later). I think our Gala rocked more than any office party, and without the liquor! (Well, liquor was available at the Rusty Nail but I didn’t see anyone guzzling it. Did you?)

We lost our meeting place, a newspaper reporter was there investigating us (but he seems to like us), we still don’t know where or when we’ll meet again, and yet it was truly a Gala Christmas affair, by all accounts. How can anyone explain this, unless they understand the history of Christianity?

The Christian Legacy of Joy

Almost 200 people came to the Gala!

From the beginning Christian history is littered with the same unconquerable joy, like these people: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials!” (1 Peter 1:6). The same weird thing happened when the officials “called in the apostles and had them flogged,” but “the apostles left the high council rejoicing!” (Acts 5:40-41).

Did you know “joy” is unique to Christianity? It’s not taught or held in esteem by any of the world religions, which makes sense: our joy comes from the freedom of knowing God’s grace. But man-made religions are all about good works, earning salvation, great self-effort, and very somber, dark rituals. Buddhism extols a state of serenity through severe discipline, and its “serenity” is really the absence of joy (and all other emotions). Islam is a severe religion and is spread by warfare, not joy. Jehovah Witnesses are much like the early Puritans who forbade all celebrations by law, and Mormonism is equally strict and full of foreboding. Isn’t it tragic when people think Christianity is just like the others?

Young and indomitable faith

It’s amazing to meet a stranger who turns out to be a Christian. Suddenly “joy” fills the conversation! I saw this recently with Yife Gao, a Chinese Christian from Craig Smith’s new Bible study at Akron University. (View their hot video online!) Yife came to America in August and barely speaks English, but we had such a blast, I can only describe it as “joy”. (Other diners at Panera bread wished we weren’t so joyous, I think!) But it was sweet to meet a baby Christian born in the outlaw home church movement in China. Those poor Christians have every reason to feel oppressed and depressed, but instead the home churches are a thriving, joyous movement, now 100-million strong and causing much embarrassment to the atheist communist government. Yife’s parents are communists, so they treat him like a traitor, and yet losing his family didn’t faze his joy in Jesus Christ!

[callout]View all the Christmas Gala pictures here >>[/callout]When a Christian is bored or depressed, a spiritual problem is surely stealing that Christian’s joy. Maybe they’ve grown distant from good Christian fellowship, or maybe alienated with Jesus for some useless reason. (Why run away from someone who really loves you?) But joy should be an over-riding constant in a Christian’s life, because it’s a “fruit of the Spirit” just like love (see Galatians 5:22). There may be varying degrees of joy, because we certainly aren’t always “leaping with joy”, but a healthy spiritual life is marked by the confident optimism of Christian joy.

It’s more natural for Christians to be filled with joy (“And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” - Acts 13:52), despite oppressive circumstances (“I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction!” – 2 Cor. 7:4). Paul’s letter to Philippi was written during his long imprisonment, but it’s called “The Letter of Joy” because “joy” appears more often in this short letter than his other writings, even the long ones.

Oh the Joy of 2008!

Our own (unscientific) poll shows that 60% of us said 2008 “was a rockin’, cheese-handling jamboree spritual poop-flingin roller coaster of ecstasy”, and another 25% called it “Amazing! I grew like a kid in puberty minus the B.O.” Nobody felt bad about it. (See the full results and Talk Line feedback.)

Aside from silly polls, the evidence is clear that morale is not only high, but spiritual growth is occurring on a scale never before seen in NeoXenos. Consider how many people are taking the initiative to launch this wide variety of ministry efforts:

  1. We launched and maintained an inner-city, after-school program with South Street in January.
  2. We started a new KSU Bible study in August that continues to grow.
  3. We started the “Western Ohio Enterprise” Bible study for three colleges near Toledo.
  4. We started a new Akron University Bible study for international students, and it looks good.
  5. We grew another 20-25% at CT.
  6. We started a Discovery Group among Stow neighbors.
  7. All our existing ministries lost their experienced leaders to these new ministry initiatives, but new leaders and teachers suddenly appeared from within the groups!

And every week it seems someone is sharing about yet another person meeting Jesus Christ, especially since this Fall. All this energy cannot originate through human devices, and certainly it isn’t our great organizational skills at work: it is the spiritual life of Jesus Christ working through many different people in many directions.

From Whence Commeth Indomitable Joy?

What a great question that is! Why are Christians so joyful?

Progressive Dinner festivities

I always knew Christian joy is sparked by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside a grateful and responsive heart, like this: “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth…’” (Luke 10:21) But until our own recent “afflictions”, as Paul calls them, Christian joy in the midst of persecution was perhaps a bit theoretical, for me.

Now I see it, and I see why joy is so tightly-coupled with Christian persecution: it is the elation of the heart released from tangled thorns: “The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) The Kosmos suffocates spiritual life with a mountain of counterfeit hopes and dreams, and it’s so dreary to live by “the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) With persecution we reach the end of our hope in such bland living, and reach instead for “the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

At least, that’s what I saw last weekend at the Rusty Nail.

Alertness, Prayer and Grace

December 8, 2008 in Web

Everyone who enjoyed this weekend’s prayer festival will love this marvelous teaching by Greg: the Christian response to a world in confusion…