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“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, and the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, HCSB). 

The night was designed to be a celebration and it was…but one with a sobering and ironic twist. Several on Rebekah’s side of the family had gathered at the house of her uncle and aunt who live in an affluent neighborhood in southwest Virginia. The gathering and dinner were in honor of our niece and her baptism. We were celebrating the public profession of her new and eternal life in Christ. And that is truly something worth rejoicing over.  

But soon after dinner the festive mood turned somber and reflective. Police cars and an ambulance, with sirens and lights blazing, arrived at a neighbor’s house, the property adjacent to our site. Everyone soon began to discuss what might be the problem. Between incoming phone calls and Uncle Bill’s neighborhood research, the details began to emerge. The man who lived in this large house, alone with his wife and pets, had taken his life by gunshot. The authorities found him in his blood-stained bedroom along with the weapon. In his 70’s, with no clear reason for his tragic and terminal decision, he was dead. 

Soon our speculation became rampant. Was he terminally ill? Did they have marital problems? Did an argument escalate and the eccentric wife actually pull the trigger? Rumor said that he had an alcohol problem…was this a contributing factor? Could the frightening rise of K2 and “Bath Salts” synthetic drugs in the area have been an influence? “My gracious,” Aunt Jane blurted out, “I just saw him walking the dog a few hours ago.” Although complete conjecture, everyone had become a sleuth is pursuit of the cause of this morbid event. No more spiritual or insightful than anyone else,  I said nothing. All I could think was, ‘This man is dead. And his soul has now transitioned to another place, good or bad. His opportunity to follow Jesus is gone.’ 

Some have said that suicide is the ultimate selfish act. I know from my own studies and ministry that those who take their own lives really don’t want to die; they just don’t want to live anymore and death is the lesser of the 2 painful evils. So they look outward and turn inward and don’t find enough reasons to keep on living. Could anything be much sadder? Uncle Bill made a soul-pricking comment: “This is such a commentary on the spiritual void that is so common in our world.” So true. Pushing away our suppositions about the circumstances surrounding this depressing event, there was something vital missing in this man’s life. Something so critical that what (Who) was absent created a hole so big that death appeared to be his best recourse. 

This is what the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is talking about in our focal passage. Life is hard and it gets harder. If we continue to live we will eventually bleed, we will inevitably have pain. Without God our existence is futile and we find no real satisfaction in our living or our dying. This principle is inescapable. Apart from Christ life can become unbearable – the spiritual void growing ever larger until we see zero joy and hope in our being…just emptiness. We may not pull the trigger that ends our earthly reality but we will just go through the motions, living out our days devoid of Who really matters. But that’s not life – that’s just ambulatory death.

But in Christ we can have new and eternal life. Through surrendered faith we can find our God-glorifying purpose by taking our brokenness to the cross and laying it at the feet of an infinitely life-giving, soul-satisfying, joy-producing Savior. And, if you haven’t already, I pray you do so before you become seemingly too hard or too tired or too beaten down by life to turn to the only One who can give you hope. 

So it behooves us all to be reminded of Ecclesiastes’ final axiom: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). Only by complete trust in the blood-soaked sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary – where He bore God’s righteous wrath – can we expect to receive God’s mercy and grace and all the immeasurable, eternal blessings that go with it…abundant life now and life everlasting.

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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should   but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*This is a continuation of a earlier post entitled, John 3:16: What Does “Believe” Mean?

In our Life Group we were studying this verse – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons have stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

Earlier we had defined “believe in Him” as a surrendered trust in Jesus as our only hope for salvation (eternal life) and a “faith” that suggests following after Christ with a transformed life that includes the desire to be obedient to Him as Lord. In our time together the question was raised: “This verse says that we have everlasting life if we “believe in Him. If so, does it make any difference what we believe as long as who we believe in Jesus?” In other words, is believing in Jesus all there is to saving faith or does what we believe about Him really matter? Or, for clarification: is the most important thing “who” or “what” we believe in? Good question! What do you think?

Karolyn spoke first and quickly said, “You can’t separate the two.” Exactly! History has been filled with those who claim to trust in Christ for salvation (or a form of it) but denied the essence of who He is. Early in the church, the Gnostics come to mind. Today, there many cults, sects, and religions which suggest that faith in Jesus can be central to redemption but cast Him in a lesser light than Scripture itself does. Pluralism does this by saying, Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.” This, of course, discounts Christ’s own claim that He was the only way, truth, and life by which one can know God (John 14:6).

What about believing in a Jesus who wasn’t sinless, really didn’t perform miracles, or was never physically raised from the dead? The latter of these was the constant drumbeat of the early church’s preaching and foundational to true faith. What about a Jesus that wasn’t really God and isn’t the only hope for fallen humanity? Or what about a Messiah who never will return again to rule and reign as He promised?

The core Christian belief is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the
promise of eternal life. Essential beliefs held by Christ-followers include his divinity, humanity, and earthly life as depicted in Scripture. Adhering to authentic Christian faith requires a belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. As one theologian has said, “The whole of Christian teaching would fall to the ground if it were the case that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not events in real history, but stories told to illustrate truths which are valid apart from these happenings.” Also, true disciples of Christ believe that Jesus was both human and the Son of God: God in human form—sharing human frailties and temptations but never acting on them, only seeking to do the will of His father in heaven, never once seeking to make Himself happy in any way but willfully submitting to God as a man, never doing what He wanted to do but what He saw His Father in heaven doing.

Beyond this, believing in Jesus means that He, as God, spoke for God. He was both the message and messenger of the way God expects us to live. The Sermon on the Mount is but one example that Jesus claimed His teachings had the very authority of God. What we believe is that His words are truth and life: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

So, just as Karolyn said (and the group concurred), the answer to the question, “who or what?” is, “Yes!” To “believe in Him” is part and parcel of trusting in what the Word of God reveals about Him. “Who” we believe in and “what” we believe about Him are two sides of the same coin. To believe the “what” of Jesus to be something other than what Scripture reveals and He claimed to be is, in essence, a failure to “believe in Him” with the kind of faith that, as Jesus said, allows us to “not perish but have eternal life.”

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