Under The Sun #12: Oh Very Young

ButterflyChild2Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #12 (Ecclesiastes): Oh Very Young  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching gatheringconnect.

Invest Your Life Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Hebrews 10:23-25, Matthew 25:14-30

As we move now towards the conclusion of our study in the book of Ecclesiastes we read   Solomon’s wise advice on the subject of investment.  An investment is a valuable thing acquired with the goal of generating more. In an economic sense, an investment is the purchase of goods that are not consumed today but are used in the future to create wealth. In finance, an investment is a monetary thing of value purchased with the idea that it will provide income in the future or will later be sold at a higher price for a profit. In the spiritual sense, an investment is the personal practice of religious, moral and ethical living that will   provide well being, inner peace, and hope in ones future (i.e. blessings) and provide eternal insurance after ones earthly death. Solomon’s advice in the first part of chapter eleven can be applied to all three of these, but it is the spiritual investment that God is concerned with. 

Solomon advises the reader to “ship their grain across the sea” and invest in “seven ventures or even eight.”  Economically and financially he encourages one to spread their investments out rather putting them all in one place.  “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This is sound   advice because “you do not know what  disaster may come upon the land”, the market, the business or the  object of your investment.  You may loose one or two things (to the “rain” or “falling tree”) but gain somewhere else. We should spiritually invest this way too. Share Christ with many and do not be discouraged by those who show no growth. Others will grow and become the “good seed” that Jesus referred to in His Parable Of The Sower. (Matthew 13:23)

Solomon also warns us about the folly of not investing in anything at all.  He that obsesses over the wind will never plant for fear of the seed blowing away.  He who obsesses over the clouds will never reap because he is afraid of rain ruining the harvest.  He who obsesses over being rejected will never share his faith!  He who obsesses over earthly things will never do anything spiritually.  To invest one must take risks.  In fact God commands us to do so trusting only in His promises: “He who has promised is faithfulGod expects us to take Him at His word!   Jesus makes this clear in His Parable Of The Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30 where three servants are entrusted to invest their masters talents (a measurement of gold or silver).  Two servants invest those talents and double their masters  money while one servant, mistrusting his master, hides the talents in the ground and makes nothing at all.  We notice that the master gives them differing measures of talents, but rejoices equally in the fact that they invested what they had and made more.  The master, however, is angry with the servant that mistrusted him and hid the talents in the ground.  That servant is harshly rebuked and thrown out of his presence where he is left weeping and gnashing (grinding) his teeth in regret! The message is clear:  God expects His people to invest what He has entrusted to us.  What has God given to you?  Has He given you wealth?  Then you better invest some of that wealth in His kingdom!  Has He given you talent and skills?  Then you better be using those gifts for His work.  Has He given you strong arms and good health?  Then you better be reaching out in His name to the less fortunate.  Has He given you smarts? Then don’t be dummy and squander that gift on selfish pursuits but use that mind to advance His kingdom.  It is His kingdom we are to advance and not our own:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. (Matthew 6:10). 

God expects a return on what He has given to us.  “And to all who have called upon His name He has given the right to be called the children of God” (John 1:12)— We who have received that “right” are commanded to tell others (Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20).  Are you?

 Christians …”We do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb”.  “We can not understand the work of God”, but “we are to sow our seed in the morning and our hands are not to be idle” in the evening.  “We do not know which investment will   succeed”, but we are to invest what the Lord has given us.  Let us make no mistake about that!  Solomon instructs mankind to enjoy all the years of our lives, but we should remember that life has many dark days— so we must invest while we can making use of every opportunity.

The Line that follows says Everything to come is “meaningless” in the NIV translation.  We have seen this word used 34 times in Ecclesiastes and we will hear it four more times before we are done. The Hebrew word is actually “hebel” which means “vapor”. This word is translated “vanity” in other translations (NASB, KJV, ESV, ASV) but The Message version of the Bible gets much closer by translating the word as “smoke.” The context is that this life is here and then gone. It is not, however, “meaningless” as the NIV so poorly translates. The Bible has a consistent message that we have great meaning in Christ and so do our investments.     

Oh Very Young 1 Timothy 4:12-16, Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8, Matthew 6:19-21, 1 John 4:7-11

Investing the life that God gives us is not just advice for adults.  God’s word is clear that the young are expected to do the same.  The apostle Paul exhorted young Timothy regarding this in 1 Timothy 4:12-16 and Psalm 8:2 says, From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise on account of Your adversaries, to silence the enemy and avenger.  I have attended and conducted many funerals in my life. Some of the young that were buried did far more for the kingdom of God than many of the adults (i.e. Joe & Stacy).  Their examples challenge us still. 

Solomon addresses the young in the concluding verses that we read today.  He encourages them to enjoy their youth but to live righteously before God.  Youth do not get a free pass on judgment as some foolish people assume.  Young people should enjoy their vitality, but remember their creator in the days of their youth and invest their lives wisely before days of trouble come.  They should store up for themselves spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-21) rather than wrath for the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). “Remember Him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken… This poetic reference to the breakdown of the body and eventual death will come to us all— make your contribution to life now! 

Oh Very Young” was a song composed by singer-songwriter Cat Stevens that was first released in 1974 and reached number 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and number two on Easy Listening.  The song calls the young to invest their lives and help this “world to see a better day”. To “carry the words of love” with them until they go to Heaven.  This is a perfect closing song for this message.  As Christians we know that true love comes from God in Christ Jesus (1 John 4:7-11).  Let us invest our lives in Him and live His love out loud to others. We are only “dancing on this earth for a short while”Let us live wisely in such a way as to lead others to Heaven. 

Under The Sun #11: Fool’s Wisdom

BibleReadPastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #11 (Ecclesiastes): Fool’s Wisdom  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching gatheringconnect.

A Light To My Path Ecclesiastes 10:1-3, Psalms 119:97-105

The passages we read today in chapter ten are a collection of proverbs assembled by Solomon about wisdom and folly.  Some of them are complete thoughts and others seem to simply be random statements, nonetheless we will seek nuggets of truth from each of them.

“The teacher” begins by reminding us that on the scales of life a little folly outweighs a whole lot of wisdom and honor. Consider this fact from those that God had called:  Noah was a righteous man and wisely built an ark (Genesis 6:9-14) but after the rains came and went he foolishly got drunk and naked (Genesis 9:21). Abraham (Abram) wisely left his country and people and went to a land that God showed him (Genesis 12:1-4) but later acted foolishly by having a son through a concubine rather than his own wife as God had promised (Genesis 16:1-2). Moses wisely listened to God and led the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land (Exodus 12:31-36) but acted so foolishly in his anger that God denied him entry there himself (Exodus 32:48-52). Solomon’s own father, king David, wisely    followed God to defeat the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45-50) and was later declared king of Israel leading the Israelites righteously and valiantly, but later acted  foolishly by having sex with a soldier’s wife and then having him killed to cover up her pregnancy (2 Samuel 11:1-17). Even Solomon himself would fulfill his own words by wisely asking God for    wisdom to lead (1 Kings 3:7-14) and later acting like a fool by amassing for himself 700 wives and 300 concubines who led him away to worship other gods  (1 Kings 11:1-6). Like dead flies in perfume their folly outweighs their wisdom and honor     doesn’t it?  These facts cause skeptics to wonder, “are these the great leaders of the Bible?”   To this I would say of course not…God almighty is the only great leader in the Bible!  As Hannah once said: There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2).

 In the Bible “right” and “left” refer to spiritual and earthly, honor and dishonor. Note that Jesus is at the “right” hand of God (Ephesians 1:20-21) and in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats His sheep (children of God) are on the right and the goats are on His left (Matthew 25:31-46).  When Solomon writes “The heart of the wise inclines to the right but the heart of the fool to the left” he is saying that a wise person will always incline to the ways of the Lord.  As we “walk along the road” (or the path of life) let us not “lack sense and show everyone how stupid we are.”  Let us always incline to the “right”( Psalms 119:97-105) making God’s word a light to our path. 

Wise Forethought  Ecclesiastes 10:4-11, Philippians 4:6-9,13, Psalm 121:1-8

It is said “hind sight is 20/20”.  That is to say that knowing what an outcome would be beforehand would make one see perfectly and therefore act perfectly. We usually don’t have that advantage because  people most often react to situations rather than thinking things out beforehand.  Solomon gives us some wise advice about thinking before we act:  Firstly he   reminds us to stay calm even in the heat of a “rulers” rebuke—”calmness can lay great offences to rest”.  In this life we have two choices. We can go along with the temperature of our       environment  letting our mind and emotions be led by the twists and turns of the ever-changing scenarios of life, or we can set our hearts and minds on Christ. The inclination to the “right” or the “left” is always ours to choose.  Let us wisely choose to trust God and let Him make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Thanking God for what we have, praying and keeping our mind on praiseworthy things prepares us for rough roads (Philippians 4:6-9, 13). Remember—we can do all things thorough Christ who gives us strength. 

Secondly, we must remember that “fools” are always among us and often in high positions. Those who are “rich” in wisdom usually occupy the lower ones. “Slaves” to ruling fools are also often lifted up (on horseback) while “princes” (God’s people) “slave” under them.  Yes, we live in a fallen (sinful) world, but stay calm and guard against your anger because God will ultimately prevail (Romans 12:19)!  Those who foolishly react in the moment may “fall” into a pit, get “bitten by a snake” be “injured” or be “endangered” by their rash actions.  We must remember that the “ax is dull” or that the people we deal with aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.  We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and we are imperfect too.  More strength is needed to see success and My strength comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1-8)!  Remember— if you want to see success stay calm or the “snake” (circumstances) will bite you.

Watch Your Mouth!  Ecclesiastes 10:12-15, James 3:9-12, 17-18, 4:7

Oftentimes when we loose our calm we don’t think about what we say but just “barf” out destructive words in frustration or anger. The apostle James admonished us about our use of the tongue and said, “this should not be” (James 3:9-12) .  This reaction tears down relationships and adds stress to an already bad situation.  We need to seek out the “wisdom that comes from Heaven” and “submit ourselves to God”. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. “Word barf” never accomplishes anything it just wears out the fool who toils in them.  We will never find the way to town (healthy relationships) unless we pray and choose our words carefully.

Who Is Your King?  Ecclesiastes 10:16-19

Solomon concludes his proverbs on wisdom and folly by contrasting a people ruled by a child or a king of noble birth.  The NIV version poorly translates the Hebrew word naar נַעַר] (nah’-ar) Lit. a boy, lad, youth] to “servant” which does not express the authors intent.  The “woe” is in the understanding that an immature (“child”) leader will be inclined to the “left”—worldly and concerned with his own needs and wants to the detriment of his subjects.  His princes “feasting in the morning” meaning that no work is being accomplished in such an administration.  The “blessed” land (or people) is ruled by the king inclined to the right—spiritual and honorable, whose princes (administration) exercise strength and not drunkenness.  Laziness and idle hands compromise the house in which we live.  The idea that feasting, drinking and money is the answer to everything is foolhardy.  “Woe” to the people ruled by such a “child”.  Their roof is bound to leak and eventually cave in!  Who sits on the throne of your life?  Who is your King?  If it is not Jesus then a jester reigns!

Fool’s Wisdom  Ecclesiastes 10:20, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

We can judge and curse the earthly leaders and the rich who rule over us, but our own actions and inclinations to the “right” or “left” will judge us.  Our wisdom should come from the Word, our king is Jesus, our actions to reflect His light—foolishness to the perishing—life to the wise! 



Under The Sun #10: Everybody Hurts

CoronaPsalm91Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #10 (Ecclesiastes): Everybody Hurts (Hang on)  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching Gathering Connect.

Everybody Hurts (REM)

Most of the song Everybody Hurts (released on the band’s 1992 album Automatic for the People) was written by R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry who quit the band in 1997 to become a hay farmer in Georgia.  He had had a very public aneurysm in 1995 (literally onstage) and that inspired him to do some heavy thinking; in the end he just decided that he was sick and tired of the business: the tours, the interviews, the press releases and the television appearances. The thought of going out on tour to support an album filled him with such dread that walking away from an 80 million dollar contract to grow hay just seemed more appealing to him than touring about the world in a bus or a private jet.  Berry and the band wrote this song for young people who might be contemplating suicide.  Ironically, Berry wrote most of the song but he did not actually play the song for the recording.  A Univox drum machine took care of that for him.

On many R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe purposefully sings indecipherably. He sang very clearly on this one though, because he didn’t want the message getting lost. “I still kind of can’t believe my voice is on this recording. It’s very pure”, he said. “This song instantly  belonged to everyone except us, and that honestly means the world to me”, said Stipe. The band was proud to have created a song that actually saved lives.  Stipe said, “It saved a few, people have told me. And I love hearing that. That’s my Oscar, that’s my gold on a shelf right there… that something we did impacted someone’s life in such a   profound way. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Hang On John 14:27

I selected Everybody Hurts as the illustration for today’s lesson in the book of Ecclesiastes because chapter 9 can seem to be such a dismal passage.  In fact, one who dwells on such thoughts could easily contemplate suicide if they were prone to depression. To that person I would echo REM and say “Hang on!”  There is hope in my message today!  There is also a lesson in Bill Berry’s turn from a life of anxiety into living a more simple sort of life.  “Simplify”, most of what we obsess and stress over is not necessary.   

With hindsight of this weeks news on the Coronavirus I might have better chosen REM’s song It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (and I feel fine). Yes, there is a virus spreading out there so we take healthy precautions, but we should not freak out!  Anxiety only weakens our immune systems and depletes the planets supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizer!  This is the time that we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and remember that we are God’s children.  This can actually be a time for us to “share the hope within us”  (1 Peter 3:15) with those who might otherwise not listen at all.  It is also a time for us to  listen to God and know His peace through the Bible and prayer (John 14:27).  Read Psalm 91 and believe it!

Reflections Ecclesiastes 9:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 10:14, 1 Peter 2:9-10

Negative reflections on life, like Solomon’s, can leave us flinching at whether love or hate awaits us in this life of chance (“everybody hurts”).  Seeing everyone’s destiny (the righteous and the wicked) as death without the promise of eternal life is a crushing blowSometimes the world and living in it can seem wearisome and even pointless —for a   person without the hope of salvation and purpose found in Christ it surely is.  

At this point in our scripture reading I must say once again that the book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s rhetorical writings on the road to find out.  The end of the book (its conclusion) justifies the means to getting there.  His musings are intended to make us ask questions that we might otherwise neglect in our life “under the sun”.  Asking these questions without the direction of the gospel (lit. Greek: “Good News”) is detrimental.  Asking them in the light of Christ brings salvation, hope, purpose, faith and direction. 

A good example of this is found in verse four where Solomon makes an interesting      comparison between a “live dog” and a “dead lion”.  A dog was considered an unclean animal in both the old and new testaments and references are most often    negative and used as slurs to sinful men  (Revelation 22:15, Philippians 3:2,   Proverbs 26:11).  A lion on the other hand  always refers to power, strength and might—Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5, Hosea 11:10) who is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  Is a live dog (a sinner) better than a dead lion?  According to the    gospel a living sinner is a dead man walking and that “dead Lion” (Jesus) rose from the grave and gives any “dog” new life and purpose (Ephesians 2:1-10) when we call on His nameWe are no longer dead and our name is forever remembered by our “good    Shepherd” (John 10:14). We have purpose both on this earth and in the life to come (1 Peter 2:9-10)!

Chance & Grace Ecclesiastes 9:7-12, Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Peter 1:3-9

Solomon reminds his reader to live life with a joyful heart to God—He has approved (officially agreed) of your being alive so be right with Him (be clothed in white) and set yourself apart for His service (anoint your head with oil). Love what God has given you (enjoy your wife).  Do the work that is yours as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).        Solomon’s  chiding remark in verse ten about no work to do in the realm of the dead is for those who scoff at living for God.  The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalms 14:1). 

Life is flinching chance for those who live apart from God. “Time and chance    happen to all…and people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them… like Coronavirus!  But the grace and mercy of God is not to the swift, the strong, the wise or the wealthy or learned either.  It is for any who call on His name (Romans 10:13).  In God’s “great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope” through Christ and an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-9). Rejoice, even though now you may suffer— “Everybody hurts…Hang on” Joy comes in the morning (Psalms 30:5)!


Quiet Words of the Wise Ecclesiastes 9:13-18, John 3:16-18

Solomon closes this chapter with a picture of a poor, quiet wise man who saves a city but is forgotten.  We live in a world where a poor, quiet wise man named Jesus laid down His life to save a world lost in sin.  Let us not forget: His words are “more to be headed than the shouts of a ruler of fools”.  “Hang on”—Be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10).






Under The Sun #9: Hand In The Hand

HandPastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #9 (Ecclesiastes): Put Your Hand In The Hand  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching Gathering Connect.

Gene MacLellan (Put Your Hand In The Hand)  

Gene MacLellan was a  Canadian country, pop and gospel singer-songwriter, guitarist (February 2, 1938— January 19, 1995).  His songs “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand” won Grammy Awards in 1971.  Ocean was the Canadian gospel rock ( 1971-1975) band that made that song a million-selling 1971 hit single, earning a gold disc in the United States from the Recording Industry Association of America.  The single peaked  at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The song was recorded first by Anne Murray and has since been recorded by artists such as  Elvis Presley, Bing CrosbyRandy StonehillFrankie LaineJoan BaezAnita Bryant, Loretta Lynn, The Oak Ridge Boys and others.  Gene MacLellan was a shy Christian man who mostly avoided the spotlight for more intimate settings, performing instead at churches, penitentiaries and retirement homes. He performed on gospel broadcasts, and also provided counseling to prison inmates. Gene’s daughter, Catherine MacLellan is also an excellent singer-songwriter.  Her latest recorded release is COYOTE(2019). Check it out on Spotify.

“Obey The King” Ecclesiastes 8:1-6,  2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Matthew 11:28-30

I chose MacLellan’s song “Put Your Hand In The Hand” as a springboard for today’s     message because “the teacher” expresses how wisdom brightens a persons face and changes ones hard appearance.  A good sing-along song certainly does this too, especially if it is a song about the King of kings and the wisdom found in following Him.  “Obey the king’s command”, wrote king Solomon…  “Put Your Hand In The Hand of the Man from Galilee” wrote MacLellan.  Jesus is the King of kings and He is the one we must obey. Christian… ”you took an oath before God” to follow Him.  “Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence.” 

Could a song with lyrics like this ever hit the top 10 on U.S. Bilboard today?  Well, Kanye West’s “Jesus Is King” opened at No. 1 in October 2019… It is good to know that a        recognized king of rap knows who the King of kings is.  Let us pray that he is not in a hurry to leave the king’s presence to “stand up for a bad cause”.  Pray for Kanye, Christians and pray that prayer for one another and you too.  “Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm…the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.”  The time is now for salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) says God’s word and the procedure of salvation is clearly laid out in the gospel!  It has always been here since Christ proclaimed it.  It has been  expressed in different times through different vehicles but the truth remains the same and is found in “the holy book” (the Bible).  Are you weighed down in misery?”  Then come to Christ. (Matthew 11:28-30). “Obey the King!” “Put Your Hand In The Hand…” 

Fear God Ecclesiastes 8:7-13, James 1:13-15, Revelation 20:11-15, Romans 1:18-2:4

The teacher once again dwells on the fact that no person really has any power.  No one knows the future, just as no one can contain the wind or determine where it blows.  No one knows when they will die or has the power to change their fate.  No one that        practices wickedness can deliver themselves from it— they are bound in it like a prisoner of war.  A man may rule (lord it over) over others but he cannot control the fact that they may rise up and hurt him one day.  In reality… no person has as much power as they may think!  Only God is all knowing (omniscient) , all powerful (omnipotent) and all present (omnipresent). 

The teacher also “saw the wicked (Verse 10) buried”  Those evil ones who fooled others into praising them by looking outwardly righteous — in the end they proved to have no power at all.  They were buried!  The teacher continued to reflect on such people and why they go from bad to worse.  When people get away with wrongful schemes they are    enticed to do more.  The Apostle James put it this way:  “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:14   A wicked person may get away with many crimes and even live a long time in this unjust world but he is a fool to think that he has the power to get away with it… We can not fool God.  He knows and will judge all things (Revelation 20:11-15).  He alone is powerful and a wise person will  fear Him.  In fact, to fear the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom and not the conclusion of it:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

God’s wrath will be revealed against all people who suppress the truth that He has so graciously revealed in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:18-32). Obey the King!  And while we are at it… don’t we dare play God and pass judgment on others (Romans 2:1-4).  “His kindness is intended to lead you (and others) to repentance”.  “Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently… put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee”. 

Enjoy Life! Ecclesiastes 8:14-17, Romans 1:16-17

We see it on the news all the time— good people getting what the wicked deserve and the wicked prospering.  “Meaningless”, says the teacher!  But “the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure (Ecc. 8:5b).”  The time for   salvation is now and the procedure is to follow the gospel: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).  God wants us to enjoy life— ”to eat and drink and be glad”.  Stop loosing sleep over the injustice of this world and leave it to God!  “The righteous will live by faith.”  Look what He has done.  Look at what He is  doing!  Despite all of our efforts to search things out we can never comprehend it.  Some, proclaiming to be wise may claim to know it all but they can not.  Some, proclaim to have great power and might, but in reality they do not.  But “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”  “Obey the King!”  Fear God and enjoy life and Put Your Hand In The Hand of the Man who calmed the sea!



Under The Sun #8: Focus



Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #8 (Ecclesiastes): Focus  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching Gathering Connect.

Good Times/ Bad Times Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, James 1:2-4, Matthew 5:44-45

As we continue our lessons on wisdom we come to subject of focus.  What do you focus on in this life “under the sun”?  Do you obsess over what is bad and you cannot change or do you embrace what is good and make the most of it?  What is your focus? 

The first question asked for us to consider is— “who can straighten what God has made crooked?”  God has made (it is better to say allowed)  both good and bad times, people, places and things.  In fact, God has even made Satan.  For it says in John 1:1-3— “without Him nothing was made that has been made.”  While it is correct to say God created Satan, it’s never correct to say that God created the sin within Satan. Satan chose his own course (Isaiah 14:13) as man has through the free-will that God has given. God never causes sin (James 1:13), even though He has created a world where sin is possible. Some day God is going to put an end to Satan and all sin (Revelation 20:10) by confining him and his      minions to everlasting punishment; nonetheless, God did create Satan with the fore-knowledge that Satan would fall and deceive many. The only logical conclusion as to why God has done this is to understand that “free-will” must be paramount (of supreme     importance) to God. Only in freedom can one choose to love and worship.  There can not be freedom without a choice and there can not be a choice without good and bad. 

So we have both good and bad in this world and what can we do about it?  “When times are good be happy”, but a wise person realizes that bad times will also come and we cannot know exactly when they will occur. So what will be your focus?  The celebration and thankfulness for the good or the anticipation that bad is just around the corner?  Let us do the former and even realize the good among the bad in all things.  The apostle James said “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds…the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-4).  Jesus reminded us that even our enemies and those who persecute us can teach us to pray to God (Matthew 5:44-45).  In this world the sun will shine and the rain will fall on both the good and bad alike.  It is our focus on Christ that will make all the difference.

Righteous & Wicked Ecclesiastes 7:15, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Psalm 73:25-28

The second thing we are asked to consider is the righteous perishing and the wicked living a long life.  Once again, what is your focus on such an observance?  Are you looking at the eternal or the temporary aspects of living? A wise man builds his house (life) upon the rock (Christ: Matthew 7:24-27) . The wicked will be judged in eternal hell but the one who builds his life on Christ will be rewarded with eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  What we have on earth and in Heaven are incomparable.  Focus!  (Psalm 73:25-28)

No Earthly Good Ecclesiastes 7:16-22, 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, Matthew 23:24-28

Have you ever heard the saying:  He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good? This is what Solomon warns us about when he says: “Do not be overrighteous, nor overwise, nor overwicked …whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18: paraphrased). Biblically speaking, the scripture actually deals with the opposite problem of being  so earthly minded that we become no Heavenly goodThe scripture is clear on the point that we be guided by the Spirit of God and not by the spirit of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).  We are also warned not to love the things of the world: The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17), but  Solomon obviously means something different from being truly righteous and truly wise. 

To be “overrighteous” and “overwise” is to strive for a self-made righteousness based on an outward  adherence to rules. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were “overrighteous” and “overwise” in this way; in their fanatical self-righteousness, they would as Jesus said— “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”, like “whitewashed tombs” they looked good on the outside but were dead inside. (Matthew 23:24-28). Self-righteousness drives people away from God rather than bringing people to Him. This type of lifestyle is condemned by God and therefore leads to the destruction of self and others.

To be overwicked is to purposely look for ways of doing evil.  Solomon makes it clear that “no one on earth is righteous” (never sins). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is why Christ has become the Savior to those who call on His name (Romans 6:23). Some people; however, foolishly plot wickedness on a whole other level and therefore prematurely end their lives and the lives of others.   When Solomon writes, “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other” he is saying that a wise person will understand (grasp) that he is a sinner and not “let go” of (neglect) the righteousness that God freely gives through our Savior.  The focus of a wise person is therefore on God.  “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes”.  Lastly, we are not to “pay  attention to every word people say” (to discover their hypocrisy) but to watch out for our own (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22). Don’t be a Pharisee!  Are you focused on God or self? 

Scheme of Things Ecclesiastes 7:23-29, 1 Kings 11:1-13, Hebrews 12:1-3,7-9,12-13

Solomon said that he was determined to be wise— yet he had  700 wives and 300       concubines, many of them foreigners who led him into public idolatry in his old age, greatly angering God (1 Kings 11:1–13) and costing him his kingdom. No wonder he saw women as a snare which he did not escape.  The men and women Solomon surrounded himself with were scheming for their own pleasure of which he was the means to their end.  Solomon knew the truth — to Keep life focused on God, but he “schemed” (plotted) otherwise.  He was not so to” determined to be wise” after all.  Are we?

 Solomon ended this chapter by concluding that God is good! He has created mankind good (“upright”— Genesis 1:31), “but they have gone in search of many schemes”.       Wisdom is not just knowledge but the application of it.  Living wisely in life is like a  marathon, not a sprint.  We must “throw off everything that hinders and run with    perseverance the race marked out for us”, focused on Jesus.  Let us endure the hardships of life as disciplined children of God—Let us not be lame, but be healed.  FOCUS!


Under The Sun #7:Stiff-Necked Fools

BobMarleyPastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #7 (Ecclesiastes): Stiff-Necked Fools  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching Gathering Connect.

Stiff-Necked Fool Proverbs 29:1-2, Acts 7:51-53

Confrontation is the thirteenth and final studio album by Bob Marley & the Wailers. It was released posthumously in May 1983, two years after Marley’s death from skin cancer at age 36. The songs on the album were compiled from unreleased material and singles  recorded during Marley’s lifetime, among them is Stiff Necked Fool.  This song by Bob Marley contrasts  “stiff- necked” (prideful) vanity with wisdom. Vanity is the excessive  belief in one’s own self.  Marley said that the world has the wrong interpretation of life because their understanding of it is based on the simplicity of their vain imaginations and not God’s revealed wisdom.  His song is actually quite biblical and sounds as if it came right out of the pages of Ecclesiastes or Proverbs (see Proverbs 29:1-2). The term “stiff- necked” was coined to refer to stubborn oxen that would not  respond to the plowing farmer.  Throughout the Bible  the figure of speech was used to express the stubborn, untractable spirit of a people not responsive to the guiding of their God (Exodus 2:933:3Deuteronomy 9:62 Chronicles 36:13Jeremiah 17:23). In the book of Acts, Stephen, the churches first martyr, called the religious Jews “stiff necked” because of their resistance of the Holy Spirit’s work through the prophets, angels and Jesus (Acts 7:51-53).  They resisted God even to the extent of murder.  

Bob Marley “Rasta Man”  February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981, Philippians 2:8-11

Marley had been diagnosed with cancer in 1977, which spread from under a nail of his toe that was injured after playing football (Soccer). He was advised to have his toe amputated; but was “stiff- necked” and refused the advice sighting his Rastafarian faith which considers it a sin to have any part of the body ‘temple’ removed. He agreed to a skin graft, but the disease spread throughout his body.

Marley was raised as a Catholic, but became interested in Rastafari beliefs in the 1960s through his wife, Rita Marley’s, influence. The cult religion Rastafari began in Jamaica after the 1930 coronation of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I ( or Ras [prince] Tafari [to be feared] Makonnen), who was  considered by many to be the returned Christ.  The religion is a mixture of Biblical scripture,         mysticism, black pride, ritual ganja (marijuana) smoking and “vain imaginations”.  Rita converted to the faith after seeing Haile Selassie on his Jamaican trip. She claimed in interviews (and in her book No Woman, No Cry) that she saw a stigmata print on the palm of Selassie’s hand as he waved to the crowd—a claim that was not supported by other sources, but was used as evidence for her and others to suggest that Selassie was indeed their messiah.  After Marley formally converted to Rastafari he grew dreadlocks and introduced the religion to the world through his music.

In a 1967 recorded interview with the CBC, Haile Selassie denied his alleged divinity. In the interview Bill McNeil says: “there are millions of Christians throughout the world, your Imperial Majesty, who regard you as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.” Selassie replied in his native language: I have heard of that idea. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that I will be replaced by the oncoming  generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human being is emanated from a deity”.  Selassie was assassinated on August 27, 1975 at age 83 following a coup d’état.

Despite having literal worshipers, Selassie himself was a Christian and member of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. “He always rejected the view that he was the second Christ,” explained the Reverend of Holy Trinity Church, where Selassie attended later in life. “He always remained a Christian.” Unlike many false prophets and messianic figures who have come and gone through the years, Selassie never claimed to be the Christ or God. He also never followed or led the Rastafari movement. It was the rare case where one was basically “selected” as messiah by a very “stiff necked” people who have the wrong interpretation of scripture and life because their understanding of them is based on the simplicity of their vain imaginations and not God’s revealed wisdom.  —at the name of Jesus that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.” Philippians 2:8-11 

Although Marley sang and spoke about being a Rasta, many say he converted to Christianity before his death. Abuna Yesehaq ( Ah-bu-na  Yees-ha) , archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere who died in 2005, said that Haile Selassie himself commissioned him to start a church in Jamaica to specifically preach to the Rasta community and turn them from the worship of him and towards worship of the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. He also said in that interview that he       baptized Bob Marley about one year before his death and spoke openly about Marley’s desire to become a Christian long before his death. “when he was baptized, he hugged his family and wept, they all wept together for about half an hour”, said Yesehaq.  Yesehaq later conducted the rites for the Bob Marley’s funeral. 

Judy Mowatt, a reggae and gospel singer who once sang backup for Marley said she spoke with her former bandmate and Marley’s wife, Rita, about the late musician calling out to Jesus Christ on his death bed. “When Bob was on his dying bed, his wife Rita called me on the phone and said that Bob was in such excruciating pain that he stretched out his hand and said, ‘Jesus take me.’ I was wondering to myself, ‘Why is it that Bob said Jesus and not Selassie’, “Then I met a friend who said his sister, who is a Christian, was a nurse at the hospital where Bob was before he passed on, and she led him to the Lord Jesus Christ. So when Rita saw him saying ‘Jesus take me,’ he had already received the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.” Mowatt soon found herself on her own spiritual journey.  

“The Song of Fools” Ecclesiastes 7:1-12, John 8:41-47, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4: 1-5, Romans 12:1-3, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

As we read the “teachers’ words  from Ecclesiastes it reminds me of Bob Marley.  The day of his death actually birthed his eternal life with the true Christ.  His cancer (mourning) took him away from the “song of fools” making “his end better than his beginning” and the “patience” of his hearing the truth “better than his ‘stiff- necked’ pride” in his Rastafari beliefs.  The “old days” of Marley’s fame “were not better than these.”  The wisdom gained through Bob Marley’s cancer and that heartache led him to Jesus and away from his “vain imaginations”.  “Wisdom preserves those who have it”. 

It is amazing that one can sing a song of truth while living a lie, but many people do.  Actually, the most convincing lie always has a bit of truth mixed into it — Satan is the father of lies.  Jesus said that true believers will love Him (John 8:41-47).  The apostle Paul told us that a time would come when people would deny that truth to suit their own passions.  We as believers are to be patient and    careful about our own instruction as we correct others in love (2 Timothy 4:1-5). We are “careful” when we  do not conform to the pattern of this world and think soberly according to God’s word about who we are (Romans 12:1-3)—when we  take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Only then can we refrain from singing “the Song of fools”.



Under The Sun #6: A Sorrowful Portrait

3SelfPortraitWithFeltHat2Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Under The Sun #6 (Ecclesiastes): A Sorrowful Portrait (Vincent van Gogh)  To hear this message and others download our free app at The App Store by searching The Gathering Connect.

Vincent (1853-1890) Ecclesiastes 6:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-9

Vincent” is a song by Don McLean written as a tribute to the most well-known post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. The song is also known by its opening line, “Starry, Starry Night“, a reference to van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night. McLean wrote the lyrics on a paper bag while sitting on a veranda in 1971 after reading a book about the life of van Gogh.  It was released on McLean’s 1971 American Pie album, and the following year the song became a hit first in the UK and then in the US on the Easy Listening Chart.

Today’s lesson in the book of Ecclesiastes brings McLean’s song Vincent to my mind because of the first verses in chapter six (Ecc. 6:1-6).  Vincent van Gough is the most well known post-impressionistic painters of all time.  In 2017 one of his paintings (Laboureur Dans Un Champ) sold for $81.3 million dollars,  yet he himself died largely unknown and in poverty.  Today museum exhibits of his work are attended by large crowds from all over the world, yet those same works were first exhibited on the day of his funeral outside of the little apartment he once rented (public areas of the Auberge Ravoux). His brother Theo organized the display on the public sidewalk for strangers passing by—some of the paintings were still wet from the brush of the prolific painter.

Born in Zundert, Netherlands, The son of a minister, van Gogh started working at age 16, when his uncle got him a job as a trainee with an art dealership, but he was fired in 1876. Afterward, he worked briefly as a school teacher in England then at a bookstore back in the Netherlands. In 1878, he went to the Borinage, a mining district in Belgium, and worked among the poor as a lay preacher. He gave away his belongings and slept on floors, but after less than a year on the job the religious organization sponsoring van Gogh decided he wasn’t cut out to be a pastor and dismissed him.

Vincent van Gogh did not have any children although he gave birth to more than 2,000 artworks, consisting of around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. Van Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties, and most of his best-known works were produced during his final two years. He also produced 651 letters written to his brother Theo that suggest that he suffered from bipolar and borderline personality disorderVan Gogh’s distinct style vividly expressed his tortured mind and his deep loneliness.  Vincent failed in four relationships with women and a friendship with painter Gauguin that ended in a rage where he cut off his own ear.  Likely, that self-mutilating incident was the frustrating culmination of the news that his brother was engaged and would therefore be less able to continue funding Vincent’s artistic endeavors and limit his availability in their friendship.  Vincent was committed to a hospital where he spent two weeks in recovery and then returned to his “yellow house”, but his mental attacks continued and neighbors filed a petition against him.        Eventually, Vincent committed himself to an asylum for one year but he left wanting to be free of the institutional life.  Two months later the artist left his apartment one morning to paint in a wheat field and there shot himself in the chest with a pistol. Vincent managed to limp home, but died of his  injuries two days later, with his brother Theo at his side on July 29, 1890.  He was buried the next day. Ironically, His brother Theo would die six months later.  Theo’s widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, had Theo’s remains moved from the Netherlands and re-interred in France, where Vincent was buried. After Jo passed away, her only child with Theo, Vincent Willem van Gogh, inherited his uncle’s     artwork and eventually founded the Van Gogh Museum, which opened in Amsterdam in 1973.

In Ecclesiastes the “teacher”, referring to death, asks “Do not all go to the same place?  Believers in Christ know the answer to that question is “no.”  Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who       believed in His name, He gave the right to be called the children of God… (John 1:12).  We know that van Gogh had many problems and vices, but he also once had a deep faith in Christ.  He expressed this in paintings like The Good Samaritan, The Raising of Lazarus, The Sower and The Sheaf Binder. Vincent described Jesus as “the supreme artist, more of an artist than all others, disdaining marble and clay and color, working in the living flesh.”  “One cannot do better than hold onto the thought of God through everything” he wrote, “under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to  acquire more knowledge about Him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things.” The church had rejected van Gogh as a missionary and perhaps even as a parishioner but his brother ,Theo, also a believer in Christ,  and God never did. It is likely that God gave Vincent and Theo two days before his death for some reflection.  “It is by grace we are saved”  (Ephesians 2:1-9). 

Living a Legacy Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 7:21-25 

One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, once said: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”  God has created us to live with faith and passion and not ease and comfort, in fact the later most certainly will cancel out the former.  No matter what our lot in life may be we can positively affect people who know us or even come after we are gone if we do not live solely for ourselves on this earth.  Think of the benefit our founding fathers had on our nation and its posterity.  Think of the fathers of our faith and yes, most of all consider Jesus Christ (See One Solitary Life by Dr. James Allan 1926). Of course it was Jesus’ sole mission to seek and save those who were lost (Luke 19:10), but did He not call us to do the same (Matthew 5:13-16)To be sure, our lives are not as pure, and stained with many imperfections, but He will redeem all that we entrust to Him and only He can do it (Romans 7:21-25).  Even the sorrowful portrait of Vincent can bring beauty. 

“Who Knows?” Ecclesiastes 6:7-12, Philippians 4:11b-13, Revelation 21:4-7. 

Do you live to quench a sinful appetite that is never satisfied or will you be content with what you see that God has provided?  These are the parting words of the “teacher” to us today.  We can “not   contend with someone stronger” is to say, in the words of Doris Day (Singer/Actress 1922-2019), “whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera”.  

“For who knows?”, asks the “teacher”.  God knows— the past, the present and the future so the wise will entrust their lives to Him. Have faith…He will weave the tapestry together (Romans 8:28)Let us forget all the vain philosophies of men: “the more the words the less the meaning”.  God’s word is simple: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). The apostle Paul shared the “secret of being content”(Phil. 4:11b).”  It is not that we will live in ease and comfort, but that we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.  Thus, regardless of the “fairness of life” it is never meaningless when we trust Godand He makes “all things new” even in death (Rev. 21:4-7).  This is His promise for all who believe— for Vincent, for Theo and for you and me.