Meaning to Life

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On the Meaning of Life

Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc; New York: 1932

Will Durant

The problem is set forth in a dark/despondent way, considering what religion contributed, science, history, utopia, how the intellect committed suicide, and some final words.

Durant wrote a letter, sent it to some prominent people on the earth at that time, looking for some answers to their perspective on the meaning of life. He painted as dark a perspective of his own to set forth what he thought was the problem in a worse-case scenario. With the time of the enlightenment and with the advance of science, “[t]he growth and spread of knowledge, for which so many idealists and reformers prayed, has resulted in disillusionment which has almost broke the spirit of our race” (4). He wrote these words after the First War and during the time of the Depression, when it started to grip man. The old morality is breaking down and man’s desire to discover truth was a great mistake. “God, who was the consolation of our brief life, and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene” (5).

In the next 20 pages, Durant notes the destructive contributions of man’s advancement. Religion, man’s one contribution to hope, when it begins to weaken, life in the spiritual realm turns into life in the biological realm, the heart is (or becomes) empty. What does science do to overcome this? Four contributions of science are (as I enumerated them): 1) science unfolds a picture of universal struggle and death, 2) it points aimlessly to circularity and repetition of life, 3) man comes to understand that he is but a specie, a passing experiment of Nature, 4) man is not the center and summit of the universe (8-14). What contribution from history was made to answering this question? Durant mentions Aristotle, saying “[a]ll things, said Aristotle have been discovered and forgotten many times over…” What changes might appear is only on the surface, for like the sea, as one enters into the depth, the sea is calm, changeless (15). (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, written some 600 years before Aristotle). With all the progress of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, looking for the world of Utopia, all that which is promised comes to nothing, and the only foundation left is character, moral character; already, however, that has been undermined, so what is left (17-20)? With the intellect, “[t]he greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God” (23).

Solomon wrote so many years before Durant and Aristotle: “I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-19, ESV).

The fascinating thing about this book, among others, was in the replies given. The people who took time to address the inquiry made by Durant were people of some significant accomplishments. They were not economically “poor wretched souls” trying to find the next meal, they were not people of some educational failings, but whatever their education (formal or informal), they were influential in society.

L. Mencken (journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English, pessimist and agnostic): replied in materialistic terms. He was born a writer, and he had no choice in the matter. “There is very little conscious volition in all this. What I do was ordained by the inscrutable fates, not chosen by me” (31). His opinion of life is that it has no meaning at all (35). He rejected Christianity because he saw God as “a most stupid, cruel and villainous fellow” (34). Those who believe in immortality have “puerile [childish, silly, trivial] egos” and are “inferior men” (35). What he found to be the most pleasurable thing on earth is music. “It has given me more pleasure in life than any other external thing. I love it more every year” (33).

Sinclair Lewis (novelist, playwright, Nobel Prize winner in Literature, died 1951): Life has value and meaning, but it does not need religion to make it that way. Ethic, morality is a matter of social convenience (37). Life’s meaning comes from living/functioning healthily (some he did not do), physical and metal exercise.

John Erskine (educator, author, pianist, composer; his work was the inspiration for The Great Books for the Western World): he had a more cheerful outlook, but chose to accept the fact that man has both a material and non-material aspect to him; otherwise, the meaning of life, he had no answer to that. “I believe the divine element in man is whatever it is which make us wish to lead a life worth remembering, harmless to others, helpful to them, and increasing our own store of wisdom and peace” (41).

Charles Beard (historian; 1874-1948): the question posed to him is difficult, perhaps impossible to answer (41). The “good life” he wanted to know what it is (was), but he could offer nothing except what he thought. There is value in working, there is value in the human spirit meandering in the world of tragedy, but the good life seemed to be associated with technology. “A knowledge of the good life is our certain philosophic heritage, and technology has given us a poser over nature which enable us to provide the conditions of the good life for all the earth’s multitude” (43).

John Cowper Powys (British Philosopher; 1872-1963): the good life is found in the individual. “The collapse of organized supernaturalism and the absence, from the organized polities of the world, of any essential social liberty or culture, throws the individual back upon himself. For himself and in himself he can re-discover the secrets of faith, of hope, of happiness” (44). In addition he said, “all cruelty is evil” and “all lives are holy and sacred” (46), but he did not say why this is the case.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (pp. 47-49; American Poet; 1864-1935): Knowledge of truth is unknown, but a materialist has a “belief in futility,” but as far as he knows this futility, this absurdity may be factual or truth.

Andre Maurois (pp. 50-58; French Author of novels, histories, children books, science fiction; 1885-1967). The meaning of life needs to be understood in the life lived, not in something outside of life as in whether or not the soul is immortal. He asked a question, but in his question, he affirmed a position: “Shall we not confess, at last, that every proposition that goes beyond human experience is uncertain?”

Will Rogers (pp. 58-62; 1879-1935; actor, humorist, social commentator). His answer to Durant’s inquiry was “Believe in something for another World, but don’t be too set on what it is, and then you won’t start out that life with a disappointment. Live your life so that whatever you lose, you are ahead” (62).

Charles Mayo. (1865-1939; Medical Doctor). Doctor Mayo gave no answer to the inquiry but did identify people as “human insects” (p. 62).

Ossip Gabrilowitsch (pp. 63-65; 1878-1936, a Russian born American pianist). “I am unable to discern any plan leading to a higher fruition here or elsewhere.” He expressed a pessimistic philosophy, a philosophy based on his own observations in an unbiased form. He believed in fate and the “hand of Destiny,” finding his personal happiness in art and family.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson (pp. 66-67; 1879-1962; Canadian Artic explorer, ethnologist). He is unable to identify the meaning of life, but he rejects the other side that life has no meaning. The meaning of life, in his case, was in relation to food, which he called fuel, and how one felt after being fueled up (if you will).

Carl Laemmle (pp 70-73; 1867-1939; Film Producer). He recognized the potential influence of religion in his life but was not particularly religious. The thing that kept him going was work. “But the thing that keeps me going is the work itself and the sense of achievement.” He chose to be an optimist with a goal in life, one of which was taking care of his family. He was not convinced “truth will make one free”, but it was not the words of Jesus to which he referenced, but the idea.

Ernest Hopkins (pp. 73-76; 1877-1964; President of Dartmouth College (1911-1945)). He is the first of those who replied to give substance to religion, and nothing to the value of philosophy divorced of life’s daily activities. “The incapacity of philosophy to reign and rule seems to me to have been its obliviousness to human experience. It has therein failed to check the validity of its intellectual process” (75). Religion brings great value, but I have not been able to conclude from what he said just how religion brings substance; I do see, however, his thinking on philosophy (well informed) is that it is of lesser value.

Adolph S. Ochs (pp. 76-77; 1858-1935, American Newspaper Publisher, former owner of NY Times; Jewish). God played a significant role in his Jewish upbringing, and thus it gave him “sound moral principles” wherein he lived, worked and help others conscientiously.

Jawaharlal Nehru (pp. 78-81; 1889-1964; a student of Gandhi; Prime Minister of India). Though not used, he makes use of the sentiment of Solomon. “For your argument leads to the inevitable that all of life is futile and all human endeavor is useless” (78). He sees the difficulty of the inquiry posed to him, but he is unable to give an adequate answer. His own philosophy of life was as a socialist who knew there was more to life than mere logic and science. “I have believed in science and logic and reason, and I believe in them still, but at times they seem to lack something and life seems to be governed by other and stronger forces…” (80). Religion and metaphysics had little appeal to him, but action in life was his motivation to do: “But because I hope and believe that something can be done to better it [life], I continue to act” (81).

V. Raman (pp. 82-83; 1888-1970; Indian physicist, having won Nobel Prize for Physics). A short letter, but his religious sensibilities show forth. “…but the teachings of Buddha or Christ, if not taken too literally, have value which I recognize and which I believe time cannot diminish” (82-83). Life is not self-indulgent, but happiness is in self-control.

Mohandas Gandhi (pp. 83-84; 1869-1948). Gandhi’s reply was in bullet points, which included service to others; he looked on life as a gift from the divine, with religion and morality being synonymous terms.

John Haynes Holmes (pp. 85-87; 1879-1964; Preacher at the Community Church in New York (Unitarian); co-founder of NAACP and ACLU). Not once in his letter did he mention Jesus; he did mention a response to what he sees in life as wrong, unjust but he never said how he measured something to be wrong or unjust. If I have understood him correctly, it was like he looked at the grandeur of what good be and allowed this to motivate him toward that end to make a “what could be” to a “what is.”

Ernest Dimnet (pp. 88-93; 1866-1954; French priest, author of “The Art of Thinking”). He wrote as a teacher to a wayward student (Durant) about why and how he wondered off the path his parents set forth him with a religious way of thinking; Durant, Dimnet said, put too much faith in science; “Your scientific certainties bred pessimism; more distrust [of science] would have saved some hope and there is no hope without an admixture of faith” (93).

Mary E. Woolley (pp. 94-96; 1863-1947; President of Mt. Holyoke College; peace activists). She spoke more about Jesus than all the early contributors Durant included. “I think that if it were not for that [religion] I could not go on for I am more conscience of the suffering of the world, more troubled by it. I cannot quite understand how a human being can face life without a belief in a Supreme Power, a personality with communion can be a real thing. My creed is a simple one, with little theology embodied in it. Jesus Christ is to me the supreme revelation of Love and so of God, and His life an inspiration showing how a human life may be lived in kind if not in degree” (95).

Gina Lombroso (pp. 96-97; 1872-1944; Italian physician). “Love which ties us one to another, while living, which ties us to those that have left us, to our posterity” (97). In other words, though not mention of the Divine or religion, in her mind, the tie that binds is love. Love is the reason of life.

Helen Wills Moody (pp. 97-105; 1905-1998; Top professional tennis player). As a 25-year old answering, she considered herself uninformed to answer such an inquiry, but restless to seek perfection in some areas of life. Religion was to her crucial in giving peace, but the form of religion she loathed. The idea of forbiddance was not at all compatible with her disposition of seeking, learning and doing.

Bertrand Russell (p. 106; 1872-1970, philosopher, logician, mathematician). I marveled at his self-defeating reply to Durant. “I am sorry to say that at the moment I am so busy as to be convinced that life has no meaning whatever…I do not see that we can judge what would be the result of the discovery of truth, since none has hitherto been discovered.”

George Bernard Shaw (p. 107; 1856-1950; Irish Playwright). “How the devil do I know? Has the question itself any meaning?”

 

LETTERS TO A SUICIDE (pp. 111-134). This is an attempt of an atheistic or agnostic philosopher reasoning with one contemplating suicide, why it would be a mistake to take one’s life. Though the philosopher can’t give an answer to the meaning of life, he suspects there is one just the same. Though the philosopher thinks the mechanical philosophy of life is hopeless, he believes the lives of people are more than just machines. He does not believe man has an immortal soul, but that is no good reason to despair of life and commit suicide (pp. 114-5), especially if one dies because of a philosophical perspective, such a materialism. In an ever-so-brief scan of man’s tendency, the greatest disappoint to the philosopher is man’s moral fiber deteriorating (120), something he recognizes exist because of “the decay of supernatural belief,” but he is unable to offer anything better (122-3). Durant tries to give life meaning, but he knows that apart from the natural realm he can’t do it (127); so, from within the natural realm he tackles the idea. “The simplest meaning of life, then, is joy – the exhilaration of experience itself, of physical well-being” (124). “For to give life a meaning one must have a purpose larger than one’s self, and more enduring than one’s life” (127). In the following pages (128-133) he writes his own confession to what he thinks is the meaning of life and why. First, he rejects the idea of God, though he was raised with the teachings of Christianity. It’s interesting how he reflects of the pleasantries of that teaching and their meaningfulness, but at the time of his writing he had come to reject them. Second, he says meaning is in contributing to something outside oneself (128), but he is not able to say why this should be one’s personal philosophy; nonetheless, it does give meaning even if only temporary. He subscribes to because it benefits someone else. He brings his letter to suicide to a close (133-134), a letter that attempts to dissuade someone from suicide. He can’t say there is any meaning to life, but even still, the optimist in him says life is worth living. To the suicide contemplator, he said, engage in productive work and have a family that takes the mind off self.

 

APPENDIX: A letter from a Convict (pp. 137-144).  From prison came an exceptionally well-written letter. The incarcerated man’s name was Owen C. Middleton. Durant’s letter was given to him and he replied. He answered the meaning of life is nothing more than what a person makes of it. “…life is worth just what I am willing to strive to make it worth” (138). He was an educated man, but his philosophy was more material than not. In his well-thought-out reply, he spoke of truth in a very significant way. “Truth is not beautiful, neither is it ugly. Why should it be either? Truth is truth, just as figures are figures” (139). Figures are facts of one’s business venture, whether good or bad. Based on those figures, one decides to do this or that. Truth is similar. In the end, the incarcerated man, thoughtful as he was, offered nothing different than those earlier replies Durant received.

 

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MAKING SENSE OF IT: There is no meaning to life without there being meaning in life; but meaning in life is generated from one of two sources. It is either something generated from within, or it is something generated from without. In my estimate, Solomon sought to determine meaning to life from the source within (“under the sun”), but he could make no sense of it. He determined that meaning in life can only be understood when there is recognition that life comes from God, and only this way can one make sense of the perplexities of life that man has contributed to and corrupted so badly; and even then, he can hardly make sense of it. Nevertheless, the recognition that life came from God is important, but it is only the foundation from which one builds his/her life; the follow-up is to obey the “giver-of-life,” or God.

Though Will Durant did not believe God existed, he penned words that express a profound truth: “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even East vs. West; it is whether men can bear to live without God” (23).

Many people (most people) assign meaning to life, but they are not sure if the meaning individually assigned is correct, and British philosopher John Powys saw this clearly in his reply to Will Durant’s inquiry. In the meantime, a person does the best one can. In the end, however, one perhaps wonders why he/she even existed in the first place! What is my place in the world? Why was I born at this time and in this place? What did I do to make the world better? Why did I use this standard of right/wrong rather than that standard of right/wrong? Will anyone remember me? What is my legacy? On and one and on questions are asked. Without clarity of knowledge and understanding, the last remaining bit of hope is taken away when life is over because the individually assigned meaning is vanity.

Man cannot make sense of this which he does not understand. What he understands about evil can only be measured by a standard of good that is greater than himself and the cumulative wisdom of man; the only standard like that (of good) belongs to Him who is the Author of what is good. When man rejects the Author of what is good, he fails to understand. Try as he might, he can’t. Solomon illustrates this as well as anyone can…under the sun!

WE HAVE A PROBLEM!

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Houston, we have a problem! I am not sure if these words can be considered a quote of an Apollo launch into Space, but I seem to remember them this way. To say there is a problem is to speak about something that is not operating according to plan, something is not right in accordance with design.

Problems are a fact of life, but what some call a problem is nothing more than one’s opinion of how something should be done, why it should be done differently than is currently being done. For instance, have you heard someone say about you or some others, “You should visit more.”? It’s likely you have, and you can feel the weight of the remark because you agree that you should visit more. Well, let me ask, is there some obligating standard that says this, or is this just an opinion that resides within the one who said this to you? If it’s the former, what is that obligating standard? Perhaps some person says to you, as they take you aside, “We have a problem!” Well, okay, what is the problem? As you listen you notice there is no problem, but only a difference of opinion. Caught in an awkward situation, you try to figure a way out of the conversation because you notice this is nothing more than destructive talk toward another person.

Is there a problem? If there is, then let the problem be identified and measured against a standard that is more than a mere “I think.” With this approach, a true problem can then be given attention and fixed. If this occurs, then many personal relationships can be and will be nurtured, enhanced and strengthen.

Let me say a word or two about a real problem existing among Christians. What is a Christian? Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “adherent of Christ” (p. 194); Baker Dictionary of the Bible defines it as “follower of Christ” (p. 297). Think about the definitions and consider the following questions. 1) Is one a Christian who is a practicing homosexual? 2) Is one a Christian who is engaged in talk that is dirty, vulgar and disparaging? 3) Is one a Christian who is intimately, sexually involved with another not his (her) spouse? 4) Is one a Christian who sees things of the world more interesting than the ways of Christ? 5) Is one a Christian who allows work to pull away from meeting with the saints? Questions like these, and many more, get to the heart of the problem for many people. They address the question of what is a Christian and, perhaps, focus on being a follower of Jesus. Too many, I am afraid, have a definition in mind that is nothing more than a redefining of the word. In other words, a Christian is not a follower of Christ in all regards, but one who is baptized, has some degree of loyalty to the local congregation, but not loyalty to the extent one’s life is drastically changed.

In Acts 7, as Stephen was preaching to a hardened people (just before he was stoned to death), he cites Scripture to point out the problem with those who say they are aligned with God; because they compromised the Lord’s way, the Lord “…turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon’” (Acts 7:42-43, ESV). In other words, they wanted alignment with the Lord and His way, but they did not shed the ways of man.

This is a real problem! So many there are who feign being a Christian, but do not want to hear, much less do, that which the Lord said. In truth, they only want to be accepted by a local church because of a sense of belonging. Those who think this way, who have identified themselves as a Christian, are just as lost as to whom Stephen spoke. They have a problem! RT

Do You Not Know? 

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One can’t help but notice that Paul asked a single question a number of times in his letter to the Corinthians; in fact, he asked this question 10 times! The question is “do you not know?” The question is asked a total of 17 times in the New Testament, with Paul asking 15 of them. The single question is asked in varied contexts; in this bulletin article, I want to consider the question in two contexts. What prompted Paul to ask the brethren about something they should have already known?

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (3:16)? In the context of these words, the apostle wants the Corinthian saints (and us by extension) to understand that the “church” is God’s temple dwelling place. Paul does not have in view a physical building, but the individual saints collectively called the church. Those who adversely (negatively) affect the local church affect the temple God dwells in. When we think about our own dwelling place (our house, our home), and someone negatively affecting it, then we can appreciate the Lord’s concern a little better. If you felt it was threatened, you would likely go to what degree is necessary to protect it. Those who adversely affect the Lord “house” will have to address the Lord at His proper time, but while here on earth, the Lord wants His saints to give attention to this matter also.

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (5:6)? In this particular context, the apostle Paul addressed the saints expressing his disappointment that some within the congregation were much too willing to let a brother engaged sin continue in that same sin without correction. In other words, the saints should have insisted upon him stopping the sinful activity, but they did not. In fact, as you can see by the question, they were “glorying” in this matter! What a shame! The local congregation, the elders especially, have an obligation to address sinful behaviors in the saints. When the elders and the saints within the congregation are made aware of sinful behavior, there is a need to address the one or the ones so involved. For what purpose? Two reasons. First, to save the soul engaged in the destructive/sinful behavior. Second, to take the old sinful leaven out of the new lump (church) so the church is not negatively affected more than it already has been (cf. Acts 20:28).  What is very troubling about situations like this is the occasion family members take to protect the one engaged in sinful behavior. There is a preference to “protect one’s own” more than there is to honor the One who own’s.  RT

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

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A desperate father brings his child to the disciples of the Lord, fully hoping and anticipating his child would be healed of the demon possession; what a heart-breaking realization must have come over him as he watched and observed the failings of these men trying to heal his child. Perhaps he resigned himself to the fact his child could not and would not be healed, but that the demon would end up destroying the gift God gave him and his wife. He knows the disciples are not Jesus, but he looked around and saw Him (Jesus) nowhere, but surely since the disciples are with Jesus, Jesus’ disciples can do the same thing, he thought. To add to the complication of the situation, Jesus’ disciples are fending off (or tending to) all those who came to interact, even those who came to do nothing but raise a fuss. Then, the heart-broken father sees Jesus. He came to Jesus with his hopes raised, asking Him to help. Jesus said He could, and the man believed, but has come to understand that his belief is not strong. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

How can the Lord help someone like this, as there are many more like this than not? Unless the person who expresses himself as needing help with his unbelief, is willing to receive help and to take the steps to overcome unbelief, there is no (and can be no) help forthcoming. It’s not any more complicated than this. The Lord’s apostle, Peter, the one who failed on that day to heal the demon-possessed boy wrote two points worth us considering. First, he wrote: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:22-25, ASV). In these words, he said the soul of a person is purified when obedience is forthcoming. Obedience is not a mere matter of doing a particular command, but obeying from the heart the doctrine of God that delivers one from sin. This occurs because the love in the heart then reshapes the behavior of the mind. Second, his last words in his second letter reads, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever” (2 Peter 3:18). The meaning of this passage has not escaped our attention; as one needs edible food daily, one needs spiritual food daily. If one does not eat the necessary food on a daily basis, weight is lost. If one does not nourish the soul on a daily basis, the spirit is weakened.

Do you think the application of these words will help? I do. If you don’t, why? RT

Let the children come to me

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In the mind of a child is written such things as love, confusion, certainty, stubbornness, curiosity, selfishness and dependence. All these things are in the mind of a child; unfortunately, in this respect, the mind of a child often follows, then resides in the mind of an adult today. Jesus said to those who prevented the children from coming to Him, “Let the children come to me…” The Lord knew the innocence, immaturity and love that children exhibit. He wants to maintain the innocence to the evil in the world because one chooses not to experience it, but stay on the narrow path; He wants to take the immature and turn that immaturity into a mature understanding of one’s spiritual health, well-being; He can do all this if the love from early on stays strong.

These ways of thinking wrapped in the mind of a child, Jesus can flesh out and correct, modify and eliminate. As parents, guardians and mature adults, we can help the children in these areas. Children are precious, and is it not a blessing in a local congregation when there are many children? I certainly think it is. As adults, allowing the Lord’s maturity being our own, we can make positive contributions to the maturation of children. RT

Harmar Hill Meeting

Since Sunday morning, I have been in a meeting at Harmar Hill Church of Christ in Marietta. I have truly enjoyed the time with them; the brethren have been warm and very inviting. The invitation was extended to me by J. D. Conley when he conducted a meeting with us last October (invited by James Rankhorn). I am not sure if you would be interested in what I did, but I included my daily notes: SUNDAY: Left the house this morning just after 6, arrived just after 8. The Bible class started at 9; I taught from 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22 (The Perfect Church); the morning lesson was “The Model of Evangelism” (2 Cor. 5.9-11), it preached very well (better than I thought I would). Both were received well by the brethren; covered dish lunch, I checked into Microtel. A little after 3:30, I went to K-Mart, drove around town took pictures, then sat in the parking lot of church building with coffee relaxing. The evening sermon preached well; I went longer than I normally do, but I was otherwise pleased. Out attendance for the morning was 51, about 30 in the evening. No discouragement on my part, however. MONDAY: Got up at 5:40. Bible reading: Proverbs 1-2, Ecclesiastes 1-7, Acts 1-4, Colossians, exercised with 4-laps around K-Mart, purchased shirt, sweatshirt, returned to room, look at evening outline (“Can your faith be measured”), read a portion of Durant’s book, took notes on what he said, showered, looked over evening lesson until time to meet for lunch; was picked up by Bob Sprout; lunch at Wendy’s, then he drove me through the area, meandering in the SE hills, went to the Wingent Run church building, a building where some few saints used to attend, but no longer. Bob looks after the building and grounds. Returned to motel sometime after 1:30 (I believe). I took some pictures and enjoyed the time with him. He and his wife Patsy will pick me up for dinner at 5; we had dinner at a local Italian restaurant, then went to the building. The lesson preached moderately well, but I was not as pleased with it as I was with my delivery on Sunday. The crowd was good, somewhere above 60, I think. TUESDAY: Woke up at 5:30. Bible reading: Proverbs 2-3, Ecclesiastes 1-8, Acts 5-7, Romans 1-8, worked on material related to Ecclesiastes, WVSOP, now looking over material for tonight’s sermon (“Does the Church Need a Revival?”). Had dinner with J.D., Denise and Shalyn Conley; also present were Terry and Lillie Varner. It was a very good occasion; have a better feel for Terry than I once did. The lesson preached moderately okay; I had too many “uh’s” in there. Attendance 36. Returned to motel, lights out at 9:40. WEDNESDAY: Woke up at 4:40. Bible reading: Proverbs 3-4, Ecclesiastes 1-8, Acts 8-10, Romans 9, worked on WVSOP manuscript. Snowing outside, maybe an inch or two. Went to a local museum, had lunch at McDonald’s (yum), back at motel to read Bible and go over evening lesson. Received text from J.D. about a meeting he is scheduled to have Thursday; two want to be baptized, and he asked me to be present. Had dinner with Gary, Debbie and Tim Wells, and Debbie’s parents Dean and Mary Shepherd at Bob Evans; a very good time together. The evening lesson was “How to make a better Christian;” was received very well; I felt very good about my delivery. Attendance 32. Was given three questions by Charlie Whalen; I will answer in written form, given to him on Thursday. THURSDAY: Awoke at 4:00. Bible reading: Proverbs 4-5, Ecclesiastes 1-8, Acts 11-13, treadmill (each morning I do this), Romans 9-11, worked on WVSOP manuscript (9:30 am). Went to the Marietta Rotary meeting with Kin Brewer, then to his office, then to the church building to baptize into the Lord Mike and Evelyn Parks; JD had been studying with them but was unable to immerse them due to his health (I believe they came out of the Baptist Church). Had dinner with Paul and Linda Wells. The sermon preached very well, I think. Attendance 32. The brethren seemed to be pleased to have me there, and I know I was very much pleased to be there! Arrived home about 10:15.

What lessons did I take from my time in Marietta?  1) make the best use of time when away from home; if there is down time, use it well, 2) enjoy the company of others who are trying to make your stay pleasant, 3) give your best when you are asked to do so, even if you feel your best won’t measure up, 4) enjoy the area in which you are temporarily residing; there is something to see, 5) when I work for a congregation that week, my time is theirs, not only mine, 6) brethren are not wanting to be hammered, but instructed in the Lord’s way and encouraged by your presence, 7)  sister congregations need and want our support for their work; saints should give it. A great week brought to a close, now we soon start our meeting with Charles Pugh. RT

Making sense of it

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There is no meaning to life without there being meaning in life; but meaning in life is generated from one of two sources. It is either something generated from within, or it is something generated from without. Solomon sought to determine meaning to life from the source within (“under the sun”), but he could make no sense of it. He determined that meaning in life can only be understood when there is recognition that life comes from God, and only this way can one make sense of the perplexities of life that man has contributed to and corrupted so badly, and even then he can hardly make sense of it. Nevertheless, the recognition that life came from God is important, but it is only the foundation from which one builds his/her life; the follow-up is to obey the “giver-of-life,” or God.

Many people (most people) assign meaning to life, but they are not sure if the meaning individually assigned is correct, and British philosopher John Powys saw this clearly in his reply to Will Durant’s inquiry; in the meantime, a person does the best one can. In the end, however, one perhaps wonders why he/she even existed in the first place! What is my place in the world? Why was I born at this time and in this place? What did I do to make the world better? Why did I use this standard of right/wrong rather than that standard of right/wrong? Will anyone remember me? What is my legacy? And on and on the questions are asked. Without clarity of knowledge and understanding, the last remaining bit of hope is taken away when life is over because the individually assigned meaning is vanity.

In the meantime

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CLEARLY AN OVER-SIMPLIFICATION, but I think the thoughtful reader will not miss the point.

Some preachers wonder about who is faithful to the Lord (“as I am”), while the saints in the congregation worry about meeting material obligations, a grandmother concerns herself with the drug addiction of a grandchild, a couple over here is strained in their marriage, wondering if they should keep it going since the other one is-so-at-fault; another couple nearby is considering whether they should move close to one another; a young mother is doing everything she can to still her child in worship, a father is determined to make his wife obey, and a wife is determined to refuse the overture; in the back rows are people who feel so low that surely nothing from them to the Lord will be accepted, and they hardly can raise their head to be warmly greeted because fear is so strong they will be looked-down-on; one just recently started attending because the lifestyle experienced is so weighty and guilt-feeling that something has to be done, and they know of no place to turn but a church building where, presumably, they will meet understanding hearts, people who care about the pitfall of life in one’s day-to-day struggle against the “god of this world.”

The preacher, in the meantime, wonders about whether he can support a school of preaching, an apologetic center, a university, and/or a sister congregation – he wonders if they are faithful.

There is a proper time and place to consider whether the Lord will receive certain teachings and actions – the Holy Spirit makes this abundantly clear in Jude 3. In my over-simplification of a lament, I surely do not want to minimize any application of 1 John 4:1, 6. I wonder, however, if some issues are truly errors of opinion or false teachings relating to the Bible.

On the other hand, some preachers and elders major in determining who is faithful outside their direct influence, and those who struggle within the congregation seem to get little or no care because they are Christian and should know and do better.

Can you relate? If not, you will.

Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 (summary)

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Summary – this summary of Ecclesiastes is, by nature, limited; many components of the chapters are left out because my intent was to summarize an overall picture. No doubt, others will disagree with my summary, and David Dorsey manifestly shows the futility at trying to organize, symmetrically, the book.

Nevertheless, I offer these thoughts with this effort.

I have taken time to study and understand via many books, some of which are from Denny Petrillo, Michael Eaton, Roland Murphey, Ian Provan. I have pursued this study, among other reasons, because of the Euthrypo Dilemma, a dilemma that is generated solely from a perspective of under the sun. Man in his wisdom thinks he understands, but Solomon in his wisdom, a greater wisdom than any man who ever walked on the earth (short of Jesus) had a better understanding.

CHAPTERS 1 – 6

  1. Under the sun, wisdom’s value is only a little better than folly’s value; trying to grasp meaning in the world is like trying to grab a hold of wind; it is an empty venture (chapter 1).
  2. Under the sun, the value of wisdom over folly is only minimal, for both end at the same destination, the grave (death); thus, the good in life is fleeting, unless one begins to understand life as a gift from God (chapter 2).
  3. Under the sun, there is a proper time for this and for that, and man recognizes a big-picture to life (Dorsey), but under the sun God tests man for him to see that he can’t figure out the big-picture and he is no greater than the beasts of the field; at the proper time God’s judgment comes (chapter 3).
  4. Oppression, laziness, loneliness, and failure to heed wisdom, all of this from the perspective of under the sun is grasping for the wind (chapter 4).
  5. Under the sun, walk reverently and with fear before God; doing so means life is understood as God’s gift, and the vanities of life will all come to an end (chapter 5).
  6. Under the sun, man can’t know what the good life is; he sees all about him the evil in the world, taking notice that as God gave, God took away (chapter 6).

What is the good life? Is it a life of contemplation, an accumulated wisdom that belongs to man then rests on a single individual? Solomon considered such; his conclusion (through chapter 6) is found in 2:24-26, 3:12, 5:1, 12, 19

The Model Prayer

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Do you pray, and if so how? Consider what Jesus taught. Our Father which art in heaven – The word “father” conveys relationship, like one has a relationship with one’s dad. This includes the notion of fellowship. When you think of your earthly father, it is hopefully in good sort of way. A father gives structure, instruction, love, advice/counsel. The Almighty does the same. There is a difference, though. A relationship with one’s dad is a relationship here on earth, physical proximity is close (perhaps). The Father we address in this context “resides” in heaven. He still gives structure, instruction, love, advice/counsel, but what He gives is more than any earthly person can give. Hallowed be thy name. Because He is in heaven, and because His admonitions are greater than anything earthly, we understand Him to be holy in all respects. His holiness is not to be trifled with, that is, there is no disrespect given because we act and live as if He is a cuddly “big daddy”! Frankly, this is blasphemous! The Father in heaven is holy and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God—something that is not and can’t be said about a “big cuddly daddy”! His name is holy, and our thinking is to correspond to His thinking…that is, if we approach Him properly (cf. Heb. 10:31). Far too many, Christians included, fail in this area. Thy kingdom come. Does this refer to the church, or something like God’s kingdom at time’s end? The word kingdom mean reign; in one respect God has always been in control of all that exists; He reigns over all His creation. That is not what is in view here. In this context, the kingdom is not something physical, but the spiritual reign of the Lord in the lives of each person who chooses to obey the Lord’s will. All those who obey are then added to the Lord’s kingdom (Acts 2:47; John 3:5), because the kingdom of God resides in the heart of one who obeys. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. When the one who has separated himself from this evil world to the Lord, this one is properly called a saint. With each and every saint, it is always the case the Lord’s will is to be done in life while on this earth. Are you doing so? If not, then start with separating yourself from a worldly way of thinking and adopt the thinking way of the Lord (Galatians 2:20) – this is the life of holiness. Give us this day our daily bread. Your reliance on the Lord is how much? Surely, we understand gratitude; we understand the need to be grateful to the Lord for that which He provides, food for day-to-day living. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. As we have been forgiven, let us have the same willingness to forgive others. Since pride goes before the fall, those who have pride within that prevents a forgiving spirit to be extended, the one who loves the Lord will not receive that which he/she desires, which is forgiveness (Matthew 18-21-35). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: how can one avoid temptation? There are two answers to this, both necessarily related and connected. First, with devotion appeal to the Lord for strength and protection. Second, with determination, learn from the Lord His way of holiness, educating your mind to see traps long before they arrive. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. The way you choose to live life is your own, but be reminded the life you choose to live, at the end of that life, there stands the Lord. Solomon wrote long ago, “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14, KJV). RT