Finding Purpose

(The following article was written in early Jan 2021 and first published in The Exhorter on Feb 14, 2021, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. Due to the historic winter storm of 2021 in Texas which began that day, the church was unable to meet, so chances are, some people never got a chance to read this one. Hopefully they’ll find it here. RTS, age 15)

These days, many people are experiencing varying degrees of depression. There are many reasons for this … post-holiday blues, cold weather, COVID restrictions, etc. But I believe that one of the most common reasons for depression, regardless of the day or season, is that people lack purpose in their lives. A lot of people lack purpose because of their worldly mindset, in which they think that this world is all there is, and that they must satisfy themselves with what is here and now before they die, even though the here and now is full of false happiness. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 reads:

“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever.”

These verses illustrate the vanity of life, because of its fleeting nature. However, despite the fleeting nature of life, many still seek fulfillment in it. There are many things that people seek to find fulfillment in, and they all fail in their own ways. The writer of Ecclesiastes discusses this extensively in the first few chapters of the book.

The book begins by noting that the writer is the son of King David, implying that his heritage allows him anything his heart desires. With this in mind, he discusses his numerous pursuits of fulfillment throughout his life. In Ecclesiastes 1:16-18, he states that he sought fulfillment in worldly wisdom, however that simply brought him grief, and he felt as though this was just as futile as trying to grab the wind. Clearly not one to be set back by this, the writer goes on try to find fulfillment in the pleasurable things of this earth instead. He states in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11:

“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure’; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, ‘Madness!’; and of mirth, ‘What does it accomplish?’ I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”

This concept is illustrated in Luke 12, where the Rich Man is seeking to find pleasure for himself by acquiring more material things. In verse 19, it says:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ ” He believed that he could be happy for the rest of his life if he stored up his goods that he had worked to obtain, without regard to the real Giver of all we have in this life. God had a different plan for this man’s life. In verse 20, it reads: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”

Once again, it is futile to seek after wealth or possessions to find pleasure. Things of this earth are all temporary, but the soul is eternal. As such, the only way to find true pleasure in this life is to find purpose in God! At the end of the book, after the writer of Ecclesiastes outlines everything in which he attempted to find purpose, he finds it in God. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 says: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Finally, we must always keep in mind what our end will be. Mark 8:34-38 reads:

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

This illustrates that the only thing that really matters is our eternal salvation. Have you secured yours? Life is short like a vapor (James 4:14), and the end is unpredictable (1 Thes 5:2), so today is the day to find pleasure in godly pursuits rather than worldly pursuits.

How & Why to Build Good Study Habits

(The following article was first published on July 8th, 2018, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 12)

I’ve recently returned from summer camp where we learned lessons from Solomon and some of the kings of Judah.  Most believe that Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon later in his life after earthly pleasures had failed to bring him true happiness.  Toward the end of the book, he urges the young to remember their Creator now, before life’s challenges come and they no longer have their priorities or foundation in place.  So, young people, the article to follow is (mostly) for you.  If you’re not familiar with the lessons to be learned throughout Ecclesiastes, perhaps that should be your starting point for study?

Christians should have Bible study as part of their daily life. It is a necessary part of the Christian walk to grow in knowledge and wisdom (1 Timothy 3:16-17), so that you can use it to help others grow in knowledge and wisdom (2 Timothy 4:2), bring others to Christ (Matthew 28:19), and defend your reasons for belief (1 Peter 3:15-16). However, as I understand and often experience, it can be hard to incorporate Bible study into busy routines. Even so, we must “remember our Creator before the difficult days come” (Ecclesiastes 12:1), therefore it is important to study to gain knowledge. But how do we build good study habits?

Our first goal should be to make it a priority. If it is not a priority, study is not nearly as effective or consistent. We should always be aware of the Bible’s importance as a guide (Psalm 119:105), its value to make us aware of evil (Psalm 119:104), its value to keep us safe from evil (Psalm 119:101), and its value in showing God’s righteousness (Psalm 119:142). Truly, this shows that God’s word should be loved, cherished, and sought more than gold (Psalm 119:127)!

After we prioritize study because of the Bible’s value to our lives, we should begin including study in our daily routine. One way to include it is to study with our families as God instructed Israel to do (Deuteronomy 6:7-9). Studying with your family has many advantages. One of them is that you can set a specific time and be more likely to study every day at that time. Another advantage is that you have multiple people helping the rest learn instead of just one person studying alone. Studying in this way also helps families grow closer together and closer to God.  It helps families grow in knowledge together so that each family member can teach others.  It also helps encourage each other to remain strong, because everyone goes through times of weakness.

Another way to build good habits is to plan for what to study. It is not very effective to just flip around and read something at random, and although men have said a lot of great things in books, the Bible should still be at the core of our study. It helps to have a solid reading plan so that you know what to study from day to day. The Daily Bible Reading assignments from the ABC curriculum classes is an example of this. There is an assignment of daily reading so that you can read most of the Bible every three years. Other plans would be similar to that.  You can find daily Bible reading schedules in the back of your Bible or online.  There are many types to choose from.

If your goal is simply to read so that you can learn in a broader sense, perhaps you could read the same passage from several different translations, or you could read the same passage every day for a week so that it becomes more-or-less memorized.  That way, when you need to know something for a class or individual study with someone, you will have a pretty good idea what the Bible says on the topic and where to find it quickly to reference.  My goal this month is to read through the book of Mark 10 times over 20 days. (Ask me about Mark … I should be finished by the time you read this article!)

One way to have a very in-depth study of a passage is to study it as if you were preparing to teach a class or another individual. Read every detail, read reputable commentaries or topical books on the subject, and write down several points on your homework questions. Prepare as if you will be called on to teach, because we must be ready “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), and you will get much more out of a class or one-on-one study that way.

Finally, remember the importance of prayer. The value of Bible study is immeasurable, and a deep knowledge of it can save your soul and the souls of others. If you do not have time for studying the Bible, you need to look at your life and choose something to drop out of it.  Anything that you put ahead of God is idolatry, even your time. (John 6:66-69) Pray for wisdom (James 1:5-8), and then seek it diligently (2 Timothy 2:15).

Wisdom from Unlikely Sources

(The following article was first published in The Exhorter at the Cedar Park Church of Christ in Cedar Park, TX, on January 21st, 2018, and at the Tanner Street Church of Christ in Malvern, AR, in February 2018. RTS, age 12)

Wisdom is very important in the Christian’s walk, but where does wisdom come from?  James 1:5 tells us where to find the answer:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Does this mean all we have to do is ask?  Of course not!  Throughout the New Testament, there are examples of people studying to find wisdom, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and Timothy, as he was directed by Paul in II Tim 2:15.  However, God has made ways for us to get wisdom through His creation also.  An example of this is found in Proverbs 30:24-28 (ESV).

Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.

Ants are one of the smallest creatures on earth, but they are also one of the hardest working creatures on earth.  This isn’t the first time Solomon mentions ants in Proverbs.  In 6:6-8 we’re told not to be lazy, but to be more like the ants who keep working until the job is finished.  In both passages, ants are described as creatures to look ahead and prepare for days to come.  As Christians, we are to do the same.  We don’t know how long it will be until our eternal winter begins, so it’s important that we’re prepared today and every day.

Rock badgers (also called conies) are medium-sized rodents that take refuge in rocky terrain.  When clans are feeding, a small group of guards keep watch over them.  If danger appears, the guards will squeak to alert the clan to take shelter in the rocks.   From this, we know that we are also weak, and we need to take shelter in our Rock, who is Jesus.  He has provided guards for us through the appointment of elders.  They alert us to dangers and keep watch over our souls.

Unlike other insects that follow the leadership of a queen, locusts have no ruler.  Locusts are very organized and methodical, though.  Solomon says that they “all march in rank.”  As Christians, we must work together to fight the armies of Satan and feed on fields of spiritual food.  We also must watch each other each step of the way and help each other grow.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  How do Christians fight the armies of Satan?  Each of us works together to do a part.

Lizards are small creatures that are easy to catch.  You would think that they would be extinct because they’re easy prey, however you can find them all over the world from the smallest shack to the largest castle.  Christians are like this as well.  Christians have been persecuted throughout history, yet you can still find them all over the world.  Don’t worry about being caught in Satan’s trap.  Boldly go into the world and spread the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

These four creatures seem insignificant, but we can learn important lessons from them and from all of God’s creation.  Ask for wisdom like Solomon did, and always be on the lookout for wisdom from unlikely sources.