You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Leafwood Publishers (November 12, 2013)
***Special thanks to Ryan Self for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Life Stinks . . . And Then You Die is a gritty, honest look at the world around us and the world inside us. It is based on an ancient book of wisdom that many consider to be the Bible's most perplexing book, Ecclesiastes, to a man who seemed to have every advantage--wealth, education, and power could possibly offer--but still struggled to find happiness and meaning. It does not offer platitudes. No easy fixes. It doesn't spackle over the rough reality of life in the twenty-first century. But it does offer perspective. And hope. And a plan for living well in spite of all that's wrong with the world and with us.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (November 12, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Life’s Just a Bowl of Cherries.
It begins with a single, beautiful butterfly. A monarch butterfly, or perhaps its look-alike, a viceroy.
The butterfly lands on the side mirror of a large SUV, setting off the car’s anti-theft alarm. The noise startles a squirrel, which loses its perch on a branch and drops into a bowl of nuts or grapes next to a sunbathing woman. Frightened, she leaps up and screams, distracting the man across the street, who is washing his car. He inadvertently sprays the operator of a front loader, who loses control of his machine and launches a large rock into the air. The rock flies over a building and lands on the tongue of a boat trailer. The boat on the trailer flips into the air like a missile and crashes through the roof of a house as the home’s resident stands in front fixing his mailbox. Hearing the clatter behind him, the man slowly turns around to see a gaping boat-shaped hole in the roof of his house. The television commercial ends with an announcer’s voice: “Life comes at you fast. Nationwide. Investments. Retirement. Insurance.”
That effective advertisement was one in a series of Nationwide Insurance commercials that ran for five years, each bearing the tag line, “Life comes at you fast.” Some of the commercials featured celebrities such as MC Hammer, Fabio, and Kevin Federline. Many became big hits, and the series spawned numerous parodies on YouTube. By any measurement, the commercials were a success.
The ad campaign worked, of course, because the commercials were funny. But they also tapped into a nearly universally recognized truth: life does come at you fast. Sometimes blindingly fast. And it often leaves gaping holes and burning embers in its wake.
When Life Goes South
No one who has lived very long can deny that life is not all fun and games. It comes at you fast and often leaves a mark. That is the reason for the title of this book: Life Stinks . . . and Then You Die. But that’s not to suggest that life lacks all pleasure. Not at all. There is much in life that is beautiful and wonderful—a baby’s laugh, a friend’s hug, a mountain lake, a pie pulled fresh from the oven. As songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote (and Louis Armstrong famously sang), many lovely features of this world—trees of green, red roses, “the bright blessed day” and “dark sacred night”—can prompt a person to think, “What a wonderful world.”[i]
And, truth be told, many people do seem to skip blithely through the meadows of this world with nary a wound or scar. Day after day seems to shine on them. They wake up each morning with a smile on their face. They meet and marry the person of their dreams. Their children are always clean and obedient. Their cars never break down, their friends never betray them, and their jobs never get “outsourced” or “downsized.”
But it seems to me that most of those people are still quite young. The longer a person lives, the more pain he or she experiences. The older a person gets, the more tempting it is to become cynical. Jaded. Or, as some might put it, simply realistic.
Though I write full time these days, I have in my short lifetime been the pastor of four churches—one in southeast Ohio, one in northeast Ohio, and two in southwest Ohio. Being a pastor is, in some ways, like having a front row seat to life’s highest highs and lowest lows. Pastors are present not only at jubilant events like baptisms and weddings, but also at less-happy moments in hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes.
I suppose I’ll always remember July 4, 1985, when my wife and I were called to the hospital room of two dear friends. We expected to hear the news that Bud and Becky had welcomed their first child into the world. But we learned instead that their baby boy, whom they had named Jonathan, was stillborn. We cried together, cradled that tiny lifeless form in our arms, and held a bedside memorial service for that precious child—and for his parents’ countless hopes and plans for him.
Another entry in my pastoral records is for a young man named Jason. Just weeks into his senior year of high school, eighteen-year-old Jason was killed in an automobile accident on his way to school. The honor student planned to take his girlfriend to their senior homecoming celebration, which was to take place the next weekend.
Bill was a man in the church my wife and I had helped to start in Oxford, Ohio. He had recently moved to the area in secret, having escaped his former high position in a satanic coven in Pennsylvania. He found our church, became a follower of Jesus, and made many new friends. He was baptized on the Sunday before Christmas 2002. Just two months later, however, one of his new friends went to call on him at his apartment. Bill didn’t answer. He had died of a massive heart attack in the middle of the night.
Those are just three of many people with whom I have hurt and cried over the years. The worst of it is, their experiences are not unique. Many others could share tales of one heartbreak after another, stories of disease, divorce, depression, abuse, addiction, poverty, and pain. Even if your life has been largely pleasant and generally positive to date, you have certainly endured some painful experiences—if you are old enough to read this book, that is. And while those experiences may not yet have pierced your optimism and sunny disposition, you may someday wonder (as many others do) if it is possible to live well when life seems to curdle and sour. You may hunger for hope. For answers. For something more real and lasting than well-meaning platitudes.
That is what I hope to supply in the coming pages of this book. However, I won’t be alone in that endeavor. I will rely on another guide, someone who experienced more of life, wealth, wisdom, and experience than I could ever claim.
Wiser Than Anyone
He lived roughly one thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. His father was king. And not just any king, but a man who molded a kingdom out of a bunch of fractious tribes and warring factions. The father’s name was David; the son was given the name Solomon. The father was a shepherd, a poet, and a warrior; the son’s very name was “peace,” a form of the word shalom.
Upon the death of King David, Solomon became the king in Jerusalem, sometime around 967 BC. He reigned for forty years, presiding over a period in Israel’s history that is routinely called the “Golden Age.” His kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in present-day Syria to the Arabian Desert and the Gulf of Aqabah in the south. His crowning achievement was the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was renowned for his wisdom, wealth, and accomplishment, some of which is described in 1 Kings 4:25–34:
During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.
Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses.
The district governors faithfully provided food for King Solomon and his court; each made sure nothing was lacking during the month assigned to him. They also brought the necessary barley and straw for the royal horses in the stables.
God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.[ii]
Some of King Solomon’s proverbs are preserved in the book of Proverbs, in our Bible. At least one of his songs—the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon—is also a part of our Bible. The ancient rabbis, as well as many more recent authorities, suggested that Song of Songs was written when Solomon was a young man, and Proverbs was written (and perhaps compiled) in the middle years of his life. But a third book is often considered to have been the product of Solomon’s mind in his latter years, when he had seen it all, done it all, and bought the T-shirt, so to speak.
A Fine-Hammered Steel of Woe
The book of Ecclesiastes is often described as the strangest book of the Bible. George S. Hendry called it “Disjointed in construction, obscure in vocabulary, and often cryptic in style.”[iii] F. C. Jennings referred to it as “an enigma” and an “arsenal” for attacks against the Bible as God’s Word.[iv] On the other hand, Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, praised it as “the truest of all books . . . the fine-hammered steel of woe.”[v] And novelist Thomas Wolfe said, “Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known.”[vi]
Dr. A. F. Harper says that “Ecclesiastes is . . . like a diary in which a man has recorded his impressions from time to time,”[vii] and Dr. Charles Swindoll describes it as the journal of Solomon’s “mid-life crisis.”[viii]
However, it is not universally agreed that Solomon wrote it. He is never identified by name in the book. Instead, the first verse ascribes the book to “the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.”[ix] It is a clear reference to Solomon, though some scholars say he couldn’t have written the book, because of some of the words and phrasing it uses. In any case, there is no doubt that not only the first verse but the entire book refers to and relies on the life, wisdom, and experience of King Solomon.
The author is identified by a Hebrew word, Qoheleth (or Koheleth), which, when it was translated into Greek, became “Ecclesiastes,” and in English is rendered “Teacher.” Hendry explains: “The word is connected with qahal, the public assembly, and it suggests the kind of wisdom delivered by the speaker to those in the outer court, as distinguished from the ‘hidden wisdom’ which is known only to those who have been admitted to the mystery of God (1 Cor. 2:7).”[x]
It combines connotations of “prophet,” “priest,” and “king.” But there may also be a broader intention in the use of that word—and in the way the entire book is presented, according to Ronald B. Allen, senior professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary: “Solomon might have written this wisdom book as a tract for other nations. . . . Solomon had entertained many dignitaries from other nations, including the queen of Sheba. The queen’s questions concerning the basic meaning of life might have prompted him to write Ecclesiastes to teach the Gentiles about the living God.”[xi]
For all these reasons, I will most often refer to the author as Qoheleth in these pages. In doing so, I hope to preserve the author’s apparent intention to evoke the king’s wisdom and authority while simultaneously assuming an added aura of mystery and universality. I will also conclude each of the chapters in this book with a prayer, to help you apply and internalize the content of the preceding chapter at a deeper level. I truly believe the inspired words of Ecclesiastes can change your life, and those prayers are key to that process. I hope you won’t skip them. In fact, I hope you will do more than simply read them. I invite you to take the time and thought to pray each one, even aloud, because I believe that sincerely praying those words (and, ideally, even adding to them, according to how the Holy Spirit of God is moving you at that moment) will make you a partner with God in applying his Word to your life and bringing about real and lasting change, which is the purpose for which I write.
In any case, Ecclesiastes is of great value, and perhaps never more so than in this day and age, for people like you and me. Dr. John Paterson writes, “It would have been a great pity and a serious loss if a book that is meant to be the Bible of all men made no reference or failed to deal with the mood of scepticism which is common to all men.”[xii]
Swindoll adds, “I am pleased that we have this ancient book available today to set the record straight. All around us are people who are buying into [an] empty, horizontal, who-needs-God perspective. Their . . . whole frame of reference is humanistic. We see it lived out in soap operas every afternoon and on prime time every night. We hear it in political speeches. We learn it in the halls of academia, on the streets of any city.”[xiii]
Is this life all there is? Is it best summed up as, “Life stinks . . . and then you die”? Is it inevitable for the potential and optimism of youth to falter and fade in the harsh light of disease, divorce, depression, abuse, addiction, poverty, and pain? Or is it possible to live well in spite of such dangers and disasters? Does the wisest man who ever lived have any wisdom to impart to us, thirty centuries later?
I think so. And I can’t wait to show you why.
* * *
Lord God, I am ready. I am open. I am willing and waiting to hear your voice speaking to me through the words of Qoheleth. Please use this “fine-hammered steel of woe”—this book of Ecclesiastes—as well as the pages of this book that follow and the time and attention I invest in them to shine a light on my experiences, struggles, disappointments, defeats—and victories. Use this book to teach me how to live well when life seems to curdle and sour. Use these pages to speak far more than well-meaning platitudes—speak your truth and your will to my listening ears and waiting heart. Impart hope. Give insight. Meet needs—not only my needs in this moment, but those that you know will arise in the days and weeks and months ahead. Guide me through this book so that when I have finished reading it will have been far, far more than an interesting intellectual exercise. Please make it a life-changing experience, in Jesus’ name, amen.
[i] Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World,” 1967, Memory Lane Music Group, Carlin Music Corp., and Bug Music, Inc.
[ii] 1 Kings 4:25–34 nlt.
[iii] George S. Hendry, “Ecclesiastes,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised (London: Inter–Varsity Press, 1970), 570.
[iv] F. C. Jennings, Old Groans and New Songs: Being Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes (London: S. Bagster and Sons, Ltd., 1920), 1.
[v] Herman Melville, Moby Dick (New York: Pocket Books, 1999), 424–425.
[vi] Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again (New York: Scribner, 2011), 628.
[vii] A. F. Harper, “Ecclesiastes,” Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), 549.
[viii] Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 17.
[ix] Ecclesiastes 1:1.
[x] Hendry, 570.
[xi] Ronald B. Allen, “Ecclesiastes,” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 779.
[xii] John Paterson, The Book That Is Alive (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1954), 120.
[xiii] Swindoll, 16.