VANITY

It may take some people years, yet others may learn quickly that there are some really important things to consider in this life. Regardless, we will all eventually learn that much of what we consider to be necessary is a vanity and a chasing after wind.

Vanity of Vanities;
All is vanity.
(Ecc. 1:2)

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Vanity. What an interesting word.

A lady’s make-up dresser is called a vanity, and so is the bathroom sink.

We are all familiar with the magazine called Vanity Fair.

The preacher tells us in the Book of Ecclesiastes that all of life is vanity.

The word vanity is not much in use today except for the magazine and maybe the make-up dresser.

A bit more common is the noun form of the word which is “vain.”

Vain carries the idea of extreme conceit and self-centeredness, as in the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain.” For most people, that is the definition with which they are most familiar—self-centeredness.

A recent critic has noted that—

“Vanity plagues us all. From lowly selfie-takers pouting at their phones and zapping their images out into the cold infinity of cyberspace, all the way to those occupying the highest offices in the land. It’s unseemly, this desperate campaign to control how we are seen by the world. But it’s also deeply human, something that unifies us all, this lonely pettiness, this struggling against our forever-thwarted egos.”

However, this is not the thought of the preacher in our scripture lesson today.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
Ecc 1:2

The Hebrew word translated as “vanity” is used 73 times in the OT. Its basic meaning is that of emptiness. It is often used for breath or vapor—something that passes as quickly as it is formed.

So, when the Preacher says that life is nothing but vanity, he is not saying that it is about self-centeredness.

He is saying that it is emptiness, a vapor.

We need to be careful, though and not take this idea too far.

He is not saying that ALL of life is vanity, for that would contradict much of what Jesus said and did.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Jhn 10:10

It does not require an in-depth reading of Ecclesiastes to discover that Solomon is talking about what we believe is the purpose of life here on earth.

He is talking about our pursuit of pleasure, security, wealth.

He is speaking against the notion that “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

I remember what the ‘80’s were like as we came out of the economic recession.

The mentality of that decade was

Get all you can.
Can all you get.
Sit on the can.

It was all about the pursuit of wealth and financial security.

One of the results of that time was the proliferation of credit. Just about anyone who wanted could obtain a credit card, which allowed them to “buy now, pay later.”

Of course, that grew unabated and without much guidance for the young ones just beginning their life as an adult.

A terrible fallout of all that was the rise in bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures on their “dream home.”

I was doing home remodeling during that period.

I often went into new, expensive homes in classy neighborhoods where the family was sleeping on the floor and eating at a metal dinette set.

They could not afford the lifestyle they were trying to portray for their neighbors.

If this current economic downturn lasts much longer, we will see the same thing happen again with bankruptcy and foreclosures.

People have been living on the edge of their income with nothing in reserve and the bottom is dropping out from under them.

Making the pursuit of what this life has to offer as your number one goal is vanity.

It is emptiness.

Regardless of how much you may achieve, there is always more to be had.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money,
nor he who loves wealth with his income;
this also is vanity.
Ecc 5:10

How much is enough?
Just a little bit more!

And it is this fact which keeps people desperately trying to achieve.

This is vanity, and chasing after wind.

One of the mistakes we have made in this country is our emphasis on our right to pursue happiness.

In the Declaration of Independence we have these famous words —

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

While noble in its intent, that last phrase has caused many a shipwrecked life as people pursue something that can never be caught.

Happiness is a choice, not a destination.

We all know people who have much more than we have, yet they are not happy. We also know folks who have less than we have, and yet they ARE happy.

If your happiness is dependent on outward circumstances such as having the right car or clothing, then you will forever be miserable.

The apostle Paul gives us this example in his letter to the Philippians.

Not that I am speaking of being in need,
for I have learned in whatever situation I am
to be content.
I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret of
facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Phl 4:11-13

We see verse 13 used by people in many different ways, many of which often leave me shaking my head.

This verse cannot be used to help you walk up a wall and across the ceiling.

It must be taken in its context, which is about a secret that Paul learned.

He learned the secret of how to face the ups and downs of life, which is being content.

Contentment is not possible when looking at the circumstances.

Looking at your circumstances will send you on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, ins and outs, twists and turns, all trying to shake you from your foundation in Christ.

Recall the verse I shared with you last time from Isaiah.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Isa 26:3

All you have to do to recognize the truth of this promise is to contemplate for just a moment the things that disturb your peace.

News.
High cost of fuel.
Traffic.
Low checkbook balance.
ETC.

When your focus is on something like these, your peace is disturbed.

Anxiety is your reward.

Happiness is a distant memory in these moments.

Distress and disturbance are ever ready in these times to fill your stomach with enough acid to create ulcers.

But, that is okay.

The choice is yours.

The psalmist also tells us the same thing the preacher has told us.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psa 127:2

That word “vain” is still the same word in the Hebrew we saw in Ecclesiastes meaning ‘empty’ or useless.

It is a waste of your time to drive yourself always trying to achieve or get ahead.

I have always loved that phrase when people tell me they just want to get ahead.

Ahead of what?

Nine times out of ten there is no satisfactory answer either for themselves or for me.

It is just something we have been lied to about and we have bought into the lie.

We do not need to get ahead of anything or anyone.

Jesus went to the heart of the matter in His sermon on the mount.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
Mat 6:33

He wasn’t talking about the finer things in life, the extras that we try to add for our comfort.

No.

He was talking about the basic necessities of food and shelter.

So, to summarize—pursuing anything beyond contentment is vanity and a chasing after wind.

I will close with just a few of the many verses that tell us what I have been saying today.

If then you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above,
where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth.
Col 3:1-2

For to set the mind on the flesh is death,
but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Rom 8:6

as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2Co 4:18

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psa 16:11

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
Psa 73:25

I cannot say any more than these verses tell us.

Peace, contentment and happiness come from only one source.

Misery, heartache, disappointment come from any number of sources.

The choice is yours.

LIFE PRESERVERS

God’s life preserver has nothing to do with escaping what is to come. He has designed everything for you to be able to survive the Great Tribulation, not run from it.

We know that what we call a life preserver is actually a personal flotation device.

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A personal flotation device is designed to keep you afloat in the water long after you have lost your ability to keep yourself from drowning.

As a Boy Scout and as a member of the Red Cross, I was taught life saving techniques for drowning victims as well as other traumatic injuries.

In the event of an emergency situation, I could be of assistance in preserving someone’s life.

All of that is only for an individual basis—preserving the life of an individual facing a life-threatening situation.

In our scripture lesson today (Gen. 18:20-32), we hear about Abraham trying to preserve the life of an entire city.

Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry,
and I will speak again but this once.
Suppose ten are found there.”
He answered,
“For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
Gen 18:32

This happened when Abraham heard that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham began a negotiation with the Lord by asking if He would destroy the city if 50 righteous people were in it.

He was doing this because his nephew Lot and his family had chosen to settle in Sodom.

As we see in this verse, Abraham kept up his negotiations beginning with 50 and taking it all the way down to 10.

Why he didn’t ask if God would spare the city for just one righteous person, is a mystery.

Maybe he realized he was pushing his luck with the Lord. I don’t know.

Anyway, we know the story.

There were not 10 righteous people found within the gates of Sodom and God destroyed the city.

However, He did warn Lot before carrying out His plan, and Lot was able to escape—but not without tragedy.

He lost his wife because she was very much attached to her way of life within that city.

There is much to learn from Lot’s wife and her attachment, but I am fascinated with another aspect of the story.

God was willing to preserve the city with all its wickedness if only 10 righteous people were found within the gates.

Those 10 people would have preserved the lives of their neighbors without even realizing it—without doing anything special.

Their very existence would have preserved the lives of their neighbors.

But, such is not always the case.

Sometimes, people are taken away even though righteousness may dwell next door.

I want us to look at some examples of this from the scriptures.

Maybe by doing this, we can gain some understanding of the not-to-distant future.

Let’s begin with Noah whom Peter calls a preacher of righteousness.

if he did not spare the ancient world,
but preserved Noah,
a herald of righteousness, with seven others,
when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
2Pe 2:5

We do not find any place in the stories where Noah ever preached anything using words.

Apparently, his life was a message as Saint Francis is quoted as saying.

“Preach the gospel at all times 
and if necessary, 
use words.” 
Francis of Assisi

What happened?

Everyone knows the story. Noah was preserved while everyone else was destroyed.

They had a life preserver living among them, but they paid no attention.

The life preserver survived the flood.

In our story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we find that Lot was preserved from the destruction.

and if he rescued righteous Lot,
greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked
2Pe 2:7

In this section of Peter’s letter, he is writing that God knows how to preserve the godly from the day of trial or disaster intended for a larger segment of the population.

The trial, or the test, or the tribulation may come upon a particular area, but God has already planned the deliverance of His people before the disaster strikes.

There are numerous promises in the scriptures about this, and there are two by which I continuously live.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Isa 26:3

Every movie, every book, every story about disaster and tragedy tells us that life-saving decisions are not made by those who are in a panic.

Panic and fear renders the mind incapable of clear thinking.

It is only the peaceful mind that is able to see through all the chaos and come up with a plan that will preserve life.

Another promise is found in the Psalms.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.
Psa 91:7-8

The entire 91st psalm is a promise to those who put their trust in the Lord.

I have highlighted only two verses which summarize all the other verses.

You would do well to read this psalm on a regular basis until it becomes a part of your being.

These stories and others have a bearing on what we believe about what the future holds for the people of God.

Many have made their focus the fact that Noah was taken out of the flood and that Lot was removed from Sodom.

From those two stories have come some interesting scenarios about how God is going to preserve us during a time known as the Great Tribulation.

Many Christians today apparently do not believe that God is willing, or that He has the power to preserve His people during a time of great trials—especially when it comes to the time known as The Great Tribulation.

This phrase—The Great Tribulation—is used only three times in the NT.

Once in Matthew and twice in the Revelation.

Based on these three references and other verses from the Revelation, people believe that there will be all kinds of chaos, confusion, turmoil and trouble in the earth.

It will be so bad that no one will be able to withstand the troubles.

And since God is not able to preserve and protect His people from these troubles, He will take them away in an event known as the Rapture.

Is it possible that this is purely an American concept born of our weakness for enduring pain?

Try telling the people of Uganda that they will be raptured before the Great Tribulation as they cradle their young in their lap while they slowly die of starvation.

Tell the Ukrainian people that they will be raptured before the world descends into chaos.

Tell the Pakistani people who watch their neighbors being beheaded that God will remove them before the Great Tribulation.

These are not one-off events like our recent floods in Virginia, or the mass shootings scattered around our country.

This is their everyday life and has been for a seriously long time.

People who believe in this Great Escape theory will retort that none of this is worldwide yet.

While I would agree with that, I also agree that the Scriptures teach something entirely opposite from any idea of being snatched out of this world before trouble strikes.

Our Scripture Lesson shows one instance of this, but it is not the only one.

What about when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, living in the land of Goshen during the 10 terrible plagues Moses declared for the Egyptians?

The people of God were protected in the midst of the turmoil.

What about the three Hebrew children being thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar?

The king was so enraged by their disobedience that he had the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, but the three boys danced in the flames.

We also know that though three went in, there were four in the fire.

One of them touched the fire so that no one was destroyed.

These are all instances of God’s people remaining in the midst of tribulation, but not being touched by it.

These are just illustrations of the truth I am sharing with you, but there are also some plain verses of scripture telling of this truth.

The righteous will never be removed,
but the wicked will not dwell in the land.
Pro 10:30

When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
but the righteous is established forever.
Pro 10:25

for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Psa 37:22

The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.
Psa 37:29

There are many more, but since they all say basically the same thing there is no need to read each one.

Each of the verses we just read said that it is the wicked who will be removed from the earth—not the righteous.

Let’s look at a passage from the NT which is used to prove the escape theory.

Then two men will be in the field;
one will be taken and one left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken and one left.
Matt 24:40-41

Cartoons have been drawn and movies have been made showing this scenario of two people engaged in daily life.

One gets raptured away to be with the Lord, and the other is left to go through the Great Tribulation.

This is simply another instance of taking a verse completely out of its context and trying to make it say something other than what was intended.

Let’s back up a couple of verses where Jesus is talking about the days of Noah.

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
until the day when Noah entered the ark,
and they were unaware until the flood came
and swept them all away,
so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Mat 24:38-39

The KJV translates “swept” as ‘took’—the flood took them all away.

That makes it easy to turn the verse on its head as Noah being “took.”

So, the one who is taken is portrayed as the righteous one, while the one who is left is wicked.

But, such is not the case.

Noah was preserved throughout the terrible 40-day torrential rains.

The others were destroyed.

Noah was a “life-preserver” for not only his family, but also the entire earth.

The people of God belong to God and to the earth which He has prepared for them.

He is in no way going to abandon His creation to let it suffer at the hands of those who rebel against His authority.

Let’s look at one more passage which teaches this same thing from a different angle.

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
He who has ears, let him hear.
Mat 13:40-43

This seems to be the exact opposite of the rapture theory.

This imaginative theory says that the righteous are removed and darkness takes over.

This parable of Jesus says the wicked are removed, and then the righteous shine.

Our American way of thinking that God will remove us before the trouble strikes is based more on our fear of trouble than it is based on confidence in God.

Our confidence should be in Christ and His word.

All we need is just one touch from Him and our life will be preserved through any hardship.

One more promise from the Lord and we can quit.

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance,
I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world,
to try those who dwell on the earth.
Rev 3:10

Yes, there are many who believe that the way the Lord will keep us from the hour of trial is by removing us to heaven.

Since there is no biblical example that could indicate this, I hope you can begin to see the false hope that has been preached as the Rapture.

May you begin to place your hope and trust in the Lord Jesus instead of in some doctrine, for He is well able to keep you safe and sound from all harm.