This morning as I was beginning to write my sermon for this coming week, I began to realize how short my time is in Nashville. My journey here is coming to an end as my family and I are about to embark on a new journey with the Army. It is bittersweet.
I realized that I have just six more Sundays with my church. I have just two more BTA weekends with my unit. I have a little over two months to do all those things and see all the things I have wanted to do or see in Nashville. Then I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV):
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Some of these do apply to the journey I am on and for whatever reason, this morning it hit me more than other morning since I had the news. Perhaps it was looking out the window at the “for sale” sign in my front yard. Or maybe it was the realization that yesterday was my last weekend with my supervisory chaplain. I don’t know. I am ready for this journey and ready to take this step but the closer it comes, the harder it seems to be. I can take this step but it is not easy to say good-bye to familiar people and routines. Change is not easy.
Then I am reminded that even though I am experiencing change, God does not change. Even though my family and I are going through change, not only is God not changing but God is going through this with us. Leading us. Assuring us. Preparing us.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. ~Psalm 18:2 (NRSV)
This may seem like a rambling post this morning but this is what is on my mind. I remind you that this is my journal and some days my words are not as polished as other days.
This is a another post in a series on moving towards active duty Army chaplaincy. This morning I am reflection on belonging to a group. We all belong to different groups: families, clubs, churches, companies, and so on. Each group makes up part of our identity and I think it is important that we belong to a group or two (of course it does depend on what the group promotes).
Here is my short list of the benefits of belonging to a group. I will wrap things up at the end.
- Accountability: With group membership comes accountability to uphold the groups rules/norms/mores/expectations. With Christians, we check on each other and make sure people are living to the standards set by Christ. In my case this morning, I lacked the motivation to get up and go running. When I report for active duty, membership in the Army provides accountability for doing PT each day.
- Support: With group membership comes support. The support can come in several forms.
- First, the group is there when you are facing difficulties in your life or circumstances. Sometimes, the group is all you have in this world (besides God and of course God provided them). Some members of the group may know what you are going through but regardless, they are there when you need them.
- Second, the group offers support through encouragement. While this may seem to be related to the first one (and it could be), however, it is more than that. Groups offer you encouragement when you having a great day. They are there to push you and to support you whenever it is needed.
- Perspective: Groups can offer a new perspective. We live in ourselves and see the world around us from our perspective. We cannot escape our world view but other people in our groups can. They may see things from a slightly different perspective that we were not expecting or may not even consider. Sometimes having another perspective is the best thing. When we belong to a group, we identify with them and as such, we are open to hearing from the other group members.
To wrap this all up, I offer a bit of Genesis:
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ ~2:18 (NRSV)
God did not intend for us to go through life alone. He knew it would be hard and so gave us each other. We join in companionship in different ways but those relationships are what keep us going day to day.
I wilSo I am spending this weekend waiting on word about the Active Duty board and an appointment as an Active Duty Chaplain. For those that read my blog regularly, you know I do not wait well nor do I handle worry very well. It is likely, I will end up as a basket case by Monday morning. I did a Google search on some scripture verses this morning and as I was reading them, I began to hear God’s voice speaking to me.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. ~Isaiah 43:18-19a (NRSV)
As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
“The hour is the God-given moment of destiny not to be shrunk from but seized with decisiveness, the floodtide of opportunity and demand in which the unseen waters of the future surge down to the present.” (Os Guinness, Character Counts **) Nothing is more critical than to recognize and respond to such a moment. A moment is all the time it takes for God to change things.
When God presents you with an exciting opportunity do you eagerly step out of your comfort zone and proceed with enthusiasm? Or like many people do you cower in fear and say to God, “Not me Lord, send someone else!” ? How can God do a new thing today, if we are still hanging on to yesterday’s hurt, pain and disappointment? We must declare as David did, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!”
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. ~Psalm 31:14-15a (NRSV)
This question has been asked by every person that ever lived. We want to know why we are here and what we’re supposed to do. There is a book in the Bible that was written to answer this question. It was probably written by King Solomon near the end of his life. Solomon was well known for being very wise. He looked at all the things he had done and tried to find meaning in them. Today, we will look at what he found and his advice to others.
In this book, Solomon calls himself the “Preacher” or “Teacher”. In Greek this is “Ecclesiastes,” the name English-speakers use for the book.
Perfectly pointless, says the Teacher, perfectly pointless. Everything is pointless. -Ecclesiastes 1:2 (CEB)
Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes it seems like everything is meaningless. We want to look at the things we have done in our lives and think that they were worth something. We want to do good things that have value. We think that by working hard, we will add meaning to our lives. We think that living a long time will give our lives meaning. We think that getting more money or wealth will make our lives meaningful. The Teacher thought these things were true too. But he found later in life that it was not true.
The Teacher was saddened by the idea that both good people and evil people had to die. He also saw many examples of injustice. He wanted to find meaning in all of this.
I said to myself, Come, I will make you experience pleasure; enjoy what is good! But this too was pointless! -Ecclesiastes 2:1 (CEB)
The Teacher determined that the purpose of life might be trying to be wealthy. He tried to have as much pleasure as he could. He collected gold. He drank a lot of wine to feel good. He built extra houses, pools, and gardens. Anything that looked good, he wanted.
At the end of this pursuit, he gave up. He called it “chasing after the wind”. He learns that pursuing wealth and pleasure is not the purpose of life.
There are people who are utterly alone, with no companions, not even a child or a sibling. Yet they work hard without end, never satisfied with their wealth. So for whom am I working so hard and depriving myself of enjoyment? This too is pointless and a terrible obsession. -Ecclesiastes 4:8 (CEB)
The Teacher saw people working hard all around him. He thought that hard work might be the purpose of life. He tried working harder than normal and enjoying the benefits of work. But, as he saw people around him working, he realized something. No matter how hard someone works, they will still die. All that they have earned will be given to someone else. He saw that people are born with nothing and die with nothing.
The Teacher determined that hard work is wise and a good thing. However, hard work is not the purpose of life.
…who live a thousand years twice over but don’t enjoy life’s good things. Isn’t everyone heading to the same destination? -Ecclesiastes 6:6 (CEB)
If all of our money and wealth disappear when we die, then they cannot be the purpose of life. The Teacher thought that the purpose of life may be to live as long as possible. This way, a person can enjoy their wealth as long as possible. However, the Teacher saw that everyone dies in the end, so living a long life is not the purpose of life.
All the hard work of humans is for the mouth, but the appetite is never full. -Ecclesiastes 6:7 (CEB)
The Teacher is still looking for answers. People are always eating. Maybe the purpose of life is to eat good food, and eat it a lot. But, the Teacher also realized that the reason people are always eating is because they are never full. They can never get enough food. Getting more food it not the purpose of life
So I thought, Wisdom is better than might, but the wisdom of commoners is despised and their words aren’t heeded. -Ecclesiastes 9:16 (CEB)
The Teacher begins to discuss the value of wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom lets a person enjoy life more. Wisdom also leads to a longer life. Wisdom makes a person stronger than physical strength can. Wisdom by itself is not the purpose of life, but wisdom is worth seeking. Wisdom will lead you to the purpose of life.
Remember your creator in your prime, before the days of trouble arrive, and those years, about which you’ll say, “I take no pleasure in these”—Ecclesiastes 12:1 (CEB)
The first great wise teaching the Teacher gives is this one. Young people should remember and honor the Creator. It is important for young people to do this because they are still excited about life. It can be difficult for an older person to submit to the Creator, because they are sometimes disappointed in life. Everyone should draw close to God early in life. This is the first part of the purpose of life. Life is all about the creator of life. The reason we exist is to bring glory to the One that made us. The Teacher realized that the reason for life is outside of life itself. The purpose for our existence is to come back to God. We were made by him and for him.
So this is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Worship God and keep God’s commandments because this is what everyone must do. God will definitely bring every deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or bad. -Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (CEB)
The Teacher has reached an important conclusion. Nothing in life has lasting meaning because it will all disappear. Therefore, the only thing that could have meaning is something that lasts after death. After we die, our deeds will be judged. God will reward us for the times we have obeyed him. The way to fear God is to obey the commands he has given.
It is important to remember that every action we perform is seen by God. Jesus teaches that “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Since God will reward us, we must be constantly aware of our obedience.
Sometimes it seems like the wicked are being rewarded by the world. The Preacher encourages us not to worry.
Wrongdoers may commit a hundred crimes but still live long lives. But I also know that it will go well for those who fear God, for those who are reverent before God. But it will not go well for the wicked; they won’t live long at all because they aren’t reverent before God. -Ecclesiastes 8:12-13
What exactly are God’s commands? Two of the most repeated commands in the Law that the author of Ecclesiastes would be familiar with were:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. -Deuteronomy 6:5 (CEB)
You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. -Leviticus 19:18 (CEB)
One way that we can show our obedience to God is by repenting when we fail. This requires admitting our faults and changing our behavior for the future. God’s grace is great. He forgives wickedness for those that repent.
As the Teacher looked for purpose in life, he found many wrong answers. Purpose is not found in pleasure. There is no eternal benefit to having great wealth. Even a long life must end. True meaning comes from obeying the commands of God. This is the only thing that lasts after death.
You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. -Ephesians 6:8 (CEB)
Let us live lives of meaning. Let us strive for these rewards!
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—Ecclesiastes 12:1
We all need a goal in life, a goal worthy of a life. This goal will cost you your life. Everything you have and are will be spent in attaining this goal, so make it a good one. That does not mean there won’t be some smaller goals along the way, but we all need a really big goal or life is not really worth living. I have some friends who like to target shoot. They have targets of different distances from their firing position. It is easiest to hit all the targets if they are all in the same direction, not having to constantly get yourself repositioned between shots. When they are all in the same direction you can simply make the fine adjustment and aim at the next target. The same is true in life. When all your goals are in the same direction, it is easier to obtain them; each goal supports the accomplishment of all the others. Being a successful and faithful husband supports raising healthy, confident children. Having a stable family supports success in career endeavors. That is why the author of our passage today tells his readers to remember the LORD in the days of their youth. In essence he is saying, get a good target and stay focused on it all your life. So, what are your BIG goals in life? Are they really worth obtaining? Are they worth dying for? If not, they are not worth living for.
Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of it possessor. -Ecclesiastes 7:11-12
I don’t know about you, but I read these words and thought, “But sometimes you just need some money!” But there is a very deep message here. Wisdom bridges the gap between this life, those who see the sun, and heaven. Money may be a temporary shelter from life’s difficulties, but it does not solve any issues beyond this world. Remember, the writer is on a journey of discovery. He is showing us that everything that might be of value in this world is not worthy of our ultimate pursuit. Everything here falls short of full and lasting satisfaction. We might be rich, but wealth is limited. It dies with us. Someone else gets it after we are gone. But wisdom sets us up for heaven. Wisdom places us in right relationship with God, and therefore secures grace for eternity. But this is not to say that wisdom has no value here in this life, that it is only good for eternity. On the contrary, wisdom sets us up for success here, success as defined by God. The wise wealthy person is going to be a person of generosity, not of stinginess and selfishness. The wise person realizes that what they have is because of grace, and not because they deserve it. It is not theirs to keep, but theirs to steward. They are responsible and must give an account for their stewardship. Like the executives of the solar company that has been in the news, we must all give an account. The Fifth Amendment will not be invoked before the Lord. So if you have a choice, go for wisdom!
The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? -Ecclesiastes 6:11
If there was ever a saying that was true for political leaders, this is it! But political leaders are not the only ones who tend to talk too much and listen too little. I remember when I was a small kid that I sometimes had something important to say, but could not find someone to listen. I also remember times when I just wanted to talk, even thought what I had to say was not very important. I tend to talk less these days than I did when I was young. I tend to measure my words, choosing them with greater care. Part of that is the discipline of writing every day. Part of that is connected to my profession as a listener. Part of it comes from the realization that the fewer words I use, the more people listen. (Some people would probably want me to shut up completely!) Remember, the author of these words is focusing on the meaning of life, life confined to this world as opposed to eternity. Do our words really add much meaning to our existence here? Some words do, like “I love you. I’ll be here for you. You are important to me. You can count on me.” But many of the words we speak really don’t add value to life and love here. They are just sound waves bouncing and dissipating. The cheers at a football game, one without our child running on the field, probably are not very important words. What makes words valuable is their connection to eternity. Are the words I am speaking today calling myself and others into a more intimate relationship here with others and with the God of eternity? Or are they just filling space?
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. -Ecclesiastes 1:14
The book of Ecclesiastes was writing by Solomon, King of Israel. He was known as the wisest man of his day. He explores the meaning of life and concludes that everything “under the sun” is meaningless. Under the sun is simply his way of saying “things of this earthly existence” or “things apart from God.” As you read you will hear him discuss these many realms where some people claim to have found fulfillment. Many of these areas are good, but not ultimately satisfying or fulfilling. Compared to the LORD, they have very limited value, and are therefore meaningless as the object of life’s pursuits. Only one thing will bridge the gap between earth and heaven; that is what has meaning. Everything of this earth will not pass over from earth to heaven when we die. It is all destined to be stuck here. Heaven is of a very different kind of ‘stuff.’ The one thing that is going to last is our intimate relationship with the Creator of everything, the LORD. And when we get Him, we get what is infused with meaning. And then everything else in life has meaning because it is viewed in its proper perspective. Often people who have gone through an extreme tragedy gain a different perspective on life. When someone looses their spouse in combat, life changes, and what we value often changes with it. The meaning of the loss refocuses the value system. We spend more time with family than we used to. The same is true for the LORD. Once we really encounter Him, it changes everything. We begin to see that everything else is meaningless because of the great value He is. It really is chasing after the wind.
This morning I was reading in the news an article about trends in beauty and the impact they have on culture. I know there are dozens of shows on trying to be a model, trying to win a spouse, and trying to win money. All of the shows emphasize a specific definition of beauty that is almost impossible to reach. We wonder why prozac and psychiatry are booming today.
For the most part, since high school, I have not really care about what I look to other people. I don’t really care (though I will confess I do like people to like me but not necessarily for how I look). What is more alarming is as the father of a girl, I realize the images she is being exposed to and the impact that this will have on her. My wife and I are careful about what images she is exposed to but taking her to the local playground can quickly undo all of that. I have heard girls tell other girls they are fat, ugly, and their clothes are terrible. These are children younger than eight! So despite our best efforts, our children are being slammed with a false idea of beauty.
So how did the article define beauty and view beauty? The way beauty is defined over time and across cultures varies dramatically. We look to the arctic and to Fiji to find ideal body types that are much more robust than we find in Western cultures of today. We look to the past to the painters of Western Europe several hundred years ago and find pictures of the ideal woman being far more full figured than is often pictured as an ideal in America today. Beauty is not as much romanticized today as it is advertised and commercialized. There is a push to see beauty as extremes and unattainables in an effort to make people uncomfortable with themselves and unsatisfied that they never measure up to what they see on the magazine rack or on television. Dissatisfaction is the key to good marketing and the result is two-fold. The first is that clothing companies, diet companies, and perfume manufacturers all go to the bank with big smiles on their faces. The second is that the typical American woman is totally dissatisfied with their own bodies and can actually end up with psychological problems due to poor body-image and depression.
I think you could compare yourself to all sorts of images and input from others but they could never define you. God is the only one who has the right to define you as beautiful or not because God created you and in the end it is only God’s opinion that really matters. I did a quick look in a Bible concordance (under beauty) to see what verses I could find. Here are just a handful of the many that are available:
- Genesis 1:26-27 – You were made in God’s image. By definition you have value and beauty because you resemble God.
- Psalm 45:11 – This psalm talks about the wedding of a daughter to a king and how beautiful he sees her to be.
- Psalm 139:13-16 – God knit each part of you in place for a reason. God did so with a purpose and God thinks you are beautiful.
- Ecclesiastes 3:11 – Everything is beautiful in its time!
- Matthew 23:27 – Jesus calls the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. They are pretty and all dressed up on the outside but everyone knows what is inside a tomb
- 1 Timothy 2:9-10 & 1 Peter 3:3-5 – True beauty does not come from outward adornments (name brand fashions) rather from character and actions. We have an inherent values that comes from God
- Revelation 21:2 – The church is a spiritually beautiful bride being prepared for Christ.
Child of God, know that God sees you as beautiful. No matter what lies society tries to get you to buy into in order to dissatisfy you, God loves you and Godmade you beautiful! You are beautiful inside and out because God made both. Have a look in the mirror and maybe for the first time in a long time, be satisfied with who God made you to be!
But when the fulfillment of the time came, God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. -Galatians 4:4-5 (CEB)
In our lives, so many plans are prefaced with conditions: when things get back to normal; now’s not a good time; if I get a raise; we are so busy; I don’t feel right about it… it’s a wonder anything ever happens at all! Depending on our circumstances, making any number of decisions can be agonizing. How can we know when it is best to act and when to wait? When will we know the right time?
Was the timing right for Abraham to obey and leave Ur or for Moses to head to back to Egypt? How about a carpenter named Joseph going through with a marriage to his young bride? Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, He has made everything beautiful in its time. God has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
In hindsight, these heroes of the faith made their choices at just the right time to fulfill a part of God’s plan. But at the time, unlike the writer of Ecclesiastes, “beautiful” may not have been their adjective of choice to describe their circumstances. Lacking any concrete evidence for the outcomes of their actions, they moved forward armed only with trust. In each case, their reward far outweighed any and all of their fears about the future!
Consider how salvation for all humanity was set into motion with the arrival of Christ at the right time. Jesus was born as a Jew under God’s law and yet was the only man who lived the law flawlessly. The Messiah’s sacrifice as the only perfect man was timed perfectly to redeem us as sinners under the law. Not only were we freed, we were adopted as heirs, sharing in Christ’s rich inheritance of all of God’s promises, provisions, and power.
With the weight of eternity in our hearts, having the faith to obey God can be a struggle. Trying to know which decision best follows God’s will can leave us paralyzed and indecisive. At these times, we easily forget God’s completely perfect record of faithfulness and love for us. Regardless of our circumstances, and our inability to see beyond them, we can always trust that God will always act at the right time!
A patient spirit is better than a proud spirit. — Ecclesiastes 7:8 (Holman)