Category Archives: Love

The Tough Part

As the flood waters continue to rise, he clings desperately to a rock, panic-stricken at the surging torrent.  It’s not a familiar feeling, as he’d always been an “I can do this myself” kind of guy.  Just before he’s about to be swept away, a rescue helicopter appears.  A cable and harness is dropped.  This scene and many like it play out across the country in countless different ways.  What they all have in common is what has to happen next:  the guy has to stop trying to help himself and submit to the instructions of the rescue team.  Like this:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  (1 Peter 5:6)

Rescue workers can tell you that getting people to stop freaking out and start obeying their instructions is frequently the toughest part of the procedure.  When we are panicked, it becomes very frightening to relinquish control, very hard to trust someone else.  Knowing that, Peter continued with this next verse, currently my favorite:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Four simple words.  Astonishing message.  The Creator of the universe, the Ancient of Days, not only knows you but cares.  He cares for you.  Peter learned this after having abandoned and disowned Jesus.  He was humbled and crushed to discover later, “He (still) cares for me.”  It matters to God what happens to you.  His rescue has already been mounted.  The cable has been dropped.  Jesus is ready to give you the harness, so the Father can lift you up.  Listen to Him.  He cares for you.

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Here’s a special treat.  In the last several posts we have chewed on Ecclesiastes, but how can we scoop its message all together?  It seems so full of contradictions – just like you!  Scholars have tried for centuries to make sense of it.  But, Ecclesiastes is about real life, real life that throws curve balls.  Recently, my son sent me a wonderful You Tube about Ecclesiastes.  These guys really get it.  I couldn’t summarize the book any better.  Check it out.  But do yourself a favor and wait for a moment when you can really watch and listen.  It begins with a short Hebrew song and then goes way deep.   Click HERE.

But wait, there’s more!  No, not steak knives…    This same group produced a beautiful song based on the teachings of Ecclesiastes.  You’ll find it HERE.

And, If you missed this short series, the first one is found HERE.

Grace and peace.

Seasons

If you want to write a hit song for Millennials, here’s how (that is, according to a joke I saw recently):  First you start with some banjo.  Then all the musicians shout “Hey!”   The body of the song should contain complaints about life by Millennials.  Then another “Hey!”  Finish with a bit more banjo, played faster and fading out.  Like any good joke, it’s an exaggeration based on a bit of truth.  And the truth is, young people tend to complain when things aren’t going the way they hoped.  And write songs about it.  It’s not just Millennials.  My generation did it back in the 60’s.  “I’m just a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my days.”  We sang that with earnest looks, even though our “days” were just getting started.

But, spend time with an old farmer, someone who has struggled through the ups and downs of a tough life, and you’re much more apt to hear a fiddle tune than a bunch of complaining.  The farmers I have known are well acquainted with the fact that life ebbs and flows through good times and bad, and that complaining only makes it worse.  In fairness to Millennials, their generation is also known for a desire to “keep it real.” And in time, by “keeping it real,” they will be known for patient acceptance of life’s various seasons.  Because those seasons are real.

Perhaps the most famous section of Ecclesiastes are these next verses.

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Try to identify exactly which of these seasons you have experienced and when.  Call to mind any of the ways you experienced God’s influence and care during them.

Joy and Fear

Maybe the man was schizo.  Or confused. When he wrote Ecclesiastes, he said:

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

And he also wrote:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandmentsfor this is the duty of all mankind.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

 Which is it?  Should we enjoy God’s generous gifts or fear Him?  It’s both, but let me explain.  To “fear” means to treat someone with great reverence or respect, paying careful attention to his desires or commands.  Can you do that with God, while simultaneously enjoying His gifts?   Here is a fantasy illustrating how to do both – fear and enjoy.

Let’s say my guitar hero, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, invites me to his home.  I’m in shocked disbelief and show up, quivering with excitement.  He welcomes me in, shows me around, and then we discuss guitar picking.  We jam a little and he teaches me a few of his trademark licks. Then, as I am about to leave, be asks if I would be willing to take his prize acoustic guitar and take care of it for him.  He said, “I want you to play it regularly, but there’s a few things you’ll need to be very careful about.” Perhaps you can imagine how astonished, delighted and thrilled I’d be for such an opportunity.  Stunned by his generosity.  And extremely careful to follow his instructions.  I would fearfully enjoy his gift until such time as he decided to take it back.  That’s what Ecclesiastes teaches should be out attitude toward God with respect to His gift of life.

Vantage Advantage

You are  going to die, so what’s the point of living?  According to the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes, there is no point. Once you are dead, theres no difference between the wise person and the fool.  They wind up in the same condition and will both, eventually be forgotten.

Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:15 -17)

But this hopeless outlook changes when we do not limit our perspective to only that which happens “under the sun.”  (See Part 2 for further explanation)  

If you look at a piece of stitchwork from the back side, it doesn’t make much sense – bunch of tangled, knotted yarn hanging down.  But if you look from above, you see a beautiful picture.  That’s the vantage point advantage.  When we look at our circumstances from God’s vantage point, seeing things as He does instead of merely from “under the sun,” life seems less hopeless and pointless.  We begin to see life as a gift from a generous God.  

This principle is stated and restated many times and ways throughout Ecclesiastes.  It’s a recurrent theme in all of scripture.  Without God, everything looks pointless because we die.  But when we are reverently mindful of God, the outlook changes.  So,

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:18 -19)

For Men Only

File this under “Things I Wish I Had Known.”  I wish I had understood what this meant when I was first married:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  (Ephesians 5:25-28)

I’ve heard sermons on how Jesus “gave Himself up for” the church and how husbands should adopt that attitude, but never one that continues on to explain how the “to make her holy, cleansing her…” and “…to present her to Himself …  holy and blameless” pertains to marriage.  What’s that all about?  I wish I had someone sit me down as a young man and explain all that in an understandable way.

Let’s start with this:  When you hire a babysitter, your deepest hope is that he or she will take care of your child with all the love and care you would.  You entrust your child into the sitter’s care.  When you enter into marriage, God entrusts you with the love and care of His precious daughter.  And she has been brought up in a world that is awash in distorted ideas about what it means to be a woman.  Even if she is not one of the one-in-seven girls who is sexually abused as a child, she has been bombarded with destructive lies about what makes a woman attractive and valuable.   Part of a husband’s role and responsibility is to treat his wife with honor and respect, protecting her and gently cleansing away those twisted attitudes.  To do so involves some “giving himself up.”  But the end result is marriage with a real woman, who knows her full value, instead of one who desperately tries to measure up to unrealistic “performance” standards.

As we eventually discovered, the payoff is worth it.

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  (Ephesians 5:28)

 

Not so Fast

The folks were fasting but God was not impressed.  Why not?  They really were making themselves hungry, really were going without for a time.  But God belittled their efforts.  In effect, He said, “You call that a fast?  Are you kidding?  That’s not fasting, not even close.”   Check it out for yourself: it’s in the 58th chapter of Isaiah.  But here is the nub of it:

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  (Isaiah 58:5-7)

The Dumb Thing

One of the oldest bits of wisdom in the Bible says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Except God didn’t say it like that.   Speaking through His prophet, Jeremiah, He said:

13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  (Jeremiah 2:13)

Cisterns hold water but they can’t fill themselves.  You have to do that.  If the cistern is leaky, then you have to keep filling it, even if you haven’t used any of the water. Moreover, have you ever tasted water stored for a long time in a cistern?  Funky stuff.  So then, why would anyone exchange a continuous spring of fresh, clear water for a cistern they had to dig and fill which would give them brackish tasting water?  Be dumb, right?

And why, God asks, would anyone turn away from the continuous interaction with God, Who gives strength, peace, joy, insight, love and life itself, in order to make up his or her own god out of dead stuff?  Dead stuff like wood, stone, metal, plastic… or money.  One of most common reasons people turn away from God is to pursue more money.  But money is very much like a broken cistern.  You have to fill it yourself.  It leaks away when you aren’t looking (If you don’t believe me, check your wallet:  Not as much money in there as you thought, right?)  And money doesn’t satisfy like it promises to do.  Most of the time the aftertaste of money is brackish.

Don’t be dumb.

Done

Can you really forgive if you don’t forget?  God doesn’t think so.  When He forgives He forgets.  Speaking about all those who accept His forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus, He says:

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.  (Hebrews 8:12)

So, this woman goes to her priest and says, “I have a word from God for you.”  “Oh no,” he replies, “we don’t do that in this church.”  She persists and he finally tells her to prove she really is in contact with God.  He tells her to ask God to tell her the last sin he owned up to in confession.  If she gets it right, he’ll listen to what she has to tell him.  When she comes back, the priest asks her what God told her was his last confessed sin.  She says, “God said He can’t remember…”

Of course, you could ask all sorts of logical questions about what could be impossible for an all-sovereign deity.  But the point is this:  once God has forgiven you, that is the end of it.  He will never bring it back up and hold it as leverage against you.  When you accept Jesus’ payment on the cross as a full payment for all  your sin, your account is paid in full.  It’s done.

Benchmark

What makes a good president?  We are awash with opinions about the Obama presidency and prejudgments about what Trump might do.  But what are the standards by which those opinions are formed?  I don’t believe such standards should be based primarily on political preferences.  We’ve had great presidents from both sides of the aisle.  Let me suggest a benchmark taken from Psalm 89, a declaration of praise addressed to God.

14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.  (Psalms 89:14)

If I could have my “druthers,”  I’d like a president whose claim to leadership authority was based on a solid foundation of righteousness and justice, both of which preclude favoritism.  I’d like a president who was known for how sincerely he or she loved, one known for being absolutely faithful.  I’d like a president who bore the character of God.

Of course I understand we humans don’t measure up.  But more than party leanings, those are the benchmarks I measure by as I wait for the arrival of the King of Kings.  May God truly bless, guide and protect all of our leaders and develop a greater sense of understanding among all the people of this nation.