Category Archives: Meaning of Life

Everything or Nothing

If at first you don’t succeed, wingsuit flying is not for you.  Watching videos of those guys flips my stomach.  Especially the takeoff.  They climb to the peak of a high cliff, teeter on the edge, count to three and dive, headfirst, nearly straight down.  I suppose it’s to build up enough speed.  There’s no halfway in a wingsuit jump.  No easing into it.  It’s everything or nothing.

Same thing with Jesus.  Everything or nothing.  People ease up close to Jesus, spend time talking and singing about Jesus and read books about Jesus but none of that matters.  About many who called Him Lord, Jesus said, “I never knew you.”  There’s no halfway; you gotta jump.  Headfirst.  Jesus said it like this:

34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)

Deny himself” does not necessarily mean giving everything to the poor (although it might mean that in some circumstances).  It means letting go of fear and the overwhelming urge to keep yourself safe.  For a wingsuit jumper, it would be ignoring the part of your brain that is screaming, “Are you out of your mind????”   For the would-be disciple, it is abandoning all half-way measures, all plans B in case it doesn’t work out.  If you try to save your life you’ll never find it in Him.  It’s everything or nothing.

Take up his cross” does not mean to commit suicide.  It means to let go of all the things you used to think defined life.  Money, fame, popularity, success, luxury, good looks,  fun – all these things are pursued by people who think they will provide a satisfying, full life.  The would-be disciple doesn’t necessarily become penniless or unpopular.  He lets go of the idea that those are important.  He recognizes that full life, satisfying life can only be found in the company of Jesus.

Follow Me” means to pay attention, learn and imitate the attitudes and actions of Jesus.  Not the bland, passive Jesus of paintings and Sunday School books but the robust, free-spirited, radical, passionate Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to let go of your own plans and let Him take you on a real adventure.

Perhaps these imperfect descriptions of Jesus’ cryptic challenge sound repressive and personally suffocating.  My experience has been just the opposite.  Instead of letting the fickle, competitive world set the agenda for how to live, I’ve discovered the One Who created me can set me free to be all He made me to be.

But you can’t get there tentatively or halfway.  You gotta jump.  Everything or nothing.

Life and Light

 

Remember how they began “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?  The huge ball?  Bam!  Hold on to your seats, folks, this isn’t “The Sound of Music.”  John opened his book about Jesus like that.  Bam!  He said, “Jesus is God and always has been, even back at the beginning of everything.”  Before you can recover from that, he says, “Jesus created everything that exists.”  And then, having loosened us up with those wild declarations, this:

In him was life,..  (John 1:4a)

Maybe you are thinking, “Well, duh, I’m alive, too and just about everybody else I know.”  But John didn’t say Jesus was alive but that He had life in Him.  A different kind of life, but one we all were designed to have.  So, what kind of life and light is John talking about?

Jesus said:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.   (John 6:6a)

In Him was Spiritual Life, the life of God’s Spirit.  God warned Adam, In the Garden of Eden, not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  He said, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  (Genesis 2:17b)  But when Adam and Eve ate from that tree, their bodies and minds (or souls) did not die.  What died was their intimate connection with God, the connection that is made possible through His Spirit.  Without that Spirit, mankind was spiritually dead, disconnected from God and living in darkness.

But when Jesus came, He had the Spirit; “…in Him was life…”  Which would be of no importance to us, except for what John wrote next:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (John 1:4)

Jesus came with the Spirit, to bring us life and light.  Without the Spirit of God, we live in darkness, a kind of spiritual blindness.

The light shines in the darkness  (John 1:5a)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  (John 1:9)

Something is missing from our human existence and experience.  We sense that lack, that emptiness.  What’s missing is God’s Spirit, from Whom comes true, full life and light.  Jesus came to give us this Spirit.  But, how can we get it; how can we receive this life and light?

More on that next time.

 

As Good as His Word

When I watch basketball, mostly what I see are the shots and whether or not they go in.  The rest is a blur.  Players obviously are aware of more, but they too, in the midst of the hustle and bang, can’t really know what’s happening as a whole.  Coaches really “see” the game.  From their vantage point they can see things the players cannot.  From years of training and experience, they understand things about the flow of the game that are invisible to the casual spectator.  Beyond that, they know each of the players’ strengths, weaknesses and habits.  Coaches see what’s going on with  whole different level of understanding.

Jesus “sees” all of reality much more completely and accurately than any of us.  He sees all that is happening and knows all that has happened through the lenses of God the Father.  He understands the big picture as it flows from Creation to Perfection.  He knows all the “players,” our strengths and weaknesses and what has been happening in each of our lives.  How He understands reality therefore, is very different from us folks who can only see for a short time through a very limited knothole in the fence.  The way someone “sees” shapes his mindset and understanding of  reality.  This mindset or frame of reference is what Greek philosophers called one’s “logos.”   Our logos shapes how we understand everything.  You can see why logos gave rise to the word logic.   There is no good English word for logos.  It is most frequently translated as “word.”  Pretty clumsy, that.  “Word” does not come close to the full meaning of logos.  

That’s why this familiar verse is frequently misunderstood:

In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Instead of thinking, “word,” a combination of letters, think, “mindset” or “understanding of reality.”  And not just any old mindset, but THE mindset, God’s mind  God’s way of understanding reality as it really is.  Jesus, this says, embodies God’s true Logos.  In the beginning, before Creation, Jesus was The Logos.  That is to say, He existed with God in the beginning because He was God in the beginning.

When a coach calls a time out, it’s usually to give the players his perspective on what is happening in the game and instructions on how to adapt.  His logos gives them valuable insight as they head back out to the frantic action of the game.  In Jesus, God has called us to the sidelines.  He says, In all the hubbub of life, you’ve gotten a distorted idea.  I want you to really know what’s happening.  Here is My Son, Who has been with Me since the beginning.  Listen to Him; He knows; He has the right logos.  So much so, He is the Logos.

I give you My Word.

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.

Life and Death

Everybody dies.  So, if death makes life seem pointless (see Vantage Advantage), how does adopting God’s way of seeing reality change the inevitable?  Putting it in blunt terms, how can we “receive life as a gift from a generous God,” if we know He will one day yank it back?  Isn’t that view of life just a crutch for those who can’t face the hard truth about dying?

It would be, except for this.  God made a promise about death in Scripture.

In that day he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.  He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!  (Isaiah 25:7-8)

Death seems certain when life is viewed “under the sun.” But for those who adopt God’s perspective, death will certainly be eliminated.  Oh yeah?  When will that happen, you ask?  It already has!  When Jesus was comforting His friend after the death of her brother,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25 -26)

It sounds too good to be true, a get out of death free card.  But, if you are struggling to accept what He said, consider this:

  • Jesus is universally regarded as at least the best man to have ever lived.
  • Would such a man lie to His good friend in her time of grief?  No way.

Another time, as He explained eternal life to His disciples, Jesus said He wasn’t lying:

“… If it were not so, I would have told you.”  (John 14:2b)

Here’s the deal:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   (John 3:16-17)

The Quest for Meaning – Part 3

Being Elvis was not enough.  He needed more.  Why?  You might think singing for a living would be satisfying.  Throw in vast wealth, Graceland, being known as “the King” and worshiped around the world would pretty much cover all your needs.  But all that was not enough.  Why not?  Solomon (introduced in Part 1) never met Elvis (so far as we know…. wink, wink…) but he applied himself to figure it out.  There must be a reason we humans work so hard to achieve money, fame, power, pleasure, success – you name it – and when we do, we discover those things don’t satisfy.

He didn’t just read up on the topic; Solomon held his nose and cannon-balled into the quest.  But nothing he tried was enough.  Wisdom didn’t satisfy:

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief  (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

Carnal pleasure didn’t satisfy.  His life that would have been the envy of Donald Trump, Hugh Hefner and Bill Gates:

1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.  (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10)

And yet, none of that was enough:

11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Why is it that none of these things we strive for pay off in a lasting, satisfying way?  You can read ahead in Ecclesiastes to discover what Solomon concluded.  Hint: One is the “D word,” the great equalizer that awaits us all.  The second thing is a matter of having the wrong perspective.  There is a solution.

See you next time…

The Quest for Meaning – Part 2

There is no meaning of life.  That’s the opening assertion in the book of Ecclesiastes.  (If you haven’t read it start with, The Quest for Meaning – Part 1)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

But who is “the Teacher” and what, exactly does he mean?

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15)

Although the book is anonymous, most believe King Solomon is likely the author; certainly he was the “king over Israel in Jerusalem” who fits the best.  You may recall he asked God for, and was granted, extraordinary wisdom.  As King, he had the wealth, power and leisure to really pursue the answer to the meaning of life.

The word translated, meaningless, originally meant vapor or emptiness, something that makes no lasting difference, or something hard to grasp.  It’s a tough word to translate (some use the word, vanity, which is equally awkward) but his phrase, “a chasing after the wind” gives us a pretty clear feel for it.  Donovan sang, “I may as well try and catch the wind,” meaning, it’s utterly pointless.  But is life utterly pointless or meaningless?  Pay close attention to the words underlined above, “under the heavens” and “under the sun.”  He means, when observed from the perspective of mortals stuck here on earth…

…Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.  (Ecclesiastes 1:2b-11)

Our first reaction to such pessimism might be to suggest Prozac.  The man is clinically depressed.  We at least want to argue with a few of his conclusions.  But ponder what he said and your reaction to it.  Then, come back in a couple days.  To find meaning, we need a better vantage point.

The Quest for Meaning – Part 1

Suppose extraterrestrials were sent to Earth to figure out what we are doing here.  What are we trying to accomplish?  What is the meaning of all this?  They blast through the cosmos, streak through our atmosphere and eventually set down…  at Disney World.  After carefully observing people riding hollow logs through water flumes, lining up to shake hands with a large, stuffed mouse, and listening to “It’s a Small World After All” for the umpteenth time, they might be a bit confused about the meaning of life, here on Earth.  But what if they put down in Syria?  At Google headquarters?  Or Congress?  It would be pretty tough, as an extraterrestrial, to figure it out.

But that is what we are!  Where were you before you were born?  Wherever it was, it wasn’t here. Did you ask to come here or just sort of show up?  Why?  After you began to figure out about crying, and what your hands and feet could do, eventually your questions became more sophisticated.  But in large measure, your questions were essentially, “What’s going on here?  Why am I here, anyway?  What’s the meaning of all this?”  At first, you expect your parents and teachers to give you the answers.  Soon enough, it becomes apparent that they, like you, just showed up here, too.  And are still looking for the answers.

There’s a great book about one man’s quest for the answers.  Not just any man but a guy with all the intellectual resources, political power, and finances to give it a real go.  He wrote the book, Ecclesiastes, in the Bible.  The next several posts will be spent rooting around in some of his conclusions.  It would be good, before we begin, for you to read through this short book to get your own feel for it.  It is one of the more troubling books in the Bible, one which has had a wide variety of interpretations.  You can add your own to the pile.

Spoiler alert:  Our expert concludes:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Teaser:  He doesn’t leave it there…

Check it out and then come back here in a couple days.