A question to wrestle with

My mind clears in one of two places: in bed in the wee hours when I’m not really asleep or awake, or while I’m walking/jogging. While on my favorite jogging path this morning, a thought came to me after I passed a large group of cross-country middle and high school students. If I had a chance to speak to them, what would I tell them?

Why I run

I’d start by connecting with their story. I started jogging about 15 years ago when I connected with a group of adults who played Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday mornings year-round in Saginaw, Michigan. Before I began, I had no idea how much running is involved in Ultimate. I nearly puked.

To keep up with those guys, I needed to get in shape. There’s a recreation center a mile from our house with a walking track, so for the next four months I spent a lot of time there, building up some endurance.

I was never a great Ultimate player, nor was I ever the one with the strongest lungs. Far from it, in fact. But Saturday mornings were fun. The exercise was worth it, and I still keep in touch with a few of those guys even though we haven’t lived in Saginaw for eight years.

I found other benefits to jogging. It’s a great stress reliever. About that time, the job I held for 24 years was eliminated. Without hard exercise, I might not have survived that time period.

And I discovered I enjoy being outside, year-round. I enjoy working up a good sweat in summer (which happened this morning), and in the winter, cold air on my cheeks is invigorating. Give me four seasons, and I’ll spend them all outside.

What we control

Then, my mind wandered to another question. If I could give those students a word of wisdom, what would I say?

Here’s the thought that came to me:

The only things you can control are your body, mind, soul and spirit. That’s it. You can influence other people, and we do, but control? Only ourselves.

Get some physical exercise all your life long, not just now on the cross-country team. It will help you feel good about yourself, and it’s a great stress reliever. It will help keep you healthy.

Mental health is a major issue these days, as I’m sure you’re aware. We all know people who are suffering from mental health issues, and others who have overcome them, right? Read books. Learn things. Take care of your mind.

Your soul, your emotions, needs your attention too. Do things you enjoy, things that help you relax. There are times to get serious and buckle down, but we need to breathe as well.

And don’t forget your spiritual life. We all have one, you know. This world is not about you. There’s a Creator who designed and built this world, and who designed and built you. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Just open your eyes and look.

What we don’t control

Recent events prove this, too. Some people don’t want to wear a mask, saying that COVID-19 doesn’t affect them. They miss the point. It’s not about them. It’s about protecting other people.

The systemic racism we continue to learn about after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis also proves that the world does not revolve around you. Other people have experiences that you and I know nothing about. If anything good has come from that horrible death, it’s this: We are learning how to listen to each other. To understand each other in ways we didn’t before.

It’s not about you.

I’ve heard personal stories from black friends, outstanding citizens who I’d trust my life with, who have experienced racism in recent months – before this issue became a national story. I thought we were beyond systemic racism. We’re not.

lorain2

There’s a bigger picture here that many Americans don’t want to see, but you need to see it. It’s not about you. It’s about us, about us learning how to get along with each other. Respect each other.

Systemic racism rears its ugly head in our public education system. My sister and I grew up in a household where we were expected to attend college. My wife and I raised our three sons the same way – a college degree was an expectation, and we took steps to ensure that they got good grades and had other opportunities that paved the way for a good college life.

Many minorities don’t have all that. Perhaps the best teachers stay in the suburbs, where my family has always lived. Suburban communities can afford good schools, which many inner cities cannot. The state offers minimum state funding to all districts to try to ensure a good education for all, but it doesn’t play out that way, does it?

My wife works at our local community college. We’ve learned that that is an excellent option for many of you. You can live at home and take courses for far less cost than a four-year university will charge you. And there’s an excellent vocational school in the county as well, if you’d like to learn a trade. These are all great options.

But then, even if a black student earns a good degree or trade certificate, he or she might have a hard time finding a good job. There’s an article in today’s local paper that says while white college graduates are getting good jobs, the unemployment rate for black college graduates is actually rising. Why, why is that?

So you see, young people, the world does not revolve around you. The color of your skin makes a difference in your opportunities, as does your health. And other things.

Reconciling

If you’d like a homework assignment, I’ve got one for you. I said earlier that the only thing you can control is yourself – your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. That is absolutely true. Then, I just said that the world does not revolve around you. It was here before you were born, and it will be here after you are gone.

So, how do you reconcile those two thoughts? You control yourself. The world does not revolve around you.

If you can figure that out, you’ll go a long way in this world. I wish many adults would wrestle with this question as well. This country would be a lot more hospitable if we could figure this out.

Best of everything to you. Good luck on your season.

Who is God, anyway?

“We try to promote religion, forgetting that it rests upon the character of God. If I have a low concept of God, my religion can only be a cheap, watery affair. But if my concept of God is worthy of God then it can be noble and dignified; it can be reverent, profound, beautiful. This is what I want to see once more among men. Pray that way, won’t you?”

The Attributes of God, volume 1, by A.W. Tozer, p. 195

 

So, what is the character of God?

According to Tozer, it’s infinity and immensity, grace and mercy, justice and goodness, everywhere and inside us, holy and perfect.

All of those things together, beyond measure, full and complete, the very definition of each of those attributes.

How can we comprehend that?

We can’t. Not with our finite minds.

This should be our concept of God.

God is …

God is not measured by time or space. He cannot be measured by anything at all. He is outside of space. God is as intimate with the farthest galaxy as he is with you and me, and our deepest thoughts, here on Earth.

When the apostles wrote in the New Testament that they were living in the last hour (1 John 2:18), they weren’t exaggerating. We are living in the last hour too. So were Adam and Eve. Time, from beginning to end, is a blip on God’s radar screen. A thousand years are like a day to God, the Psalmist says (Psalm 90:4).

God is grace. God is mercy. God is justice. All the time. God has never been more full of grace than He is now, and He will never have more grace in the future than He does now. He does not have more grace now than he did when He created Adam and Eve.

book A

To say God is full of grace is to miss the point. “Full” is a measurement; it assumes that at one point, God was not full. Which isn’t true. That’s why God is grace. He’s never not been full of grace.

Or mercy. Or justice. Or holiness. Or perfection.

We are sinners, which is why grace, mercy and justice are needed. God has done the work to provide them to us. If we accept His gift (Jesus’ death and resurrection), we are forgiven and can look forward to an eternal home in heaven. If we reject His gift, God honors that too. With a home in hell.

If you reject God, you wouldn’t be happy in heaven living in God’s presence all the time, would you? So you won’t be.

Unless you change your mind.

We cannot attain the attributes of God on our own. Not the way God has them, or is them.

We are …

In contrast, God gives us Solomon as an example. We Americans could learn a lot from him, by reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon, considered by many to be the wisest man who ever lived, wrote this as his life’s goal: I said to myself: “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

If Solomon had been satisfied with wisdom, he’d have been all right, I think, in his pursuit of God. But he also wanted to know madness and folly.

monopoly A

God granted him both wishes. He had great wealth, wives and slaves, great cities under his control, any pleasure he wanted … and none of it satisfied him.

 

Is this not what the United States is all about? Life, liberty and the pursuit of (my) happiness – exactly the things Solomon sought. Wisdom and madness.

We pursue a fast-food hamburger that leaves us hungry a short time later and miss the rainbow that reveals God’s timeless beauty and love.

At the end of his life, Solomon had a revelation: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

All his life, Solomon took his eyes off of the great, eternal God, and focused on cheap, imitation earthly things. That’s why he was never satisfied. He kept searching for what was with him all the time: God’s presence. And he missed it.

God does …

While God is outside of time and space, He also is intimately involved with us. He knows our every thought and deed, whether good or evil. He even knows how many hairs are on our heads (Luke 12:7).

God is not three parts. He is one, in different forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I can try to explain this, but I can’t do it. Neither could Tozer.

God knew before he created Adam and Eve that we all would need redemption. Jesus didn’t come to this earth kicking and screaming like an angry parent scolding a wayward child. He came because He wanted to redeem us, to draw us into fellowship with Him. He came because He loves us, with an unconditional love that we cannot understand.

Why does God love us like that? There’s no point even asking that question, Tozer writes. We cannot know. God’s love for us is beyond our comprehension. Why the God of the universe, who has always existed outside of time and who lives outside of space, wants to invite us into His realm is unfathomable.

But He does.

And God did the work to do that when He entered a woman’s body, then lived, died and was resurrected to pay the price for my sins, which otherwise would leave me guilty when God judges the world.

To what end?

Not just salvation. If salvation was the end goal, each redeemed sinner would immediately get transported to heaven.

We do …

No, we are to live redeemed lives, that others may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.

We are to pursue God. We are to become more like Him, take on His character traits – goodness, mercy, grace, justice.

Holiness and perfection we cannot ever attain.

We can, to a limited degree, understand goodness, mercy, grace and justice – not as God understands them, but in a now-we-see-in-a-mirror-dimly kind of way.

God holds many mysteries, traits we will never understand about Him. That’s a good thing. His justice, for example, is not clouded by our version of truth, but by the whole truth – which only He knows. As a human, I can hide my motives from you, prevent you from ever seeing my secret heart. But the living God sees it. And judges accordingly, rightly, as only He can.

Which is why grace is so powerful, and so beyond our ability to comprehend.

This is the character of God.

 

“Oh God, send us out not only to make converts, but to glorify the Father and to hold up the beauty of Jesus Christ to men.”

The Attributes of God, volume 1, by A.W. Tozer, p. 196

 

Truth is discovered, not inherited

“I’m really not interested in bipartisan or reaching-across-the-aisle politics. The world is divided right now, and I’m OK with it, because the truth is, I feel like I’m on the right side.”

 

“… I have nothing to learn from …”

 

Can you guess the source of each of these quotes?

One came from a person on the “Christian left,” and the other was spoken by an ultra-conservative. Both are responses to anti-lockdown protests outside state Capitol buildings.

Hard to tell who said what, isn’t it? Liberals and conservatives use similar language to promote their ideologies.

Both sides claim they are right and the other side is wrong. Each claims the high road.

The bigger picture

Neither actually travels the high road, though.

gridlock - nbc
Lansing protest. (NBC)

Meshawn Maddock of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which organized the high-profile April 15 “Operation Gridlock” in Lansing, Mich., spoke the first quote, according to Bridge Magazine (bridgemi.com). The coalition organizes activists fiercely loyal to President Trump, Bridge wrote.

The second quote is a Facebook response to a comment I made on the friend’s page. My friend was making a point following a similar protest at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

Both sides are missing the big picture.

The “lockdown,” more gently called stay-in-place orders, was done for a reason.

The orders are hard economically, which means the protesters have a point, too. But by breaking stay-in-place and social distancing rules, the protesters compromised their own message.

There’s an even bigger picture here. Stay-in-place orders, while they are directed at all of us, are not meant to protect all of us. Some of us are more prone to the coronavirus than others are.

In other words, social distancing is not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about protecting the most vulnerable among us.

The world unites

Politics, by definition, is divisive, as both of these quotes bear out. But COVID-19, the coronavirus that sparked worldwide shutdowns and subsequent protests, doesn’t care.

The shutdowns are attempting to “flatten the curve” – to reduce deaths from the virus. Most people who get the virus won’t die from it, but enough do that it quickly became a worldwide pandemic.

columbus protest - cleveland 19 news
Columbus protest (Cleveland 19 News)

It’s not about you or me. It’s a worldwide pandemic. The entire world is not wrong to make such a big deal of this, as some conspiracy theorists have said.

One in four positive cases in Ohio are prison inmates, The Associated Press reported this week. Other outbreaks are concentrated in nursing homes. There’s a home 10 minutes from my house where at least 66 residents and 20 staff are infected – the largest hotspot in the entire state of Ohio at the moment.

My parents live in an independent living center. They are in lockdown: No one is allowed in and they aren’t supposed to go out, unless for medical needs.

Overreaction, as the protesters claim?

No. If either of my parents contracted the virus, they likely wouldn’t survive it. Dad has medical issues that would compromise him, Mom’s health is good; both are in their 80s.

When was the last time we saw the world come together like this to fight a common enemy? World War II, possibly, but that was still human vs. human. When was the last time the entire world fought an enemy other than ourselves?

Not in my lifetime, at least.

Prevention works

If we ignored the virus and just let it run its course, it might have gone through the world faster, but it would have been much more deadly, as we saw in Italy, which delayed its response by weeks. It also would overwhelm hospitals far beyond their capabilities to serve us.

So now, we wait.

Schools are closed for the rest of the 2019-20 year. Ohio made that official this week. That forced spring sports seasons to get canceled as well. Barber shops, many restaurants, and a host of other “non-essential” businesses remain closed. Thousands of their owners and employees are filing for unemployment and/or are closing permanently.

Thus, the pretense for the protests.

The alternative, however, is more people dying. Many more. And overwhelmed hospitals.

Prevention is working. Social distancing, masks, staying at home … no news is good news. Prevention means nothing happens. That’s a good thing, not a conspiracy theory.

That’s the best thing.

How and when to open up our states and our country are the questions of the day.

But it’s not about us.

I very likely would survive COVID-19 should I contract it, but my parents possibly would not. That’s why I can’t take the chance to even visit them right now – if I was even allowed to, which I’m not.

It’s not about me.

The virus must run its course – or a vaccine must be created to prevent the virus from being so contagious.

Neither of those has happened yet, so we wait.

The higher picture

And we argue, sometimes impatiently, in actual protests and across social media.

“Christian left” is a political term, as is “Christian right.” Is it even possible today to call oneself a Christian, live that way and not get political about it?

I sure hope so.

The Bible – the non-political version – offers advice like this:

 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

James 3:17

 

James says God’s standards and the world’s standards are incompatible (James 4:4). That’s painfully obvious to me these days. When we focus on ourselves, we fight. We see life our way, and only our way. The other side is wrong.

But everyone has a reason for living the way he or she does, right or wrong. Who am I to judge? That’s God’s job (James 4:12).

By even commenting on the protests, I’ve made judgments. In some ways, that’s unavoidable.

The motive has to be serving the greater good. The virus is making millions of us sick, sometimes without us even realizing it (because of the lack of testing), and has the potential to kill millions of us as well.

The economy drives our country. We make money and spend it. When those options are taken away from us, what do we have left?

Depends who you ask, doesn’t it?

All of us are affected, of course. Some Americans are having a much harder time weathering the economic storm than others are.

We do need to reopen the economy. But the greater good is preserving life, and preventing as much sickness as possible.

I hope and pray that our leaders are strong, and are making science-based as well as economically-based sound decisions.

I’d love to go to a ballgame again. But not if it kills me. Or you.

It will happen, eventually.

In the meantime, let’s not be so divisive. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me. “Truth” is discovered, not inherited.

Main photo: Wisconsin protest (The Associated Press)

The ACTS of Jesus, and us

Adoration

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 22:14-16

 

Lord Jesus, You were in control of Your life, even as You prepared to die. You are all-knowing, all-powerful, with wisdom beyond our feeble understanding.

You listened to Your Father, who wrote the plan for Your life – and for mine. You are creator, Lord, of the Earth and everything in it, including us. Your desire was not for anyone to suffer, and yet when suffering entered this world, you embraced it – for Your glory.

Your Father created a perfect kingdom, then invited us weak, sinful human beings to enter it. All we have to do is accept Your invitation.

Jesus, You are our savior. You entered our world and became one of us. You offer us meaning and purpose in this life, and the promise of a glorious, never-ending day of joy once we leave this earth.

For all of this, we give You praise.

Confession

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.” … The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:55-57, 61-62

 

Jesus, how weak we are. It’s so easy to look at Peter and judge his lack of faith, his fear in the moments before You died. But would I have acted any differently? No, I would not.

I give Peter credit for even being there, for hanging around a death scene. Like the other apostles, I very likely would have fled long before then. Not seeing the big picture. Not understanding why You had to die, or comprehending the resurrection You talked about.

No, Lord, I am a sinner, in need of forgiveness. I think of myself far too often. My own “needs.” My emotional roller-coaster ride. I deserve nothing from You. In the daily battles, it’s easy to leave You behind. To forget that You are supposed to be my Lord as well as my Savior.

Does everyone I meet know that I know You? I’m sure they don’t, Lord. Some do, but many don’t.

How often I have denied You.

Unlike Peter, I have yet to weep bitterly over this. Perhaps that is my greatest sin.

Thanksgiving

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26

 

Lord, Simon of Cyrene was there to help You in Your darkest hour. Something about him drew the Roman soldiers to pick him out of the crowd, to carry Jesus’ cross.

Thank You, Father, for Simon. For his availability. For his strength to carry the heavy wooden cross – he was physically able to do that, or he wouldn’t have been chosen.

Simon of Cyrene entered Jesus’ story in His time of greatest need. None of His disciples were there. None of His most high-profile followers. Simon was a man in a crowd, just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, along the road to Golgotha, the place of the cross. But You, Father, picked him out of the crowd. The soldiers thought they chose him, but it was You, Father, who put Simon of Cyrene there, in the right place at the right time.

You do that with me as well, Father. Thank You for choosing me, for picking me out of a crowd – not because I did anything to be noticed, but just because I was there. Available. That’s all You ask.

Jesus, I can’t say I’m strong enough to carry Your cross. But in a way, that’s what You ask each of Your followers to do. We carry Your cross to those who need You.

Jesus fell, weak and abused. I wonder if Simon fell too. I certainly fall, repeatedly.

Thank You, Jesus, for the courage to get up and continue on.

Supplication

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph … and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Luke 23:50-52

 

Jesus, I wait expectantly for Your second coming. Your first coming gave us life; Your second coming will give us eternal life with You and Your Father. Please come quickly, Lord. These days are hard. The hope of Your coming is a shining light in a very dark world.

Father, please open the hearts of friends and family who don’t know You personally. Father, as we celebrate Your Son’s death and resurrection this week, I pray that many of us would understand the meaning behind these events, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps in a deeper way than we ever have before.

This Joseph kept his faith hidden because he feared reprisals. But when he saw You die, he forgot about his fears and stepped forward to ask for Your body, so he could give You a proper burial.

Father, take away my fear too. Help me to step out in faith, in public, and serve You, as Joseph did.

Joseph didn’t understand the coming resurrection; no one truly did at that moment. But he served You anyway. Father, may my faith be like that.

Answered prayer

… Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you. … Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” … While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Luke 24:36, 39, 41-42

 

Father, changed lives are the proof of Your Son’s resurrection. Changed for the better. Not change for the sake of change, but now we have meaning in life.

The disciples were stunned, shocked, filled with disbelieving joy and wonder. Could this be? For real? The miracle of miracles? Is this what He meant?

Then You proved it, Lord, by eating a piece of fish. Ghosts don’t eat solid food. Dead people don’t eat solid food, either.

Jesus, You are alive!

All we ask or seek in Your name, it’s true!

This is why we celebrate Easter Sunday, Lord. You overcame the last, most vicious of Satan’s weapons: death. We don’t have to face that anymore. Our earthly death is nothing more than a transition to a glorious life with You.

We adore You, Father. Thank You for allowing us to see and know Jesus, and because of that to know You. The day is coming when we will know You completely.

May that day come soon. Very soon.

The elusive meaning of life

What is the purpose of life? Solomon figured it out in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes – too late for his own good, but hopefully not for ours:

Life never stops

All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. (1:7)

If we focus our attention only on the world’s issues, we will see no redemption, no solutions, no ending point – except our own death, which we don’t want to face.

The struggles of life never end. Our friends and relatives get sick or injured. People we know die too soon. We marry and divorce, have children and raise them, work and go out on Friday nights. We give thanks and buy Christmas presents – then do it again next year.

Nothing is permanent.

Rinse, repeat. There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s a mad, mad world

I applied my mind to know wisdom AND to know madness and folly … (1:17, emphasis mine)

How can we know wisdom AND folly? Doesn’t wisdom avoid folly? What is wisdom, if it’s not to seek the best this life (and the next) has to offer? Are madness and folly worthy pursuits? Seriously?

Madness and folly are destructive. Perhaps meaningless, perhaps worse than that. If I’m mad in this sense, I’m acting without thinking. I don’t consider consequences. Anger is the same, but I think madness in this context refers to being crazy. Bad crazy.

Folly means lack of good sense, or foolishness. How can that parallel wisdom? How can one pursue both?

This is why Solomon failed at life. He wanted to have it all. But even Adam and Eve knew better than that. When they sinned, they hid from God. Solomon flaunted his madness and folly. How can that possibly be a wise thing to do?

Gone in a moment

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (2:10-11)

He wanted girls, he had girls. He wanted business success, he built cities. He wanted wealth, he taxed his subjects – heavily. Because he was the king, he received everything he asked for.

henry ford 9

Business success and wealth are not bad pursuits in themselves, but they aren’t the end – only the means to a different end.

Solomon never understood this. What’s the big-picture purpose of life? Money, sex, wealth … once the act is done, the pleasure ends.

Rinse, repeat. There is nothing new under the sun.

That’s why Solomon was never satisfied. He pursued things that can never satisfy. They give pleasure for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Priorities …

For everything there is a season …

A time to kill, and a time to heal …

A time to seek, and a time to lose …

A time to tear, and a time to sew …

A time for war, and a time for peace. (3:1, 3, 6, 7, 8)

What are we pursuing, anyway? Life is a series of contrasts. There is a time to kill, and a different time to heal. That takes wisdom, to know when to do which. Perhaps we need to kill our madness and folly. Perhaps wisdom provides healing from that.

memorial 28

What are we to lose or tear? When are we to pursue war? When wisdom opposes folly, does that cause a fight? Do we have to choose one or the other? Do we tear ourselves away from madness, and sew our hearts into wisdom’s coat of many colors? I have friends who pursue peace at all costs. Is there a time to say, wait a minute, we need to stand up for what we believe in, even if we will suffer for it?

Madness and folly cannot produce healing or peace. We must fight madness and folly. We must kill them.

This is wisdom, too.

God creates, we discover

… (God) has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. … then I saw all the work of God, that no one can find out what is happening under the sun. However much they may toil in seeking, they will not find it out; even though those who are wise claim to know, they cannot find it out. (3:11, 8:17)

Oh, here is madness defined. We play God. We think we can understand everything. We understand plenty and we discover new truths all the time, but that’s all we can do. We cannot create anything. We can only discover what already is.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Computers didn’t exist in Biblical times, you say, so mankind does create things. The technology is new, that is true; but the scientific principles on which the technology is based are not new. They’ve always been there. We invent the technology, but we do not create the science.

God created the science back in the day. All we can do is discover it.

I dream of …

Dreams come with many cares, and a fool’s voice with many words. With many dreams come vanities and a multitude of words; but fear God. (5:3, 7)

What do we dream of? A nice family, a house on the lake, a fulfilling job that pays all the bills, athletic, musical or acting ability that gives us fame … To what end? We can’t take any of those things, wonderful as they are, with us into the next life.

What are we willing to sacrifice for these dreams? Are the sacrifices worth it?

Intoxication

The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. … All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied. (5:10, 6:7)

Appetites are for the moment. We are satisfied, but we get hungry again very quickly. If our bank account is heavy, the intoxication of wealth urges us to continue on. When we reach our goal, then what? We need a new goal. We need more.

We understand this. We know it’s true, yet we do it anyway. This is madness and folly.

True friends

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. (7:5)

Will we accept rebuke from anyone? My ways are set: Don’t tell me what to do, how to think, how to live.

Go ahead, live Frank Sinatra-style: I Did It My Way. See how that goes. (Wise people have your best interests at heart, fools do not. Wise people see things you are blind to. Fools don’t care.)

Deception

See, this alone I found, that God made human beings straightforward, but they have devised many schemes. (7:29)

Wisdom is God’s design. Madness and folly are our fault.

Nothing new

The end of the matter, all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (12:13-14)

This is Solomon’s conclusion, but I’m not sure he believed it. He wrote it, but he didn’t live it.

The fact that he wrote Ecclesiastes is wisdom. The fact that we ignore it and are doing the same things Solomon warned us about is madness and folly.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Perfect justice will come

Justice and wisdom. They go together.

I found the best explanation of justice in a book on hope by Max Lucado. The best description of wisdom resides in another book, this one a novel.

Let me set the stage with this:

 

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

Justice

Lucado published a book last year (2018) called “Unshakable Hope: building our lives on the promises of God”. One of those promises is titled, “Justice Will Prevail.”

Lucado explains how that 2 Corinthians judgment will work. It makes a whole lot of sense.

You and I, along with each person who ever lived, is living or will live, one day will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Heaven requires that sins be paid. All of them. There will be no sin in heaven.

hope

How will God remove all sin from Heaven? One at a time. As long as it takes.

Here’s the picture Lucado paints of what judgment will look like.

Each of us individually will stand in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, and face our Maker. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

In those books are all of our works, good and evil. Every single one.

In an American courtroom, every defendant is allowed an advocate, someone to defend him or her. It’s not mandatory; we can reject assistance and stand before the judge on our own if we so desire.

On God’s judgment day, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will have an advocate as God reads off our sins. For example:

  • Bill made a comment behind someone’s back. Jesus: I died for that.
  • Bill ignored a person he could have helped. Jesus: I know. I have forgiven him.
  • Bill cussed under his breath, but a few people heard him. Jesus: I took care of that.

And on and on. Every single sin I have ever committed, and will commit, in my entire life. God will read them off.

Jesus will accept the punishment for each one of them.

There will be no secrets in Heaven, no wondering, “What did he/she do down there on Earth?” We will be free, completely free, from all sin – and able to worship God and live for Him with our whole hearts.

When the list is ended, anything good I’ve done will also get read aloud by the living God, according to the verse I quoted in 2 Corinthians. God will celebrate all the good that happened (and is happening and will happen) down here on Earth.

This is the judgment of each one whom Jesus knows intimately.

But some people on Earth reject God.

God will honor that. And He will judge accordingly.

These folks will face the same judgment. They will stand before God, and He will read off their sins, one by one, just as He did mine.

But they will have no advocate standing next to them, offering to pay for their sins.

God, therefore, will declare them guilty – the only sentence He can pronounce.

Justice will prevail. For each and every one of us.

Wisdom

Justice plays out in a similar fashion in one of my favorite novels – “The Shack,” by William Paul Young. In a chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge,” we see two main characters: Mack, who is bitter over the kidnapping and death of his young daughter, and the judge, later identified as Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom.

shack

Mack also has a wife and four living children. In this chapter, we learn that Mack, like many of us, is quick to judge just about everyone he meets – and he blames God for allowing his daughter to die.

How accurate are our judgments? God writes down all of our deeds, good and evil, in books that will be opened one day. But how much do you and I truly know about each other?

Since Mack was quick to condemn the killer of his daughter and God for allowing that scenario to play out, Sophia did something unusual. She got up from her judge’s chair and invited Mack to sit there. Judgment Day had arrived, and he was the judge.

Mack was unnerved. He felt unqualified.

But he judged people all the time, so he had lots of experience at it. He was qualified then, right?

Judge Sophia gave him a challenge: Only two of your five children can go to heaven. You must send the other three to hell. Which of your children would you sentence to hell?

When you put it that way, Judge …

But that’s what we do every day, don’t we?

Mack said he couldn’t do it. No way. Sophia said you must. You want to judge, you think God judges like this, then render your verdict.

Mack pleaded for his children, all of them. He said he’d take the punishment for their sins – send him to hell, let all of his children go to heaven.

Mack finally understood wisdom. Because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for His children.

There’s so much more to “The Shack” than this one scene. It’s a great book, and it came out as a movie two years ago.

The advocate

I’m glad I’m not the ultimate judge of anyone, even though I try sometimes. I don’t know your motives, why you do what you do. You don’t know my motives. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, and he was right. We’re all actors, and when we play a role, we can hide our true selves.

But we can’t hide from the living God.

That’s why His justice is perfect.

Each of us will get what we deserve.

The question is: Will you have an advocate with you on the Judgment Day? Only one advocate will be allowed in that courtroom, and he paid a very heavy price to claim that role.

A price that no one else can come close to paying.

That day will come. It’s been promised.

Will you be ready?

‘That is the whole duty of everyone’

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

So says the wisest person who ever lived, king Solomon. He tried everything: wine, women and song; working hard; seeking pleasure and riches. Nothing satisfied him.

At the end of his days, after he experienced all that life has to offer, he drew the conclusion in this quote.

We still don’t get it, do we?

Solomon doesn’t say that fearing God is the whole duty of the religious, or of a certain nationality or group. No. Every one of us, no matter who we are, must fear God and keep his commandments.

We will be judged. Not by the U.S. Supreme Court, by a fractured Congress or by the court of public opinion. We can argue with our political opponents until we’re all blue in the face, and it means nothing.

Really.

Fear God, and keep his commandments.

That’s it.

That’s what life is all about.

Of course, fleshing that out isn’t as simple as it sounds.

So, how do we do that?

Only one person, in fact, has figured that out.

Since Solomon didn’t get it until it was (almost) too late, let’s look at the life of the one person who understood it right from the start.

One life at a time

That would be Jesus, the sinless one.

His life is explained in the four “gospels” at the beginning of the New Testament. Here’s an overview of Jesus’ adult life as recorded by Matthew, one of his original 12 disciples.

Jesus’ first act was to begin calling future disciples to follow him. He preached to the masses, yes, but he specifically trained a group of only 12 people. Those dozen later changed the world.

As his disciples watched, Jesus preached his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount, to a big crowd. For example:

 

  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
  • “… everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
  • “… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”
  • “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • “… store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
  • “For with the judgment you make you will be judged …”
  • “Beware of false prophets … you will know them by their fruits.”

 

Jesus stepped up our game. Murder is wrong, of course, but so is anger. Adultery is wrong, but so is lust. Stuff like that. Jesus knows our motives, what we think about. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Next, Jesus proved his authenticity by healing people – a man with leprosy, two demon-possessed men, a paralyzed man, and others.

He spent time with Matthew and his friends. This was a big deal, because Matthew was a hated tax collector. Imagine inviting over your favorite IRS agent who not only collected your taxes but bribed you, taking more than you owe.

Jesus spent more time training his 12 disciples, then sent them out to do cool stuff themselves. He also warned them that they will face persecution because some powerful, influential people will not appreciate them elevating the poor and sick.

If Jesus walked across the United States in the flesh today, he’d give us a similar message, would he not?

A new command I give you …

Then, Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, rest for the soul and the meaning of Sunday (the Sabbath, actually).

Now, Jesus had crossed a line. When he taught that Sabbath is not about following a host of man-made rules, “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Mat. 12:14).

Next come a few parables, stories that Jesus told with a moral. He talked about different types of soil, weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl and a fishing net. He used these illustrations to describe the kingdom of heaven and its value.

Then Jesus did a series of miracles – he fed 5,000 men, besides women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish, then walked on water, then healed many people of their illnesses.

Soon after that, three disciples – Peter, James and John – saw Jesus “transfigured” on a mountain, with his glowing heavenly body next to the heavenly bodies of Moses and Elijah. Jesus was a man, yes, but we can’t forget his divinity as well.

In keeping with his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus then taught about several other subjects:

 

  • Marrying a divorced woman is adultery, except for unchastity. (The point: No one is perfect, including a spouse. Understand what that means.)
  • “Let the little children come to me …”
  • “If you are rich, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.” (The riches themselves aren’t sin, unless they supersede God, which they did in this particular exchange.)
  • “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

The world doesn’t think like this, much less live like this. Christians are to live differently than the world does.

Why follow Jesus?

Next came Palm Sunday, when Jesus orchestrated his own parade and entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He taught lessons for a few more days, then was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Why death and resurrection?

Because Jesus knew we couldn’t keep his commandments, as Solomon discovered. Jesus said so in his Sermon on the Mount, too: “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Only when we follow Jesus can our hearts be changed to “fear God and keep his commandments.”

This is a daily struggle, as those of us who follow Jesus know.

That’s what forgiveness is all about. As God forgives us each day, we learn how to forgive each other.

We need to learn what Solomon learned.

But let’s not wait until the end of our lives to figure this out. A changed life equals a changed heart equals a changed society. We need that, certainly.

We need that today.

 

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

Still learning a 2,600-year-old lesson

Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

(Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added)

 

Wisdom, might, wealth.

Love, justice, righteousness.

Two lists, separated by God.

Wisdom, might and wealth are human gains.

Love, justice and righteousness belong to God.

That explains a lot about our country right there.

What do we pursue the most? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We search for those things in our wisdom, might and wealth.

Wisdom

Wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster, is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense; generally accepted belief; and accumulated philosophical or scientific learning.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom

We gain wisdom as we learn things. Wisdom is never complete; we never see the entire picture.

For centuries, “generally accepted belief” and “scientific learning” told us that Earth was flat. As we gained more wisdom, we learned otherwise.

That’s why trusting entirely in science is not enough. There’s so much we don’t know yet. All the tiny details of how atoms work, how to cure cancer, what’s on the far reaches of outer space. We know a lot, certainly, but wisdom comes in bits and pieces, sometimes by excellent research, sometimes by good luck, sometimes by trial and error.

Wisdom is what we’ve learned. And since some of my experiences differ from yours, my “good sense” and “generally accepted belief” might be different than yours. My wisdom is not your wisdom, necessarily.

Wisdom is good, but only to a point. It’s not conclusive.

Might

Why do we glorify physical strength? The reason so many NFL players get hurt these days – ie, nearly all of them – is specifically because they all are so big and strong. (And when they retire, what happens to their bodies without the exercise? We never hear about that.)

I weigh 140 pounds. I’m on the low end or off the scale of every height-weight chart I’ve seen. I’ll never win a weight-lifting competition. If might is the goal, I have no chance.

The Winter Olympics is coming up, when athletes will show tremendous feats of strength and agility. Once the Olympics is over, we won’t hear from most of those athletes again. How fleeting life is in the public eye.

We glorify might, but it doesn’t last. Our bodies wear out eventually.

Wealth

Wealth is power. You have to be rich (and either a Republican or a Democrat) to run for political office. Money talks in the business world. Entertainers and athletes make big money. (Teachers don’t, comparatively.) The largest public employee salary in many states belongs not to the governor, but to a college football or basketball coach.

As with might, money doesn’t last. When we spend it, it’s gone. And when we die, we can’t take it with us.

Most people across the world don’t have near the wealth that the average American has. Even our poor are wealthy by the world’s standards.

It’s easy to get greedy and envious. There’s always someone who has more than I do. (There’s always someone who has less as well, but most of us aren’t looking in that direction.)

Wealth is either inherited or earned.

And it can disappear overnight. Those of us invested in the stock market in 2008 can attest to that.

Are wisdom, might and wealth the highest goals we can attain?

Love

Love has many definitions, of course. The purest love wants the best for the other person.

It’s not about me. It’s about you. Me serving you. God serving us both.

This kind of love does not come from us. We are selfish by nature, every one of us. True love originates with God.

This is not debatable.

Again, there are many types of love. Husband-wife, parent-child, friends. All of them are (or should be) other-person-centered.

Others-centered love does not come naturally. If it did, our divorce rate would not be between 40 percent and 50 percent (higher for subsequent marriages – we aren’t learning the lesson the first time around). Our violent crime rates wouldn’t be so high. We wouldn’t be searching for love in all the wrong places – illegal drugs, prostitution and pornography, fancy clothes or cars or houses or (fill in the blank), climbing the corporate ladder, a bigger salary … and on and on.

God shows us the love we need. All we have to do is accept it, then give it away.

It really is that simple.

In theory, at least.

Justice

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims,” the administration of law, and the quality of being just, impartial and fair.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice

How well is all of that working out in our nation?

When we impart justice on human terms, it changes all the time. Jim Crow laws. Same-sex marriage. Legalization of marijuana (which is coming eventually nationwide).

What is murder, anyway? Self-defense? Insanity plea?

So many gray areas in our laws. Loopholes and exceptions. How do we know which of these are just?

Depends who you ask.

Do impartiality and fairness even exist?

We need to try, certainly.

But ultimately, justice belongs to God alone. He sees the big picture. He understands the human heart, because He created it, so He understands motive. We try to figure it out, and we don’t always get it right, do we?

The Ten Commandments were given to us for a reason. For our own benefit. No human court of law or body of legislators has ever improved upon it.

Righteousness

Righteousness, again quoting Merriam-Webster, is acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right or justifiable.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteousness

We don’t hear much about righteousness in the news, because it’s about “divine law.” We’ll stick with our own “morally right or justifiable” laws, thank you.

Even though those laws change depending on who has the wisdom, might and wealth at the moment.

Is there a “moral law” greater than the human mind can come up with?

We’re doomed if there isn’t.

As we enter 2018, if we can’t figure out how to get along with each other – love in its most basic form – we won’t have much of a future as a nation.

The prophet Jeremiah warned us about this 2,600 years ago. We still haven’t learned the lesson.

Will we ever?