Monday, May 28, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "The Secret To Life"

 (Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
(Ecclesiastes 5 and 6: "Shadows that Cover the Land")

      Sorry I haven’t written in a while.  I tend not to write when life is good.  After I “gave up” last time, something settled inside me.  I recently realized there have been a couple cool changes in me.
    I don’t live in fear. I don’t understand the wind, but I still sail and do business on the seas.  I  prepare for the unexpected  - I send boats out 8 different directions so if storms sink one, the other still go on.
     I don’t know when it will rain, but I don’t stop planting.  I just plant at different times.    
     I don’t understand how babies are formed in the womb, but I still father children.
     I don’t understand how you work any better now than I did then, but that’s okay.  Wind, rain, and life are better in your hands than mine.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "Shadows That Cover The Land"

(Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
 Ecclesiastes 5
     Wow. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by what I see and hear as king.  Clearly I was right: we are the problem.  It weighs on me, but it also gives me perspective. 

     I’ve seen evil people get away with a hundred atrocities and still live a long life.  That used to make me question your justice, but over time I have seen that the truly good life is reserved for those who fear you, and who aren’t ashamed to let people know. Evil people might live long, but that’s not the same as living well.  They fear things to – just not you – but that doesn’t make them better people at all.  Those who fear you build towering lives that cast a long shadow: people find shade and rest close to them. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "If It Makes You Happy, Why Are You So Sad?"

(Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
(Ecclesiastes 2: "Hebel Happens")
(Ecclesiastes 3: "He Who Dies with the Most Hebel Wins")
(Ecclesiastes 4: "Fatalism, Flux, and Figs")

Ecclesiastes 4
    I heard a guy say recently,All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the  appetite is not satisfied.”  I get that now.  I was feeling good about my new embrace of life, but… how do I know what’s good for me during this lifetime, during the few years of this vaporous life?   I mean REALLY, truly good for me?  I have seized day after day, I’ve tried to enjoy what you have allowed me to have, and I still feel empty.  I feel this overwhelming guilt like I am still wasting something that is already so fleeting. 

    God, I know you gave me something substantial – my life – and you gave me this new desire to maximize my days (whee!)…but I feel like I am wasting them because I don’t think I actually know what true enjoyment looks and feels like.  I am experiencing a shadow of the real thing.  I’m playing at the mud puddle when I should be at the ocean, but I don’t know where the ocean is.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ecclesiastes: Fatalism, Flux, and Figs

(Introduction - "What is the Good Life?")

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

     I think I have nailed the problem: Everything is in flux, everything changes, and it’s unpredictable.  And I can’t stand unpredictability.

   I understand we must have change: One day we are born, one day we die.  One day we kill, another day we heal. One day we celebrate, another day we watch Michigan football.  One day we make war, one day we find peace. One day we marry, the next day we begin to shop. 

     There is a season for everything.  Fine. Why can’t I know what season is coming up, or why I just had the season I did?  Is it too much to ask for a “heads up”?  I know my chariot has to break down….I know I’ll probably get sick from green figs…my wives and I will disagree…my son will one day want to be king…I just want to know when.  I want to be able to prepare. I WANT PREDICTABILITY!!!!!

   God, in my clearer moments, I know you plan the right seasons of life for the right time – that predictability I complained about in nature makes that possible.  I get it.  I just wonder why you can’t show us what you have planned from the beginning to the end. The seasons of the year are predictable; why not life?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "He Who Dies With the Most Hebel Wins"

(Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 21st Century Version)
    Okay, I gave it my best shot.  I am really trying to find a way to make this life meaningful.

     You would not believe how much I studied.  I tried to learn as much as I could about as many things as I could find.  It was like chasing the wind.  I never quite caught it, and even if I would have, what’s the point?  

    I hired all the best comedians, They were stupid. Nothing is funny anymore.  A man can walk into a bar only so many times.  Good humor is based in reality, and reality is hebel. (Have I said that already?)

     Did I mention I drank a lot,  and it wasn’t the cheap stuff.  I didn’t just do it to get drunk; I did it purposefully, as an experiment to see if happiness could be found at the bottom of a bottle.  I found nothing other than the occasional worm.  

    I built a ton of stuff.  I had over 100,000 people working on just the temple and my palace.  I built vineyards and gardens and blah blah blah.  One day they will all crumble, thanks to that sun and rain I mentioned last time.

    So I went shopping, and let me tell you, I have wives who can teach me how to shop like you would not believe.  I bought everything I wanted.  Now, even the singing fish on my wall is getting old.

    I hired musicians and started Solomonpalooza.  It was boring.  There is only so much you can do with a harp and a zither.  And nobody had a bass player, so who was I supposed to pay for the pizza?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "Hebel Happens"

(From Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1)

Okay, God, here we go. This is going to be very different from that song I wrote about love and those pithy Proverbs I compiled.  I was younger then.  A lot of life has flowed under the bridge since then.  This time the subject's going to be tougher, but I am committed to being honest  in what I write.  It’s not like anyone else is going to read it.

Here is my opinion about life:  everything I see around me is meaningless and insignificant.  I see the vapor rising from the lake in the morning, and I think, “That’s what life is like.”  It’s worthless. The best Hebrew word I know to do it justice is  hebel.   Everything we do in life vaporizes like that mist under this hot, miserable sun.  We are like mice in a wheel; we run in circles for no apparent reason. I’m sure it’s entertaining to watch, but it’s pointless. All in all, it’s just another brick in my palace wall. I am thinking of a new bumper sticker for my chariot: “Hebel happens.” Or something like that.

Honestly, looking at the world you made doesn’t help.  The earth, the sun, the wind, the rivers - they're beautiful, but it’s just the same thing over and over again: the earth spins, the sun rises, the wind blows, the rivers run to the ocean. Then they do it again. Sure, it’s pretty, but it’s pointless. I don’t find this encouraging.

I am afraid that’s my life too – pretty but pointless.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ecclesiastes: What is the Good Life?

When I went to the Smokeys last summer, everyone asked me the same question when I got home: “Did you have a good vacation?”

While on the trip, a friend asked me a very poignant question: “I am trying my best to live for Christ. Why do I feel so restless and unfulfilled?  What am I not happy? How do I find the good life?” 

The good vacation.  The good life.

When I got home, I read this in a Newsweek article called "My Transoceanic Midlife Crisis." 
"‘I pared life down to the basics to find out what really mattered to me, to find out what was left when I was defined by who I was, not by what I owned or who I was with. I was letting go of everything that had represented security—my job, my husband, my home, my possessions…It was liberating, but I was like a carpenter with a brand-new set of tools and no wood to work on. I needed a project.’ Sailing won out over ‘less extreme options, such as an organic baking business and planning a motorcycle trip…’
Everyone wants the good life.

This search for meaning is not a new search.  The book of Ecclesiastes is an often overlooked and seldom discussed book, but it has tremendous relevance for today.

Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, whose wisdom and wealth was perhaps unparalleled in ancient times.  He is responsible for three books in the Old Testament: The Song of Songs, written first; Proverbs, written second; and then Ecclesiastes, most likely written at a time his kingdom was crumbling around him due to the idol worship he had allowed in the land. 

The title means “one who addresses an assembly.” The word he uses for God is Elohim, which – more than other words he could have used- focused his audience on God as a Creator, and us as the created. Solomon is apparently wanting to address a wider audience than just the Jewish people.

He is addressing a universal human condition.  What is the point of life?  How do I find meaning and purpose and hope in the midst of a world that can be very confusing?