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Friday, August 30, 2013

Life is Meaningless? Part 12

Ecclesiastes 5:8-16
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. 13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15 Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?
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Work, profit, consumption, wealth, poverty, supply & demand, possessions, employment.

These are the issues of our day.  Almost every story in the news finds its origin in one or a mix of all of these themes.  Work and money, or the lack thereof, leads to need or greed which causes tragedy, economic disparity, crime and devastation.  

Consumers demand Production.  Production drives Pressure.  And employers and employees alike deal with pressures on both sides that make them wonder if "it's all worth it"...they ask, "what's the use" or "what is gained in the gaining"...the impoverished, "what is lost in the losing".  People are committing suicide on either side consumed with the strain of need or the demands of greed.  Need and Greed both kill their victims using slightly different weapons.  The "love" of money is the root of all evil, right?

He even touches on this fact.  "Whoever loves money never has enough."  The key word is "loves".  Money is not evil, nor the possession of it.  When you have money and you see yourself as a steward to invest it in things that are everlasting, those resources are a source of life for you and others. 

I've never had much money (in American standards at least) and wasn't born into wealth.  But I love the part of this verse that talks about the sleep of the laborer being sweet.  Sometimes with poverty comes simplicity, and with simplicity comes peace, and with peace comes rest.  The less you have, the less options you have, making life less complicated.  You work, earn a wage, that wage determines the width of your life, and you live within that margin.  It seems that the author uses sleep as a gauge for quality of life and it often has nothing to do with the things our world applauds as success.  Quantity doesn't equal Quality in the authors opinion and you get the sense that he would rather have less with hearty sleep than more with insomnia.  

More and more and more often creates complexities that not only drain the brain in the daytime hours, but crowd the mind with anxious midnight thoughts that revolve around how to keep the money machine from breaking down.  You fantasize about sleep and yet you can't bed down even in your most exhausted state because you've created a life around you that demands your constant plotting and planning to hold together.  I would rather have a shack with peace than a mansion with pressure.  That's just me.

I was naked at my grand entrance into this world and naked I will depart.  Someone said, "There is no Uhaul behind a Hearse".  Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.  So the moral of the story is to look at the polarities of extreme need and extreme greed closely, watching to see if either side is stealing away your ability to sleep sweetly.  The more you take your resources and possessions and leverage them for the good of humanity and eternity, it is then that you can take your wealth with you.  When you use your affluence to influence, your resources last forever because the only thing crossing over to the other side is the souls of people.

So the question is, "Am I using what God has given me to impact people for eternity?"  If the answer is no, prepare for insomnia and a nagging sense of futility.  We were created to invest our earnings into everlasting things...to defy that is like defying a law of nature like gravity, you will lose that battle.  But if the answer is yes, you are not only simplifying your life each day by downsizing and divesting, you are actually turning fiscal affluence into spiritual influence, exchanging physical currency into eternal currency.  

It's the only way to avoid the feelings this author bemoans.  Are you starting to feel sorry for this sucker yet? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Life is Meaningless? Part 11


Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. 3 As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. 6Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.
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Reverence. Awe. Honor

These are concepts that I struggle to comprehend, but the older I get them more I'm drawn to them.  I want to "stand in awe of God".  I want to guard my steps in His presence and lessen my words as I utter my thoughts to His heart.  I don't want to treat God like my "Homeboy" or my "Buddy" or "The Big Guy upstairs".  I'm not interested in bringing him down to my level and being non-chalant with him.  

But let me clarify.  I don't want to be scared of him or to pray like a machine to a machine in the sky either.  I want to honor his presence is all I'm saying.  No need for crouching down and groveling like a peasant before a King.  I'm his child and His palace is my home.  And yet there is a certain gravity to my relationship with God that demands reverence.  Deep, abiding respect that is only his just due.  He is God...I am not.  

The part of this verse that stands out to me is the dreaming part.  Specifically how many cares lead to many dreams. I feel as though there are days that I bear the weight of the world on my shoulders and as I contemplate the reason for this, I am left to wonder if I don't see myself as a sort of god.  When I don't understand who is really God in my life, I am left to carry the cares myself.  I say this to my shame and I don't think I knowingly assume this god-like posture, but this verse makes me wonder if there isn't clear enough distinction between God and myself.  What is his and what is mine.  What he does and what I do.  I have been having tons of dreams lately, many of which are borne out a tightness of chest and the pressures of life.  These dreams are a mixture of fact and fiction and I wake with a certain darkness hovering over me.  The darkness of dread and fear and anxiety.  

It's easy to try to sate these fears with words.  To try to over-compensate with being faster...instead of guarding my steps.  Saying more...instead of letting my words be few.  Dreaming more instead of simply living.  This is meaningless largely because it's hollow.  Life is wordy and busy and dreamy, but it's not centered and anchored.  I can't feel the shallowness of it...like a sailboat without a keel or sail.  I'm going nowhere or sideways depending on the wind, but I'm not catching the gusts of God, that's for sure.  This is wearisome as the author says over and over again.  A greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit.

I long for a reverence of God that puts me in my proper place.  I say that without the least bit of pity.  I truly want him to be distinguish from me in a league all his own, a personality that is completely other as the Holy God of the Universe.  I want to stand square and small in my rightful place relaxed under his Sovereign wings.  I don't want to carry myself as if I'm like Him and He's like me.  It's easy to reduce him to that place, but I want to posture myself correctly in our relationship.  I want to love him as he deserves and dare I say, demands.  Only then will I rest my weary bones and tame my wild tongue.

I love Him very much.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Life is Meaningless - Part 10

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. 14 The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. 15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor. 16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
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Achievement.  Something we want to believe speaks of our life.

This text, again, takes a stab at predecessors and successors and basically says, "Do your thing.  Make your splash.  Climb the ladder.  Make your mark.  Be the Cinderella story.  Be the Glory Story.  In the end, you won't be able to please people even if, for a time, they follow you."

That hits me between the eyes, especially at my age.  I was young and I've come of age essentially--in my culture--having a kingship of sorts as the lead pastor of a church.  I was a small town kid who went to college and continued to climb the ladder of success eventually becoming the lead pastor of a mid-size congregation.  I'm the story of one born in poverty who rises to a place of cultural power. (though we know the kingdom doesn't function with power as currency like the secular sector...at least it shouldn't)  But a sad feeling can settle o're my heart on days like today...my day off.

It is the feeling that there were people who served God before me that had a "hay day" in their own right.  They made a splash in this town and led what was thought to be a communal revival.  I've heard several stories of ministries that were exploding at one time only to drive by their properties and see the weeds growing in their mulch beds and the parking lots empty on Sunday morning.  At one time a charged move of God was occurring only to dissipate and dissolve.  Like the passage says, "There is no end to the people who came before me."  And make no mistake, they led vibrant works of God as well.

There's something inside of me (a dark shadow) that whispers that I'm different than they were.  That what I'm leading or am a part of is "special".  That somehow whatever they did was "lesser" than what I'm doing, or at the very least "unlike" what I'm leading...they were missing something I have figured out.  But I couldn't be more drunk on delusion to believe such a pile of poo-poo.  They thought they were special, too.  And what they were leading was probably unique in the day.  They believed they were a part of something that would be lasting and everlasting, as do I.  This is not wrong in its entirety, but the belief that we are "outliers" who have discovered the holy grail and are doing something never done, making history, so to speak, is laced with pride and prejudice.  Personalities have come and gone.  I will be one of them.

And just so I don't lie to myself, the author wants to make it clear that people will "follow" you and your story of pauper to power, peasant to king...but in the end, you won't be able to "please" them.  For all your achievement and proven production, they will not be satiated.  They weren't pleased with who has gone before you and don't for a second believe that they will be pleased with you.  People-pleasing is an oxymoron...it's just not possible.  You can please someone for a short while, and they will follow you as long as that pleasure is stroked, but by and large, people stop following when you stop pleasing...it's that simple.  

The author here is drilling home the point that no matter what tactics you employ and how different you think you are from former leaders, you will let people down, too.  You won't live up to the expectations either.  You will fail to please them in the fulness that they desire to be pleasured.  Because much like you, their expectations aren't matching their experience either.  So the meaninglessness of their chase is going on all the while yours is going on.  They think you will fulfill what they are looking for in a leader, you think they will fulfill what you are looking for in a follower...and both will be dashed against the rocks of reality.  We cannot fully please each other, we were never meant to.

As so the tail keeps wagging the dog and the dog keeps chasing its tail.  This tail is a tale we think can avoid.  But despite our attempts to prove we are different, special, and unique...we come to find that we aren't that one exception to the rule.  

We aren't exceptional.  Dang.