The Power of an Ecclesiastes Moment

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Two posts ago I described the objective news that is very good, hence ‘gospel’. I spelled out what God did to make a way for us to be in right relationship with Him. Yes, every single human being has a relationship with God, the Almighty Father.  As one British man put it, we all have a personal relationship with God.  Some are enemies of God and will be judged worthy of eternal separation and punishment; some are friends of God and will be graced with the gift of pardon and joyful eternal fellowship with the Holy family.

Today I want to describe the subjective changes that can occur when one’s status shifts from “Enemy of God” to “Beloved Child and Friend of God”.

Context and frameworks are important to me.  I grew up learning lots of data via education, reading and ‘attending’ church.  But I had no system in which to file, store or make sense of the information.   (As an aside, having been ‘educated’ in public schools to include my four years at “The University” aka University of Virginia and then having taught for 12 years at an elite ‘independent’ school, I was hungry for a better way to educate students.  Hence my delight upon discovering the classical method; subsequently I have found a HOME teaching logic and French at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, VA.  The classical method gives students a structure on which to hang the data they absorb.  Then students are drawn into making connections, learning to reason and ultimately expressing themselves with eloquence.)

The spiritual side of my life paralleled my educational experiences. The seemingly random chunks of unanchored God-knowledge I was collecting came from years of attending church. God had been calling me for a time into a deeper relationship with Him. But no matter what I learned, it had minimal impact on my life, for without a proper worldview or system, I had no idea what to do with the information.  Until my mid-forties, I was busy being a wife and a working mom with two sons.  I didn’t have much time to think.  You know what it’s like coordinating sports schedules and keeping up with the social lives of teens.

The year I turned 40, my life changed. I started studying and learning biblical truth via Bible Study Fellowship.  The concept and importance of having a Biblical worldview also began to percolate somewhere in my mind as I read books recommended by mentors.  But one day (I must have had a pocket of time to think), I was sitting at a traffic light waiting to turn left into our neighborhood when I was caught up in the meaninglessness of life.  It was an Ecclesiastes Meltdown Moment.

Have you ever had one of those?  It’s when you can somehow stand outside of yourself and observe both yourself and those around you.  Everything seemed meaningless, an entry right out of Solomon’s diary:  Chapter 1, verse 8:  All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.

I FELT the futility of everything and I was depressed.  It was rush hour; people were in that tired/no think/ rat-race zone, just doing the next thing on the list and stressing because they had not allowed enough time to GET there, wherever THERE is.  There seemed to be no purpose to anything in my life.  And I was very scared.  I can see why men have mid-life affairs or buy a big toy or why women want a new house and throw themselves into decorating it.  Humans crave purpose, meaning, and drama!  And if they don’t find it where God intended them to (in HIM!), they will imbue something created with that kind of transcendent meaning.

My spiritual angst did not last more than a couple of days, but I won’t ever forget it.  Somehow through all that I had been learning from God’s word, books and podcasts, a framework for making sense of life as it really is was forming.  All was NOT meaningless.  There was a purpose.  Whew!  I would not want to live unanchored every day with the burden of having to make up a purpose à la existentialists. But sometimes God gives me a taste of that empty world as a reminder.  I am exceedingly thankful when I come back to my senses.

I’ve told you the above back story to show you the sad truth that without a relationship with God as one of His own, people live quiet and despairingly grey lives. Oh, they may LOOK happy and even be satisfied for a while as they busy themselves with all the entertaining options the world offers.  But with no proper framework or world view to explain the ‘teleos’ (purpose) of life, eventually the baubles of life break or satisfy no more.  Even uninformed Christians can get caught up in the snares of modern, frenzied life and not know that they have it all wrong.

I became a Christian at age 24, but did not start to study my Bible in an organized fashion until I was 40 and even then it took about 5 years for some of the truths to make a serious difference.  (Hint, hint, hint:  when you share the Gospel with someone, it’s really important that you plug them into a Bible-believing Church so they can grow and learn.)

So here are some of the SUBJECTIVE benefits to being an informed Christian.  Objectively, yes, your eternal destination and future have changed.  And that is HUGE.  But there are some very precious subjective (i.e. FEELING) blessings for this present life that come with being a growing, abiding, well-fed little lamb of Christ:

  • Purpose in life – As a believer every day that you are alive you have a mission.  You are an ambassador of Christ whose job is to make God look good in your current circumstances, among the ‘neighbors’ that God has placed around you.  God is of course incredibly good..but most people don’t know that.  To use ‘christianese’, we are to be salty and emit the fragrance of the Savior. When someone is interested in talking about God, then we can tell them the truth about their personal relationship with their Creator.
  • Explanation for evil – there is a real cosmic battle going on.  Evil exists because of the fall.  Sinful humans hurt other sinful humans.  Natural disasters happen.  Satan, as temporary ruler of this world’s systems, is at war with God and His people.  But God is still in charge.  All that happens is under His sovereign control.  I would be VERY depressed if I thought pain was random and meaningless.
  • A prepared Father who knows what is happening next – Nothing surprises God about me or life.  There is no Plan B.  God knows all that is going to happen to me and has stockpiled resources that are perfect for the circumstances.
  • Nothing wasted – Everything that is painful, tough and frustrating is used by God for my ultimate good.  If I yield it to God, the ‘bad stuff’ is not wasted.
  • Riches waiting – As a child of God, one of His family, I have access to hundreds of riches through very real promises of God as He has revealed in Scriptures.  And there is REAL power in His words.  The Bible is not just a historical account of what happened, but living words that reveal a loving God who is alive!  He has planned provisions waiting for me in the Scriptures.
  • No end – this is more important to me as I age.  I recall past 7-day cruises we have enjoyed.  Each time the week flies by.  Soon there is only one or two days left and we are sad.  All good things inevitably come to an end.  Now as I approach mid-fifties, I find comfort that the best is yet to be and it won’t ever end.

« ..No Condemnation.. » The Best Two Words in the Bible

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A speaker at chapel the other day mentioned that his favorite two words in scripture were, “But God..”   Compelling indeed, these two words introduce hope into a situation where none is by nature.

I now offer you my favorite words in the Bible.  If you want hope plus something else, think about Paul’s startling announcement: “No condemnation!”  Paul reinforces and explains this comforting fact in his letter to the Romans. He describes the freedom belonging to those who have been transferred from the world where Death dominates to the world of Everlasting Life.

Do you remember Venn Diagrams from Geometry Class? They can provide a visual representation of these two worlds.   Everyone born to human parents is born into the Kingdom of Darkness, one of the two Venn circles.  Growing up and living in this ‘Death Camp’, one is under God’s justifiable wrath for her inherited God-hostility (thanks Father Adam!)  No hope there!

But God (okay – these 2 words ARE pretty cool!) can transfer us OUT of the Kingdom of Darkness into the other Venn diagram – the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom of the Son.  It’s a legal transfer – a one-way, one-time, permanent judicial action.  Why judicial?  Because our guilty charge has been dealt with.  Our name has been cleared, thanks to Christ who has assumed onto himself our guilt.  There’s NO LONGER any guilty sentence tied to us.

Since we have a new status, there is no longer any condemnation.

Here are a couple glorious implications –

1)    If I do something wrong, hurtful, embarrassing, sinful, I can remember that Jesus has already paid for this. What else do I need to do?  Repent and make restitution as necessary.  But under NO circumstances should I indulge in self-condemnation.

2)    I have perfect access to God as Father since I have been freed from any condemnation.  I have Jesus as my big-brother advocate.  And I have the presence of the Holy Spirit within in me.  Besides all the ‘stuff’ the Trinity does for me as an adopted child in the Kingdom of Light, as one who is freed from condemnation, I have fellowship with the Trinity and with other believers.  Don’t you long for genuine community?

I find myself recalling multiple times throughout the day, ‘no condemnation, Maria’.  I need that truth check because the world is pretty hostile.

But since the other night, I have paired that two-word fact with another equally powerful reminder.  This thought comes courtesy of Jonathan Edwards who was quoted in a book about puritan prayers.  He described the Holy Spirit as the ‘choicest of gifts’.  What an uplifting way of looking at the 3rd member of the Trinity!!   If we are IN CHRIST, in the Camp of Christ, in the Venn Diagram of Life, in the Kingdom of Light, in the Kingdom of the Son whom God loves, then we already have the ‘choicest of gifts’.  We have the Holy Spirit who permanently lives in us, directing and encouraging and helping us with God’s resurrection power, God’s universe-creating force, wisdom and love.

What gifts!  What a God!

You live where your thoughts go

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Remain in me and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

You live where your thoughts go.  Jesus says that the only condition for having life is to be in Him.  How can we be in Him?  The only interpretation that makes sense to me is that we are in Him to the extent that He occupies our thoughts.  I live in my head, with my thoughts.  Most of the time, my thoughts center on me.  It’s no wonder I get bored, if my thoughts are about Maria.  Where’s the life in that?

But do we have control over our thoughts?   Well, we certainly can exercise will power and thereby replace thoughts that are not life-producing.  God did give us imagination.  If I don’t like a thought I’m having, I can choose to think about something else.  And the more emotion and color I give that replacement thought, the more real and powerful it becomes.  If you’re like me, you do this very naturally when you imagine how good some ice cream or a piece of chocolate will taste. Pretty soon desire builds and you can almost taste it.  I can even start salivating and justifying why I deserve that ice cream.  See? We DO have the skills.

I heard Robert Rayburn from Faith PCA in Tacoma talk about pride in a podcast sermon.  When we’re thinking about ourselves, whether how clever or how sinful we are or how uncomfortable our circumstances are, that is pride.  Our only way out of the incessant pride, is both to focus on and actively love God and our neighbor.  We have got to get away from thinking about ourselves.  Now if I connect that idea with the scripture above, I see that LIFE (i.e. energy, abundance, joy, anticipation, satisfaction, peace) only comes to the degree that my thoughts remain about Jesus.

And here is the bonus – Paul even tells us that if we cast on Him all the self-things that concern us, God is sure to give us His ‘eirene’ (Strongs # 1515)- His peace/bliss/blessedness.

This, dear ones, is a no-brainer:  Think about oneself, get bored  versus Think about Jesus, get life.

God, give us the grace to redirect our thoughts.

May God’s bliss (eirene) and life (zoe – Strong’s # 2222) be with us all.

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