SEIZE THE DAY

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. [Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 (NLT)]

great egretFrom the viewing platform at the marsh, I watched a Cooper’s hawk soar high in the sky. When I turned to leave, I looked down and saw several white egret feathers on the ground below. Whether it was the hawk, a raccoon, or some other predator, the park had one less egret in the pond. Those beautiful white feathers were a stark reminder of how precarious life is, not just for wild birds, but for us all. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes: “For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die.” [3:19]

Beginning with the words, “Everything is meaningless,” much of Ecclesiastes expresses disappointment, discontent, and a cynical world-weariness. The world is a fallen place where life is unfair: good happens to the bad and bad befalls the good. The future is unknown and filled with uncertainties and satisfaction is not guaranteed. We can strive for a goal and never reach it or attain the goal and discover it wasn’t worth the effort. The pursuit of pleasure, possessions, wealth, achievements, wisdom, or power comes to nothing. As disheartening as the author’s words are, I’m not sure we can really argue with them. Life is capricious and frequently makes no sense and the same destiny—death—awaits both the righteous and wicked. Sadly, sometimes, our efforts really do feel like an exercise in futility.

Yet, hidden in those sobering verses are nuggets of beauty and comfort. Just because life is hard and its meaning is hard to find doesn’t mean life is meaningless. Granted, some seasons of life are perplexing, challenging, or downright unpleasant but, as much as we wish we could control or understand them, they are beyond human control and understanding. The seasons of life are not in our hands but God’s. Rather than knowledge and comprehension of His plan, however, God gives us sort of a consolation prize: the ability to find enjoyment in life. While we can’t control the seasons, we can accept and find contentment in them.

Those feathers on the ground were a reminder to live life with gusto—to accept and enjoy whatever we’ve been given—to seize the day! Yet, Ecclesiastes is not an “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow you die!” promotion of hedonism. Woven throughout its verses is one more theme—that of fearing God. We can’t find the meaning to life apart from God and we certainly can’t live life on our own terms. The enjoyment of life neither permits us to disobey God not does it exempt us from His law. Telling us to enjoy life, Ecclesiastes also tells us to fear (i.e., obey, revere, love, serve, honor and worship) God while doing so!

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. [Ecclesiastes 3:12 (NLT)]

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. Go will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. [Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NLT)]

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ONLY HE CAN MAKE A TREE FROG

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

A friend sent a link to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world; you’ve probably gotten a similar one and been amazed by photos of the northern lights in Iceland, the red and orange pillars of Bryce Canyon, or the Glowworm caves in New Zealand. Awestruck by God’s amazing creation, I thought of how He makes Himself known through all that He’s made. Unfortunately, we tend to hear God better when He shouts with the exceptional and impressive than when He whispers with the small and familiar. obedient plant (false dragonhead) - green tree frogWe’re sure to notice God in the Grand Canyon, the multitude of stars in the night sky, or when watching two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles migrate through the Serengeti. We sense Him in extraordinary or exotic things like the peacock’s splendid tail, Devil’s Tower, or spectacular sunsets and sunrises. But do we notice Him in the commonplace and unremarkable?

Yesterday, I watched, spellbound, as several bees visited the flowers I was photographing. A bee would enter one of the purple tubular blossoms and disappear as it inched its way deep into the corolla to gather pollen and nectar. After backing out, it would move on to another bloom. A perfect fit, it was as if bee and flower had been designed for one another (and they were). The flowers’ scent attracted the bees and, while the bees gathered food for their hive, they pollinated the plants. What was happening in these ordinary flowers growing wild by the road was truly extraordinary!

God’s grandeur is revealed in the giant trees of the redwood forest but His attention to detail is found in the one billion bacteria that live in just one gram of the forest’s soil. His greatness is made known in the 1,600 miles of the Great Barrier Reef but also in the 1,500 species of fish, 5,000 species of mollusks, 17 species of sea snakes and 6 species of turtles living there. We see our ingenious Creator in the enormous African elephant but also in the oxpeckers and cattle egrets that ride on its back and in the lice, ticks and parasites living on the elephant that are eaten by those birds. God’s artistry is revealed in the 28,000 species of orchids and but also in His amazing design of the wasps, bees, flies, moths, ants and gnats that pollinate them.

God teaches us, speaks to us, and provides for us through his creation. Let’s not fail to see His marvelous work in the everyday and mundane: wasps building a nest, mushrooms appearing on the lawn after a rain, maple leaves turning red in autumn, raindrops glistening on a flower petal, or a squirrel gathering nuts. You may remember the first line of Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.” The last line reads: “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” Only God can make a tree, but He’s also the only one who can make the lichens and fungi living on its bark, the small tree frog hiding in its leaves, and the sparrow nesting in its branches.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Nature is the living, visible garment of God. [Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures, great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all. [Cecil Francis Alexander]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. … I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24,33-34 (NLT)]

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LETTING GO

gulf fritillary - Monarch butterfliesBut blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers — Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, Serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season. [Jeremiah 17:7-8 (MSG)]

This morning, in a symbolic gesture of turning my worries over to God, I added a name to the “God box” that sits on my desk. Yesterday, I received a photo of my grand proudly holding a bowl of pasta with the text, “I have yet to set off the fire alarm with my cooking.” As I looked at her beautiful smile, I prayed, “Dear God, please let setting off that smoke alarm be the worst thing that happens to her this year!” She just started her freshman year of college, in a large city, in a foreign country, 5,500 miles from home. I know that drinking and drugs are pervasive on all college campuses and, having been a freshman once upon a time, I know how many foolish mistakes can be made when free from parental supervision. Yet, even if every decision my grand makes is a wise one, I know the statistics: with a more than a 20% chance of being sexually assaulted in her college years, she’s most vulnerable to attack her freshman year. Since the day my son left his daughter at her apartment, my concerns have weighed heavily on my heart. Nevertheless, I know that all the worry in the world can’t protect her from harm. Accepting that all I can do is give my concerns to God, I put her name in my box.

“Let go and let God!” is a favorite phrase in recovery but that doesn’t mean we let the troubles of this world run over us like a steamroller. When there’s a fire, we don’t stand idly by and say, “Let go and let God!” With God’s direction, we reach for a hose and do what is within our control. Letting go and letting God is refusing to worry about fires that haven’t started (and might never start) and recognizing when a fire isn’t ours to extinguish. It is, however, more than putting a name on a slip of paper and placing it in a wooden box. It’s surrendering the outcome we desire and letting God manifest His will for the outcome He wants. It’s releasing our concerns and fears to Him and trusting His plan for the lives of those we love.

I can’t protect my grand from poor decisions or the violence and sorrow that comes from living in a fallen world. But, by putting her name in that box, I’ve acknowledged that my job description as grandmother does not include running the world; I’ve relinquished that role to the One whose job it is! I will continue offering prayers on her behalf but those prayers will no longer be ones of fear, anxiety, or apprehension. They will be ones of faith and trust because I know that God loves her even more than I do.

You find no difficulty in trusting the Lord with the management of the universe and all the outward creation, and can your case be any more complex or difficult than these, that you need to be anxious or troubled about His management of it? [Hannah Whitall Smith]

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)]

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IS THERE LUCK?

We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall. [Proverbs 16:33 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronMy youngest grand held the dice and blew on them for luck. The way those dice fell, however, had to do with probability and not luck. Like Yahtzee, life often seems a game of chance; sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we’re not. Luck, however, has nothing to do with it. For example, King Ahab seemed to have incredibly bad luck when a soldier randomly shot an arrow and accidently hit him right between the joints of his armor. In spite of appearances, that wasn’t luck; God had already pronounced Ahab’s doom through the prophet Micaiah. It was God, not luck, who caused King Xerxes’s insomnia and the report of Mordecai saving his life to be read just moments before Haman wanted a death sentence pronounced on the Jew. Nor was it simply luck that Ruth ended up gleaning in the field of Boaz (Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer). Our sovereign God was firmly in control and directed those seemingly chance events.

On the other hand, sometimes God allows events to happen. That Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers wasn’t bad luck on Joseph’s part; it was evil and jealousy on the part of his brothers. God allowed Satan to plague Job and David to take a lustful look at Bathsheba. He’s allowed me to make a number of bad decisions and, while I would prefer attributing their consequences to bad luck, I can’t. They were simply the result of my foolishness, pride, pigheadedness or disobedience.

As the creator of the universe, God set a certain number of “laws” in place that keep our lives somewhat predictable. Principles like the laws of gravity, motion, and conservation of energy determine how things will operate in our world. We have twenty-four hours in a day, the sun sets in the west, water flows from a higher to a lower elevation, and if a equals b then b equals a. These “laws,” however, can be broken by their creator. For example, it wasn’t luck that kept Joshua from running out of sunlight while battling the Amorites; God prolonged the day at his request. Although time may have stopped for Joshua, God made it move backwards for Hezekiah and Isaiah when the shadow on a sundial moved back ten steps. Natural laws were suspended when a three-day plague of darkness descended on the Egyptians (but not the Israelites) and when the Red Sea parted for the Israelites but consumed the Egyptians. Surely turning H2O (water) into CH3CH2OH (ethyl alcohol) plus glycerin, pectins, acids, polyphenols and flavor to make wine broke some law of chemistry. That Jesus and Peter walked on water broke the laws of flotation. None of these, however, were the result of luck.

Even though much of life seems random, we live by God’s sovereignty and not by luck. As for my grand and the dice—God could determine the way they fall but that wouldn’t be luck; it would be God’s will. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt He is going to interfere in a friendly game of Yahtzee. There is no force of good luck that can be coaxed into finding us a parking place, turning lights green, or giving us five of a kind nor is there a force of bad luck we can blame when those parking places are filled, the lights are red, and we can’t even roll a pair. Whether God is actively causing something to happen or passively allowing it, nothing is a matter of luck. As for the favors and blessings of life—let’s always give credit where credit is due: to the grace of God.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. [Isaiah 46:10 (NLT)]

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NO INNOCENT BYSTANDERS

Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. [Matthew 12:30 (NLT)]

white tail deerOur family business recently had their annual summer picnic. As part of the festivities, the employees participated in several team-building activities. Various entertaining games, relay races, and obstacle courses required the team members to collaborate and cooperate in order to complete each task and the afternoon ended with an all-out water balloon battle. Although my husband enjoyed the barbecue, at 75, he no longer participates in the games. He stood on the sidelines with those employees who, because of physical limitations, could only observe the day’s antics. Safe from the water balloons, they each were provided with a tee-shirt identifying them as an “Innocent Bystander.”

Matthew 12 and Luke 11 both tell of the scribes and Pharisees confronting Jesus: questioning, disputing and doubting His good work. When they accused him of being a demon, Jesus explained the absurdity of their claim. After pointing out that Satan would hardly give someone the power to destroy any of his kingdom, Jesus demonstrated the inconsistency of their argument by reminding them that even the Pharisees had engaged in exorcisms. Telling them that His work of casting out demons announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus explained there is no middle ground. Anyone who wasn’t for Him opposed Him and anyone who didn’t work with Him was actually working against Him.

The war between good and evil continues today and, unlike Switzerland and my husband during the games, we are not allowed to be impartial spectators. We are either on God’s side with Jesus or on the side of Satan. If we are not actively gathering souls for God’s kingdom, we are working against Him by scattering them. Either we are friends or foes, followers or opponents, soldiers or deserters, loyal subjects or traitors, supporters or saboteurs, allies or adversaries, builders or destroyers, sheep or goats. There are only two possibilities: believe in and follow Jesus or reject Him. While we can be innocent bystanders at a corporate picnic and stand safely on the sidelines without joining a team, Jesus made it clear that there are no innocent bystanders watching from neutral territory when it comes to Him.

 You not only choose between two ways of life but you choose between two masters. [Billy Graham]

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. … And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:17-18,36 (NLT)]

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ALL FOR THE GOOD

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

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