IT’S NOT FOUND UNDER THE SUN

I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. … So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. [Ecclesiastes 1:14, 2:17 (NLT)]

queen butterfly

The story is told of a great king who ruled a large prosperous kingdom. Rich, powerful and considered wise, he lived in a splendid castle, was attended to by many servants, and surrounded by nobles and beautiful women. Lacking nothing, he drank only the most exquisite wine and ate only the most delectable food. The king, however, never felt content. Even though he kept his servants busy searching for more gorgeous flowers for his garden, better chefs for his kitchen, finer tailors for his robes, faster horses for his stable, and larger rubies for his crown, true happiness and peace escaped him.

Despairing of ever feeling content, the king finally sent his servants in search of the happiest man in the kingdom whose coat they were to bring back to the castle. The discontented monarch was sure that, by possessing the coat of that happy man, he finally would find peace and contentment. Although the royal servants searched high and low, they returned empty-handed to the king. When he asked why they couldn’t find the happiest man, one servant hesitantly admitted to finding him. When the angry king demanded, “Then why didn’t you bring me his coat?” the servant meekly replied, “Because he has no coat!”

Although God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom early in his kingship, that wisdom didn’t prevent him from ignoring the advice of his father (David), making poor choices, filling his life with worldly goods, and disobeying God. Like burn ointment or hand sanitizer, even Solomon’s wisdom was useless when not applied! Filled with regret at the end of his life, Solomon used the word “meaningless” at least forty times in Ecclesiastes. With its message, Solomon wanted to spare future generations the bitter lesson that life only lived “under the sun” is meaningless and empty; the meaning of life cannot be found apart from God.

If the king in my story had read Ecclesiastes, he would have known that security, contentment, and happiness will never be found by wearing the coat of a happy man. They can’t be found in wealth like Solomon’s, possessions, achievements, learning, power or pleasure. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes, however, tells us how they can be found: by seeking our fulfillment “above the sun” in God. We don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to know that true contentment, peace and even joy can be found only in a relationship with God.

We must learn to live on the heavenly side and look at things from above. To contemplate all things as God sees them, as Christ beholds them, overcomes sin, defies Satan, dissolves perplexities, lifts us above trials, separates us from the world and conquers fear of death. [A.B. Simpson]

Remember your Creator now while you are young, before the cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. … Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. [Ecclesiastes 12:6a,13 (NLT)]

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SEEING THE LIGHT

Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. [Proverbs 28:14 (NLT)]

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [Romans 2:4-5 (NLT)]

Duluth MN lighthouseAn old maritime legend describes the conversation between a U.S. Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship kept telling the Canadians to divert their course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision while the Canadians repeatedly responded with the suggestion that the Americans divert their course 15 degrees to the south. Finally, the Navy sent the following message: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this fleet.” It was only when the Canadian authorities responded, “This is a lighthouse. It’s your call,” that the American vessels stopped being so unyielding and changed their course! While this story of an aircraft carrier trying to bully a lighthouse out of its way is just fiction, it’s a lesson about stubbornness, inflexibility, and pig-headedness.

Hoping to catch Him breaching the law, Jesus’ adversaries watched Him closely. When He healed a woman who’d been crippled for eighteen years on the Sabbath, they were outraged. Healing was considered work and He’d broken the Sabbath by restoring her to health. The Pharisees were unyielding when it came to strict observance of the law—even when it made no sense. Carrying clothes out of a burning building on the Sabbath was prohibited but stopping, putting on as many as 18 garments, and wearing them out was allowed! Pointing out that the Pharisees worked on the Sabbath by untying and watering their animals, Jesus chastened the synagogue leaders for their lack of compassion on the woman. Like the aircraft carrier, they were so sure they were right, it never even occurred to them to rethink their position.

There are times we must be unyielding as a lighthouse and firmly hold our position. In fact, we specifically pray not to yield to temptation. [Luke 11:4] Things like obedience to God and our faith in Jesus are non-negotiable and may well place us in opposition with today’s world. There are times, however, when we’re more like the aircraft carrier and the Pharisees—unyielding to a fault. Like them, we’re often so sure we’re in the right that we fail to examine our course or consider the possibility that we could be in error. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of our positions to make sure we’re not on a collision course with God’s word. The aircraft carrier failed to see the light ahead of them just as the Pharisees failed to see the Light of World standing in front of them. Let’s not make the same mistake. If we’re headed toward a conflict, confrontation, or collision perhaps it’s time to rethink our course and surrender the controls to God!

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. [James 3:17 (NLT)]

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HE EXISTS

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. [Genesis 1:31 (NLT)]

The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation. [Psalm 145:9 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronPeople often argue against God’s existence because of evil and suffering. With so much that is wrong in the world, they question how there could there be a god. Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was once an atheist who reasoned that such a cruel and unjust world proved the absence of God until he questioned where he got the idea of what was good or evil, just or unjust. He realized that something cannot be wrong or evil unless there is standard for what is right or good. In a universe with no God, there would be no standard for justice or injustice, good or evil, right or wrong: simply personal preferences. That standard, Lewis realized, is rooted in God. As a result, the very argument he used against God’s existence provided Lewis with proof of His presence!

Nevertheless, acceptance of God’s existence in a world with evil leads people to question how this loving God of ours could allow so much of it in the world. Unable to see how a loving, good and powerful God can coexist in world so filled with pain and suffering, people often ascribe any evil that befalls to God but none of the good. Granted, bad things happen but, if they’re used as evidence against a good God, then all of the good things that occur must be considered as evidence for Him!

The preponderance of the evidence tells us that there are more years of rain than drought, more harvests than famine, more fair weather days than hurricanes, more love than hate, and pandemics are not a regular occurrence. On a more personal level, I’ve encountered evil, injury and pain and, if I were asked to make a list of the suffering in my life, I could. But, if asked to record the good things I’ve experienced, I couldn’t—simply because there would be far too many to list! I’ve avoided more accidents than I’ve been in, favorable circumstances have aligned more often than not, more good people than bad have touched my life, my joys outweigh my sorrows, and God has accompanied me through every dark valley I’ve traversed. Moreover, I’d probably have to cross off most (or all) of the items on the list of bad things because God redeemed them by bringing good out of the pain and suffering.

When life feels anything but good, it’s easier to focus on evil and suffering than to remember that God is good. Yes, we live in a fallen world but it’s not the world God intended; our good God did not create evil and suffering. When man chose to disobey in Eden, both moral and natural evil entered into what was a perfect world. God may allow evil but it is our free will that has made it possible. We can’t hold God responsible for our mistakes.

Non-believers and believers alike wrestle with how a good loving God can allow the presence of evil and suffering. Nevertheless, the existence of suffering doesn’t negate God. In fact, it is God’s existence that gives meaning to our pain and suffering! We’ll never fully understand it. Nevertheless, when I think about those two lists and all that God has done for me, I know that God exists and that He is good!

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

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. [James 1:17 (NLT)]

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IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to. [Romans 8:26-27 (GW)]

sandhill craneAs a writer, I like to create with words. When writing a devotion, I carefully organize my thoughts, often cutting and pasting while moving sentences or entire paragraphs around. Supporting Bible verses are sought and various commentaries are consulted. Every word is carefully chosen (often after a synonym search). Grammar and spelling are double-checked and editing and rewriting continue right up to publication. All of that messing around with words, phrases and punctuation may be fine when putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but not when praying. Prayers would never get said if they required that amount of composing, revising and polishing!

God isn’t like an editor with a blue pencil telling us to shorten a paragraph, elaborate on an idea or find a better adjective before the prayer is worthy. He’s not like a teacher with a red pencil checking off our misspellings or grammatical errors. He’s doesn’t grade our prayers or refuse to listen if we’ve ended a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive. He’s more like a mother who reads and treasures her young child’s letter from camp with its smudges, messy printing, and misspellings. He’s just glad to hear from us.

We’ve all felt painfully inarticulate when it comes to prayer but that shouldn’t prevent us from praying. Although our words may be clumsy, being eloquent is not a requirement for prayer. The power of our prayers is not contained in words, sentence structure, or eloquence; the power of our prayers is found only in the One who hears those prayers! Fortunately, in God’s infinite mercy, He’s given us the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, living in us, intercedes for us in our hearts and it’s that heartfelt prayer that reaches God’s ears.

Don’t be so concerned about wrapping the gift that you never give it. … Better to pray awkwardly than not at all. [Max Lucado]

Dear friends, use your most holy faith to grow. Pray with the Holy Spirit’s help. [Jude 1:20 (GW)]

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LEGACY – FATHER’S DAY 2020

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NLT)]

My husband, son, and sixteen-year old grandson were talking after dinner and reminiscing about Grandpa J, my husband’s father. A man of faith and fun, love and laughter, honesty and honor, he truly was one-of-a-kind. Having died shortly after my grand’s birth, the boy only knows his great-grandpa through photos and some wonderful stories that just seem to get better with time. The conversation gradually turned to the family business, started by Grandpa J nearly sixty-five years ago in the family’s garage. Although my grand had heard some of the stories, others were new and he listened intently.

As the men spoke, my son told his boy a story from when he first started selling for the business. He shared how he learned the importance both of taking responsibility for his mistakes and of quickly righting a wrong. The story was about integrity—doing the right thing even when it didn’t have to be done—and was a better lesson than any number of lectures on honesty and honor. Only three generations were sitting at the table, but a fourth one definitely was present. In my son’s words, I heard not just his father but also his father’s father. Sitting there, I saw Grandpa J in all of the men—their entrepreneurial spirit, humor, zest for life, and, most of all, their integrity. As I quietly listened, I thought how much Grandpa J would have loved to have been there and how proud he would have been of his legacy. Of course, if he’d been there, a game of Euchre would have been in progress!

Sunday is Father’s Day and, as I pondered what to write, I remembered that evening—how I saw Grandpa J in my husband; both Grandpa and my husband in our son; and Grandpa, my husband, and our son in the sixteen year-old grand. Grandpa J, however, wasn’t the only great-grandfather with the men that night. I heard echoes of my own father’s determination and felt his presence, too. Since he died shortly after our marriage, my husband barely knew my father and our son and grand never met him. Nevertheless, even though I’ve rarely spoken of him, without consciously doing it, something of my father has been imparted to my boys through me.

Remembering that night, I saw how each generation profoundly affects the next and the generations that follow. Fred Rogers once said, “One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.” That’s a heavy responsibility and, sadly, not all of us had fathers who left an admirable legacy. Nevertheless, we all probably had men in our lives who encouraged, taught, and guided us: men who shared their wisdom and faith and exemplified integrity and honor. Let us remember to thank them, if they are still with us, and to thank God for them and their legacy. Just as we shed DNA wherever we are, we leave bits and pieces of our faith, ethics, and values on the lives of the people with whom we interact. Let us all, men and women alike, take seriously our responsibility for the development of the generations that follow and leave only good things behind in the lives of the people we touch.

If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave behind at every meeting with another person. [Fred Rogers]

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. [Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)]

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them. [Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)]

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DIAMOND MINING

Some of his [Paul’s] comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. [2 Peter 3:16 (NLT)]

butterfly weed“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” asked Sydney J. Harris. Even though he wasn’t referring to the Bible, the journalist’s words made me think of the way we often approach Scripture; complaining that it’s too hard to understand, we simply don’t study it!

If we’ll put forth effort to perfect our golf or tennis swing, train for a marathon, master chess or bridge, plant a garden, or become a gourmet cook, I wonder why we think understanding Scripture should be effortless. It’s only natural that words penned by 40 (or more) people, between 1400 BC to 90 AD, in a wide variety of genres, in another language, and shaped by different cultures and traditions, require some work to comprehend. Scripture’s words were God breathed by the One who created words and thoughts! He is greater than any novelist or journalist so we should expect His words and ideas to be more difficult to understand than theirs! But, because of the effort required to understand them, many of us don’t bother and stick to a few favorite stories, verses and Psalms.

During this sheltering in place, our church conducted an online Bible study and, after thirteen weeks of video lectures given by Biblical scholar N. T. Wright, we finally completed our study of Philippians. In some sessions, Professor Wright walked us through as few as five verses, but the way he shed light on Paul’s circumstances, the Philippians’ society and environment, the political situation of the time, the original Greek meaning of many of the words, the way Paul’s words in Philippians related to his other letters, and what the Apostle’s words meant to us, was immensely rewarding. It was like taking a beautiful old piece of heavily tarnished silver and polishing it. Before this study, I appreciated Philippians the way I might the tarnished silver piece. After studying the epistle in depth, however, the profoundness of Paul’s words were uncovered the same way silver’s true beauty is revealed when it’s polished! Polishing silver, however, takes “elbow grease” and comprehending Scripture takes effort, as well.

Admittedly, understanding Bible passages and spiritual concepts can be challenging but that shouldn’t discourage or surprise us. Even the Apostle Peter admitted the difficulty of comprehending Paul’s words! Nevertheless, the Apostle knew the importance of trying to understand Scripture to avoid being misled. Peter was concerned about teachers who claimed that Christ’s followers could still live immoral lives. Today’s false teachers may be spouting other nonsense but, without our making the effort to study Scripture, we won’t recognize their errors.

Since each Bible study on Philippians lasted about 45 minutes, we spent around 585 minutes on four chapters. That sounds like a lot of time until we consider the 52 billion-plus minutes of The Office that were streamed by Netflix users in 2018 or the 437 billion minutes spent watching NFL and college football’s regular seasons that same year.

For the last several years, I’ve devoted a part of every day to studying Scripture. I still can’t quote chapter and verse, but my life is fuller and more purposeful because of its words. It’s worth the effort because, like mining for diamonds, each time I dig deep into God’s word, another beautiful gem appears.

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. [Harper Lee]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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