Simply Living

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“A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” –Mark Twain

On the surface Ecclesiastes seems dark and gloomy, a book of hopelessness. And even more sobering is the fact that it was written by a genius, the great King Solomon himself. The man who asked God for wisdom over wealth and was given both.

“Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:20)

By all means, he was the wisest of his time, giving advice and guidance and solving every case that his people brought to him. However, as we read Ecclesiastes we see that not even wisdom or wealth was the answer to true happiness.

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

No wonder he was depressed, in his wisdom he saw the earth and its inhabitants through a different set of eyes. He saw men working in the fields day after day, the sweat rolling down their backs, and he watched the women cleaning and baking, preparing for their husbands return from the feilds…the cycle continued with each rise and set of the sun…meaningless.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work, clean, or cook…Solomon isn’t quite done with his rantings. Despite all that is meaningless, he doesn’t let us succumb to the weight of futility entirely.

“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Enjoy life. Sounds to simple, I feel like I have to strive, struggle, and fight to make every moment of this life meaningful. And yet, “there is nothing new under the sun”, I can’t create a purpose for myself apart from what I was created for. Now notice that Solomon isn’t talking about what we do for God as being meaningless…he speaks only of the human condition, our toiling and most of all our uncanny ability to “waste” time. Anytime we place God on the back burner we place something else on the pedestal. In other words if we aren’t focused on Him and His ultimate fulfilling purpose for our lives, we try to create or replace His design for something else…which of course, leads to us over-working, feeling helpless and utterly unsatisfied with life. How do atheists do it? Well, they chase after the wind, finding temporary fulfillment in earthly things. It’s like taking a drug to curb the symptoms of an illness there is only one remedy for. It might get you through life but are you really living?

Solomon, the wisest man had acquired everything life had to offer..he had many wives, treasure of every kind, an entire kingdom awaiting his commands, and to top it all he had wisdom that secured his reign and respect. To anyone and everyone he was living the ultimate dream of success….and yet looking at it all he saw that it was all meaningless. What are earthly treasures but things that will someday rot and decay. What man-made legacy could ever survive the test of time?

Lately I have been reminded again and again that I can’t slow time, life and death are inevitable truths. But enjoying the time in between the two…well, that is a choice. God didn’t create us to toil in suffering under the sun until we die. We are His beloved remember? Set apart from the animals and yet even they live life abundantly. Every morning I walk outside and see birds with full bellies nesting in the trees, rabbits playing by the tree line, bees collecting nectar from flowers of every color. Is not what they are doing meaningless? And yet, God saw it fit that they play, eat, and drink just as we do. He loves caring for them but most of all He loves that they are free, content in the world He created. And we are His prized possession! How much more do you think He cares for our contentment and joy? He is our Father…He cares for us physically and spiritually. He doesn’t just fix us breakfast in the morning but asks us how we are doing. He doesn’t just bind our wounds but holds us in His arms and wipes away our tears.

My uncle celebrates his 65th wedding anniversary tomorrow, he suffers from COPD and doesn’t have a lot of time left, I visited him in the hospital the other day and despite his fear and sadness of what lies ahead, he told me that he had a good life…in other words, that he enjoyed his life. And then he told me to go home, fix up our new house in the country, and enjoy every minute of it. I have heard the same thing said by two other people recently, both going through struggles I can’t even imagine, and both having lived a long life. Through their life experiences they have come to the same conclusion as Solomon…life is a gift from God, not a curse…and like any gift, it was made to be enjoyed.

So I could get caught up in the pain and useless toiling of the world around me…or I could live abundantly in joy. Seeing each day that I get to live as a gift…and each day I come closer to the inevitable end…as one step closer home.

It’s really that simple. No matter what you are going through, whether you are on cloud nine or feeling as though you are going to sink…there is always something to be thankful for….that’s the beauty of being a Christian…I could have nothing but still have everything,  Jesus is all I need.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” -1 Peter 1:8-9

Filthy Rags

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“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

Isaiah 64:6

What can we offer in exchange for an eternity in Heaven? Nothing. Even our most righteous acts are incomparable to the great righteousness of God. And yet, many are caught up in doing good deeds, not out of kindness but out of what we feel is a necessity. Ouch! are we really that selfish? What it really stems from is lack of understanding and low view of oneself. If we really understood that Jesus’s sacrifice was enough, we would not feel as though we have to “earn” salvation. First of all, we can’t earn something that we don’t deserve. And that brings me to the “low view” problem. The love that God expresses to us, and has already expressed through the sacrifice of His Son, is incomprehensible. It is a never-ending love that goes far above any love we have ever experienced on Earth. That is why we subconsciously strive so hard to “earn” salvation, we simply can’t believe that God has wiped all our sins away and has freely given us salvation! We still think we are worthless worms when he has crowned us as kings and queens! Do we deserve it? No. But because God called us worthy, we are.

Again I must say, God’s words are powerful and they do not return to Him empty. To deny what God has spoken of you is to call Him a liar. Do you really want to disagree with God (the one who created you) on the matter of your worth and His Word? Imagine buying a really nice expensive gift for your child. You can barely contain your excitement as you imagine their face lighting up and the overflowing joy your gift will bring him/her. You hand them the gift and wait beaming from ear to ear. But the child suddenly looks downcast, they refuse to even open the gift and instead thrust it back into your arms saying, “I can’t take this, I don’t deserve it.” You insist again and again that it is theirs and that it even has their name on it, but they continue to refuse….Our God calls us His children, not his slaves, and he even calls us His friends.

If I refused a gift from a parent or friend I would certainly hurt their feelings. Do I deserve their gifts? No. Turning another year older doesn’t come with some entitlement. No matter what society tries to tell you, we are entitled to nothing. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) However, because they call me worthy, and love me, they buy me gifts on my birthday. They spend time, energy, and money to bless me on a day that means nothing to everyone else.

Do you really want to please God? Accept what He has given you with thanksgiving. Let Him bless you! let go of this spirit of poverty and lowliness disguised as humility and be who God says you are. Live joyously in intimacy with Him and good deeds will just be a natural expression of God’s love flowing through you so that you can bless others. It won’t come from selfish intent. Just open the gift already! say thank you! and be His friend. That’s what He really wants, for you to be His friend and through your friendship to reflect His goodness to others, heal, raise, restore, and change the world one person at a time.We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)..and you know, the closer we draw in relationship with Him, the more we reflect His heart as well. We begin to notice those around us we completely ignored before in our daily rush, they aren’t strangers but brothers and sisters, lost sheep searching for Jesus…let them see him in you. Your gift of salvation can be shared and in fact was made to be.

I remember growing up thinking that if I sinned I had to pray extra long or read just one more chapter in the Bible or God would be upset. And then I would see someone at church who read and prayed even longer and begin to compare my “deeds”to theirs. Here’s a simple fact that will make you want to shake free of the “earning” mindset. There will always be someone more talented than you, more dedicated, more outwardly beautiful, more smart, more religious…the list goes on and on. Thank God we aren’t called to be the best, this isn’t a competition. God doesn’t pick favorites or sides. He loves everyone equally whether they read for 5 minutes or 55. “Comparison is the death of joy.” (Mark Twain). If we learned anything from Ecclesiastes it’s that we should enjoy life, because fleeting it is, and comparison robs us of our precious time.

Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not reason and compare, “said Blake; “my business is to create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

Though others may posses something you don’t have, you surely posses something that they don’t. No one can be you. You are unique and God loves you just the way you are. And His plan for you is just as important as anyone elses. The reason people become known as “great” isn’t because they had something you don’t have…they became great because they discovered the greatness within, the greatness that already existed inside themselves..you see everyone has the same potential for greatness…it’s a choice, a willingness to sacrifice everything for God that makes us stand out from the rest.

I believe that if you are reading this it’s because God wants to tell you something. Maybe you have been struggling so hard to please Him and He wants to tell you, “I was never angry with you.” Maybe the churches you have gone to have told you that you are not worthy and have to do x, y, and z to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or maybe, your past sins have made you feel shame, and you strive to do good works in the desperate hope that you will be forgiven and your debts paid in full….my friend, you are forgiven and your debts were paid in full before you were ever born. Jesus would have died just for you..if you were the only one on earth he would have suffered the same pain to save your soul. It’s a love that I don’t think I will ever fully understand…”As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) One thing we can be sure of though, “We love because He first loved us.”(1 John 4:19) God is love…He doesn’t just have love, but is the very definition and creator of the term…it was in love that He created us, it was in love that He died for us…and it is in love that He gave us the greatest gift of all, an eternity with Him, our Father and our friend. God bless.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9