There is Hope (Thoughts on Ecclesiastes Part II)

fuschia tears resized 1600 x 1067 for blogIn “Why is there so much despair in the world?”, I wrote that in the first 2 chapters of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon showed how empty life can be when you live from a temporal perspective. Solomon described the restlessness in a person’s soul that can only be relieved in a relationship with God. As I shared in that blogpost, “no accomplishment, experience, possession or relationship can satisfy our deepest needs. Only God can.”

In Ecclesiastes 3, we read a well-quoted passage about there being a time or season for everything. “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” This passage teaches the seasons, or cycles of life. There is a time for everything, and God is ultimately in control of these seasons or cycles. They include both happy and sad occasions. This is the reality of life: it is a tapestry of both good and evil; joy and suffering.

What does the writer tell us about God in the light of this reality?

    1. He has made everything beautiful in its time. In other words, even in the most tragic circumstances, the Lord will bring out beauty. As we read in Romans 8:28, “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.” Mercy and brotherly compassion shine the brightest in the darkest of trials.

     

    1. He has put eternity into man’s heart. Deep within the human heart is the understanding that there is more to life than just living a materialistic existence. There is an awareness of a creator, an afterlife, morality, and a desire for meaning and purpose beyond the temporal. We have needs for security, love, and significance that cause us to desire and seek the Lover of our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who created us with those needs and can uniquely satisfy them. During times of joy or difficulty, we can depend on God’s love for us.

     

    1. Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. This tells us that God’s work is eternal, complete, and secure. Faith in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross guarantees us eternal life. Nothing can be added to it (eg. our good works) and nothing can be taken from it (“It is finished” Jesus declared when he had paid the penalty for our sins). No one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands (John 10:28,29). We may go through difficulties in this life, but if we have placed our trust in Jesus, our salvation is secure.

     

    1. God will judge the righteous and the wicked in his time. Although we see injustice and corruption on earth now, we can be assured that God also sees, and one day justice will prevail.

     

    1. He has gifted us with the privilege of eating and drinking and enjoying the fruits of our labor while on this earth. Although these are not our purpose in life, they are blessings from God to be appreciated.

     

    These truths give us hope, not despair. We can enjoy the blessings of God and his presence while we are on this earth and look forward to living eternally with Him where there will be no more sin, evil, oppression, suffering, or death. Now that’s something to rejoice in!

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Why is there so much despair in the world?

despairEcclesiastes is a strange book. King Solomon, son of David, the wisest and richest man in the world wrote it. But it reads like such a tale of woe and despair, for a man who had everything and knew the Lord. How are we to understand it?

The first couple of chapters sound like a familiar song to those prone to depression. What is the meaning of life, anyway? What does all my labor get me? Nothing, I tell you; nothing. It’s all vanity (a waste of time). Solomon didn’t deny himself any pleasure. I mean, he delighted in wine, women, and song to his heart’s content, but strangely, he found that…. his heart was not content. There was temporary pleasure, but it left him lacking. He pursued riches, beauty, and accomplishments, but despite all he did and how hard he worked, it gave him no satisfaction or meaning. Over and over, he complained how meaningless it all was. “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

King Solomon was the wisest person alive, but as he contemplated that, he realized that both the wise and the foolish eventually die. As he wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:16-23,

“For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless–like chasing the wind. I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.”

Solomon’s tirade exposes the thinking of someone who lives in the temporal, not the eternal. If there is no such thing as eternity; if there is not a loving, personal God who fills our life with purpose and meaning; then, yes, there is much reason to despair. As Solomon declared in Ecc.1:14,15, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered.”

This is the logical conclusion of living “under the sun”. When our lives are limited to what we can see, the here and now, then life loses its meaning. The best we can do is work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that we get lucky. This is essentially the conclusion that Solomon came to in Ecclesiastes 2:24. “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.”

Solomon was declaring that without the Lord, this is the best attitude one can have towards life. And that is the prevailing worldview, I’d say. Work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that you get lucky. Many people resign themselves to the thought that there’s nothing more to life than this.

But others, perhaps the thinkers in society, know that there is more. They are aware of the emptiness in their soul. Perhaps like Solomon, they’ve had wealth, notoriety, and pleasures, but they have left that person unsatisfied. Why are so many famous, accomplished, well-liked people committing suicide these days? What causes someone like Robin Williams or Anthony Bourdain to end their life? Is it because they are disillusioned? Did they buy into the fantasy that if you work hard, do good, enjoy yourself, and gain wealth and experiences, that the hunger in your soul will be satisfied by those things? Perhaps after doing all those things, they felt just as empty as before. Perhaps they never understood what Augustine of Hippo discovered 16 centuries prior: that “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you”. Only a relationship with the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ, can satisfy that restlessness in our soul. Only He can love us unconditionally, and provide us with the meaning, purpose, security, and peace that our hearts long for. No accomplishment, experience, possession or relationship can satisfy our deepest needs. Only God can.

What about you? Are you living an “under the sun” existence, or are you living “in the Son”?

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:9,10

“Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.” 2 John 1:3

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

 

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling and the Winter Blahs

evergreen for blog

I’m planning a kitchen reno and my writing time is limited these days, so here is a reblog of last winter’s post. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!

As a homeschooling mom, late winter is the time of year I dread the most. I’m usually okay until mid-January, then I often descend into this tired, touchy, wanting-to-hibernate state until the end of March. Then when spring arrives, I get that second wind to go on. It’s very predictable. It doesn’t help to be living in the Great White North where cold, snow, and gray skies wreak havoc with your emotional well-being!

Fortunately, the last several years have been considerably better for me. As I reflect on why that is, I’d like to share some things I have done that may help you as well.

  1. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be living in some warm, sunny location, you could probably benefit from Vitamin D supplements, especially during the winter. The ideal source of Vitamin D is through regular exposure to sunlight, but if that is impossible for you because of where you live, you will probably need supplements.
  2. Winter would be a good time to have a more relaxed schooling schedule. Let the children sleep in (within reason). Sleep in yourself if it makes you feel better. A rested mom is going to be a nicer mom 🙂 Plan your academics so that the more intensive study times happen earlier in the school year when you have more energy and enthusiasm. Leave more room for fun learning activities, reading books, or watching movies together.
  3. Take a walk outside every morning. If I can do it with the nasty weather we get here at times, you can, too! Enjoy the scenery; listen to the birds; take time to commune with God. It’s amazing how a short walk outside can lift your spirits! If you have little ones, take them with you, or plan some other outdoor activity with them such as tobogganing, playing in the snow, or going to the park.
  4. Plan for more days or weeks off in the winter. We start our academic year mid to late August, but then take time off throughout the school year. This is especially important in winter, when a break is needed the most!
  5. Start a fun personal project in January eg. learn to paint; start a blog; plan your summer vacation. Do something just for you, that you will enjoy. Carve out a time slot for this activity every day.
  6. If you’re living in a cold place, this would be a great time to take a vacation to somewhere warm if finances permit. It’s low travel season, so flights are not so expensive. You could plan your family vacation for the winter instead of the summer; better yet, plan a getaway for you and hubby if there is someone who can watch your children.
  7. Refrain from making any life-changing decisions if you are more emotionally vulnerable at this time of year. There have been many February’s in which I have wanted to give up homeschooling, but by April I had changed my mind 🙂
  8. Last but not least, take time to read your Bible and inspiring devotionals. Pray through the Psalms, read Streams in the Desert, or read the devotional book I wrote especially with homeschooling moms in mind (Stress-free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking.)Win the battle against those negative thoughts by building yourself up with the Word of God!

What about you? Have you struggled with the winter blues? Has anything helped you cope?

10 Truths to Meditate upon to Give You Rest in 2018

It’s that time of the year again: a time for fresh starts and hopeful resolutions to meet those goals that haven’t been met in previous years. I’m not against New Year’s resolutions; they have their place. I don’t make them anymore, though. I found they were often no more than wishful thinking or aborted new habits. Instead, I want to enter this new year not with a list of things I should change, but rather with a list of those unchanging truths that I can rest in.

That’s a curious approach, you may be thinking. Perhaps…but I see in scripture an interesting pattern: God did the work of creation, including creating man on the 6th day, his crowning achievement, then he rested on the 7th day. Man was created, then entered into the rest of God and all the benefits of God’s creative work. When God came to earth as man, in the Lord Jesus Christ, he completed his redemptive work on the cross, rested from his finished work, and we entered into that rest and all the benefits of God’s redemptive work. We have work to do, too; there are changes to be made in our lives; but all that begins from a position of rest in God’s work. We cannot transform our own hearts or do anything of eternal significance without the power of God initiating it.

So, from that perspective, I want to rest in the unchanging truths of God. Here are some that I would like to anchor my life on:

  1. I am deeply, personally, unconditionally loved by the creator of this universe. (Jer.31:3, John 15:9)
  2. I have worth, not because of anything I may have done or will do, but simply because the Lord has declared me as precious in his sight. (Isa. 43:4, 1 Peter 1:18,19, 2 Tim. 1:9)
  3. I have a purpose on this earth for which I have been uniquely crafted. (Rom. 12:6-8, 2 Cor. 9:8)
  4. God is good, is trustworthy, and is working everything out for my good and His glory. (Rom. 8:28, 1 Cor 1:9, John 10:11)
  5. Suffering is a necessary part of life, but the Lord is my comfort during trials. (2 Cor. 1:3-6)
  6. His Word is eternal; not one word of his promises has or will ever fail. (Ps. 119:89, 1 Kings 8:56)
  7. I can pour out my heart to the Lord and he always hears me and answers my prayers. (Jer. 33:3, Psalm 62:8)
  8. As a believer, I am a needed member of God’s family, the church, which reflects God’s presence. (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 12)
  9. I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to overcome my spiritual enemies. (1 John 4:4, Rom. 8:9-11, Rom. 5:5)
  10. I have a wonderful inheritance reserved for me in heaven, my eternal home, where there will be no more death, sickness, sin, sorrow, or pain. (Rev. 21:1-7, 1 Peter 1:4, John 14:3)

These are the unchanging truths that I wish to meditate on, appreciate, and trust in for 2018. I believe that in doing so, I will make myself available to the Lord to make those changes in me that will bring him glory.

 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLT

O Christmas Tree

Every year I get to decorate our Christmas tree, often with the help of one or more family members. I love that tree, because it tells a story. It has a variety of unique ornaments on it, the majority of which were gifts or handmade by us or friends. The first tree that we purchased years ago was the floor model in a home hardware store that was going out of business. We got our tree for a deal, complete with red bows and tinsel. I remember the gratitude that we felt to the Lord for providing us with that tree. We’ve since replaced it, but the red bows and tinsel still go on our current tree along with many other decorations that we’ve acquired over time. As I reflected on our Christmas tree, I observed that it was a visual history of our family over the years, representing light, love, loss, and life.

Lights are the first decorations to go on our Christmas tree. What is a Christmas tree without lights? Those lights remind me of Jesus, the light of the world, without whom we would still be in darkness and would have no reason to celebrate Christmas. Thank God that he revealed the light of the gospel to my husband and I and to our children. It’s interesting that light was the first thing that God spoke into existence in Genesis 1:3, and he saw that it was good. Light was always a major part of God’s story with mankind.

Many of the ornaments that we decorated the tree with were handmade. They were expressions of love, given to us by dear friends or family. Some were the simple creations of our children, nostalgic reminders of sweet times crafting together. Each handmade ornament is precious, just as our children are, to us and to the Lord. We are God’s beloved, as we are reminded in 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

Other ornaments were placed on the tree with a tinge of sadness. Some were a gift from my hairdresser, who was always so generous to our family, but unfortunately lost her battle with cancer. Another ornament was purchased from the widow of a much-loved artisan. One ornament bears the name of a son who will not be with us this Christmas. Yes, our Christmas tree bears witness to losses in our lives as well. As Ecclesiastes 3:6 says, there’s “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

Every year our tree is a little different from the previous year. Some ornaments are retired as they are too worn or perhaps even broken. New ones get added each year, though. This is what happens in our lives and our families as well. We are constantly changing; nothing stays the same. We are worn out at times; sometimes we are broken. But fortunately the Lord doesn’t cast us away; instead, he breathes in new life, new experiences, hope for the future. Psalm 147:3 declares that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Our Christmas tree is beautiful. It brings my heart joy to look at it and let God speak to me through it. It’s also a reminder to me of another tree, the one on which they crucified my Lord and Saviour, Jesus the light of the world. He showed us the ultimate love by willingly giving up his divine privileges and facing untold suffering and loss on our behalf so we could enjoy eternal life with him. He spoke life to our weariness and brokenness. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Just like my Christmas tree, the cross of Christ shows forth light, love, loss and life. As you decorate your Christmas tree this year, I encourage you to take a few moments to sit down and reflect on its beauty and the beauty of the One it represents. Merry Christmas!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

Is prayer a lifeline, or a waste of time?

I hated prayer as a child. What a useless, boring exercise, I thought. As a Catholic, I was given a beaded rosary, and taught to “say my prayers” every day. That practice consisted of touching the first bead on the rosary, reciting a memorized prayer (either the Hail Mary or Our Father), then touching the next bead and repeating the process. It was a mindless, useless tradition that served no good purpose. Even Jesus in the Bible warned in Matthew 6:7 “”And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

I was speaking with a friend the other day that is battling cancer. Although she would not consider herself a believer, she welcomes anything that might “work”, including prayer. As I reflected on our conversation later, I realized that many people have misconceptions concerning prayer. I thought I’d tackle a few of them today.

One misconception of prayer is that God requires it as a religious exercise, and that the more we pray, the more pleasing to God we are. It is a proof, some would say, of our devotion to our faith. While prayer can and should be an expression of our faith, it’s clear from Matthew 6:7-16 that the Lord isn’t interested in the quantity of our prayers, but rather the attitude of our hearts. God is not impressed with the practice of praying 5 times a day or reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary many times over; what pleases him is humility, mercy, adoration, and faith. Micah 6:8 sums it up nicely: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

Sometimes prayer is seen as a way to get what we want. If I want something (healing, a job, a boyfriend, a car, good marks, etc.) and I pray about it, then I should get what I asked for, right? I mean, if I want it, then I deserve it, and if I deserve it, then God should give it to me, right? And if I didn’t get what I asked for, then the conclusion often assumed is that prayer doesn’t work, or that God doesn’t care, or maybe I didn’t have enough faith, or maybe there is no God. These false assumptions and wrong conclusions have led many to abandon their faith or be angry with God.

The truth is that God doesn’t owe us anything. He’s our creator and graciously gives us every breath we breathe, and blesses us abundantly every day, but he does that out of love, and not because we deserve anything from him. He sent his Son to die in our place, to suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He laid down his life for us. How can we have this attitude that he owes us something? We owe *him* something for all he’s done for us! Jesus taught his followers to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, not “our will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) The purpose of prayer is to see God’s will accomplished on earth, not our own.

Prayer is often defined as asking God for something. While prayer certainly includes making requests of God, if that’s the extent of your prayer life, you are missing out on what the Lord intended for you. Let me use an analogy. You will certainly make requests at times of your spouse or child (eg. “Could you pick up some milk on the way home from work?” Or, “Please take out the garbage.”) But if your entire communication with them consists of telling them what you’d like and then expecting them to do it, you wouldn’t have a very intimate relationship with them. In fact, they would probably resent you after awhile.

Making requests is only one small part of your relationship with them. You will need to spend time together, playing, working, celebrating, making memories, showing affection, discussing things, giving to each other, listening to each other, and so on, in order to have a healthy relationship. It’s like that with the Lord as well. Prayer is the means to a close relationship with God. It’s not about asking for things; it’s about spending time with the Lord, celebrating what he’s done, worshipping him, listening to his counsel, pouring out your heart to him, and ultimately trusting him to do what’s right for you. Prayer is date time with God. The verse 1Thessalonians 5:17 exhorts us to “pray without ceasing”. That means to have an attitude of prayer as you go about your day, inviting the Lord to be part of all you do. Prayer is friendship with God.

The last misconception concerns answers to prayer. If we didn’t get what we asked for, does that mean that God didn’t answer my prayer? No, I believe that he hears all our prayers, and answers according to his perfect will. We may not fully understand what his will is, though. It is not always what we expect or want. Why is that person healed, but this one dies? Why does that family seem to have everything so easy, and this family goes through so many difficulties? I don’t know, but God does. When we don’t understand his ways, we have a choice: trust him that he loves us, he knows what’s best, and he is working everything for our good and his glory, as is stated in Romans 8:28; or be offended by God, blaming him and concluding that he doesn’t love us or doesn’t exist. Jesus said in Luke 7:23, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Oh, how blessed, how happy it makes me, not to take offense on account of the Lord when things don’t turn out the way I expected. Instead, as I choose to trust him, I am blessed indeed.

Good Grief

I find myself in a season right now where I am grieving losses. Not so much the big losses, like the death of a loved one, but the little things that will never happen again or perhaps never had the opportunity to happen. My children question me sometime when I use the colloquial expression “good grief!”. Is grief really good? I think it is good; or at least, a normal process.

According to Wikipedia, “grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is taken away. The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of losses throughout their lives, such as unemployment, ill health or the end of a relationship. Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.”

I passed by a park some time ago, and I felt this pang of sorrow that I would never be taking my children to play at that park again. With 3 adult children and a teenager, this is not a recent loss. It’s been a number of years since I’ve taken any of my children to that park. But for some reason I’m feeling that loss now. I grew up in an Italian family, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and others in the Italian community. I lived almost at the end of a dead-end street, with the mountains, pond, and meadow being my playground. I am grieving the fact that I couldn’t give my children that same experience, since I moved to the city, married outside of my culture, and cousins are few and far between. I’m not regretting those choices, and much has been outside of my control, but I feel a sadness that my children could not experience what I did. Other losses have been greater. The #MeToo movement has revived painful memories from decades ago that I am finally admitting and grieving over. Sometimes it takes us a long time to be aware of and face what we lost.

Aging also brings with it a gradual loss of abilities, friends, possessions, and experiences. I remember hearing that in a typical 80-year span, the first half of one’s life is generally characterized by gaining (an education, a job, spouse, a house, a car, children) and the second half is typically characterized by losses (you retire, the kids move out, you downsize, your spouse may die, your health deteriorates, etc.) Loss is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes it’s particularly painful, such as when relationships with loved ones take a turn for the worse. I believe that grief is a God-ordained process to face the reality of those losses, release our emotions, and recover from them. How can we heal if we can’t even admit that we lost something?

I’m not a psychologist, but I know two things. One, that all people experience grief and loss in their lives. And two, that there is someone who not only is acquainted with grief, but who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; and that man is Jesus. He understands what it is to suffer loss better than anyone else can, and He is in the unique position to comfort us when we are grieving. In fact, he invites us to cast all our cares upon him, for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). I love the comforting words of John 16:22 (NET) “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” I look forward to that day, when my grief will be replaced with joy in the Lord’s presence!