Posts tagged life
When considering our present situation, whether good or bad, it is always helpful to consider those times when the opposite was true. This provides perspective – a reminder that things weren’t always this good or that they won’t always be this bad.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul spends a lot of time juxtaposing past and present: old covenant and new covenant, death of Jesus and life of Jesus, letter of the law and Spirit of the law. Paul’s reminder is that we must remember the things of the past in order to truly embrace our present situation. If things seem tough now, Paul reminds us that they were much tougher before.
Consider this: the old covenant required strict adherence to a list of laws. God would hold up his end of the deal if the people of Israel held up theirs. The new covenant is different. God does all the heavy lifting and all we have to do is accept his gift. Not a bad covenant upgrade, huh?
The death and life of Jesus are similar. Paul says that he carries the death of Jesus in his body so that the life of Jesus can be revealed. In other words, without the death, there would be no life. Without the sacrifice, we couldn’t share in the sacrifice. And so, we must be ever mindful of the significance of the death of Jesus in order to fully appreciate the life that he has given us.
Lastly is the letter of the law versus the Spirit. This one, for me, has been an incredibly freeing realization over the past 10 or 15 years of my life. Like the Jews of Paul’s day, there are those in the church today who spend countless hours studying and debating every little nook and cranny of Scripture – picking words apart and trying to figure out what exactly is permissible and what is not. Very often, God (the one who created the law) is left out of that process. The letter of the law, Paul says, kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Today, let’s live in the new covenant, with the life of Jesus and under the Spirit that gives life, while also remembering that things could be much, much tougher!
I don’t know about you, but if I were the people of Israel, this is the part of the book of Ezekiel that would begin to lift my spirits. The tone begins to change here. Sure, there is still death and destruction for the nations, but there is also a sense of hope for the future of Israel.
Beyond just being gathered together again, God uses the imagery of dry bones being brought back to life and the broken pieces of Israel and Judah once again becoming one. He even has a jobs plan – albeit an unusual one:
“‘For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. (Ezekiel 39:12-14)
It’s weird, but there is this great contrast being presented here. God is going to breath new life into the dry bones of Israel, but he is going to have the bones of their enemies buried. In his infinite power, he is going to restore lifeless Israel and destroy powerful Gog.
I think it’s important to understand that this same God is still alive and active today. His power is available and at work in our lives and in our world. When I look around the world, I know that God is working. I’m not one to try to identify the reasons behind natural disasters or to ascribe deep spiritual meaning to every war or terrorist attack, but when I read the Bible, I can’t help but know that somehow, some way, God is working through all of it. Some of it is likely initiated by him and some is initiated by others and used by him. But all of it points toward a conclusion for us that is not unlike Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Like Israel, we too will be restored. Our dry bones will be breathed back to life. Our existence will be infused once again with God’s life. In the midst of death and destruction, there is hope for the future. It has always been that way with God. We just sometimes fail to see it.
God really does want us to have a good life, even when we don’t deserve it. In Jeremiah 29, he instructs the people of Israel who are living in exile to live as full of a life as they can:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 23:5-7)
What’s really interesting about this passage is that this is God’s response to false prophets who tell the people that they won’t be in exile for long – that they will be restored to Jerusalem. God basically says, “Nope. You’re going to be here a while. You might as well settle down and establish life here.” But in the midst of giving that news, he also reminds them that they don’t have to have a bad life – that they can embrace their life wherever they happen to be.
So often, we fail to embrace our situation. Maybe you had to relocate for work or for your spouse’s job. It’s easy to say, “Well, I don’t really like it here, but we’re only going to be here for a few years, so I’ll deal with it until we can move on.” But the reality is that none of us can predict the future. You may end up being in that place much longer than you anticipate. And, even if you aren’t, the time that you do spend there is not “throw away” time. That time, like all other time in life, is something you can never get back. So embrace it! Embrace the city where you are right now. Establish relationships, settle down and, most importantly, pray for that city. Who knows, God may use you to change that place forever.
One of the most popular “feel-good” verses of the Bible is also found in Jeremiah 23:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 23:11)
That sounds great, but you have to put it in context. Here, he’s saying that after seventy years of captivity, after his people have embraced life in Babylon, then he will take them back to Israel. Yes, God want’s to give us hope and a future, but he wants us to live in the here and now – embracing the life he has given us in this moment, even with all its obstacles. Jeremiah 23:11 then becomes our reassurance that he will take care of the future if we focus on the present.
The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the more confusing books in the Bible. Reading it is like being inside of someone’s head – someone who is conflicted about life and is rambling on, at times arguing one position and at times, the opposite position. But the book is actually quite calculated in its approach and in its use of literary devices to draw us in and then bring us around.
You see, that phrase “everything is meaningless under the sun” carries some strong implications. First, the things that we do here on earth are largely inconsequential in the long-run. That’s easy enough to see. But the author also describes some things that will last beyond our death – both good deeds and evil ones – which will be judged by God.
It stands to reason, then, that not everything is meaningless. But the things of eternal significance (the things that aren’t ultimately meaningless) often seem that way to us and those around us (under the sun). And so there’s this juxtaposition of eternally significant acts, which seem meaningless to us and eternally meaningless acts, which seem significant to us. So, not only is everything meaningless, but everything is also significant.
Ecclesiastes, to me, is a book about someone reaching the limits of his wisdom and, perhaps, of human wisdom. He comes to the edge of all attainable wisdom and says, “I can’t make any sense of this.” But isn’t that the point? Isn’t it true that no matter how much wisdom we gain in this life, there are some things that will simply never make sense to us? Sure, we might have faith in some things which help us to tolerate and accept life’s difficulties, but there is a lot that we don’t know empirically – wisdom that is beyond our reach.
And so, as we sit here, “under the sun” in our limited wisdom and with limited perspective, our vision is murky, skewed and sometimes backwards. We place high importance on things of little significance and low importance on things of great significance. We fail to see clearly and fail to follow completely the God who has all wisdom and who sees all things.
The book of Proverbs is really the ancient equivalent of a collection of those little plaques that grandma had hanging around her house. You know, the ones with wise little sayings on them (some of them probably from the book of Proverbs). And, today, the one that stood out to me sounds just like something you would see on one of those plaques:
As water reflects the face,
so one’s life reflects the heart. (Proverbs 27:19)
It’s a pretty simple concept. Our life (the sum of our words, actions, emotions, etc.) are the true indicator of our heart. Notice that I say the sum of all these things, because, let’s face it, our words alone don’t always reflect our heart. Sometimes, they reflect just what we want others to hear or think about us. Even our actions can sometimes be false. False humility and false piety come to mind.
However, when you sum up a person’s life, as is often done in a memorial service, the truth begins to come out. When you look at every encounter with every person – how they acted, what they said and the way they went about their life – you begin to see the heart.
I think about my grandfather on my dad’s side – we called him Papaw. For me, Papaw was a perfect example of a person whose life clearly reflected a joyful and loving heart. I can hardly picture him without a smile on his face and I don’t know if I ever saw him scowl. He lived a hard life growing up, but I guess that only served to help him appreciate things more. Papaw truly lived (in the time that I knew him and in the stories he told) a joyous life.
He liked to eat fresh fruit and smell the air on his farm. He liked to take a drive to the old corner store and stand around chatting for hours with the owner. He liked to barter and trade that which he had for that which he didn’t. And through it all, he just enjoyed life. And I guess he taught my dad to do the same, and my dad taught me.
So, to use the water analogy again in a different way, I guess a life not only reflects the heart of a person, but the ripples of that life continue to be felt long after they are gone. That is a powerful reflection!