Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – It’s Time

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 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. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (New Living Translation)

Maybe we enjoy celebrating the first day of a new year because it gives us a sense of having a clean slate. Perhaps we internally and/or unconsciously realize we wasted great chunks of time in the past year. So, we look forward to amending our ways and making new resolutions.

Time Is Finite

We cannot get it back once we lose it – hence, the lamenting of so much squandered time. We want to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

There needs to be a sense of purpose – of values which drive our goals and our actions – if we are to use our time in redemptive ways. Time is a gift, bestowed to us by a Creator who desires we steward that precious gift with sage understanding and wise discernment.

Time is a temporary commodity to be used for good purposes before the end of all time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time Marches On

Time marches inexorably forward, no matter what we do or don’t do. Therefore, we must respect, and learn to work with, it’s slow and constant movement.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning, three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would be in the hospital well before the sun sets.

We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that outside forces always seem to dictate what we can do and not do.

Time Is In Control

The cycles and rhythms of life can appear meaningless. We may feel as if we are prisoners of time. Yet, for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is.

Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Many Americans believe that by working hard and doing the right thing, we can shape our own destiny and prosperity.

However, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists we submit and move with the events, rhythms, and seasons God has established. Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial of the power and effects of time, it is no wonder many Americans are so unhappy with their lives.

In the experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Self-Control

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot force time to stand still. So, instead, we must focus on how we spend our time now.

It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue what is right, just, and good. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time.

What time is it?  It’s time to live in harmony with the clock, with God, and with others.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 8

As we embark on yet another new year, Psalm 8 helps to remind us of who we are and the possibilities that exist for the future.  This little psalm grounds us in reality by dealing with the ultimate questions of our existence:  Who am I?  Why do I exist?  What is the purpose of my life? 
 
            Living on such a big planet actually makes some people feel quite small and wondering how they fit in.  With such a large universe we may ask along with psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”  This question forms the center of the psalm.  Hebrew poetry is typically set up to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle as its main focus.  That is, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider this great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this very large universe.
 
            Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is the planet Earth that God should care about it?  On our planet there are billions of creatures.  Yet out of all of those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply.  We know that God cares for us, according to this psalm, because he has entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation.  We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created.  To put it another way, we, as people created in the image of God, have a job that is befitting of a king, and it is not just a duty for us, but a delight.
 
Only we as people have the self-awareness and perspective of the world that is needed to govern the world.  So, then, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation.  Caregiving is actually at the heart of being a person.
 
            So, in this next year we have the possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us.  We have the opportunity to use our words in ways that care for others and build them up, rather than saying uncaring things that are not helpful.  We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy, it is all important and has a significant place in God’s wondrous world.
            Let us, then, continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor.  May this year be one of joy and contentment in knowing the majesty that you share with God as a human being in his wondrous world.  

Jesus Is Making Everything New

 
 
The world as we now know it will someday pass away.  Christians have a future hope – it will literally be heaven on earth.  There will be a renewed earth and God will descend to dwell with us, and, so, will bring us to the original design God had in the garden with Adam and Eve – an unhindered relationship between God and humanity in which we are no longer dogged by our sinful nature, a sinful world system, and all the temptations that the devil uses to exploit for his own purposes.  Tears, death, sorrow and pain will a thing of the past.  Eventually, our struggle with sin will be completely over (Revelation 21:1-6).  To know that problems are temporary and that Jesus will change everything is a great comfort and help to believers in their present troubles.
 
            One of the problems we experience in this present age is that we are impatient people; we want good things to happen, and to happen now!  All of God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.  God said to the prophet Isaiah:  “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more” (Isaiah 65:17-19).
 
            When Jesus came in his first Advent, God’s people thought for sure all these promises would be fully realized.  But, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated.  There have been people throughout the centuries that have said, as the Apostle Peter identified (2 Peter 3:4):  “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”  Peter responded, in part, by reminding Christians (2 Peter 3:8-9):  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
 
            Jesus is making everything new.  God is even now in the process of moving history to its final stage.  Can we be patient, as God is, in letting him do his work until that final day comes, or will we be impatient?  We live in an amazing time where we have instant communications and can travel anywhere in the world in a relatively short amount of time.  The earth is a big place, but we can traverse it by plane in less than two days.  It used to be that a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean took about three months from Europe to America.  Now, we fly across the ocean in a matter of hours.  Yet, we freak out that we have to be to the airport two hours before a flight and grump and complain about standing in a twenty minute line to board a plane.
 
            And it used to be that communication moved at the same pace as a ship.  Knowing about a significant event that happened in Europe would take three months to reach America.  Now we can know about what kind of bread some Frenchman ate for breakfast almost instantly after he eats it because he posted it on social media.  We complain if we have to wait a few extra seconds for something to load on our computers and smartphones, as if the world were about to end.  Well, actually, it is about to end.
 
            Yet, in the meantime, we are not to simply wait for the end to come and spend our remaining time trying to figure out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s Second Advent.  Instead, when Jesus said “I am making everything new” he means that he is now at work transforming all things which will culminate is his Second Coming and the final passing away of the old order of things.  We properly anticipate Jesus coming again when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families and churches, to be just like Christ.
 
            God is now in the business of preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old in order to make room for the new.  The Apostle Paul put it this way to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 5:17):  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  With every changed life, there is the reminder that God is not slow in keeping his promises, but is active in transforming lives for his own glory.
 
            The book of Revelation helps us to break our fixation with the past and holding onto the ways we have always done things and are reminded of God’s capacity and action for renewal.  We can walk now in newness of life.  Christians are people, according to Paul (Romans 6:4) that “were buried with Jesus through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
 
            Looking to the future work of God in ultimately destroying the old and bringing in the new is to help us see that God is now in the process of renewal, changing lives so that Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, as the One who has no room for any other God.
 
            In order to not be impatient, but to keep enduring and persevering, it is necessary for us to know the whole story of God and what he has done, is doing, and will do.  In the fall of 1991, a car driven by a drunk driver jumped its lane and smashed headfirst into a minivan driven by a man named Jerry Sittser. Sittser and three of his children survived, but Sittser’s wife, four-year-old child, and mother died in the crash. In his book, A Grace Revealed, Sittser shares the following interaction some months after the accident with his son, David, who was one of the children who survived:
“Do you think Mom sees us right now?” he suddenly asked.
I paused to ponder. “I don’t know, David. I think maybe she does see us. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t see how she could, Dad. I thought Heaven was full of happiness. How could she bear to see us so sad?”
Could Lynda, my wife, witness our pain in Heaven? How could that be possible? How could she bear it?
“I think she does see us,” I finally said. “But she sees the whole story, including how it all turns out, which is beautiful to her. It’s going to be a good story, David.”
 
            God knows the whole story; he knows how everything is going to turn out.  When everything passes away, when all is stripped from our lives, when the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with?  We are left with participating with God in the renewal of all things, through alleviating and doing away with the evils and troubles of this world.  Whenever we seek to do away with things like global poverty; when we work to end the world of sex-trafficking or abortion; when we help others come to grips with the evil of this world through changing old satanic ways of operating; when we come alongside others in their trouble; then, God is using us to make everything new.
 

 

            The end is coming, but it is not yet here.  God is presently working to make everything new by bringing his salvation to all kinds of people.  Let us allow God to that work both on others, and in us.  Soli Deo Gloria.