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.

James 5:1-6 – Avoid the Temptations of Wealth

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (New International Version)

Everyone’s station in life has it’s own particular temptations. It just so happens that in the church for which the Apostle James wrote his letter, the wealthy persons had completely given in to the temptation of using wealth to build more wealth on the backs of the poor. And the Apostle called them out on it.

Just because you nor I might not be rich in assets and wealth, doesn’t mean today’s New Testament lesson has nothing to do with us. We all inhabit some position of influence or authority, as well as own something, even if it is not much. So, how we use what has been given to us by God is of utmost importance for everyone.

The poor are tempted to envy the rich. And the rich are tempted to trust in their money, resources, and business acumen with no thought to God. Both rich and poor can identify so closely with their respective situations that their primary identity is defined by wealth, or the lack thereof.

Hoarding Wealth

Its not unusual for a person who appears middle or lower class to have hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away. I have met more than a few of them in my life. Some people die millionaires, having been penny pinchers their entire lives.

Stockpiling wealth, whether hiding it or flaunting it, without the intention of using it for godly purposes is tragic. No one is blessed with such an approach to wealth. Money is temporary; relationships are permanent. A wise Christian focuses on storing heavenly treasure and taking an eternal view of their resources.

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse! —stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Matthew 6:19-21, MSG)

Fraudulent Wealth

A person can become addicted to wealth, or so desire to be wealthy that they use illegal and dishonest ways of obtaining it and holding on to it. Withholding wages from workers is a crime, both legally and biblically. In the ancient world, and still in many places around the globe today, workers are paid daily, at the end of the day. To not receive their pay means their families will go hungry that night.

Don’t take advantage of poor or needy workers, whether they are fellow Israelites or immigrants who live in your land or your cities. Pay them their salary the same day, before the sun sets, because they are poor, and their very life depends on that pay, and so they don’t cry out against you to the Lord. That would make you guilty. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, CEB)

Self-Indulgent Wealth

The one living completely for self is only building wealth in vain, like a hog being fattened for the slaughter. Day-dreaming and fantasizing about possessing money for personal indulgence, at the expense of others, will not end well.

Jesus said, “Be careful and guard against all kinds of greed. People do not get life from the many things they own.”

Then Jesus used this story: “There was a rich man who had some land. His land grew a very good crop of food. He thought to himself, ‘What will I do? I have no place to keep all my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘I know what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger barns! I will put all my wheat and good things together in my new barns. Then I can say to myself, I have many good things stored. I have saved enough for many years. Rest, eat, drink, and enjoy life!’

“But God said to that man, ‘Foolish man! Tonight, you will die. So, what about the things you prepared for yourself? Who will get those things now?’ (Luke 12:15-20, ERV)

Murderous Wealth

When the rich and powerful are so bent on accumulating and hoarding wealth, they step all over workers to get what they want. And the poor laborers possess neither the ability nor the authority to handle the injustice. They are helpless.

By withholding wages and resources, or purposefully paying a non-living wage, the neglect puts people in poverty. Then, the poor struggle to survive. They may starve, even die, through no fault of their own. And the ones who put them in such a position will have to answer to a higher authority – God. (1 Kings 21)

How, Then, Shall We Live?

The Lord gives us money, resources, even wealth, for us to enjoy and give to others. We are stewards, accountable for the time, assets, and relationships, given us by God in this life. So, then, we must emulate godly models of asset allocation and thoughtful stewardship.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

May we all use whatever resources, gifts, abilities, and time we have to bless others and contribute to the common good of all persons.

Psalm 24 – It All Belongs to God

The earth and everything on it
    belong to the Lord.
    The world and its people
    belong to him.
The Lord placed it all
    on the oceans and rivers.

Who may climb the Lord’s hill
    or stand in his holy temple?
Only those who do right
    for the right reasons,
    and don’t worship idols
    or tell lies under oath.
The Lord God, who saves them,
    will bless and reward them,
    because they worship and serve
    the God of Jacob.
Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord, a strong
    and mighty warrior.

Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord,
    the All-Powerful!
(Contemporary English Version)

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was born in the Netherlands. He was a church minister, university professor, and politician – having established a Christian university, as well as served in the Dutch parliament and as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Kuyper labored throughout his life to flesh-out the theological implications of a sovereign God. He consistently insisted all we do as humans is to be integrated and brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He believed firmly that all things belong to God in Christ and all the fragments of our lives are to be oriented and integrated around our Creator’s great claim upon us as creatures. Whether a pastor, teacher, or politician, every vocation, each activity, and all thoughts and intents rightly belong to God.

In other words, religion and spirituality cannot be kept within superimposed limits. There is no separation of any one domain of human thought from the rest, no isolation of any one domain of human life from another or from Christ.

The spiritual life is not limited to merely the ethereal. It is both celestial and terrestrial – heavenly and earthly – concerned for the immaterial and the material. God cares about it all because it all belongs to God.

God owns the world. So, the implications of this for us is huge. It means we don’t really own anything. We are simply stewarding all that God has given us – including our very lives. The chaos of this world, from a biblical perspective, comes from creatures attempting to assert their own sovereignty and control things. Since we were not created to be little gods roaming about doing our own thing, the inevitable result is a topsy-turvy world.

God’s divine claim and ownership of the world means that absolute authority does not rest with nations, states, or leaders. Everything we see, as well as what we don’t see, belongs to the Lord. Part of the task of believers is to confess and bear witness to God’s rightful and benevolent rule in this world. In fact, Christians everywhere pray toward this end every week: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

The circle of life, within Holy Scripture, is the Creator God bestowing life and relationship to created humans, who then respond by practicing just and righteous living – thereby receiving renewal from the Lord and life anew. Theoretically, this movement can go unbroken. It is a regular celebration, for the believer, in consistent rhythms of worship and adoration of God.

When we are able to get in the intended divine groove of faith, life, and worship, we will discover our meaning and purpose in the world. By rightly ordering our lives, centering and grounding them in the gracious and loving relationship of Creator and creature, then we find true blessing because it enjoys an intuited stamp of approval by the God who makes life possible.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the Victor, the King of Glory. All the promises and hopes of people are found and focused, in Christ. We enter through Jesus, the door of life, to deliverance from death and all that separates us from God, others, and self.

Jesus comes to bring blessing, justice, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace. For this is how the world was meant to operate from the beginning. We are to open the ancient door of faith, especially when the Lord comes knocking:

Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22, CEV)

Old Abraham Kuyper might be long dead, yet he got it right, if we are able to hear him:

“Whatever people may do, to whatever they may apply their hands – in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or in mind, in the world of art, and science – they are, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of God. They are employed in the service of God. They have strictly to obey God. And above all, they must aim at the glory of his God.”

Abraham Kuyper

Blessed Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, though I am quite capable of fretting, complaining, and lamenting about how out of control things seem, the truth is that nothing is outside your grip. I may not always see your hand, discern your heart, or like your ways, but you are God and there is no other. So, continue to renew my thinking, gentle my heart, and deepen my worship. I humbly and gladly affirm that you are God, and I am not, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign sovereign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

An Embodied Spirituality

By Unknown artist

It is normal to feel guilty at this time of year about our bodies. Some of the more common goals for a new year are to lose weight, stop smoking, get in shape, have better sleep hygiene, and generally learn better self-care.  I am not going to add to the burden of guilt but emphasize something important: Our bodies are the vehicle given to us to glorify God. Our spirituality is quite embodied. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

One of the reasons we fail our bodies is that we do not always make the biblical connection of seeing our material selves with the same importance as the immaterial.  The Apostle Paul brought up a discussion about the body to the Corinthian Church because Corinth was a Greek city thoroughly imbibed with a Platonic philosophy of life.  At the core of Plato’s view of humanity was that the immaterial and the spiritual were of higher value than the body.  For Plato, the body is a necessary evil.  He referred to our souls as being imprisoned within the flesh.  When we die the soul is released and is freed from its bodily prison.

Western civilization has been significantly influenced, even today, by Plato’s view of humanity. Yet, that is not a biblical view of the body.  Instead of being a prison, the body is a temple, a sacred place which is no better and no worse than the soul.  When we die, we will not be disembodied souls, but will experience a bodily resurrection at the end of the age.  Eternity will be spent existing in a real glorified body free from sin. (1 Corinthians 15)

Since the body is sacred, and we glorify God with our bodies, then we must steward them just like we would steward any other physical material possession we own.  We have bought into Platonic philosophy when we treat our cars better than we treat our bodies.  If a warning light comes on in our cars, we get it checked by the mechanic.  He fixes the issue and tells us what we need to do to prevent it from happening again, and we listen to him. 

Far too often, when warning lights go off in our bodies, we ignore them until our bodies literally break down and we must go to the doctor.  And even then, the doctor tells us to do something, and we do not do it.  We never avoid the advice of our mechanic, and yet we do it with our doctor.  We need to adopt the biblical wisdom of glorifying God on this earth through our bodies. 

God’s care for our bodies can be found, for example, in the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. After Elijah experienced a great spiritual victory, he became the target of evil Queen Jezebel.  Elijah ran for his life and was severely burned-out from intense spiritual struggles with the queen’s prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:1-3).  At that point, God did not come to Elijah and give him a sermon or exhortations about getting over it.  No, God restored Elijah’s body. And the Lord wants to restore our bodies, as well.

19th century Russian Orthodox icon of the prophet Elijah in the wilderness

First, Elijah needed sleep (1 Kings 19:5-6).  Millions of Americans are sleep deprived and live with a significant sleep debt (thus being continually cranky and out of sorts).  Insurance companies know this is a major issue because improper sleep habits have caused various auto accidents and fatalities. I once kept a crazy schedule with not many hours for sleep.  One day, during rush hour, I drove through a downtown expressway in bumper-to-bumper traffic and fell asleep.  I woke up about two minutes later and was still alive driving down the highway.  I sincerely believe God graciously drove the car for me.  That was my “wake up” call to change the way I was treating my body.

Second, Elijah needed to eat well (1 Kings 19:6-8).  For us, that means eating healthy.  One source of being overweight is failing to make the connection that eating is a spiritual activity.  Food is important to the kingdom of God.  It was eating that got us into trouble to start with and resulted in the fall of humanity.  Eventually, we will come full circle with eating being the activity we engage in at the end of the age – a redeemed view of food and eating together with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-10).  God cares about food – what we eat and how much of it we consume.  He cares because we do not own our bodies – we steward them for God.

Third, Elijah needed some vigorous exercise (1 Kings 19:8-9).  He walked all the way to Mount Horeb, which was over a month’s travel.  But that exercise was essential to his well-being, both physically and spiritually.  It was only after he slept, ate well, and walked that Elijah was ready to meet with God in a powerful experience.

Our physical fitness is a spiritual issue, and so, needs prioritization.  I am under no illusions or delusions about the difficulty of this. I prefer brownies to broccoli and rather like sleeping instead of exercise. Yet, I work at being physically fit and caring for my body.  I am personally motivated toward health because I love God and want to please the Lord with my body. After all, my body was important enough to be redeemed through the Cross of Christ.

This is not about willpower – it is about Christian stewardship. I look at my body the same way I look at borrowing something from another person: I return it in the best condition I can. When the Lord takes me someday, I do not want it to be because I hastened my own death through disregard of my God-given body.

If I were God, donuts would be health food, sitting back in the recliner would build muscle, and two hours of sleep at night would be sufficient. But I am not God, so I submit to doing what it takes to have an embodied spirituality. We are to enjoy life through making the connection between the spiritual and the physical because that is the way God created us.

It is never too late to be a proper steward of the body.  Our physical anatomy is an amazing work of God and incredibly receptive to healthy choices. Here are a few of the choices we can make…

Remember the positives

Remember that care of the body is worth it.  Being fit feels great and equips us for the will of God.  Keep the long view in mind.  Sacrificing a temporary pleasure is worth the eventual gain.

Start small

I will not be doing any triathlons anytime soon, or ever. We need to be realistic and set appropriate goals without comparison to others. Start small and build up over time with slow incremental change. The place to begin is by rearranging our schedules so that our bodies become a priority.  Maybe it is time to make that doctor’s appointment you have been putting off.

Join others

Accountability and fun can and ought to go together. For example, preparing meals together is a chance to connect with a friend or family member. Discover and maintain a consistent rhythm of health that works for you and is enjoyable.

Reframe it

People often give up their best laid plans because they are disconnected from the rest of their lives. Reframing our view of the body as a spiritual activity helps connect and align our mind, body, and spirit in the wholeness God designed for us.

Start today

It takes time for something to become a habit. All good things are a process of realization. Consider and plan today, asking for God’s direction. Get the Lord in on it from the beginning and let it be an offering to him.

May you find the joy, contentment, and satisfaction of living with a body properly cared for and ready for use to the glory of God.