Trembling at The Door

park historical castle fountain
Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

One of the common stereotypes of preaching is that a sermon must have “Three points, a poem and a prayer.” Another is that a sermon should always begin with a joke—I guess that is to disarm people and make them think the dreaded message may not be so bad after all.

My sermons rarely include jokes or poems. Once in a while, however, there’s a poem that is, itself, a sermon. George Herbert’s poem, Love (III), is such a poem. When I heard it presented as an anthem by our wonderful choir recently, I felt compelled to spend time reflecting on it.

Herbert (1593-1633) served as a tutor at Cambridge University and as a parish minister in the Church of England at Bremerton St. Andrew, near Salisbury. He died from tuberculosis at age 39. The poem Love (III) is part of his anthology The Temple. While I’d love to share more about this fascinating pastor-poet and his superb compilation of devotional poetry (highly acclaimed by the likes of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden), let’s move right into this poem.

Just a few preparatory comments, then I’ll let the poem speak for itself. It helps me to picture the human narrator (listen also for the Lord speaking) as one overwhelmed by unworthiness. The unworthiness of having failed in faith and faithfulness. Shame in simply being all-too-human is mixed with regret and fear and the (un)belief that the Lord could or would never really want anything to do with her or him.

Love (III)
By George Herbert

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
     Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
     From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
     If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
     Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
     I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
     Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
     Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
     My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
     So I did sit and eat.

It’s sound corny, but there is a sweetness here, a gracious kindness, that melts all resistance. This is a portrait of love expressed not because of the worthiness of the person, but because of the greatness of the Lover.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12: 32 NIV).

Read this poem a few times.  Soak in it. Marinate. See it “play out” at the front door of a glorious mansion: You’ve just walked a very long, stately, tree-shaded driveway through magnificent grounds. The drive ends with a mansion that cannot be seen in its entirety without turning your head from side to side (Louis XIV’s Versailles palace comes to mind). With great hesitation you approach the door—and it opens while you are still debating whether or not to knock. It’s the Owner of the mansion (not the butler) who greets you. You stare in awe and then look down on your filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Every fiber of your being wants to run back down the long driveway…

Then the Owner grips you with a word. Welcome. As you are. Welcome. For Love’s greatest joy is showing love.

But God Believes In Us

Jesus Hands_Doubt_shutterstock_378834205

Doubt is a part of the faith experience, including doubts about ourselves. There’s One, however, who truly believes in us.

Martha, a salty saint in our congregation, came to my study on a Monday morning following a sermon in which I had said, “The most amazing truth is not that we believe in God, but that God believes in us!”

“You really got me thinking yesterday,” Martha said, peeking in my door. I invited her to come in. “I realize my greatest doubts are not about God, but about me! I love God with all my heart–but I sure have problems with myself! I wrote this poem last night for you.  I tried to tell you what I mean.”

Then this wonderful woman, who had celebrated her eightieth birthday some time ago, gave me a poem that sets our quest in perspective.

Thomas and I

Thomas knew you well, noting small things…

    The contour of your beard, your sudden laugh,

            The gentle hands, the way your eyes caught fire

            At the desecration of a temple or a life.

            He more than most

            Echoed your fervor when he prayed, “Thy Kingdom come.”

            Yet Thomas doubted.

            Not you! It was himself he disbelieved

            And his companions, fearing their anguished need

            Induced illusions. You did not rail at him,

            But gently, with a smile exposed your wounds

            For added certainty of touch as he had asked.

            Lest I confuse my aching wants with your commands

            Show me your hands.

Martha has now seen the Lord’s hands, having gone to be with him just months after writing these wise words. I am so thankful that she shared her counsel with me. She sets us on the right track.

As we journey on the quest of faith, we are invited to lay aside doubt, including our doubt of ourselves: of our motives, of our abilities, of the distraction of past failed attempts and the anxiety of future expectations.  Just take the next step–that’s what matters now.

[NOTE: This poem by Martha Wynne is shared with the kind permission of Martha’s children Ms. Pat Wynne and Mr. Robert Wynne. Originally presented in Douglas J. Rumford, Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998, pages 284, 285.]

God’s Wink

sunrise under cloudy sky illustration
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

I was reading a devotional for pastors and ministry leaders when it suddenly struck me, “I can use this material in the message I am preparing for our missions’ conference.” I stopped, thanked the Lord, made some notes to include this in my message, and then returned to my devotions with another prayer of gratitude. As I prayed, I sensed this experience was like a wink from God. I really like the image of warmth and care conveyed by a wink.

It reminded me of the time Sarah and I were at a restaurant on the North Shore outside Boston, in the town of Essex. I was in seminary and she was a nurse, so it was rare for us to go out to eat. When it came time to get the check, our server came over and said, “I have the privilege of informing you your bill has been paid in full—including the tip!” We were speechless. “How’s that possible?” I asked.

“That couple over there said they wanted to take care of it.”

We looked over, and a physician Sarah worked with at the hospital was sitting with his wife. He gave us a nod, winked and smiled.

We know intellectually God cares for us, but may rarely feel it in our hearts. When it’s hard to feel God cares, it helps to become more aware of the little things we often call “coincidences.” They could better be described as “God-incidences.” Or, as I’m now suggesting, God’s “winks.”

Sometimes love is shown more fully in simple ways. I am deeply touched not only by Sarah’s gifts on my birthday, but by the notes she slips into my suitcase when I have to travel, or that quick text that just says she cares. I am encouraged by those who take time to know and appreciate the little idiosyncrasies that make me me. A couple in our congregation heard that I really like apricot nectar. Periodically we will open our front door to find a can of apricot nectar sitting on our porch. I feel joy and affirmation in that gift.

Jesus continually spoke of God’s joy in blessing us. “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 New Living Translation NLT).

Romans 8:31-32 gives us confidence that God is not stingy in his care, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (NIV).

The primary focus of each passage above is God’s provision for our redemption and transformation in Christ. And these include, I believe, the love and care that extends to all of life, often seen most clearly in the small, ordinary “God-incidences” that flavor our days. So watch for God’s “winks”– and you’ll see them more often than you can imagine.

Hurricane Downgrade

Hurricane Charley
Hurricane Charley near peak intensity shortly before landfall in Florida on August 13, 2004

Hurricanes are serious business. When I initially drafted this post in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas. The storm made landfall on Friday August 24 with 130 mph winds — the first Category 4 storm to hit the United States since Charley in 2004. It reminded me that my wife’s parents, Wayne and Marian, experienced Hurricane Charley on Friday August 13, 2004. They lived in Punta Gorda (a town near Port Charlotte on the west coast of Florida) where wind speeds reached 140+ miles per hour. They lived on the second story of a three-story condo complex where the roof was severely damaged. Damage to the state of Florida from Charley was over $13 billion. The devastation to Wayne and Marian’s condo and surrounding area was so significant that they left Florida and moved in with us in Kansas City, where we were living at the time. They never moved back to Florida.

So I know hurricanes are serious business. But not all hurricanes make landfall; not all cause the damage initially predicted. In August 2016, Sarah and I were on the Big Island of Hawaii when we got emergency bulletins that we were in for the possible historic event of two concurrent hurricanes, Madeline and Lester, bearing down on our island nearly simultaneously. It could be a real disaster. A number of individuals and families on the island cancelled their plans and flew back to the mainland rather than chance the consequences and dangers of the hurricanes. We decided to stay.

The day the hurricanes were scheduled to make landfall, we woke up in Kailua Kona, on the west coast of Hawaii, to the typical morning of sunny skies and no evidence of rain. Hilo, as usual, got the worst of the rain, but Madeline had been downgrade to a tropical storm. Then we learned that Lester was also on the downgrade ramp. From category 4 hurricanes, both were downgraded to tropical storms. Still fairly serious, but not devastating. We were grateful for the mercy and enjoyed the rest of our vacation.

Whenever I hear of hurricanes now, I reflect on the hurricane level of anxiety I often experience as I anticipate problems. True, some problems do have incredibly destructive results. I’ve been through my own Category 4 or Category 5 times, to be sure. But over the years I have learned that by the time they actually have to be dealt with, most problems are often downgraded in intensity. Many of my problems have, mercifully, been much less stormy than their initial potential.

You likely expected me to quote this fundamental advice from Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (NIV).

That is priceless counsel. But keep reading Philippians 4:8-9 because there we read some of the best advice for preparing our hearts to stay calm as we anticipate whatever is coming our way.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (NIV).

Spiritually speaking, storms and even hurricane-level events will come. What do we do? Prepare. Watch. Hope. And live in the moment, without fear. You’ll be ready to endure the tough one if it comes. And keep track of the downgrades to remind yourself to lower your worry-reactivity.

 

A Prayer to Make Easter Real in Our Lives Now

Garden Tomb
The traditional Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

For Jesus’ followers, Easter is the defining moment in the history of the world and in our personal history. But it is so easy to lose sight of the Easter Reality. Scottish preacher James Stewart spoke truth when he said we too often live on the wrong side of Easter.

Too often in our churches we are still on the wrong side of Easter. We are like the groping, fumbling disciples between Good Friday and the Resurrection. How our congregations would worship, with what joy and eagerness and abandon the sacrifice of praise would rise to God, if all worshipers knew themselves in very truth to be sons and daughters of the Resurrection! (from his book Heralds of God, pp.92-93).

An Easter spirituality means living in the unwavering confidence that Life, not death (in all its manifestations), has the last word.  The Apostle Paul calls us to see life through what I call “resurrection eyes.”

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT).

To help me live into the right side of Easter and to see life with “resurrection eyes,” I have written a number of prayers in my journal. Here’s one that I’ve written and am praying daily now. (By the way, this prayer is titled to reflect the new life we have in Christ now as we await the consummation of history and the bodily resurrection from death promised to all who believe. The best is yet to be!).

AN EASTER PRAYER: We are risen!

Lord, I believe you are risen!
Make me alive in you!
Strike down the guards of this world who try to keep me in the grave of lifeless worldliness.
Lift me up from the stone slab of this world’s false comforts and deceptive promises.
Unwrap me from the grave clothes of my past failures,
from the bondage of regret,
from all that keeps me from you.
Roll away the stone others have put over my life,
sealing me in the darkness of loneliness.
Lord, set me free, and let me shout, ‘Hallelujah!’
Christ is risen!
He is risen Indeed!
Christ is risen,
and I am risen with Him — Today!

Mr. Benson and the Empty Cross

cross-jesus-bible-god-161034.jpeg

pexels-photo-792953.jpeg

When I went to 5th grade Sunday School, my teacher was Mr. Benson. One experience with him left a powerful impression on me. We had recently moved to Cincinnati and many of my new friends were Catholics. They had crucifixes in their home and even their bedrooms. I asked Mr. Benson why our cross, as Presbyterians, was empty.

Mr. Benson told me that we were both Christians, but emphasized different points about the gospel. The Catholics, he said, want their people to remember always Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. That God loves us so much that he gave his son as the sacrifice for our sins. Presbyterians and Protestants, he said, emphasize Jesus’ resurrection and new life. We focus on his victory over death and the promise of his coming again.

Even as a 5th grader I “got it.” I saw the value of both the crucifix and the empty cross. It’s not a matter of “right or wrong,” or “better or worse.” It’s a matter of emphasis. Both together convey God’s love in sending Jesus to take our place in death so that he could defeat death and be present with us now and forever.

The empty cross testifies to God’s death-breaking, life-changing power. In Christ, the cross transformed:

Humiliation into glory

Pain into the prize of eternal life

Denial into unwavering devotion

The worst of human deeds into the greatest of God’s wonders

Which expression means the most to you at this time?

Maybe you appreciate the message of the crucifix: that there’s no limit to God’s love. It is the sign we can trust God to care for us in every way.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 NIV)

Or maybe you appreciate the promise of the empty cross representing God’s resurrection power at work in every challenge and opportunity in life.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Never lose sight of Jesus’ cross. No other symbol conveys God’s love and power more clearly.

“For the Cross means that even when things are at their worst, even when life does not bear thinking about, God is master of the situation still, and nothing can spoil His final pattern or defeat His purpose of love” (James Stewart, Heralds of God, p. 78).

Thank you, Mr. Benson!

 

If Angels Could Envy

 

pexels-photo-460390.jpeg

I have been fascinated by the thought that our faith, in and of itself, glorifies God. This shouldn’t surprise us when we think about the way a person’s faith in us expresses affirmation and inspires our best effort. When someone says, “I know you can handle this,” that faith itself energizes us.

The rest of the “spiritual world” — angels and the “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12)– knows “by experience” the reality of God. James affirms that even the demons believe. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19 RSV).

We alone, humanity created in God’s image, experience God by faith. We alone “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Why? I think it is, in part, to glorify God in the eyes of the rest of the spiritual world. When the angels see our faith, they give glory to God. When the powers of darkness see our faith, they are baffled and discouraged. Our trust now honors God in a way unlike those who experience God “directly” in the spiritual world.

The first seeds of this thought were planted by a quote from Forbes Robinson in a book I often read for soul nourishment. It’s advice to a young pastor that easily applies to all of Jesus’ followers.

I think I have told you of my father’s words spoken during his last illness: “If I had a thousand lives I would give them all, all to the ministry.” You will not regret your decision.  If angels could envy, how they would envy us our splendid chance, to be able, in a world where everything unseen must be taken on sheer faith, in a world where the contest between the flesh and the spirit is being decided for the universe, not only to win the battle ourselves but also to win it for others!  To help a brother [or sister] up the mountain while you yourself are only just able to keep your foothold, to struggle through the mist together, that surely is better than to stand at the summit and beckon.

Forbes Robinson quoted in John W. Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1986), 203-04.

Jesus affirmed this in his post-resurrection encounter with “doubting Thomas”:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:27-29 RSV).

So what? Glorifying God is more than praise and worship. We glorify and honor God when we show the world that God is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

I am learning to say to myself over and over again, “God’s got this.”

Worried about your job? “God’s got this.”

Concerned about your future? “God’s got this.”

Caught in a conflict? “God’s got this.”

Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for an answer to your prayer? “God’s got this.”

Faith is not simply what you believe. It is believing now, trusting now, resting confidently on God’s grace and wisdom and ultimate goodness now.

So here’s a prayer to awaken your faith, “Lord, help me bring glory to you by trusting you now. You got this! Amen!”

 

 

Billy Graham’s Doubts

Doug & Billy Graham
Meeting with Dr. Graham in Kansas City in 2004

The death of Dr. Billy Graham brought back some very special memories for me. Dr. Graham handed me my diploma at graduation from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Then, over 25 years later, I had the privilege of being part of the pastors’ invitation team for Billy’s final full crusade in Kansas City, at Arrowhead Stadium, October 7-10, 2004. More on that in a moment.

First, let me share a story that has had a powerful impact on me about how he handled his personal doubts and misgivings about God’s Word. Billy described this situation in an article in the very first issue of the magazine he helped found, Christianity Today, published on October 15, 1956. Here is a portion of it (reprinted in Christianity Today, October 22, 1976) in his own words:

In 1949 I had been having a great many doubts concerning the Bible. I thought I saw apparent contradictions in Scripture. Some things I could not reconcile with my restricted concept of God. When I stood up to preach, the authoritative note so characteristic of all great preachers of the past was lacking. Like hundreds of other young seminary students, I was waging the intellectual battle of my life. The outcome could certainly affect my future ministry.

In August of that year I had been invited to Forest Home, a Presbyterian conference center high in the mountains outside Los Angeles. I remember walking down a trail, tramping into the woods, and almost wrestling with God. I dueled with my doubts, and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in desperation, I surrendered my will to the living God revealed in Scripture. I knelt before the open Bible and said: “Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But thou hast said, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ All I have received from thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as thy Word. I take it all. I take it without reservations. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases thee, give me authority as I proclaim thy Word, and through that authority convict me of sin and turn sinners to the Savior.”

Within six weeks we started our Los Angeles crusade, which is now history. During that crusade I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was, and this faith was conveyed to the audience. Over and over again I found myself saying, “The Bible says….”  I felt as though I were merely a voice through which the Holy Spirit was speaking.

Authority created faith. Faith generated response, and hundreds of people were impelled to come to Christ. A crusade scheduled for three weeks lengthened into eight weeks, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. The people were not coming to hear great oratory, nor were they interested merely in my ideas. I found they were desperately hungry to hear what God had to say through his Holy Word.

I saw that faith demonstrated at the 2004 Kansas City Crusade when I sat on the platform with Dr. Graham. What I remember most is how frail he seemed—until he stepped up to preach. At that moment, he was 30 years younger! It was like he grew in size and energy—like going from a lamb to a lion. And then, when he completed his message and invitation, he was back to the lamb.

For the word of God is alive and active” Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

God’s Word is Living and Active—in more ways that we can imagine. Thank you, Dr. Graham, for being a witness to that. Glory to God.

 

 

 

“Lord, you have a problem here…”

pexels-photo-257037.jpeg

I was talking with a friend who had experienced a remarkable healing from cancer. It was hard to distinguish between the effectiveness of medicine and the power of prayer, but my friend, Laura, gave God the glory. Then after a number of years the cancer returned.

“I’ve told everyone God healed me. Now what?” she asked through tears.

“So what are your prayers like now?” I asked.

She said, with a smile breaking through the tears, “I’ve been saying, ‘Lord, you have a problem here!’”

I never thought of a prayer like that. At first it seemed a bit presumptuous to me, as if God were obligated to help her for the sake of his own reputation. But her spirit was humble. She was trusting God, not testing God. So I continued exploring Scripture with her prayer in mind.

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:2-3 NIV).

Laura was not being selfish. She truly wanted people to be encouraged to trust God because of her story.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11 NLT).

Countless scriptures call us to pray based on God’s love for us as cherished children. God wants to be part of our lives and for us to be equipped for his work.

I began to realize I often limited my prayers to my own imagination. If I couldn’t see a practical, reasonable answer, then I wasn’t sure how to pray. Laura released her concern to the Lord, without any need to “filter” her request through questions like, “What’s really possible now?” or “Lord, how could you ever do this?”

I experienced a breakthrough in prayer when I realized I didn’t have the figure out the answer to my prayer. I could just lay the problem at the Lord’s feet—and let go. It wasn’t up to me to solve it. I learned to say, “Describe, don’t prescribe.” Don’t try to tell God how to make it happen.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV).

I hope you understand what I mean when I say I think God enjoys “showing off” sometimes. Not to build God’s ego—that’s ridiculous. But to delight us with the wonder of it all.

Think about God’s creativity

…with Abraham and Sarah giving birth to a child, Isaac, when they were far past child-bearing capabilities (Genesis 18);

…with Gideon doing battle with an army of 300 instead of 30,000 (Judges 7);

…with Elijah and the widow of Zerephath experiencing the miracle of God providing flour and oil for months during a time of famine (1 Kings 17).

Then there is the experience of King Jehoshaphat facing the invasion of three armies coming against Judah. He prayed, O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). The next morning, they gathered with the choir ahead of the army and began to worship.

22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another (2 Chronicles 20:22-23 ESV).

My faith grows when I see God work in ways I could never imagine. I love it when I look around and say, “Wow! I never saw that coming!”

If I could figure it out, I wouldn’t depend on God.

Don’t prescribe, just describe. And watch our creative God work!

 

Jesus’ birth makes life now matter

Nativity scene

A number of years ago, I was at a dinner gathering with people from around our community. I knew most of them by reputation, but they were not involved in the congregation I served. Cathy, the woman sitting next to me said, “Do you mind if I ask you a theological question?”

“Not at all. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, both my parents recently died. I believe they are in heaven. As I was talking to my husband about heaven, I said that I felt ready to die. I don’t want to die now and leave my family, but I believe in the Lord. Then I thought: What is the point of life in this world anyway? I mean, there are many good things in our lives, but just what is the point of this life, especially if heaven is so great and glorious?”

John, our host, chimed in, “Life here is really great—but there’s also plenty of heartache. Why not go straight to eternity?”

These questions, though new to them, are ones many have asked silently in their hearts. In one sense, these are the Ecclesiastes questions. The Book of Ecclesiastes, normally attributed to Solomon, David’s heir and King of Israel whose wealth and power were beyond comparison, dives deeply into the the futility and never-quite-satisfying nature of life. Here are the opening words:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 New Living Translation)

Citing the cyclical nature of life, the endless repetition, the author asks, “What is the point of life when all that we do seems to add up to emptiness, vanity, and meaninglessness? Why do we keep going?”

To ask these questions is to penetrate to the meaning of life; to answer them is to grasp in a new way the very purpose of existence.

I think a partial reply is found in the verse, “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior…” (Luke 2:11)

Jesus came to show us that part of God’s grand purpose for us includes the fullest experience of life in this world to better prepare us for the fullness of life in glory!

Jesus’ birth gives meaning to history. Jesus’ life on this earth gives meaning to my story and yours. This earthly life is our way of connecting with God now and for eternity. A passage from Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), an Anglican chaplain, presents the heroic aspect of our living now by faith. He suggests that our living “by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) can inspire even the angels who have no experience of “faith” because they live now in God’s presence —what a fascinating thought! Robinson writes,

“If angels could envy, how they would envy us our splendid chance, to be able, in a world where everything unseen must be taken on sheer faith, in a world where the contest between the flesh and the spirit is being decided for the universe, not only to win the battle ourselves but also to win it for others! To help [another] up the mountain while you yourself are only just able to keep your foothold, to struggle through the mist together, that surely is better than to stand at the summit and beckon. You will have a hard time of it, I know; and I would like to make it smoother and to ‘let you down’ easier; but I am sure that God, who loves you even more than I do, and has absolute wisdom, will not tax you beyond your strength…” [quoted in John W. Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1986), 203-04].

Life is not just an exercise in waiting for heaven. Life now matters. Affirm the message of this quote, attributed to Irenaeus of Lyons (a second century church leader), “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God became flesh to validate as well as redeem life in this world. Live now.