The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dear Susannah

Adrian, Rachel and Susannah


Dear Susannah,

Welcome to your new home.

You have entered a place surrounded by voices that you have been familiar with for nine months. You heard those voices in your hospital room and have seen the fuzzy faces that gazed adoringly at you.  Now those voices and faces will be a constant.

You are entering a home that is far from perfect. However, I assure you that you are entering a place of love. I have watched as your parents cared for you the months while you were nestled warmly in the womb. I have seen their eyes since you have been born. They are the eyes of love.

We all love you Susannah. We all want to look at you, hold you close and serve as a support and encouragement to you and your parents. We have all thanked God for you and we continually give thanks to God for you. He has given us a great gift and a tremendous responsibility.

It does not seem that long ago when I held your mother in my arms. Your Grammy, (my wife), was a young mother just like your mom. I will never forget the first time the nurse placed your mom in my arms. I was so excited but very nervous. My arms were stiff--I was so afraid that I would do something wrong and not hold her just right. She was our firstborn. You are your parent's first born.

Grandaddy, Grammy and Susannah


We loved your mom from the moment of conception--we love her more deeply today. She will always be our little girl. I remember the day we brought her home. I remember vividly her first bath. Through fever and smiles we sought to nurture her. We made a lot of mistakes. Your parents will also. But we loved her then and we love her now. She is a godly woman and she will lay her life down for you. She has always wanted to be a mom. At age two she would carry the younger children in the church nursery across the room. She is beautiful and smart.

We have only known your dad for a couple of years. The first time we met him we felt a kinship. We recognized, from the first, that he displayed a love for God and a respect for others. He honored your mom from the first day he met her and as he courted her his conduct was always exemplary. We (Grammy and I) could not have asked for a finer son-in-law. You will love spending time with him.  He is funny, creative and very entertaining. We love him and he loves you. Get ready to be the star of many videos.

Susannah, you have a lot of folks to meet. Grandparents, great-grandparents and your church family--all await. They will want to squeeze you.  They will say things like; why don't you just give her to us? There is a lot more love coming your way.

I will have more to say to you later. For now, I just wanted to welcome you to our home (your home).  It is a crazy place--lots of activity--lots of noise and a lot of love.

Welcome home.

One more thing...Don't let your parents see this part. As soon as you are able--you and I are going on a date.  On your first birthday I have scheduled a booth at Waffle House. There you will be introduced to your first taste of syrup. And then...Mayfield ice cream!  You are going to love ice cream.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Girl Named Susannah

Adrian, Rachel and Susannah Rink

A baby girl was born on January 15th, 1832 and given the name Susannah. This girl would grow up, know the saving grace of God and marry a man who would become one of the most famous preachers in history.

Her husband would often travel for ministry and for the recovery of his health. He was faithful to write letters and sometimes to illustrate the letters with little sketches based on some experience that he had enjoyed.


Every word I write is a pleasure to me, as much as ever it can be to you; it is only a lot of odds and ends I send you, but I put them down as they come, so that you may see it costs me no labor, but is just a happy scribble. Don’t fret because I write you so many letters; it is such a pleasure to tell out my joy.

Few men have ever known such a helpmeet as the preacher did with Susannah. Though she struggled with various health issues she was a faithful servant of God. Often Susannah was confined to home but her work was not confined. She wrote letters and raised money to purchase books to send to poor Pastors across the land. The payoff on her investment was the encouragement and transformation of many.

She managed her home well and encouraged her busy husband in his work. In Susannah he had a trustworthy wife who set him free to become the man of God that we remember and honor. When Susannah Thompson became Susannah Spurgeon a marriage was forged which would touch the world for godliness.

She wrote of her first experience in seeing young Charles Spurgeon: Ah! How little I then thought that my eyes looked on him who was to be my life’s beloved; how little I dreamed of the honor God was preparing for me in the near future! It is a mercy that our lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings, and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence. 

On Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 at 5:08 PM Susannah Joy was born (on her father's birthday) to Adrian and Rachel Rink. So lovely is her face and so beautiful is the joy displayed by her dear parents. Over and over little Susannah heard the whispered words, I love you, I love you.

Susannah is born into a family where she will be loved and trained in the ways of the Lord.  Her path, like all of ours, will be rocky at times and smooth at others. She will learn, through it all, that God is a trustworthy Father, worthy of all of her praise and devotion.

Her Pastor, Charles, led Susannah Thompson to the Savior. She said that he led her via his preaching and conversation by the power of the Holy Spirit to the cross of Christ for the peace and pardon my weary soul was longing for.

We will be praying that Susannah Joy Rink will:

1.  Be led to the Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit for peace and pardon.

2.  Be ever aware of the providence of God that Susannah Spurgeon wrote about. It is a mercy that our  lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings, and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence. 

3.  Be granted by God, one glorious day, a godly husband that will write her letters of love and display a life of godliness before her watching eyes. A husband who will think and communicate to her that it is such a pleasure to tell out my joy.

Susannah Spurgeon wrote:

'The time of the singing of birds is come,' and from early morning until the sun sets, their sweet notes are a constant reminder of the duty and delight of thanksgiving. Out of the joy of their hearts they trill forth their gladness for the sunshine, and the opening flowers, and the unfolding leaves; and I have heard the same tender song when the rain has fallen, and cold winds have blown, and dark clouds have swept across the sky. Many a time have the birds in the garden sung a lesson in my listening ears, and rebuked my dullness or my unbelief, by their gleeful carolings.
For our family the time of the singing birds is come. The birth of Susannah Joy Rink to our dear daughter Rachel and her godly husband Adrian is a sweet note. Our dullness has been gently rebuked by the music of heaven in granting us a sweet song in the tender face of a little girl.  Like Susannah Thompson Spurgeon, may our little Susannah sing forth her gladness for the opening flowers, and the unfolding leaves and for the goodness of God displayed in his immeasurable kindness to His people.

End of Part 1.  Quotes above from Mrs. C.S. Spurgeon by Charles Ray and from gracegems.org

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grief in Oklahoma


Many people have died as a result of the Moore, OK tornadoes. Hundreds more have been injured.  The destruction of property will be in the many millions of dollars. Can we make any sense out of what seems to be senseless?

Solomon, the richest and wisest among Israel's kings--knew almost unbridled success. He had more money than he could count or spend. He had wine, women, gardens and homes. Everyone was at his disposal. His conclusion? Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

The Hebrew word for vanity is hebel. That word means something like a puff of smoke, a vapor. In indicates something that cannot be held for very long--it is fleeting, passing away and floats on to the next generation. Solomon describes the context of his life of work, gardens and riches in three words, under the sun. He describes it all as vanity.

Under the sun refers to life now on the earth. The book of Genesis tells us how our world got to be in its present condition. When Adam and Eve sinned against God they, their progeny, the womb, the animals and the ground all felt the impact of their sin. Death entered the world and death spread like an uncontrollable disease to every person and it touched every inch of ground--every star in the sky (see Genesis 3 and Romans 5).

The result--graveyards, wrinkles, cancer, tornadoes. And even to the person that escapes this life without facing the heartbreak of seeing his family and his possessions swept away in 200 mile-per-hour winds, even to that person--life is fleeting. Possessions are decaying. Hopelessness can settle in a person's heart so that, like Solomon, he may hate his toil and be given over to despair (Ecclesiastes 2:18,20). 

Such is life under the sun.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down. We go to work, purchase a home, buy a car, build a family and in seconds it is disintegrated.  Or we go to work, purchase a home, buy a car, build a family and we live 77 years and we die. Is that all that there is? Such a thing is frustrating at the very least. The Bible describes both man and creation itself as groaning (Romans 8:20-21).

There is more. There is life above the sun as well as under the sun. There is hope in the midst of groaning. There is joy in the midst of sorrow. The life that we have, the things that we own and our ability to enjoy life and possessions are a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; 5:18).

The only way to enjoy the vain things of this life is to see them as temporary gifts from God that point to something more--something lasting. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Romans 8:22-23).

Suffering is a reminder that life under the sun is fleeting.  It reminds us to enjoy the days and possessions that we do have--every one of them. It tells us not to fix our hope to family, homes, health or money. It tells us not to get too accustomed to life under the sun. It is also a call for us to love our neighbor and to comfort those who suffer. Suffering reminds us that the way to live life joyfully now is to have our confidence firmly fixed on God. As the hymn writer wrote, God is not dead nor doth he sleep.  For those who look to Christ, suffering is a reminder of a day of no suffering when neither ground nor man groans any more.

Today is a day of groaning across our nation. It is a day to cry, to weep but to do so with hope. We have a Savior. Christ Jesus is his name.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Truest Friends


In reading a letter from March of 1922, from a young lady to a young man (during their courting days), I was struck by two statements.  The first one, I intend to keep my promise to you, was a strong indicator of her integrity. The second statement read simply, your truest friend. Her valediction underlined her loyalty and commitment to friendship. She intended to keep her word to marry the young man and she encouraged him with the confidence of her loyal friendship.

Integrity and the loyalty of friendship are two essential keys in any healthy relationship. They are fundamental to marriage. I will be true to my word. I will be your loyal friend. Unless true character resides in the heart of the person making such statements they are just words on a page--without meaning and without encouragement. Instead of being words that build up they will turn into swords that pierce the heart.

Integrity seems rare in our culture. Promises easily fall from the lips of a couple in love or from politicians swearing an oath to office. It is too rare that people speak with clarity, honesty and integrity. When caught in a trap of words the crafty person finds ways to explain former statements that relieves them of their original meaning.

Loyal friendship is also rare and seldom treasured, as it ought to be. When God said, ...It is not good that the man should be alone...(Genesis 2:18) he had marriage in view. Yet the application reaches beyond marriage to friendships. Solomon wrote that friendship is better than being alone. Friendship brings the reward of encouragement, warmth and strength (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11). We were not designed to live isolated like an island. We were built for one another.

Nowhere are integrity and loyalty more demanded and more needed than in marriage. In marriage we need to be promise keepers and truest friends. Reading those words is humbling. We have fallen short in our promises and we have failed to be truest friends. Therefore, marriage needs the grace of forgiveness. It needs the constant reminder that Christ has been perfectly true to his words and is the friend that sticks closer than even a spouse. Remembering where our hope is ultimately built, and our own weaknesses, drives us to Christ and makes us ready and willing to forgive. Such remembrance also helps us to be people of integrity and loyal friends.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Commending and Commanding Joy



There are at least two errors concerning joy that one might weave into. There is the strong temptation to seek joy in all of the wrong places. There is also the perceived virtue of ignoring joy and gritting one's teeth and surviving life. In the first temptation expectation is placed on people, things and philosophies that cannot meet the demand for joy. The second temptation is driven more by a pride that is always suspicious of the smile.

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, understood both temptations.  He had looked for joy and withheld no good thing from himself. At his disposal were almost unlimited riches, the best food and drink, beautiful women, great power and awe-inspiring wisdom. He tried to suck all of the joy that he could from those and other things. His conclusion--they were all empty. He despaired of life.

He also points out the emptiness of not being able to enjoy one's life. He called this "a grievous evil" (6:1-3).

At the end of the day Solomon commends joy. This joy is characterized by a merry heart and a radiant countenance.

...A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed (8:1).

And I commend joy for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun (15).

Those who look to him (the LORD) are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:5).

Joy is a strong witness to our faith in God. It tells the world that God is great and that He is good. It says that God is not a cosmic killjoy but that he delights to give good gifts to his children (Romans 8:32).

Solomon commands joy. This sounds strange to us. We tend to think of joy as a spontaneous physical reaction to good circumstances. If the children obey the first time then we are joyful. If nothing breaks, no one interrupts our carefully thought out schedule and pleasant experiences walk through our front door then we are joyful. Joy, however, is not based on circumstances (see Philippians chapter four).

Yes, Solomon not only commends but he also commands joy.

Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because this is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10).

Joy is commended and commanded and testifies to our faith. The joyful heart, the radiant face, the cheerful countenance commends the one who has given us all things to enjoy (I Timothy 6:17).

I am suspicious of the raging fundamentalist who seems afraid of joy. He is always reminding others of rules, laws and regulations which, he imagines, will help them to obey God's law. I am also suspicious of the floating antinomian who, like a helium filled balloon, simply flies in the wind and hopes to find real joy in a "no-strings-attached" freedom.

I am not concerned that I might have too much joy. My fear is that I am not joyful enough or that I will look for joy in all the wrong places. When one is joyful in the Lord then he can eat, drink and enjoy his wife to the glory of God.

Do you want to commend the goodness of God and be a powerful witness of Christ?  Rejoice!  C.S. Lewis wrote, ...no one is ultimately able to 'suppress' an author who is 'obstinately pleasurable.' (Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis).

Will anyone ultimately be able to suppress a Christian who is obstinately pleasurable? You will never know unless you hear the commendation and obey the command to rejoice in the Lord.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Room With A View

Windows from the Study of C.S. Lewis.  Photo Credit

How many people grab, go, collect, and are busy all of their lives and never see the vanity of it all?  Or if they see the vanity they either deny or acknowledge it and mindlessly continue on--seeing no greater meaning to it all.

Are not all of us tempted in that direction? Do we imagine that all of the "good things of life" will bring us some sense of significance if we could just grasp them? And yet we can never quite catch them, can we? And the good things that we obtain leave us longing for something more.

We treat good things in a bad way when we imagine that vacations, comedy, drink, fun, possessions, money, music and beautiful people will give us the significance (joy) that we long for. When they fall short of our expectations then we curse them and fall into despair.

But is there a way to treat good things in a good way?

Alister McGrath writes of C.S. Lewis and Narnia:

...In The Last Battle...Lewis here invites us to imagine a room with a window that looks out onto a beautiful valley or a vast seascape.  On a wall opposite this window is a mirror.  Imagine looking out of the window, and then turning and seeing the same thing reflected in the mirror. What, Lewis asks, is the relationship between these two different ways of seeing things?

Lewis:

The sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different--deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.

McGrath:

We live in the shadowlands, in which we hear echoes of the music of heaven, catch sight of its bright colours, and discern its soft fragrance in the air we breathe. But it is not the real thing; it is a signpost, too easily mistaken for the real thing.

The way that we treat good things in a good way is to recognize that our good gifts of food, drink, marriage and friendships are gifts from God. They have been given for our enjoyment. If we please God (the only way to do so is by faith) then we have the capacity to receive wisdom, knowledge and joy. Those who do not please God (the wicked) lose everything (see Ecclesiastes 2). To treat good things in a good way we must receive the good things by faith and enjoy them to the utmost as pointers to the new Narnia.

Someone once said, Live for this life and you will lose both this life and the next. Live for the next life and you will get this life thrown in (paraphrase from memory).

I would add that when we live for the one above the sun then we get to enjoy life beneath the sun.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Looking through the Windows of Narnia



Alister McGrath in C.S. Lewis: A Life discusses how to read the Narnia novels. He encourages us to see the Narnia novels as rooms in a house. Once inside we wander around the house, taking everything in. But we realize that the 'rooms in this house have windows.'  And when we look through them, we see things in a new way. We can see farther than before, as the landscape opens up in front of us. And what we come to see is not an accumulation of individual facts, but the bigger picture which underlines them. When seen this way, our imaginative experience of Narnia enlarges our sense of reality. Living in our own world feels different afterwards (285).

Reading Ecclesiastes has a similar impact. At first glance it would be easy to imagine that Ecclesiastes reflects the bitterness of an old man who has come to think that there is no ultimate meaning in life. It might be imagined that the old man (Solomon) sees life as an empty existence and one that has been essentially wasted by him. After all even the best things that we acquire, see, do, feel and know here are fleeting. They are a puff of smoke rising from a deep pit. The sun rises, the sun sets. People are born and they die. One man makes money and the lazy man spends it. Seasons of peace are interrupted by war.

And yet, strangely it seems at first glance, after all of the old man's supposed grumpiness has been aired, he commends pleasure, joy, eating, drinking and enjoying marriage.

The things that we see and are able to enjoy are seen because a light shines on them. They are not the light but they tell us that the light is real.

Jonathan Edwards said, God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

Herein is the key to Narnia and Ecclesiastes. The scattered beams of family, friends and food point to the fountain. The stream of pleasure that tickles our toes, if followed, will lead to a vast and infinite ocean.

C.S. Lewis wrote, I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sowing Seeds of Peace



For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:16-17).

By nature we are jealous and self-centered. This is the explanation for our disordered world that is filled with every vile practice.

When people are self-focused, obstacles to their personal happiness must be removed. Once the mirror reveals that there is someone more beautiful--then apples must be injected with poison. The poision may be of the sort that takes the breath, causes a deep sleep or breaks the heart.

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition produce a harvest of unrighteousness. Such earthly wisdom is unspiritual and demonic.

Note the contrast.  But the wisdom from above...  Heavenly wisdom is to be pursued at all costs. Sell the house and empty the savings account to get such lofty wisdom (see Proverbs). Heavenly wisdom is characterized by purity--purity of heart, lips and life. From that purity comes peace, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy and good fruits. Heavenly wisdom is characterized as impartial and sincere.

Earthly wisdom is the opposite. It comes from a self-centered and jealous heart. Therefore it wars, is hard, unreasonable, unmerciful and produces bad fruit. It is partial and insincere. Nothing good comes from the self-centered heart.

There is coming a harvest.

Earthly wisdom produces a harvest of disorder and wickedness.

Heavenly wisdom produces a harvest of righteousness that is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Peace comes only by being reconciled to God by faith in Christ. Knowing the Prince of Peace opens the door to a lifetime of peace.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Writing is Fastening Nails Given by the Shepherd



Alister McGrath, in a chapter from his book C.S. Lewis: A Life writes about Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis's growing realisation that children's stories offered him a marvellous way of exploring philosophical and theological questions--such as the origins of evil, the nature of faith, and the human desire for God.  A good story could weave these themes together, using the imagination as the gateway to serious thinking.

The origins of the Narnia stories lay, Lewis tells us, in his imagination. It all began with an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood. Lewis's celebrated description of the creative process depicts it as unfolding from mental images, which were then consciously connected to form a consistent plot...

Yet Lewis did not really see himself as 'creating' Narnia.  As he once commented, 'creation' is 'an entirely misleading term.'  Lewis preferred to think of human thought as 'God-kindled,' and the writing process as the rearrangement of elements that God has provided. The writer takes 'things that lie to hand,' and puts them to new use.  Like someone who plants a garden, the author is only one aspect of a 'casual stream.' ...Lewis drew extensively on 'elements' he found in literature. His skill lay not in inventing these elements, but in the manner he wove them together to create the literary landmark that we know as the Chronicles of Narnia (p.264).

As a writer, it is my desire to see the writing process as the rearrangement of elements that God has provided. The writer is not the creator but more of an artist, that takes the colors God has already provided, and firmly fixes the collected sayings; that are given by one Shepherd (paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12:11).


Monday, May 6, 2013

It is Just a Puff of Smoke


It is all just a puff of smoke, isn't it?  But it is a deceptive puff, no doubt. Try to grab the smoke and contain it somehow and it always eludes you. Always. Nothing lasts. Whatever possessions, accomplishments or even people we keep near to us always escapes. They leave. And yet we idolize the puff and imagine that somehow it will be like magic smoke that brings fulfillment to us. It doesn't.  It can't. It was never supposed to.

But what about pleasure, laughter, friends and women? Certainly they can sustain us. Happiness, companionship and erotic pleasure will surely be enough.  Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, writes of having everything his heart could desire. He had money, fame, power, comedy, vineyards and wine.  He had houses, gardens, pools and lots of beautiful women. His late-in-life estimation of all of that was, it is madness, useless, vanity. It is fleeting, deceptive and empty. It cannot bring joy. 

I spoke at a graduation service last evening. My message was from Ecclesiastes. Even while I spoke it was almost as if I could hear a whisper in the background saying, vanity, vanity--all is vanity.  Everyone and everything that you see is just a puff of smoke--temporary, transitory, deceptive and yet demanding of worship. It was haunting.

Thankfully Ecclesiastes helps us to focus the mind. Solomon tells us that there is a way to enjoy life. We learn how to enjoy food, drink, relationships, gardens, pools, vineyards, money and pleasure. In fact Solomon commands and commends joy. He launches his big guns at a life of seeking pleasure apart from God. But for one who knows God and pleases God--grab the joy he says. Don't miss the dance even as trouble lurks. When sudden disaster threatens with loud booms of thunder--keep singing.  And even as the eyes dim, the ears can no longer hear, the limbs are bent and brittle--even then there are delightful words of truth to be grasped and seized. Seize the joy. But do so in the context of knowing, loving, fearing and obeying God.
Read Ecclesiastes


Friday, May 3, 2013

The Empty Pursuit and the Joyful Life



The floodgates are open. The water is pouring in. Confusion and despair abound. Some Christians seem to be throwing their hands up in despair. Each day seems to bring new accounts of a society gone mad. We read of the abortion "doctor" whose philosophy boils down to the chilling statement, "If an abortion is purchased a dead baby should be delivered." We have read recently of so called botched abortions where the baby is born alive and viable and yet brutally killed and his parts discarded (or stored).

Who would have imagined the rapid erosion in our culture of traditional/biblical marriage? Folks who "come out of the closet" are counted as heroes and receive a phone call from the President. People who have been married to the same partner for fifty years are seen as out-of touch-dinosaurs.

With debt and unemployment spiraling out of control and leaders calling "good evil and evil good" it is easy to despair of life.

And yet the Bible tells us of the emptiness of pursuing things under the sun. They are all fleeting, transitory and temporary. Like a gust of wind they arrive with promise only to be gone in a moment.

And yet, like Solomon once did, we try to find our meaning by pursuing pleasure, laughter, wine and building projects including gardens and parks, homes and pools. We look for meaning in vacations, possessions, money, music and women. We vainly imagine that if we could have our way with as many beautiful women (or men) as we wanted that life would really be exciting. Solomon thought the same thing (Ecclesiastes 2:1-8). He withheld no pleasure from himself.  He sought a life of pleasure, enjoyed plenty of money to fund his pleasures, built beautiful places and had his pick of beautiful women.

He came to the point where he hated life and work and fell into deep despair (2:17-23). His nights were sleepless. His calculations about the joyful life were all wrong.

But even before his repentance was complete he had an awakening. There is nothing better for a person that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment (24-25).

Where have we (our nation) turned to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence?  We have looked to pleasure and have gone after it with a gusto. We have tried to dry our tears and cheer our hearts with alcohol. We build houses that rival the ones on television. Those houses sit on property surrounded by gardens and parks. We have taken our fill of sex both real and virtual. We have looked for meaning at the local bar, by downloading our I-Pods with thousands of songs and through giving ourselves to sports. We have traveled the world, bought nice things, kept nothing from our children and worked 80 hour weeks. Some have awakened to wonder, "Is this all there is?" They have come to Solomon's state--confused, empty and hating life.  Some commit suicide. There must be more.

There is!  But the more is not in more trips, more money, more sex, more music, more stuff--the more is in the capacity to enjoy all that God has granted to us.

God is the creator of all things.  God has created all things for his glory. God has created all things for the enjoyment of his people.  If ...apart from him... no one can eat or have enjoyment.  Then through him there is a way to eat, drink, dance, work, take vacations, build homes and do any biblical and lawful thing--to the glory of God and with full enjoyment.

How?

1.  Any created thing cannot be properly enjoyed if it holds our heart.  Here is the wonderful truth. Only when God is worshipped as he ought to be can we love and enjoy as we should. But when that formula is reversed then everything leads to emptiness.

2.  All created things can be fully enjoyed when our hearts belong to God. We must see gifts as from the hand of God (2:24). We must worship and serve the giver and not the gifts. Therefore we seek to honor God in our eating, drinking, building and in physical intimacy with one person that we are in covenant relationship with.

3.  Have an honest assessment of life.  Life is not all about birth, planting, building, laughing, dancing and world-peace Life also involves death, weeping, mourning and war. And when we build, laugh, dance and have times of great peace--those things are not ends in themselves (3:1ff).

4.  Live life to the fullest but not as if now constitutes your best life. God has made ...everything beautiful in its time (3:11). He has put eternity in man's heart...(11).  Solomon perceives, ...that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God's gift to man (12-13). The worldly hedonist pursues joy, eating, drinking and pleasure as an end. The joyful Christian receives gifts as from God and enjoys those gifts as an act of worship to God.

5.  Recognize the opportunities and limitations of good gifts.  Solomon, near the end of his life, looks back and sees the vanity of his earlier pursuits. Now that he has been awakened to the goodness of a gift-giving God he says, Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun...(9).  Take advantage of opportunities, enjoy good gifts but remember you are going to die (10). Remember not only your birthday--but remember that you are fast approaching the day of death.

6.  Have a sober perspective on life. Solomon tells the young man to rejoice and be cheered but to remember that he one day has to face God (11:9). He then helps the young man to keep perspective.  Even though he is young he is aging and the aging process will be difficult (12:1-8). Enjoy your life but remember that you are getting older and difficulty is just around the corner. Remember that you are going to die. Remember that you have to give an account to God for the way you have lived your life.

If you are a Christian you can serve with joy only because you know that ...God has already approved what you do (9:7). But having the approval of God in our justification is designed to motivate us in our sanctification. We are called to live wise and godly lives--with an eye towards growing older, dying and facing God.

Solomon's summary statement is simply, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

So what do we do as we live in a culture that seems hell-bent on destroying itself in the pursuit of pleasure, comfort and the avoidance of anything uncomfortable? We apply the six principles above and we live with joy, purpose and as bright lights in a dark world. We work prayerful that God will bring revival and awakening to our land. That many will wake up and see the vanity of it all and find their hope in Christ.