Sunday Morning Coffee: Moving

I had some memories stirred up yesterday. We stopped in on someone who is in the middle of a move, and suddenly all the years of moving were running like a movie in my head.

We’ve been in our present house for 25 years. That’s an incredible record. In our first 25 years of marriage, we moved nine times. Growing up, I’ve lost count of how often we moved. It was amazing that I got to do my three years of high school in one house, one school. Heavenly.

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I did become quite an expert at packing up a household, though. I’m organized by nature, and watching my mom handle all those moves taught me a lot about how to do it efficiently. It’s also a very good time to throw out things you found at the back of your closet and had forgotten you had ūüôā

It’s also a time for reminiscing. Each apartment or house you live in becomes a part of your history. The place you lost your first tooth; where you first became determined to learn to play the piano; where your love of music began. The place where you learned to read, to roller skate, to swim, to play tetherball. The house you lived in when your first boyfriend called you after school because he was too shy to talk to you face to face ūüôā

So many things that became an ongoing part of your life are connected with each place in which you live. So yes, the memories are still running like a movie in my head.

Also, I’ve been thinking about that final move we all make–the move into eternity. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was just a little girl. I know I’m on my way to heaven, not because I am good, but because He is good.

I won’t be packing up anything to take with me. All my treasures, like my dolls and my teapots, will be outclassed completely by what awaits in heaven. There’s nothing I’ve needed down here that I will still need up there.

What I will take with me is an excited heart to see Jesus. And I will take an intense curiosity about what heaven holds, and there will be an eternity to discover all that awaits us there.

Do you know Him? If you’re not sure, please leave a comment and I will be glad to correspond with you about how you can know the Savior.

We Can’t Correct God

Eccl. 7:13-14

Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked?

 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

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This is some of the wisest counsel in Ecclesiastes. Most of us take a lifetime to learn it, because we often seem to think we can just do it ourselves, and we don’t need any help. Well, maybe that’s not the way your mind works, but mine does. There’s a reason I was born on July 4, I guess. Independence has always been both a strength and a weakness of mine. I think Solomon could have easily spoken these words directly to me.

To paraphrase: We need to understand the place of man in contrast to the place of God. If we fight against Him, we’re going to lose. Accepting His sovereignty brings us to a peaceful acceptance with life¬†under the sun. This is not to say we should be fatalistic about life, sighing and shrugging at the hard things that come our way. God has provided us with many resources for dealing with trouble, especially with the practical counsel from His Word. It is true that He is sovereign; His sovereignty, however, does not absolve us of responsibility to deal with the hard things in life.

Solomon’s counsel on how to put the good and the bad of life into perspective: ‚ÄúAccept the good and the not-so-good in life, and do the best you can.” As Solomon seems to be turning again to a sense of hopelessness, we have to remember his perspective: “Under the sun ,” or from man’s perspective. With the excellent advice he has given us here, he still maintains his rather negative outlook, a hopeless sense of vanity, or emptiness. Isn’t it interesting that we can know something is true, and yet continue to behave in a way that would make it seem as if we DON’T know what is true? When that happens, it is usually because we allow our feelings, our emotions, to get in the way of our common sense.

This is what happened to Solomon. His sadness overwhelmed his own good counsel, and he felt that everything was rigged; a man can’t know what is going to happen, nor can he figure out what will come later.

Money and Wisdom

Eccl. 7:11-12

Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.

 For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

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According to Matthew Henry, one of my favorite commentators, money (an inheritance) is good for little without wisdom. I’m thinking of someone who has gained, perhaps, a small inheritance. Used wisely and invested well, that money can become a fortune. But, spent in haste on unnecessary things, it is soon gone and there is little to show for it. Where there is no wisdom, the money is actually not a blessing, but a stumbling block.

Or think of the commonly heard story of someone who has won a huge amount of money in the lottery; or perhaps someone who makes a million dollars or more in only one season as an athlete. Without wisdom, bankruptcy is sure to happen, as history shows us. It might be interesting to do some research on lottery winners who are bankrupt or even who have committed suicide; same with athletes who had no sense in their sudden wealth and fame and whose lifestyle has ruined their careers.

I have a lot of respect, by the way, for athletes who, suddenly wealthy, have shared that wealth in ways that have improved the lives of others. Money plus wisdom.

Wisdom can be like a strong rock of defense; it can shelter and protect. Money can also be used as a defense against many of the ills of this world “under the sun” (from man’s perspective). When you put them together wisely, you have a very good thing. Wisdom, however, is the better thing, because without wisdom, money can be a burden rather than a blessing.

Anger and Complaining

Eccl. 7 :9-10

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

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We are not to allow ourselves to be quick to anger. People whose only instant response to a given situation is anger, according to God, are fools.

Temper is a terrible master. When an angry temper controls one’s spirit, there is no room for contemplation; no room for kindness, no room for a soft answer. An angry person is controlled by that swift, explosive response that showers shards of hurtful words, and sometimes physical violence.

We’re seeing a lot of anger in our country right now. Some people are stirring up others with angry words and actions, hoping to force others either to change their minds, or to just be quiet and move out of the way for a style of government that has failed over and over again and undermines the spirit of freedom that is uniquely ours.

No good will come of such angry behavior. Debate based on reason and history is a thing of the past. It is very sad for me to see so much anger and hatred in my country.

The only antidote I know of for anger is forgiveness. And that’s a whole different conversation. You can go here to read what I’ve written about forgiveness over the years. Scroll all the way to the bottom and read up.

Verse 10 warns us against the folly of wishing we were back in “the good old days.” Granted, we can have memories of times that were gentler and carried less fear. However, Solomon says it is not wise to dwell on these things.

The truth is, the heart of man does not change from one age to another. Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are deceitful and wicked beyond any hope of change, and that we can’t even begin to know our own propensity for wickedness.

It is also true that God does not change. He is from age to age the same (Psalm 90:2). If He is always the same, then the trouble must lie with us. Perhaps a different age seems like it was better because we simply are not seeing the blessings we enjoy every day that we live.

We can talk ourselves into a terrible frame of mind wondering why things can’t be like they used to be. It’s a waste of time and energy, and those who live in the past in their thinking are simply not wise.

More Common Sense

Eccl. 7:7-8.

Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

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The first part of v. 7 seems simple–even a wise man is maddened by oppression. In his discussion of the benefits of adversity, Solomon realizes that there is a limit to how much even a wise man can endure. Suffering takes its toll on the body and the spirit, and can even lead to insanity.

Another translation of the second part of v. 7 reads, “A bribe debases the heart.” To accept a bribe or to offer a bribe, either way the heart is hardened and destroyed.

I’m going to take this principle down to something I see often, and that always gives me pause. Parenting should not ever involve bribing our children to do what is right. Giving them candy or some other treat if they do as they are told teaches them that they can use disobedience to gain a reward. Does that seem backward to you? Well, consider this: A child is told to make his bed. He pitches a fit, refuses, and leaves his parents feeling helpless. So they say, “Okay, if you make your bed we’ll give you money to buy some candy .” The child then makes his bed, and demands his money. Who won this little skirmish? Well, the bed is made; but the parents were manipulated by the child, rewarding him for simply doing what he was supposed to do anyway. In fact, the child is robbed of the satisfaction of doing the right thing simply because it is right to do right.

In verse eight, we read that the ending of a thing is better than the beginning. As applied to human life, it would seem to say, then, that something we accept with joy, the birth of a baby, is actually not as good as death, which we mourn. As I was reading over some commentaries on this passage, I read one author who said that birth is the beginning of death, and that death is the completion of life. Of course we know this is true; the moment we are born–or even the moment of our conception–is the beginning of our walk through life until the day of death. For a believer, that is an event for which we yearn–to be with Jesus Christ for all eternity.

However, when that process is cut short, we grieve terribly over the one who, it would seem, has died much too soon. Jesus knew that grief, for instance, over the death of His friend Lazarus, whose life He restored.

What we need to understand is that our grief is not for the loved one who is now in heaven; rather, it is grief over our own loss of that person in our own life’s journey. And it’s okay to grieve. We are never told in God’s Word that grieving is sinful.

Finally, verse eight makes a comment on patience. Those who are patient in spirit–that is, not quick to unleash anger, harsh words, criticism– are better than those who are proud in spirit. They are quick to find offense; quick to fight back, to answer without thinking, angry at a moment’s notice. Solomon has a little more to say about those who are proud in spirit in the passage for tomorrow.

Sunday Morning Coffee: God’s Beautiful World.

I love flowers. Always have. I’m not much good with them. Definitely no green thumbs for me. I am, however, amazed at people who can grow them with what seems like very little effort.

I loved the Oxford Botanical Gardens In England. My son Daniel Kreger (DJ Kreger Arts) sent me some shots he took there yesterday. Amazing that the roses are still in bloom!

Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor
Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor
Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor
Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor
Image may contain: flower and plant

There had just been a light rain, leaving picturesque drops on the flowers. These pictures took me right back to the gardens I loved, where each flower is a testament to the creative mind of the God I love.

He didn’t have to provide us with such beauty. He could have chosen to be practical only, giving us the plants we would need for sustenance without adding the beauty of the zillions of varieties of flowers that are a visual feast. And an aromatic one, too.

Two verses have been in my mind since these photos came last night:

I Timothy 6:17. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”

Eccl. 3:11. “He hath made every thing beautiful in His time: also He hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

And this wonderful old hymn:

The Song of Fools

Eccl. 7:5-6.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity

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I wanted a good explanation for the song of fools, and I found this one on The Bible “the song of fools; the vain and impure songs that foolish men sing in the house of mirth.” Any time I hear this phrase, “the song of fools,” I think of Frank Sinatra singing “I did it MY WAY!”

And what is a house of mirth? Several ideas exist about that. Some consider it simply a dwelling place of foolish people who lack in common sense. Others believe it would be equivalent in our day to a bar or a nightclub in which inappropriate entertainment is available. In any case, it is not a good place for a believer who wants to live biblically

No one enjoys rebuke. Having one’s faults pointed out can be painful and humiliating. But it is much better for us to be reproved by a wise and godly friend than to hear the song of fools.

The laughter of fools in v. 7 is compared to thorns burning under a pot. The thorns make a lot of noise, but they don’t contribute much heat. If you want a pot to boil, you need the steady heat of good firewood, not the useless snapping and popping of thorns.

Again, don’t be confused about this. God does not condemn joy and laughter. But there is laughter that is vain, foolish, and short-lived. The joy of a believer, the laughter that can come with good fellowship, these are gifts of God.

Contrasting Joy and Sorrow

Eccl. 7:3-4.

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

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Continuing with the theme of v. 2 in this chapter, Solomon repeats the contrast between sorrow and mirth.

I think it’s important to understand that God is not saying the mirth, laughter, fun, and joy are bad things. He does say, in Proverbs 17:22, that a merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.

Instead of condemning or forbidding laughter, God is pointing out that experiencing grief and loss can build character. It can help us become stronger, more compassionate, able to face the problems of life with more fortitude.

The best thing we can learn from sorrow and grief, when we know the Lord and are walking with Him, is that He keeps His promise to be with us always; He will never leave us or forsake us.

We do ourselves and our children harm when we protect ourselves and our children from ever having to experience grief and loss. These things are all a normal part of life.

Practical Observations

Eccl. 7:1-2.

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

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Solomon has spent six chapters on the vanity (emptiness) of life. Now, he starts giving us some good ways to prevent that emptiness, and perhaps to amend some behaviors that have caused harm to ourselves and others.

The first, in verse one, is the importance of a good name; in verse two, he speaks of taking life seriously.

Somewhere back in the foggy distant past, I remember reading about someone who said his father always said, “Remember your last name!” every time he left the house as a young man to go out with friends. I like that. The point, of course, was that he not bring shame to his father’s name, or to the family as a whole, with unwise behavior.

It’s very easy to apply that principle to our identification as Christians. Christ-followers. Remember what your name is when you’re impatient with others, for instance, on the road. Or at the Walmart, where it seems to me that most children are in charge of their parents. Our testimony as believers is more important than the passing irritations of life.

Verse two had me puzzled when I was much younger. I couldn’t understand how a house of mourning would be better than a house of feasting. Well, I’m at an age now in which it is becoming more and more obvious that all life here on earth ends in death. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Birth is wonderful! There’s nothing like a new baby in the family to bring joy and pleasure, and God is not saying that we shouldn’t rejoice over such things.
  2. Watching that new life grow and mature into a good and godly adult is also a joy, and there will be some feasting along the way; family gatherings, social times with dear friends–all are a normal and acceptable part of life, when that life is directed by the principles in the word of God.

Then I attended the first funeral I can remember. I was about 14. A close friend of my mother had battled leukemia, and back in that day it was usually a losing battle. She died, leaving four little girls and her husband.

I’d never been to a funeral, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. But here are some things I learned:

  1. It is good to weep with those who weep. When we share in someone else’s grief, we ease the burden, even if just for a moment.
  2. It is good to remember the one who has died, and to recount the goodness of her life and of the testimony she carried through her family and her illness. Sharing stories of the loved one who has gone on to heaven helps release some of the grief.
  3. It is good to reflect on the brevity of life, and on the purpose and goals of our lives. Not every day is going to be a party day. We need to learn to accept the grief as well as the joy.

I remember that funeral now, nearly 60 years later, as a time of rejoicing and laughter mixed with the tears as we celebrated and remembered the life of that good and godly woman.

I don’t dread funerals and memorial services any more. There is sorrow and grief, but there is also comfort and joy in knowing that the loved one is now with the Lord. When we know the Lord, we do not grieve “as those who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13-18).

The simple truth is that all of us will die. For a believer, physical death brings eternal joy in heaven, where Jesus is the center of everything.

Solomon’s Conclusions So Far

Eccl. 6: 10-12.

That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with Him that is mightier than he.

 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?

¶For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

God has always known each individual that ever lived; He knew us long before we were born. It is foolish for us to argue with God about the path or direction our lives will take. We may choose a path different than what God has ordained, but if we do, we will not live the fullness of the life He has prepared for each of us.

Verses 11 and 12 show us Solomon’s conclusions at this point in his ponderings.

  1. He is convinced that the life of main is vain (empty, of no value).
  2. Man is no nearer true happiness in his wealth, earthly gain and fame, than he was before he attained all that he has.
  3. We fail to know what to seek, what to ask for, because sometimes all that we gain proves to be “vanity and vexation of spirit,” as Solomon says so often. It is an indication of the corruption of our hearts that we tend to seek that which is harmful to us, but looks so good–until we have it.

I’m thinking of Lenin, the Russian leader and dictator until 1924. He was just a small man, only 5’5,” yet his influence is still felt in Russian thinking today. One of his most famous quotes: “The goal of socialism is communism.” Another: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

When he died, his body was preserved and kept on display to the public. People filed past his resting place, stopping to honor this man who was really not much more than a glorified murderer. His body has been preserved for nearly 150 years, and still looks the same as it did after it was embalmed. It has required a lot of money to keep this body from rotting away. Ultimately, though, it is just a dead body. Powerless, lifeless, it is doing him no good at all. He was guilty of the massacre of thousands who disagreed with his political philosophies, and there is no doubt in my mind that his soul has spent those nearly 150 years, and will spend all eternity, in hell. His fame and power aren’t doing him a bit of good. Vanity and vexation of spirit.