Sunday, February 8, 2009
What is a desert? There is no set definition of a desert. A desert is defined as a very dry place, possibly only in the mind of the one experiencing it. What may be a desert to you, might be a place of sufficient moisture to another. I have been in a very dry place for about a month now. I have had to search for moisture. Every desert contains water, but it must be sought after. Water is precious in the desert. It cannot be taken for granted. When you are in a dry place, moisture must be a focus and a priority. . .
I recently read of men of a desert land, who many years ago were taken to the alpine mountains of Europe for a visit. I paraphrase. . .This is my memory. . .They had no knowledge of and had never been outside of their desert land. They were amazed by snowflakes falling from the sky and mystified by white magical rivers of solid water slowly creeping down the rocky mountainsides, but they were truly paralyzed with wondrous worship at the sight of a waterfall and in fact they refused to leave the sight of it. When their hosts finally insisted that they go, the desert men explained that if God were to so honor them by pouring out such an abundance of water for their viewing, that it was the least that they could to do to wait until His display was over. They could not imagine an endless waterfall. . .Water was so very precious to them. They could not conceive such an abundance of it. Water is available in a desert, but it is to be sought after and treasured.
I love to write, but every time I finish writing something, it is a mystery to me. . .I never know if I will ever write again. I know not from where it comes, nor to where it goes. In this last month, I have started writing half a dozen or more times. . .If I try to write without the inspiration of the Spirit, it is dead and dry and forced. . .That is the way it has been for me since the first of the year. I always pray for God to give me something beautiful to write about, something that will magnify Him, and hopefully something that will draw men to Him. . . and up until this point He has always answered me, but life is about change. My relationship with God has changed and continues to change. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but the way that He interacts with me is not unchanging. He leads me ever deeper. He leads me into more challenging terrain. He leads me places where I must work to keep up with Him. . .where I must work sometimes to find Him at all. He is my Shepherd. As a good shepherd, he leads me to places where I will grow. . .
A couple of things have happened in the last six weeks or so. A friend of mine died a little before Christmas. I arrived at the funeral home very early. The doors were not even unlocked yet. It was a wonderful thing. It was very much a God thing. It was not at all planned by me, but by arriving so early, I was able to speak privately to a family member in a few quiet moments before anyone else arrived. It was very powerful, but I was still very very early. I had brought my Bible and I began to read Ecclesiastes. It seems like about half the funerals I go to have readings from Ecclesiastes and I was able to read almost the entire book before the funeral began. I understand why the passages from Ecclesiastes are chosen to read from for funerals (and in fact this preacher for my friends funeral also read from Ecclesiastes) , but that book to me has such a depressing view of life. It's a valuable lesson, but I've never heard the lesson of the book itself preached at a funeral. Just little snippets are used, little extracts that to me miss much of the point of the book.
The book was written by Solomon, one of the greatest kings the earth has ever seen. His accomplishments, his wisdom and his riches are still renown, but he calls it all vanity. Over and over some 37 times in only 12 chapters. He begins:
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Five times in one sentence he uses this word vanity. The word vanity means ' a breath', a wisp, a puff of air. Everything of Solomon's life is of no more importance than a transient wafting of insignificant air. At one point in the beginning of the book Solomon writes:
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That phrase 'vexation of spirit' is maybe more literally and vividly rendered as feeding on the wind. There is no nutrition or satisfaction in eating a meal of air. Again according to Solomon all of life is the mere chasing of the wind. Solomon's accomplishments are huge. His temple, his kingdom, his riches, his wisdom combined together make any normal man's accomplishments seem puny and worthless by comparison and yet Solomon decries everything he has done as chasing the wind. . .
The second thing that has occurred over the last six weeks is that I have completed my training to be a Hospice volunteer and I have begun working shifts in the local Hospice house. I just do little odds and ends jobs, emptying wastebaskets, making warm milk or cream of wheat cereal, getting ice water or coffee for clients or staff, helping the RN or Nurses Aide running errands as they might require. . . doing ministry on a most basic level. I find it hugely rewarding. I just love it, but you immediately are struck with how life comes down to a very small world. For most the world ends up being no larger than their bed. We begin our journey of life in a womb that grows and stretches to fit our needs so very closely. At the end of our journey on this earth, the world likewise in reverse manner shrinks to a very snug and similarly small cocoon only sufficient for our immediate needs.
Solomon was right. Nothing much in his life amounted to anything. Everything of the wonders that he accomplished was eaten by moths and destroyed by rust. Virtually nothing he did was of any permanence. He freely admits that whatever be built would be left to someone who may well be a fool:
Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
Solomon recognized that there is no telling what will happen to everything he has accomplished in the next generation. Nothing is of any lasting importance. . .The Hebrew people were very centered upon themselves. Theirs was a religion of isolation and protection. A religion of trying to survive in the midst of hostile neighbors. Probably the greatest Hebrew evangelist (maybe the only one) was Jonah. God told him to go and preach to Nineveh. Do you remember? Jonah refused and a fish ate him. He ran and disobeyed God rather than to preach to the gentiles. God put Jonah into a position where he had to obey. So Jonah preached to them and then sat outside the city and waited for God to destroy them and was disappointed when God didn't. The Hebrew religion was not/is not a religion of outreach and evangelism.
In my Bible reading, I'm in the midst of reading the Psalms and it just strikes me as how self-centered and selfish the Psalms are in comparison to the writings of the New Testament. There are exceptions, but almost every Psalm has to do with difficulties or circumstances of the writer. If there is much concern for other people, it is for God to exact judgment upon those who torment the writer with their sinfulness and unrighteousness. Contrast that with the epistles of Paul who, at the peril and abuse of his own life, actively tries to lead sinful people into the kingdom of God.
There is no lasting satisfaction with self-centeredness and pride and ego. . .In the final chapter, all of our worldly accomplishments are shown to be worthless. . .Working at the Hospice, I have a clear vision of the end of my life. It is not at all hard to see a chart with my name on it, a shadowy view of my wife quietly reading next to my bed. I see with crystalline clarity those things which will bring me satisfaction, those mental images and memories, which will sustain me and be more than meals of wind. . .I greatly desire not to be consumed with the regrets of a life lived in vanity when my world is reduced to the size of a hospital bed. . .of all the things I might write, I fervently hope not to be the author of Ecclesiastes.
I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .
Posted by David Stokely at 10:33 PM