Pastor's Column


"After sampling or indulging in everything under the sun, Solomon reaches his grand conclusion: Enjoy today what you have right now because it comes from God, for it may not be here tomorrow. Don’t worry about the future or dwell in the past. Be generous, yet don’t feel guilty for your abundance. Take time to enjoy your family, your freedom, your health, your home, and good food."

 

~ Pastor Ryan

 
 

The View from the Pulpit . . .

 

"I know that there is nothing better for [humans] than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; furthermore, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (New Year’s Day Lectionary Reading)

 

God wants us to be happy. This isn’t something we hear very often as German Reformed Christians. We usually discuss how God is disappointed with our sinfulness and that Christ has come to reconcile us. We emphasize the good acts we are called to carry out on behalf of the poor, and we suffer with the plight of those who are oppressed and marginalized. We rightly look with suspicion on preachers of prosperity and their snake-oil promises of uninterrupted health, wealth, and worldly success – all of which, they outrageously claim, are available to us if we just have enough faith and put enough money in the offering plate.

 

Each of the above aspects of our theology is true and appropriate. However, if taken apart from God’s overall design for humanity, they lack the fullness of what God intends for our lives. This incomplete picture can make us feel guilty for enjoying life. Worse, it can lead us to berate ourselves and society for failing to be perfect.

It’s almost as if we’ve come to believe that having fun is a sin. We are embarrassed to admit the gifts of God contribute to our happiness, as though radical self-denial and continual self-shaming give us standing before God. (Hint: They don’t!)

 

This is not how God desires for us to live. After all, Jesus declared, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). And the Apostle Paul told us, "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).

 

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes, which is attributed to King Solomon. While Scripture states that Solomon was the wisest person on Earth, he made many foolish mistakes. Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s self-appraisal of his errors and false-starts, recalling numerous rabbit trails that led nowhere. He also makes observations about others he’s seen in his life. The goal of the book is that we might heed his wisdom before wasting any more time on vain pursuits.

 

Predictably, Solomon discovered that money, power, sexual indulgence, substance use, and fame couldn’t bring lasting satisfaction. Perhaps more surprising were his observations that being too religious and overly educated were worthless pursuits, too: "Sorrow increases as knowledge increases" and "Being too righteous will destroy you." It’s not that education and religious devotion aren’t good – he repeatedly tells us that they are – it’s that being too dogmatic or bombarding ourselves with information will rob us of pleasure and joy. After all, we’ve all heard horror stories of religious leaders who were too strict, and watching an afternoon of cable news could drive almost anyone into despair.

 

After sampling or indulging in everything under the sun, Solomon reaches his grand conclusion: Enjoy today what you have right now because it comes from God, for it may not be here tomorrow. Don’t worry about the future or dwell in the past. Be generous, yet don’t feel guilty for your abundance. Take time to enjoy your family, your freedom, your health, your home, and good food. Live life to the fullest, and don’t complain if circumstances get rough. Instead, give thanks always to God – and trust the Lord to work through any matter. Stop fearing, start trusting, and accept God’s verdicts. Live light-hearted and happy, knowing that all you have and all you are comes from above. Work hard, but take time to relax and reflect. Live in the moment and cherish each day.

"Easier said than done, Pastor!" you might say. True. Our brains are filled with accusing messages that tell us there’s much to do and little time to do it. The outside world frantically demands our attention, and our bodies too often fail to cooperate with us. I en-courage you to take a few minutes to reflect on the good things in your life. Be diligent about giving these sources of hope and happiness attention, even for a few moments. Don’t give all of your worries and concerns your most valuable time – focus on them when you’ve first fed and watered what gives you joy. Nurture and appreciate the gifts of God. God wants you to be happy in 2019 and beyond. Receive these blessings, now.

 

My New Year challenge to you:

              

        Share the good news with a friend or neighbor.

       

        Consider inviting someone to worship with you.

 

In Christ, Pastor Ryan

 

 

 

 

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