A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.
I really appreciated Kent J. Dunnington’s book, Addiction and Virtue. Here are a few quotes that I found especially helpful:
“Because recovery as conceived by A.A. is a technology of habit reformation, it demands vigilant attention to both the external and internal dimensions of sober action” (79).
“Addiction is a complex habit” (88).
“The scope of recovery is therefore radically extended within a Christian view of addiction. Indeed ‘recovery’ does not sufficiently name the Christian hope in the face of addiction. Instead the Christian hopes for ‘discovery’ and ‘new creation’—not a return to some maintainable equilibrium between who we are and what we want but rather a transformation of the self that brings who we are and what we want… into perfect coordination and harmony” (183).
“In claiming the identity of ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic,’ we deny that addiction is a habit and assert instead that it is an entity” ( 184).
“Worship is… a totalizing activity; it demands that everything in a person’s life be put in the dock before God, interrogated by one standard and consequently renounced or reordered” (170).
“If the church is to provide a genuine alternative to addicted persons seeking recovery, it must provide daily, rather than once-weekly opportunities for communal worship, testimony and prayer, and it must challenge its parishioners to treat the church as their primary social community” (191).
“The wisdom of the twelve-step program lies in the recognition that the habit of addiction can only be supplanted through the development of another habit that is as pervasive and compelling as the habit of addiction” (165).
“The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it” (158-59).
“The pull of addiction is this pull toward ecstasy, the expression of a deep discontent with the life of ‘just so’ happiness, and the pursuit of an all-consuming love” (159).
“Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection” (159).
I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.
One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?
I appreciate this from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art:
“The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
3) Any diet or health regimen.
4) Any program of spiritual advancement.
5) Any activity who aim is tighter abdominals.
6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
7) Education of every kind.
8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
9) The Undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
11) The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”
Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking.
Proverbs 24:3 says, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.” Building a house takes wisdom. Building a house takes intentionality. Building a house takes partnership. How much more a Christ-exalting home?
How is a biblical—Christ-exalting—house constructed? A Christ-exalting home is certainly not the standard option. It’s not the default model. It is intentional and premeditated. The home on its own tends toward chaos, not Christ.
A family that functions biblically and intentionally does not happen haphazardly. Wisdom, intentionality, and partnership are needed. Where will parents receive the tools they need? Or can they just subcontract the work out and have someone else deal with the messy issues of building up a family?
My goal here is not to layout the “blue print” for exactly what the house should look like. That is not my job. My desire is to point you to the crucial need that we all have to build on the firm bedrock of Christ. I can’t build it for you. But I can and must tell you to center your family’s life on Christ!
These thoughts are taken from John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of A Leader.
“The world has never seen a great leader who lacked commitment” (18).
“Effective communicators focus on the people with whom they’re communicating… Who is my audience? What are their questions? What needs to be accomplished?” (26).
“If you follow your passion–instead of others’ perceptions–you can’t help becoming a more dedicated, productive person. And that increases your ability to impact others” (85).
“If you want to grow your organization, you have to remain teachable” (144).
Quoting Gilbert Amelio,
“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiam to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate other to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter” (23).
[[This is written to be especially applicable for high school graduates but the points apply to us all.]]
- Don’t forget about God and your personal convictions. You could gain the world, popularity and an inconceivably high GPA, but if you forfeit your soul it profits you nothing. In Jesus alone is there abundant life.
- Be in Christian community. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray. Sing songs of praise to God.
- Talk to your pastor or spiritual mentor. Let them know when you have questions or are struggling with something.
- Have a personal development plan and record your goals and how you’re going to get there. And then do those things.
- Exercise. Just do it.
- Work ahead when possible.
- Do fun stuff but don’t be stupid. Always consider the possible consequences of your actions.
- Have fun but make the most of your time. For instance, maybe turn off Candy Crush and don’t binge watch as much Sponge Bob, or whatever. Maybe even turn the Internet off every once and awhile. It’s won’t be gone forever, I promise.
- Have fun. Although it feels difficult these are probably the funniest and easiest years of your life.
- Build relationships. Build relationships with your peers but also with professors, advisors, and bosses. Network (but not just for the purpose of networking. Actually care about people). And meet new people, different people. Say hi to people that you normally wouldn’t say hi to.
- Explore your interests and abilities. As you consider the future, keep in open mind.
- Ask questions and ask for help (in all sorts of settings).
- Learn about finances. Make a budget. Learn about investing. Don’t take out a loan unless you really have to.
- Get there ten minutes early and leave ten minutes late. Talk to the professor or listen to the questions that other students have.
- Stop your horrible habits now, don’t wait.
- Write things down (your schedule, thoughts, wishes, dreams, and the occasional poem). Your brain dumps its memory like every night, your phone or notebook doesn’t.
- Ask questions. Interact with the content you’re being taught. Share your opinions (though, not in an obnoxious know-it-all way)
- Read the syllabus. Love the syllabus. Live and die by the syllabus.
- Call your parents.
- Prioritize! Don’t procrastinate! If you prioritize well you have more room to procrastinate.
- Love learning for the sake of learning, not just for the grade. A love for learning will serve you better than your GPA.
- Chose your friends wisely.
- Chose your “special someone” wisely.
- Enjoy the work you do even if you don’t enjoy it.
- Remember one side sounds right until you hear the other. This is a proverb that holds true in all areas
- “I read it on the internet” doesn’t equal truth (even if you see the same thing in a few places).
- Relativism is actually harmful. Unless there is objective truth, the exhortation for people to be kind (e.g. planet care, respecting others, and not harming others) is subjective and relative to the whim of individuals (and thus doesn’t really need to be heeded).
- Read books. Read blogs, read news articles, but let the biggest part of your diet be books, especially old books that have stood the test of time.
- Do your work. Your professor should know what they’re doing. So, do the work that they assign.
- Keep your own list. Remember what you have learned and pass it on.