Monday, July 29, 2013

Endings Are Better Than Beginnings

In cleaning out my Dad's desk yesterday, I came across all sorts of papers and books and his writings. It's been almost fourteen months since My Dad died, but almost twenty months since he last sat at that desk. I found his last devotional reading from his Daily Bread on Saturday December 16, 2011 - it was tucked into one of his many worn and well read Bible, at Isaiah 53. 

As a preacher, going through another preacher's files, it forced on me a harsh question: in the end is it all meaningless? All those meetings, all those prayers, all those expectations, all those words: in the end what do they add up to? Only God knows and justly judges a persons work and worth. Somehow what my Dad did matters, for I and my family and many others have have been blessed by him. But on the other hand, the finality of my Dad's death impresses me to consider what my daughter and sons will remember about me when they go through this preachers old desk.

It is this thought that has settled on my heart and shapes my reading of Ecclesiastes this morning. What makes life meaningful? It's an old question that preachers and everyone else have been wrestling with through the ages. Going through Dad's stuff made me both melancholy and grateful. It also made me want to meditate on the writings of another preacher, found in the book of Ecclesiastes. I've provided some quotes from chapter seven that were helpful to me as I contemplated on my Dad's untimely death and my fleeting life. 

A good reputation is better than a fat bank account. 

Your death date tells more than your birth date.
You learn more at a funeral than at a feast— 
After all, that's where we'll end up. 
We might discover something from it. 

Crying is better than laughing. 
It blotches the face but it scours the heart. 

Sages invest themselves in hurt and grieving. 
Fools waste their lives in fun and games. 

Endings are better than beginnings. 
Sticking to it is better than standing out. 

Don't be quick to fly off the handle. 
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head. 

Don't always be asking, "Where are the good old days?" 
Wise folks don't ask questions like that. 

Wisdom is better when it's paired with money, 
Especially if you get both while you're still living. 
Double protection: wisdom and wealth! 
Plus this bonus: Wisdom energizes its owner.
On a good day, enjoy yourself; 
On a bad day, examine your conscience. 
God arranges for both kinds of days 
So that we won't take anything for granted.

I've seen it all in my brief and pointless life—
here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, 
there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. 

So don't knock yourself out being good, 
and don't go overboard being wise. 
Believe me, you won't get anything out of it. 
But don't press your luck by being bad, either. 

And don't be reckless. 
Why die needlessly? 

It's best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. 
A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it. 

Wisdom puts more strength in one wise person 
Than ten strong men give to a city. 

There's not one totally good person on earth, 
Not one who is truly pure and sinless. 

I tested everything in my search for wisdom. 
I set out to be wise, but it was beyond me, 
far beyond me, and deep—oh so deep! 
Does anyone ever find it? 
I concentrated with all my might, 
studying and exploring and seeking wisdom—
the meaning of life
I also wanted to identify evil and stupidity, 
foolishness and craziness. 

But the wisdom I've looked for I haven't found. 
I didn't find one man or woman in a thousand worth my while. 
Yet I did spot one ray of light in this murk: 
God made men and women true and upright; 
we're the ones who've made a mess of things. 

(Excerpts from Ecclesiastes 7, the Message translation)

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