Time stewardship v. time management

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Day 4 – Time stewardship v. time management

 
Sometimes life can seem completely and utterly chaotic. We have ventured into my problem with time before in this Bible study.The more I attempt to be on time or really to control time, to manage time, the more I am likely to show up late, spiral into the abyss of anxiety, and trample over someone I didn’t intend to hurt. I’m not suggesting that organization is a negative thing. I am suggesting that the more we try to control, the more God will begin to show us that we are very much not in control.
 
Dave and I came up with a new concept for our lives that we titled “time stewardship.” Maybe because living in the realm of time management never quite fit for us. It sounds so small, but for us, recognizing that time belonged to the Lord and not to us, helped us to put our priorities in the right place, and also to slow down and enjoy the journey. It lifted the burden of guilt when we chose to sit instead of work, when we said no to something that took time away from the family, or when we had a busy season when things started spinning rapidly and we had to pick priorities tighter than normal.
 
Time is a funny thing. I think it challenges us to remember our place within God’s universe. It forces us to see who God is and how little we really are, so what happens? Most people choose to ignore it as a concept. We fill our lives with busyness, with appointments, with fun, with entertainment, with rest, with work, with friendships…whatever will keep us from thinking about the clock that has been set in each one of us. “Time waits for no man” as the saying goes. The clock keeps ticking, with or without us.
 
Time, above all else, means change. Seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours, hours into days, and years, and lifetimes. It will not be held in our tight fist. Change reminds us that we are not in control. In Ecclesiastes 3:14-15, we are reminded that only God lasts for forever.
 
I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.”
 
Whatever God does, whatever He touches endures forever. Whatever we do without Him passes away. We have nothing new to add. Nothing that we spend time on will create this eternal significance that we are seeking.
 
The good news about our smallness – it means that God can hold us.
 
When the verse tells us “God has done it”, one thing we can be assured in is that He created time for us, not for Him. This gift is that exact reminder that left us shaking in our boots before. When things change, and time marches on, we stand in the arms of a God who is big. To fear God is to recognize that He is capable. To know Him is to know that He is trustworthy. He is unshakable. He does not change, when the whole world seems to be changing.
 
God seeks that which is driven away” or more literally, “God seeks that which is pursued.” This passage was so confusing for me, so difficult to understand, that I made a chart for myself on a post it note and poked my husband until he hashed it out with me for a good couple of hours.
 
God is a pursuer. He loves us so much that He pursues us on a timeline which is our life. He doesn’t need time. It’s outside of Him. It is for us. He does not change although the world is ever changing around us.
 
I’m writing this during Lent and I keep coming back to the faces of the disciples who were left in confusion after Jesus died and rose. They went back to time, as they understood it. They went back to their boats to fish, their meeting place in the upper room. They didn’t understand it. But God sought them. He walked out of the tomb and appeared to them in the upper room. He found them on the shore as they cast out their nets. God sought them. He seeks us. This doesn’t change with the time or the season or the ticking of the clock as the hands move on by.
 
Let’s end this abstract day by looking up Psalm 136. It’s a good reminder that God’s love is the same yesterday today and forever. With Him we are eternal. He’s got the whole world in His hands. He knows the day and the hour. And He seeks us in every moment.
 

 

 

His steadfast love endures forever.
 
 
Discussion questions: 
How does eternity change life now for both the believer and the unbeliever?
What changes in life have you resisted from God before?
Recite Psalm 136 responsively with your husband or family, or quietly between yourself and God. 

Eternity in my heart and the “also-s” of faith

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Day 3 – Eternity in my heart and the “also-s” of faith

 
Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecc. 3:11)
 
What a beautiful phrase! Today we are going to break this tiny piece of Scripture into three intricate parts. It’s just too beautiful not to spend some time on.
 
First, let’s read this section of Scripture to get a fuller understanding. Feel free to read all of Ecclesiastes 3 again if you have your Bible out. Below I will offer Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 to focus in on:
 
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
 
 
Find our theme segment for the day and highlight it in your Bible.
Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…”
 
Now, to focus in –
 
#1 – Also…
This small adverb stuck out to me. The Bible is a beautifully written book, God-breathed, but also literally just beautiful to behold. The words in the Bible are each there for a reason and the Old Testament especially, holds so much poetic grace. “Also” is a connecting word. God did such and such and also He has done this. “Also” in my head, is an overflowing cup word. The Hebrew word for also here is “gam” and in addition to our translation of also, could be translated as “moreover.” More and over. More than that. Over and above what He has already done. Overflowing my cup.
 
God takes things in our life and makes them beautiful. Also, moreover, on top of that…He has given us eternity. He has set it in our hearts. What “also-s” in life has God given you in this season? When you look around you, what says to you, “My cup overflows…” (Psalm 23:5)? Even if this is a difficult season, we all have something or someone, little things that give us glimpses of a God who is caring for us. It was in our darkest season that I began to recognize the also-s, the little things that God gave in the form of people and tiny treasures of grace. These small also-s kept me going, and some days, was what gave me the strength to get out of bed and face the challenge of the new day.
 
 
#2 – He has put eternity in…
God gave us eternity, as a free gift through Jesus Christ. This is the way we often think of eternity. Ecclesiastes introduces another way to consider eternity for all people, not just believers of Christ Jesus. This insight is huge for our understanding of those around us who do not know the grace of God.
 
God puts eternity in. Grace in Christ is a gift. Eternity, while certainly a gift, is a gift like our arms and legs and eyes, or even our heart, are gifts from God. We were created with eternity, set inside of us by a loving God. It is part of who we are. It is a compass guiding us to Him. When people talk about the God-sized hole inside each of us, we can call that eternity.
 
We are searching, seeking, moving toward eternity. Many of us simply do not have the language for this though. The next time you talk to an unbeliever, ask them what they are searching for, what they feel like they are heading toward in their life. When we are searching for a man to love us, the perfect job, parenting skills to keep our children on a good path, good memories, shared passions, ambitions fulfilled, all of it, we are really looking for eternity.That’s a good thing! Each of these things are also gifts from God to point us to eternity. But on top of just wanting those things and seeking, we all want them to matter, we want to have significance, to know it was all worthwhile. When we speak of eternity, as Christians, we know that we have eternal life now. However, this also goes for the unbeliever sitting across from you. We all have eternity. They have significance that is eternal. Help them find the One their soul is searching for, that their internal eternalcompass is continuously trying to lead them to define and understand and exist in relationship with.
The darker side of this is that we are all accountable. There is life beyond this life on earth. God wants, each and every person around me to identify that Eternity with Him is incomparable to an eternity spent with the Evil One. How can I help the person sitting across from me to understand that also?
 
And oh goodness! We have a God that not only puts things in, but He puts them in our hearts. This just strikes me as extraordinarily beautiful. My heart, which is drawn to any number of things, was made for seeking Him.
 
Please, friend, if you are an unbeliever, let Him embrace you now. He’s been waiting for this.

#3 – “…he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” 
 
We were not meant to know or understand it all. God was. If my thoughts above are #abitmuch and your mind is struggling to grasp it. First, blame it on the author, because as an imperfect person talking about an absolutely perfect God, sometimes I have trouble spitting it all out in an easily understood manner. Then, rest in this phrase: We weren’t meant to get it all. We were intended to seek Him, but not necessarily to always understand Him or what He is doing in our lives. He is holier than that. He does not fit in my box, in my small little mind, even in my heart. He is wider and bigger and outside of little ol’ me, even as He chooses me for His residence. Mind blowing, sisters. That’s our God.
 
1 Corinthians 13:12 says it so well. I return to this verse again and again. It’s a good one for highlighting.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
 
This verse is followed by a famous one and we let’s not forget that they are connected.
1 Corinthians 13:13 –
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
 
The greatest work God does in and through us is love, not knowledge, not even understanding. He brought us to this place and this time to love. To love Him, to love His people, to love who He made us to be. When we look at our past, our present, and our eternity, know that the only thing that will have mattered is that we were loved, and that we were given the chance to love in return. Eternity, set in our hearts.
 
Praise Him today for His love, His eternal lens, and His overflowing abundance.
Discussion questions:
What things or people in your life currently remind you that your cup overflows?
When has the eternal lens been most helpful for you?
What do you see people searching for, when they are really searching for God?

 

Chuckles, giggling, and other fun things



Day 2 – Chuckles, giggling, and other fun things

You would think laughing would be a positive day in this Bible study. I like a good laugh. I don’t fancy myself a comedian, but I tend towards making light of things to ease the darkness of life. I like to see people smile and getting them to laugh is a special bonus that I admit I enjoy.

The root word for laugh in Ecclesiastes 3:4 is funny sounding to me in itself…sawkawk.
I imagine an unattractive bird with a long turkey skin neck and beady eyes strutting around yelling, “Sawkawk! Sawkawk!” Too funny.

The word sawkawk can mean to make sport, to jest, to laugh, or to amuse…it appears that there is a time for humor, and there most certainly is! However, I was shocked to find that most uses in the Bible of this root are, what I would consider, on the negative side of things.

There is a fair amount of derision in the Old Testament. People laughing at others, expressions of the Psalmist laughing at us, individual and communal angst expressed when someone is made fun of for another’s pleasure and gain. There is the time when both Abraham and Sarah laugh at God (not a great move), and even in Proverbs 31 she – wisdom, or the proverbial woman- laughs at time, like, “Hey time, take that! You think you can foil me, watch my tornado self clean this house and play with these kids and love on this husband.” You get the idea.

In the New Testament, we often see the Pharisees laughing at Jesus. Yuck. This is not good laughter either. But Jesus, as He so often does, turns the things of this world on their ear.

Read Luke 6:20-26 –
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”

Don’t miss the beauty in verse 20 – “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples…”

He had a particular audience for this passage. He ever invites us into relationship with Him and he’s honest with us.

“Blessed are those who weep…” There will be weeping. But “they will laugh.”
“Woe to those who laugh.”…they will weep. Oh will they weep.

It’s a promise with some wisdom tucked in.

Not to be too law oriented, but what is funny to us? Is it appropriate? Is it at the expense of someone else?

When we laugh in eternity it will be sheer joy. God gives us glimpses and moments of that with those we love now. We laugh at our child making silly faces to amuse us, we laugh at an ironic coincidence on a TV show, we laugh at a friends perfect timing when they share, “I have totally been there!”

One thing I learned from reading the Scriptures today is that I have a new prayer.

I thank you, Lord, for laughter, and for people to share moments and time and pleasures with. Lord, keep my heart from finding humor in someone else’s struggle. Mold me and make me tender to Your precious people. May I always laugh, but may it never be at someone else’s expense. In Your Name we pray, Amen.

Discussion questions:
What makes you laugh? (This is a no judgement zone! Be honest. A person, a show, a limerick, whatever.)
Share a funny joke or meme.
Do you have any painful memories of someone laughing at you or a time you treated someone poorly that you wish you could undo? (Take a deep breathe and breathe in God’s forgiveness in His Word!)

Noisy, messy crying

Ecclesiastes Week 4 – 3:4

Day One: Noisy, messy crying (A time to weep)
Day Two: Chuckles, giggling, and other fun things
Day Three: Mourning what is worthy of mourning
Day Four: Keeping the party alive (a time to dance)
Day Five: Why I need to stop crabbing at my children chanting away…


Heart Verse –
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
                                                John 11:33



Day 1 – Noisy, messy crying (A time to weep)

Several years ago, while my sister was visiting from Iowa, some friends stopped by and we decided to watch a movie. It was the kind of night, where all the stars align and small people go to bed on time and you think, “You know what I could really go for? A blanket, some popcorn, and a good movie.” We sat down to watch the latest new release, “7 Pounds”, with Will Smith. It was a well filmed movie. Good characters, creative plot, interesting dialogue.

And absolutely depressing.

We all watched the movie, completely riveted. When the closing credits began to roll, I woke up from my movie stupor to the sound of sobbing. In about 4 seconds, I realized the sound was coming from me. Wait, no, it’s coming from Dave…and our friend…and our other friend…and my sister. Our living room was filled with dazed and confounded individuals crying their eyes out, noisily. Messy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There was also snot running out of noses and slobber rubbed onto shirt sleeves, and sobs bursting out from weird facial convulsions. It was bad. Ugly cry bad.

Days later, I was still analyzing our universally embarassing, no holds bar reaction to this movie. The film was great, but the reality was the topic was disturbing and frustrating and left you longing to help, but nothing could be done. These people were actors on a screen, but all of us had the startling revelation that people think like that. The plot may be fiction, but the mindset encapsulated in the movie is far from it. People misunderstand law and justice and grace so much, that they can miss eternity for want of finding it. It was the truth of our culture spoken in technicolor –
There are many who don’t know Jesus, who need Jesus. They long for healing and rescue from heartbreak. Not a single person on the road of searching in this movie, not one, told the main character what he longed to hear…grace, redemption.

All of us, sitting in that room, noisy crying, were left wondering if we had so utterly failed someone in our own lives. Our cries were prayers for God to fill in the gaps where we are weak. To send His Word into the lives of those around us, when we are silent.

The Hebrew root word for weep, found in Ecclesiastes 3:4 –
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

“Bakah” – is phonetically pronounced bawkaw. Sound familiar? The immediate phrase that came to my mind when I heard it was “to ball.” That’s the way my Dad always referred to the noisy, messy crying when, as little kids, one of us was just completely inconsolable, or “balling our eyes out.” This kind of crying, or weeping, as Ecclesiastes calls it, is a kind of emotional release.

Sometimes we need to cry. We need to move our internal emotions to the external, because they are just so much to bear. Tears and, even more so, weeping give us the ability to express the inexpressible. To unload the messy anxiety and emotion stuck inside us. It does not necessarily have to be a negative experience of difficult emotion. It is about the strength of the emotions contained inside our persons, welling up and over. It is a cry that is mostly between us and God. We cry out in a sacred prayer, hidden in the depths of our sobs,
    “It’s too much, Lord. It’s too much.”

Joseph experienced this kind of emotional overload in Genesis 42:1-24, when his brothers arrive in the midst of the famine. Joseph creates a plan for discernment and handles the situation, from the readers perspective in a well thought out manner.

Then it happens. He overhears his brothers make a confession. One little sentence, that they think he can not understand…

Read Genesis 42:21-24a,
Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph sat in the same prayer, “It’s too much, Lord. It’s too much.”

I’m guessing at this point in the family drama, Joseph is overrun with emotions. Joy and dread and fear and childhood trauma; of a soul hungry for vengeance but whispering grace and restoration.

When it’s all just too much.

In John 11:32-35, we read a tiny piece of the Lazarus story.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus wept. He hears the cries of a heart tender with grief and is moved to not just tears, but weeping as well. God himself has wept as we have wept. He has lost friends. He has shared grief. He has had His soul overwhelmed with sorrow, as a man. Will He not hear us when it’s just too much? Yes, He will!

When we feel the need to cry those messy tears, let us do so unashamed. We can present them to Him as an offering:
“Lord, it’s a lot. I lay this burden on You. The one who is fully capable of bearing the load. In my weakness, Your strength. You invite me, saying, ‘Hand it here, child.’ The burden is mine to carry.”

Messy tears, snot pouring out, unattractive sobs escaping…all a part of a life fully lived, abundantly lived in the One who collects my tears and holds me while I weep.
Discussion questions:
Read Revelation 5:1-5. What promise does God hold in these verses for weeping and crying?
When was a time you remember having a messy, noisy cry? Was it warranted?

Nations, constitutions, and things that pass away



Day Five – Nations, constitutions, and things that pass away

We, as people living and breathing, like to feel secure. It isn’t an American thing; it isn’t attributed to a specific heritage or culture. I have seen it in nations of poverty and nations of wealth, nations with expanse and nations that are tiny dots on the map, every race, every tribe, every tongue. We like to feel like our feet stand on solid ground, like our lifestyle is stable, our loved ones, our economic status, and our way of life tightly secure.
In fact, I think we prop security up like an idol. We place all our trust in things that appearthat they will not perish, that appear that they will not pass away. Strong armies, glamorous princes, a well spoken president, a bolstered reserve. In reality, history teaches us well that all of these will pass away.
In fact, they will not just pass away. They will in their time, be plucked up.
In Mark 13:1-8, Jesus teaches his disciples and those around Him:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
(This passage, or at least portions of it, also appear in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.)
           
Buildings have their time. Governments have their time. Nations have their time.
We know, as amillenialists, that we are in the end times. The Old Testament believers waited for the fulfillment of the promised Messiah and we, New Testament believers, await His coming again, when all things will be made new, when our way of life is plucked up by God for something better. Knowing this, knowing what is to come, and that it is all in God’s hands, we can rest our security soundly where it belongs, with Christ. We can pray for our nation. For its place and time in history and ask God to work in and through it, but we do not place our trust in it.
What does all this have to do with our study of Ecclesiastes? Context.
Matthew Henry brings up in his commentary of Ecclesiastes that the language of the Old Testament with uprooting, or plucking up, is almost always in relation to the nation of Israel.
Here’s on example in Jeremiah 12:12-15:
Upon all the bare heights in the desert
    destroyers have come,
for the sword of the Lord devours
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no flesh has peace.
They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns;
    they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.
They shall be ashamed of their
[a] harvests
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.”
Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. 
God wanted his people to know that they were chosen people, they were for a place and time, because He had chosen them to bring His son to the world and thereby His saving Grace to every nation on earth. Every nation. His judgment of every nation, every ruler, every person, in their place and time, is perfected in God’s desire for all people to be saved. Thank goodness!
I have no opinions about the current political status of the nation of Israel or America, or any other nation for that matter. What I do care about is that God is secure. God is the solid rock. God is eternal, unshaken, our anchor.
 And so we wake up and we lie down. We live our lives. We pray for our leaders. We pray for our military. We pray for our first responders. We thank and praise God for each and every day He gives us safety, and wealth to be stewards of, and peace in our land.
But trust… our trust we put in Him and Him alone.
Our King of Kings our Prince of Peace. To Him be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Discussion questions:
What is your national or cultural heritage? How does this influence you?
In what way can politics or national security be a stumbling block to our faith in God? How can it be a blessing to us?