Posted in theology

Ecclesiastes emptiness

By Elizabeth Prata

“Nothing teaches us so much the preciousness of the Creator, as when we learn the emptiness of all besides.

Source of that quite: Seek Him in Trouble Job 23:3, Morning and Evening Spurgeon Devotional

That was true for me. I spent decades searching. For what, I didn’t know. Just to fill a gnawing emptiness. Husband, got one. House, got one-and a new one at that. Fancy! Fulfilling job, yup. Awards for said job, yes.

I was still unhappy. Why was I unhappy? Wasn’t that the American dream? Why did I cry silently and uncomprehendingly in the deep of the night? Why did I feel empty with all these glittering achievements and societal tokens of success heaped around me?

So I concluded, in my logical mind, that I must be approaching life wrong. I decided to abandon “The American Dream” and live a different way. Husband had not been in the picture for a few years, so I decided to sell or rent the house, take a leave of absence from my teaching job, and sail off with a new boyfriend in his yacht. I was living ‘off the grid.’ Yeah,’ that’s the ticket, step away from the lifestyle of 2.5 kids and white picket fence work till retirement then take a cruise. I wanted to cruise now! So we sailed off on our yacht and saw sunsets and dolphins and lazed our way down the eastern seaboard and anchored in The Bahamas in blue clear water and put our feet up and said ‘ahhh, this is the life’.

Except it wasn’t.

A permanent vacation! A fancy yacht! A waterfront cabin to go back to! Why was I unhappy? Why did I crawl from our berth to sit in the cockpit under the moon and weep? What was missing? I had love, money, my own yacht, and all the free time I wanted. It was all empty leading to more emptiness.

So we returned to the cabin and decided to travel more. THAT is the way, see the world! We saw Europe, the US, Mexico, Canada. I decided that learning about what I was seeing was the way to go. I took classes in bookbinding, Italian, journalism. Used it to deepen my knowledge when we traveled.

Still unhappy. So, MORE knowledge. Advanced degree, got it, and with a 4.0 grade point average too.

Still tears. Why, Why WHY?

I decided that having a purpose in life was what mattered. I had a waterfront home, no debt, plenty of money, and a loving husband (the sailing boyfriend and I got married eventually). I started a business that kept me very busy for almost 6 years. I earned awards in my industry, notoriety, and community respect.

I was busy. I was involved. I was feted. I was still yearning for a something I did not know. A something that would wipe away all the feeling of…dare I say…pointlessness? Why did I feel that life was pointless if I had everything that the world told me would make me happy?

Graciously, the Lord reached down to me in my pitiable state and rescued me from His wrath for my sin. My new mind (the mind of Christ) was now allowing me to see WHY I’d felt empty all those decades, despite the many achievements, goals, and desired & whims I fulfilled. I could see the world clearly now. It held only a polluted and corrupted allure.

The true allure is Christ. He is glory, perfection, and holiness itself. He is beauty, kindness, and love. THAT IS WHAT WAS MISSING! Or should I say “Who” was missing. Jesus fulfills completely. He makes our vision clear, the heart happy, and the soul filled. He gives us that transcendent vision of external seeing that we now observe the world for what it is- a passing corruption. He gives us the point to life, His glory and our enjoyment of Him. he gives us opportunities for real success, sharing His Gospel so souls can be saved.

Solomon said it: “All is vanity”. All else besides Christ is vanity. Pursuing the things I did, thinking they would fulfill me, did- but only for a time. Then they palled as I sought another vanity coming over the horizon. I pursued THAT one, only to find I was striving after wind.

You cannot grasp wind. But you can grasp Jesus, the ROCK.

I recommend the book of read Ecclesiastes. Deeply study it.

Further Reading:

Ecclesiastes: Overview

Exposit The Word: Sermons through Ecclesiastes

Summary of the Book of Ecclesiastes

Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End book, by David Gibson

Posted in theology

Living the Ecclesiastes life

By Elizabeth Prata


By the 1990’s I wasn’t tempted by the American Dream anymore. My 90s decade, one in which I was thirty to forty years old were a reaction to the 1980s and 70s and 60s. See, I grew up being taught the American Dream, American exceptionalism, and nationalism. That I could attain anything I wanted, it was there for the taking because we lived in the best country and we were the best people. Continue reading “Living the Ecclesiastes life”

Posted in theology

On life, death, buses, and trains

By Elizabeth Prata

A man died in his car after a collision with a train last week. His small child was airlifted from the scene to Atlanta and was listed in critical condition.

He was the father of four and 3 of his children attended our county schools.

I have a love-hate relationship with trains. 50 years ago, the town dump was just that, a dumping ground. Old fridges, lawn chairs, lamps, trash and the like were just dumped onto a landfill. My dad took the trash every weekend and always asked if me and my brother wanted to go. We always did. The dump was at the same time scary, spooky, alluring, and fun to pick around at the dump. You never knew what you might find.

The dump was fun but there was terror in going because of the train.

You had to cross the railroad tracks to get there. My father used to stop on the tracks and turn off the car and pretend we were stalled. He’d yell that the train was coming and we were all going to die. We’d scream terrified in the back seat, peering wild-eyed up the tracks to see where the train was. Then he would laugh hysterically at his joke and turn the car on and we’d go.

Yeah, I know.

The church I attend is down a main road that parallels the tracks for a good 7 miles. I get really nervous around train tracks, even to this day. There are a lot of crossings. Most of them have lights and gates. A few don’t. It was at one where there were no gates or lights that the accident happened.

As I approached the scene on my way to church that night, I saw that the train had stopped, and the train guy in reflective jacket had descended the steps and was running alongside the train. His face looked terrified… Anyway, I wondered what he was running toward, because the train doesn’t stop there and the train guy doesn’t usually exit the train, usually. I looked ahead and spotted the vehicle in the ditch. I winced, the car was pretty wrecked. Ambulances hadn’t gotten there yet. I said a prayer as I passed.

I was saddened by this tragedy, pretty deeply. I thought about it all week. I prayed for the family. I wondered of the man was saved.

Then another tragedy struck. Not in our immediate area like the train accident, but in Indiana. A mother/church-goer/children’s minister, had her life turned inside out in a flash. She struck and killed three small children as they crossed the road to their bus. A fourth child was gravely injured. The three children were siblings, twin boys and a girl, from the same family.

“I haven’t seen first responders and troopers cry in a long time” said Indiana State Police Sergeant Tony Slocum. It was a heart-rending scene. It is one I cannot contemplate too long if I am not going to cry.

A mother somewhere in Indiana lost her three children in a flash. The last thing those children saw was a truck grill bearing down on them. It is awful thought. Investigators do not yet know why the wreck happened. The driver had stopped and had his flashing lights on and the arm out. He doesn’t seem to have contributed to the accident. The mother alone has been charged, three counts of reckless homicide and failing to stop at a school bus.

There is a lot to absorb regarding this incident, if one wants to mull it over. I don’t blame you if you don’t. We all know that our lives could be changed in a moment, but we don’t really think about it. When it happens, it often happens fast, like the father who was killed by the train. One moment you’re trundling along and the next you’ve arrived at your eternal destination.

The man’s wife was suddenly widowed, and her children fatherless, all in a moment. The mother who ran over the three kids at the bus stop, will never be the same, she has felonies on her record and never mind the insane grief and guilt she will bear forever.

I got to thinking about all that is done under the sun. What God must think of us, going about our business…lost sheep who have all gone astray

This may seem trite but it is true and applicable to how things are on this earth.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

And this

For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 6:12)

My Lord and My God ordains all. He knows what goes on under the sun. He allows sin to permeate a life, its effects to take a life, innocents to be killed, wives to become widows, mothers to become childless, children to become motherless.

It is a world full of sorrow and pain, heartache and tragedy. This isn’t such a positive essay, and I am sorry if you were looking for that today. But in this world, unexpected events happen which defy our comprehension but still hurt our heart. Trusting God is the only answer.

Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

The work of God – The scheme of Divine Providence, the course of events which God orders and controls (compare Ecclesiastes 3:11). It comprises both events which are “straight,” i. e., in accordance with our expectation, and events which are “crooked,” i. e., which by their seeming inequality baffle our comprehension.

God sent His Son so that even when baffling things happen, we can turn to Him for comfort. We know that He knows. He is working things out to the good for those who love Him. He has reasons and ways and plans that we don’t understand, but we have the Light of understanding that He does, and that’s enough.

Once again, Jesus spoke to the people and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

My Post (7)

Posted in Uncategorized

“We’re rich!” said the Laodiceans, only to discover…

The Laodiceans Had Material Wealth Only

They were urged to buy not ordinary gold, but refined gold, referring to that which would glorify God and make them truly rich. Through its banking industry the city had material wealth. But the church lacked spiritual richness. Though they had beautiful clothes, they were urged to wear white clothes (cf. v. 4), symbolic of righteousness which would cover their spiritual nakedness. As wool was a major product of the area, Laodicea was especially famous for a black garment made out of black wool. What they needed instead was pure white clothing

Then Christ exhorted them to put salve … on their eyes. A medical school was located in Laodicea at the temple of Asclepius, which offered a special salve to heal common eye troubles of the Middle East. What they needed was not this medicine but spiritual sight. The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message. To all such the exhortation is be earnest, and repent. Christ rebuked them because He loved them, which love would also bring chastisement on this church

Walvoord, J. F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 940). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

I like watching real estate shows on TV, especially British ones. I was watching a show the other day about a European couple with an adult daughter who wanted a specific view. They desired to hear and see the ocean off California, wanted long stretches of beach in their immediate proximity. They were moving to CA to indulge their daughter, who was attempting to become a Hollywood actress.

The host showed them a 4.5 million dollar home, which they took in stride, a 5.5 million dollar home, the cost of which they never batted an eye, and a 9.4 million dollar home, to which they mildly remarked, “That’s quite a price.”

They bought the 9.4M home.

I got to thinking about what it might be like to have that amount of money. To be able to indulge large desires and to have no worries about high prices.

I didn’t let my thinking go too far with that, lest it would raise covetousness or greed in me. I really am content with what I have, and the Lord provides for me very well. But still…

My mind turned to wondering if they were saved. I think about that a lot these days, and increasingly so. An American celebrity dies and I muse, ‘Well, they know the truth now…’ Alan Bean, Margot Kidder, Stephen Hawking… dead, dead, dead.

They had much, also. Fame, renown, professionalism in their craft, money. But what good did it do if they lost their souls? Sir Anthony Hopkins, the actor known for the movie Silence of the Lambs and many other productions, was interviewed by The Guardian this week. He spoke about his upcoming role of King Lear, and how it would be for him to play it now that he can see life spanning backwards from the vantage point of being 80 years old. He said,

You know, I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous, and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there’s nothing up there. Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie. Accept life as it is. Just be grateful to be alive.

Easy for Hopkins to say, he got to the top of the tree. Someone on Twitter said, ‘It’s almost as if the Bible is true or something’ having noted that King Solomon said much the same in his book of Ecclesiastes. Would they be so equanimous if they knew the truth about their approaching death? That their life goes on, and unless they had been declared righteous by God having repented and come through the Door of Christ, they will be eternally gnashing their teeth in pain and torment, in hell?

As for money or riches or things (like houses) Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 speaks of the vanity of toil. The top of the tree is empty for Hopkins, and the house with a view will eventually UNsatisfy the European family, because the point of working for Jesus is eternal joy in pleasing the eternal savior, a legacy that extends to heaven, and expansion of the kingdom, and pure joy in serving for His sake. Everything else is striving after wind.

When life inevitably ends, all those who are outside of Jesus will find that a life philosophy of of toil…or riches…or fame… was wildly off the mark. Being in Jesus, I know where ‘the top’ of the tree is, and that makes all the difference.

The Laodiceans had everything, fame, wealth, trade, but Jesus called them poor, blind, and naked.

Lord, help me be satisfied and content with what You have given me, and help me deal well as a wise steward of it. Let me not be covetous nor discontent. You truly are a God Who Sees and a God Who Hears, you have given all the portions as you deem according to Your plan. Ultimately I have received the best portion, I have it all: YOU.

rich young ruler verse

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

The command for joy in the unlikely book of Ecclesiastes

In the book I’m reading called Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches us to Live in Light of the End, by David Gibson, Gibson reprinted an essay by Presbyterian minister James Russell Miller (1840-1902) called Beautiful Old Age. The writing is lyrical in the way that educated men of two centuries ago could write.

As Gibson closes out his book, we learn that Ecclesiastes teaches us that our entire being should be emanating joy. “Not to live gladly, joyfully, and not to drink deeply from the wells of abundant goodness that God has lavished on us is sin, and it is sin because it is a denial of who he is.”

Further, Gibson shares,

Douglas Jones reflects on Deuteronomy 27-30, which highlights the need for covenant faithfulness, but then he points out how in this passage we stumble across the need to be faithful in joy and gladness (Deut 28:47), and we are dumbstruck. “Since when was that the pivot of reality? Certainly this has to be a divine typo.”

I understand what he means. Living in joy and enjoying the blessings God has given us is not a suggestion, it is a command. We read those urgings repeatedly in Ecclesiastes. Gibson said that no parent likes to see their child’s new toy remain in the box, pristine and untouched. Parents would rather see the action figure banged and dented through many pleasurable hours of enjoyment and adventures. Real relationship involves seeing another person take pleasure in gifts given, in this case, the delights of God’s creation, and food and drinks and relationships and rest. (He does explain that this is not license to sin nor to live licentiously).

Here is the essay. I pray you enjoy it as much as I did.


Beautiful Old Age

This may scarcely seem a fitting theme to introduce in a book meant chiefly for the young, and yet a moment’s reflection will show its appropriateness and practicalness.

Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood. We are each, in all our earlier years, building the house in which we shall have to live when we grow old. And we may make it a prison or a palace. We may make it very beautiful, adorning it with taste and filling it with objects which shall minister to our pleasure, comfort, and power. We may cover the walls with lovely pictures. We may spread luxurious couches of ease on which to rest. We may lay up in store great supplies of provision upon which to feed in the days of hunger and feebleness. We may gather and pile away large bundles of wood to keep the fires blazing brightly in the long winter days and nights of old age.

Or we may make our house very gloomy. We may hang the chamber-walls with horrid pictures, covering them with ghastly spectres which shall look down upon us and haunt us, filling our souls with terror when we sit in the gathering darkness of life’s nightfall. We may make beds of thorns to rest upon. We may lay up nothing to feed upon in the hunger and craving of declining years. We may have no fuel ready for the winter fires.

We may plant roses to bloom about our doors and fragrant gardens to pour their perfumes about us, or we may sow weeds and briers to flaunt themselves in our faces as we sit in our doorways in the gloaming.

All old age is not beautiful. All old people are not happy. Some are very wretched, with hollow, sepulchral lives. Many an ancient palace was built over a dark dungeon. There were the marble walls that shone with dazzling splendor in the sunlight. There were the wide gilded chambers with their magnificent frescoes and their splendid adornments, the gaiety, the music, and the revelry. But deep down beneath all this luxurious splendor and dazzling display was the dungeon filled with its unhappy victims, and up through the iron gratings came the sad groans and moanings of despair, echoing and reverberating through the gilded halls and ceiled chambers; and in this I see a picture of many an old age. It may have abundant comforts and much that tells of prosperity in an outward sense—wealth, honors, friends, the pomp and circumstance of greatness—but it is only a palace built over a gloomy dungeon of memory, up from whose deep and dark recesses come evermore voices of remorse and despair to sadden or embitter every hour and to cast shadows over every lovely picture and every bright scene.

It is possible so to live as to make old age very sad, and then it is possible so to live as to make it very beautiful. In going my rounds in the crowded city I came one day to a door where my ears were greeted with a great chorus of bird-songs. There were birds everywhere—in parlour, in dining-room, in bedchamber, in hall—and the whole house was filled with their joyful music. So may old age be. So it is for those who have lived aright. It is full of music. Every memory is a little snatch of song. The sweet bird-notes of heavenly peace sing everywhere, and the last days of life are its happiest days—

“Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that has grown with the years.”

The important practical question is, How can we so live that our old age, when it comes, shall be beautiful and happy? It will not do to adjourn this question until the evening shadows are upon us. It will be too late then to consider it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are every day helping to settle the question whether our old age shall be sweet and peaceful or bitter and wretched. It is worth our while, then, to think a little how to make sure of a happy old age.
We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.

I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.

Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows.

How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.

Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but “the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory.


Posted in encouragement, testimony, Uncategorized

Sipping wine in the place where the grape is grown

In the late 1980s I was inspired by the movie Shirley Valentine, a film that depicted a middle-aged London wife unhappy with her boring husband and her dreary life. “I want to sip wine in the place where the grape is grown” Shirley had said. So she chucked her husband and her life and jetted off to sunny Greece, swam topless, had an affair, and decided to stay. I guess she liked the wine better than her husband.

Vineyard, Chiusi, Tuscany. EPrata photo

I was very much taken with the notion of changing one’s life. I was entranced by Shirley’s life mantra, of ‘sipping wine in the place where the grape is grown’. I had tried a conventional life, but my husband had chucked me, I was saddled with a house in a dreary climate and three jobs to pay for it. I wanted more. Sipping wine in places where it’s grown was certainly not the dying mill city of snowy Lewiston Maine. It bespoke of gentle Tuscan hillsides, green California dreams, or Greek whitewashed stucco. What a goal, Shirley, what a goal.

I went to wine places. California, Tuscany, South of France, rolling hills and grape vines abounding. But wine was just wine and the problem was the same. I met my goal. It was empty.

I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. …

What was the meaning of life? Where was permanence, solidity, something that would not disappear in a breath? Something that would give lasting joy, meaning, and purpose? What is man’s chief end??

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:2-4, 11).

Question. 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever. Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Puritan Thomas Watson preached on this in his sermon, Man’s Chief End is to Glorify God

Here are two ends of life specified. 1. The glorifying of God. 2. The enjoying of God.

First. The glorifying of God, 1 Pet. 4:11. “That God in all things may be glorified.” The glory of God is a silver thread which must run through all our actions. l Cor. 10:31. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

Everything works to some end in things natural and artificial; now, man being a rational creature, must propose some end to himself, and that should be, that he may lift up God in the world. He had better lose his life than the end of his living.

The great truth asserted is that the end of every man’s living should be to glorify God. Glorifying God has respect to all the persons in the Trinity; it respects God the Father who gave us life; God the Son, who lost his life for us; and God the Holy Ghost, who produces a new life in us; we must bring glory to the whole Trinity.

Q. What is it to glorify God?
A. Glorifying God consists in four things: 1. Appreciation, 2. Adoration, 3. Affection, 4. Subjection. This is the yearly rent we pay to the crown of heaven.

Watson continued in his sermon to explain what and how to appreciate, adore, love, and submit to God.

King Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes concludes with the eternal wisdom:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every human being. (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Wine is vanity, travel is vanity. All we do when we relocate is bring our depravity with us. We are the problem. Godless, we are adrift in a sea of evil, wafting from one vain flurry to another. Drifting as dust motes upon an acid air, we leave evil, bring evil, and expire as evil. We believe ourselves to be maidens of rosy blush and coy innocence, when we are simply mud mounds cast upon miry shores. Godless, we are drenched with corruption.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. (Genesis 6:5,12).

When we are saved by His grace through faith, we are cleansed, our sin nature is given a Helper. We are dressed in white robes and stood on our feet, no longer to crawl in the dust like the serpent. We are given a will and testament that promises eternal peace, treasures, crowns, and dwellings in glory with the Savior. Our goal shifts to one of giving Him glory and enjoying Him forever.

What a goal, what a goal.

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

The Campaign for Joy

Joy is apparently the new trend in advertising buzzwords. It’s everywhere. This product will bring you joy. That product will make you happy on your search for joy. This campaign promises ease on the road to joy. That item is joy. Et cetera.

Johnnie Walker Whisky

The Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky people did a little something different that the other companies are envious of and are now copying. They hired a psychologist to give their ad executives insight into what makes people tick, so as to better point their products to the lack in their lives. Here is just one headline touting the new trend:

‘Joy’ Marketing Is Hot Thanks to Psychologists
Reddi-wip Is the Latest Brand Tapping a Psychologist for Campaign Insights

Well, 93% of Americans want to find more ways to experience joy, and 83% would like to experience small amounts of joy daily vs. larger, occasional doses.

What the psychologists discovered is that people want to find joy. However, joy as an end in itself is not the main goal. The venerable liquor company now “aims to promote the idea that finding joy is part of the recipe for success.” The psychologists found out that having money doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Possessing the largest house isn’t necessarily joy-inducing. Getting the promotion in your career won’t absolutely bring contentment. Those things are part of the recipe for success, and the recipe’s biggest ingredient is joy. If you have joy, the other things are just so much sweeter and your chances for success in life increase. Joy becomes a means to an end.

It’s a new take on the old problem: what makes a person lastingly happy? And from what source does this joy come? I’m sure it is not from Scotch Whisky. King Solomon tried that and poetically and poignantly wrote about drinking in Ecclesiastes 2:10-

I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

His conclusion: finding cheer in wine is folly and vanity.

Reddi Whip

Reddi Whip Company immediately got on the Johnnie Walker bandwagon and their take on joy is that if you have joy, sharing it brings more joy. Their ad was to show a winning Little League team sharing their winning joy with the losing team by smearing them all, and some food, with the whipped product in a massive food fight on the field.

Solomon said that apart from God who can have joy in their food? (Ecclesiastes 2:25)

Cadbury Chocolates

I said at the opening that joy is the new trendy buzzword but as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  Ten years ago, Cadbury Chocolates kicked off a content-led campaign including the titles of “Gorilla”, “Eyebrows” and “Trucks”.

The new direction moved CDM from being a manufacturer of chocolate to a producer of joy. It also created a debate around whether creating “joyful” content rather than “persuasive” advertising featuring chocolate actually works or not.  “Eating Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate mirrors the same physical and emotional experience of pure joy.” (Source)

Did it work? Did creating joyful content incite people to buy the chocolates as a joy-experience rather than simply buy an item to eat? Yes, their payback was 171% higher.

We know that Solomon said that all is vanity, striving after wind. We usually look at the word vanity but today let’s look after striving.

Striving in this context means longing or grasping after. Man in his endless enmity against God is always seeking to fill that “God-shaped hole in their heart”. As GotQuestions explains,

The “God-shaped hole” concept states that every person has a void in his soul/spirit/life that can only be filled by God. The “God-shaped hole” is the innate longing of the human heart for something outside itself, something transcendent, something “other.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God’s placing of “eternity in man’s heart.” God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our desire for eternity. All religion is based on the innate desire to “connect” with God. This desire can only be fulfilled by God, and therefore can be likened to a “God-shaped hole.” The problem, though, is that humanity ignores this hole or attempts to fill it with things other than God.

Joy is serious advertising business. In addition to Whisky, Reddi Whip, and Cadbury Chocolates, we have people expressing that “the last time they felt real joy was when they were a kid”, drinking Coke. A BMW is joy. Sherwin-Williams says the right color paint is joy. And so on. Hoy is important to people on earth. The restlessness in seeking it but never quite finding it is palpable and palpable.

Whisky, chocolate, desserts, toppings, money, career, toil, friends, sensual pleasures, all are vanity, said the preacher in Ecclesiastes.

There is a difference between possessing joy and experiencing its effects. One is permanent, the other is temporary. You feel joy in buying and driving your new car for the first time. In sharing the news you’ve been promoted. Winning the lottery and having more money. These things bring “an experience” of joy, but its effects wear off.

When our joy rests on an experience, it dissipates. Joy isn’t lasting when it’s attached to things that pass away. When we strive after things that break down, (cars), that disappear, (money), that don’t last (food…careers) the joy experience is seen to be what it is, wind.

Where is joy, then?

There is nothing new under the sun – except Jesus. His mercies are new every morning. The only true joy there is exists in Christ.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9).

The verse is telling us that “The Christian’s joy is bound up with love to Jesus: its ground is faith; it is not therefore either self-seeking or self-sufficient” [Steiger]. The joy we possess is bound up in glory. It is an eternal, lasting, glory-joy that is inexpressible because its source is from God.

The outcome of our faith is Jesus Himself. Knowing Him is joy.

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The problem with secular movies is…

… “they are trying to find the antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

Before I was saved I was of the world. After I was saved I became not of the world. (John 15:19). Given that this is stated plainly in scripture many times, it might seem obvious. And it is. However, what does that ‘of the world/not of the world’ look like in sanctification? In daily life?

After we are justified (declared righteous by Jesus) we grow in sanctification until we die. GotQuestions’ definition of sanctification is:

To “sanctify” something is to set it apart for special use; to “sanctify” a person is to make him holy.

Our overall trajectory should always be headed up. Though we might make temporary snail trails circularly or even go backward, our overall sanctification is always more, higher, up. (Colossians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Before I was saved, I really loved movies. I bought Roger Ebert’s books. I read the Times reviews. I subscribed to the New Yorker. I enjoyed foreign films and independent movies and prided myself on knowing about them before everyone else. I knew each Oscar nominated movie and had a definite opinion on each.

The point of a secular movie has noting to do with the plot. It’s not obvious but is usually an is undercurrent, buried a bit. It’s there though. Movies are mainly a worldy endeavor and if it is written by a secular writer it will always reflect his fleshly world view. Not being saved and having the same world view as the world I missed that. I just thought movies were great.

After I was saved I continued to watch movies but my increasing sanctification made me sensitive to sex, profanity, and the like. We all notice that as we grow. Words or actions the characters take bother us when they didn’t used to. I mean, the very popular 1990s book Bridges of Madison County was made into a film (1996). I read the book and watched the film. I thought the movie had much to say about marriage, deeply exploring concepts and drilling down to the essence of everyman and everywoman in us. Upon re-watching the film after I was saved, I was horrified to find that it’s just a two-hour advertisement for adultery.

Secular movies by definition have to reflect the empty world view because that is the world view the writer of the book or movie possesses. They can’t see anything else. Though they try to get at the center of things, and they write around the hole in their heart, neglect the void in their conscience, there is nothing they can present to us on the pages of a book or in a film that will solve their eternal issue. They’re empty and they know it.

Since school ended for the year I like to watch movies or documentaries. I’ve watched Up in the Air with George Clooney, Men in Black III, 48 Hrs, Midnight in Paris, Trading Places. In all of them there runs a palpable sense of despair.

Wikipedia: “the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential attitude”, or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. This is existentialism or existential nihilism.

I’d watched Trading Places out of nostalgia, and found it enjoyable but less sweet than I’d remembered. A couple of scenes I really hated. That brought me to 48 Hrs, another Eddie Murphy movie, which shocked me with the amount of profanity I’d forgotten it contained. Looking for something happier, I turned to a George Clooney movie, but Up In The Air was so nihilistic I wanted to shoot myself by the end. Clooney in that movie IS the poster boy for the very definition of nihilistic existentialism (And forget The Descendants and The American. Classy despair is still despair.) Noticing this undercurrent of despair veritably makes secular movies for me, unwatchable.

In one scene in the Movie Up in the Air, Clooney’s prospective brother-in-law got cold feet immediately before the wedding ceremony. Clooney was called in to give the groom some courage. Here is the groom’s worry:

Well, last night I was just kinda laying in bed and I couldn’t get to sleep. So I started thinking about the wedding and the ceremony, and about our buying a house and moving in together. And having a kid, and having another kid and then Christmas and Thanksgiving and spring break. Going to football games, and then all of a sudden they’re graduating. They’re getting jobs, they’re getting married. And, you know, I’m a grandparent. And then I’m retired. I’m losing my hair, I’m getting fat. And then the next thing you know I’m dead. I’m just, like…I can’t stop from thinking, what’s the point?

It is the exact question asked of all people who dwell on this earth without Christ. Philosophers have made entire philosophies in trying to fill the void, celebrate the void, explain the void. In the movie, Clooney told the groom that sharing an empty life is what it’s all about. It makes the emptiness slightly more bearable. OK, Clooney didn’t say that exactly but that’s what his advice boiled down to. He did actually say this: “Life’s better with company.” I guess two people can stave off the despair better than one.

In searching for a sweet, nice movie to watch I stumbled on the very excellent Midnight in Paris. The opening 3 1/2 minute montage was a postcard ode to Paris, in cinematic softness and lovingly photographed. Main character Owen Wilson is a writer who wants to write novels in Paris but his high-maintenance fiance wants him to stick with script writing and buy a house in Malibu. One night as Owen was walking along a Parisian cobblestone street, musing about his writer heroes of the Paris of the 1920s, he was gestured inside a 1920s Peugeot and happily and wonderingly finds himself time-traveled back to the 1920s. He meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein. At one point in his magical evening, as Stein held court at her salon with budding artistic and creative luminaries swirling around her, she said to Owen,

“We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

The movie’s lightness, effervescent hopefulness, softly rounded hills of romantic perfection could not stop the undercurrent of secular truth. Masked it for a good while, but it came out nonetheless. I haven’t been able to find if the real Stein ever said that in real life. But searching endlessly for the antidote for the emptiness of existence has made Woody Allen (who wrote and directed the movie) a rich and successful man…who is still searching for that antidote.

I have no doubt that if you said to most screenwriters that they are unwittingly revealing the Book of Ecclesiastes in their movies, they’d deny it. But there it is. Vanity of vanity, all is empty- without Christ.

Christ is that antidote, and I find it curious that the screenwriter used the word antidote. You need antidotes for a poison, a disease. Life on this earth ultimately is a disease to unsaved people because they are dying, dying. Sin is a poison, a disease for which we sinners all need a cure.

The antidote is the blood of Jesus Christ.

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:9)

Only Christ satisfies. Chasing the endless vapor of possessions, pleasures, or people leaves one exhausted and even more discontent. There is nothing under the sun which will ever eternally satisfy. Only the Son, who comes from beyond the sun and in whom there is life, peace, rest. Solomon knew. His life is the plot for every movie to ever emerge from any screenwiter’s heart. And Solomon said all is vanity…but in Solomon’s despair there is hope, at the end.

Since God purposefully subjected the physical creation to vanity, therefore we can honestly conclude that all this vanity is a reality that serves our overall good in preparation for the Kingdom of God. It is a challenging obstacle. In His wisdom, He has determined we must first experience the emptiness of life without Him, become thoroughly disillusioned with what it has to offer, throw it off, and depart from it. The sufferings that vanity imposes help us to make a true assessment of the value of His grace and goodness, as well as truly and zealously commit ourselves to Him and His purpose. In such a circumstance, vanity will not have the last word.
John W. Ritenbaugh, Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)

The river of discontent and vanity running through secular movies, though depressing, reminds us once again of the emptiness we ourselves once felt when we were in our youth and without Christ. Ecclesiastes 12:11-14

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

[By Elizabeth Prata]