About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Being a "Joyful Idiot" through the Transitions of Life

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV)

In a sermon I once heard, J. I. Packer described the writer of Ecclesiastes as a “joyful idiot.” That is, he could experience joy even though, and perhaps in part because, he lacked knowledge of all things (hence the idiot part). For him, it was enough that he could see God and he could see the present joys God brought him each day. Recollecting that sermon, I turned to Ecclesiastes this past week as I contemplated the changes that I recently experienced and will soon experience in my life...

This past Sunday I said, “Goodbye” to a good friend and fellow-laborer when our Youth Minister Tyler Downing left his position here in Texas to take another position up in Indiana. I had known about his departure for about a month and spent much of that time thinking about our time together – what he taught me, how I had changed through our relationship, and how I was going to miss him in the years ahead. I also spent some time contemplating how his departure was going to change me and how life transitions overall change us in some significant ways.

In my church, as in all churches, there are a lot of people struggling with the idea of transition. Some are looking for work. Some are dealing with failing health. Some are starting new romantic relationships or taking their relationship to the next level by getting engaged and married. Some, like me, are preparing to see their oldest child leave home for college in just a few months, others are welcoming their children back into their home because finances and life situations have forced them back in. Life is about change and with change comes transition.

Transition is that period between realities that is all at once awkward and exciting and scary. It’s the everyday adolescence of life where you are not who you were but you are also not really who you are going to be either. And it’s hard! But why is it hard? Why do we struggle with something that is so much a part of lives? As often as we go through transition (indeed do we ever leave it?), shouldn't we be used to it by now?

In Ecclesiastes 3, the writer lists many of the various seasons of life, expressing the truism that every part of life has its opposite corollary and that just as certain as we will experience the bad, we will experience the good (and vice-versa). But after this long list of life’s events, he then moves on to reflect upon what all of it means and I think he touches on what makes the journey of transition and change so difficult. He writes, “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.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b, ESV). These words, I believe, encapsulate the heart of why we struggle with transition…we are given glimpses of God’s work and general patterns to life, but we cannot really grasp the totality of the course of our lives. The result of this condition is awkwardness, excitement, and fear. So how do we navigate through these times? I think the writer of Ecclesiastes gives us some clues in the passage that follows.

Accept that change is going to occur – the whole nature of the first part of Ecclesiastes 3 relates the self-evident reality of change. Yet, we resist this truth, even deny this truth throughout life. It’s as if we think if we resist hard enough or refuse to budge ourselves, change won’t occur. But if we refuse to grow and adjust, we don’t stop change we just begin to rot. C. S. Lewis wrote, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. (Mere Christianity)” Change is going to happen, we can accept it as part of life and grow or we can resist and go bad.

Look for the beauty in the moment – a lot of times in periods of transition all we see is what is being lost or what we don’t know about the future. We read in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” The idea here is not that everything is to be viewed through the eyes of the optimist as “good,” but instead that every aspect of life is intended to provide “aesthetic balance.” Though we might not see all that means in our limited capacities, we can find a balance in every experience that helps alleviate the awkwardness.

Accept the pleasure of pleasure – the beautiful moments of the present gives us pictures or glimpses of eternity. Christianity has a long standing tradition of valuing pain over pleasure. The call to count the cost, take up our cross, and to sacrifice have for some reason eclipsed the equally important promises of Christ toward abundant life, an easy yoke, and a rest from weariness. Both sides of discipleship – the cost and the blessing – are part of our journey and experience of Christ. To seek the blessing without the cost leads to licentiousness. To seek the cost without the blessing leads to legalism. Either one without the other leads to an us-centered paradigm that removes God from the throne of our lives. Modern evangelicals do well pointing out the need for cost, but forget to highlight the blessing. Surely we can do a better job of this instead of ceding that part of the conversation to heretical “health and wealth” preachers. We need to learn to take pleasure in the pleasures God has given us.

Trust God – if we can’t see the total course of our lives, doesn't it make sense to trust the One who can? The writer of Ecclesiastes encapsulates the centerpiece of His approach when He wrote, “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. (Ecclesiastes 3:14, ESV)” The fear of God mentioned here, which is the beginning of all wisdom, is key to seeing balance, understanding the place of pleasure, and being comfortable with change. It is the salve to burns created by past hurts and the road-map through unexplored paths that life takes us down. Trusting God doesn't come naturally, it is choice we make based upon His position as our Savior, Creator, and Provider.

I am going to miss Tyler and looking into the next few months when I will say, “Goodbye” to my oldest, I know I am going to miss her too. Hopefully, however, I can navigate these transitions with a real sense of stability and trust, focusing more on what I do know (or rather who I know) than on what I don’t. Hopefully, I can come to know what it means to be a “joyful idiot.”

Me and Tyler at his Ordination