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Finding Happiness (Part 3): Financial Control

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The third ingredient contributing to our everyday happiness (read part 1) is financial control.

Money isn't everything but having enough to meet our own needs as well as to give away to others can create a sense of happiness and freedom in our lives. This has nothing to do with our 'net worth' or waiting until we get that next raise or bonus. It's about how we are managing the resources we currently have. Money is a terrific servant but it can be a cruel taskmaster if we allow it control us. 

Thankfully, we don't have to wait until we have more money. We can start having a sense of financial control ... beginning today. It's about having a common-sense plan that's based on hard work, saving, controlling our expenses, paying down our debts and investing wisely. Anxiety can disappear and, in a matter of time, you can know what it is to be financially free.

Unfortunately, we don't automatically have the financial acumen we need for life when we graduate from high school. Sure, we know a little math and maybe a bit about economics, but young people today often don't learn the keys to good financial management while growing up, unless their parents took the time to teach them and model the way. Thankfully, there are tools and resources to help us acquire the knowledge that we need. And it's never too late to learn.

A few helpful resources for Australians are:

Yes, for less than $60 you can acquire all the knowledge and skills you need to gain financial control. That's well worth it.

Did you know that (all are recent statistics from Scott Pape's book mentioned above):

  • The majority of Australians pay $515 a year in bank fees. Over 10 years, that's $5,150, enough money to take you on a really good holiday somewhere!
  • Your super fund can gobble up a third of your savings in fees. Approximately 90% of Australians don't choose where their super money is invested, so they end up in their fund's default option.
  • The average wage in Australia is $78,832 (the top 0.28% of the richest people in the world by income) yet 62% of us believe we can't afford to buy everything we really need.
  • Australians on average live in the biggest homes in the world. And we need a lot of stuff to fill those homes. And we are one of the biggest waste producers in the world - second only to the USA.
  • Australia has the highest rate of household debt in the world. 
  • Only 7% of Australians have the right amount of insurance. 
  • Most Australians aren't ready to retire financially. Although having the richest people on the planet, one in three retirees lives in poverty due to the high cost of living and many run out of savings 13 years before they die ... one of the worst results in the world.

Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way. People are often destroyed through lack of knowledge. That's why it is important to "get wisdom". Get around people who know more than you do and be humble enough to ask questions. Be willing to learn. Have a teachable attitude. You can learn anything ... if you only give it a go.

Your money is just that - YOUR money. You got out of bed in the morning, went to work, and earned your paycheck. Why not learn to manage those resources better so you can achieve a greater degree of financial control? It is possible. You can do it. I'll be cheering you on. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. For some more insights on the topic of finance, be sure to check my 3 BLOG posts on Money Talks.


Finding Happiness (Part 2): Strong Personal Relationships

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The second factor that contributes to our happiness (read Part 1) is Strong Personal Relationships.

Each of us is born into a family and a desire for a sense of belonging is a part of what it means to be human. Although the introverts among us tend to be energized by solitude and alone time, most people enjoy meaningful conversation and are enriched by good friendships.

In many ways, relationships are spatial. Most people have lots of acquaintances, many 'friends' or people they know more about or do life together with, but usually only a few close or best friends. Like circles of friendship, the former are further away emotionally while the latter are in close proximity. The key is knowing who is where and how best your constellation of relationships functions in a healthy manner - for everyone concerned. 

We find close friends by first being friendly with lots of people - enlarging our circle of acquaintances. Out of these casual connections, we often find people with common interests or who are of a 'kindred spirit' where there is a mutuality of commonality and enjoyment. With time and effort, close friendships can emerge. And what a gift a good friend is! Of course, to have friends one must be friendly and it is often in giving to others that we also receive. 

How are your relationships going? Who are your friends? Who needs to be closer? Who should you be creating some distance from at the moment (not that you become rude to them but that their proximity is not benefiting either of you)? 

What could you do to strengthen your existing friendships? What conversation do you need to have to take things to a deeper level?

What steps could you take to make some new friends? Where could you meet people with common values and interests?

In most relationships, we get out of them what we put into them. True love thinks about how the other person wants to be treated then grabs the initiative and treats them that way. It's called the "Golden Rule" and it enhances all relationships. 

Tomorrow: Financial Control

For some additional BLOG post around the theme of relationships, see also:


Finding Happiness (Part 1): A Sense of Purpose

Finding-Happiness

Are you happy? 

What does happiness really look like?

Australia's longest running and most comprehensive survey on happiness is conducted by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. After 15 years of detailed research, the author of the survey, Deakin University Emeritus Professor Bob Cummins, says he's finally cracked the code to wellbeing, which he has dubbed the ‘golden triangle of happiness':

  1. A sense of purpose.
  2. Strong personal relationships.
  3. Financial control.

Let's take a look at each of these:

A Sense of Purpose

Deep inside of each one of us is a need for a sense of purpose and meaning. What are we living for? What is life all about? Why should we even get out of bed in the morning? Good questions! 

A lot of people simply pursue pleasure (more fun!), possessions (more stuff!) and prestige (more popularity!). Is it any wonder, because the media and our culture bombard us every day with these values. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits. It's just worth pausing and asking if they are worth making the central purpose of our life. 

Pleasure doesn't last that long and before you know it, we need another fix. 

All stuff eventually breaks down and wears out and before you know it we want something newer or better (thanks to the relentless efforts of the multi-billion dollar marketing industry). Years of detailed research proves quite convincingly that once you earn over a certain amount a year, money won't make you much happier. Is it really worth the time and effort to pursue outward symbols of success - owning an expensive home, in an expensive suburb, and driving an expensive car to drop the kids off at an expensive school? Many people bite off more than they can chew. They work more. They stress more. They fight more. Is it really worth it?

Prestige can be elusive too. We can be with the 'in crowd' one day and forgotten the next. If our sense of worth and identity is based on what other people think about us, we will always be vulnerable and at risk to the whims of people's fickle opinions. 

So what are you living for? What is the purpose of your life? These are BIG questions. And it's worth pulling aside from the rat race, even if just for an hour or two, to consider and reflect on them deeply. Life's way too short to be climbing the so-called ladder of success only to get to the top and find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

Tomorrow: Strong Personal Relationships.

Here are a few other BLOG posts that might be helpful as you reflect on your sense of purpose:


The Greatest Love Song of All Time (Pt.2)

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Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read through the Song of Songs - an extraordinary love poem.
 
How can we apply the insights from this love poem to our own lives today?
  1. What efforts are you making to keep the romance of your love relationship alive? What things can you do to cultivate a greater desire for the one who you love?
  2. In what ways can you further affirm the value and dignity of the opposite sex/gender?
  3. Wisdom calls us to loving and exclusive commitment, not to a rampant promiscuity which turns sex into a mere commodity. Read Proverbs 5:15-19 and reflect on the impact of more readily available pornography on genuine love. 
  4. In the beginning, men and women were made as equal partners in life and vocation, both being given involvement in the reproduction and dominion mandates (Genesis 1:26-28). What steps can you take to work against the embedded hierarchy and patriarchy that still dominates our culture, including within the Christian church? 
  5. Society today often demeans sex from it's God given purpose while the church often suppresses open conversation about sexuality. How can we contribute to a more healthy openness about sex and love, in our families and communities?

The Greatest Love Song of All Time (Pt.1)

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Everyone likes love songs. They fill the radio waves throughout the day. I can still remember enjoying the crooning voice of Lionel Richie singing "Hello, is it me you're looking for?" in my late teens. There is something deeply profound about the desire and yearning of one person for another. We call it love. 
 
The Bible contains many diverse types of literature, including poems, prophecies, narratives and of course, songs. The book of Psalms is literally a psalter, or collection of songs, expressing the full range of emotions of the human heart. But then we have that small little book at the end of the Wisdom Literature section called Song of Songs. That title means it is being declared as the best song of all. It's a bit like the phrase "holy of holies", which means the holiest of all holy places. This is the greatest song of all songs - and it's a love song, a sensual and erotic one at that!
 
That's pretty remarkable. This book is also unusual in the Bible in that it mentions God indirectly perhaps once (8:6), and most likely not at all. It also does not refer to the main Israelite traditions of the Exodus, the Torah (law), the covenants or the ancestors. Its central concern is about sexual love. It joyfully celebrates physical love and a couple's committed relationship. That should serve as a rebuke to Christians who find no place for love and sex in their Christian thinking and living. 
 
Of course, conservative interpreters throughout the centuries found all of this a bit too embarrassing so resorted to an allegorical approach, rather than a literal one, declaring this as a love story between God and his people. One interpreter even declared the woman's breasts as representing the Old and New Testaments! Now there is some creative, mental gymnastics. 
 
Before you start reading Song of Songs, maybe for the first time, here are a few pointers:
 
  1. The date of composition is uncertain and the author of this song in unknown. Solomon has been thought to be the author by some but the inclusion of his name (most references are in the 3rd person and he never speaks in the text) could refer more to sponsorship or dedication. His reputation for womanising does not harmonise with the apparently exclusive devotion of the lovers in this text. Some have even proposed a female author, but it remains impossible to prove.
  2. There are two main characters in the text - one man and one woman. There is no narrator intruding into the conversations. These persons are in love and the dialogue is charged with emotional content. 
  3. This is love poetry. The sequence of lyric poems form a series of episodes with some plot and theme development, but S1there are some abrupt shifts of scene and audience, which can be confusing and yet engaging at the same time. Poetic images abound - with heaps of simile and metaphor (many of them mixed!). There is much imaginative activity here. And the language can seem quite foreign to Western ears. There is military language (bodily parts being likened to towers, troops, banners, shields and warriors), architectural imagery (a house and a wall), family images, natural and agricultural imagery, wild animal images (the gazelle, stag, lion and leopard), specific geographical imagery (places as diverse as Kedar, Mount Gilead, Lebanon, En Gedi, Damascus, Hernon and Jerusalem), landscape elements (mountain, valley, garden, vineyard, orchard, pools and fountain), spices and incense, metals and gems, and frequent references to wine, suggesting the intoxicating nature of this love relationship. The regular blurring of a distinction between image and association (for example, shifting between an actual landscape and the landscape of the human body) only heighten the growing emotion of this love poem. 
  4. This book promotes a positive view of human sexuality, as a normal part of God's "very good" creation. These lovers express their desire for each other and speak of delight in each other's presence. Together or apart, each admires the other's body. As originally portrayed in the garden of Eden, they are "naked and unashamed" before God and each other (Genesis 2:25). They issue repeated invitations to each other. They are single-minded in their devotion to each other and their relationship. Most remarkable is the fact that there is no mention of procreation, showing that child-bearing is not the only legitimate aim of sexual relations.
  5. There is a mutuality in this love relationship. In fact, this book is also unusual in the biblical library, in that it gives S2 the central place to a woman's voice unmediated by a narrator. She is the speaker in the majority of verses and has the first and last words. There is no hint of hierarchy or patriarchy here. The man and woman are equals - in value and personhood. In fact, there is an interesting reversal to the Eden statement "your desire shall be for your husband" (Genesis 3:16) with the woman's declaration, "I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me" (7:10). [It is disappointing that some English translations have chosen the words "Lover" and "Beloved" to represent the male and female characters in this love poem since this implies male initiative and female passivity, which is exactly the opposite of what this love poem portrays.]
  6. There is a time for love to awaken. The woman in this love poem speaks to "the daughters of Jerusalem" several times, repeating this advice/warning: "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" (2:7; 3:5; 5:8; 8:4). Love requires restraint at times, saying 'no' to the immediate in order to say 'yes' to what may be even better in the longer term. Yes, waiting and delayed gratification are part of a maturing love. Don't be too hasty in love. 
  7. Human love is a picture of the love God has for his people. The apostle Paul likens marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Therefore, we can include allegorical readings with literal readings of the Song of Songs, though it is not the sole purpose of the book. 
Enjoy your reading! I love the Message Bible translation.
 
Part 2 tomorrow ...

Easter Reflections

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The signs of Easter are all around us - cooler weather, school holidays, an upcoming long weekend, hot cross buns and extra church services to cater to people's faith which comes in all shapes and sizes. For many people, it is also a time to reflect on some important events that took place over 2,000 years ago - the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doubt, this is the foundation of the Christian faith. If Christ did not die and rise again, then our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

The Gospels all tell us WHAT happened during this Passion Week. Tragically, Jesus was betrayed, denied, falsely accused and eventually killed by the cruel death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Thankfully, three days later he rose from the dead and was seen by numerous witnesses. We are then told that Jesus ascended into heaven from which he would one day return.

This was all done to fulfil what the prophets of long ago foretold. But what was going on with Jesus on that cross? What was God up to? WHY did Jesus die? Disciples of Jesus, critics of Christianity, and biblical scholars have been reflecting on, discussing and debating the answers to these vital questions for centuries now. More recently, the conversations have increased and some of the typical trite answers are being questioned as being inadequate. 

One of my favourite thinkers and writers is N.T. Wright. As one of the world's leading Bible scholars, he has written numerous books about Jesus, the apostle Paul and the New Testament period. His most recent book is called The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion. He argues that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in transforming our understanding of its meaning. Wright argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was not only to forgivd us of our sins; it was actually the beginning of a revolution commissioning the Christian faithful to a new vocation — a royal priesthood responsible for restoring and reconciling all of God’s creation. Wright argues that Jesus’ crucifixion must be understood within the much larger story of God’s purposes to bring heaven and earth together. The Day the Revolution Began offers a grand picture of Jesus’ sacrifice and its full significance for the Christian faith, inspiring believers with a renewed sense of mission, purpose, and hope, and reminding them of the crucial role the Christian faith must play in protecting and shaping the future of the world. 

Another thought-provoking recent publication is The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by pastor and author Gregory A. Boyd. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia. Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different gods to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God. Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a "cruciform hermeneutic", Boyd demonstrates how the Bible's violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross. 

Two books well worth reading, as we continue to seek to mine the depth of the significance of what took place that first Easter.  

For my own personal reflections on some of the various answers to why Jesus died, see my previous BLOG post Why Did Jesus Die? based on a message I gave on Good Friday a few years back. 

One thing we know is that Easter is a revelation of the love of God for all humanity.

The apostle John put it so eloquently:

John 3:16. For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. NLT

Why not take a few moments to reflect on the lyrics of this hymn of praise: Oh, Love of God. My favourite version of this song is by Kelly Willard and it is available to listen for free on You Tube.

I pray many blessings on you and your family this Easter.  


The Quest for Life's Meaning (3)

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Ecclesiastes is a controversial book - is it a positive affirmation of the joy of life or a deeply pessimistic view of the world? Either way, it resonates deeply with the existential struggles of people today. The book takes us on a roller-coaster ride as the main character sets out to explore the meaning of life. We too are to wrestle actively with the difficult questions and real issues of life.

Throughout the Quester’s journey, there is a constant tension between the 'utterly enigmatic' nature of life as he discovers it under the sun and the call to 'seize the day', eating and drinking and enjoying what God has given to us. These can be referred to as the carpe diem passages (which increase in emphasis throughout the book’s journey), such as the following:
 
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20. Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. NLT
 
Here is a transforming vision of eating and drinking, of enjoying one's work and one’s wealth, and of sustaining joy. This is to be seen as a gift from God (see also 2:24-26; 9:7-10 and how the apostle Paul picks this theme in Colossians 3:17) who created all things for his pleasure (Revelation 4:11). As Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” This involves joy even in the midst of the contradictions and enigmas we experience in life (see 1 Peter 1:8).
 
All of this is a mystery that needs to be held in tension, being difficult to resolve. Like chasing the wind, we know that the wind is real but it is impossible to grasp. So life has meaning but it can be hard to get a handle on. The resolution to the paradox is found in "the fear of God" which enables one to rejoice and apply oneself positively to life in the midst of all that one does not understand, including especially death. It is a call to rejoice and remember our Creator by enjoying his good gifts and obeying his laws (see 11:7-12:7). We can wrestle with reality at its darkest points and still testify to the joy of God. Like the Quester, we can affirm joy over despair while still struggling with how to relate the two. As Craig Bartholomew writes, “His autonomous epistemology takes him toward skepticism but his Jewish background and faith provide him with an undeniable shalomic perspective on life” (p.355). Enigma remains but it is enveloped with meaning. It’s a meaning that comes from refusing to forget the God who created everything. Despite the difficulties, paradoxes, unanswered questions and mysteries of life, life can be lived on a firm foundation of faith and trust. 
 
Here’s the narrator’s conclusion:
 
Ecclesiastes 12:8-14. Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly. The words of the wise are like cattle prods — painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep. But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. NLT
 
Anything we pursue on this earth in order to find meaning and satisfaction from tends to disappoint, as least in the long run. But when we discover a peace and a joy in a connection with the God who transcends yet pervades this world, we are able to express and experience that joy even in the daily aspects and routines of our life. We live more content, we are more attentive to all that is talking place around us, and we understand that everything belongs and everything is a gift.
 
Ultimately, it is Jesus who redeems us from the futility of life and ushers in the great feast of the kingdom of God. Yes, all of creation continues to groan but with a hope that death is not the end and that the story of redemption is yet to be finished. In the meantime, like Jesus, we can celebrate the life that God has given us and feast in joy, living fully present in each moment of our day. After all, Jesus literally ate his way through the Gospels, bringing joy and hope to whoever he encountered along the way. 
 
May we do the same.

The Quest for Life's Meaning (Pt.2)

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The book of Ecclesiastes is a fine piece of inspired literary work, carefully crafted to convey an important message about the quest for the meaning of life. There is a Narrator who frames this royal story (1:1-11 and 12:8-14), a story which is made up of the actual words and thoughts of someone we will refer to as the Quester (1:12 - 12:7). The Quester is also called the Preacher, the Teacher, the Wise Man or Qohelet (Hebrew for 'preacher’).
 
Solomon is the stated identity of the Quester (1:1) but some biblical scholars now choose a later date and see this as royal Solomonic fiction, though based on actual historical experiences. See Craig G. Bartholomew's excellent commentary on Ecclesiastes in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series (Tremper Longman III, Editor) for more background detail.
 
The theme of the book is stated loud and clear right up front (1:2) - "Utterly enigmatic, utterly enigmatic, everything is enigmatic.” This Hebrew word hebel is used 38 times in the book and can be translated as vanity, absurdity, futility, transience, uselessness, vapor/breath, chasing the wind, and meaninglessness. Enigmatic or 'chasing after the wind' are alternative translations. 
 
This provocative summary of the Quester's search for meaning (his epistemology) is shocking coming from the ruler of God's people (1:1), but anticipates the journey he will embark on and the conclusions he will come to. He is talking about human life and experience (anthropology), not God and or the universe in general (cosmology). This summary statement does not close the debate but rather opens it - the shock of the statement engages the reader in the Quester's own struggle as they begin to wrestle with how a wise person akin to Solomon could make this sort of statement. 
 
After stating the theme of the book, the key question being pursued is presented (1:3) - "What is the benefit for humankind in all one's labor at which one labors under the sun?"
 
The word translated “benefit” is used 10 times in the book and refers to advantage, profit, benefit, additional edge, or meaning for our labor (work). The word “humankind” is used 49 times and shows how the pursuit is about fundamental questions about the nature of human existence. The phrase “under the sun” is used 29 times, showing the Quester’s concern with the whole range of the human experience. The word “labor” is used 22 times and "to labor" 13 times, referring to work, toil, labor, struggle and pain - all sorts of human endeavor.
 
Although this is the main question being pursued, there are actually 32 questions in the book of Ecclesiastes. That’s 12% of the book’s entire content! Questions drive the intellectual challenge, inviting the reader to participate in the struggle to find the meaning of life. Never be afraid to question. 
 
The Quester considers all of life under the sun. Here is a brief overview of his quest:
  • Pleasure and the good life (2:1-11) - abandoning himself to the pleasures of wine, extensive building projects, gardens and parks, the accumulation of wealth and treasures, music, sex, and so on.
  • The problem of death and one's legacy (2:12-23) - the repetitiveness of history, the end of life for all in death, and one's lack of control over one's legacy,
  • The mystery of time (3:1-15) - the limits of human life, namely birth and death, and the range of activities that make up human culture, including agriculture, war, reconciliation, medicine, grief, celebration, and so on.
  • The problem of injustice and death (3:16-22) - if death is just the end, then humans are no better than animals, and there will never be a time for judgment,
  • Four problems - oppression, rivalry as the motivation for work, isolation in work and life, and the problem of government (4:1-16).
  • Public worship (5:1-7).
  • Oppression and profit, along with its dangers (5:8-17).
  • The problem of riches and wealth (6:1-12).
  • Knowing what is good for one (7:1-13) - the nature of the good life.
  • Moderation in folly and wisdom (7:14-22).
  • The enigma of political rule (8:1-9).
  • The problem of delayed judgment (8:10-17) - including the lack of observable justice and the longevity of people favoring evil.
  • The fate of death and the gift of life (9:1-12).
  • The example of a city (9:13-18).
  • Wisdom, folly and rulers (10:1-20).
  • Living with the uncertainties of God's providence (11:1-6). 
There is no sacred/secular dualism here. It is a comprehensive survey of the variety of areas of human life and experience. 

The Quest for Life's Meaning (Pt.1)

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Every since I was a kid, I have loved books. Whether it was visiting the local library, hanging out in my dad’s office, or sitting reading encyclopaedias while my parents were visiting with friends, books were a doorway to a world of experience, information and knowledge. Books awakened in me a passion for learning and discovering new ideas about anything and everything. 
 
My fascination for books drew me to the Bible. The Bible is an amazing book, or more accurately, a collection of stories, writings, songs, poems and prophecies. Like a huge library, the diversity throughout the various books of the Bible is quite extraordinary. I have my favourite parts of the Bible but I have enjoyed venturing to some of the less travelled sections too. As a pastor once said when I was younger, “If you want to know God’s will for your life, read all the verses you haven’t underlined!” There’s some truth in that. 
 
One of my favourite sections of the Bible is what is referred to as the Wisdom Writings found in the Old Testament - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
  • The book of Psalms is a poetic and literary sanctuary where humans share their joys and struggles with brutal honesty in God's presence.
  • The book of Proverbs describes wisdom, which is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and translate that into daily skills for living. As a teenager, I often read a proverb a day and found much practical guidance from this sacred text. The sages often sought to motivate wise behaviour by linking it to reward, but in reality, bad things happen to good people, and as a result, the wise are not always rewarded as they expect. This raises the question of the justice of God.
  • Both Job and Ecclesiastes struggle with the apparent disconnect between God's justice and our actual experience of life as it happens.
  • Finally, the Song of Songs is a passionate love poem that reminds us that God is interested in more than just our brains and our spirits; he wants us to enjoy our bodies and our sexuality is part of us as humans being created in the image of God. As a teenager, I must admit wandering inquisitively to the pages of this book during many a boring sermon! 
Just over a month ago, I gave my last sermon as Senior Minister of a large church in Melbourne. In that message, I shared some reflections on the meaning of life from my current vantage point. What has meaning for us changes over time and as you grow older, this question of what really matters seems to increase its volume in our heads and hearts.
 
As an overflow of this, I have recently been reading slowly through the books of Ecclesiastes, a book that I think everyone should read at least once a year. In this unsettling book, the main character outlines his quest to find meaning and satisfaction in life as he continually turns to consider, know, search out and seek. The reader is drawn along the quester’s journey as he recalls a series of dead ends that he pursued. Like meandering through a complex maze or labyrinth, meaning in life is sought through an extended variety of avenues. It is a long journey and one of doubt, questioning, uncertainty and ambiguity. At times there is hope, while at other times there is only despair at the paradoxes that life brings. The book calls the reader to engage with the excruciating tension of this journey and enter the conversation it evokes.