Hope Renewed

WHO IS THE MOST THANKFUL PERSON YOU KNOW?  WHY?

WHAT ARE THE OPPOSITES OF GRATITUDE? Complaining, whining, entitlement

We have been studying hope.  When hope is expressed, it looks like gratitude.

We may not be ungrateful, but we can forget to BE grateful.  We get used to the things we’ve been given, and we begin to take them for granted.  Believers can do that in their relationship with Jesus.  The longer we have been believers, the more we can get used to the blessings and benefits of knowing Jesus.  Over time, we can forget what it was like not to have that hope in Him.  Psalm 138 reminds us of the hope we have and pulls us into an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude to God.

READ Psalm 138:1-3

We do not know when David wrote this Psalm, but it reflects a lifetime of trust in God.  God is exalted over all others and He demonstrated His protection to David in all circumstances.  That is why David expressed thankfulness and trust.

A major quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness to God for the hope we have in Him. Gratitude to God must begin with faith in Jesus and with the idea that our lives are a gift of grace

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GRACE? (Undeserving and unearned gift from the Father’s hand)

That is the attitude David comes to God in these verses. It is also found in other places –

READ Psalm 100

READ Philippians 4:6-7

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

WHAT SPECIFICALLY WAS DAVID THANKFUL FOR? What God did, His purposes, His Word, His listening ear, His protection for those who trust Him.

In his book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson, tells of a time he came home from work tired and stressed.  He found his children had left their bicycles in the way of his putting his truck in the garage.  (HOW WOULD YOU FEEL/REACT?) This irritated and upset him; but, after he had moved the bikes and was back in the truck, he felt the Lord reminding him that he was viewing his life in a way that was robbing him of the blessings he enjoyed.  He realized that gratitude is a choice.  (WHAT SHOULD HE HAVE BEEN THANKFUL FOR?) As we recognize, accept and practice gratitude, our entire lives will be enriched.

In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.

Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:

  1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
  2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
  3. It creates a physiological state of “resonance”, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.

That’s gratitude for you, really. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it. This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.

Paul wrote about this:

READ Colossians 3:15-17

David spoke to God, the great I AM.  We are to trust, love, obey, and serve Him alone. Sadly, we do not do this consistently.  HOW CAN WE BE MORE CONSISTENT?  1 Thessalonians has a good answer – re-read it.

One interesting note from these verses – David tells us that he will sing before the heavenly beings?  WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT REFERS TO?  It may refer to heavenly servant beings (angels), judges and governors appointed by God as political leaders (spoken of in Exodus) or the supposed “gods” of the surrounding nations.  Whatever the exact meaning, we are to not be ashamed to honor God in any environment.  We are to let the powers that be know that our trust is in God – that is who we bow down to.

So – verses 1-3 thank God for His love and truth.  Now, let’s thank Him that we don’t have to call attention to ourselves to get His attention:

READ Psalm 138:4-6

Even kings and other leaders will give thanks to the Lord when they hear God’s own words. When people, even those in places of leadership, hear and believe the truth revealed in God’s Word, they will respond as well.

GRATITUDE IS A VERB – Fulton J. Sheen wrote:

“An interesting phenomenon in children is that gratitude or thankfulness comes relatively late in their young lives. They almost have to be taught it; if not, they grow up thinking that the world owes them a living.”

A friend once told me that she didn’t want to force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like it saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s OK to be a hypocrite.”

That’s not even close to what gratitude is. Our feelings have nothing to do with why we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is for the benefit of the other person. It’s about their feelings, not yours.

The same is true when it comes to saying “Thank you” to God. Thankfulness is the proper response to the goodness of God. We say “thank you” because he is good, not just because we happen to feel good at the moment.

This is why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” — it’s an act of obedience, not just an emotional outburst.

David said, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:17)

Like children, believers need to learn how to be thankful. Most of the time, when we consider all the good things God has done for us, we’ll feel thankful. Even when our feelings don’t cooperate, we need to properly express gratitude, offering God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the kindness and mercy he has shown us.

David tells us in these verses that the Lord, even though He is exalted, takes note of us when we are humble.  God delights in revealing Himself and His will to those who humbly seek Him.

READ Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” NASB

READ 2 Chronicles 7:14

WHAT ARE THE ENEMIES OF HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE?

  1. Assuming you have to live like a king to be grateful – not thanking for all
  2. Thinking God will not notice you – poor, poor, pitiful me or above it all
  3. Feeling entitled to what God gives you – what do people feel entitled to?
  4. Forgetting that life is a gift – taking everything for granted

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

~ John Wooden

Choosing humility is a posture of the heart toward God that wards off entitlement and other enemies of gratitude.  Gratitude is our response to the hope we have in God – even to His protection:

READ Psalm 138:7-8

We can live full, meaningful lives because our hope is based on His preservation rather than our own efforts.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all engaged in spiritual battle.  There are spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6) who do battle with us daily and we would do well to fasten our armor tightly.

God (and EMS) can rescue you from danger or protect you from danger.

HAS SOMEONE PROTECTED YOU WITHOUT YOU KNOWING IT AT THE TIME? Kids

HAVE YOU BECOME AWARE OF GOD’S PROTECTION IN A CIRCUMSTANCE?

We should keep in mind that our gratitude to God is not based on how good our situation is but on how we view the situation.  Gratitude should be our response to all situations.

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 again

What now?

  1. Record it – make a daily list of why you are grateful – you can use your lesson guide to start
  2. Say it – tell people why you are grateful instead of complaining, murmuring and arguing. See what difference it makes in your world.
  3. Share it – find someone in your world to share the love of Jesus, even if they don’t express their gratitude toward you. Maybe that way, you will know what God feels like when we fail to do it to Him.

WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE?  Gratitude

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Divine prescription for money

Several years ago, a sixty-two-year-old Frenchman was rushed to the emergency room. This poor man was suffering severe stomach pain. There was an enormously dense mass in the patient’s stomach that weighed twelve pounds. It was so heavy that it had forced his stomach down between his hips. Five days after his arrival, doctors cut him open and removed his badly damaged stomach and its contents, but the man died a few days later from complications.

What is so astonishing about this man’s story is what the doctors found inside of his stomach. The dense twelve pound mass was not a cancerous tumor. Rather, the patient had swallowed around 350 coins: the equivalent of 650 American dollars! The doctor said he was suffering from a rare illness that makes people want to eat money.

 

Now you are probably saying to yourself, “That’s simply INSANITY! I am nothing like this mentally unhealthy fellow! I would never swallow coins, especially 350 of them.” Honestly, I am glad to hear this. As we tell our children, “Swallowing coins is dangerous. Don’t do it!” Now, let me ask you,

“Are you gorging yourself sick with money and materialism?” Stop for just a moment and take inventory of your life.

Are you sacrificing much time away from your family and church because of money?

Are you losing needed rest for the sake of a job?

Are you working too hard for material gain? Many of us, if we are truly honest, would have to say “yes” to these questions.

In Ecclesiastes 5:10-20, Solomon is going to discuss the misuse and abuse of money. To coin an Italian proverb, Solomon states, “Money is a good servant but a bad master.” Now before you are tempted to tune out and say to yourself, “All that he wants to talk about is money,” I want you to stop in your tracks. When we make a commitment to the Lord, money will have to be discussed. Consider this: Sixteen out of thirty-eight of Christ’s parables deal with money; more is said in the New Testament about money than heaven and hell combined; five times more is said about money than prayer; and where there are five-hundred-plus verses on both prayer and faith, there are over two thousand verses dealing with money and possessions. Why all this talk about money? Jesus said it best, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God understands that our use of money and possessions may be the single greatest indicator of our spirituality. So let’s see what Solomon has to say. In this passage, he offers us five sobering realities on money and then two profound truths about God. He begins with his five sobering realities on money.

 

  1. The more we have, the more we want (5:10).

Solomon begins by informing us that money is not the secret to happiness. Instead, it is addictive and unsatisfying. In 5:10 he writes, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.” It is important to notice the twofold repetition of the verb “loves.” Money is not the problem; rather, the love of money is the issue. It has been said, “Money makes a lousy lover. The more you love it, the less it satisfies. The more you focus on it, the less it delivers.” Yet, most Americans are tempted to think: If I had more money; if I could marry the person of my dreams; if I could build my dream house; if I could get a certain promotion or position; if I could gain a certain position of influence; if I could solve a certain problem; if I didn’t have to do something…then I would be happy. In all of this, happiness is dependent upon happenings—more money and more possessions.

 

Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) how much money he wanted. He answered, “Just a little bit more.” This accurately describes most Americans. Unfortunately, whether we care to admit it or not, this is true of many Christians. We have developed a love for money and abundance. Yet, Solomon says, “Take it from me, a man who had it all, money does not satisfy.”

The problem is that we don’t believe him. We think it would be different for us. We wouldn’t be miserable. We would be happy. But let me ask you this:

Do you think most people in Hollywood are content?

Does it seem like most professional athletes are content? We would say that they “have it all” yet they are caught up in drugs, alcohol, violence, and divorce. The inescapable conclusion is that money and possessions are hebel—vanity!

 

This is an especially important realization for married couples or for those considering marriage. U.S. research indicates that wives or husbands who place high value on possessions are more likely to experience financial problems, which puts a strain on the marriage relationship. The study published by Reuters showed that very materialistic couples had a 40 percent higher risk of having financial problems than other couples, which can then impact marital happiness. Therefore, it is critical that married couples in particular spend money wisely, work off a budget, and save. Those couples who are considering marriage need to wrestle with spending habits, standard of living issues, and debt. Remember money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we want. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we spend (5:11).

Solomon states that when you have a lot of money you tend to spend a lot of money. In 5:11 he writes, “When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?” A person who comes into wealth suddenly discovers he or she has long-lost relatives and would-be friends (cf. Proverbs 19:4). The Message puts it this way: “The more loot you get, the more looters show up.” In other words, money brings out parasites or leeches. Seriously, it takes a lot of people to manage wealth, business, and property. There are bankers, brokers, financial consultants, lawyers, tax consultants, accountants, household employees, bodyguards, and sponging relatives. People can’t take care of their wealth all by themselves. They are dependent upon others. What is so sadly ironic is that more money means more workers to help make, distribute, and protect money. Often, this causes the profit margin of the owner to decrease. Is more better?! In many cases, it is not.

Therefore, you and I need to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that if we just had a little more money, then that would solve all of our problems. Let’s be honest, isn’t there a part in all of us that thinks if we only had enough to pay all of our bills or get what we are longing for, all of our problems would disappear? In truth, having more actually creates as many problems as it solves. As we get more stuff there are more things to take care of that will demand more of our time and money. We become even more tied down. To make matters worse, the more you have, the more people there will be who resent you for what you have. Indeed, money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we spend. Solomon goes on to say…]

  1. The more we have, the more we worry (5:12).

Wealth does not give peace or rest but only promotes insomnia because the rich worry about how the wealth is to be maintained. Solomon writes, “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.” Solomon has observed that the person who works hard and only has basic necessities sleeps well no matter how much he has to eat. The rich man is actually more restless because he has eaten too much, he has too much going on in his life, and he can’t unwind. Stuff does not bring peace—it actually brings more anxiety. The wealthy are always afraid of losing what is theirs, while the poor man is content with what little he has. This is borne out in our sleep patterns. Did you know that the primary reason people in our culture cannot sleep is tension? And the primary cause for tension is worry over money. What is the stock market doing, how is the economy affecting sales, and how can I keep good people and get rid of those who I do not want? How about OSHA, the IRS, and government regulations?

 

Think about it. You started out to own things, now they own you. Maybe that promotion wasn’t so perfect after all. Like Henry Ford once said, “I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.” Perhaps you can relate to this. When you don’t have a lot of money, there isn’t a whole lot to worry about. However, the one resting on his wealth has nothing to think about except the possibility of losing it through bad investments, lawsuits, or theft. If you find yourself preoccupied, anxious, and sleepless, you may have affluenza. So work hard and learn contentment. If you do, you will sleep well. And isn’t your peace of mind and rest worth far more than riches and success? Sleep is a gift from God (cf. Ps. 4:8; 127:2; Prov. 3:24; 6:22). Those who do not trust God devise evil on their beds instead of sleeping (cf. Ps. 36:4; Prov. 4:16; Micah 2:1). Earthly possessions rob the owners of sleep (e.g., Prov. 11:28; 18:10-12; 28:11; 30:8-9).

John D. Rockefeller’s life was almost ruined by wealth. At the age of fifty-three, Rockefeller was the world’s only billionaire, earning about a million dollars a week. But he was a sick man who lived on crackers and milk and could not sleep because of worry. When he started giving his money away, his health changed radically and he lived to celebrate his ninety-eighth birthday!

[The more we have, the more we worry. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we hoard (5:13-14).

The tendency of many Americans who have wealth is to forget about those who do not. The selfish tendency of mankind grieves Solomon. He wants us to know, “What comes around goes around.” Listen to these words: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.” Solomon calls hoarding a “grievous evil” (5:13). In the end, selfish greed only leads to the hurt of the hoarder. It has been said, “He who has no money is poor; he who has nothing but money is even poorer.” The truth is: we show what we love by what we do with what we have. If we are generous and sacrificial in giving to the Lord’s work and caring for others, we will have peace. If we choose to hoard, we will have hurt.

 

Verse 14 is very interesting to me. I think Solomon implies that the one who hoards may find that when it is time for his children to inherit his wealth, nothing remains. All it takes is a bad business venture.

 

Solomon writes, “When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him.” Solomon pictures a person spending his whole life saving for the future and then a calamity strikes—a catastrophic illness, fraud, a stock market crash, perhaps a terrorist attack that destroys the economy, or a “sure fire” investment that goes bad. How many people have lost that which they worked their lives for because they had an extended nursing home stay? The truth is we are all very vulnerable. We are just one illness, accident, or crime away from losing it all. Thus, our hope better be in something more secure than money, for money is a good servant but a bad master.

[The more we have, the more we hoard. Now Solomon says…]

  1. The more we have, the more we leave (5:15-17).

These three verses remind us that money is transitory and temporal. Like flour in a sieve, money slides through some people’s fingers. In 5:15, we come to “the naked truth.” Solomon writes, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Solomon points out that we go as we come—naked. We’ve even coined a phrase that reminds us of how we came into this world. If a person has no clothes on, we might say he’s wearing his “birthday suit.” Proverbs 23:4-5 says, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Did you know that on the back of a dollar bill is a picture of an eagle with his wings stretched out? When I saw it recently I thought, “Now that’s appropriate…and truly biblical as well.” And that old dollar bill will just fly right out of my wallet and so will the next one and so will the next hundred and so will the next thousand. Solomon tells us why. They make themselves “wings.”

[The righteous] are always generous and lend freely.
Psalm 37:26

We do want to be effective parents. There is so much to teach our kids, and so little time. But as we struggle and strain to bestow wisdom on the next generation, we might also pause to consider how much our children can teach us.

I recall a story by a woman named Elizabeth Cobb about a mother who wanted to show her children how to be more generous. After a tornado had touched down nearby, the mother taped a newspaper picture of a now-homeless family on their refrigerator. The photo included the image of a tiny girl, her eyes wide with confusion and fear. The mother explained this family’s plight to her seven-year-old twin boys and three-year-old daughter, Meghan. Then, as the mother sorted out old clothes, she encouraged her boys to select a few of their least-favorite toys to donate.

While the boys brought out unwanted playthings from their rooms, Meghan slipped quietly into her own room and returned hugging something tightly to her chest. It was Lucy, her faded, frazzled, and much-loved rag doll. Meghan paused in front of a pile of discarded toys, pressed her round little face against Lucy’s for a final kiss, then laid the doll gently on top.

“Oh, honey,” the mother said. “You don’t have to give away Lucy. You love her so much.” Meghan nodded solemnly, eyes glistening with held-back tears. “Lucy makes me happy, Mommy,” she said. “Maybe she’ll make that other little girl happy, too.”

The twins stared openmouthed at their baby sister. Then, as if on cue, they wordlessly walked to their rooms and returned not with castoffs, but with some of their prized toy cars and action figures. The mother, now almost in tears herself, removed a frayed coat from the pile of clothes and replaced it with a just-purchased hunter green jacket. The parent who had wanted to teach her kids about generosity had instead been taught.

Meghan intuitively knew that her beloved rag doll was not hers to keep forever. Though she could not have explained it, she understood the meaning of the Scripture that says, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). When Meghan realized that another little girl needed Lucy more than she did, she willingly gave up her cherished toy.

God wants us to use our possessions, our wealth, our talents, and our very lives to bring glory to Him. As the apostle Paul says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a special report on the top-earning dead celebrities. Last year (2016), the top were:

  • Michael Jackson, $825 million.
  • Charles Schulz, $48 million.
  • Arnold Palmer, $40 million.
  • Elvis Presley, $27 million.
  • Prince, $25 million.
  • Bob Marley, $21 million.
  • Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, $20 million.
  • John Lennon, $12 million.

 

These men earned a lot of money during their earthly lives and now their estates are prospering after their deaths, however apart from Jesus Christ it is vanity. Solomon is clear: You can’t take it with you. However, the flip side of that coin is positive: You can send it ahead. Jesus commanded us to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). By giving to the Lord’s work and being a blessing to others, your money can outlive you. For now, we only need to remember that in eternal terms there is no own—only loan. In other words, we are not owners; we are merely stewards of God’s resources.

 

Solomon concludes this section in 5:16-17 with disappointing words regarding the pursuit of wealth: “This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.” Solomon reminds us that despite all of our work and wealth, we are going to die. And to make matters worse, if we are obsessed with wealth in this life, happiness will evade us. Andrew Carnegie was right, “Millionaires seldom smile.” Money can’t console you in loneliness, illness, or hardship. Affluenza hangs a dark cloud over life. It causes sorrow (fighting, lawsuits, greed), sickness (stress, ulcers, back pain), and anger (bitterness, resentment, anger at others who use you). And for what?

Money is a good servant but a bad master.

Well, enough bad news, now for some good news. Solomon says that there is a divine prescription for achieving satisfaction, security, and significance in life. In 5:18-20, he shares that happiness ultimately comes from God. He mentions God four times in these three verses. Listen to these two truths about God.

  1. God gives work as His gift (5:18).

Even though you may assume that work is a curse, work is God’s gift. Work was before the fall of man and work will continue into the eternal state; for ultimately work is an expression of worship. Solomon writes, “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” God gives mankind work as a reward! This ought to motivate you and me to express gratitude for our jobs. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you need to thank the Lord for a beating heart and for red blood pumping through your veins. You need to thank Him for your job and for the strength He has given you to work your job.

[Not only does God give work as His gift…]

  1. God gives wealth as His gift (5:19-20).

These final verses emphasize the truth that our wealth comes directly from the hand of God. Solomon writes, “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.” These verses demonstrate that wealth is not condemned (cf. 1 Timothy 6:16). The key phrase in 5:18 is “God has given riches and wealth.” But you may say, “I thought I worked for it!” Yes, but God gave you health, a country, economy, skill, and opportunity. Apart from His strength and provision, you would not have what you have. And God wants you to know that if He has given you wealth, He wants you to enjoy it. But one word to the wealthy: Enjoy the wealth God has given you without leaving Him and others out. God is good and the giver of good gifts. We want the good gifts God wants to give us.

 

However, we often seek the gift but do not seek the capacity to enjoy the gift. Job observed that in Job 1:21—that The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job was able to say that because what God had given him as a gift of capacity was more important than the gift of prosperity itself. When we ask God for blessing, we should also ask Him for the gift of capacity so we can enjoy the blessings He gives. Our recognition of God as the one who gives the capacity to enjoy His blessings allows us to relax and enjoy whatever He gives. Principle: We must be more occupied with the giver than with the gifts.

 

So keep working and enjoy life; don’t fret over its brevity and difficulty. Here’s a happy heart. Righteous people are enabled by God to work hard, laugh loud, enjoy their life and their stuff as gifts from God’s own hand. They have a rich and full life, whether they have prosperity or they are poor.

There is a story told of a rich industrialist who came across a simple fisherman. The rich man was quite perturbed to see the fisherman sitting back with his feet up next to his boat on a sunny afternoon. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he demanded. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for the day,” replied the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish?” asked the rich man. “What would I do with them?” “You could earn more money,” said the rich man, who was becoming more impatient, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish and make more money. Then you could buy more boats and could hire others to help you fish. Soon you would have a fleet of boats and would be rich like me!” “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life” said the industrialist. “What do you think I’m doing right now?” replied the fisherman as he gazed out towards the sea.

The lesson here is not that “money can’t buy you happiness,” but rather, “you don’t need money to be happy,” nor power, nor accomplishments, nor any of those things. Happiness lies outside of things we work for. It’s not that we shouldn’t work; it’s just that it’s useless to pursue happiness through work, or through what work can provide for us. Rather, God wants us to work hard and enjoy the good gifts that He has given us. Make your money your servant to serve others, not your master so that it masters you.

Timing is everything

Timing is everything. You have probably heard this phrase many times. There is a great deal of truth in that statement. The difference between a good joke and a bad one is a person’s sense of timing. An appropriate pause makes a joke…an inappropriate pause can kill the same joke.

Timing is essential when dealing with people.

You don’t ask for a raise when business is not going well or when things are tense around the office.

You don’t try to correct someone who feels threatened by you.

You don’t ask for a favor when someone is under a lot of stress or angry.

Timing is important in cooking. The juicy hamburger on the grill is raw meat if cooked for too little time and a clump of charcoal if it is cooked too long.

Timing is important in medicine. If you catch a problem early you will be able to treat it more effectively.

Your timing is important in taking medication. If you take your medicine as directed it will be helpful. If you skip doses it loses its effectiveness. If you take extra doses it can be deadly.

Timing is important in finance. When you invest in a particular stock and when you sell the particular stock will make the difference between whether you make money or lose it. Knowing when to borrow and when not to borrow is the key to financial independence.

Timing is important in your spiritual life as well. It is critical to live your life with an acute awareness of God’s timing for your life.

 

In Eccl 3:1-15, Solomon tells us that life is really a matter of timing, for timing is everything. This should be evident to us. You and I probably have a dozen clocks and four or five calendars in our homes. Many of us carry a timepiece attached to our wrist, and time indicators are built into our cell phones, computer screens, and tablets.  If timing is everything, how should we live?

 

In the following fifteen verses, we will discover four concise exhortations on how to live if timing is everything.

  1. Expect change(3:1-8).

In this first section, Solomon makes a persuasive case for the brevity of life. As is customary in Ecclesiastes, Solomon begins this section by stating a thesis (3:1). He then proceeds to illustrate and demonstrate his thesis (3:2-8). Solomon’s thesis is this: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (3:1). The key word in this section is “time,” and it is used thirty times in 3:1-8. There are three insights worth noting in 3:1.

First, Solomon is not going to be making judgments on the topics that follow in 3:2-8, he is merely recording the events that occur “under heaven.”

Second, Solomon builds his argument upon the word “appointed.” The events of our lives do not randomly happen by chance; God has a purpose behind them. Third, Solomon uses an unusual Hebrew word translated “event.” This word conveys the idea of “delight.” By using the word “delight” instead of one of the standard nouns, Solomon implies that there is a good sense that one experiences by fitting into a given event at the right time. In other words, there is a sense of success based on appropriate timing—even if the activity, by its nature, is not delightful. Again, timing is everything.

 

After stating his thesis (3:1), Solomon launches into his poem in 3:2-8 (sung by the Byrds in 1965 – Turn, turn, turn and then redone by Bruce Springsteen in 2008).

In these seven verses, he makes twenty-eight statements—fourteen negative statements and fourteen positive ones. The first pair of contrasts (birth/death) sets the parameters for the events that follow. In 3:2 Solomon writes, “A time to give birth and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.” God appoints both our birthday and the day of our funeral. He knows exactly when they will occur; He always has. There are absolutely no surprises with God. He is so sovereign that there is nothing and no one who can take your life before your God-ordained days are finished. Solomon says this is even true of the plant world: the term of life is fixed. Verse 2 certainly starts with an emphasis upon God’s sovereignty over time, yet Solomon seems to be saying above all that the time is short. In fact, time is almost up. We are born into this world, and we rather quickly race toward the grave and die. Every eight seconds somebody dies and every three seconds someone is born. Life can seem like a revolving door. The same is true in the plant world. The various seasons of planting and harvest have been set by God. He sets the boundaries and times of the seasons and they come and go so quickly. Timing is everything.

The next two sets present destructive and creative activities: kill/heal, and tear down/build up. In 3:3 Solomon puts it like this: “A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up.” “To kill” does not mean to commit murder. Hebrew has a special word for murder that is clearly seen in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not kill.” Here, “kill” involves capital punishment or destroying enemies in a just war. Solomon is not making any moral judgments in this context, but since it has come up in our text, I will. The reason why this is necessary is because of the value God places on human life. Human life is so important to God that when a life is taken that life must be avenged, because humans are made in the image of God (Gen 9:6). Fortunately, there is also a time “to heal,” or literally, “to sew,” “to heal a wound.” There is also a time “to tear down” old walls, relationships, or even, metaphorically, nations (Jer 18:7, 9), as well as a time “to build up.” The second line may refer to the demolition of houses and their construction; it may also be figurative. In the Old Testament, the words for tearing down and building up are often used with reference to the destruction and building up of a human life. In that case, the first line of 3:3 is expanded by the second.

The next two pairs in 3:4 express human emotions: weep/laugh and mourn/dance. Solomon writes, “A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.” Both sorrow and joy are part of life; without one the other is unrecognizable. We will encounter negative and positive emotions and experiences throughout this life. This is to be expected. Change occurs constantly. One moment we will be on the mountain peak, the next moment we will be in the valley. During these tumultuous times, it is important for us to both grieve and rejoice. When loved ones pass from this life, we should urge family and friends to grieve. God intends human beings to grieve. Jesus grieved when Lazarus passed and when He Himself was preparing to die, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Grieving is healthy for the human psyche and brings about closure. It is also important for us to laugh and rejoice. It has been said, “If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble, you won’t have anything to laugh at when you grow old.” If you don’t have a sense of humor in life and ministry, you will never get out of bed in the morning. You will just hit snooze on your alarm clock and pull the sheets over your head. Eventually, you will wither and die.

 

Is it possible for you and me to worship God in these differing seasons? Is it possible to find joy in the midst of your sickness, to find dependency upon Him in the midst of your failing health? Is it possible to be close to God in ever-changing circumstances? If you only thank God in seasons of great health and prosperity you will not be thanking God very much, because those seasons ebb and flow like the tide. We are to find joy in the midst of each season and in the transition between them.

In 3:5 we come to a very bizarre set of lines. Solomon writes, “A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.” The phrase “throw stones” is a reference to sexual intercourse, while the phrase “gather stones” means to refrain from sex. In the Old Testament, abstinence from sexual intercourse took place in times of mourning. Corresponding to this meaning is the mention in the next line of the embrace, which is used as a toned down expression for the same thing. This interpretation ensures the parallelism between all of the lines of the poem. And it could indeed be said in this area that timing is everything. Did you hear that, men?

 

The next two pairs deal with the nature of possessions. Solomon writes, “A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away” (3:6). The latter phrase gives biblical authority for garage sales: a time to keep and a time to clean house! The thought here deals with the fleeting nature of our possessions. We buy clothes and we take clothes to the Goodwill. We buy a new car and sell our clunker. We search for various misplaced possessions and then accept that we will never find them in the mess of our closet or garage.

 

The next pair seems to suggest a time for mourning and a time to cease mourning. Verse 7 reads, “A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.” In the Old Testament, when people mourned the death of a loved one they tore their clothing and kept silent. When the period of mourning was over, ordinary conversations of the day could continue. This reminds us that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to talk. It has been well said, “In silence man can most readily preserve his integrity.” As Christians, we need to be wise in the use of our tongues. It is too easy to say too many careless things. Many of my heroes are those that use their speech wisely. Many of us need to learn from people who recognize that timing is everything.

 

The final lines of this poem occur in 3:8. This set of verses has to do with affections and their consequences. Solomon writes, “A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.” At first glance, these verses can be hard to understand. We all know that there is a time to love. We should be all about love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). But Solomon also says there is a time to hate. Even Jesus hated. He hated sin. He hated its mastery over human souls. He hated the wake of its destruction. We need to learn how to hate that which is evil without hating the people who are evil. We may hate the act of abortion, but we have compassion on both the aborted and the aborting. We may hate the ravages of alcohol, but we love those who struggle with alcoholism, and we want to do whatever we can to help them.

 

The internal parallelism of the previous six verses is in this final line of 3:8. This is probably due to a desire to end on a positive note—peace rather than war. Ironically, this line of Scripture has become rather famous, thanks to a 1965 hippie song song (but not written) by the rock group, The Byrds. This passage is still very important in spite of the words “turn, turn, turn,” which have haunted me all week like a tack hammer to my frontal lobe. With the addition of just six words to the end of Eccl 3:1-8, The Byrds were able to transform these verses into an anti-Vietnam, pro-peace song. Following the last couplet of “a time for war and a time for peace,” The Byrds added the little phrase, “I swear it’s not too late.” Thus, so Ecclesiastes entered the mainstream consciousness of the counter-culture.

 

Unfortunately, The Byrds were wrong in their insistence upon peace. As much as we may want peace, there will not be peace until the Prince of Peace brings peace to this world. And ironically, when Jesus does bring peace it will be after the blood bath that is described in Rev 19:11-21. Now I will not weigh in on the various wars that have taken place or are taking place since that is not the point of this passage. However, I will say this: When tyranny runs roughshod over the rights of mankind, war is necessary. We often sit in quiet places when we worship. We worship without fear of infringement from law because someone has fought for the right to be heard and to speak freely, to stand, and if necessary, die for what one believes to be the truth. We love the fact that America has been “the home of the brave and the land of the free” for more than 200 years, yet we often don’t appreciate the need to at times be at war. God is a warrior and war is a part of the Bible. To suggest that war is never to be condoned is a misunderstanding of the Bible. Again, timing is everything. Now I don’t like war. I’m not pro-war. I don’t know anyone who is, but I can’t imagine protesting or complaining while American soldiers are serving our country. My heart is to honor our soldiers and respect the decisions that have been made by our government. It is a mistake to assume that if we were in office all would be well. Nothing could be further from the truth. There will always be war and peace. There – I have said my peace (pun intended).

[Solomon has urged us to expect change. Now he will encourage us to…]

  1. Accept limitations (3:9-11).

Solomon writes, “What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?” This section ends in 3:9 with the same rhetorical question posed in 1:3 (cf. 2:11). This rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “Mankind gains nothing from his toil!” Any profit or advantage that man might gain from his toil is nullified by his ignorance of divine providence. We say to ourselves,

“Why should I work so hard when it’s all going to be destroyed?

Why get married when you just end up fighting and hurting one another?

Why have a child and deal with the stress and disappointment?”

These are all good questions. Actor Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.

 

Solomon continues in 3:10-11 with these words: “I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” The word “everything” in 3:11 resumes “everything” in 3:1. The point of 3:11 is that God makes everything, even events that occur through human agency, happen in its proper time. Yet, the tension of this verse is that we don’t always understand His purposes. We ask questions like,

“Why was I born this way?

Why did my father treat me that way?

Why did you take my friend?

Why am I missing out on this blessing?”

Our problem is that we focus our attention on the wrong thing.

We see the fuzzy, ugly cocoon; God plans and sets in motion the butterfly.

We see the painful, awful process; He is producing the value of the product.

We see today; He is working on forever.

We get caught up in the wrapping; He focuses on the gift—the substance down inside.

We look at the external; He emphasizes the internal.

He makes everything beautiful in its time, including your loss, your hospital experience, your failures, your brokenness, your battles, your fragmented dreams, your lost romance, your heartache, your illness. Yes, even your terminal illness…whatever you’re going through. He makes it beautiful in its time. Without Him, life is purposeless and profitless, miserable and meaningless.

With Him, it will ultimately make sense.

 

Solomon also says that God has set eternity into the hearts of mankind. Knowing that gives purpose to life. The phrase “eternity in their hearts” means God has placed a big question mark deep in every man’s soul. We should be asking the question: What is the meaning of life? God intended it that way. Anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given, innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is.

 

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Egypt and its tombs and pyramids, study what was required to construct some of those monuments. Some studies revealed that it required the efforts of one hundred thousand workers forty years to build just one of the great pyramids. As you tour the area there, you can’t help but ask why. Why so much effort? Why would somebody put that amount of emphasis on a tomb—on the afterlife? The answer is, the Egyptians understood full well that they would spend a lot more time in the afterlife than they would spend in this life. Granted, some of their conceptions of what would happen in the afterlife were a little skewed. But the point is, they understood to the core of their being that the afterlife was a whole lot more important than this life, and so they prepared for the afterlife during this life. God had placed eternity in their hearts.

 

Since all has been predetermined by God, there is purpose and meaning in the events of life. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you.” Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by any created being, but by God alone made known through Jesus Christ.” The truth is: we have an eternal itch. We all long to know the eternal significance of what we do. The Bible says this can only be found in Christ.

[Solomon has said we need to expect change and accept limitations. Now he will tell us to…]

  1. Enjoy life (3:12-13).

Solomon says one of the greatest responses to this life is to make the most of it. Not in a hedonistic sense, but in a spiritual sense. We enjoy life by including God in all that we do and being filled with joy. Solomon declares, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.” Biblical faith is a call to joy. Ben Franklin once said, “Do you love life? Then do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.” Timing is everything. Let’s face it, life is stressful. It is filled with all kinds of pressures from people, projects, pursuits, and more. For example, I could get a cold or flu this week. On my way home from church, a car could cross the yellow line and hit me head-on. I may learn that I have some form of cancer. So it makes sense to enjoy this life. Eat ice cream, watch a movie, play in the rain with your kids, take your spouse out to a nice dinner. Yes, be a wise steward. There’s no need to be extravagant, but make the most of your days on this earth.

[Not only must we enjoy life, Solomon also says that we must…]

  1. Fear God (3:14-15). Solomon closes this passage with these words: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.” God’s work is permanent and complete. Everything that He does is awe-inspiring. This is why Solomon says that we should fear God (lit. “fear before Him”). The fear of God is one of the key themes in Ecclesiastes and throughout the Bible. The phrases “fear God” or “fear of the Lord” appear over one hundred times in the Bible. The concept does not refer to paralyzing terror, but rather a commitment of the total being to trust and believing the living God. I have been to the Grand Canyon and was able to gazed on God’s majestic handiwork, I felt small, fearful, and awestruck. God wants us to stand in awe of who He is and all that He is. When we do so, we will understand just how temporary this life is in contrast with an eternal God.

 

Today, will you fear God? Will you entrust yourself to Him? Will you depend upon Him for everything? Will you acknowledge that His timing is everything to you?

Ecclesiastes #1, Here today and gone tomorrow

Here today, Gone tomorrow – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape? Many Americans have great intentions at the start of a new year. Perhaps you have already purchased a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. If so, good for you! It’s important to get in shape and be healthy. I enjoy racquetball, but occasionally, I get on the stationary bike to exercise.

Life is like riding on a stationary bike. It is a boring, tedious, and repetitive ride. A thoughtful person will ask, “What is the purpose in life?” Have you ever asked this question? Most people have. For some of us, this question has plagued us over the course of our lives…even our Christian lives. Several years ago, scientists at John Hopkins University surveyed nearly 8,000 college students at forty-eight universities and asked what they considered “very important” to them. What do you think these college students said? Make a lot of money? Get married? Get a job? Buy a home? I can tell you this: only 16 percent answered “making a lot of money.” But a whopping 75 percent said that their first goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.” This is a staggering piece of research, isn’t it?

In this New Year, maybe you are seeking to discover a purpose and meaning to your life. If so, the book of Ecclesiastes will guide you in this endeavor…but not in the way you might think. Ecclesiastes has been dubbed, “the strangest book in the Bible.” It is an enigma for many Christians, for the bulk of this book is the memoirs of a man that is sharing his observations about what is wrong with life. In Eccl 1:1-11, we learn that life is fleeting and disappointing.

  1. Life is fleeting (1:1-7).

In this first section, we will come to grips with the temporary nature of life. In the first three verses, the author introduces himself and his theme. Verse 1 begins: “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Although our author chooses not to identify himself, his titles or pen names give him away as Solomon. Solomon’s story is recorded for us in the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings. Although King David had many sons, it was his son Solomon who was chosen to be heir to the throne. God so favored Solomon that He appeared to him in a dream offering Solomon whatever blessing he desired. Solomon astutely asked God for wisdom to lead the nation well. He asked for wisdom instead of riches and fame. God honored Solomon’s request, granting him not just unparalleled wisdom, but wealth and recognition as well.

Solomon wrote three books of the Bible: Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. He is considered the wisest and perhaps richest man that has ever lived. He had a fleet of ships that would bring gold to him every day from far off lands. Tragically, Solomon married a foreign woman, which was forbidden by God because of the temptation to be led astray spiritually. Ironically, it was this unwise decision to gain favor from different nations by taking foreign wives that diverted Solomon’s eyes from the one true God. Scripture records that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Truly, this diverted Solomon’s devotion, so that it is often said of him that he had a divided heart.

If we were to depict Solomon as someone more modern, he might be considered a mix between Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Hugh Heffner, and Brad Pitt. In Ecclesiastes, what philosophical conclusions does this rich powerful genius come to after living a life with everything at his fingertips? We would expect Solomon’s sermon to be entitled “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Kings.” In 1:2, Solomon gives the theme of his book.

“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’”

This preacher fails to start his sermon with a compelling introduction. There is no attention-grabbing illustration. There is no appeal to felt needs. There is no whetting of the spiritual appetite so his audience will want to hear more. The one called “the Preacher” violates a basic preaching principle. He tells his readers up front that he has nothing to say because “all is vanity.” I regret to say that the translation “vanity” is not the best rendering of the Hebrew word hebel, for in our contemporary speech we typically connect vanity with arrogance. Unfortunately, many contemporary English versions continue to follow the Old English of the KJV. Nevertheless, there is great debate on what the term hebel means. Does it mean temporary or meaningless? It would seem that the word carries both ideas and even a few others. Hebel is an inexhaustible term. It can mean “vapor, deceitful, futile, and fleeting.” It points to what is without real substance, value, permanence, or significance. In other words, no person or pursuit in and of itself will bring lasting satisfaction. Everything is temporal. It may be that the modern Christian reader can do no better than to import hebel into his or her vocabulary, much as has been done with agape and to a lesser extent koinonia. Everything is hebel and therefore of no lasting value.

In this one verse, Solomon uses the word hebel five times. Hebel appears thirty-eight times in Ecclesiastes and only thirty-five other times elsewhere in the Old Testament. The term is used in every chapter of Ecclesiastes with the exception of chapter ten. It also brackets the book (see 12:8). Furthermore, Solomon uses a literary device to bring out a supreme emphasis: “vapor of vapors—the thinnest of vapors.” The Old Testament authors spoke of the “holy of holies,” “heaven of heavens,” and “servant of servants.” Solomon says that everything in life falls under this definition. Whatever hebel is, the world is full of it! The word “all” in the context of what he proceeds to describe refers to all human endeavors (cf. 1:3). This verse is blunt; it is intended to shock the reader out of complacency. It is designed to rock the boat, shake the tree, and pull the chain.

If the above explanation is a bit much for you, let me explain hebel another way. [Take a balloon out of my pocket.] This blue balloon represents your life at birth. I will now provide a visual of your lifespan. [Blow up the balloon.] At the end of your life, this is what happens. [Release the inflated balloon and let it sputter into the crowd.]

Life is not totally meaningless or without any ultimate purpose. The point that Solomon is making is that you live for seventy or eighty years and then you’re gone. Materially speaking, life is short and then you die. You will lose everything you own to the next generation. Your children will rent out your house, purge your possessions, and spend your inheritance. Ultimately, you will be a distant memory at a Thanksgiving meal.

Solomon follows up his theme with a rhetorical question that demands a negative answer. In 1:3 he asks, “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” The answer is there is no advantage. Work seems pointless because it is quickly passing. Furthermore, it is monotonous. The key phrase in Ecclesiastes, “under the sun,” is used twenty-nine times. This phrase is the key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon is writing from his viewpoint—ground level, horizontal, limited, and human. In these words we have a description of what life is like if the heavens are shut off from man. If a bowl were placed over the earth, masking the heavens (i.e., the spiritual world from which God speaks and acts), what would life be like? Given this perspective, what would be the view from earth? This is the experiment which is in focus in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Moms and some dads understand the truth of this verse. Whether it is washing dishes, cleaning sinks, scouring toilets, or washing floors, there is always more to be done. Not to mention, chasing toddlers, mediating fights between siblings, grocery shopping, and playing taxi in your minivan. Preparing creative, well-balanced meals that everyone is ready to devour without complaining is a challenging responsibility, on top of everything else we are responsible for.

What about work? After working and commuting fifty hours a week, you then come home to more work: mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, changing the oil in the car, doing the taxes, and playing with the kids. All of these responsibilities come at you day-in and day-out. There is no rest for us.

Just recently, we got a second dog.  She eats and sleeps (most of the time).  She likes to sit next to us on the couch and do nothing. Then it dawned on me: If a dog  viewed most of our lives, he or she would see a vicious cycle. We get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, and repeat the cycle all over again, until retirement. Our lives are short and boring. It makes one want to say, “Stop the insanity!”

To clarify his meaning and to support his contention in 1:3, Solomon cites four examples from nature. In 1:4-7, Solomon answers his own question: There is no advantage for one to work from earth’s perspective because everyone is caught in the unending and unalterable cycles of life.

  • The Earth (1:4). The transitory nature of human generations contrasts with the permanence and apparent immutability of the physical world. Solomon writes, “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” You are born into the world, you live your life, and then you die, but the earth keeps right on going. Birth announcements are on one page and obituaries are on the next. Generations passing parade. It’s like you’re walking across the desert, leaving footprints in the sand that the wind erases as though you were never there.
  • The Sun (1:5). Solomon writes, “Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.” The sun is on a monotonous cycle of rising, setting, and then racing back to the place from which it rises. The verb translated “hastening” means “to pant.” The sun is like a runner endlessly making his way around a racetrack. As each generation comes and goes, so also each day comes and goes with a regular and monotonous passing. It has been said, “The problem with daily living is that it is so DAILY.”
  • The Wind (1:6). “Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.” As the movement of the sun implies an east-west course, now the wind is described as moving north and south. The repetition in “going round and round” heightens the sense of monotony and purposelessness.
  • The Rivers (1:7). “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.” The sense of accomplishing nothing is reinforced here. The rivers continually empty into the sea but cannot fill it. The last phrase does not refer to the cycle of evaporation and rainfall as implied in the NIV translation. The implication here is not cyclic motion but futile activity.

These verses profoundly impress certain sensations on the reader. First, there is a sense of the indifference of the universe to our presence. It was here before we came, and it will be here, unchanged, after we have gone. Second, however, the universe, like us, is trapped in a cycle of monotonous and meaningless motion. It is forever moving, but it accomplishes nothing. Finally, a sense of loneliness and abandonment pervades the text. No one has described this better than the apostle Paul. The creation is “subjected to frustration,” in “bondage to decay,” and awaiting “freedom” (Rom 8:19-21).

[Solomon has argued that life is fleeting. In 1:8-11, he shares a second problem with life.]

  1. Life is Disappointing (1:8-11).

In these next four verses, Solomon demonstrates that everything and everyone in life will ultimately disappoint us. There are three basic reasons for this: There is no satisfaction under the sun, there is nothing new under the sun, and no one is remembered under the sun.

  • No satisfaction under the sun (1:8). Solomon states that nothing is truly fulfilling. He writes, “All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.” The Rolling Stones made famous the song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Sadly, this song could have been written by Solomon himself. Just like Mick Jagger and the rest of the Stones, Solomon had it all…and then some, yet everything was wearisome to him since one can never say, see, or hear enough. Man just can’t get NO satisfaction! Have you seen a good movie? Read a good book? Listened to a great song? Enjoyed a restful vacation? Delighted in a special experience? It is never enough. It never satisfies, for ultimately you want MORE.

Nothing new under the sun (1:9-10). Solomon writes, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done”. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new’? Already it has existed for ages which were before us.” The French have a proverb that goes: “The more things change, the more they turn out to be the same.” While there are new inventions, and God does do new things, Solomon is talking about how man can never be satisfied “under the sun.” Solomon is saying that there is no advantage for one to work from earth’s perspective because one’s work will never result in anything new, but only that which has been. If it appears that something new happens from time to time, it is only because our memories are short. Seriously, most of us don’t know history, so we keep thinking we’re coming up with new ideas! We often mistake movement with progress. We think we are making progress but in reality we are driving around a cul-de-sac and wondering why the neighborhoods all look the same.

Some people track their year, not on the basis of the months or seasons but on sports: baseball in the summer, football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter, and NASCAR in the spring. Where do you go when you conclude that there is nothing truly meaningful in life? Back to the stadium, where at least there are games with consistent rules, rewards, and penalties.

  • Not remembered (1:11). Solomon writes, “There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.” We need not look any further than the sports page to have this verified. One injury is all it takes to become forgotten. Household names can be discarded quickly. Yet the simple truth is: No one will remember anyone in the future. One hundred years from now everything and everyone will have been forgotten, regardless of what occurs today.

There is good news and bad news in 1:11. The good news is for those people who worry about what others think about them. In the end, no one will think about you at all. The bad news is for those who seek some type of temporal immortality. In the end, no one will think about you at all.

When you die, there will be a funeral. You may have twenty-five or 2,000 people attend. But do you know what they’ll do after the funeral? They will catch lunch and have a great old time together. Then they will hurry back to work because somebody was covering for them. That night they’ll go home to their families, watch a sitcom rerun, and forget all about your memorial by morning. Are you ready for that? Mark Twain was right, “The world will lament you for an hour and forget you forever.”

Perhaps this makes you feel empty. That’s exactly what Solomon is seeking to accomplish. He wants you to feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, for emptiness is designed to draw us to God. We must learn to value emptiness. As we acknowledge our sense of meaninglessness, we are motivated to search for more. We must learn to value emptiness for its positive potential. As an empty cup invites water or a vacant room invites entrance, so an empty heart can lead us to search for God-given ways to fill it.

By putting on biblical binoculars, we can see how Solomon concludes his book. In 12:13-14 he writes,

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” These two verses and the message of the Bible tell us that the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son. The good news is that God has not left us “under the sun.” If you have believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, life is not “under the sun” but rather in the SON. He brings purpose, peace, and significance. He gives you the opportunity to live an abundant life (John 10:10). However, the Bible is clear that apart from the Lord Jesus life under the sun is terribly disappointing. It is cursed! It is disjointed! It is upside down! It is in bondage to decay! It is meaningless! It needs to be liberated! This will happen when we leave this life and go and be with Jesus.

In the meantime, the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son. This means we must “fear God and obey His commandments…for God will bring every act into judgment.” The question of 1:3 is the most important question of the book: “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Solomon’s concern is what do humans have “left over” after life is over. What difference do the activities of this life have in the next life? Does anything last beyond the grave? Can we make certain (beyond the shadow of a doubt…beyond the shadow of death) that what we do in this life has some lasting value? This should be the key question of our lives (and of the lives of all other people). What can we do to guarantee a return on our life-investment? The answer that Solomon gives is to fear God and obey His commandments. When we do this, our fleeting lives begin to count for eternity. The disappointments that we experience in this life are bearable. When everything around us seems meaningless and monotonous, Christ—the Meaning in life, gives us meaning. When we are weary from the wearisome nature of life, Christ says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). When we can’t get no satisfaction under the sun, we can find satisfaction in the Son. When we can’t find anything new, we remember that Christ has created a new covenant, given the new birth, and new life. When we feel like no one will ever remember us, we can take confidence in the truth that God remembers us, and one day we can overcome this world and receive a new name that Christ Himself will give to us. In the meantime, the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son.

Hope Expressed

Hope Expressed
Small group, Mobberly Baptist Church, June 29, 2014
WHO IS THE MOST THANKFUL PERSON YOU KNOW? WHY?
WHAT ARE THE OPPOSITES OF GRATITUDE? Complaining, whining, entitlement
We have been studying hope. When hope is expressed, it looks like gratitude.
We may not be ungrateful, but we can forget to BE grateful. We get used to the things we’ve been given, and we begin to take them for granted. Believers can do that in their relationship with Jesus. The longer we have been believers, the more we can get used to the blessings and benefits of knowing Jesus. Over time, we can forget what it was like not to have that hope in Him. Psalm 138 reminds us of the hope we have and pulls us into an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude to God.
READ Psalm 138:1-3
We do not know when David wrote this Psalm, but it reflects a lifetime of trust in God. God is exalted over all others and He demonstrated His protection to David in all circumstances. That is why David expressed thankfulness and trust.
A major quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness to God for the hope we have in Him. Gratitude to God must begin with faith in Jesus and with the idea that our lives are a gift of grace –
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GRACE? (Undeserving and unearned gift from the Father’s hand)
That is the attitude David comes to God in these verses. It is also found in other places –
READ Psalm 100
READ Philippians 4:6-7
READ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
WHAT SPECIFICALLY WAS DAVID THANKFUL FOR? What God did, His purposes, His Word, His listening ear, His protection for those who trust Him.
In his book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson, tells of a time he came home from work tired and stressed. He found his children had left their bicycles in the way of his putting his truck in the garage. (HOW WOULD YOU FEEL/REACT?) This irritated and upset him; but, after he had moved the bikes and was back in the truck, he felt the Lord reminding him that he was viewing his life in a way that was robbing him of the blessings he enjoyed. He realized that gratitude is a choice. (WHAT SHOULD HE HAVE BEEN THANKFUL FOR?) As we recognize, accept and practice gratitude, our entire lives will be enriched.
In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.
Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:
1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
3. It creates a physiological state of “resonance”, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.
That’s gratitude for you, really. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it. This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.
Paul wrote about this:
READ Colossians 3:15-17
David spoke to God, the great I AM. We are to trust, love, obey, and serve Him alone. Sadly, we do not do this consistently. HOW CAN WE BE MORE CONSISTENT? 1 Thessalonians has a good answer – re-read it.
One interesting note from these verses – David tells us that he will sing before the heavenly beings? WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT REFERS TO? It may refer to heavenly servant beings (angels), judges and governors appointed by God as political leaders (spoken of in Exodus) or the supposed “gods” of the surrounding nations. Whatever the exact meaning, we are to not be ashamed to honor God in any environment. We are to let the powers that be know that our trust is in God – that is who we bow down to.
So – verses 1-3 thank God for His love and truth. Now, let’s thank Him that we don’t have to call attention to ourselves to get His attention:
READ Psalm 138:4-6
Even kings and other leaders will give thanks to the Lord when they hear God’s own words. When people, even those in places of leadership, hear and believe the truth revealed in God’s Word, they will respond as well.
GRATITUDE IS A VERB – Fulton J. Sheen wrote:
“An interesting phenomenon in children is that gratitude or thankfulness comes relatively late in their young lives. They almost have to be taught it; if not, they grow up thinking that the world owes them a living.”
A friend once told me that she didn’t want to force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like it saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s OK to be a hypocrite.”
That’s not even close to what gratitude is. Our feelings have nothing to do with why we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is for the benefit of the other person. It’s about their feelings, not yours.
The same is true when it comes to saying “Thank you” to God. Thankfulness is the proper response to the goodness of God. We say “thank you” because he is good, not just because we happen to feel good at the moment.
This is why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” — it’s an act of obedience, not just an emotional outburst.
David said, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:17)
Like children, believers need to learn how to be thankful. Most of the time, when we consider all the good things God has done for us, we’ll feel thankful. Even when our feelings don’t cooperate, we need to properly express gratitude, offering God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the kindness and mercy he has shown us.
David tells us in these verses that the Lord, even though He is exalted, takes note of us when we are humble. God delights in revealing Himself and His will to those who humbly seek Him.
READ Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” NASB
READ 2 Chronicles 7:14
WHAT ARE THE ENEMIES OF HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE?
1. Assuming you have to live like a king to be grateful – not thanking for all
2. Thinking God will not notice you – poor, poor, pitiful me or above it all
3. Feeling entitled to what God gives you – what do people feel entitled to?
4. Forgetting that life is a gift – taking everything for granted
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
~ John Wooden
Choosing humility is a posture of the heart toward God that wards off entitlement and other enemies of gratitude. Gratitude is our response to the hope we have in God – even to His protection:
READ Psalm 138:7-8
We can live full, meaningful lives because our hope is based on His preservation rather than our own efforts. Whether we realize it or not, we are all engaged in spiritual battle. There are spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6) who do battle with us daily and we would do well to fasten our armor tightly.
God (and EMS) can rescue you from danger or protect you from danger.
HAS SOMEONE PROTECTED YOU WITHOUT YOU KNOWING IT AT THE TIME? Kids
HAVE YOU BECOME AWARE OF GOD’S PROTECTION IN A CIRCUMSTANCE?
We should keep in mind that our gratitude to God is not based on how good our situation is but on how we view the situation. Gratitude should be our response to all situations.
READ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 again
What now?
1. Record it – make a daily list of why you are grateful – you can use your lesson guide to start
2. Say it – tell people why you are grateful instead of complaining, murmuring and arguing. See what difference it makes in your world.
3. Share it – find someone in your world to share the love of Jesus, even if they don’t express their gratitude toward you. Maybe that way, you will know what God feels like when we fail to do it to Him.
WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE? Gratitude

Choosing God’s Authority

Choosing God’s Authority – His will vs. my will
Sunday School, MBC, October 13, 2013

Do you like to be the leader or the follower?

All of us grow up and live under someone else’s authority. In the same way that we had to learn to accept a parent’s authority, we need to also accept God’s authority in our lives. Only then do we have freedom.

Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. Suppose a skydiver at 10,000 feet announces to the rest of the group, “I’m not using a parachute this time. I want freedom!” The fact is that a skydiver is constrained by a greater law–the law of gravity. But when the skydiver chooses the “constraint” of the parachute, she is free to enjoy the exhilaration. God’s moral laws act the same way: they restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom.
– Colin Campbell in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker)

WHO ARE SOME GREAT COACHES? Joe Paterno, Tom Landry, etc.
WHY ARE THEY CONSIDERED GREAT? Their players “bought into” the coach’s character, plans and personality. It is difficult for players to give their best effort when they don’t trust the person in charge and his plans for the team. The same is true of leadership. Great leaders must earn trust and respect.
IS THE SAME FOR CHRISTIANS? YES! Until we “buy into” and really get to know the heart of God, we will resist the rules that He sets down for us to follow.

God wants us to seek Him first and put His will on the top of our priority list. As we seek Him, placing ourselves under His authority is a delight.

READ Psalm 119:44-48
READ Jeremiah 15:16

Once we get a glimpse of the heart of God, His commands become a joy because we know and trust the One giving them. You see, there is great value in placing our lives under God’s authority. We learn that maximum FREEDOM comes from SUBMITTING to God’s rule in our lives.

When you stand beside a 747 jet on the runway, its massive weight and size makes it seem incapable of breaking the holds of gravity. But when the power of its engines combines with the laws of aerodynamics, the plane is able to lift itself to 35,000 feet and travel at 600 miles per hour. Gravity is still pulling on the plane, but as long as it obeys the laws of aerodynamics, it can break free from the bonds of earth.
“Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

When we try to exert our own authority instead of subjecting ourselves to the authority of God, we have a problem. Consider this illustration:

The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” he asked. The bear replied, “Why, you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval. Next, he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are mighty lion.” Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded the lion on the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him on the shore. The lion – beaten, bruised and battered – struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!”

Authority has been a problem for man from the very beginning. Consider an all too familiar account in the Garden of Eden:

READ Genesis 2:15-17 – that is the rule from God
READ Genesis 3:1-6 – there we go, bucking the rule!

As we grew into our teenage years, we typically longed for more freedom in our decision making. The last thing many of us wanted to hear is our parent’s point of view. But as we continued to grow into an adult, we naturally stepped out from the umbrella of our parent’s authority. That model is not seen in the Christian life. We need to stay under God’s umbrella or we are going to get wet with the rain of bad choices and difficult circumstances. Some have felt that the older they got, the less they needed God. This is NOT a sign of maturity. Maturity for the Christian is to stay under God’s umbrella.

To applaud the will of God, to do the will of God, even to fight for the will of God is not difficult … until it comes at cross-purposes with our will. Then the lines are drawn.
Richard J. Foster, Christian Reader, Vol. 31.

Many Christians feel more comfortable with the idea that apart from Christ they can do nothing (John 15:5), than they do with the other side of that coin: that they can do all things through Him who strengthens them (Phil. 4:13). “I can do nothing” lets me off the hook; “I can do all things” makes me wonder why I’m not doing anything. It’s easier to piddle around wondering whether it’s God’s will that you buy this car or that one, than it is to face up to God’s ultimate will for you: that you become conformed to the image of His Son. (Rom. 8:29)
John Boykin in The Gospel of Coincidence. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 2.

The problem that many of us encounter is that we don’t like to be told what to do. As children, we didn’t like to be told to share our toys or do our chores. This resistance to authority remains a struggle for many throughout their lives. As a result, many choose a path they think will lead to more freedom in their lives. It is a trap which actually leads to the opposite. Instead of more freedom, they encounter less freedom and possibly bondage. The Bible has a concise way of looking at this:

READ Proverbs 14:12 – our own authority will lead to our own death

The prophet Isaiah laments Satan’s fall from grace because of his pride. Before the Devil rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven, he was created by God as Lucifer, and called the Morning Star, Son of the Dawn. But serving our loving God apparently wasn’t good enough for Lucifer. He came to believe he could rule better than God. So Lucifer rebelled against God’s authority and became known as Satan, the Devil, the Serpent.

Isaiah 14:12-15 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. NIV

Isaiah gives us a look into the heart of Satan – and humanity. The Devil wasn’t content to be governed by a loving and benevolent God. He wasn’t willing to live under God’s authority any longer. His heart was filled with pride and he decided he wanted to rule his own life and not be subject to the rule of God. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like us?

In Genesis 2:15-17, we see the way God wanted the world to be. In God’s original design, man and woman would exist without interference from sin. Adam and Eve were living in a world very similar to the kind of world most of us would want – a world without a lot of rules. I can only find one rule God established in the garden – don’t mess with THAT tree! It seems that God’s original plan is that He likes the idea of freedom. As long as Adam functioned under God’s authority, everything would be fine. But that is not the way the story goes. Adam lost his freedom.

DID GOD TAKE HIS FREEDOM AWAY? No – sin took it away. It was the devil that successfully made Eve mistrust God and encouraged her to be disobedient. The devil’s line was that she could have NO RULES if she stepped out of God’s authority. In reality, instead of gaining freedom, Adam and Eve both LOST freedom. WHAT DID THEY LOSE? They lost the freedom to live in the garden, to have a life without pain, to live without disease, to be free of guilt, to relate to God without sin, to experience relationships without conflict and to live without sin. WHY DO WE NEED RULES? Because any time we are in a dangerous place, rules are established for our protection. God gave us rules (laws) not to restrict our freedom, but to protect it. God knew living outside the garden would be dangerous, but Adam and Eve chose not to stay under God’s care.

What about us? Are we living under God’s umbrella? It is a matter of trust.
DO YOU TRUST GOD? Some hesitate to submit to God’s leadership because they don’t trust Him. The problem is with the RELATIONSHIP! Rules apart from a relationship always lead to a lack of trust and, consequently, rebellion (Josh McDowell). We need to embrace a relationship with the “rule giver”, rather than the rules themselves. How we perceive God’s rules has everything to do with how we perceive God. Seeing God’s rules for what they are only comes when we see God for who He is. It is not until we strengthen our relationship with God do we see those fences as protection instead of restriction.

SO, HOW CAN WE APPLY THIS?
1. Today, decide to stay under God’s umbrella of authority – willingly.
2. Ask God to reveal those commands in Scripture you have trouble obeying. Ask “What is God trying to protect me from or what is he trying to provide?
Invest in THE RELATIONSHIP to encourage your trust in God’s hand. Get to know The Rule-Giver better.

Ministry lessons

Welcome to my ministry lessons blog site!  I will post recent small group lessons, sermon notes, and presentations here. I do not always cite my references in my notes, so if you need a reference on something, let me know and I will try to look it up for you.  Otherwise, these are ready for you to use!