Archive for December, 2008

Happy in the Teeth of Life and Death

December 8th, 2008

This closing section reads like a final plea from Solomon (before the last word is added in Ecclesiastes 12:9-14). In the light of all he has said about the fleetingness of life under the sun, the illusion of riches, the folly of constructing our godless life-plans, the emptiness of shallow religion and the value and rarity of wisdom, Solomon fires a parting shot at us. The burden of it is simple: live with God at the centre.
Because of God… Take Action (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)
Knowing God is there (and knowing the kind of God he is) will help us to live fully, freely, embracing life actively and living without the crippling caution of those who imagine they are in charge of their own destiny. Surprisingly ‘religion’ can have the opposite effect on many Christians who imagine that they are showing more godliness if they never take risks and take pigeon steps through life. A life of tedious calculation can be mistaken for ‘responsibility’ and ‘sobriety’ but it is just as often the product of distrust in God and a fear of failure.
The person who knows that God (however mysteriously) rules the universe including everything we can’t understand (Ecclesiastes 11:5) is able to walk confidently into uncertainty, taking bold steps and even risks confident of God’s providential care.
There is a way of non-living often disguised as spirituality by the fact that people ‘do nothing wrong’. The fact is they do nothing at all. They bury their treasure when God has given it for investment. What seems like wise caution can be foolish waste. But you were made to actively enjoy and share your life with thankfulness to God.
Churchill considered that people who had a ‘heavenly mind’ were little earthly use. It’s easy to see how he may have got there, but the truth is the opposite – and this should be seen in the true believer’s life.
A God centred view of life will be truly liberating. It will set you free from undue cares and cautions. You will learn to live in the moment God gives, redeeming it for eternity, rather than putting things off for an illusory ‘future’ which you have no real control over.
People walking this way are able to rejoice in the mysteries of life and of death. Why? Because all is in the hands of God.
Because of God… Be Glad (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10)
True to the consistent message of the book, Solomon continues to recommend joy. There is great harm in living only for the supposed goals of this present age. But lasting joy will be found for those living lives of contentment before God.
But if you live this way – well you can go nuts. Suck life dry. Why do you think God made the world so fabulous… for someone else?
Seriously, what are you waiting for? Have some fun today. Make a plan for it. God commands it! Do you want to make him cross?
Does this seem pretty unsaintly to you?
There’s a weird masochistic (you might call it ascetic) impulse in religious folks making them suspicious of delightful moments which don’t happen in a prayer meeting. We take all the verses about finding our pleasure in God and start feeling guilty for the pleasure we take in family, great dinners with friends, making love to our spouse, bottles of Grand Cru St Emilion, music without ‘Christian’ lyrics and paintings that don’t depict Bible scenes. But this reveals a stupid dualistic theology where God’s gifts to us are limited to church gatherings and movies with a ‘U’ rating.
The issue is: do you thank God for all these gifts and hold them lightly? Or do you worship them (i.e. cling to them like a lobster in a trap?) Enjoy creation. It’s God’s gift. But it’s not God. He, not any of his gifts, will be the one you stand before one day.
What He wants from us is not robotic compliance but joyful, God-fearing liberty. The one who delights himself in the Lord will have the desires of his heart (Psalm 37:4) or in the words of Augustine of Hippo Love God and do what you like…
This means setting your heart hard after God then making your decisions freely, knowing that he has given you the mind of Christ. If you are truly born again God has put a compass in you pointing his direction.
A compass is different to a map. Maps are for people who want every detail – like Christians who need special guidance on every decision – latte or espresso today Lord? I am your servant and would not presume to choose…
What does your heart say? Latte or espresso? Hey, maybe tea?
I spent a little while needing to know if it was God’s will I should marry Kate. My wise pastor at the time said to me ‘what does your gut say?’ I told him what my gut had been patiently saying for quite some time by then. He said ‘then that’s the will of God’.
God put Adam in a garden and said to him ‘you’re in charge. Name the animals’. If Adam came back to him and said ‘I want to call this thing a pig but I am not sure if that’s what it is’. I think God would have said: do your own job.
Isn’t this kind of teaching dangerous? Of course it is. The whole bible is dangerous if you don’t fear God first. That means talking with him, worshipping him a lot, listening to him, being humble and looking for good advice i.e. not being a jerk (see last week’s blog)…
Because of God… Take Him Seriously (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)
…which takes us to our last point. The word ‘remember’ in Ecclesiastes 12:1 means more than give him a thought now and then. When God remembers things He calls them to mind and heart (e.g. the Lord remembered his covenant with Abraham) and sets his course by them.
Are you setting your course with God in the centre? You will be forced to one day – you’re going to die. And that day is ever closer. If you are over the age of 30 you may have noticed this beginning to happen. And if you’re over 60, well I wouldn’t say it’s too late…
There’s a time coming in your life when it’s too late; too late for a lot of things. Doesn’t mean you can’t redeem even those years – he said so in Ecclesiastes 11:8 – but the time is short. It’s a vapour. It’s hebel.
So make it count. Take God very seriously now. And live happily. This dying process sucks. God didn’t really want it for us. He wanted us to just live. But for our sin we all have to go through it.
Yet there is one man who didn’t have to. Yet he did. And because Jesus did, our vaporous lives can have meaning – forever.

 You can watch or listen to this sermon here

Author: Categories: General Tags: ,

On Not Being A Jerk

December 2nd, 2008

The second half of Ecclesiastes picks up a different tone to the first. Having established that wisdom from God is the basis for a life of meaning under the sun, Solomon describes what wisdom looks like lived out.

For Solomon there is one way to differentiate between people: wise and foolish. And foolishness is a lot easier to come by than wisdom.

It may be known in heaven that wisdom is ‘more precious than jewels’ (Proverbs 3:15) but the scales tip the other way here on earth. That which gets resoundingly greeted in our day as ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ will not necessarily have anything to do with wisdom.

Foolish Hearts

Wisdom is not just an intellectual matter. In the bible folly and sin are intertwined. People are foolish in their minds, yes, but in scripture the mind and heart are locked together. The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Wisdom, like folly, begins in the heart – and affects the whole person (Ecclesiastes 10:2).

This helps distinguish wisdom from information, and helps explain why books like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs talk about sin and stupidity as thought they were almost the same.

In the end the world is not suffering for a lack of information. To be sure, education and knowledge solve enormous problems all the time. But there are problems which further information has never solved and
never will.

The person who founds their life on Jesus is building a house of wisdom (Matthew 7:24-27), and since the majority don’t do that (Matthew 7:13), the world is a fairly stupid place. We shouldn’t be surprised. Neither should we flit to and fro from this King to that Prime Minister, as if any person or system is going to deliver us all from the folly (Ecclesiastes10:4). The human race, being inherently unwise, is pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to putting the right people in power anyway (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).

So get wisdom. It’s more valuable than having the right man in the White House – or Downing Street. Though it’s a lot more costly…

Foolish Deeds

There are a couple of opposing mistakes to avoid as we handle the challenges of our toil. We’re firstly warned about methods and principles – they are not to be confused for each other.

The tool we use to get a job done is not as important as the job itself (Ecclesiastes 10:10). How many times do we delay the progress of God’s work in our lives, our families, our church or our city simply because we don’t want to stop and question our methods?

Maybe in your life there is an area of real difficulty and exhaustion for you which could actually be solved by simple and wise changes to your methods, your time management, your diet, your exercise, your level of responsibility. Stop once in a while and ask yourself some questions.

The opposing danger is to flood our minds with training and understanding but take no action whatsoever – perhaps delaying action to some magic moment when our emotions will click into place and everyone will be exceedingly happy with our contribution to the task in hand (Ecclesiastes 10:11).

Solomon says wake up! The stakes are high, there’s a snake to be handled, do your thing now! Take action and implement the plan.

This is a frightening warning. It’s possible to fluff our biggest responsibilities because we a). Don’t ever consider our progress, preferring instead to slog away fruitlessly and thoughtlessly; or b) imagine that we will never have to fight a snake and the battle will go our way automatically.

This is stupid; and horribly serious.

How does this apply to your marriage, parenting, prayer life, finances, witnessing…?

Foolish Words

In verse 12 Solomon goes on to distinguish between foolish and wise talk. Many people are simply not worth listening to – in fact they are trouble (Proverbs 17:12). To make things particularly vexing one of the traits of the fool is that he imagines he is wise – and so dispenses his ‘wisdom’ liberally (Ecclesiastes 10:14). He may even be stupid enough to mistake his idiot decisions (which have brought him and others nothing but misery) for qualifications to sprinkle the world with ‘what he has learned’.

Choose your mentors with care. For wisdom go to the wise. Go quickly, meekly and gratefully. And don’t talk much – just listen hard. Especially to the bits you don’t like. Ask yourself why you don’t like them.

If you want to sin you will find an ‘expert’ who agrees with your preference. But that has nothing to do with wisdom.

Foolish Land

The goal of this is not self-improvement. God is happy to flood your life with benefits of his wisdom, but it is in the interests of a greater goal: his own glory in the land. There are many lives not yet exposed to his wisdom. We live in a city known for its ‘feasting’ (partying) – but it is not godly feasting ‘for strength’ but for ‘drunkenness’ (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). For such a city Solomon has a word: ‘Woe to you…!’

He says woe because for such a city it will not go well. God’s wisdom has been rejected for folly and ‘madness’ (Ecclesiastes 10:13) and ‘weariness’ (Ecclesiastes 10:15) will follow.

We may be unimpressive in ourselves. Solomon himself was a child when he became King
(Ecclesiastes 10:16). But he recognised his deficiency and prayed – for wisdom. This should be the daily prayer of all in CCK. We need wisdom for the city.

The answer is the emergence of a Kingdom people who are princes with God (Ecclesiastes 10:17). Through the work of Jesus they have forsaken their folly and exchanged it for his wisdom.

The fact that great wisdom is often effectively undone by a little folly (Ecclesiastes 10:1) should teach us to put our trust in something even greater. Ultimately we must look to God.

You can watch or listen to this sermon here

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