The Search is Over: “Walking in Wisdom” – Ecclesiastes 7:9-29

A New Year begins… We all want to start off the year well, don’t we? Some of us have been reminded to make use of January 1 to hit the “reset” button and try to change some things about ourselves. Perhaps a diet change is necessary. Maybe we will start to head to the gym a few times each week. Some people will make resolutions to change some aspect of their life beginning today. The website Statistics Brain offered some idea of the numbers of people who make and attempt to follow through on resolutions, based on 2015 numbers:

• Percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions 45 %
• Percent of Americans who infrequently make New Year’s Resolutions 17 %
• Percent of Americans who absolutely never make New Year’s Resolutions 38 %
• Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8 %
• Percent who have infrequent success 49 %
• Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year 24 %

Their final analysis was this: People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

When we read that only 8% of the people who make such self-promising resolutions will attain that goal, we are tempted to discount the whole process. Yet, there is more behind the numbers. We mustn’t laugh at people longing for self-change – goal stating like this can help us identify areas in which we are secretly disappointed in our everyday choices. January 1 seems to afford us a moment to look introspectively at our life, recount the last twelve months and try to start anew. The truth is, in order to truly make a change in our behavior we must first see the value in a new behavior and then follow through on the change. If we don’t see real value in the change, we won’t take action and be consistent in making things happen. If we don’t work to follow through, change will be a short-lived idea.

Consider this: Jesus followers gather together regularly to consider a selection from the Bible for that same purpose – to examine our daily walk through life and evaluate the need to make changes. In addition to giving us the way to “find God,” the Bible offers teachings of wisdom that help us see the value of connecting specific life choices to the outcomes of life. Each passage of God’s Word either offers us a reason to walk as God instructs, or a method to do so. In the Biblical text, wisdom is not an abstract idea; it is the ability to take the principles of the Creator and apply them to the normal situations of life. Biblically speaking, therefore, it is impossible to really be “wise” in that sense without knowing God and recognizing His authority as well as understanding the specifics of His instructions. Let’s say it the way King Solomon did in Ecclesiastes 7…

Key Principle: You cannot learn wisdom without both grasping God’s Word and intentionally submitting to God’s rightful place in your life.

The short way to say this is: “Grab a Bible and take a knee.” We have to grasp the teachings of the Word and then bow before the Author.

The problem with some people is they will not take the time to listen to the Word. For those who DO avail themselves of its teaching, they face a second problem: human pride. We are simply tempted to resist doing what God instructs – either because we don’t see the value or we don’t revere Him sufficiently to make change. Some time ago, Bible teacher and Christian philosopher Dr. Ravi Zacharias reminded his readers that many simply don’t think they truly need God’s instructions in life. They choose to live as though they can “pull off life” designed by the Creator without a word from Him. They think themselves intelligent, effective and complete without His instruction. He used this little story to help us understand them. He wrote:

There is a story told about one-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Ali was flying to one of his engagements and during the flight the aircraft ran into foul weather. Moderate turbulence began to toss the plane about. Of course, all nervous fliers well know that when a pilot signals “moderate turbulence,” he is implying, “If you have any religious beliefs, it is time to start expressing them.” The passengers were instructed to fasten their seatbelts immediately, and all complied but Ali. So the flight attendant approached him and requested that he observe the captain’s order, only to hear Ali audaciously respond, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The flight attendant, however, did not miss a beat but quickly fired in reply, “Superman don’t need no airplane either!”

The truth is that some think academic or material advancements confer wisdom without God. According to God’s definition, that is not so. It is because of such arrogance that many of us seem willing to easily cast aside Biblical standards and prohibitions without considering how unwise that is. Zacharias noted: “G.K. Chesterton aptly advised that before pulling any fences down, we should always pause long enough to find out why it was put there in the first place.

The Bible’s recipe for wisdom begins with reverence of the Lord (Ps. 111:10). It celebrates every word that connects the Creator’s grand purposes to our daily choices. Think of how this ideal is framed in Proverbs 3:

Proverbs 3:13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. 14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver, and her gain better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast. 19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. 20 By His knowledge the deeps were broken up and the skies drip with dew.

If you look closely, you will note the writer included:

• The marvelous result of wisdom – it brings happiness.
• The incredible value of wisdom – it is more precious than jewels.
• The lasting promise of wisdom – it offers long life, riches, honor and peace.
• The remarkable heritage of wisdom – the world was founded on it.
• The wonderful Author of wisdom – truly God created all things based on foundational principles He has willingly revealed!

God’s instruction in practice is wisdom, and it reveals the essential underlying principle of “how things were designed to work.”

Solomon knew the value of living truth in practical ways. He also wisely understood what it took to make changes that matter in life. As we turn back to consider carefully Ecclesiastes 7, we find a record of his commitment to making wisdom known, and citing its value. The passage contains two kinds of statements:

Proverbs about the value of wisdom – to help us see the value of making changes to live in line with the Creator’s purposes.

Practical instructions, both negative and positive, on how to live wisely.

Because proverbial writing often sounds like a group of people reading individual fortune cookies around a table in the local Chinese restaurant, we need to re-shuffle the order of the verses and group them by theme to build Solomon’s case. This is a common technique when studying this type of Biblical literature.

Note that Solomon first reminds us of the value of wisdom throughout the passage. He shared in this portion reminders that wisdom offers three critical advantages in life:

It offers protection – It is valuable to preserve life right now – not just helps us at some future time!

Ecclesiastes 7:11 Wisdom along with an inheritance is good And an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.

Solomon notes that saving up and leaving something to your children is a good thing, but not nearly as helpful as leaving them with the tools to practice wise living. Because assets can make future things possible, they are valuable. Because people can make things happen, they must know how to act prudently with those assets. Consider this:

• Money can assist you in living a healthy life, but doing so will require deliberate healthy choices.

• Wealth may help you build a layer of protection against unwanted intrusion, but you will still need to be shrewd in your life choices with friends.

• All the security money can buy won’t help someone under guard who unwisely “ducks” their security detail to go off for some fun unprotected.

For reasons such as these, teaching our children to connect what God says about life to their daily choices isn’t designed to hinder them – but to help them. Lessons in wisdom aren’t designed to keep them from having fun; but to provide the means for a long and satisfied life without the guilt they would otherwise face for making poor choices.

Wisdom connects us to the manual of the Maker – and we function more safely when performing according to and within our design limitations.

In addition to protection, wisdom offers direction reminding us who we are and who we are NOT. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:19 Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There is power – political, military and popular – and then there is one who knows how to live as God intended. Of the two, the latter is greater in real power. It is important to remember that wisdom offers a path when simple displays of power may not. Real strength comes from knowing the specifics of what God says will work.

At the same time, almost in the same breath, Solomon noted in verse twenty a humbling truth: “No one does right all the time!” Though we must not use this as an excuse for our lax behaviors, we have to admit that we will never get everything right – and that should humble us. We will constantly war inside ourselves. We will always fight the flesh within, the influence of the world without, and the powers of darkness around us. Even though God has given us the wisdom to gain victory, it is likely few, if any of us, will master the complete empowering of God to stand consistently on the Lord’s side. We just have to be honest – and in doing so we will remain rightly humbled. That will help to season our speech with grace.

Wisdom offers valuable direction, but doesn’t guarantee success in flawed beings like us.

Beyond protection and direction, wisdom offers warning of dangerous people and situations!

Ecclesiastes 7:23 I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? 25 I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. 26 And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. 27 “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28 which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. 29 Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”

Solomon acknowledged that learning truth isn’t easy. He worked at separating truth from ridiculous theory. During his search, he found himself particularly tempted to trip in the area of self-control in relation to his sensuality. In his life, he recognized his libido often overcame his common sense. This was a forecast of the downfall of his life that would one day become obvious. He knew he was weak in this area. Time proved that to be true. He discovered along the path of life a handful of men who were able to see past his wealth and power and walk in integrity before him. In all that time, none of the women he met did so.

The text doesn’t attempt to paint all women in a bad light, though it is understandable how one could conclude that. The insights of Solomon regarding women are set in a specific context. First, he admits that he is tempted to see them in a wrong way – looking through the filter of physical beauty and sensuality. Second, he faced the fact that as King, women approached him with their own agenda and some knowledge of his weakness. Many men were equally crafty, but lacked the attraction to which Solomon was susceptible. Because of the pressure many believers feel to conform to the world’s views today, even some Bible teachers will hedge on the truth found here – but we must not. Solomon offered an important insight: Women who met him seemed intuitive about his weakness for them – and many attempted to play into that weakness. If you follow his story to the end, you will find that Solomon had little chance to meet a woman who reflected integrity – not because they didn’t exist – but because they couldn’t get access to him.

In the end, wisdom is designed to trumpet dangers ahead. If Solomon had listened to his own words and understood how perilous God said our hungers can be to our success in life – his story may have ended very differently.

He possessed wisdom until he allowed want to drive it out. He allowed passion to dull the stabbing pains of warning. How many believers walk this same tragic path!

The passage highlighted the fact that wisdom offers clear benefits. The remainder of the passage addressed how to walk in wisdom.

Let’s spend a few minutes in the rest of Ecclesiastes 7. You may note that some of the instruction was expressed in negative terms. Look closely at the recurrence of the words “do not” in verses nine, ten, sixteen, seventeen and twenty-one. Others are given in affirmation, positive truths in places like verse thirteen and fourteen where the writer calls us to “consider” something. In all, Solomon offered seven instructions on living wisely. He told us to:

Live deliberately: Do not allow emotions to control your life choices.

Ecclesiastes 7:9 Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools.

If you let your anger and other negative emotions drive your life, you will disconnect from God’s way to live. The two characteristics that most show a Christian life are giving and forgiving – and angry people don’t do much of either.

Whether you believe it or not, control of your heart is most often by consent of your will.

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t “fall in love” – you want something and choose a way to get it…

Along the same line, when you blow up, you LET anger control you. Can I prove it? Have you ever been in a very angry discussion with someone and the phone rang. You went from stern, perhaps even loud and hostile, to a disarming “Hello!” in one moment! The outburst of anger was quelled in a second, when you decided it was appropriate to speak kindly!

Guy Glass wrote a classic story about anger. The story is told of a young boy was driving a big hayrack down the road and it turned over right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out and saw the young boy crying and said, “Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now lunch is ready. Why don’t you come in and eat with us and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.” The boy said, “No, I can’t. My father is going to be very angry with me.” The farmer said, “Now don’t argue, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.” The boy said, “I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.” The farmer and the young boy went inside and had dinner. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, “Well, don’t you feel better now?” The boy said, “Yes, but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.” The farmer said, “Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, “He’s under that pile of hay.”

Well, maybe that story is more about bad judgment, but who could resist telling it? The serious point beneath the words of Solomon: “anger resides in the bosom of fools” should not be quickly passed by. In the Bible, though not exclusive, the common use of the word “fool” is used in association with a person who does not know God, or has concluded that God does not exist. In places like Psalm 14:1

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.

Just as wisdom is “the connection to God and the principles by which He had built our world” – so a fool is person who attempts to live a fulfilling life in a willful state of disconnection from God. Sadly, many in the world are what the Bible referred to as “fools.” Add that idea to what Solomon shared in Ecclesiastes 7:9. He may well have been saying that those who choose to live a disconnected life from God can become a natural harbor for anger. The astounding thing is that Solomon offered this observation long before social media! If one looks only at the comments section of any religious forum, this appears to be a serious problem. Anger and disconnection appear to be related in the same way that psychologists identify angry youths from poorly “bonded” children.

Here then is wisdom: Walk closely to God and be open to forgiveness of others. The two will work together, and they will help you live in peace.

Live presently: Living in the past is terribly unwise and grossly unhealthy.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.

We should appreciate our past, but not worship it or try to dwell too long in it. Yesterday is gone. The sights and smells, the people and the places – they are all the stuff of memory. They can be precious, and they can draw us to tears. At the same time, we should be warned… Our memories can play tricks on us. We don’t necessarily recall the past the way it truly was. We can be tempted to recall the good and not the bad or vice versa.

We should celebrate the past and be grateful for God’s faithfulness that brought us through it. I recently heard a story that I thought celebrated well.

I sat with an old woman of many years, as she stared downward at her wrinkled and misshapen hands. She asked me, ‘Have you ever looked at your hands, I mean really looked at your hands?’ I looked down. I slowly opened both hands and studied them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. Honestly, I had never really looked at my hands closely, and I listened intently to her words:

“Stop and reflect for a moment about your hands and how they have served you throughout your years. My hands are now wrinkled, shriveled and weak – but they have been the chief tools I have used all my life to reach out, grab and embrace life. They caught my fall as a toddler, when I crashed to the floor, unsteady on my feet. They put daily food in my mouth and pulled the clothes upon my back. My mother folded them the first time and taught me to pray. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband’s rough hands tightly but wiped my tears gently when he went off to war. They have been dirty one day and bleached with cleaners the next. They have been softened by creams at times and scraped and raw on others. They have been covered with warm gloves, as well as swollen and bent. They were adorned with a wedding band and held my precious newborn son. These hands wrote countless letters to my wonderful husband and trembled and shook endlessly when I buried my parents and then later my spouse. They have held my grandchildren, consoled my neighbors, covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. These hands are the mark of where I’ve been in the journey of the ruggedness of life. But more importantly, it will be these hands that God will snatch up and lift me to His side someday soon.”

There is a woman who knows how to celebrate her life without trying to stay in the past of it.

Wisdom says: “Live now. Yesterday is a memory. Make new ones today for tomorrow!”

Live sensibly: Keep a balance between the serious and the silly.

You may be surprised to hear that Solomon has a sense of humor. Some of you may be surprised to hear that ANY preacher has a sense of humor! Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:15 I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

On first glance, this doesn’t sound Biblical – even if it is in the Bible! If the words took you by surprise, look more closely at them. Solomon said:

Some people take every moment too seriously. They press endlessly as if every decision will bring some catastrophic result. They don’t seem to connect the fact that some things seem to “just happen.” Good people do the right thing and it doesn’t always work out. He pleaded: “Don’t make every step like it is monumental. Which breakfast cereal you choose probably has no eternal consequence.” On the other hand, he made clear that we shouldn’t frolic through life taking nothing seriously – because idiocy often results in physical harm. See YouTube where you can watch people do incredibly dumb things that land them in the emergency room.

Here is wisdom: Be careful, but fastidious. Be healthy, but not a hypochondriac. Be fun, but not careless. Balance your life between the fun and the serious – and learn to time the two appropriately! Remember: a bow always bent is easy to break.

Live graciously: Don’t take everything people say to heart.

Along with learning when to take something seriously, Solomon added a note about the words of others…

Ecclesiastes 7:21 Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

Learning to be gracious to others when they hurt you is a watermark of maturity in your faith walk. Those who need justice forget there is a God Who cares for that. We aren’t here to right every wrong – though you cannot tell by the way we so freely express what is “wrong” with our neighbor. Teach those God has given you to teach and offer to the rest a public grace.

Along the same line, remember that people don’t always mean what they say. Sometimes they say something badly. Sometimes they are hurt, lash out and later regret what they said. Often they express a feeling that holds a stronger reaction than they actually feel once the moment has passed. Solomon reminds: “You have done that, and so have they. Don’t make too much of it. You will end up bearing wounds that a gracious thick skin will keep from you.

So often it seems the man who offers an insult writes it in sand, but the man who receives it, sees it chiseled in bronze. Gracious hearing is also a standard of maturity, and cultivating thicker skin will make you doubly a promoter of peace.

Live soberly: Recognize that you can’t fix everything and everyone.

Solomon offered a simple word to the fixers among us:

Ecclesiastes 7:13 Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent?

What a good word! There are things we are to work at and try to fix in ourselves. There are also things we cannot fix.

We cannot fix all that is broken in life. We should always be compassionate, but we cannot take responsibility for all the troubles of another. If we have no limit to our help, the recipient will learn to do nothing for themselves.

We can’t fix other people, either.

We can’t change someone who doesn’t see any issue in their own behavior. We also need to be very careful to recognize that HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. Over the years I have noticed that some broken people who continually refuse to seek necessary help turn to break those around them. Compassion can leave a soft vulnerability that allows us to be deeply wounded. Ask anyone with an addict in their life.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the most broken people busy themselves fixing everyone else, because they see no way to fix themselves. They spot the splinter in another looking past the log in their own eye. They demand from the people in their life what they cannot summon from within themselves. They remain broken no matter how much you give them, how many hours you hold them, and how many rescues you offer them. We must love them – but that doesn’t always translate into doing what they want done. In Solomon’s words: “We have to leave room for God to work in people and situations.”

Live thankfully: There will be good and bad days, but every day is still a gift.

Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

Here is a great word from a wise man and the Spirit of our Creator: Don’t lose your head in the day of prosperity anticipating that every day will be like that one. You won’t win every day. Not every day is harvest day. The long hours of plowing may well pay off – but don’t live like every day is payday. At the same time, remember that hard times help you appreciate easy ones. It isn’t God’s plan for you to know that everything will always work out. That may be offensive to you, but that is the truth.

There is one last piece of wisdom Solomon offered…

Live expansively: Live and learn! Grow your life and expand your horizons – don’t be stuck in a rut.

He wrote it this way:

Ecclesiastes 7:18 It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.

Learn to grow. Build what you are learning now on what God has taken you through in the past. See all of life as God’s opportunity to show you new things.

Instead of throwing up your hands in troubled times and shouting “Why, God?” we should say something else. How about “What am I supposed to be learning, God?” We should seek to see HIM in the clouds of trouble. He is faithful, and if we pass into the cloud, it is only that we will learn to trust what we cannot see in Him.

In front of you is a new year. You can grow, or you can ruminate on the things you have already been and experienced. Wisdom says: “Hold on to what God taught you and GROW!”

You cannot learn wisdom without grasping God’s Word and intentionally submitting to God’s rightful place in your life. Grab a Bible and take a knee.

Let me close with a simple word about the days ahead. “Five frogs were sitting on a log. Two decided to jump off the log. How many were left? Actually there were five left. Just because two decided to do something doesn’t mean that actually did it. Your plans aren’t what will change the coming year; your action is.

In the 1920s an African-American youth growing up in Cleveland met the world famous runner Charlie Paddock, who came to his school to speak words of inspiration to the student body. Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive” in his day. He encouraged the children to dream big! That young boy decided he too wanted to an accomplished runner. He took his dream to the track coach of his school. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to your dreams. The first wrung is determination! And the second wrung is dedication! The third wrung is discipline! And the fourth wrung is attitude!” The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He won the 100 meter dash and broke the Olympic and world records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name was Jesse Owens. He had more than a dream. He put things in order in his life to make the dream become reality.

The Search is Over: “Leaving a Legacy of Godliness” – Ecclesiastes 7:1-8

In a meeting with mission leaders a few months ago, one of the principal speakers made a comment that set in place something I had been feeling for quite some time. When you hear it, it may not make immediate sense. Think it through and perhaps it will help us discern a path to some changes about how we reach out, and about how we set the pattern of our teaching in the coming days.

He said, “We have come to many fields with the Gospel, seen genuine conversions to faith in Jesus Christ, and raised a generation of pagan followers of Jesus. They know the Gospel and are regularly a part of the church, but they live thoroughly immersed in pagan thinking and superstitions not at all compatible with their faith.

He went on to express that although the “way” to God was clearly expressed to them, the “walk” with God was not. His prescription was this:

If we would teach the Old Testament stories to the people, they would see more of the daily practice of a God-walk.

All the leaders in the room identified with the notion that we don’t seem to be moving deeply past the Gospel into its implications in daily life in many of those who claim to come to Jesus on mission fields around the world. For instance:

• There are still quite a few who claim Christ as Savior who are wrapped up in practices of a type of “Voo Doo” in a few fields, even among those who hold church positions on Sunday morning on the island.
• There are many Christians around the world who continue to carefully consider the feelings of their long-dead ancestors before holding any celebrations in their homes because of their pagan superstitions.

These are just a few slight indicators that in finding Jesus, some we have reached may have found a new afterlife, but not a new lifestyle for daily living now. The strength of their cultural surrounding seems to overpower the lessons of the Word of God. It is heartbreaking for those new to the field to realize how far into paganism and false teaching many Jesus followers still live. Though that is a very real problem, my concern today, however, isn’t simply about far-flung fields of people who are being reached by our mission efforts – it is perhaps a bit closer to home. I believe we may be doing the same thing right here in our hometown churches. Let me explain.

One news cycle this past week illustrates my chief concern about the way we train a generation of Jesus followers here at home:

A social media content provider once named the “bored at work” network is now called “Buzz Feed.” It has become a globally distributed digital media organization read by about 80 million people every month. You cannot spend time on Facebook or similar outlets and not see their name as a source for some “news” content. This week they attempted to flex their muscle to lean into a story that may have backfired a bit. They went after a popular married couple on television, not for anything the couple said or did, but simply because of their faithful attendance at a Bible believing church each Sunday, where their pastor has been on record as believing the definition of a biblically-based marriage.

Buzz Feed ran an article that castigated the beliefs of the pastor taken from clips of his sermons in order to cast a pall on Chip and Joanna Gains, the couple featured on “Fixer Upper,” a show taped in the Waco Texas area. You may know them as a humorous couple that fixes homes and includes their family in the process. The article challenged their right to be on HGTV if they believed the teachings of their pastor – that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that activities outside of that are sinful according to the Bible. HGTV has a history of pushing out people for such things. In this case, it appears to have backfired. The couple said nothing publically, and there is no record of their private belief. Even those who normally beat the drum for such social change seemed to have felt this might be an attack reaching too far. That set up what I saw as the chief problem.

CNN stepped in to “report” both the “news item” and the apparent controversy over someone going to a church where the Bible is preached and yet being allowed to be popular on HGTV for fixing up homes. They weighed in while attempting to purport “sensitivity” to viewers who love and follow the Bible, all the while making the idea sound both outdated and quaint, but then added a statistic (which may be false). The anchor said, “Half of all Christians believe Chip and Joanna Gain’s pastor would be correct on his stance that marriage is defined and restricted in the Bible as between a man and a woman.” That statement got me thinking…half believe something so clearly written in the Bible.

From what source did the other half get their ideas? Clearly, culture is pressing believers hard here as well. This isn’t just a phenomenon on the mission field.

Jesus followers seem to learn how to find God, but are quite weak on how to follow God.

As we open Ecclesiastes, I want to assert that we aren’t wasting time on ancient proverbs left by King Solomon long ago. These words are God’s Words – and they are given with the purpose of helping you learn a WALK that matches your profession to know Jesus. The world may grow increasingly hostile to God’s most basic revealed truths – but the church MUST assert both the Gospel, and the life implications of walking with God in order to meet its responsibility to pass truth to the next generation.

Ecclesiastes 7 is a chapter filled with straight talk about life – principles revealed by God’s Spirit on how to live. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: Careful instruction on simple daily choices will pass the baton of godly wisdom to navigate life successfully from one generation to another.

Deliberately set aside the idea that COMING TO JESUS was a mere “aisle walk” after an invitation in church, or a momentary response to a preached message.

Jesus doesn’t want you to agree that He came, know He walked, believe He died for you – and then go on and live by your culture’s rules until the day you die… when you will get rewarded for that hand raising of aisle walking in Heaven. That isn’t the Christian life at all – but too many seem to think it is.

Christianity is journeying through life with Jesus. It is living in a way He wants us to live and walking WHERE He wants us to walk. Passing these truths, then, are passing the lessons of legacy – the passing of our faith in daily practice.

There is much in the chapter, so we will break it in several lessons. As you open the first eight verses, look at a word that is repeated – the word “better.” It appears four times in the first three verses alone. Obviously, Solomon was making a series of comparisons that push us toward choices in daily life. Here are eight of them as the passage unfolds – each about leaving something better behind us.

God wants to call you to a BETTER way of living than the culture will call you to live. Each of these teachings will challenge something about our culture’s approach to what is truly important.

It is better to focus on your reputation than on your cologne or your figure.

Our world will tell you it is better to focus on how you look, how you smell, how you walk and what you wear. They will offer you a thousand products that will cause others to pay attention to you, to like you, to approve of you. Godliness chooses a different direction…

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

Solomon spoke the Word of God and said in effect that a lasting reputation of your character and accomplishments (the things which make for a ‘good name’) must be considered more significant in our eyes than an expensive smelling cologne (in his day they used aroma infused oils and ointments for that purpose). To look and smell good leaves an impression. To be a man or woman of character and accomplishment leaves an even more lasting one.

Note the second part of the verse. He wrote, “To finish life well is more significant than to begin life well.” Obviously, beginning well helps greatly. A stable family life, a loving set of parents, and a home where God is worshiped and love is displayed are wonderful. At the same time, many of us won’t have all those advantages. What counts is not the world as it was when we got here, but the little corner of the world we created. Are we leaving the planet better than it was when we arrived? Have we made any difference at all? We shouldn’t overestimate our worth, but we should strive to make a difference in the world – one that includes being a man or woman of compassion and integrity. If no one cries when we leave, it is obvious we haven’t made a difference in many people. If they throw a party when we leave, the difference we have made isn’t a good one.

Both of the parts of the verse are about reputation. The first makes clear that INNER WORK on our character is more important in the long run than OUTER WORK on the body. The second reminds us that the reputation we finish with outstrips the memory of our cute entrance into the world. Here is the bottom line: If you choose to work on the outside, you will run out of options to make it look better. Some of the prettiest people you will meet didn’t take the time on character development they should have – watch how they treat people.

In our society, we reward a man or woman who can handle a ball with millions of dollars and great fame. Often, they are plucked from a high school or college, and have little or no character training on handling massive wealth and fame. Their external ability rewards them while their inner character (in its undeveloped state) destroys them.

Choose to work on the inside. Get regular showers and keep yourself presentable, but work harder on the inside than the outside – because the inside won’t fade like its shell.

It is better to consider life as short and finite. It is a precious gift in part because it doesn’t last long.

The world around us attempts at every corner to teach us we have more time than we do. Popular shows make us laugh. Consumer goods make our lives more comfortable. Even learning is filled with entertaining tools. We flip though magazines that show us colorful places we can travel, exciting experiences we can plan for our next vacation. In all of it, there is little to draw attention to the brevity of life – unless they are selling you some kind of insurance policy. Godly thinking moves opposite the culture. God said,

Ecclesiastes 7:2 It is better to go to a house of mourning, Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.

Don’t get lost in the proverb. Solomon wasn’t telling us that we should choose our next vacation at a cemetery. He wasn’t cautioning you to cancel the Christmas party and hold a “wake” instead. Look at the end of the verse, and you will see the point. It is about what “we take to heart,” or where we consider the best place to learn serious things about life. Solomon argued, “If you allow yourself to recognize that we are all on the planet for but a short time, you will gain better insight into how to spend each day.”

If there is anything implied in most of the advertising you encounter, it is this: Next year can be better than this year. It can be more exciting. It can thrill you with experiences that will take your breath away – if you buy our product or service…and that is the goal. It is as if we should live life with an eye on how to make it less painful and more exciting. In some small way, that may not be so bad. Yet, the problem is this: The clock is ticking, and you aren’t getting younger. You may be reaching a stage when you can afford to do some of those experiences, but your body will no longer endure the abuse of them. Things are falling apart, and you are spending more time and money getting them glued back on and trying to make them work something like they once did.

The brevity of life should help me set better priorities, and live with “ends” in mind. Standing at a grave side should never be an entertaining scene of happiness – but it can be a place to learn something critical. It can be a place of change. It can remind us that today is precious, and life is a wonderful gift not to be taken lightly.

Go to the party. When you do, let the brevity of life remind you to hug the people you love there, and to tell them how important they are to you. Share with the little ones how Jesus has made your life wonderful. Become the positive person they WANT around. Remember, time is passing quickly. You can waste years of life in feuds of little or no importance. Don’t waste your life – that is the lesson from the house of mourning.

It is better to learn what to take seriously and not simply value the momentary reactions of people.

The world looks for the boisterous display and calls its possessor ‘happy.’ Life is judged, more often than not, by surface reactions and what seems to “make people happy” in the immediate. Some would say, “The louder the laugh, the happier the man.” Happiness and importance seems to be increasingly placed on the party atmosphere, and distraction from the sobering realities of responsibility. Godliness looks in the opposite direction. The Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:3 Sorrow is better than laughter; for when a face is sad a heart may be happy.

Don’t read this one too quickly, because the translation can lead you in the wrong direction on its surface. Godliness isn’t glum. Look more closely at the words…

• The term for “sorrow” (Hebrew: kaw-as) is a term that is generally used for negative feeling, as in the word “vexation” or “provocation”. It isn’t the simple term for being sorrowful. It is the word used in the Torah for moments when the children of Israel did something evil that provoked God to a response. It is a word of “something that stirs the heart” and is usually used in the negative sense.

• The term “laughter” is the word (Hebrew: sekh-oke) for a joke, or a frivolous moment. It isn’t a word limited to the action of laughing – but often used in a much broader way as a moment of lightness.

A better way to think of Solomon’s proverb, then, may be to say it more like this:

Something that touches us deeply inside is better than a fleeting joke. Long after our face gives way from the laughter of the joke, our heart may still ponder the treasured lesson of the more vexing situation.” (Paraphrase).

Everyone likes to tell the joke that makes others laugh. The reaction is immediate and affirming. The fact is that you are more important in the learning of another when you offer truth that will cause them to ponder and stew over it – if it is true and helpful. For those who would walk with God, true happiness is found in the midst of the loving commitments to do what is hard to build another – not the self-oriented pleasures consumed for my pleasure.

• Parenting is hard, but godly parenting is pleasing on a deep level.
• Giving my best, day after day, in a job I do not enjoy is difficult, but honoring God in my best efforts at work promises to be immensely satisfying.
• Pushing for a serious cause that I know is important to my Master may take years and can be exhausting – but it will be rewarding when I recognize I expended my energies on things that matter.

A sobering countenance and a stirred spirit can profit me – because it presses me to stand by what I believe I am called to do, and do it for the Lord. Ask a teacher. Ask a mom. Ask a hard working factory man. Life can be rewarding on a deeper level than just a comedy club diversion.

Besides that, Solomon would warn you not to judge the book by the cover when it comes to satisfaction. A serious countenance encompasses a greater possible emotional range than an uproarious laughing spell. Lots of people are boisterously laughing on the outside, but bleeding from life on this inside. They hurt a thousand different ways and cannot even find a way to show it. You cannot judge deep satisfaction by surface appearances.

It is better to ponder inside the lessons gained in pain than to seek diversions of pleasure.

I have often noted how close bars locate to funeral homes. Our world offers one constant prescription to pain and loss in life – the distraction of pleasure. They consistently preach, “You have been through much; it is time for fun!” There is a deep reticence to spending quiet time pondering the lessons of pain. Godly living doesn’t so quick instruct us to take the pressure off. The Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:4 The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Note the issue of the text is where we spend our time thinking. The issue is where the mind dwells. Fools keep thinking of how to have constant pleasure and fun. Wise men and women take a sober look at the lessons of life and try to suck from the marrow of the experience. Foolish people try to block pain and take little time to learn when offered distracting pleasures.

There are times we should sit quietly, shut off the TV, put away the cell phone and quietly allow the painful moments and difficult lessons to settle in our minds. Constant noise is consistent distraction. Some of us would rather watch bad re-runs than carefully consider the difficult words shared by someone who loves us, but wants us to begin to take greater responsibility for our lives.

We can seek to let deep pain make us better people, or we can run from the lessons that only come from tough blows. Someone has said, “God speaks to us in our joy, but shouts to us in our pain.” I wonder if the call to distract might not be, at least in some cases, an avoidance from God’s voice.

It is better to gain from correction than to be undeservedly affirmed.

The world wants to give participation awards to keep anyone from feeling as though they didn’t measure up to the standard. They are missing the benefit of the lessons that come with correction and loss. Scripture teaches:

Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man, Than for one to listen to the song of fools.

Affirmation is important, especially to a child. Every psychologist will confirm that idea. Yet, some in our time, have turned over-affirmation into a trite thing, robbing it of its value. Last summer, Pittsburg Steelers star James Harrison took a public stand when he returned his six and eight year-old children’s “participation awards” for local sports stating,

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

That statement caused a bit of a firestorm in the youth sport’s world. Ashley Merryman, author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing was interviewed and shared, “The benefit of competition isn’t actually winning. The benefit is improving. When you’re constantly giving a kid a trophy for everything they’re doing, you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about improvement. I don’t care that you’re learning from your mistakes. All we expect is that you’re always a winner.’ Merryman continued:“I like kids. I want them to be happy and do well. But I’d much rather have a 6-year-old cry because he didn’t get a medal than have a 26-year-old lose it because they realized they weren’t as special as they thought they were.”

Now don’t lose your footing here if you don’t entirely agree. Simply consider the biblical side of what is being said: Correction can hurt in the short run, but is invaluable in the long run, if it comes from someone who is truly “wise.”

Don Yeager, writing for Forbes this past summer wrote:

A $2 billion a year industry has grown up around some parent’s need to reward their child with meaningless awards just for joining a team. And as it has, we have all fumbled an important life lesson for our children. Prizes won’t increase motivation—it actually lowers it. Why would a child attempt to improve when he or she is treated the same as the kid on the sidelines chasing butterflies? Unfortunately, the “helicopter parenting” crowd has already profoundly affected our society. Study after study on millennials show an increase in depression, anxiety, and a lack of coping skills with disappointment. How do we reframe this discussion with a generation of young people that have been sheltered from the harsh realities of losing? Simple: They have to be taught that losing is okay…if you learn from it…Our youth must learn how to handle both winning and losing in order to have a realistic perspective on life. Being celebrated for just competing hurts the player more than anything, because it prevents that lesson from taking root…which ultimately stunts that individual’s growth. The great ones in sports and business all know that you don’t get participation trophies by showing up for work. Winning and losing is a consequence of competing—and we’re all competing every single day in the professional world. We should never treat life as though it lacks hardships or that failures don’t happen. Instead, we can use these moments to make us better.

There is a great quote that summarizes this idea:

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Regardless of how you feel about participation awards, know this: Learning to gracefully accept wise correction and integrate the lesson into your practice is absolutely essential for improvement. Blaming the referee does nothing to improve the skills of any player.

It is better to work hard toward lasting gain than settle for the momentary instant benefit.

The world makes many important things look easy. Do you want a good marriage? Find someone beautiful and do fun things together. Go to the right parties and wear the right clothes. Do you want to be successful? Learn to find that right “break” and “be discovered” by the important person. If you aren’t successful, it is probably because you haven’t yet been discovered for who you are! Godly thinking offers wisdom that draws our attention in the opposite direction. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:6 For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility.

On first look, the verse sounds like laughter is the culprit. It sounds like we shouldn’t tell a joke or seek to make another laugh. That simply isn’t the point at all. Look at the imagery Solomon used.

If you make a fire in the wilderness of Israel, you have very little wood to use. The place is desolate, and the best wood can be found in some of the valley floors, referred to in our day by the Arabic term “wadis.” There is sufficient wood to build a small campfire, and there are some bushes that offer very hot coals (like the Rotem bush that grows in the Judean desert). Among campers, we know the best fires aren’t the ones with the big flames, but rather the best red cooking coals. A fire that looks very small can cook a good dinner or heat a coffee pot. Thorn bushes are airy and can create a flash fire, but not make many useable coals on which to cook or keep you warm. The issues are sustainability and usefulness. Herein is Solomon’s lesson:

The loud affirmation of a fool won’t sustain you.

Momentary popularity by people who don’t know what they are talking about won’t help you or anyone else accomplish something of real value. Don’t focus on acceptance by other people. Don’t focus on popularity. Focus rather on knowing your God-given purpose through the gifts and abilities He has given you, and develop them to be most useful.

It is better to remember that people are always more important than things.

The world communicates a “dog eat dog” ethic of life. In a naturalist world, there is only morality when there is consensus on right and wrong. “Wrong” is defined in that system as a time when we perceive people are “hurt” by something. The man or woman of God is called to see it differently. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 7:7 For oppression makes a wise man mad, And a bribe corrupts the heart.

Solomon mentioned oppression and bribery. Both have a common underlying element. Both invest more worth in power and treasure than people. An oppressor sees more value in holding onto power than he sees in caring for the weak. A man of bribery sees greater value in winning through money than in justice for the hurting. In both cases, people are secondary to a higher goal.

In God’s economy, people hold a higher place than fortune, fame, power or pleasure. One who would serve God will do so by serving people.

Accomplishment is sweeter when you push ahead humbly and patiently than when you feel entitled to easy victory.

The world beckons us to enjoy the peak without the climb. We should have a wonderful, warm and family-filled Christmas without hours of shopping, decorating and cooking. We should have friends gathering to carol the old songs together without spending hours with them in tears and struggles over the year. We should have happy children without being proactive parents. Godliness looks at life as a gift, but also as a humbling set of hurdles over which one should patiently jump. Solomon said it this way:

Ecclesiastes 7:8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.

Our lives are shaped by a variety of things, but some of them are painful. Sometimes we OBSERVE the shortness of life, and the seriousness of its implications. Sometimes we have to pass through the experience of choosing the serious over the nonsensical. Sometimes we have to learn from the pain of correction. We always learn more when we do what we do for God’s honor and according to God’s pattern.

Practical and direct are the words of wisdom. They aren’t flashy, and they aren’t easy. They require careful forethought and disciplined response. That doesn’t make life less fun – it makes it more enduringly meaningful.

We cannot preach John 3:16 and ask people to come forward and receive Christ and expect they will know how that choice affects daily choices the day after that. Wisdom is living out truth in practice. The Bible has so much more on how to live than a simple “way to find God.” Finding God is essential, but it is also incomplete.

The single most effective method to keeping people from living out their faith is hiding that such a thing is in any way necessary. If all I need to do is find God in a momentary response to some message I heard, there is no compelling need for me to understand the many verses that regard following God throughout my life. Such verses simply act as ‘filler’ between those all-important “John 3:16 moments” that dot the 1189 chapters. Many in our day have been trained to believe this, evidenced by their choice to both make a public claim as a “Christ follower” and at the same time live as though that title has little bearing on their daily choices. That isn’t what Jesus called men and women to do. It isn’t the faith portrayed in the Bible at all. Jesus taught both a commitment, and a lifestyle that reflected it.

Careful instruction on simple daily choices will pass the baton of godly wisdom to navigate life successfully from one generation to another.

In 1926, a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Vance Millar died, leaving behind him a will that amused and electrified the citizens of his Canadian province. Millar, a bachelor with a wicked sense of humor, stated clearly that he intended his last will and testament to be an “uncommon and capricious” document. Because he had no close heirs to inherit his fortune, he divided his money and properties in a way that amused him and aggravated his newly chosen heirs. Here are just a few examples of his strange bequests:

• He left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two prominent men who were well known for their opposition to racetrack betting.
• He bequeathed shares in the O’Keefe Brewery Company (a Catholic beer manufacturer) to every Protestant minister in Toronto.
• But his most famous bequest was that he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in the ten years after his death.
• This clause in his will caught the public imagination. The country was entering the Great Depression. As people struggled to meet even their most basic economic responsibilities, the prospect of an enormous windfall was naturally quite alluring. Newspaper reporters scoured the public records to find likely contenders for what became known as The Great Stork Derby. Nationwide excitement over the Stork Derby built quickly. In 1936, four mothers, proud producers of nine children apiece in a ten year time span, divided up the Charles Millar’s bequest, each receiving what was a staggering sum in those days – $125,000. Charles Millar caused much mischief with his will. This was his final legacy to humanity.

The Search is Over: “Strands that Bind” – Ecclesiastes 6

The word “Lilliputian” means something trivial or tiny. The term comes from the Irish author Jonathan Swift, who wrote in the early 18th century Gulliver’s Travels, where he told of an imaginary country of Lilliput, a place inhabited by people a mere 6 inches tall.

The full name of the work is Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts and it weaves the travel tales of Lemuel Gulliver, a man who was first a surgeon, then a captain of several ships (1726, amended 1735). After a brief outline of his life and history before his voyages, part one recalls the fictional “Voyage to Lilliput” supposedly beginning on 4 May 1699. Gulliver washed ashore after a shipwreck and found himself a prisoner of a race of the tiny citizens of Lilliput Court. In order to keep this dangerous monster at bay, ropes that appeared as little more than strands were lapped across the sleeping giant as Lemuel lay on the beach. The Lilliputians needed assurances that Gulliver would not harm them. No single strand was large, but together, they were enough to hold Gulliver in place. In short, Lemuel Gulliver was in bondage.

I mention this classic of English literature because it illustrates something Solomon observed about men of his day. He would likely say it this way: If there is one word that describes the unbeliever… it is BONDAGE! He wrote in Ecclesiastes 6…

Key Principle: Though men may have many things, without a relationship with the God those things have no ultimate meaning!

Though they seem free – without a connection to their Creator Who gives life meaning, men are actually in bondage, held by six tough strands that keep them in fixed in place. As the chapter opened, Solomon shared that truth by stating it as an observation.

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men—

Note that Solomon observed the fact, and made clear it was a common occurrence for the men of his time. He first cautioned them to…

Wake up to see the cords (6:2-7)

You never address a problem you don’t admit to having. Solomon watched the people around him, and observed six problems, each that acted as a “cord”.

First, there was the cord of “unfulfilled busyness” (6:1-2).

Solomon noted the prevalent evil of…

Ecclesiastes 6:2 …a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.

Many a man or woman has worked tirelessly to gain wealth only to die before they had the time to really enjoy the fruits of their retirement. Here, the idea seems a bit different. Did you notice the word “foreigner” for the person who enjoyed the results of the other’s labor? For some people (apparently many in Solomon’s observation) they worked, perhaps at innovation or invention – but were consumed with the process and development of their vision, and didn’t take the time to enjoy their own success. Perhaps they developed great machines and vast systems to produce incredible products. Maybe they simply built the “better mouse trap.” In any case, they were sadly unable to stop creating and begin enjoying what they have produced.

This is a good word for the mom or dad who is “always on” in the instruction and modeling mode. There are times you need to sit back and smile at the little man or woman you are molding and shaping. Constant work doesn’t produce proper joy. We need to laugh with our children, enjoy their creative minds, and sometimes even join them in their silliness. It is possible to raise godly and responsible children, and have absolutely no fun in the process. It will be some “foreigner” that will benefit in the marriage – but you won’t see the benefit unless you take time to look for it.

How sad to work and work at a project that is successful, only to get caught up in the next level of the vision without any break to enjoy the labor. “Don’t do it!” Solomon warned. Many people do, but you don’t have to!

Second, there was the cord of the uncertainty of people (6:3).

In addition to forgetting to break the strand of the unfulfilled busyness, Solomon observed another tendency. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he

Solomon knew that people will let you down, no matter how many are in your life. It doesn’t matter how close they have been to you emotionally (like your children) they will still fail you. Without satisfaction and contentment that isn’t dependent upon the relationships of your life, time will bring only more pain, uncertainty and trouble! Let’s face it: People are erratic and unreliable. In the proverb of Solomon the man had an extremely large family and an incredibly long life – but more people didn’t equal more satisfaction – only more responsibility.

The way Solomon made known the point of the proverbial saying was through the notion of a “proper burial” that he mentioned near the end of the verse. The man certainly had plenty of heirs to care for his burial, but in his case, they didn’t follow through on their duties. In the time of Solomon, the act of burying a loved one was of even greater import than it is today. The initial burial was temporary. The body was washed and smeared with an oily based cream along with a number of spices that aided in the degradation of the body. After a time, the tomb was opened and the bones of the loved one were gathered and placed into a repository beneath the bench upon which the body was originally prepared and allowed to degrade. As the bones went into the repository, the loved one was again mixed into the pile of bones of their family members from which they came. Since the process often took in excess of eighteen months, less attentive sons would not commit the bones to the repository, but got too busy to finish the proper burial.

Think about how this verse relates to the sentence before it. Could it be the sons learned continual work from their father, and now could not find the time to honor him with a finished permanent burial? Perhaps the fact that we are too busy when they are young won’t be clear until they become like us in later years.

Consider Harry Chapin’s words that pick up this theme:

My child arrived just the other day; He came to the world in the usual way…But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay; He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew; He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad – You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

My son turned ten just the other day; He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad; come on, let’s play. Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s okay.” And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed – And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah, You know I’m gonna be like him.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, he came from college just the other day. So much like a man, I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?” He shook his head, and he said with a smile, “What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys – See you later; can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.” He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time. You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu – But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me – He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me…

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.” (Harry F .Chapin, Sandy Chapin • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

It is true, what they say, “We grow too soon old and too late smart!” We teach a pattern and then are surprised when they follow our footsteps.

The truth is you cannot make your life about other people in the sense that you are dependent upon them to act in a way that brings you continual happiness. You cannot even really place your trust in the most responsible of them to be utterly reliable. People may try to please you, but in time you will find they fail you. One hundred children later – the man still couldn’t get a decent burial put on by his kids. In the end, Solomon would warn you not to put all your trust in people.

Third, there is the cord of the faded fame (6:4).

One of the reasons we shouldn’t trust in people too much is that we are all afflicted with short memories. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:4 …for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity.

Some of us may be picked out for “stardom” in some limited way – but most of us won’t. We all want to be remembered, but despite our desire, the world won’t stop when we are gone. All the hard work to become famous will quickly fade away and a generation later, no one will recall what we worked so hard to achieve. Fame is fleeting and the public’s memory is fragile.

I was reading a note the other morning that offered the testimony of a pastor I heard of, but never met. He was telling of a time shortly after he moved to California and began preaching, when troubles overwhelmed him. On the surface, it looked like his life was going well. He had a wonderful wife, three children and a fast growing congregation. What most people didn’t know was that one of his children expressed no relationship with Jesus, and was defiant in the home. The rebel child eventually took to the streets and filled his life with drugs. Our pastor friend, at the height of the growth of the work where he served, was preparing to resign, as he felt disgraced and grieved beyond any reasonable measure. As that was going on, another pastor, an acquaintance from meetings knocked on his door. He told our friend to “Get in the car” and they went for a drive to a nearby correctional facility. Parked outside, the driver turned and explained that for several years his daughter was housed in that place, and it nearly destroyed his life and ministry. Our friend began to cry and unburdened his life. Who doesn’t need a friend like that?

Solomon would warn you – most people don’t respond that way. Some will gossip. Some will condemn. Some will explain what you did wrong after the fact, and you will end up with a greater sense of guilt. We were wired to need others, but apart from the relationship with God, our need of others will not satisfy. More often than not, it will become a way of keeping us from coming directly to our heavenly Father.

We see it in counseling all the time. People who really need to pray, want to talk to a counselor, but not to God. They have no peace, because they seek it in the wrong place.

Some of you may recall the low action comedy of yesteryear named “Cheers” If you don’t recall the show, you may remember the theme song that reminded us that “Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.” It is nice to be recognized, but we dare not build our self-esteem from the recognition of others. It is wonderful to be loved, but sometimes loving means being tough – so we cannot judge our lives by popularity – even among those we raise in our homes.

Solomon’s argument was that a miscarriage passed into and out of life quickly, and never felt the sting of making so little a difference on the planet. We must reckon with the truth that we will never make that much a difference in the world apart from fulfilling our God-given role in this life.

Fourth, there is the cord of the shadows (6:5).

Solomon continued his observations of the fortunate miscarriage as compared to the living miserable who trust in things that cannot satisfy. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:5 It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he.

The wise old king could not perceive a single benefit to a life without satisfaction. He called the never living “better” because they didn’t experience to pains and insecurities of life without the surety of a walk with God.

Perhaps you have watched George Bailey one Christmas in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The theme of the work was very much about this verse. Is it better to have “never lived” or to face the problems of life with loved ones and friends.

The 1946 American Christmas drama was produced by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a decade before. Jimmy Stewart famously played George Bailey, a man who had consistently given up his dreams in order to help others. Under extreme pressure, he attempted suicide on Christmas Eve but was saved through the intervention of his “not so professional acting” guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.

In Capra’s film, the meaning of life was found in friends. Solomon would have accepted none of that as a premise. He knew the truth. Life without a connection to its Author, the One Who made sense of it all, was nonsense. He pressed the idea even further with two more cords that fasten a lost man, one unconnected to the Creator, to the Earth.

Fifth, there is the cord of meaninglessness (6:6).

At the core of many of Solomon’s remarks is this one – life apart from God brings no lasting satisfaction regardless of how long it lasts. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:6 Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?”

Without an intimate connection to God there is no enduring sense of purpose. Without that sense of purpose grounding our life and our accomplishments, there is little to truly look forward to but the grave!

Tucked into the twentieth chapter of the second book of the Kings in Scripture is a reminder of the folly of more time without the change of one’s heart toward God. Hezekiah had been a great king and loyal follower of God, until he read his own press clippings, and found himself satisfied in where he was, apart from a growing relationship with God. An illness overtook him, and a prophecy came that he was facing his own end. As he lay dying, he pleaded with God for more time. God heard his prayer, and told him that his life would be extended. Instead of using the additional time to build his walk with God, he went back to the life of distance from Him, and lived an addition fifteen years. The problem with the extra years is that time wasn’t all he needed – a renewal of commitment to God was the true need. A few years into the extended period of his life brought a new baby to the household – the little prince that would become King Manasseh upon Hezekiah’s death. Manasseh grew up in a household with a father who had a reputation for righteousness based on a past walk – and Manasseh got none of the reality of a walk with God. Until near the end of his long reign, Manasseh afflicted Israel with his grievous overt sinful character. Hezekiah got more time, but without using it to build his walk with God, it became a curse to the nation, not a blessing.

Time on Earth isn’t what you need to satisfy you – a deep connection to your Creator will fill the true need. You need to know why you were placed here, and what your life purpose truly is. That is found in your God. Apart from Him, life can be long, but the cord of meaninglessness will bind you through each year.

Solomon offered one more cord…

Sixth, there is the cord of appetite (6:7).

This is a terrible cord to remind us of at the holiday season, but I suspect he is not simply referring to a buffet table my wife prepared. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:7 All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.

Haven’t you felt the tug of that cord on your life? Have you ever wanted something and thought it would bring a lasting satisfaction or peace – and they you got it. Within a few hours (perhaps) you were already planning the next purchase of an attachment for the thing you just got, so you could THEN make it satisfy you. On and on it goes. We never have enough. Things never quite fill the hole!

Rev. Mark Opperman wrote,

God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green & yellow vegetables of all kinds, so that man and woman would live long and healthy lives. Then Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. Then Satan said to man, “Do you want fries with that?” And the man said, “Super-size them!” And man gained many pounds.

God created healthful yogurt so woman might keep her figure that man found so fair. Then Satan brought forth chocolate, and woman gained pounds. God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.” Then Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained more pounds.

God said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.” Then Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter, and man gained girth and much bad cholesterol.

So God brought forth running shoes and man resolved to lose his extra pounds. Then Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so man would not have to toil to change channels. And man gained even more pounds.

God brought forth the potato – a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. Thus he created sour cream dip also… and man clutched his remote control and ate his potato chips marinated in cholesterol. Satan saw it and said, “It is good.” and Man went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed, & created quadruple bypass heart surgery. Then Satan created HMO’s.” (Mark adapted this from text at: www.mamarocks.com)

We all know what it means to be tempted with something that is not a need, but a want that is disguised as a need. C. S. Lewis made these insightful observations about such tempting waves:

No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.” (Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)

If you have struggled with a diet, I don’t have to explain the cord of appetite. You already know it!

The Summary: Life tied down to the earth is drudgery (6:8)

Solomon summarized the six cords that he observed in one single statement of life…

Ecclesiastes 6:8 For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?

Men work to meet their needs, and yet cannot get all they need. Most don’t even grow in the process!

In short, men without God simply are not free men. They are tied to the Earth from which they have tried to draw their fulfillment and sustenance.

• Some work by don’t get the fruit of their labors.
• Some feel the tug of unreliable people around them.
• Some hurt because they recognize people won’t remember them for long.
• Some feel life is filled with missed opportunities and failed dreams.
• Most know it is hard to be optimistic about the grave without God.
• Few get satisfaction for their appetites.

That is lost man’s condition. He is tied down. He is frustrated.

Yet, Solomon knows it IS possible to break free! He knows that we must first change our mind before we can grasp new hope. He offered instruction.

How to Break Loose the Binding Cord (6:9-12)

Essentially, Solomon made the process of breaking the cords clear in four steps:

The first step requires that I stop trusting in a dream of the future and take a sober look at now (6:9). Solomon expressed it this way,

Ecclesiastes 6:9 What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind.

It is better to live in the reality of now. Some people dream their way through life.

Tom Jacobs, a staff writer at Pacific Standard Magazine wrote an interesting article about the young people just graduating from High School a few years ago. He follows the publishing of a statistical study with analysis that showed,

Twenty-five percent of blossoming Boomers admitted that “not wanting to work hard” might prevent them from getting a desired job. Among the Millennials, that number increased to 39 percent. (These trends were consistent regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.)

In other words, nearly half of the students surveyed admitted they wanted the benefits of work they weren’t really committing to do. Tom continued,

What’s the matter with kids today? “Youth raised during times of societal instability (e.g., unemployment) and disconnection (e.g., more unmarried parents) were especially likely to endorse materialistic values,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, when a larger percentage of the nation’s economy was oriented toward advertising messages, youth were also likely to prioritize materialistic aims.”

There it is. The cost of the broken homes of America and the politics of economy have conspired to leave a generation who lean now toward things to make them happy – even though things seem more elusive to many. Some researchers hoped for this group to steer away from materialism toward the simple life. He wrote,

“Numerous social observers suggested that children (growing up in the current economic downturn) might reject materialistic values and return to frugality and thrift,” they note. “The current data argue against such predictions, given that the dislocation and insecurity wrought by high levels of unemployment and other economic woes are associated with higher levels of materialism later in life.” …Perhaps we should call them the “Frustration Generation.”

Studies don’t get it all right, so we must look at them with healthy skepticism. At the same time, it is clear that many today seem to think “something will happen” that will make them successful that will take them almost by surprise when it comes. “The big break” philosophy that is growing seems to see the height of the mountain of success, without the climb to get there. Solomon waves us off and says: “Get real! What you see is not a dream, it is reality. Deal with it.” People who think “It will somehow happen” live in a dream world that survives off someone else’s hard labor. We must get real. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy dreams

A second step Solomon offered is this: We must stop fighting the things that are not ours to change (6:10-11).

Ecclesiastes 6:10 Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is.

There are many things about my life that are already determined and defined – and I waste my energy fighting those. That doesn’t mean I cannot have some ideals worth fighting for – it means I have to choose fighting for ideals that are possible. I will not convince the world of the evils of breathing, and I cannot take a stand to call people to stop all taxes and yet have an organized society. Anarchists are often idealists run amuck.

There are things you can change and should seek to try, both personal and societal. Activism is encouraged and even called for in God’s Word. The problem is, some people take on causes against things God has already defined and set. You can’t beat some things because God didn’t give them to your charge. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy idealism.

A third step Solomon offered toward casting off bonds is this: We must recognize we can learn much, but even that won’t offer you all the answers (6:11).

Education is great, and learning is necessary, but it won’t solve every problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:11 For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?

There are problems too deeply rooted in the fallen world for us to pull out. There are connected issues we won’t see, even with our many studies and careful observations. We can’t fix everything – we can’t even really understand everything. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy expectations.

Finally, Solomon offered the positive that can unbind the cords of man (6:12). He offered two rhetorical questions:

Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?

The two questions begin: “Who knows?” and “Who can tell him?” Both have the same answer: Man’s Creator. He alone knows what is best – you don’t know even when you think you do!

“Why do I need God?” the young man asked me. “I have health, strength, a good job and great friends. Things are going fine for me without Him.” He said, “You will not always have any of the things you mentioned.” I replied, “Your health will fail as will your strength. Your friends will be right beside you until they cannot. If you look around you, there is vast evidence of those truths. There is MUCH about life that cannot be seen in the present.”

If in watching all the stages of life we can learn anything, it is this: We often don’t get the answers until after we really seemed to need them. Experiences that are painful are often helpful – but only after the fact.

Solomon ended where life begins – with God.

He created you. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Your DNA was intentionally and carefully combined from many others in a complicated formula played out from the beginning of time. He is the only One Who knows you makeup at that level, and the only One Who sees your destiny and contribution to the tapestry of His story called human history.

He is the Designer. Why seek your answers from any other place? Solomon made the ending observation that without asking Him, your life will be like “a shadow.” It will look like something, but not have a lasting discernible impact. God knows why you are here, and God knows what story He is telling. Why not talk to Him about your life and its purpose?

Standing in Truth: “Identity Check” – 1 John 4

We live in a world where, for many people, deception has become a normal tool of daily life. Companies make promises about products their developers know they cannot deliver. Ordinary people present a life of extraordinary happiness on Instagram that few of them actually have. In fact, if you want a fascinating rendering of how far online deception has gone, you need to read an article by Curtis Wallen from July 2014 in The Atlantic Magazine called: “How to Invent a Person Online.” It opens this way:

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist. I know that because I created him.

The author then described how he created an identity for someone who was never born and will never die – but they appear as one who is very much alive. They can travel, shop, protest and in some places even vote as a citizen – but they aren’t real.

It isn’t really a secret that people fake identities. Parents constantly warn their children to be careful when engaging someone on the web, for fear they are not the person they claim to be. You don’t have to look far to understand the scope of the problem today:

Take a moment and check “Google” under “fake identification” and you will find the Florida state constitution section 322.212 (5) (a) stating: “It is unlawful for any person to use a false or fictitious name in any application for a driver license or identification card or knowingly to make a false identification”…

Yet, immediately below that link is another link on the list called:

“GreatFakeID: Scannable Fake ID Cards where you can “Buy scannable fake id cards with UV holograms from GreatFakeID. Best IDs with all security features replicated and made from the best updated id templates.”

Yes, we live in a world that is hard to fathom. The criminals don’t even seem to work as hard as they used to in order to violate the law. At the same time, this isn’t a new phenomenon. For those who study the history of faking identification papers and the forging craft, the name “Adolfo Kaminsky” is almost always included among the best known historical forgers. Listen to a bit of his story and you will know why.

Born in 1925, Kaminsky worked during WWII as a member of the French Resistance, specializing in the creation of high quality forgeries of identity documents. He is credited with saving more than 14,000 Jews. In Israel’s modern history, he is also noted to have assisted scores of Jewish immigration fleeing to the British Mandate for Palestine. After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Kaminsky’s family was moved and his mother was killed. Still a teen, Adolfo Kaminsky entered the Resistance. He was charged to watch a railway station and sent messages to London about trains. By 1943, Adolfo worked in an underground laboratory in Paris forging identity papers for Jews and people sought by the Nazis. The Kaminsky Lab became the main producer of false IDs for northern France and Benelux. He was quoted as saying: “Keep awake. The longer possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die.” After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, he joined the French Army and marched to Germany. He was engaged by the French military secret services, where his fake IDs were given to some spies sent to detect the location of concentration camps while the war was still ongoing. Kaminsky was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance for his live-saving work.

What made Kaminsky famous was his work with chemicals to wipe old ID cards and repurpose them. The Nazi’s struggled to keep new identification markers valid with such excellent forgers working behind the scenes.

It is important to note that forgery, fake identification and falsely misleading people concerning your identity is actually an ancient problem. Biblically speaking, it was a long-standing problem for the church, as Jesus followers were often confused by fakes who infiltrated their ranks and were accepted by naïve and hopeful Christians. Even in the first century, false followers abounded. People gave them food and shelter. People embraced them and cared for their needs. Some people were bound to take advantage. As a result, John took the time to pen out some of the basic markers that help us identify a believer. Essentially, 1 John 4 was given to teach a key truth…

Key Principle: There are four primary characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Look closely at the opening verse where John set out the basic issue he wanted to address.

The Problem (4:1)

He couldn’t be clearer as to the difficulty they faced. He wrote:

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It may not have been comfortable for them, but the people were called upon to test the spirits behind the words and actions of the teachers who traveled about, claiming they offered truth from God. Since some of the Word was not yet written and most of it was not yet disseminated widely, the verbal prophets were very much a part of the “ground game” of the church in the early years. Some were truly sent by God, but others were seeded into the mix by the enemy of Christ. As awkward as it sounded in practice, John was forced to instruct them to test for authenticity. If the text stopped there, the obvious problem would have been: “How?”

John offered traits that could be scrutinized under examination. They were markers of authenticity, and they were to be carefully observed BEFORE the person was accepted as a teacher for God.

At the same time, these markers can also be good self-inspection tools to help us add to our faith the marks that will make our commitment to follow Jesus obvious. John offered four marks, so let’s take the time to look at each as he presented them.

Our Certainty of the Truth (4:2-6)

The opening verses that revealed the marks of a Jesus follower are thoroughly immersed in the subject of truth. He noted, there are essential truths that must be affirmed to be considered an authentic follower of the faith. Look at some of them in verses two and three:

First, the teachers needed to demonstrate they knew Jesus as He was presented by the Apostles. He wrote:

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

It appears clear enough: God’s Spirit is at work through those who acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah has come to the earth, that He came from the Father in Heaven, and that He came as a man. In the time of John, the fake followers could be identified by teachings outside of those claims. Regardless of how well they put words together, they were fakes if they didn’t believe and wholeheartedly teach that Jesus came in the flesh, from the Father, as the Savior.

Second, though fakes may have abounded (then, as now) the believers were to remember the power of God in the Gospel and not be discouraged. He reminded them:

1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

How discouraging it can be to see the many false varieties of our message that float around. There is the Jesus plus some strange conspiracy theory version of the faith. There is the Jesus came, but not as a real man version. Variations are literally all over the internet. Some of them came because Bible teaching has been sloppy and haphazard. Some came because people who didn’t know the Savior wanted to be part of the church anyway. Some came because the enemy placed bad seed among the good. In any case, believers need to remember that God isn’t losing, and His power isn’t really under a challenge. He is patient, not impotent.

Third, the confidence believers have for the truth of our message won’t be reflected in the world at large. We should be wary of one who easily has the ear of the world – for it is hard to speak the truth and keep it. He wrote:

1 John 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Look at the emphatic way John notes that we can KNOW the truth and reckon the errors. He made clear that some teachers will light up the world’s audience, because they speak the language of the world as one of them. He also clarified that our message will not necessarily find a popular hearing, but that has nothing to do with its veracity. The world outside of Jesus doesn’t naturally warm to our message, because it lives in rebellion to the God Who created them. Any presentation that demands surrender to Him will be rebuffed by a world that doesn’t want to follow God.

Tim Patrick wrote: “There used to be a television game show entitled “Truth or Consequences.” Most people who are old enough to remember will associate that show with Bob Barker. He was the game show host for approximately twenty years. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion. You and I have been given the task of discovering truth or facing the consequences. In I John, John teaches us the importance of knowing the truth. “My dear friends don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God.”

In the end, a primary mark of the believer is their commitment to the truths presented to us in the Gospel. Jesus came from God as our Savior, and put on human skin as a man. There will be resistance to that message. There will be popular innovation to that message. A mark of the follower of Jesus is allegiance to the truths passed to us in the Word, and a steadiness to continue to proclaim those truths regardless of their popularity at any particular time.

Our Care for One Another (4:7-13, 20-21)

John offered a second marker of identification for the purpose of authentication. We aren’t just a truth organization; we are a people organization. He wrote:

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Note how clearly he presented the truth that love is a marker of authenticity. John both called for love between brothers and sisters in the family of God, and made the point that such a love becomes a marker that separates those of us who know Him from those who do not. That love is expressed in giving, just as our Savior did. Someone wrote a few words that showed how distinctive love is in our world:

There once was a builder who didn’t overcharge for his work.
Once there was a physician who healed the sick for free.
Once there was a man who prepared lunch and fed people at no charge.
And you know what they did to Him?
They crucified Him!

Don’t get cynical – that isn’t the point. We must recognize that our love follows a pattern, and is commanded for a purpose. God expressed love with purpose to us, and we should be purposed in our love as well. John wrote:

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us; that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Read very carefully verses nine and ten and you will immediately discover how the love of God was made clear. God sent His precious Son to us. It is repeated twice in the two verses. God’s love is found in God’s gift. This wasn’t sentimental feeling; the Son was given with a mission. He satisfied the debt for our sins, and God offers new life through Him.

The term “manifested” simply means “made plain to see.” God’s love was made clear in God giving what was needed, though it was dear to Him and cost Him greatly. True love is not some delightful feeling or dream of togetherness – it is acting to meet and need because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. God doesn’t love us because He will benefit from our response. He loves us because He chooses to do so.

Our love is supposed to be “plain to see” like Gods love.

There’s a story of a young American engineer who was sent to Ireland by his company. It was a two-year assignment. He had accepted it because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee. Their plan was to put their money together and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They wrote often, but as the lonely weeks went by, the girlfriend began expressing doubts about his being true, exposed as he was to the beautiful Irish lasses. The young engineer wrote back. He declared with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of the two years, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!” (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 17-18. Contriibuted by: SermonCentral PRO)

The love we show is supposed to follow the pattern God set in sending Jesus. It should be a giving love, a practiced love. John wrote:

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

• If God’s love required giving that which was precious – so must our love do so.
• If God’s love cared for our needs – so must our love do for others.
• If God’s love was made plain in action – so we must act to show love.

When God’s Word challenges us to “love one another” it isn’t a call to like on another and spend a few minutes in a weekly meeting catching up with a hug. Love is about sizing up the need of another and acting deliberately to meet that need – even if it comes at a cost to you. That is the love we are called to have. That is the love that makes clear we are authentically part of the family. There is an old Jewish legend that speaks to this:

In the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill, each night dividing the grain they had ground together during the day. One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, “It isn’t fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without. But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he’s old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning. Then one night they met each other halfway between their two houses. They suddenly realized what had been happening and embraced each other in love. The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and here it is that my temple shall be built.” So it was. The First Temple is said to have been constructed on that very site.

Time and again, John echoed the words “love one another” to the followers of Jesus. It is as if when called upon, John would answer “Agapomen Allelus” or “Practice God’s love to one another.” This is the call to the believer. This is a grand mark of identity. What do you say about this love?

• When some drink wine while others abstain–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When some young leaders press forward with new ideas while others want to preserve our traditions–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When a marriage is in trouble and people are taking sides–what do you say? (Let us love one another).
• When people come with expectations but no support: what should we say? (Let us love one another).
• When someone hurts me and I want to hurt them back–what must I say? (Let us love one another).

Don’t forget, even when you feel you have no love of your own to give them – we have God’s love to offer them.

We got it for free, and we can pass it to them for the same price. When you share God’s love, you offer a portrait of God to another who travels in a world where His face isn’t always easy to see. John said:

1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

Author David Ward explained the verses this way:

Think of Christmas lights wired in series. First the electricity comes into the wire, then to the bulb and through its filament. Finally it goes back into the line, on to the next bulb, and so on through the entire chain of lights. As it flows out not only into each of those lights but out of each of those lights, the entire circuit is completed, and the string of lights is bright. If there’s a light that’s loose, or a filament that’s broken, then it receives the electricity but doesn’t pass it on to others. In a sense, God has wired us like these Christmas lights. He has wired us to receive His love, and He has also wired us to pass it along to others. We have God’s love to give.

Can you see how practicing God’s brand of love becomes a grand identifier of the believer? It is so practical, it may seem to elementary. John continued a little later in the chapter…

1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

The simple but profound truth is that as much as a commitment to the truth identifies the people of God – so loving acts in the Savior’s name do as well.

Our Confession of the Savior (4:14-15)

The third marker John pointed out was that of the “confession” of His people. Earlier John made the point that truth marked the life of an authentic follower. Here he noted the “confession” or the WORDS of the believer are an identifier. We don’t follow vague ideals and sentimental notions – we have specific expressed beliefs. John pressed believers: Listen to our words and you will hear a constant confession of our belief:

First, we openly testify that God truly sent His Son to save us:

1 John 4:14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

God entered human history to save us in His sending of Jesus – that is a deliberate theme of our teaching that cannot be missed. If we offer any other basis for an intimate relationship with God but the completed work of Jesus at Calvary – we are not authentically Christian. If we promise an eternity with God based on anything by Jesus’ payment for our sin – we are not speaking truth. The first part of our confession is the God sent His Son to save us.

Second, we repeatedly state without apology that Jesus is no other than God’s Son. John reminded:

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

John seems transfixed on proclaiming the identity and work of Jesus – because that is the enduring mark of the believer. We believe man is born estranged from God and without the ability to earn a way to God without the work of Jesus. Our belief isn’t some mere theological exercise. John makes clear there is an objective set of truths that were a part of the true confession. Look back over history and it will become very clear that not everyone who holds a Bible and quotes from it, speaks with its intent.

In November 1978 US Representative Leo J. Ryan of California visited the People’s Temple (a California-based cult) in Guyana. His group went to investigate reports that some of the people there were being held against their will. The congressman and his party were ambushed and killed. A few days later, at Jonestown, Guyana, soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of bodies of cult members who had been shot or committed suicide by drinking cyanide based Kool-Aid. Rev. Jones, 47, lay near the altar with a bullet wound in his head. The death count was 780. Here is a brief report of what happened in those final moments: “As Jones talked over the loudspeaker on the beauty of death and the certainty that everyone would meet again, several hundred cult members gathered around the pavillion. They were surrounded by armed guards, and a vat of Kool-aid mixed with cyanide was brought out. Most cult members drank it willingly—others were forced to. They started with the babies. At least 80 infants and children were fed the deadly potion, and then the adults took it. Everything was calm for a few minutes and then, as the cyanide-induced convulsions began, it got all out of the order. Children were screaming and there was mass confusion. Shortly afterward, everyone was dead.” (Illustration 1552 in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, by Paul Lee Tan)

We have a faith that can be expressed in these simple terms. God made man without sin. Man rebelled, separating himself from God. After a time, God sent His Son to model life with God, and then pay for our sin on the Cross at Calvary. We have received that payment, declaring it as our basis for a personal relationship with God. All these ideas come from the Bible, and we believe, with apology, they are all true. That is our confession.

Our Confidence in the Future (4:16-19)

John offered one more marker…

• With absolute allegiance to the truths passed by our fathers to us in the Word;
• With authentic and costly love to our brothers and sisters in Christ;
• With constant confession of the person and work of Jesus on our lips – believers have yet one more identifying mark.

That identification marker is OPTIMISM. We are incredibly confident about the future. John put it this way:

1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

Christianity teaches both coming judgment and a positive outlook for the future! That seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t. Bathed in the love of God, and living out the truth of God with the people of God, we do not fear meeting God. In fact, most of us can’t wait to be with Him!

John wanted you to know how to spot the fakes and how to recognize the real followers of Jesus…

There are four characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Jack Kelley, foreign affairs editor for USA Today, tells this story: We were in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, during a famine. It was so bad we walked into one village and everybody was dead. There is a stench of death that gets into your hair, gets onto your skin, gets onto your clothes, and you can’t wash it off. We saw this little boy. You could tell he had worms and was malnourished; his stomach was protruding. When a child is extremely malnourished, the hair turns a reddish color, and the skin becomes crinkled as though he’s 100 years old. Our photographer had a grapefruit, which he gave to the boy. The boy was so weak he didn’t have the strength to hold the grapefruit, so we cut it in half and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at us as if to say thanks, and began to walk back towards his village. We walked behind him in a way that he couldn’t see us. When he entered the village, there on the ground was a little boy who I thought was dead. His eyes were completely glazed over. It turned out that this was his younger brother. The older brother kneeled down next to his younger brother, bit off a piece of the grapefruit, and chewed it. Then he opened up his younger brother’s mouth, put the grapefruit in, and worked his brother’s jaw up and down. We learned that the older brother had been doing that for the younger brother for two weeks. A couple days later the older brother died of malnutrition, and the younger brother lived. I remember driving home that night thinking what Jesus meant when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down our life for somebody else.”

Standing in Truth: “The Mark” – 1 John 3

I have some marks on my body that remind me of moments in my life. On the back of my left thumb there is a scar I got from slicing off the skin from the back of the knuckle with a glass bottle that broke in Jerusalem. On my left hand, my ring finger cannot straighten all the way out, because Aaron Michaud threw a football to me and it broke the finger. I smile, because I caught the pass – and that was the important thing! I have a dent on my face where Mikey from down the street stabbed me in the eye with a pencil. My left wrist has a long scar from the operation to make that hand work again after it was paralyzed by a skiing accident. Of course, there is also the long scar, the metal bar and the thirteen screws in my leg that abruptly ended my kickball career at the church.

If you are like me, your body is a map of ghosts of activities past.

Things that we dedicate time and energy to, have a way of leaving a mark on us. That makes me wonder: “What marks have my commitment to Jesus made on me? What truly marks a believer?” 1 John 3 offers an answer. John essentially taught…

Key Principle: Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

In other words, the mark of Jesus can be seen in my desire to follow His commands, and stop deciding my future and my choices on my own. That choice will make any follower stand out. It will also bring a reaction from the world around the believer…

Imagine you were born into a wonderful family with two incredible parents. Tragically, they were killed in an auto accident when you were a child, and you were taken to an orphanage. For a few years, you became a part of the lives and rhythm of the place. One morning, you met the people who were adopting you. You went home with them and became a part of your new family. A few months later you came back to the orphanage and the children you used to play with didn’t accept you anymore. That isn’t a myth…it is your story if you are a Jesus follower.

God created us for Himself. He walked in the Garden with man until rebellion separated us and death came. We became children of the fallen world under a rebel prince. One day our Creator sent a Rescuer Who paid the price for our sin. Sometime later, that One came to bring us into the family of God.

John’s argument, as he opened the third chapter of 1 John is this: God adopted us. His choice of us changed who we are… but it made us different from the rest of the children – and they reject us because of it. He wrote it this way:

1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Observe closely how John put the argument together.

First, God made us into His children, and that was a powerful statement of love by God.

Second, as God’s children, the world no longer identifies us as “one of them.”

Third, as His children, our will is being shaped to be progressively more like the Son.

Fourth, His shaping includes working at purity in our lives. When I follow Him, rebellion gives way to obedience. The old way slips into the past as we focus on living out what God has said.

In that scenario, John began setting up a family contrast that led to a values conflict. The contrast was made plain in how we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Life decisions look different for one inside the family. John began by defining the basis of decisions by those who do not have a walk with God – those still in rebellion in the world without. He wrote:

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

Don’t misunderstand what he wrote. He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – He makes up his own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. They need consistent love as God defined it. To get it, they put together their own rules, their own standards and even their own “truth.” John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He was the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. There is no way to live as God would have a man live without a Savior. It is, therefore, fitting and proper for a Jesus follower to live differently. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

The Christian life is a life that can be seen, not just preached. It is a life of practice rooted in an intimate relationship with its Founder, the Risen Savior. It is knowing, loving and obeying the Savior out of love and thankfulness, not of compulsion. John argued that people who make up their own moral and ethical standards that are not in harmony with God’s Word display openly they don’t yet truly know how to walk with Him. In the short run, that could be simply a result of learning His way. In the long run, it will show outwardly the fact they lack a relationship inwardly. John’s reason for making the claim that one who is truly a Christian lives by the standard of Jesus became much clearer as he continued…

1 John 3:7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

It seems John’s greatest concern was that Jesus followers grow in discernment, so that we don’t become confused by those who make claims as Jesus followers, but then draw people away in serving according to a morality Jesus has no part in. If you break down what John claimed in verses seven to ten, that point is clear.

• In verse seven, John raised the alarm to be watchful because some desire to confuse in order to deceive. The litmus test that proves the integrity of their faith within is the fact that they cling to practices that are like what Jesus did and taught us to do.

• In verse eight, John unpacked this truth: If the standard of the person is based on the system of the world and not of Christ, they belong to the world and serve the world’s prince – not the Savior. Because they serve the prince of rebels, they appear in opposition to the way of Jesus. Our Savior stands in direct opposition to a world that desires to make a different right, and different moral construct, a different way to find peace and contentment.

• In verse nine, John reiterated: People who know God intimately follow His standard. They wouldn’t dream of making up their own way and thinking God is happy with that. They have within the Spirit of God, and conviction would critique their poor choice. They have the example of Jesus, and they would sense quickly their way was the wrong way. They have become a part of the family of God, and they would not, they could not be comfortable acting like a child without a home and family.

• John laid out the fact of the clear marker that delineates the difference between a true follower of Jesus and one who claims to be but is not. He noted the one who follows Jesus follows the standards and model of Jesus. He loves the others who follow Jesus and sees them as family. The one who has no regard for the follower of Jesus has no true surrender to Jesus inside.

What may read like a high resounding theology is actually a very simple statement. People can fake a commitment to Jesus, but if you watch them closely, the cloth of their life is thin. Claims are a veneer surface, but life has the tendency to quickly wear through our verbal assertions. When we call for people to follow us, we open our lives to inspection for the kinds of works that Jesus would do. We invite people to evaluate the source of our moral premises and principles. In that investigation, when we show ourselves to follow the pattern of the world and not the Word – we quickly expose the reality that we are not truly following Jesus.

John didn’t want believers to follow people that made claims that were separated by the actions of the one making them.

Today people are queasy about being “judging people” because they have been poorly taught the way of Jesus. They will say things like: “We shouldn’t judge others – that is for God to do.” On the surface that sounds like a call to give others the benefit of a doubt. Yet, what it most often means in contemporary society is that we have no place in discerning whether someone’s claim is real. That simply isn’t true. John couldn’t call on people to match life with word in order to resist being deceived if that was wholly inappropriate.

Add to that, we couldn’t make simple judgments about who our children should spend time with if we weren’t allowed to make such judgments. We are being trained to believe that all forms of discriminatory activity are intrinsically wrong. That is false. We have to discern between one who is what they appear to be and one who is playing a role in order to deceive us. We cannot and will not be obedient to God if we renege on that responsibility. John pulled his readers back to the sign of “brotherly love” when he wrote:

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

John exposed what may have been one of the first overt signs of having an inner surrender to God – caring for the people God placed around us. That love wasn’t just a surface politeness with a raging jealousy beneath. Cain’s heart toward God was wrong, and it showed openly when he willingly spilled the blood of his brother. Love is seeking the best for our brother, not seeking their harm out of our brokenness. In his epistle, James claimed that we lash out at others because something is wrong within. Here, John made plain that our treatment of our brother in authentic love for them is a telltale sign that we truly know God and are walking with God. We can share love because the inner conflict has been stilled.

Earlier in this lesson I made the claim the world wants the benefits of a walk with God even if they do not have one. When we carefully consider the issue of “having love of others” that is clearly the case. People who do not know God want people to love them. We are hardwired that way. People are deeply relational unless supremely damaged and emotionally disrupted. They want to have rich and enduring relationships. Yet, without the way the Lord designed relationships, that is very problematic.

Let’s be clear: Follow the world’s design for relationships and you will not find satisfaction and lasting love in them.

Hook up and you will find quick pleasure, but you won’t make a life partner. Sleep around and you won’t find someone who is deeply invested in caring for your needs for life. Hang out in the world’s version of a mating dance and you won’t discover someone who knows a great deal about building a solid moral home. Remember what John wrote? He claimed: “People who know God walk like Jesus did. When they follow the pattern of Jesus, they build relationships with people based on sharing God’s love with them. That is what Jesus did. They give of themselves to help another even when the other has little or nothing to give back. That was the Savior’s example. In short, they understand love. The world has neatly defined self-interest, self-pleasure and self-seeking as love. It isn’t, and it won’t produce lasting satisfaction like real love will. People who club their way to “finding real love” will find others who don’t understand what God meant when He invented the word. That is a room of needy takers, but love is about giving.

There is a stark contrast between the selfish sentimentalism that passes as love in our world and how God told us to act toward one another. As a result, when we teach and model truth, it exposes the false premise of the world around us. It is bound to get a reaction. John continued:

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.

Though it may not be immediately clear, there are really two thoughts here.

First, we must understand the world often reacts to the truth badly, because they have been taught to cling to a lie. At the foundation of the world, the prince of deception has confused and deceived with not one, but a series of contradictory stories that fluster and frustrate those who search for the truth. He has literally overwhelmed the truth with alternative explanations of origin, purpose and destiny, keeping truth buried under a pile of garbage.

Is there a god? Maybe, but now there are literally dozens of them to sort through to try to find the One Who is true. Were all things intentionally created? Perhaps, but it may be that there was a big bang or a lightning bolt to primordial ooze, or aliens that planted the human colony. Maybe we don’t even live in a real world. We could all be hooked to some big umbilical cord and be dreaming. The notions of origin and reality go on and on and on. Is there more than the material world? “We don’t know,” they say. “We cannot know,” they teach. Yet we are trained to live as though this is what counts.

When you have been thoroughly educated in the ways of the world, you will see life as material and earthly – and think of God as you would fairies and unicorns – something fun to think about but highly unlikely to the educated mind. As the world is coaxed away from any allegiance to the message of the Creator found in the Bible, they will see “equality” as all eliminating distinctions and “freedom” as cutting all boundaries. Yet, the militancy that is found in their version of equality will quickly show itself, and the abuses against the weak will become swiftly apparent in their fallen view of freedom. I don’t want to be abstract. Here is the truth: when the world teaches that love can be found drifting from one sexual encounter to another, killing of the inconvenient unborn becomes a necessity. When they rethink equality, they are willing for all deviant behavior to be allowed – but they are not willing to accept any plea against that behavior as anything but HATE SPEECH.

In our brave new world, people keep committing sin that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden – but now they can legally redefine it as right and good. The new definition for morality is whatever makes people happy. The problem is the foundations of society aren’t built to withstand that kind of thinking. Our system was built with a Biblical world view. Mortgages are based on the idea that people should feel wrong about not paying what they owe. Elections are based on the idea that one who offers a compelling vision of the future that convinces the electorate should have the opportunity to try to make their vision reality. Child rearing was based on the notion that a biological pair would come together in a life-long commitment to each other and build a safe space for children to be carefully patterned.

When you tear into the foundations, the building begins to crack.

Welcome to a society where killing a whale is inherently evil, but killing the unborn is your right. Sitting in a restaurant smoking a cigarette is immoral because it affects those around you, but redefining marriage and teaching our children in our schools that their Bible is woefully outdated and their parents are just misinformed is the unmitigated right of the state. My point is this: People immersed in the fallen world don’t react well to truth. It isn’t clear to them, and we don’t appear to be what we truly are at all.

Beside the fact that people who are immersed in the fallen viewpoint of the world don’t generally respond to moral truth in a positive way, there is a second meaning to verse thirteen. Believers will be prone to forget how much God’s way contrasts with the world, and how utterly uncomfortable we make people who have no commitment to God. That is why John made the abrupt statement that we would eventually find ourselves on the back end of hatred.

There was a time most believers would have said John’s term “hate” was too strong. I don’t think that time is now.

We have been living with a growing hatred and it is just below the surface – ready to pounce when it can find the power to do so. It is the reason we have recently worked to circle the wagons with believers and anyone with which we can find help in to stem the political and intellectual tide.

• As Jesus followers, we have to remember we hear the media with different ears than others. When our Biblical beliefs, foundational to our world view, are mocked because we don’t believe that a man with male parts can simultaneously be a woman because he feels like it today – we don’t feel like we are stretching the truth.

• When we demand that a baby be protected from those who would thrust an instrument of death into their skull weeks before they are born, we don’t think we are being hateful. We think we are defending human life. We aren’t cutting off freedom, we are making sure that life is not demeaned.

• When officials enlist our schools to force curricula concerning Freud’s made up gender ideology, we don’t believe Christian parents are being hateful to teach their own children the Scriptures. We believe we are preserving the parent’s right to pass their beliefs to their children. We don’t believe that diversity and tolerance mean we can allow them to rewrite morality daily with no care for the people and  institutions it may destroy.

We don’t believe we have moved the goal posts or redefined things. We aren’t creating new letters and phobias with each new semester. It isn’t us. Most of us really are not activists. We believe in our future – but feel responsible for what was passed to us.

• When bakers and photographers can’t choose to opt out of involvement in something that violates their faith – we don’t want to see their businesses destroyed in the name of tolerance.

• When nuns are forced to provide funding for birth control, we don’t think our country becomes more free. We feel like our government is attacking us, and ignoring Biblical values.

We get tired of being called names because we still believe what the Bible teaches – but John cautioned we should understand why it happens. Ironically, we can point out how many of those beliefs set forth in the Scriptures are what gave us the freedoms and foundations of the very society that are under attack. Honestly, hate is looking less and less like a word too strong for how the world feels if one looks at media, the world of education or in the realm of entertainment.

John continued…

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

If a telltale sign of real life in Messiah is obedience to the Word, it is also in the commitment to loving brothers and sisters and clinging to one another. John elaborated:

1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this; that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

John asked a very fair question. How can we claim we love our brothers if we don’t practically care for them. How can we say we love the weak if we offer no defense for them? How can we claim we love the needy if we do nothing to help them attain what they need?

In fact, John waved off the notion that one could claim love at all – unless it was surrounded by evidence in deeds. He wrote:

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Further, he offered encouragement that if we show love and care for others – it will help us INSIDE. We will have an assurance within that we are truly following and actively walking with God. We are following our Master, and we can KNOW it. He wrote:

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

It seems counter-intuitive, but John argued that when we give away our heart, it grows stronger. When we care about others, we gain confidence in our faith. When we give away what He has given us, we open ourselves to receive yet MORE from Him. In the end, John offered a simple summary of the believer. On the one hand it is about the One in Whom we have placed our trust. On the other hand, it is about the brother for whom we are willing to readily give our life away:

1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

John couldn’t be clearer. There are those who reckon the commands of Christ something that blesses us when we follow them. There are others who believe they need to figure out life on their own, and make their own standards of right and wrong behavior. One is invested in the word, the other keeps their ear to the ground for the ever-changing moral code of the world. Here is his point:

Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel written by Mitch Albom published in 2003. The story chronicled the life, the death and the afterlife of an amusement park maintenance man named Eddie. He died in a heroic attempt to save a little girl from an accident in an amusement park on a ride that was about to fall. Eddie died and went to heaven, where he encountered five people who had a significant impact upon him during his life.

I read the book a decade ago, and it has stuck in my mind because of some of the writer’s keen insights about life. It wasn’t written by a Jesus follower, and it isn’t a Christian book – but it had some excellent insights into life.

On Eddie’s birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions and Eddie realizes a little girl will be crushed by the ride. He threw himself toward the girl, intending to pull her to safety, but was killed…He awoke to find himself uninjured, young and much more energetic. He met a man he had known from his childhood and, Eddie finds out that he is dead, has gone to Heaven and has embarked on a journey through five levels of discovery. He met a man who died when Eddie and his brother threw a baseball that landed in the middle of the road, and caused the man to have a heart attack and pull over the car and collapse. From this, Eddie learned his first lesson which is that there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.

The second person that Eddie met was a former captain from the army. He reminded Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp. Their group escaped after a long captivity and set the camp on fire during their escape. As the fire blazed, Eddie saw a shadow running from one of the huts he lit, although he never identified the figure. The Captain confessed he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire, which would have certainly caused Eddie’s death. This saved Eddie’s life but left him with the severe limp that Eddie repeatedly blamed as his main obstacle for missing out on a life outside of the maintenance of the park. He also learned about the sacrifice of the Captain as they spoke. The man died when he deliberately stepped on a land mine that would have destroyed the truck taking Eddie and his company to safety. Eddie learned his second lesson about the importance of people’s willingness to make sacrifices for others, big and small.

There are three more scenes in the book (I won’t ruin it for you). What stuck in my mind was the Captain. He knew his duty was to his men – because that was drilled into him in his training. He also knew that duty had become something that was more than a job. It was something that changed his heart. He loved the men. He wanted to show his obedience to the commands he was given – but that was only a part of his life. He loved doing it. It filled his life. The great quote that captured the idea was this: “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

The Search is Over: “God User” – Ecclesiastes 5

cubs12This has been a month of surprises. Chicago fans were gratified to see their team come to a World Series victory after a 108 year drought. Some of the nation celebrated a stunning upset at the polls in the election. Newsmen and pundits have desperately tried to explain the results in ways that maintain their own particular biases. In the end, all of us can agree this has been a time of surprise more than a “run of the mill” fulfillment cycle. For some, surprises are thrilling. For others, surprise of any kind shakes stability. It is with a special comfort, then, we approach our series called “The Search is Over” because Solomon uncovers some of life’s hidden problems – and they strip away surprising outcomes with God-planted sense.

For a few moments, we want to focus on the beginning of Ecclesiastes 5 and Psalm 15, because these passages uncover a tendency we all have to mishandle reverence and “use” God. Even more mature believers need to be reminded not to use God and their relationship with Him to justify behaviors God has no part in. Let me unpack that idea:

Perhaps during this last election season more than any other, we observed the widely varied ways people used God to justify their political positions. Many claimed God’s sanction for their view and on behalf of their candidate. Was the issue which candidate had more praying for them? Was God somehow confused by the posturing? Had God left us with confusing and contradictory principles in His Word? Instinctively, any Bible student would reject all of these possibilities. What is the answer, then? Is it possible the real problem was we didn’t listen to His Word carefully? Perhaps the real issues are how I prepare to meet Him, how I learn to listen to Him, and how I carry the message of His will to the world. In essence, how do I reverently observe my relationship with God and His Word? Solomon made clear the root problem…

Key Principle: The greatest sin committed regularly by God’s people is handling Him casually. All our other sin stems from this single transgression.

As believers and Jesus followers, some of us tend to add “God words” into sentences of mere preference. We say “I don’t think the Lord would be honored by….” in place of “I really don’t like…” Some of us have learned to routinely supplement explanations of “life moments” with words that muddy the waters of God’s true involvement and agenda. We say His name in a way that shows we don’t treat God with the care and reverence due Him – and we may not even be aware of it. That is a symptom of a larger problem – that of irreverence.

Don’t forget that in the core principles of both the Civil Code (found in Exodus and Numbers) of the Torah Law (the Law of Moses) and the Constitution Code (found in Deuteronomy), God told His people to revere Him. He cautioned them about evoking Him or using His name in a casual way! Is it possible these cautions were given because it would be easy for believers to irreverently treat God? Solomon suggests that is a root issue, and it can be identified in our walk. In fact, he argued there were a number of mistakes we make in our daily life that end up “using God” instead of helping us live for God.

Am I too casual with God? There are four great mistakes that indicate times when I am too casual with the Holy One. (1:1-7).

The first of these mistakes has to do with times I am about to seek the Lord for something. This isn’t just about Sunday morning – it is about any time I am about to come to the Lord in prayer and worship. The king said…

Mistake #1: I don’t get ready. Before I come, I need to prepare to meet with God by learning to listen much and speak little.

Reverence begins with an attitude of solemnity and careful preparation before meeting God. The write began:

Ecclesiastes 5:1 “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.”

He observed: “People who make promises lightly don’t recognize that God takes our word seriously.” Some make the mistake of coming to God haplessly and unprepared – and that is foolishness.

Essentially, fools are arrogant people. They tend to have simple and quick answers to complex questions, but ignore many of the unintended consequences involved in implementing their ideas. They draw conclusions by taking small pieces of information and combine them with much emotion to end up with an answer that satisfies them – even if it is wholly illogical and completely untrue. Solomon speaks heartily on behalf of learning to listen well before concluding God’s direction on a matter.

Turn, if you will, to Psalm 15 and look at the words found there. A generation before him, his father King David wrote a song about, “What kind of friends have you chosen, Lord?” This incredible song defines the kind of person God enjoys, the kind He desires us to become. These character traits are given in the frame of “preparation to spend time with God.” Take a moment and look at the preparation steps in Psalm 15. David wrote it this way:

Psalm 15:1 Master, who may dwell in your tent? Who can live on the place of your holy mountain?

When we studied that Psalm in earlier lessons, we noted that it was likely David saw some people change their clothing, and their behavior based on being in the presence of a powerful figure like their king.

• If they wanted the king’s attention to their matter, there was an expected pattern of behavior.

• If they expected to bring their matter to the king, there was an expected selection of dress.

• If they wanted to be treated with care before the king, there was an expected etiquette in their presentation.

As moderns, we don’t often see the need for pomp or exacting etiquette. We are a casual society, stopping only briefly for the royal wedding or choreographed presentation in matters of state. We still like a good inauguration on occasion, an elaborate wedding of grand graduation ceremony. We still dress up – but much more rarely than at other times in history. In any case, because King David confronted the tendency people have to change their behavior radically in order to gain access to his presence, he took that observation in a different direction than most of us would have.

He decided that if people changed themselves to be acceptable in his presence to show honor, he should carefully examine his life and decide if he had sufficiently prepared himself to enter the presence of his Holy King.

Note that David already concluded that the changes were WORTH THE SACRIFICE. He began with the words: “Who can?” He promptly devised, under the influence of the Spirit, a preparatory inspection checklist he could use to gear himself up for intense and prolonged worship and intimacy with God.

He argued that approaching God requires forethought. Many commentators seem to miss that the passage is about our approach to God, not about the EFFECTS OF WORSHIP. This ancient song offers us a checklist David used to get ready for worship and prayer.

In the question: “Master, who may dwell in your tent? Who can live on the place of your holy mountain?” are two implications:

• First, he wanted to come into the presence of God, and dwell there – or prolong the time they shared together.

• Second, he presumed that NOT EVERYONE was ready simply because they wanted time with God.

The mountain of God was HOLY (kodesh) or distinct from any other place. The question revealed that David understood that we cannot be casual with the holy. We must prepare. We must acknowledge its supreme difference from the normal.

I hear far too little about preparation for worship, and far too much about how people want worship to change us. I do not dispute the notion that worship should and will change us – I argue that preparation was also part of the plan of God. We need to take responsibility for preparation – and not spiritualize our laziness and undue familiarity by making right choices to prepare our hearts to meet God.

Keep reading the Psalm. Each verse contains specific attributes of a checklist beginning in verse 2.

Psalm 15:2 includes the first three phrases that appear to deal primarily with inner attitudes that set the stage for all the others. “הולך תמים ופעל צדק ודבר אמת בלבבו׃“

Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart”.

Attentive to Sin

David opened with a reminder that self-examination is needed, particularly in the area of sinful practices that have been left unattended, and have left marks on our life. He calls one who would seek God to first be attentive to sin. He calls the seeker: “One whose goings are unblemished (tawmim).”

When I was a kid, my mother told us what time we needed to be ready for church. We appeared, like a whole team (I come from a large family) at the front sidewalk before we climbed into the panel van to go to church. We were to be clean. We were to have church clothes. We were to be 100% ready. Mud on the clothing, dirt on the hands, grease in the hair – were all wholly unacceptable. Trying to cover dirt was unacceptable. That is David’s point.

Active in Doing Right

The second phrase is “and works righteousness.” David claims the one who is prepared to meet with God has been active in seeking right acts (“v’pual tsedek”), that is, he accomplishes what is right and just (15:2b).

To meet God we must be one who is busy DOING SOMETHING to help. I have to ask myself: “Am I actively working with my energies to accomplish positive tasks in the lives of others?” It is one thing to focus on walking in a way that is unblemished, but a whole different matter to be positively producing right acts with my time, talent and treasure – all received from my God to live this life.

Look back at your week. Are you able to draw a line back to specific things that helped another that didn’t also somehow make YOUR LIFE better – so that you know you weren’t really just doing it to help yourself? Have you been a DELIBERATELY POSITIVE PART of someone’s week? David urged: “Don’t just be AGAINST EVIL in life, be helping someone in a GOOD way.”

In days of 24 hour whining of what has been called “social media” – don’t forget there is no substitute for “doing.” Complaining about something isn’t the same as positively helping someone through a struggle. Your pithy sayings are remembered for a moment. Your help to another isn’t soon forgotten.

Authentic in Lifestyle

Look at the phrase in last part of Psalm 15:2 where David wrote: “And speaks truth in his heart.” The words reflect one who is authentic; one who declares in words (debar) truth (ehmeth) from his heart (layvawv).

Essentially, the verse reminds the worshipper to be intentional and clean – and not to cover sin. This evokes the old idea of “sincere.” The term comes from two Latin words, sine ceres – meaning ‘without wax’. Potters during the days of the Roman Empire, would often fill a crack, fissure, or chip in their fired pottery with wax before painting it, thus giving the impression of perfection where there was actually a deep flaw. David suggested that before coming to the Lord, you and I should dismiss our tendency, knowingly or unknowingly, to give a better impression than we warrant. A pot with no wax was a “sincere” pot. It really was consistent with its appearance.

There is no wax in the one who would become a true worshipper. He is not like the Pharisee, saying on the outside what he is not on the inside. Neither is he like the modern Evangelical Christian, who loudly proclaims his heartfelt love for Jesus, but cannot bring himself to keep the commandments. He is a cup washed inside and out who speaks the truth in his heart, and lives out the same. He doesn’t come dirty and he doesn’t come haughty.

Here is the truth: I must constantly check my heart, with God’s Word and the piercing light of God’s convicting Spirit. I must face the fact that I can be self-deceived.

If I regard lies in my heart, God’s Word will be torqued to produce hardened justifications and self-affirming feelings, rather than challenge my knees to buckle to His holy distinctiveness.

My hunger for His presence must press me to search deeply into the recesses of my heart before I can dwell in intimacy with Him. Isn’t that why David called upon God to “try his thoughts”…

An Uncompromising Tongue

Psalm 15:3 says: “He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend.” Note these three specifics relate to SPEECH and the use of the tongue. David called for speech that is guarded and gracious (the term “does not slander” is lo rawgal al-lishanu – 15:3a): He who has no hidden words that speak from behind others (i.e. rawgal: to go on foot as if to spy from rehgel: foot – 15:3).

I cannot allow poor speech about other if I am to be prepared for a prolonged intimacy with God. I exclude myself from His inner confidences and hold myself outside the chamber if I casually treat the use of my words concerning others. I must guard my mouth. James could not have been clearer (see James 1) about the devastating nature of the “tongues fire” damage.

David also called for positive speech that is not deliberately provocative. The second phrase reminds me that I must not devise inequity or trouble for my neighbor (15:3b). Though the grammar does not exclusively include only the tongue, the context demands that I address verbal traps I may have set for people. I dare not become casual with another man’s heart, another man’s reputation – I must treasure others and their care if I am prepared to stand in the presence of the Master.

A Loyal Defender

The idea continues profoundly in the next phrase, “Nor does evil to his neighbor”, where David called for my speech to be loyal. One who will not allow (lo nasa: does not take in) his neighbor to be ashamed (Charpaph is reproach from charpaw: upbraid or blaspheme) or taunted (15:3b). The idea is that this one will not accept upbraiding of his neighbor, but loyally comes to his defense.

One who desires to become a true worshipper makes every effort to defend his neighbor’s good name.

I will not only cease from casually speaking badly of another, I will refuse to be in the place where such speech occurs. I will stop it, because it will blemish my heart and make me as unusable as a dropped scalpel in an operating room. I must check my tongue for loyalty, and behind disloyal speech I will find a hunger to be affirmed by others that is both unhealthy and unholy. My value comes from my Master – not my friends. The hunger to be seen as important is a manifestation of immaturity and ungodliness. It must be tamed and quieted inside, and then sacrificed on a holy altar before God.

A Man or Woman of Choice Companions

The next verse speaks of choices I make. David wrote: (Psalm 15:4) “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD…”

The first two phrases pose a simple choice: “Do I spend my time surrounded by people that understand His Holiness and draw me toward Him, or do I casually encamp with those who have declared themselves to be His enemies, and than walk into His presence?” The first phrases are both selective ideals:

As I grow to maturity, I must learn “selective rejection” express in the idea “in whose eyes a reprobate is despised. This is not an excuse to learn to be “judgy” and “mean” as some may portray it. In order to be prepared to spend time with God, I must deliberately set aside a rejector of God and His ways. I dare not choose to pitch my tent in the camp of the scornful and agnostic men and then walk from that place into the tent of God on the Holy Hill. If I am not uncomfortable with the work of evil men, my heart is not right and ready. If I am not broken by their hardness, and wounded by their careless pride, I am not ready to worship. I don’t learn to HATE them, but I also don’t learn to TOLERATE evil. I am broken for them, but not partners with them.

At the same time, I learn selective affirmation, where David says I learn to place weight (kawbad) on those who revere the Lord! (15:4b).

Let me say it clearly: Who you hang out with affects your worship of God. What you laugh at in the world affects your worship. Where you were last night, and the night before has much more to do with what will happen today than you may believe!

A Reliable Friend

Writing on the subject of the use of the mouth, David continued in Psalm 15:4b “…He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

He offered the idea of one who has an unwavering commitment: His word is his bond. He who keeps his word when he covenants to do something, refusing to exchange it when the things shows itself to be more difficult than anticipated (15:4b). It is easy for me to want the benefits of a relationship without the work in the relationship. It is easy for me to make promises but walk away from them when my attention is pulled elsewhere. In a day awash in broken promises, contracts, mortgages, marriages – believers must stand apart from the culture of casual commitment.

A Careful Steward

David finished his short list of traits in the Psalm with the words: Psalm 15:5 “He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.”

David revealed an attitude that can be uncovered in looking carefully at the use of money. When I offer help, is it for others or for myself? Am I Generous? If I give to another of my substance without an angle to personally gain from it, I don’t use what God has entrusted to be against another. (Note the term “neshek” is today a “weapon” but from the word “to bite” nawshak – 5:5a). Do I use money to “bite” another? Is this about THEM or about MY GAIN?

Using money as a weapon is wrong. All that I have has come from God’s good hand. If I want to be in His presence and walk in intimacy with Him, can I treat things as more important than the people of my life? If I am “flexible” and lenient on myself for the sake of business, I allow a blemish in my heart to grow.

The part about a bribe regards our honesty (“nor does he take a bribe”). One prepared to worship God cannot be bought to say something against innocent ones for personal gain (15:5B). This is logical next step when people are less important than money and gain in my life.

David closed the Psalm with the incredible benefit of preparation – a stable gate as I walk into God’s presence and seek His face. He wrote:

Psalm 15:5b “…He who does these things will never be shaken. Stability: לא ימוט לעולם׃ (lo yimot: won’t totter or collapse + l’olam: forever).

We’ve spent some time on the first point, but it is a neglected and important one: It is a terrible mistake to fail to prepare and enter before God with a loose tongue. As we look back into Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon isn’t finished. He continued with…

Mistake #2: I don’t give reverence. As I come, I must carefully measure my words. Any promises must be made carefully.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.

The truth is that when we aren’t ready, we speak too quickly. We also make the mistake of thoughtlessly demoting God to “our friend upstairs, or our friendly genie in the sky.” Note how Solomon made clear the difference between you and I and the Creator of all – we are on one little rock in the cosmos – God is over it all.

I want every believer to become comfortable spending deep and rich times with God. At the same time, I offer Solomon’s warning: God isn’t your buddy – He is your Creator. Don’t get flippant with the One Who holds life together. Speak honestly, but thoughtfully.

Solomon continued with a third mistake he observed about how people handle God and sometimes “use Him.”

Mistake #3: I don’t remain active. As I persist before Him, I must recognize the need for personal investment.

Look at the third verse carefully, because it a proverbial statement that can be hard to grasp on a quick pass:

Ecclesiastes 5:3 For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.

Here is the idea: We can easily make the mistake of thinking anything we desire is a simple matter of asking God. Yet, any dream we pursue must be matched by sincere work toward that goal. We cannot drop our request in God’s lap and make it His problem while we offer none of our efforts.

Long and loud prayers aren’t a justification for inaction in things we are able to do.

If you want a job – pray. At the same time, get some applications filled out. If you want a spouse – pray. At the same time, take the time to be where godly people are and see who you can meet there.

I have noticed that often, believers use sovereignty to push off responsibility. That isn’t right.

Solomon offered one last mistake…

Mistake #4: I don’t remember commitments.

We ask God for things. We make promises to God. We don’t take seriously that God has a fantastic memory. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?

We make a mistake when we think God will endlessly excuse our carelessness. If our word EVER matters, it matters when offered to God. The proverb in these verses is clear: Better to never promise than promise and not deliver (5). I must say less and do more (6-7). Overstated promises are not reverent promises!

The greatest sin committed regularly by God’s people is handling God casually. All of our other sin, directly or indirectly stems from this single transgression.

Solomon closed with a simple injunction:

Ecclesiastes 5:7 For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.

Don’t talk about a walk with God. Get one. Don’t kick the opportunity down the road.

I want to end this lesson in an unusual place. Walk in your mind’s eye into a casino. Weird, huh? I confess I am far too cheap to gamble. I don’t think that is proper stewardship, but my real underlying objection is that I am miserably cheap about throwing away money. In any case, I am told if you go into a casino, you will see color, sound and excitement. What you WON’T see is a clock. At 8:00 AM there are people eating, drinking at the bar and gambling. The people don’t know what time it is, and the casino has no interest in them knowing the time. This is one of the enemy of our soul’s greatest ploys – hiding the limitations of time.

You have an opportunity to stop a pattern that is hindering your walk badly right now. You can turn to God and tell Him that you want to begin a NEW DAY of revering Him. You can also put if off… but that is a very bad idea. One sin is infecting many other areas of your life. Like the pipe leaching dangerous checmicals into your drinking water, lack of reverence is bringing poison to your soul. Every day you get weaker.

We have just celebrated Veteran’s Day. I thought it may be helpful to understand quiet reverence for God by reckoning how we honor even other men and women in our world for their sacrifice. I hope this helps to set the tone for honor and

Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The captain had asked if he could have a group of army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say he could have one musician play. The captain chose a bugler, and he asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. This wish was granted, The haunting melody we now know as “Taps,” used at military funerals, was born. Source: Pulpit Helps (July 2001) article written by: Diane O. Sides, Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO.

The Search is Over: “Working Nine to Five” – Ecclesiastes 4

9-to-5-bThose who were familiar with the 1980’s may recall an American comedy film called “9 to 5” that starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Dabney Coleman. The film was set in the daily work life of three working women who lived out various fantasies of getting even with and eventually disposing of their boss, who they referred to as “a sexist, and an egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”. I didn’t see the movie and I am not recommending it, because I thought it was a girl movie (and young men didn’t watch girl movies!) At the same time, it was a hit, grossing nearly $4 million in its opening weekend in the United States. It was the 20th highest-grossing comedy film and launched an already known Parton into mainstream popular culture. A television series by the same name followed, as well as a musical version (with some songs written by Parton) opened on Broadway in 2009. Surprisingly (at least to me) 9 to 5 is number 74 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Funniest Movies”- giving it a long-time placement in the ranks of comedy entertainment. The idea of the film was that an abusive boss is taken captive, by three women who change the office policies in his name and inadvertently capture the attention of the higher corporate figures by increasing their productivity. Their boss becomes well thought of because of his innovation – when it wasn’t him at all. Famous or not, I cannot see the movie as something I would like to watch unless I were held captive, but regardless of how the movie was, it does make an observation worth recalling for this lesson: It is very possible that you have learned much about human nature from your work place.

In an essay that became chapter four of Ecclesiastes, Solomon essentially asked: “Can we talk about work for a bit?”

I have to admit that much of what I learned about life came through my work experiences over the years. Watching my father at the Mobil Oil Refinery when I worked as a summer intern for two summers taught be much about my dad’s work ethic, and how other men respected him. Working beside a woman who took her own life at home one day taught me that people hide troubles and you cannot imagine the dragons some are dealing with inside. Many things about people can be learned from watching people at their job site. In fact, people scurry off to their jobs every day by the millions and they offer us some lessons.

Line them up and take a look at them closely. You may observe these seven “characters from the working world” that Solomon highlighted. He left behind a record of observations that remind us of this truth…

Key Principle: Watching people at work can reveal some of the deepest flaws we have come to see as normal in society.

Solomon started “at the top” – a place where we have all seen the self-important and undeserving at some point…

First, there is the problem of BAD BOSSES.

Can we not all agree that some people shouldn’t – under any circumstances – be given power over others? Solomon saw them as he observed people. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 4:1 Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. 2 So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. 3 But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.

As a king, Solomon didn’t struggle through the “work a day” world, to be sure. At the same time, his perspective was a unique one. He observed the work of foremen, military leaders and community chieftains. He saw that some who led were servants, but many were simply hard-hearted “haves” who lorded over “have nots.” He concluded that some people work to beat down others in order to feel superior. Look again at his words:

First, he acknowledged that acts of oppression were taking place across a spectrum, and he took as many into account as he could see (4:1). Just as he came to understand there were seasons of life, he came to recognize there was systemic inequity in the world. He saw that inequity playing out to break down relationships. Those who were beat down and lowly cried, but there seemed no one ready and able to help them (4:1b). At the same time, it wasn’t all fun and games for those who had power. They, too, were alone in their position, unable to find the warmth and comfort they sought. It was a grievous state, and I reflected on the hardships of the poor and powerless for some time.

After a time of refection, He looked at the grave yard and thought of those who toiled for years under backbreaking labor, and he commended them for making their way through the difficulty of this laborious and unfair world (4:2). He thought of the heavy weight they carried through life, and compared it to the sufferings of the poor and downcast of his generation. He pondered the many hours of labor on crops that were lost to fire or locusts. He contemplated how tired they were when they dropped onto their small woven mats on the floor of a tiny dwelling. He wondered how many nights they went to bed hungry. His mind filled with images of beggars, lepers, lowly and sickly people – and he thought their life was so bad, so broken, that perhaps the one who died at birth was better off than those children who lived in squalor with distended bellies, sitting in a hopeless dump.

Solomon unfolded three ideas here:

First, power and privilege have their problems too. Even the powerful need love, comfort and acceptance. Alone, they feel just as lonely.

Second, life truly is unfair – and there are people who exploit other people. They bring pain and deprivation to others and muffle the sounds of their crying when they pass them by.

Third, no one seemed to be able to address the unfairness of it all. Hungry children would go on being hungry. Destitute people would try to find a way to make it another day. Powerful people would keep pushing people around and feel entitled, but they would still be unhappy inside.

In the end, Solomon could imagine a pain so great and a powerlessness so complete, that he posited some would have been better never to make an entrance on the planet. His was an observation of a thoroughly wretched kind – leaving little hope.

We must remember there is no one on the earth apart from our Creator who will be a perfect example. Everyone will have at the minimum some blind spots, while some will exhibit such open cruelty that our breath will be taken away at the moment we encounter their brazen acts and arrogant nature. Powerful people aren’t the answer to saving humanity, and they won’t save our country either. They are broken just like the rest of us.

Second, there is the problem of JEALOUS COWORKERS.

Solomon looked around at productive people and their ventures. He noted that much work seemed to be fueled by feuds, jealousy and vicious rivalry. In fact, Solomon noted that some work simply because they envy others. He noted:

Ecclesiastes 4:4 I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.

When you read the words of Solomon, remember they are proverbial in nature. Proverbs express “truisms” and often generalize something. He isn’t saying that everything ever done was completed for a bad reason – he said that his observation is that it was so common, that appeared to be the norm. He made the point that he observed an unhealthy competitive battle that others defined as “progress.”

Anyone who has studied the history of business will readily admit that jealousy and theft are a regular part of the patent and invention process. That isn’t an overstatement.

• The sewing machine is thought by many to be the creation of Isaac Singer (of the Singer Corporation fame). The truth is that inventor Elias Howe patented the design in 1846, and sued Singer in 1849, for stealing the design. When the two settled in court, neither acknowledged that Walter Hunt actually created a sewing machine with a needle eye in 1834, but he chose not to patent it because of his conviction that it would lead to unemployment.

• When I was three years old, Robert Kearns invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Kearns showed his plans to each of the “big three” auto manufacturers and (according to later charges) the design was stolen by three each within one year. Kearns sued Ford in 1978 and Chrysler in 1982, eventually winning almost $30 million in compensation.

• The radio was either the brainchild of Marconi or Tesla.

• When Gordon Gould created the first laser at Columbia University, he had no idea it would take thirty years for the patent office to uphold his fight to get credit for the invention (and get royalties).

On and on it goes. Solomon wasn’t wrong – there is a lot of stealing and creative borrowing in business. The road to human progress is strewn liberally with stolen patents and inventions. Solomon found all the cut-throat business theft depressing.

We need to be careful as believers about the times in which we live. People express that as long as something is “legal” it doesn’t matter if it is moral. Increasingly, even people of faith are caught saying that if it isn’t against the law, it isn’t a problem. The fact is the law doesn’t always strictly track with what is morally right. Theft of another’s labor is fundamentally wrong. Avoiding appropriate responsibility because of a legal loophole is still an immoral decision. Solomon was depressed by the very thing that makes so many people cynical about modern life. He continued with another group he observed…

Third, there were the problematic LAZY LOUNGERS.

Solomon observed that some people just don’t know when to get to work. They seem to misunderstand the nature of society and believe that regardless of their choices, someone should help them when they don’t prepare what is necessary on their own. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 4:5 “The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.”

The idea is this: Foolish people don’t know when to get busy, work hard, and save what they will need for the days ahead. They eat the seed corn instead of planting it. They don’t plan – because their plan is to get someone else’s portion when they don’t have what they need.

Anyone who feels a sense of compassion knows there are some in our society who need a hand at some point along their life journey.

At the same time, the statistics suggest that we may have something else happening in our country as the twenty-first century unfold. The Department of Commerce report currently shows nearly 68,000,000 Americans receiving some form of government assistance NOT including the 70,000,000 on Medicaid. Current employment figures in the US from 2016 show that there are 125 million or so who are working 35 hours or more per week. Think about that. For every two workers, there is someone receiving aid. One fifth of the country gets a Welfare check, with the remaining number receiving some other aid.

Certainly some of the people who receive assistance are supremely worthy of the help. We have handicapped people, hurting people with extraordinary hurdles to overcome, and other special needs citizens. All of us, I believe, want them to have good lives. I know of no one who is indifferent to struggling people. The problem is, there are far too many who simply make more by not working.

Believers were told to be different than the world around them in our value system.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9, after commanding sexual purity, Paul passed a second command to the believers of Thessalonica – they were to work hard and stay out of other people’s business as part of their testimony (4:9-12). He wrote:

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you… 10 …But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

It may astound modern Christians to know that Paul intended believers to get a job, work in that job and avoid making other people pay their way. In fact, the Apostle made the point that a believer’s ability to take care of others and live quietly at work was very much a part of their Christian faith. We need not meddle from the pulpit; we have Scripture before us that challenges any who would see a way around work as God’s plan.

It is true that there are disabilities that need to be taken into account – but I suggest this is an extreme much less frequent than claimed – even by believers. We cannot enshrine laziness in some kind of reward system and expect anything less than an increasing number of unproductive people. When there is a true need, a believer is not wrong to access the provision for that need – but we must be very wary here of expecting others to pay our way through life.

Some people seem unsure of a truth: Life is hard. Work is not always fun. Since the expulsion from the garden every job was given its weeds. We must be careful to check any thinking that would argue that everyone has it easier than we do. In many, if not most cases, some of our difficulty was added by our own earlier life choices. To sit and let the world go by expecting someone else to meet our need is foolish. That was Solomon’s point.

Fourth, there was the problem of HYPER HELPERS.

Have you ever been with someone who is “hyperactive” and cannot stop? Some people cannot find contentment. They just don’t know when to take a break. Solomon noticed them when he wrote:

Ecclesiastes 4:6 One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.

We saw above that we aren’t supposed to be LAZY. At the same time, God nowhere expects us to be always BUSY. Solomon made that point by praising rest. There is a time when we would get further ahead if we stopped working, walked away, and rested for a bit. Have you found that to be true?

A number of years ago I met a man who was retired from a very demanding and responsible position. I thought he was a great friend, and enjoyed his company. When we together, he would always talk about how extremely busy he was, and how it was hard for him to fit everything in his day. After a time, I began to discern the man’s self-worth hung on his busy schedule. He lived such a stress-filled life on the job, he barely found time to think. Now, in retirement, he only felt significant if he was in demand. To do that, he filled his schedule with more that he could possibly do. When he was over his head with commitments, he felt important. Solomon argued that wasn’t the right way to live.

Can I lovingly but pointedly share something with those of you who are hyper workers. You make the rest of us CRAZY. We like to take a break. We don’t always want to be ON. Some of the people I have met in this world are wrapped SO tight, particularly at election time that people get tired just standing next to them. I saw a post the other day that said: “It has gotten to the place at work where I am employed to pay for the prescriptions I now require to cope with working here!” We would like to ask you to settle down a bit. The sun will come up tomorrow or the Son will come in the clouds.

I know this kind of talk is strange. Church is a place where we talk about values and responsibilities, but seldom about rest. For reasons that are still fuzzy to me, Christianity lost a very important Jewish component of rest and celebration. We seem to know how to instruct you to do hard things, but not easy. We can help you be serious and stern – but not to be jubilant and celebratory.

Let me ask you directly: Do you know how to really REST? Do you know how to be quiet, both outside and inside? Are you able to disconnect from the electronic world and stop worrying for a bit? Solomon would tell you to get some rest, and quit thinking you are indispensable. The world will make it for a few days if you step off the treadmill.

Fifth, he observed those with SENSELESS STRESS.

In addition to the hyper, he noticed some people who seem to lead lives of purposeless labor. They don’t stop to ask why they are still pressing so hard when there really isn’t a reason to do it all. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 4:7 Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. 8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.

Reading these words, several things are unclear about the man he referred to in the verses. Was the man without a dependent and alone in the world because he didn’t make a priority out of people in life? Certainly, there are those in our society that make their life entirely about their job. On closer inspection, it seems to me Solomon is lamenting people who work to reach another goal long after they need to move past setting new work goals. Work is a part of life – but it isn’t all of life.

Just as I am duty-bound to encourage and exhort those who are not working to GET BUSY, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that some of you are overstaying your welcome at work. Go home. Learn to enjoy the people in your life. There was a stage in all our lives where our friends were mainly our co-workers. That is fine for a time. If that is still true decades later, you may want to consider what life looks like after the job!

My children will tell you the difference between the people who know their father well and those who know me in my work life. Some people think I spend all of my time steeped in books and ancient manuscripts thinking about the Bible and the depths of the universe. I admit to being a bit of a geek, nerd or whatever term best expresses my strange fascination with the ancient world. At the same time, I love art. I love history. My life is enriched by beautiful music. I can sit on my porch and watch birds dance in the wind. I can play with a grandchild and be fascinated by their ever-growing view of the world. I love the grace of the ballet, but I can take joy from watching the tractor make straight furrows in the fields. I love the depth of the sound of the cello and the smell of a chocolate smothered dessert. I like to clean and shoot guns and I like to sit in a rocking chair and read books. Museums fascinate me. My kids know I am not always reading the Bible and staring at Heaven thinking theological thoughts… I love my work, but it is a part of my life. God has enriched my life with much more.

OK, enough of me. Here is the point: Not everything is dire and serious. Not every moment needs to be an intense moment sternly gazing as watchmen at the failing world around us. Not every day needs a new attainment goal. Pushing yourself is great. At the same time, the bow always bent is easily broken.

Take some time to assess whether you are working in areas that honor and please the Lord and grow your soul, or whether you are just doing what you have always done. When my soul shrinks, my mouth gets negative, and my heart gets sour. Feed your soul. Solomon advised: Take the time to see the reasons behind your labors, or your labors will be all you have to look forward to in life.

Sixth, he noticed some LONE WOLF WORKERS.

There are many people who don’t really know why the rest of us are here. They don’t see the need to get along and become a part of a group. They relish the lone approach and prefer to accomplish everything alone. Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

The king made the observation that we can accomplish more on a team then by ourselves. Help is nearer; and fear if farther off. Comfort is swifter, and our strength is greater. It is better to join forces than to stand alone.

Sometimes it takes someone special to understand the value of being together…

A youth minister was attending a Special Olympics where handicapped children competed with tremendous dedication & enthusiasm. One event was the 220 yard dash. Contestants lined up at the starting line, & at the signal, started running as fast as they could. One boy by the name of Andrew quickly took the lead, & was soon about 50 yards ahead of everybody else. As he approached the final turn he looked back & saw that his best friend had fallen & hurt himself on the track. Andrew stopped & looked at the finish line. Then he looked back at his friend. People were hollering, “Run, Andrew, run!” But he didn’t. He went back & got his friend, helped him up, brushed off the cinders. And hand in hand, they crossed the finish line dead last. But as they did, the people cheered, because there are some things more important than finishing first. (Sermon Central Illustrations).

Let me get straight to Solomon’s point: You need people. If you don’t know that, the day will come when you will wish you had someone calling on your phone, but you won’t. Make your life about others, and they will feel a loss when you aren’t with them. If they don’t miss you, it may be that you are making the time you do have with them about YOU and not about THEM. Change it while you can.

Seventh, Solomon saw some POLL LED LEADERS.

You cannot help but smile when you read the end of the passage. Solomon observed: Some work only when they are lauded. They do what the polls tell them will be accepted. They don’t lead – they follow. Solomon said it this way:

Ecclesiastes 4:13 A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.

In other words: a “street smart” kid sometimes knows better than a king that stopped being perceptive.

Ecclesiastes 4:14 For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom.

That ruler who stopped learning above may have started in poverty, but he learned to carefully escape it, and should see better what is happening.

Ecclesiastes 4:15 I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. 16 There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity and striving after wind.

Solomon continued: If that king opened his eyes, he would see how easily people are discontented and looking for the prince to replace him on the throne after him. He will find it impossible to keep the people happy with him. His ending observation was: “Live to be popular and you will never be able to go beyond the crowd. People who are fixed on what others think cannot lead them well.”

The man was a king. He was supposed to be a leader. He was supposed to take what he learned as he climbed into the position of leadership and use it to better those he led. He should have learned along the path of life this critical lesson: You cannot, cannot, cannot make everyone happy. You just can’t. A fallen world will not be governed into peaceful bliss. The selfishness that permeates our broken state will cause strife. James said: We fight outside because of a war inside us. In the end, as we step into the coming week, we must remember, without God – life means nothing. Governments can’t fix that. Candidates can’t heal what is broken in our world. Let me close with this story I read recently to drive home some of Solomon’s enduring point…

A little boy is on the beach. On his knees he scoops and packs the sand with plastic shovels into a bright red bucket. Then he upends the bucket on the surface and lifts it. And, to the delight of the little architect, a castle tower is created. “All afternoon he will work. Spooning out the moat. Packing the walls. Bottle tops will be sentries. Popsicle sticks will be bridges. A sandcastle will be built. “Big city. Busy streets. Rumbling traffic. “A man in his office. At his desk he shuffles papers into stacks and delegates assignments. He cradles the phone on his shoulder and punches the keyboard with his fingers. Numbers are juggled and contracts are signed and much to the delight of the man, a profit is made. “All his life he will work. Formulating the plans. Forecasting the future. Annuities will be sentries. Capital gains will be bridges. An empire will be built. “Two builders of two castles. They have much in common.

They shape granules into grandeurs. They see nothing and make something. They are diligent and determined. And for both the tide will rise and the end will come. “Yet that is where the similarities cease.

…For the boy sees the end while the man ignores it. Watch the boy as the dusk approaches. “As the waves near, the wise child jumps to his feet and begins to clap. There is no sorrow. No fear. No regret. He knew this would happen. He is not surprised. And when the great breaker crashes into his castle and his masterpiece is sucked into the sea, he smiles. He smiles, picks up his tools, takes his father’s hand, and goes home.

“The grownup, however, is not so wise. As the wave of years collapses on his castle he is terrified. He hovers over the sandy monument to protect it. He blocks the waves from the walls he has made. Salt-water soaked and shivering he snarls at the incoming tide. “‘It’s my castle,’ he defies. “The ocean need not respond. Both know to whom the sand belongs… “And I don’t know much about sandcastles. But children do. Watch them and learn. Go ahead and build, but build with a child’s heart. When the sun sets and the tides take — applaud. Salute the process of life, take your Father’s hand and go home” (Max Lucado, More Stories for the Heart (Multnomah: Sisters, Oregon, 1997), 224-225. From a sermon by Eric Lenhart, Seasons of Life, 8/16/2010).

The Search is Over: “The Secret to Grasping the Meaning of Life” – Ecclesiastes 3

douglas_adams_portrait_croppedThe author Douglas Adams died in 2001 at age 49 of a heart attack. He was an interesting man – a radical atheist, environmentalist, and a thinker, who wrote the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, along with a number of TV shows and “Dr. Who” episodes in the UK. In the heart of the Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, he added what became a central joke to the book’s plot (if you can call the book plotted at all) which has perhaps become more famous over the years than anything else in the book. The simple quote that expressed the joke is this: “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.” Are you puzzled? The writer explained this all-important number was calculated by an enormous supercomputer named “Deep Thought” over a period of 7.5 million years. It was a grand answer! If you are puzzled as to its meaning – so was everyone else, for no one knew what specific question the number answered. As a result, the novel suggested a special computer the size of a small planet was built from organic components and named “Earth” with the prime purpose to calculate the Ultimate Question. In classic British humor fashion, Adams showed that we have the answer, but not the question. What followed was almost cult-like. Some, with too much time on their hands, wasted years and significant effort trying to ascribe cryptic significance to the number 42 and its occurrences. In 2011, one author published a well-researched work on the uses of 42 and its symbolic meanings by great authors and thinkers, like Lewis Carroll, the writer of Alice in Wonderland. Some seemed desperate to find a deep meaning behind the number Adams inserted as a joke. When asked, Adams explained the number. “The answer to this is very simple,” Adams said. “It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat on my desk, stared in to the garden and thought 42 will do. I typed it out. End of story.”

In spite of the fact the writer claimed he simply “made it up” – people searched the novel for something deeper. Scores of young people still associate 42 as “the humorous answer” to a question they are searching for – though only a few are serious in that search today. Many won’t recall the novel from which the question came, but they know the answer…42.

I want to take you to another book – this one not comedy, not mysticism, and not fiction. In fact, the insights you find in its pages are so raw, they will change you – yet they are often overlooked by modern readers on the search for meaning. The author of this book was a king, and reputed to be the most serious intellectual of his time. I suspect if King Solomon were here today, he may object to Adam’s number this way: “The meaning of life isn’t found in a number – it is found in a box. Consider this: Life’s meaning can only be discovered when the query is placed in a specific context. Apart from that, life simply won’t make sense, let alone have a cohesive meaning.” That is a truth offered by Solomon for our lesson today.

Before we unpack that truth, let’s recall where we have been in our study so far…

We called the first lesson from this interesting book of wisdom: “Discovering the Painful Truth.” In that walk through the opening chapters of the book, we noted that after searching the world for meaning, Solomon noted that he was forced to admit the meaning of life simply cannot be found here. The author searched high and low, experimented vigorously, and could not find the answer to the meaning of life HERE. It was only when he looked beyond this world, high into the heavens and well beyond the sun – the answer was found. To a Jesus follower, that insight makes sense without much need to expound on it. Yet, in the world around us, the search for meaning in the material world seems like it continues unabated as people continue the ancient quest for life’s meaning and significance apart from any notion of a Creator and His plan. If we are honest, we will note that increasingly our world resists the idea of a Creator – at least One Who places any controls, rules or expectations on us. They seek freedom from constraint, but cannot find so much as the meaning for the quest itself. The frustration of the venture was an important feature of the opening two chapters.

This book was a series of public addresses by a Koheleth (a preacher or public orator) given to expose a flawed view of life, and open the hearers to a proper perspective. In the opening words, Solomon exposed the emptiness of academic rationalism and experiential empiricism apart from the revelation of truth from the Creator. He said, in other words, “Life’s experiences and greatest insights are empty when not flooded with God’s truth! (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26).

As he continued in the third chapter, he began to carefully examine the problem of “how to properly measure depth and meaning in our lives.” Does my life matter? Am I diluting myself when I claim I mean more than my century journey through this world? (3:1-22). The Koheleth offered several essential observations that expose the answer. In essence, the passage offers this truth…

Key Principle: Life is a wonder and a joy – but only when placed in the right context. I won’t know it if I don’t frame it properly.

The beginning is familiar, poetic, pretty and (if you think of it) profoundly passive. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— 2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

In effect, Solomon offered this observation: I have concluded that everything in life has a specific time and place, sometimes referred to as a “season” (3:1-8). On the surface, that seems an obvious truth. To some, especially coming off his experimental search in Ecclesiastes 1 and 2; it sounds a bit like surrender to a fatalistic world view – but it is NOT. To others who have journeyed the planet for some time, it seems like he was indicating “there are seasons to life.”

Hang out on Earth for fifty or so years, and if you are at all observant, you will learn that life truly does pass by in “seasons.” Things that are vital in one part of life are discarded when we enter another season. Life changes. Our desires change. Our sense of who we are changes.

Consider a little girl you may have known for a moment. She began life with big dreams and the desire to be the princess to her own version of a handsome young prince. Time passes, school days give way to summer nights, which make way for high school and perhaps even college classes. Eventually, she meets her choice for a life partner. They marry. She bears several children. After a short time, her life passes from her dreams to caring for and stewarding their dreams. A few decades slip by, and those children graduate and head out into the world. One day, she awakens from the long and arduous work of managing a family, and the bedrooms are empty and children are gone. The seasons have changed.

Solomon seems like he is saying, “Stuff happens. I am one little boat in a vast ocean, and I don’t control much of what happens around me, and often even to me.” That isn’t an unrealistic insight; that’s a fact. At the same time, that isn’t all he is trying to say. Look at the words more closely.

It is true. Life moves past me and my part is relatively small.

Solomon observed: There is an appointed time, only because there is One Who makes the appointments. Life has seasons, because life has a “Director of time.” Someone has the controls, but it is not me. Life is not unplanned – the problem is I don’t make, regulate or even know the whole plan.

The old king watched life, and remarked, “There is a day when a child is ready to be born, and when an old man breathes his last.” Things have a beginning and an end. Because they are happening all around us, we tend to focus only on one at a time. As I sat in the hospital with my father after his heart surgery – tubes and wires launching in every direction from his body – we remarked about the periodic music over the sound system that indicated a newborn had just been delivered in the other wing of the hospital. He was being repaired to stay with us, and a new one had just joined life’s journey.

As Solomon looked to the terraces and fields around him, Solomon recalled, “The planting seasons aren’t my choice – the ground and weather determine them.” So much of our life is WORK, and that season is a never-ending flow of projects that are mostly determined by conditions we didn’t cause. The roof needs to be replaced, the door hinge has loosened, the boss is expecting another quarterly report…

Still looking at the farm life around his kingdom, Solomon noted: “The cycle of life determines when I must pull up the old vines and fruit trees, because they don’t bear much anymore. There is a time when the old mare needs to be put down, and another when her foal needs to have his wounds bound for healing. The day finally arrives when the old barn needs to be felled, and the new one erected over the land.

A little time on Earth and it will become perfectly obvious: things change. Nothing here lasts very long.

Sometimes that is a good thing – there are moments that our broken heart pushes tears out of our eyes without any ability to shut them off. There are dark days and nights of seemingly unbearable pain, where loss drops a curtain of darkness over my heart for a time,

Sometimes life brings the very opposite. I simply wish that single moment wouldn’t end! There are other times I can barely catch my breath in fits of uncontrolled laughter, as I fall down crying joyful tears, unable to shake the funny thing I just saw or hear. There are grand vistas from beautiful peaks that when experienced open our heart to praise and nearly get our feet dancing. Solomon passed through all of these seasons.

He said, “When the rocks ruin the long plowed furrows, we know they must be plucked from the field and tossed aside.” Sometimes things that never bothered us become a problem to us – and that problem cannot be left alone. Other times, when the rock fence barrier has collapsed and needs rebuilt, we recognize the need to carefully gather each stone to set them one on the other.

What happens with rocks also happens with people. There are times you need them close. You lean on them. You cannot imagine facing life for another day without them. Then, there are times when you must do things alone. They cannot and should not help you. They are living their life, and you are doing what YOU should do.

There are seasons when we are working toward a goal, seeking something. There are other times when we recognize the need to give up on the goal. Endless striving will break any man.

Wisely, Solomon noted: “There are times when we are filling our house with new things. It seems like we need and need and need. Then there are times when our house has become far too full, and much of what we have we no longer truly need. We call these times: “yard sale” season.

There are things we have built or fabricated that had a seasonal purpose. They served us well, but now look like an old piece of junk. We need to know when it is time to part with those old treasures. They can’t follow us beyond this life, and no one else is attached to them.

As he winds down his list, Solomon noted, “Sometimes we should speak. We should offer help. We should share our experience. In another season, we learn that is not helpful. We sit silently with a hurting friend, and no longer feel the need to observe how their choices led them to this pain. We just hold their hand and cry with them. It is what they truly need, and the choices cannot be undone. The time for a lesson is past. The time for warmth and love is now.

Solomon closed his observations with this, “There is a time when you must walk away from a relationship and build new ones.”

In his wisdom and by God’s grace, he faced what some of you have been forced to face –

• We cannot fix people.
• We cannot make takers become givers.
• We cannot help those who do not truly desire to be helped.

Sometimes we find that our help is enabling them to bypass growth and continue harmful patterns. Sometimes we need to close that door – as hard as it is to do.

Because there are those who do not want what is right, there is a time when we may be forced to fight. We don’t seek trouble or strife, but we may not have any choice. We cannot surrender the weak around us to lies. We cannot stand idly by as evil men crush tender hearts. We have a duty greater than maintaining the peace at all costs.

Each of Solomon’s observations are important, and we could spend hours searching the meanings of each line. At the same time, the truth that life changes and seasons pass by can leave us with a nagging thought…

Since I am small, does my life really matter? (3:9).

Ecclesiastes 3:9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?

Solomon’s question could be simpler put, “What’s the point?” or perhaps, “Do I matter?” If I am going to spend life on this planet working, searching, and observing the seasons of change – does it count for anything?

Thankfully, Solomon does more than ask – he pours out some important components toward constructing the answer.

To discover meaning, life must be placed in context.

First, he explained what he learned having searched before us. He said, “The way I learned to identify a small piece of the plan (i.e. the part God gave me to do) was by recognizing God is the One Who weaves each life into a whole plan (3:10-11a). He said it this way,

Ecclesiastes 3:10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. 11 He has made everything appropriate in its time…

Solomon made sense of life by setting his experiences and seasons in the context of God’s plan. There is a TIMER and SEASON MAKER in the heavens. He said: “I set the seasons of life inside His control – and that was the beginning of making sense of life.

The Bible declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7). A little later, it makes plain, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10). Despite what you may have heard in our modern academies of learning, knowing God is the beginning of knowing everything else that matters.

Solomon found that knowledge in itself, knowledge within a naturalist system devoid of reverence for the Creator – was a waste and a depressing exercise. It got him nowhere and left him empty. He made that perfectly clear in Ecclesiastes 1.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

The wise man wasn’t arguing that stupidity is to be prized and learning was to be shunned. He was explaining that in the process of unfolding his search for meaning, he discovered in the depths of learning what could be sussed out by observation and examination. The issue wasn’t what he searched, or the methods he used. The issue was the CONTEXT of his search.

Life must be understood in the context of eternal purpose and an intelligent and deliberate plan by our Creator. A random existence leads to a purposeless world and a depressing emptiness.

To discover meaning, we need to be more perceptive.

Second, Solomon made clear the search was embedded within our hearts. If we are honest, we will admit we instinctively know we were made for more than the short century of our time on Earth. God inserted that little bit of information into our DNA. I believe that is the greatest reason why naturalism is fighting a constant battle in the science classroom. People may not WANT a God, because they don’t want accountability, but they KNOW something is wrong with the idea that everything got here by itself without any intelligent design or intent. We may not know all that we want to know, but we know this isn’t all there is. We just have to learn to hear what God wrote into our hearts. We were made for eternity. We were made for HIM. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 3:11b …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 term “set” is “nawthan” from which we take the name “Nathan.” It is the word for giving a gift, or setting something in place for someone else. The deep inner longing for Heaven and more than our time on Earth is a gift of God. It isn’t meant to confuse or frustrate us – it is meant to help us by making clear that things may not be fair on this broken planet – but one day they will be set right. That adds some level of peace to our struggle with inequity as we make the journey through life.

To discover meaning, we shouldn’t get lost in the search.

Some people can’t begin to believe unless they understand every facet of everything. That is like a man who won’t get in the car until he fully grasps a combustion engine. Solomon’s third observation was this: “I must not consume myself with questions that have no answer in the here and now (3:12 a), but rather should give myself to the joy of living in His goodness (3:12b). He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.

Some people don’t get this truth. Perhaps a little illustration will help…

Imagine you got a letter in the mail and attached to it was a check from a foundation – but you never heard of them before. If you are at all in touch with the way things are in our world, you would be suspicious. You might call a friend. You may even check out the foundation on the internet. Let’s say you do all of that, and you discover they are a philanthropic organization, and are quite legitimate. You look at the check carefully. Then you read the note. The message makes plain that you have been selected to take your spouse to a Tuscan farm in Italy, and spend a few weeks enjoying life. The check is sufficient for you to buy the air tickets that suit you best, rent a car when you arrive, and all other expenses, including your meals in fabulous restaurants. You will be fully cared for upon your arrival. You check the internet again, and discover dozens of people who received over the past decade a similar letter and check, and you see their fun-filled pictures. You read their reviews carefully – and the whole thing seems to be exactly as presented. You deposit the check, wait for it to clear and buy your tickets. You make your plans, and arrive in Fiumicino airport near Rome to rent your car. What should you do with your time? Would you spend the whole time pretending you are Tom Hanks in a Dan Brown novel and try to discover the “real reason” behind the gift? Would you just decide to accept the gift and go and enjoy it? Solomon’s point was that once he was clear on the fact that life only made sense when viewed as a gift from God, he reckoned the right response was to stop trying to figure out God and accept the gift the Creator gave in his life. He stopped trying to figure out God, and started to celebrate His goodness.

Solomon’s point was that each of us should enjoy the gift of life God gave – to work and to accomplish (3:13)! The very act of living is cause for celebration. The daily opportunity to work is a wonder created for us by a God Who knows what will make us full. The act of being creative, whether in art, music, writing or even dramatic expression, is designed to be a sensational experience! There is incredible joy in exploration and learning; all are wondrous gifts from our God.

Let me ask you: Are you conscious of how GOOD God has been to you? Do you stop and thank God for what He has given you? What happened that soured you to tasting the wonder of the gift of your life? Are you happy analyzing endlessly what is wrong with the world? Solomon made the simple point that life doesn’t have to be fully comprehended to be deeply savored.

Let me ask you:

• Are you conscious of how GOOD God has been to you?
• Do you stop and thank God for what He has given you?
• What happened that soured you to tasting the wonder of the gift of your life?
• Are you happy analyzing endlessly what is wrong with the world?

Solomon made the simple point that life doesn’t have to be fully comprehended to be deeply savored.

I get it. I have sat for hours in front of paintings in some of the world’s best galleries. A few months ago, Dottie and I were in Madrid. We stayed in a little apartment across from a world famous art exhibit at Museo Nacional del Prado. One morning, I got a ticket and went across the street to sit and look at paintings in their renown collection. There were some paintings by Albrecht Durer, a few famous pieces by Rubens, some profound scenes from the Bible by Fra Angelico and many others. For about an hour, I sat on a bench and studied a painting by Raphael of the Holy Family. I looked at the blended brush strokes and then focused on the expressions of Joseph, then Mary, then Jesus. It was an opportunity to see through the eyes and hand of a master artist a scene taken as much from his life as from his Bible. I LOVED sitting there. There is a unique joy that can be experienced by quite observation of beauty. The fact that I cannot paint like that only makes it better.

To discover meaning, I have to admit there is only one plan – God’s plan.

God has no real competitors. He is alone in the Heavens, apart from the beings He Himself has made. Because that is true, I must admit that everything in life follows the plan of a Sovereign God, and that He must be revered by us (3:14). God has set seasons and cycles, and I am a part of the flow of that larger plan (3:15). He did it for His own reasons and His own joy. There is no other bigger reason for all of it. Solomon said it this way,

Ecclesiastes 3:14 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. 15 That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.

Those observations settled Solomon; they didn’t trouble him. They helped him make sense of the features of life that otherwise wouldn’t have found a place to rest inside him.

To find meaning, we admit that God’s judgment will come to all.

Solomon looked at inequity and the unfair treatment of people here, and found peace by looking to heaven. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:16 Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. 17 I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.

To the naturalist, every tragedy comes down to “bad luck.” There is no plan. Where is their help in the NICU as the life signs of the infant slip away? What sense can they make of that child’s life? Seriously, can an atheist encourage you after a fire wipes you home off the map, taking some of your beloved family?

Their message is simple: You and I are elegant viruses randomly mutated from stardust, meaning nothing. When tragedy strikes, they are forced to throw up their hands and say, “That’s the way it goes sometimes?” That very approach erodes the importance of life. It solves nothing for the person who was raped, the faithful spouse who felt the sting of a cheater, or the man who spoke truth, only to be rejected by his friends.

Knowing a judgment comes is a comfort to those who have been hurt by injustice. Men may measure each other by the color of their skin – but God is righteous. Men may allow injustice and buy off a jury – but there will come a day when all will be made known… and that is a GOOD THING. It adds back the missing resolve to an unfair world.

To find meaning, I must recall that life here is temporary – but here is not all there is.

Solomon closed the passage and pondered the end of both men and animals (3:18). He observed that, in a way, people here are temporary, like every living creature on earth. They are born, live a short time, and then pass away from the scene. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” 19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.

That’s true. We are like animals in the natural sense. Our body is temporary – but even that is mercy! Our life is transient. Our journey passes like the morning dew. At the same time, our death in this body is not our final moment. Solomon finished his observations with two questions that one must rightly answer to find meaning. The first is a “who knows” question.

Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Here is the point of the question: If I cannot discern the difference between the temporary nature of the animal and the eternal nature of man, I cannot grasp the meaning of life. This is the essential question of our day.

If life is only material, and there is no deliberate Creator – we have no meaning. There is no purpose. If your life is cut short by someone else’s cruelty or negligence – too bad. Life isn’t fair. There is no answer. Dogs die. People get raped. Get over it. This is all there is. Accomplish much – it won’t matter. Nothing really does.

Don’t despair, we aren’t done. Solomon has one more observation that will bring peace.

To find meaning, I need to trust God knows what I don’t.

Solomon cannot leave his flock in despair – because that wouldn’t get his hearers understanding of the truth. He finished with these words,

Ecclesiastes 3:22 I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?

Solomon reminded his hearers of this truth: there is One that sees beyond this life and knows the difference, and that is God Himself. He knows what I don’t know. I can’t figure out how all of this complicated life ends up making sense – but He knows. He is the Master of history, but also of the future. My fate is in His plans. Because that is true, the best thing I can do is focus on the things God has put in my life to work at and change, and receive each day as His gift for my part of the bigger circle of life. He alone can know the truth of my life and contribution.

Honestly…

Life is a wonder and a joy – but only when placed in the right context. I won’t know it if I don’t frame it properly.

Don’t fault God for the confusion… it came because of our rebellion against Him in the Garden. Before that, Adam and Eve DAILY had His presence to celebrate during their cool morning strolls through their home garden. It was sin that caused the break and gave us both the distance from God, and the confusion of trying to find meaning without Him. In the time chosen by God, Jesus came.

Jesus didn’t come to Earth to make the bored happy; He came to make the broken whole. He came to put back the context into which we find meaning. Happiness is the byproduct of restoration to God. Strangely enough, happiness in this life is not the primary goal – meaning is. With His coming, Jesus didn’t remove us from the struggles of life; He joined us on our journey through each one. The result is not a ‘care free’ life, but a caring Companion to lead us through the darkest hours. Following where He leads restores purpose, and that provides meaning.

Howard Culbertson (of Nazarene Missions) wrote a story that should help us see this truth:

In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world’s hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his “desire to be a missionary.”1 One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was “throwing himself away as a missionary.” In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.” Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden’s classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he had lots of money. One of them wrote, “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”2 During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply, “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”3 … During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. One of his friends described how it began. “It was well on in the first term when Bill and I began to pray together in the morning before breakfast. … We had been meeting only a short time when a third student joined us and soon after a fourth. Borden’s small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in such groups. Borden made it his habit to seek out the most “incorrigible” students and try to bring them to salvation. …Borden’s outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To try to rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Bill Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”7 Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. He also challenged his classmates to consider missionary service. … Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No retreats.” William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead. When the news of William Whiting Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. “A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.10 Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s perspective. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”

1 Taylor, Mrs. Howard. Borden of Yale ’09. (Philadelphia: China Inland Mission, 1926, page 75)
2 Ibid. page 98
3 Ibid. page 122
4 Ibid. page 90
5 Ibid. page 97
6 Ibid. page 150
7 Ibid. page 148
8 Ibid. page 149
9 Ibid. page 149
10 Ibid. page ix

Standing in Truth: “The Problem of Defection” – 1 John 2:15-29

miserable-manHe is a middle-aged man, and he is miserable. Several years ago, he attended church. His life was in a crisis, and his marriage was falling apart. After a church service one Sunday, he came forward in an altar call, and said he wanted to surrender his heart to Jesus Christ. Over the next several months, he became deeply involved in his church, said he was daily reading his Bible, and spoke of growing in his walk. The problems began showing up a few months later. Slowly, the old habits crept back in. A certain coolness toward spiritual things seemed to settle into his speech, and he didn’t appear to be as interested in growing in his walk with God. I am sure I know only a small part of what truly happened, because he didn’t share it. I noticed that he missed one service after another. His involvement diminished in the next few months to virtually zero. Six months after that, the whole Jesus thing seemed like nothing more than a phase. Was that salvation? Did he really know Jesus? If he did, why didn’t he stay with his new life?

Though the details may vary, several of us know people who fit this general description. They seem to start off with Christ, but they do not stay with Him. Some even overtly defect from a public profession of faith in Jesus and are willing to tell you they are not followers of Jesus anymore. Though for a time they claimed Jesus as their Savior, they fully disavow that commitment today. Something pulled their heart away. It may be a new relationship. It may be a change in their job. It may be a deep disappointment that coming to Jesus didn’t simply take their problems away in some area of life. In the end, they move into the arms of one of the four gods of our age – fortune, fame, power or pleasure – and serve another god that claims to offer greater fulfillment to them. In time, they find that other path empty. This is the problem for which John took time to remind believers in his epistle…

Key Principle: Many promise true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

That is the essence of the second half of the second chapter of 1 John. The aged Apostle, a local church pastor, noticed some began with Christ, but didn’t appear to continue in the faith. He remarked:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that [d]it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The purpose of the narrative was to help the early followers of Jesus through the pain and uncertainty of dealing with defection and to help them grasp what happened. If you have watched it in one you love, your heart will resonate with his words. He made clear that it is possible to understand defection, but only when we recognize some basic facts about walking with Jesus. He began…

1. First, we must grasp the fact that there is an unavoidable choice (2:15):

Coming to Jesus requires us to make a choice to change the direction from which we choose to draw our fulfillment. Look closely at verse fifteen.

I John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

One who has encountered God and the message of the Gospel must choose a direction in order to fill up our hearts and be satisfied with life. If we place the fulfillment of our needs impatiently in the “now,” we will surely be tempted to drift from the direction of God’s will at any time we don’t feel like God is meeting that need to our satisfaction. It is a choice to follow Jesus – but it is not the only choice we can make! Essentially John argued: “Do not love the world’s way nor the temporary things the world offers, that love runs contrary to love for God’s way” (2:15).

The issue isn’t whether we live in the world or even enjoy the world – that was intended even for the believer. God gave you taste buds and intends you to find delight in what he provides for your mouth. Godliness isn’t glum. You don’t have to move to a bare-roomed monastery, eat bread and drink water, and think only of the veil of tears in this life while you await heaven’s bliss. Honestly, some of us are likely so imbalanced gaining our delight in this world that a week at a monastery wouldn’t hurt – but that is not the way God called you to live out your days. The point of “not loving the world” is whether we find our hope, our significance and our peace in the world. It is about our primary LOVE, our primary place of desire and hope.

We will love God and His promises or we will reject those promises for more immediate satisfactions – but we will not do both. One will pull us from the other.

I want to warn you openly: Don’t overlook the incredibly strong pull of the now. It creates a strong mirage of coming satisfaction that remains just over the horizon as we continue to approach it. Here are some familiar tell-tale signs it is at work. You will hear the beckoning:

• Your next job will make you happy – put all that you are and have into your work.
• Your next child will heal your ailing love relationship – give everything you can to your family.
• Your new home will make you truly happy – shop for each decoration with the knowledge that this purchase was the answer to life’s problems.

None of these things, as good as they are, will truly answer your deepest needs. Seek them first, and you will end the race in disappointment. If you learn anything from life, you should learn: Few things have lasting significance.

It is sad but true that one day your house will look to your grandchildren as outdated as grandma’s house looked to you as you visited when you grew up. Your DVR will look like grandma’s plastic furniture covers of yesteryear! What you remember as NEW isn’t new for very long. That new car will age, get dents and be traded. Your house will wear out. Be warned: a new roof “cometh” in your future.

I am simply making one argument: Don’t trust temporary things to bring permanent satisfaction.

Skinny ties will get replaced by wide ties, only to be replaced by the next NEW big thing… the old skinny tie. Beards come; beards go. Shoes become flat, but next season they become big. Pants get tighter, then they get looser. We are now experiencing the rise of the “comb over” and bigger-haired men… Life is filled with cycles and unfathomable products of our creative culture: the earth shoe, the pet rock, the chia pet. Each has its “Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame,” and then gets traded to the discount rack, the “As seen on TV” rack, the yard sale, or at long last the “flea market.” What delights a child today will cause an adult tomorrow to stand there puzzling over its function.

Every believer should mature. As they grow, they should ask this question: “What does “loving the world” look like?”

• Loving the world is placing my hope in politicians to save a nation of lost souls. That is love of the world’s system to answer man’s need instead of loving Jesus enough to present him to your neighbor.

• Loving the world is placing our trust in people, experiences and products to get lasting satisfaction with life.

The fact is: We simply must choose the Father first. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – that is to seek first God’s purposes and live according to God’s standards – and everything else we need would be added to us.

Like Abraham, we must be willing to leave the city of our birth, purchase camping equipment and move out on the journey to find the city of God.

Accommodation of sin and deliberate dabbling in evil is simply not an option for the mature man or woman of God who is serious about finding fulfillment. We cannot straddle the fence and expect to grow toward God’s best for us. There is a choice required – that is the point of verse fifteen. Keep reading…

2. Second, we must fully understand there are consequences that follow our choice (2:16-18):

The point of choices is where they lead us. John wrote”

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

There are a number of problems with building our life around the things of now for lasting fulfillment. The first problem should be obvious, but is often obscured: The options on the menu of this life won’t last! Hungers set on the flesh, greed waves crashing in the fallen heart and the enduring arrogance of the rebel will one day be put aside. Life here isn’t permanent, so fulfillment cannot be lasting.

The satisfaction the things of this world will promise is nothing more than a temporary quenching of a momentary thirst.

We often attain the immediate quenching of thirst by destroying an opportunity to have a permanent solution. The world offers a temporary satiation of physical desires, temporary satisfaction of our wants, and things that make us feel more important. These are not God’s way for us, but a lost world’s way of coping (2:16). These things won’t last, but the one who follows God’s way will find everlasting fulfillment (2:17).

Beyond the temporary nature, there is a second problem we must remember. There is less time to choose than we may believe. Our choice is urgent! The battle for our heart must end so we can join the team of those who will reach others.

We cannot win in the raging battle if you will not choose your side!

John wrote (my paraphrase): “Young ones, we are late in the opportunity to reach men and women, for the rising tide of opposition is swelling toward the coming of the Antichrist that will bring in the end battle (2:18).”

There is simply no way to avoid the fact that our choice for what fulfills us shows up in our daily choices – and that places us on one side of a conflict. We must ever remember the fact that the hour is late. We can neither delay, nor can we trust that choosing this world will somehow work out in the end.

The world’s system is increasingly showing itself to be anti-God, anti-Bible. One look at the trends and you will see rabid anti-creation words across the press – as if it is easier to explain the complexity of the cosmos by a purposeless accident. Our world is against the most basic definitions of morality – but desperate for the fruits that come with it. They cannot define a family, but cannot discern why children are angrily marching the streets, unable to define their own identity, sexuality or purpose. These youth are a sculpted product of modern social engineering. They are confused, conflicted and constantly tossed about by one outrageous cause after another. Listen to their words: you will struggle to even make sense of their understanding of things…

John continued…

3. Third, we must recognize that some will appear to fall away, because they were here for something other than walking with Him (2:19)!

Leaning back into the subject of defectors he wrote what we mentioned a few moments ago:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

When John reminded that some were a “part” for a season, but aren’t really “of us”, he made clear that people come to the fellowship for many reasons that are not about Jesus. Over the years I have encountered many people who used the church to grow their business. All across the Bible belt, people co-opted the church as a healthy social gathering environment – a well-mannered corral for people of finer breeding in the noticeable and polite social circle. Some joined the church to find a small pond in which they can show themselves a big fish. Others were simply trying to find friends and didn’t know where else to look.

Honestly, hang out in church circles and you will discover scores who entered without a true regard for the cost of following Christ, or true longing to know Him intimately at all.

Another aspect of people abandoning Christ is this: seasons of life change. We don’t remain the same. Some found friends for a time when they needed them – but they never truly found Jesus. Some may have found Jesus as Savior, but never thought that choice bound them to follow Him.

They were saved from sin – but unwilling to become a “Christian” in the sense of following Jesus.

I want to humbly offer a third observation concerning people who fall away. I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but I have noticed more recently that many people are not good listeners and even fewer are clear thinkers. What they think they heard from the Bible or from God bears little or no resemblance to what God actually said in His Word. They heard only parts of the message. They didn’t connect the dots between what they heard and how they lived. They didn’t evaluate whether what the preacher said this week can be connected to what he said last week. Let’s face it: Poor teaching abounds.

The longer I live, the more I recognize the Bible is a deck reshuffled by many an ambitious dealer, who has little interest if reflecting all of its counsel.

I recall years ago a discussion with a man in a church fellowship hall that argued vehemently against tattoos on the basis of his best study of Leviticus. These insights he shared while eating a ham sandwich. In his mind, it all made perfect sense, since he hated tattoos but loved ham. His theology perfectly accommodated his biases.

The truth is that fickle followers aren’t real followers. Fair weather friends aren’t true friends. Sunshine soldiers evaporate when the cold and wet night comes – and the rising tide of an anti-Christ spirit is giving way soon to the person who will openly mock God himself. John continued…

4. Fourth, we needn’t allow another’s defection to rock our confidence and commitment (2:20-21).

The truth cannot be found by popular vote, but it can be known. He wrote:

1 John 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

The truth is that if you know God, His Spirit has marked your life (2:20). John didn’t write because they were unaware of that, but to affirm their relationship to God (20:21)!”

People DO begin with Jesus and His people and then walk away. I know some.

Interestingly, I often run into people who ask me if their friend who expressed faith in Jesus but later left the faith in total rejection was perhaps truly saved in spite of their current declaration of total disdain for the Gospel. I know many have nuanced versions of this question, and one answer doesn’t cover all the possibilities – but I want to say something that I don’t believe gets emphasized strongly enough: People don’t truly seek Christ to fulfill their deepest longing, find Him and then later find something better. That isn’t possible, because there isn’t anything better – that is a fact made plain by the most cursory study of the Word.

If they came and left, the Bible concludes they came for a different reason than Christ.

They may not truly understand: Jesus isn’t one of the options for eternal life. He isn’t one of the paths to true happiness. He is not a buffet menu placed beside other equal options. If the Bible is true, He created life at the behest of His Heavenly Father. He IS life. In Him is fulfillment.

Everything else you heard won’t get you what you want 100,000,000 years from now. Nothing else will work. The hole in your soul won’t be permanently filled by others who are falsely offering life, love, hope and lasting fulfillment.

Imagine you entered a hospital room and saw your loved one hooked in every direction to wires and tubes. The doctor smiled at you and said: “This is great! We can keep him alive virtually forever on all these machines. His heart is beating. His liver is functioning. His lungs are being mechanically filled with air. Perhaps you would look puzzled and ask: “Can he speak?” The doctor shakes his head and says: “Oh no. He will never be conscious. He will never eat, laugh or communicate. He will lie there, in need of tremendous attention by nurses. At least he is alive!” Like me, you may conclude that isn’t living.

Jesus offers life as the Author of life. Others will elegantly dress their offer for temporary satisfaction, but cannot offer eternal life. They will draw us to moments of happiness, but cannot deliver in the end. If someone falls off a cliff, you don’t have to worry about it happening to you if you don’t stand on the edge. You have no need to shake. Truth isn’t evaluated by its popularity. Remember: in this history of mankind, most people were on the wrong side of most issues.

Since truth isn’t determined by consensus, we must grasp truth apart from the crowd. Honestly, a fact is a fact even when no one believes it.

Truth is something that must be discovered – not elected.

John made clear…

5. Fifth, we will need to choose carefully the voice we will follow. We must make sure it echoes the Word of God as it was taught from the beginning (2:22-24).

1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Anyone who is trying to deny that Jesus is Messiah is empowered by God’s enemy, and not by God, regardless of what he looks like or how educated he sounds (2:22)! One who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is wrong, and has no walk with God – no matter what he promises or claims. This truth shows whether they have a walk (2:23) – are they pointing people to the Person and work of Jesus for eternal life?

It is time, John wrote, for the people of God to stand by the truth of the relationship they received in Jesus (2:24). Then John finished his words with direction…

6. Sixth, mature believers grow to understand there are responsibilities we have in relating to the struggles of the younger follower of Jesus.

We need to offer some insight to them:

1 John 2:25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

Young believers need to be ever reminded to stick to the essence of our message. It is easy to get caught up in agendas of churches and more mature believers who have been swept into the current of political and social change agendas. The essential promise that Jesus made was eternal life (2:25).

We need to warn them (2:26):

1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

Young believers will not have the discernment that mature followers should have regarding what to avoid. Children need to be warned about strangers, and young on the faith need to be so warned about deceivers. I needed to write because some are trying to deceive you and pull you away (2:26).

The fact is the world has many false prophets who WANT to deceive you. It also contains many who just don’t know what is true, but that doesn’t stop them from becoming famous.

If recent events have taught us anything, it is that our prognosticators and pundits are often famous, but “undressed prophets.” They looked at the data, but got the answers wrong. Economists seem to be guessing about the economy. Weather men promise disaster from a storm that turns a different way. Pollsters can’t add up which direction things are headed. We live in a day when the professionals aren’t inspiring much confidence in their fool-proof methodologies.

Some lie to suit their audience. Others simply make conclusions without embracing the whole of the evidence. Believers have the truth and need to walk in it.

We need to offer encouragement (2:27):

1 John 2:27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

Young believers do not have to be convinced of the truth of Jesus’ changes in their lives if they are real, but they do have to be carefully trained to stay with the growing body that God has placed them within. We must encourage them, watch them, and train them – for the enemy has plans to discourage them!

John wrote: “I call upon you to remain in the truth you have learned – stay in the truth (2:27)!”

We should encourage younger followers of Jesus that with their salvation came the Spirit, and with the Spirit came Divine empowering to walk consistently with Him. It is not beyond our reach when you invite the Spirit to lead us daily. It is not too demanding and other-worldly. God has already poured onto your life the oil of His empowering; and doused you with His powerful inner change-agent.

When we present compromise and sinfulness as the normal behavior, we mimic the world. When we remind them of the power the world neither has nor understands – we speak reminders that echo the Apostle John’s encouragement. Let us offer younger believers this charge: You CAN walk with God. All things pertaining to life and godliness have been amply supplied. There is nothing more you need get to be able to change. The entire venture now rests on your honest willingness to let God work in you.

• You must become wise to block access of the world’s siren calls to your fallen nature – the old man within.

• You must brutally starve that leftover of your past life.

• You dare not dabble in the enemy’s lies, nor the world’s temptations.

These are all choices – but they have been accomplished by believers in the past. This contest isn’t new.

Don’t get sucked into the lie that those who remained married for life were somehow extraordinary or found someone who was nearly sinless to live with. They chose to honor God and keep their vows to one another and to Him. They chose to fight to stay together despite their fallen natures and sinful selves. In the same way that ordinary men stormed the beaches of Normandy in our nation’s past to free the world from the grip of evil, so ordinary men and women gave themselves to the cause of Jesus, and followed Him relentlessly in our Christian past. The Spirit boosts our endurance, sensitizes our understanding and challenges us to do our best when no one but God truly knows.

We must offer constant reminders to them (2:28-29):

…Of eternal rewards in the face of all the temporal promises (2:28):

1 John 2:28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.

It is clear that Jesus saves us from sin, but there is also the issue of regret and reward when our performance is judged (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5). Young followers, keep walking with Jesus so that when we stand before Him we will not be embarrassed at our behaviors, but excited to be with Him (2:28).

…Of the “marks” (2:29):

1 John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

When Jesus is changing someone, there are marks that make those changes evident to people who observe closely. It is not that we become sinless, but a definite change marks us! If Jesus’ way is right, then those who practice that way are part of Him and us (2:29).

Many promise us true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

Years ago, A. T. Stewart challenged his congregation (my paraphrase):

Imagine you are on vacation in the mountains. You decided to walk a mountain trail at the beautiful state park. It’s a hot August afternoon and you finish the hike and are both very tired and incredibly thirsty. At the end of the trail you notice a huge refrigerator with a glass door (like in the convenience stores) filled with bottles of Crystal Springs water. The sign declares: “Free water—help yourself!” Thirsty, you dash over to the cooler and help yourself to some cool refreshing water.

As you are satisfying your thirst, your eyes catch a glimpse of another hiker. You notice the man coming to the end of the trail and he looks even more tired and thirsty than you were. To your surprise, he stopped at the end of the trail. He and knelt down and drank from a small fish pond at the end of the trail. You passed this fish pond and noticed the gold fish swimming in it—the Lilly pads, a few frogs and a turtle. Like most unattended fish ponds it was filled with algae, the water was green, stagnant, murky. You couldn’t help but ask him: “Why are you drinking out of the fish pond? Don’t you see that cooler full of free Crystal Springs water? You will get sick drinking that polluted water. There is no telling what’s in that water.” He replied: “I saw the cooler, but this fish pond was closer and much more convenient. It was easier to get and I was very thirsty.

That is where you live. That is what is happening all around you. May I simply ask you: “Are you drinking out of the fish pond today?” If you are, that water is about to bring you a deep dissatisfaction. Get ready.

Standing in Truth: “Things People Say” – 1 John 1:1-2:14

antiquitiesI was speaking with an antiquities dealer in the Near East not long ago, and he said something that made an impression on me. He told me: “In my shop there are real antiquities, and there are fakes.” I asked him, “Why do you have fakes?” He replied with a smile: “Because some of them look better than the real thing!” That never occurred to me. Some people are going to purchase an item and display the purchase. It is less important that it is authentic, than that it looks good on the shelf. Sometimes fakes look better…

Though I love painted works of the Masters of art, I am not skilled enough to discern a real master from a well-made forgery. What I do know is this: There are REAL pieces and there are FAKES that are displayed as real.

Business Insider Magazine reported: “It seems like bigger and stranger art scams are revealed each year, from the man who sold more than 200 fake Alberto Giacometti statues out of his car in Germany to the Los Angeles art dealer who commissioned a fake Picasso and sold it for $2 million… During WWII, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren didn’t start out as a forger. He simply wanted to be recognized as a legitimate artist. In fact, he wanted the title so badly that he created his own works replicating Johannes Vermeer’s style and allowed them to be sold to unknowing buyers who thought them to be genuine. For a while he got away with selling the detailed forgeries for astounding prices, reaching the equivalent of $60 million for six fake Vermeer’s sold on the Dutch market, according to The Telegraph. But when one of van Meegeren’s paintings ended up in the collection of high-ranking Nazi officer Hermann Göring (an art expert), van Meegeren was arrested for treason for refusing to name the original owner of the masterpiece. The government of the Netherlands was among the other entities duped by van Meegeren.”

It is astounding to me that paintings that were forged could get past the eyes of one expert after another. It happened again just a few years ago, when actor Steve Martin bought an expensive forged piece of art and reportedly lost millions! If the forgers are that good at what they do, why not just create some new breath-taking pieces for us to share?

As shocking as that is, our lesson today from the first letter of the Apostle John opened with a story of “forgery” that we need to pay close attention to. He reminded…

Key Principle: There are people who fake faith, but there are also markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ.

A believer should have certain marks on their life that show they are following God, and being led by Jesus Christ. John felt it was necessary to help believers of the first century know the difference between real and fake faith. We want to explore the identification points (like “finger prints”) he left behind, and apply them to our time, and particularly to our lives!

Before we begin the lesson, we should take a moment and remind ourselves of a few facts we have received from historical record about the Disciple turned Apostle named John – to reacquaint ourselves with the writer:

1. He was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee from Capernaum of Galilee.

2. He was one of the fishermen called by Jesus to become fishers of men.

3. Peter and Andrew worked for his father’s fishing business.

4. He was likely the youngest of the disciples, perhaps merely a teenager at the time.

5. Perhaps because of his youth, he was very close to Jesus. John refers to himself in the Gospel of John simply as the “disciple Jesus loved.”

6. Jesus nicknamed John and his brother James “sons of thunder” because of the eager way with which they were wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that refused to offer Jesus and company hospitality.

7. He was the last surviving apostle. The best information says that he was well into his 80’s when he died at Ephesus. For obvious reasons, he was considered an elder statesman of the church in his later years. Note in 2 John, he is simply referred to as “the elder,” a term that could mean simply an older man. The term came to refer to the respected leaders of the church (and before that the Jewish synagogue).

8. He was also the only apostle to die of natural causes, if you don’t count the rigors that an extended exile and imprisonment may have had on him. All of the other apostles, according to tradition were martyred for their faith.

Three church historical writers add what may be a bit of “texture” to the history. These aren’t certain as facts, like stories from the New Testament, but they are old and have been a part of the church’s understanding of John for centuries:

• Eusebius (3 :28) tells another story of John which he got from the works of Irenaeus. We have seen that one of the leaders of the Gnostic heresy was a man called Cerinthus. “The apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, when he learned that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from his place and rushed out of the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. He advised those who were with him to do the same. `Let us flee,’ he said, `lest the bath fall, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”’ I love that story! It offers another glimpse of the temper of John. Apparently, Boanerges (a son of thunder) was not quite dead.

• Cassian tells another famous story about John. One day he was found playing with a tame partridge. A narrower and more rigid brother rebuked him for thus wasting his time, and John answered: “The bow that is always bent will soon cease to shoot straight.”

• It is Jerome who tells the story of the last words of John. When he was dying, his disciples asked him if he had any last message to leave them. “Little children,” he said, “love one another.” Again and again he repeated it; and they asked him if that was all he had to say. “It is enough,” he said, “for it is the Lord’s command.” I love that story. As a Pastor, it showed he cared how the people God entrusted to his care treated one another.

Take a moment and look at the beginning of 1 John. The opening of John’s letter explained three essential truths to understanding the early church:

• First, he addressed the message around which believers rallied.

• Second, he openly discussed the problems they faced.

• Third, he offered a brief description of his recipients – those who were truly following Jesus in his time.

His interest, as an aging Pastor, was that he frankly and openly addressed the body of believers with both excitement about his message and candidness concerning their current troubles. His opening idea is an honest assessment that still rings true… The church isn’t a perfect organization; it is flawed people with a wondrous message of the Perfect One.

With enthusiasm, John opened with a message about their message – a few words about the Gospel that caused them to gather together as one.

John essentially wrote: “Our work is all about Jesus (1:1-5)!” He offered five truths about the message that binds believers together:

First, the Gospel is ETERNAL TRUTH. It was always true. We didn’t create the faith; we discovered it. (1:1a).

1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning…

Second, it is HISTORICAL. It was a real encounter. We didn’t imagine a spiritual event; rather we but experienced Him. (1:1).

1 John 1:1b “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life

Third, it was DIVINELY SHARED. It was uncovered by God (He made Himself known). We didn’t sculpt its features; we merely shared our experience with you. (1:2).

1 John 1:2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

Fourth, it was PURPOSELY COMMUNICATED. We shared what we found to offer you relationship both to us and to God (1:3).

1 John 1:3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Fifth, it must be STRENGTHENED. Growing in Christ will reinforce assurance of the Gospel in us. (1:4).

1 John 1:4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

Sixth, it has an OBVIOUS EFFECT. The Gospel is unique and profound; it stands out and cannot be mixed with other messages (1:5).

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

Review those truths for a second. John said: “Our message is one that existed from the beginning – but for a time was obscure. We heard it audibly, saw it physically, and handled it personally- we have a relationship with God through personally experiencing the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah. We shared with you the way to God just as He, the “life-giver,” revealed the path to us. We continue to offer the message of a growing relationship with God. We offer this letter to continue your growth in Him and help complete the work, bringing you to greater assurance in your life in Christ. Here is the truth: The encounter with Jesus changes you, and that profound change should be unique and obvious before men.”

The message that drew us together is from the Creator. It is a message that changes, and should excite us as we gaze at it. John wanted the wonder of the message that God has set us free to again cause us to think about God’s goodness.

That was the opening, but that wasn’t the problem. Our message never is. He openly discussed the fact that some were claiming faith, but their life didn’t show it to be truly theirs.

All of us who know Jesus openly acknowledge we have this profound problem… There are imitation followers (1:6-2:11). They say they have embraced the Gospel, but their life doesn’t show the obvious and profound change that should accompany belief and surrender to Jesus. We have people in our midst that TALK FAITH but don’t WALK FAITH. Some may not realize it. Others do it intentionally.

To make the point very clear, some mechanics of Bible study may be in order. Let’s try to see if we can cut through the verbiage and see a pattern that will help us follow John’s line of thinking. Look at the rest of 1 John 1. Notice a phrase that emerges and is repeated. In verse six (1:6) you may note the phrase: “If we say…” You will see it again in verse eight (1:8) and verse ten (1:10). Follow the words into the second chapter. A similar phrase carries the issue over in verse four (2:4) with the words: “one who says” – repeated again in verse six (2:6) and in verse nine (2:9). We can easily see John is making clear that people say things that don’t reflect their true inner state. He used descriptions of them like “liar” in 1:6, “self-deceived” in 1:8, as well as those who “make God a liar” in 1:10.

Now go back to the first chapter. In contrast to the WORDS of some “so-called” followers of Jesus, John made clear that ACTIONS were used to measure the reality of their true faith. He used terms about their actual lifestyle like “if we walk in darkness” in 1:6 or if he “does not keep His commandments” in 2:4. Just by that brief overview, it becomes possible to recognize the central idea: People CANNOT ask us to believe they are truly followers of Jesus if their lifestyle reflects the value system of the world.

In the opening to his letter, John made the clear point that anyone can claim to be a Christian, but their life choices show whether that claim is true. If being a Christian strictly means “being a follower of Jesus Christ”, only those who are walking along a path Jesus would walk can honestly say they are Christian. It is the walk that validates the talk.

Follow the terms: “If we say…”

Claiming we know Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Jesus. Saying we have heard of Him and know of Him isn’t the same as surrendering our daily choices to Him and reaching for His hand to daily lead us. When He leads, we will be changed. Where He leads, we will live a distinct lifestyle from the world around us. Don’t be duped by talkers that aren’t walkers…If we follow Him, we won’t think we are better than others, but we will know His cleansing of us changed the deepest hungers within us. John wrote:

1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

John simply wrote: If we claim to be a Christian but walk like we aren’t – we just aren’t being honest – with ourselves and others around us. The daily practice of our faith is essential evidence of its claim over us. 1:6-7.

John faced the reality that some boldly claimed they were fellowshipping with Jesus, but they were walking according to the pattern of the dark world of the lost. He simply argued that both cannot be true! (1:6).

John’s words are clear: When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing a path that affects our daily life. We are choosing to live in a way that He would live. We are choosing to lock arms with others who have made that choice as well. Our cleansing is from Him and not from our work, but our lives show the relationship with Jesus in a way as profound as light piercing through a dark room. There is little ambiguity in the lifestyle of those who walk in relationship to Jesus, for we fellowship with other believers and ever humbly thank Jesus for cleansing us from our sin (1:7).

John argued: “If there isn’t a noticeable distinction between the world’s values and your values, you need to be concerned about whether you are lying to yourself about your faith.

Christianity isn’t simple theological assent to a set of historical events – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – it is surrender of choices to the One Who saved us. It is a change in life NOW, not simply a change in destination at DEATH. If that were not the case, John wouldn’t state that our faith should be seen in our daily walk.

Note that two issues were presented in the way we show our faith to the world.

• The first was a “walk in darkness” as opposed to a profound change toward a walk in the light of our relationship to Jesus.

• The second is our open willingness to walk through life together, counting on the cleansing work of the Savior.

It should be clear to the reader of his letter, then, that a Christian is one who was profoundly affected by their meeting with Christ, and is now a part of others who met Him. The fact is that Christianity wasn’t designed to be a lone journey. It wasn’t simply you and Jesus facing life. Coming to Christ means joining others who have come to Him, and seeking to reflect the powerful light of Jesus in a dark world.

The words of John penetrate deeply. Our nature has changed in our coming to Christ. Our hungers should change. Our companions should change as well. John continued with yet another lie some have been repeating within. He wrote:

If we claim we have no need of cleansing in Christ – we are self-deceived. We are in constant need for His forgiveness and renewal. 1:8-9

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Apparently, John heard some in the faith community that were saying their salvation provided complete cleansing, so they no longer needed to battle with a sin nature in their daily choices. He remarked: “That is self-deception!” (1:8). There is a small possibility that John was addressing those who thought they never needed a Savior, but that doesn’t fit the context well, so I will simply dismiss that idea.

When we turn our attention to believers, however, there are two issues that often arise always when there is a call to holy living like the one John opened with:

First, that call has a tendency to distress some because they think that holiness implies perfection in our daily walk. Usually, this is a problem to the most responsible among us. (If you are the kind of person who apologizes for things someone else in your group did that had nothing to do with you, this may be a problem for you!)

The fact is that every believers fails to follow Jesus at times. We know that we don’t always do right, even if we are daily calling on the Spirit’s aid and working hard at submission. Does that mean we don’t really know God at all? Nothing is further from John’s mind. Encouragement to do right was not intended to make you feel worse. It wasn’t John’s purpose to cause guilt or angst, but rather to invite people to consistently and intentionally choose to follow Jesus in their daily life. The Gospel isn’t intended to spread guilt, but rather to bring us to freedom by bridging the gap fixed between God and the sinner. Telling people their value system would change when they are “in Christ” was a way to help them identify if they truly knew Jesus.

Perhaps a good way to think of the call to walk with Jesus is found in the imagery used by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – that of a marriage. As believers, we are a part of the body of Christ, but we are also referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” This image makes our walk more understandable.

When we marry, we change our state from singleness, and become a part of the union with another. Our marriage is not only a singular choice, as in we “want to be married for a moment,” but rather the change of a state that must be demonstrated by continuous choice to act within that state. A marriage is not a simple attendance at a wedding – it is a daily choice to act out the vows made at the wedding ceremony. In the same way, the Gospel began a relationship, and it is one that implies ongoing choices to signal the initial choice was sincere.

Now, every analogy breaks down at some point, and our relationship with God through Christ cannot be summarized neatly is a short analogy without some limitations, but hopefully this helps to make the general idea more clear.

Second, there are some who rebuff calls to holiness because they understand the Gospel to give them license to live according to their desires without penalty.

There is a theology that was born from the conflict inside the strong-willed believer. This is the person who is most opposite of the “constantly guilty Christian” we discussed a moment ago, for they seem to celebrate a theological concept that allows guilt to be set aside regardless of current lifestyle or behavior. You will find them in many church circles. They are people who believe in Jesus but feel no particular need to act on that belief – and they offer a theological reason why they feel as they do.

Here is their line of logic in a brief summation: The end of verse seven promised: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” If Jesus saved me from all my sin – past, present and future – as one covered by His blood, I may continue on my way through life with a perpetually clean account before God regardless of my choices after I am saved. After all, since there is “no condemnation” for me, I am in Christ (Romans 8) and I am assured Heaven because of the finished work of Jesus, why should I fret over my failings? Isn’t His death supposed to make me secure in my life? With such a refuge, why would I care about what I choose today? My walk has no bearing on my eternity.

There is some truth to that position, but there is also a serious flaw. Here is the central issue: Within each of us is a deep inner hunger for license to “live for self.” Every believer faces it, and every day brings a new challenge to surrender will to the Master. When that urge gets paired with the knowledge that Jesus made me completely clean, it can produce in us a problem for our daily walk. My old nature, lurking beneath the surface of my trained veneer, is ever enticed to follow the siren call of the fallen world around me, that lives in perpetual rebellion against God. A theology of forgiveness that immediately frees me from the need to care about sin sounds like a gift to one who doesn’t want to push against a sinful nature.

In the letter, the Apostle John asserted a truth to bring people back to the main thought behind the Biblical presentation of salvation – the Gospel offers us a walk with God. It is an error to think the center of the message of Christianity is to provide Heaven for people; it isn’t. It is to reconcile people to God. The central message of the Gospel isn’t about Heaven – it is about a relationship with the Living God through Christ’s work on the Cross.

Believers must remember the focal point of our destiny isn’t merely a tearless gaze upon shining streets of gold, but a future time of unending intimacy with God!

It is true that Jesus paid for all of our sin, and we stand faultless before God when we acknowledge the payment as fully sufficient. At the same time, Jesus paid for our sins on the Cross with the primary purpose of pulling us back into an intimate and personal relationship with God. When we treat our cleansed state in Christ as a license for an indulgent but guiltless life, we miss the whole point of salvation. We were saved to walk with Him. Thinking of salvation as a ticket to do as I please is a form of self-deception.

As a result, God provided a way to deal with sin in a believer’s life that includes coming back to Him for a renewal (1 John 1:9). The process begins with confession – a mere open agreement with God that what I did was self-focused and pulled me from a proper walk with Him. Pretending that my state of righteousness has become a license is no way to honor God with my life.

Not only that, but when we live like we don’t need Him, we live a lie. For those who may argue they don’t need a Savior, they are just plain wrong (1 John 1:10). John wrote:

1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

You cannot claim to be able to live as you please and yet have a vibrant walk with God. By the same token, you cannot claim you follow His Word if you live a theology that invites self-will over surrender. John continued:

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

He made clear that his desire was to share what he could to help the people grow in their faith and walk in truth. He wanted them to set aside sinful behavior and renew their walk with Jesus! He reminded them we have an advocate if we sin that will represent us (2:1) and He IS our payment (2:2). We can walk in assurance by walking in obedience.

When we try to hide that we have sinned, we disrupt, at least for a time, God’s use of our lives, and kill the growth of His grace within us! We remain in bondage instead of moving ahead in victory. It reminds me of a famous story:

“I PLEAD GUILTY!” The great “prince of preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to tell this story: “A certain ruler once boarded a galley ship. As he passed the crew of slaves, he asked several of them what their offenses were. Almost every man claimed he was innocent. They laid the blame on someone else or accused the judge of yielding to bribery. One young fellow, however, spoke out, ‘Sir, I deserve to be here. I stole some money. No one is at fault but myself. I’m guilty.’ Upon hearing this, the duke seized him by the shoulder and shouted, ‘You scoundrel, you! What are you doing here with all these honest men? Get out of their company at once!’ He was then set at liberty while the rest were left to tug at the oars.” The key to this prisoner’s freedom was the admission of his guilt.

John repeated the claim he made in 1 John 1:6-7. He reminded: “If we say we know Jesus, but walk as though we do not – this is a lie! (2:4).

1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:

Obedience is the prerequisite for completion in His love (2:5), for what we truly believe comes out in our lives. It is not the Sunday church us, but the Monday morning us that our children read as the “real us”. In fact, to drive home the point, someone quipped: “A hypocrite is a person who is not himself on Sunday.” Another man, an obvious skeptic, who’d apparently seen hypocritical Christian behavior wrote, “A Christian is a man who feels sorry on a Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on Monday.

We need to get past the surface of our lives and concern ourselves more with what God thinks than everyone else. We need to be honest. We aren’t nearly as good at covering our hypocrisy as we may think. Someone told me a story some time back that makes the point clear:

A 12-year-old boy was waiting for his first orthodontist appointment and was a bit nervous. Apparently he wanted to impress the dentist. On the patient questionnaire, in the space marked “Hobbies,” he had written, “Swimming and flossing.”

Yes, we really ARE that transparent sometimes!

John wasn’t done with the verbal misrepresentations of faith yet. He continued:

1 John 2:6 “…the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

He made the point that some say they live in relationship with Jesus. If this is true, it is proper to expect they live as He lived (2:6). There is a simple implied idea: We cannot live a different lifestyle with different priorities than Jesus but fit Jesus into that lifestyle – all the while claiming we are followers.

Unfortunately, hypocrisy is one of the most damaging events occurring in churches today. A businessman was returning home from a business trip. The plane pulled in, the passengers were dismissed and his wife met him at the gate. They made their way to the baggage claim area when an extremely attractive stewardess walked by. Suddenly, the husband came to life. Beaming, he said to the stewardess, “I hope we can fly together again, Miss Jones.” She grinned at him and walked away. Just then, his wife asked, “How did you know the name of that stewardess?” Husband plays it off, “Well, her name was posted up front in the plane, right under the names of the pilot and co-pilot.” You know what the wife said? “Oh really? How nice of you to notice… Tell me, what were the names of the pilot and the co-pilot?” BUSTED! The man’s hypocrisy was uncovered. His true motives were revealed.

Finally, John drove one final case home about people who speak in a way that shows something is wrong inside. He wrote:

1 John 2:9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

We simply cannot say they are walking in fellowship with God, but allow unrepentant hate to reign in our hearts with our brother. Only those who love their brother are really walking in the light where they won’t trip (2:10). The one who continually hates his brother is in darkness, and is blind and fumbling around. The bottom line is this: We can’t ask God to forgive us of our sin and not forgive those who have hurt us!

John reminded us of the wonder of the Gospel message, and followed that with a survey of truths that should indicate the difference between a real follower and a fake.

In the last part of the lesson, John reminded us of the flock – those who were truly following Jesus.

I love that John was a Shepherd. His writing wasn’t simply about the problems of the faith – but about the PEOPLE of God’s Kingdom. He knew were his words were directed, and targeted them to real people following a real Savior. He wrote:

1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

He remarked:

• I am writing to believers – those forgiven by Jesus’ work (2:12).
• I am writing to eye witnesses (he called “fathers”) because some were around to know Jesus himself (2:13a).
• I am writing to young winners that have seen victory in Him (2:13b).
• I wrote to discerning children who know what our Father is like (2:13b).
• I wrote to fathers with track records of following (2:14a), to young men who have been steadfast in peril and to all who have God’s Word hidden in their heart (2:14b).

There are markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ – or not. They aren’t just words – they are actions. They are choices that reflect values, standards and deeply held truths.

Christianity can be taught, but on closer inspection, it is mostly lived. Our commitment to Jesus makes our walk different. It isn’t FORCED. It is a joy. It can be seen in the way we make the most of today.

Famed educator Booker T. Washington recalled the “entrance exam” that earned him a place at the Hampton Institute in Virginia as a young man. The head teacher ordered Washington to take a broom and sweep the classroom. Because he knew this was his chance, he swept the room three times and dusted the furniture four times. When the teacher returned, she inspected the floor closely and ran her handkerchief over the woodwork. Unable to find a speck of dust anywhere, she said, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.” Washington later said that this was the turning point of his life. Don’t waste your time waiting and longing for large opportunities which may never come. But faithfully handle the little things that are always claiming your attention. F.B. Meyer.