We started a new bible class today, and I am blessed to teach adults this year every 2-3 weeks. Not that I wasn’t blessed teaching 3rd graders last year, but teaching married adults will be infinitely more challenging. I look forward to what God teaches me this year.
Anyway, I’m going to try to share my notes each time, so here’s this week’s lesson:
I am so glad to be here in a new bible class that focuses on couples. I can’t tell you what a blessing this is. Diane and I recently remarried each other – 1st anniversary for the 2nd time, and before we got married, we loved the single classes. So active, so energetic. So many active people taking a role in organizing activities, from bible studies to mission projects to fellowship. But then when we moved on to the married classes, they were all devoted to families, as they should be if children are involved. But the studies and mission projects and fellowship were few and far between. I miss that sort of activity, and I truly pray we build something like that in this class.
Of course we like kids – I just got through teaching 3rd graders in Teamkids for the last year. I’d spend 20 minutes talking about Jesus or Joseph and his multicolored robe or the parting of the Red Sea, and then I’d ask if there were any questions. (raising hand) â€œMr. Mike, can I go to the bathroom?â€ I hope we discuss more in depth than that. I love kids. It’s just that, for the most part, we don’t have kids.
We’re studying Ecclesiastes from 9 through the first part of 11 this week, and as I got into the Word it began to dawn on me how perfect God’s plan is. Here we are having a first couples class, and God gives us a lesson on the meaning of life and enjoying life with your spouse. Amazing. Coincidence? I think not. God makes everything work for His glory, from the little things to the big things. In the midst of uncertainties, sometimes you have to look a little harder to see God’s hand at work. Here’s an example of little calamity – some of you may know that I had a chance to take a business trip to Europe the last two and a half weeks. I don’t travel often, and when I do it’s to little towns like Painted Post NY and Paducah KY. This year, though, it’s been Paris and Germany and Italy and Poland. As much as Diane might want to go to fabulous downtown Paducah KY, this Europe trip was finally the trip I was going to bring her along. Best business trip I ever had. While I would read my email and attend meetings, my luggage kept unpacking and packing itself in the hotels. My toiletries seemed to move by themselves out of my luggage into the bathroom. And my jacket and ties would appear in the closet, hanging neatly for the next day. Amazing. My luggage never did that when my wife wasn’t with me.
I was overloaded with work going on, and when there was free time, Diane and I would see the sights. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have adequate time to prepare for this week. The second weekend, we had dinner while watching the Eiffel tower – I know, it’s a really rough business trip – and then Saturday we had planned to go to the Louvre and Versailles. But Saturday morning, Diane woke up not feeling well. By noon, she was asleep; I caught up on email, reviewing drawings … and then spent several hours working on this lesson this week. Little calamity, yes, but God put it to work for His benefit.
Let me tell you about the Poland part of the trip. I had to go to a dinky little town called Chwaszczyno. We didn’t think we were going to like Poland after visiting Paris, so I made sure we stayed as short a time as possible. Fly in on Tuesday, 2 days of meetings, fly out early, real early, 3:30am early. There are no hotels in Chwaszczyno, so we stayed in a nearby town called Sopot, and we could not have been more wrong about Poland. The people were so friendly, so nice, and many of them spoke enough English that just getting around the city was a pleasure. I wish we could have stayed a week.
The hotel itself was beautiful, it had recently been renovatedâ€¦ well more accurately, it was still being renovated. While the hotel looked great, nothing worked right and there was all this hammering and power saw noises going on all the time. Across the check-in desk, the handicap bathroom out of order. Downstairs was supposed to be a heated swimming pool, but it didn’t have any water in it. We actually had to call the concierge to find out how to work the shower. It had these twin knobs with buttons that you had to rotate forward, push the thumb button, and rotate backward. The phone didn’t work, it continually flashed a â€œmessage waitingâ€ light and you had to use the speaker phone to talk. The internet connection didn’t work, and half the hotel was awake at 3 in the morning listening to the disco noise just outside. And when we tried to check out, they told me they would have to mail the bill because their computer system was down for maintenance.
They tried so hard, the rooms were just beautiful, right on the beach, top quality stuff. And 2 days later, sitting in that Paris hotel room while Diane slept, it dawned on me that God had given me a hands-on lesson about the meaning of life in Ecclesiastes and then demonstrated every part of the lesson with the trip to Poland and France. I know it’s because I’m slow, thick as a brick, that God has to be so patient with me. I can sometimes grasp intellectually God’s word but have a hard time finding how to apply it. We want life to be so perfect, and we put up a terrific appearance. We’re all dressed so nicely for our bible class this morning, but perhaps last night or yesterday our lives had a handicap bathroom that was out of order, a phone you couldn’t dial with. A family member you’re not getting along with. A friend in the hospital. A father you’re not speaking with. An argument with your spouse. But hey, the paint looks great, doesn’t it?
Let’s turn to Ecclesiastes 9:1-3
So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destinyâ€”the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good man,
so with the sinner;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.
When I first became a Christian, one of my expectations as a new child of God was that God would take care of his new child. A job that would never end, I’d never get sick, friends would never die. God is all powerful, and he’d do all this for his child, I so naively thought. I still struggle with this attitude, that I selfishly want God to do my bidding. Like rubbing a bottle and having my own personal genie pop out and make everything all right.
Here in Ecclesiasties, Solomon is remarking that that sort of magical protection is not apparent. Calamities fall upon the righteous and the evil alike, and in the end, we die. Game over. Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine. You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine. Righteous or wicked men, good or bad women, we all end up with a common destiny. We die.
It’s ok that there are calamities in your life. Calamities are not a measure of how good of a Christian you are. A few months ago we studied Job â€“ now there was a righteous man. And then in the space of a day, he lost all of his servants, then his cattle, then all of his children. Calamities fall upon the righteous and unrighteous alike. Here’s some advice you’ve probably never heard before: don’t be a Polish hotel. Don’t cover up your problems and hardships. Share your concerns about the disco noise and that you need help working the shower controls. You tell me about your leaky faucet, and I’ll leak all over you, too.
So, we give ourselves to the Lord, fully give ourselves in worship, study and service, and in return we still get old and die, how are we to live our lives? Timothy asked the same of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12-15,
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Between 2 Timothy and Ecclesiastes, we know that we will suffer and eventually die. Is that all there is? Righteousness won’t change it â€“ in fact, it looks like we get a little persecution thrown in for fun. So how are we to live?
We continue. We continue. We are called to enjoy this life, calamities and all. Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 â€“ hold on, we’re coming to the end of the doom and gloom scriptures.
For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even the memory of them is forgotten.
Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.
This is a short life. Once we’re dead, whatever happens in Heaven and the glory we shall see when Christ returns, this life is over. Rather than doom and gloom, the calamities enrich us, they challenge us, they are God’s way of getting our attention, they are opportunities for us to grow and to show the world that, regardless of the calamities, the hardships, the pain and suffering, that we are enjoying our meaningless life. Our life gives us the chance to choose our eternal destination and to share the joy of living as a child of God to others that are living a meaningless life. We know that we live out our meaningless life in the hope of continuing in our eternal life. And if you have no faith in Jesus? You have no eternal life to hope for.
Yesterday I was at an estate sale Diane organized for an elderly couple. They had collected years and years of Asian art, but in their last few years they decided to move. At the estate sale I couldn’t help but notice that all this art, loaded with their memories was being sold for pennies on the dollar. All these memories, once this couple was gone, were meaningless. We can’t take it with us, and we leave almost nothing behind.
So how do we do this? How do we go about our meaningless life? I’m sorry I keep calling it a meaningless life, but hey, I’m just quoting Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon calls it meaningless since he’s looking at our lives from the human perspective only at this point in Ecclesiastes. It’s when we look at our lives from God’s perspective that we find we have meaning after all, but that meaning does not come from ourselves. The meaning of life does not come from our wisdom, our wealth, our fresh coat of paint on our old hotel, our good looks, whether we forward emails or if we won that argument about whether toothpaste tubes should be squeezed from the top or from the bottom. The meaning of life is from God â€“ discovering God’s purpose for our lives, growing in His love, discovering our spiritual gifts and sharing that gift with others. We are to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let me be clear as to what I’m not saying â€“ I’m not saying you should ever deny you’re disappointed. Don’t lie to yourself that everything is all hunky-dory if it isn’t. Problems get worse if you deny them. Don’t look inside an empty refrigerator and say, â€œI have plenty of food.â€ Don’t go around just whistling â€œDon’t worryâ€¦ be happy.â€ I know some Christians think that they should somehow never have needs, but let’s look at the scripture where that comes from. Philippians 4:12, Paul says,
â€œI know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.â€
Notice that Paul doesn’t deny he has had needs; he just says he’s learned to be content in any and every situation.
I’m also not saying you should deny you’re in pain. We want the world to be a certain way, and when the world doesn’t match our expectations, we get disappointed. Denying you’re in pain may lead us to deny the right solution to the problem. We try to cover it up with something pleasurable. â€œLife is hard. I deserve this.â€ I deserve a couple of donuts. Wives, you deserve a little harmless fling with Ben and Jerry. Husbands, what would it hurt to run around with Sarah Lee and Little Debbie. Or, I deserve a couple of beers. I deserve to be entertained, watching late night TV past my bedtime. I deserve some time on the computer looking at women. Drugs will ease the pain. Do you see where this is leading? I deserve some time with my addiction. It’s ok to enjoy yourself with the good and appropriate things in life that our good Lord has provided, but don’t go fooling yourself that you deserve things that are not God’s will.
And don’t deny that it’s your problem. Don’t blame others. If life has given you disappointment, don’t inflict that disappointment on others. That’s a sure way to walk down the path of bitterness, blaming others and even blaming God for life’s disappointments.
What do we do with this pain? Embrace it. Make it yours. This one meaningless life we have, we experience life’s pleasures and we experience life’s disappointments. Embrace the pain, let it break your heart. And that will drive you to the only true source of comfort that we have, the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never know how much God loves you until you recognize that the things, the stuff, and even the people in this life will bring us hurt and disappointment. Instead of depending on others for your joy, depend on God.
Dan Allender, author of â€œThe Path Less Chosenâ€ and â€œIntimate Allies, Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life,â€ wrote “What most of us spend the energy of our lives warring against is reality – the fact that life is awful and the truth that this world is not our home. I am surprised when the effects of a fallen world impinge on my life. I know people die. I know tragedies occur. I am aware that people have affairs and marriages end. But for some reason, I am stunned when a good friend dies, or a child of parents I know is diagnosed with a fatal disease. I am shocked when someone I’ve worked with in a ministry context has an affair and leaves his wife. Though I face sin and its debris every day, I somehow assume that that I can escape sin’s sorrow … If I do not anticipate the regularity and tragedy of sin, I unavoidably come to believe that this world is my home.”
Who’s familiar with Reggie White, the awesome defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles? He’s the only player in history to have accumulated more sacks than actual games played. 1998 Defensive Player of the Year, two Superbowls with the Green Bay Packers. Absolutely awesome football player. In 1997 after complaining of shortness of breath, he was diagnosed with an inflammatory disease called sarcoidosis and was treated and told that sarcoidosis goes away in some patients.
He retired the next year, came back for the 2000 season and then retired again. What many people don’t know is that Reggie White was also an ordained Baptist minister in Knoxville, Tennessee, and after his retirement in 2000 he devoted himself to â€œTorah-observant Messianic theologyâ€. In other words, he wanted to become an expert in what the Torah and the Old Testament says about the coming of the Messiah. He shared his faith with everybody he ran into, so much so that he was nicknamed â€œthe minister of defense.â€ He appeared on the Sky Angel cable channel, not for his football skill, but because of his knowledge of Christ. And then, suddenly, at the age of 43, Reggie White died. A fatal heart attack caused by the sarcoidosis he had lived with. Caught up like a fish in a net, Reggie was gone. One of his last quotes on the Sky Angel channel before he died was, â€œWinning the Super Bowl was a great day in my life, but that day in Jerusalem (reading the ancient Hebrew version of Matthew) was, without a doubt, the greatest day of my life! Talking about my relationship with Jesus Christ is as natural as breathing for me. I say relationship because it’s a day-by-day, night-by-night, ongoing communication between Jesus and me.
I’m not saying that any person can use the name of Jesus and beat every opponent. If that were true, I could skip all my practices, and forget about my weight training and conditioning.
But I do want to live and breathe Jesus Christ so much that when people see me, they see Him. I still mess up and fall short of imitating Him in my life, but He always forgives and encourages me.â€
And I don’t want to talk just about Reggie. I want to talk about his wife, Sara, who stood in for him two weeks ago when her husband was inducted after death into the NFL Hall of Fame. When they unveiled the bronze bust of her husband, she burst into tears in front of hundreds of people that were there to honor Reggie. And then a little later that afternoon at a press conference, she again had a smile and gave a 10 minute impromptu message.
“Some of my girlfriends have asked me, “How can you be so happy?’ It’s because I appreciate every single day. Death is not bad. Especially if you have eternal life. Living a bad life is bad. People who are alive and not living, I feel more sorry for them than people that are dead. We are the ones suffering, because we miss them. [Reggie] was looking for the Father, and the Father said, “come home.'”
It’s a short life, and what we do likely has no meaning after we’re gone. It’s not what we accomplish, it’s not our works. It’s about faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and the grace He so freely gives. Accomplishments are nothing. Poof. Like dust in the wind. But it’s *how* we live our life, in richment and in testimony to the love of our Lord that gives life its meaning.
We can learn to appreciate the meaning of life in 3 ways –
1) We fulfill our obligations (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sunâ€” all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Eat our food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart. These were staples of Israeli life. I think we can all agree that eating food is a pleasure â€“ lunch today, by the way, is at Escalante’s. This verse is so much more than just food and wine, though. Enjoy your daily life. Whatever you do, do it with gladness. You only get this life once. Honest labor should be rewarded with honest feasting. It’s ok, the rulebook says it’s ok.
Always be clothed in white and anoint your head with oil. White clothes and anointing one’s head with oil were signs of happiness. Psalm 23:5, you anoint my head with oil and my cup overflows. The life of a faithful believer should be marked by a love of life, a festive gratitude and the enjoyment of the legitimate pleasures of life. Not the illegitimate pleasures â€“ those are followed by guilt and shame, but by the legitimate pleasures. We know we have abundant life with our Lord Jesus. Let everybody know it!
I love verse 9 â€“ God commands me to enjoy life with my wife whom I love. Let’s make sure our spouses know that. Men, turn to your wife, look adoringly into her eyes, and repeat after me. â€œI will enjoy life with my wife whom I love. Amen.â€ I want you to notice, men, that your wives don’t have to enjoy life with you, so make sure you work doubly hard at enjoying life enough for both of you.
I’m only partially kidding â€“ we men are indeed commanded to love our wives, and we are to enjoy our lives as we do it. The command for our wives, by the way, is a little bit different. I want to turn to one of my favorite passages, Ephesians 5:33.
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
There are a whole bunch of passages in the bible that deal with the relationship between a man and a woman, but it’s interesting that the bible tells the man to love the woman and for the woman to respect her husband. I’m pretty sure that, for whatever reason God designed us this way, it’s easier for men to show respect than it is to show love. Wives, let me ask you a question â€“ do you love your husband unconditionally? That was too easy, of course the answer is yes. Now let me ask this â€“ do you respect your husband unconditionally? That’s a little harder. So wives, turn to your husband, look adoringly into his eyes, and repeat after me. â€œI will enjoy life with my husband whom I respect. Amen.â€ You can love him, too, if you want. That’s a bonus.
The Good Book makes clear that a marriage is the epitome of intimacy and joy in human relationships. The marriage relationship is like God and Israel in Isaiah 54:5
For your Maker is your husbandâ€”
the LORD Almighty is his nameâ€”
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
It’s also like Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
And we only get to experience this one time, it’s only a human experience. (Matthew 22:30). The closest you can get in a human experience to the way Christ loves us is to love our spouse â€“ Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Love your spouse in every way possible for life is fleeting. As fish are caught in a cruel net, we do not know how much time we have to love our spouse, so enjoy it while we can. Solomon reminds us that life is fleeting and we should invest our best time and energies in our closest relationship.
Ok, back to Ecclesiastes. In verse 10, Solomon tells us that whatever we do, do it with all our might, and with a joyful heart. Do you should up at work complaining that you have to be there? Do you come home at night complaining you have to be there, too? What’s common about those complaints? That’s right â€“ wherever you go, there you are. Take your joyous, happy face to work and give it your best effort. Put those hands to work, whether you’re tapping nails or tapping a keyboard. All human effort is a labor of love to God. We are doing this as service to God. Even if it’s not the job you want, if you’d rather be doing something else, your human labor should be done for God. God doesn’t deserve our complaining â€“ God deserves our best work possible with a joyful heart. John 9:4:
As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
Our opportunity for working for the Lord is every bit as short as our time for loving our spouses and for eating and drinking. When we die, all opportunity for serving the Lord in our human capacity ends with us.
2) The second way to appreciate the meaning of life is to persist. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12:
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
We would like life to be a nice little bundled package. We’re born, we grow up. We work a little, play a little, and die old and in great shape. Solomon reminds us that life isn’t always like that, unpredictable and uncontrollable things happen, like dying at the age of 43 just before you’re inducted into the Hall of Fame. The swift do not always win the race â€“ Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby Winner, was also expected to win the Preakness. What happened? A wrong step, a shattered ankle into more than 20 pieces, almost cost the horse his life.
The battle isn’t always to the strong; strength can be defeated by umâ€¦ what are those things called? Ah, brains. Strength can be defeated by brains. The wise do not always earn bread, and wealth does not always come to the brilliant, favor to the educated â€“ I bet there were a lot of smart honest people working at Enron a few years back, and then suddenly they were out of work and their life savings were gone.
What happened? Time and chance. God is in control, and His plans are far greater than our little human plans. When Habakkuk complained to God, Habakkuk 1:2:
â€œHow long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?â€
God answered in verse 5:
“Look at the nations and watchâ€”
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.”
We can plan all we want, but if it’s not the Lord’s will, it’s not the Lord’s will. It’s like playing tug of war with a Hummer. God wins. You can try to fight him if you want, but that leads to misery and bitterness. Or you can follow God and be utterly amazed.
3) And the third way to appreciate the meaning of life, we give it our best effort. In Ecclesiastes 11:1:
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.
And it’ll probably be soggy, for thy bread don’t float. Solomon isn’t talking about physically going down to the lake and tossing bread into the water, even if feeding the ducks is one’s of life’s pleasures. Solomon is advising patience. Take what you own, your money, your bread, what you’ve earned, your time, whatever you have, and do something for God with it. Share what you believe about Jesus with a family member, a friend, a stranger, a coworker. When Diane and I were in Poland, we had dinner with one of the guys working on my project, just the 3 of us, when he asked how Diane and I met. It’s a God thing, we’ll be happy to share it with y’all sometime, just like we shared it with this coworker. He listened politely, and I’d love to say that afterward he instantly gave his life to Christ. Wed love to say that something we said convinced somebody to become a Christian. That doesn’t work primarily because we’ve confused our works with the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s our job to share our love, but it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to convict somebody. We plant the seed and get out of the way. Other people may plant seeds later, we don’t know. We cast our bread upon the water we were baptized in, and after many days we will find it again. I didn’t truly give my life to Christ until about 8 years ago, and looking back I can see all the people that cast their bread upon the waters with me and saw no immediate results. My mother. A high school classmate that called me after graduation to apologize for anything ugly he had said because he had given his life to Christ and wanted to ask forgiveness. A Campus Crusade for Christ who invited me to church at college. After many days, when they see me again, they will find that they didn’t cast their bread in vain.
Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
It’s because life is so unpredictable, that life can take a disastrous turn, that Solomon tells us to divide up what we have â€“ divide our giving, divide our serving, divide our savings, into seven or 8 portions. You know that old saying, â€œDon’t put all your eggs in one basket?â€ That instruction is so inconvenient; pushing 12 separate grocery carts to the checkout line, but that’s what Solomon is telling us. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
And finally, Solomon warns us not to just sit there. We only have this one life. What happens to the farmer that watches the sky, trying to decide when to plant? I wonder if it’ll rain, and perhaps I should wait before I plant? I wonder if it’s too dry? God wants us to take our meaningless life, and to give our lives rich, eternal meaning, do His will. Now, today. Don’t sit there, frozen by disaster. Don’t just sit there, waiting for that next pay raise. Don’t just sit there, waiting until you finish that project. Don’t just watch the wind, waiting for a good time to plant. Plant the seed of faith in 7 or 8 people today. Cast that bread upon the waters. And reap the rewards of seeing others find the love of Christ. God calls us to plant and reap, not just sit there and observe life going by.
I want to challenge each and every one of you this year. Husbands, unconditionally love your wives. Wives, unconditionally respect your husbands. Enjoy life’s pleasures, like lunch in a few minutes, as the gift from God that it is. Do it today, don’t just watch the wind and wait for a better time. The best time, the only time, is now. Embrace the pleasures and disappointments in life, each time giving thanks and praise to our Lord God almighty.
God bless each and every one of you.