The Meaning of Life

Life's Contradictions, 24 March 2019

Life’s Contradictions
Series—The Meaning of Life
Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Series Big Idea:
The human heart is wired to pursue meaning in life…and the meaning of life itself only truly understood through our Creator.

Big Idea:
Money and stuff will never satisfy like knowing God and investing in eternal things.

Contradictions. Life is full of them…or so it seems. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, wrote last week,

“Isn't it interesting how many contradictory things we desire, e.g. Absolute freedom & safety; predictive services & privacy; same life & different outcome; public services & no taxes, home cooking restaurant, good quality cheap, quick spiritual formation.”

Some have said the Bible is full of contradictions, and while I would admit some things appear to be in conflict, the real tension is between life under the sun and life over the sun.

Today we are finishing our look at passages from the book of Ecclesiastes, likely written by King Solomon. While he ultimately concludes life over the sun—life with God—is precious, life under the sun—lived according to the world’s standards—is meaningless. Specifically,
money and possessions will never truly satisfy.

We began our series referencing those famous words from Mick Jagger: I can’t get no satisfaction. There might be nothing more ultimately unsatisfying than money and possessions. People work so hard to be able to buy stuff, only to find out they need to store it, maintain it, insure it, and protect it. Our text for today begins:

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)

And you thought crooked politicians were something new!

Why would anyone want to oppress the poor, denying them justice and their rights? Could it be power and money?

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Materialism is nothing new, either.

As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:11-12)

I find these verses fascinating. Hard work can lead to good rest, but if you’ve got a lot of stuff, you might worry about it getting stolen or damaged. Have you ever been lying in bed at night wondering if you locked the front door…or the car door?

I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:

wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:13-15)

Job, in the midst of tremendous anguish, famously declared,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

He’s saying we can work and accumulate all kinds of stuff, but life is short, we enter the world with nothing, and we’ll take nothing physical with us into the next life.

This too is a grievous evil:

As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:16-17)

It all sounds so meaningless, doesn’t it?

The world says money and stuff will make you happy, but it’s always temporary. We’ve seen this before. It bears repeating, because for the rest of our lives we will be bombarded by this lie that money will satisfy.

Not only will money never satisfy, the path to acquiring money is often unsatisfying. I don’t just mean the free trip in the back of the police car if you try to rob a bank! Have you ever taken a promotion for more money, only to find the new work less fulfilling than the old? This isn’t always the case, but I’ve had friends who stepped out of their passion and calling for more money. One was a fantastic school teacher who was lured into the principal’s office by more money, only discover he was a better teacher than he was a principal.

When my dad was alive, I used to ask him about his work. He had many opportunities to move from salesman to sales manager. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t accept the promotion and the raise until he explained how he loved to sell. He didn’t want to sit at a desk all day, preferring to travel in the area, meeting with customers, and addressing their needs.

Not only is money never enough, the path toward getting more can be disappointing.

Investing in eternal things will be bring both temporary happiness and eternal joy.

There is one use of money which is truly satisfying: investing in eternal things. I love to give to First Alliance Church. I know first-hand every dollar is spent carefully, not only to serve you, but also to reach out to our city, to support our ten Home Missions partners, to impact lives through our Faith Missions partners, and to literally change the world through the Great Commission Fund and the international work it funds.

Obviously, I don’t give 100% of my money to First Alliance Church. I like to eat and live indoors! However, I know every time I buy food, it is for something temporal; necessary, but temporal. I’m grateful for a car, but I know it won’t run forever. Even if it did, there will come a day when I cannot drive it. I can buy the latest gadgets and gizmos, but next year they’ll be outdated and soon obsolete.

Investing in eternal things will be bring both temporary happiness and eternal joy.

The same can be said for our time, too. I realize some of you have more time than money. How do you spend it? How do you invest it? There’s nothing wrong with hobbies and recreation, but will your golf score, movie trivia knowledge, or stamp collection matter in a hundred years? Discipleship—following Jesus and equipping others to do the same—is eternal work. Souls matter…forever. The time and energy you invest in the next generation—be it the next spiritual generation and/or the next physical generation—can change the destinies of people…even generations of people.

Solomon often returns to the subject of work.

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

Is work a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!

Work is a gift. We were created to work—not work ourselves to death, but when we serve God rather than the boss, we can experience satisfaction in work.

Note to young adults: don’t expect your first job out of high school or college to be your dream job! Your elders spent years getting to where they are, and it’s unlikely you’ll get there overnight. You have to pay your dues. Be faithful in small things and you’ll be given more.

There will be work in heaven. We will be given tasks, but they will not be burdensome. What kind of work would you like to do in the next life? I was thinking maybe testing ice cream flavors would be—heavenly!

We don’t have time to delve deeply into this, but work matters. Your work matters, no matter what title or position you hold. Some people think the work of a pastor is more important than that of a student, teacher, doctor, mechanic, or homemaker. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are all called by God to do something, not only for a paycheck, but also for our personal growth and development along with serving others.

Work matters.

Is work a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!
Is wealth a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2)

I know, wouldn’t it be great if God gave you wealth, possessions and honor? Not so fast!

First, what do you have? Let’s set aside health and freedom and Jesus and family and just think about our stuff. What do you have?

One of the startling things about being in Africa was working with kids that had nothing. Well, that’s not quite true. One boy had a t-shirt. That’s literally all he had in the whole world. No shoes. No socks. No pants. He had a t-shirt. Every person in this room has far more than this precious masterpiece.

I know that sounds extreme, but consider again this number:

If your annual income is at least $32,400, you are in the wealthiest 1% in the world. That
means you are wealthier than 99% of the people on this planet! See, you have possessions, but perhaps like Solomon says, you don’t enjoy them. Why not?

One thing that robs us of our joy is comparison. Why do we pay so much attention to what others have? Why do I judge people who have more than me…while looking down on those who have less?

Perhaps the opposite of comparison is contentment.

Paul—who wrote many books of the Bible—wrote,

I 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

This almost sounds like marriage vows—better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Paul’s point is contentment can only be found in knowing God, and we are so easily distracted toward other things the Bible calls idols.

Look at Paul’s words to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It often becomes an idol, a god, something we value above all else. And it will never truly satisfy. Do your possessions possess you?

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man—even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place? (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6)

Every good and perfect gift is from above…from over the sun…from God. Wealth and possessions can be a gift from God to be enjoyed and shared, though tragically many simply want more and hoard.

Work can be a gift from God to bring contentment and meaning, though tragically many simply grumble and complain or abuse their bodies and relationships trying to climb to the top.

Next, Solomon dispenses several more declarations of the meaninglessness of life under the sun, life without God, life without an eternal perspective.

Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9)

Have you ever noticed no matter how much you eat or drink, you eventually become hungry and thirsty?

Have you ever noticed no matter what shopping list is completed, another one is created days later?

It’s like chasing after the wind!

Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11)

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? (Ecclesiastes 6:12)

Even if we are content and satisfied and accomplish great things for humanity, we’ll be gone in about 80 years and forgotten soon thereafter…if we only concern ourselves with money and possessions.

So What?

If we jump to the end of this somewhat depressing book, we see a hopeful conclusion about life over the sun:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Fear God and keep his commandments.

We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.
We are God’s masterpieces, created for His glory (Ephesians 2:10). No masterpiece exists for the sake of the masterpiece, but rather the creator and/or owner. If I paint or buy a painting, I hang it where I want it. It’s mine.

Although God gives us free will—the ability to make choices—His plan is for us to submit to His will, His desires. That can sound scary and sinister, but no good, loving Father would choose anything but the best for His child. Your human father may have been foolish—and even abusive—but our Heavenly Father is perfect. He loves you and me. He wants the very best for us. He can be trusted.

There’s a huge difference between life under the sun—without God—and life over the sun—with God. Comparing the two reveals huge contradictions. It’s almost as if the opposite of following God is following the world!

The bottom line of this entire book—and really the entire Bible—is it’s all about Jesus.
Only a relationship with God will truly satisfy. This doesn’t mean money and stuff won’t make us happy for a while—or that following Jesus is always rainbows and lollipops—but true peace, true purpose, true joy, true contentment, true meaning can only be found over then sun, counting our blessings, and loving God and others as we love ourselves.

In the words of C.T. Studd,

Only one life 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Empty Pursuits, 17 March 2019

Empty Pursuits
Series—The Meaning of Life
Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

Series Big Idea:
The human heart is wired to pursue meaning in life…and the meaning of life itself only truly understood through our Creator.

Big Idea:
This world is filled with empty pursuits which will never fill the God-shaped hole in all of our hearts.

There’s an old expression I’ve seen on bumper stickers: he who dies with the most toys wins.

There have been knock-offs such as she who dies with the most memories wins.

We’re blasted daily with thousands of messages that promise satisfaction if we only spend our money on their products, in their restaurant, at their store, on their website. We need more stuff, more experiences, more pleasure.

Today we continue our series called, “The Meaning of Life.” We’re looking at several passages from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes, a book likely written by Solomon, the great king we saw two weeks ago as having been given one wish or request from God.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

David’s son Solomon asked for a heart of understanding…for wisdom. God granted his wish…and gave him so much more. Solomon had everything this world could possibly offer. He had the most toys, the most memories, the most pleasure. Today we’ll see how that worked out for him.

We began looking at the beginning of Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4)

This is not terribly encouraging. But surely chapter two is more satisfying.

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)

Pleasure, laughter and wine were not ultimately satisfying. Sure, they brought temporary happiness, but this is the man who wrote,

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. (Proverbs 14:13)

What a downer! He indulges in pleasures and, like Mick Jagger, “can’t get no satisfaction.”

What’s wrong with pleasure? Nothing, so long as it’s not selfish. Pleasure-seeking is usually about our desires, and selfishness destroys true joy. Even if your pursuit of pleasure doesn’t exploit others, it can lonely. There’s something called the point of diminishing returns which means the more you engage with something, often more is needed next time.

Holding hands used to be a thrill, but that led to kissing which led to…

One or two drinks used to be enough, but now it takes several to feel that good.

One hit of that drug used to be enough to get high, but now you need so much more.

When the center of your life is pleasure, you’ll always become disappointed.

Entertainment has a place, but it’s only temporary. Enjoyment and true pleasure build character by enriching the whole person, and that usually includes others.

Pleasure was unsatisfactory, so Solomon gets busy with work.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6)

He was busy! He was accomplished. He achieved. He was a carpenter and gardener. I wish he could come over to my house for a few weeks!

I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8)

This guy’s got everything! Money, sex, power, …the American Dream!

I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. (Ecclesiastes 2:9)

Okay, he’s got everything, including his mind, his wisdom. What more could he want?

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. (Ecclesiastes 2:10)

There’s nothing like that feeling of completion after a job well-done. Solomon had arrived! His dreams had come true!

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Oops! He had wealth and wisdom and skills and success, yet something was missing. Sure, he found temporary delight, but he wanted more. Henry Ward Beecher once said, “Success is full of promises until men get it, and then it is a last-year’s nest from which the birds have flown.”

Work is a blessing from God. It was assigned to Adam in the garden before he sinned. But it cannot fill every part of our soul. So many become workaholics hoping to validate themselves, some literally working themselves to death…or at least destroying their families in the process. Those that make it to retirement are often so unfulfilled that they die from lack of meaningful activity.

Solomon tested life and concluded it is meaningless.

He continues…

Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. (Ecclesiastes 2:12-14)

He recognized his wisdom, and he surely appreciated it. Who wants to be a fool?

Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17)

Solomon hated life, despite having everything it offers.

The thing about life—even the greatest of lives—is death follows. For those who say, “He who dies with the most toys wins” there is another message:

You can’t take it with you.

The house you build will someday be in ruins.
The retirement account will eventually be drained.
Your buff body you’ve spent hours in the gym to shape will be buried.

The French humanist Voltaire said, “I hate life and yet I am afraid to die!” Solomon would agree.

Before you become completely depressed, let me remind of what we said last week: Solomon is speaking of life under the sun. Life without God. Life over the sun—with God—is an entirely different proposition.

Solomon said he hated life, it was grievous, it was meaningless.

But Jesus said he came to bring us abundant life, life with meaning and purpose. When we seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His glory, we will understand the reason we were created, the purpose of life, true joy.

But back to Solomon, a man who pursued God in his youth and later became distracted by…everything he did and acquired.

I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19)

At any moment, any of us can leave this life, and all of our stuff will end up…in a garage sale? A dumpster? In the hands of our kids who may be wise or foolish?

This is a good moment to ask, “Do you have a will? Are your affairs in order??

Solomon hated his life, but he also hated his wealth. He realized some universal truths about wealth.

1. We can’t keep our stuff.

One Wall Street Journal writer called money “an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything except happiness.”

Billy Graham said he never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.

I challenge you to invest temporal resources into eternal things.

2. We can’t protect our stuff.

Not only will somebody get our stuff someday, they may waste it!

3. We can’t fully enjoy our stuff.

That’s the message of the next passage.

When asked, “How much is enough,” one billionaire replied, “Just a little bit more.”

So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 2:20-23)

We work for stuff we have to give away to people who did nothing to deserve it.

We work so hard we can’t rest. We are filled with anxiety, grief and pain.

Fortunately, Solomon ends the chapter with some hope, some encouragement, some God!

Finally, Solomon accepted life, recognizing the Giver of every good gift. 

He wrote,

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

There’s nothing wrong with stuff. God provides, but we must always be grateful and not entitled. We must remember we are stewards, not owners. Every good and perfect gift is from God. Solomon says even the enjoyment of the gifts is a blessing. We must use all of our gifts for God’s glory. It’s not ours to keep. We are to seek to please God and trust Him to meet our every need.

We must never let our possessions possess us. We need wisdom to be good managers of our time, talents, and treasures. We can enjoy the gifts, but must never forget the Giver.

So What?

Without God, we can never experience true enjoyment of blessings or enrichment of life. It’s good to have things money can buy, but we must never lose the things that money can’t buy…character, integrity, love, relationships, peace, and most of all Jesus.

Warren Wiersbe wrote,

When you start living for the world instead of for the will of God, you begin to look at life from the wrong perspective: “under the sun” and not “above the sun.” Instead of seeking “those things which are above” (Col. 3:1ff.), you start majoring on the things that are below. This wrong vision soon causes you to adopt wrong values, and you stop living for the eternal. The result is disappointment and defeat; the only remedy is repentance and confession of sin (1 John 1:9).

Here’s the thing: you will never find meaning and purpose in pleasure, position, power, or even people. It can only be found in God. He loves you. Jesus died to prove his love for you. He’s the most incredible, kind, and generous Father you can possibly imagine. When we receive His invitation to be adopted into His family, when we trust Jesus as both Savior and LORD, when we make Him the leader of our lives, we can experience true joy, true peace, true meaning, true satisfaction.

If you’ve never experienced God’s love, I’d love to talk with you. Any of our leaders would love to introduce you to the Source of satisfaction.

If you have experienced the meaning of life through a relationship with your Creator, how’s it going? If you’re like me, you find yourself seeking purpose in stuff, in experiences, in things which will never truly satisfy. Most of us don’t worship idols in the form of statues that we kneel before, but we’re tempted to make gods out of the approval of others, the consumption of products, the pursuit of power, and the thrill of adventures. These are all empty pursuits.

Solomon had everything, yet that was his conclusion when he assessed the meaning of life was simply this:

Fear God and keep his commandments.

His wisdom is worth heeding.

Credits: some ideas from the writings of Warren Wiersbe

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

The Search for Meaning, 3 March 2019

The Search for Meaning
Series—The Meaning of Life
Ecclesiastes 1

Series Big Idea:
The human heart is wired to pursue meaning in life…and the meaning of life itself only truly understood through our Creator.

Big Idea:
The search for meaning should ultimately lead us to God.

"Everything is meaningless." Is that true? Well, the Bible says it so it must be true, right? Not so fast! We must understand the context of these words…and what follows.

Today we begin a series called, “The Meaning of Life.” We’re going to look at several passages from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes, a book likely written by Solomon, the great king we saw two weeks ago as having been given one wish or request from God.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

David’s son Solomon asked for a heart of understanding…for wisdom. He was considered the wisest person on the planet, and he’s likely the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, a word which means, “one who addresses or convenes an assembly” or simply “teacher” or “preacher.” There’s debate about whether Solomon actually penned every word in the book, but if not, it’s almost certainly a compilation of his thoughts and ideas. He probably wrote Proverbs and Song of Solomon during his younger years when he was faithfully following God, and this book later in life after searching for satisfaction in just about everything but God.

Although it’s a little tricky to say and spell, Ecclesiastes is a literary treasure. Abraham Lincoln quoted from it when addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, “
[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one, I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

One of the most famous song lyrics in rock music history declares, “I can’t get no…satisfaction.” Ironically, Mick Jagger has possessed fame and fortune for decades, making his confession deeply tragic. If the lead singer of one of the most successful musical groups in the world isn’t satisfied, how are we to expect to find meaning and purpose in this broken world?

I’m so glad you asked!

I believe the secret to meaning, purpose, and satisfaction is all about perspective. It’s about attitude. It’s about vision.

Pastor Ken Baugh offers three principles that King Solomon will emphasize throughout the book of Ecclesiastes:

1. I will be satisfied to the extent that I see everything I have as a gift from God.
2. I will be satisfied to the extent that I notice what is going on in the lives of others.
3. I will be satisfied to the extent that I trust God during times of distress.

Do you see what’s missing? Self.

The mirror can be a dangerous thing. Sure, I use one each morning as I attempt to style my hair, but if I gaze too long, a number of unfortunate things may occur.

One of the great tragedies of our culture is our addiction with self.

John Ortberg, in his book,
Soul Keeping—which are staff and elders are reading this year—writes,

“Despite the rise of the mental health profession, people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to depression. Why? Martin Seligman, a brilliant psychologist with no religious ax to grind, has a theory that it’s because we have replaced church, faith, and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. That’s the self. We’re all about the self. We revolve our lives around ourselves. Ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.”

This is hardly news. Solomon wrote about it hundreds of years before Christ!

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4)

Solomon had everything the world seeks: money, sex, and power.

History is filled with people who acquired those things, yet they couldn’t “get no satisfaction.” Howard Hughes comes to mind, a character tragically portrayed in the DiCaprio movie The Aviator. Thomas Jefferson sought to give us the unalienable right of “the pursuit of Happiness,” but happiness is fleeting. It is temporary.

Will a new car make you happy? Yes…until it breaks down.

Will a new house make you happy? Yes…until you had to clean it!

Would a million dollars make you happy? Yes…until you had to pay taxes on it!

There are many things that can make us happy, but they’re temporary. Supermodels get wrinkles, clothes go out of fashion, tech toys become obsolete, delicious food ends up in the…

Under the sun—life outside of heaven and the kingdom of God—is meaningless. The King James Version of the Bible translates the first word “vanity,” not a reference to pride or obsession with appearance, but rather emptiness as in laboring in vain. Worthless, fleeting frustration, and emptiness are also common translations of the Hebrew word whose root means breath or vapor. It is used 38 times in this short book about life “under the sun.”

Life without God is like your breath this morning, seen only for a moment and then disappearing. One professor described
hevel, the Hebrew word, as “whatever is left after you break a soap bubble.”

Rick Warren said, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” No wonder so many struggle in our culture.

Throughout human history, I suspect many people have never had much time or energy to ponder the meaning of life. Sure, philosophers have done so, but a great many people have focused on hunting and gathering food for survival. In fact, some research suggests depression doesn’t exist in any form in cultures where people are gathering food or hunting for food.

Meanwhile, the Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem once called life “a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that.” The rates of suicide and depression in our culture bear witness to the fact that we have the luxury of time, reflection, and thought…and it’s pretty bleak without God.

Solomon concluded in life under the sun, nothing is changed.

Let’s look further at the first chapter of Ecclesiastes:

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again. (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)

Without God, life is repetitive and monotonous. It’s a virtual merry-go-round. Every day the sun rises. Every day the sun sets.

Wait! That’s not true! The sun doesn’t move. The Bible must be false since scientifically we know the sun does not rise and set. Relax! This poetic language, language used by every meteorologist thousands of years later. As we study the Bible, it’s important to know what is propositional truth and what is poetry. There’s a difference between metaphors and declarations of fact. Read the Bible responsibly.

It is amazing that Solomon recognized the jet stream, wind patterns that blow to the south and turn to the north, creating the ever-changing weather we enjoy here in Toledo!

Nature has profound things to teach us. As much as I complain about the weather, it’s a reminder that even with smart phones and self-driving cars and the Internet and rockets in space, we still have no control over the weather. We can’t control the sun, the wind, or the sea. Control is an illusion. You can control your attitude. That’s about it! Oh that we could all truly grasp this simple yet profound truth!

Instead, we’re enticed by the thousands of marketing messages that bombard us each day. We put our trust in stuff. We put our hope in circumstances. We have expectations for sinful people who inevitably fail and hurt us. No wonder so many of us love to be busy. We have no space to ponder the harsh realities of life. If you avoid rest and quiet, there’s no time for reflection, contemplation, or even feeling. Who has room for depression when you’re going 24/7? If you’re constantly in motion, you might never realize…

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)

Are you happy yet?!

I must pause and remind you of the context. Solomon is not stating absolute facts, but instead reflecting upon the futility of pursuing life apart from God. It’s all temporary. It’s as if humanity is on a treadmill, passing the baton of discontent from one generation to the next.

Solomon concluded in life under the sun, nothing is new.

It’s been said that the ancients have stolen all of our best ideas! Humans cannot “create” anything new because we are the creature, not the Creator. Edison said that his great inventions were “only bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind.”

Solomon continues,

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them. (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11)

Dear senior saints, no one remembers the former generations. So much for legacy! How much do you really know about your great, great grandparents? I know nothing about mine!

These first eleven verses set the stage for what follows. The message is pretty simple: all is meaningless under the sun.

Now he tells us nothing is understood.

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14)

Solomon, you’re not helping us!

What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:15)

I don’t think he would be elected for the president of the Optimist’s Club!

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

Weren’t we praising Solomon last month for his wisdom? This man had it all, yet he can’t seem to even crack a smile! What’s his problem?

Remember, he’s talking about life without God. Life under the sun.

It breaks my heart to watch people on a quest to find meaning and purpose apart from God. People try to fill the God-shaped hole in their heart with pleasure, philosophy, and even religion. They pursue alcohol, drugs, porn, and food only to find themselves trapped in addiction. They climb the ladder—sacrificing health, family and friends—only to discover it is leaning against the wrong building!

What’s over the sun is something entirely different and wonderful!

We created by God, for God, and for God’s glory. We were created in His image, with an eternal soul, and for relationship with Him.

So What?

We’re going to be in the book of Ecclesiastes for the next three Sundays, so I’m reluctant to give you the punchline—the end of the book—but here it is:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Fear God and keep his commandments. Life over the sun—with the Son—is so different than life under the sun, apart from God.

Instead of a monotonous, unchanging world where the earth, sun, wind, and sea repeat their endless cycles, we serve a God who answers prayer and intervenes. He stopped the sun so Joshua could win an important battle (Josh. 10:6-14), moved the sun as a sign to King Hezekiah (Is. 38:1-8), parted the Red Sea and Jordan River (Ex. 14; Josh. 3-4), calmed the wind and the waves (Mk 4:35-41), and will do radical things in the future (Rev. 6).

Instead of a world where nothing is truly new, God is working, creating, restoring, making all things new. His mercies are new every morning.

Instead of a world where nothing is understood and confusion abounds, the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer and is available to teach, comfort, and guide. We stand on the promises of God in the Bible. Hallelujah!

I know I’m largely “preaching to the choir” when I say we can only find meaning in a relationship with God, but many Christians live as practical atheists. Sure, we know the right answers on a theology quiz, but our lives look more like our neighbors than Jesus. We live like everyone else—except, perhaps, for a few church activities we sprinkle onto our busy schedules. My challenge to you—and me—throughout this series is to make more space for God. Invite Him into every arena of your life. Seek His will in all things, even little things. Obey Him even when you don’t feel like it. If we all take next steps with God this month, I think we’ll be amazed at how He blesses our obedience and faithfulness.

As we prepare for The Table, think about how you’ve either ignored or disobeyed God recently. This is a time to be remembered that God does exist, that God’s love language is obedience, that God will bring every deed into judgment…and also that Jesus died to offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

Credits: some ideas from the writings of Warren Wiersbe, Brian Williams, Ken Baugh

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.