Eternal perspective

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.

The Believer's Quest, 10 June 2018

The Believer’s Quest: With Eternity in Mind
D6 Series—
Stewards of the Gospel
2 Corinthians 4:1-18

Series Overview:
Believers are to love God and love their neighbor, being good stewards of the gospel, the good news.

Big Idea: The believer is to live with eternity in mind.


I love kids (I suppose that’s a good thing since we’re about to get bombarded by 130 of them this week for Sports & Arts Camp!). Heather and I have been blessed to have three kids…but they’re all grown and adulting now, though we are very excited about becoming grandparents in November thanks to Rachel and her husband, Mark!

When our children were little, Heather used to ask, “Why do they have so much energy?” to which I would reply, “They steal it from us which is why we don’t have any!”

Kids are great. They are innocent. They ask amazing questions. They view the world so differently than adults. They also see time differently. There are certainly exceptions, but it seems the younger the person, the more oblivious they are of the future. Sure, children might have countdowns to Christmas or their birthday, but many cannot see beyond today, this hour, or perhaps this minute. Maybe some of can relate. If you’re fully present and attentive at this moment, that can be a really good thing, especially for my ability to communicate with you!

But if our focus is only on this moment, we may not be ready for lunch, work tomorrow, summer vacation, or preparations for school in the fall…to say nothing of eternity.

I admit, it’s often hard for me to see beyond today. I read
The Blade and feel hopeless…and that’s just the sports section! Actually, it has been exciting to see some of my favorite teams that have struggled throughout this decade are improving.

But that’s my point. We can’t live today without thinking about tomorrow. I don’t mean worrying about tomorrow. I mean preparing for tomorrow. It
is coming. Are you ready?

This month we’re looking at a book written by Paul to the church in the city of Corinth in south-central Greece.

Our series is called
Stewards of the Gospel, what does it mean for believers to possess good news—Jesus is LORD—and share it, proclaim it, live it? Jesus entrusted his work to us, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is no plan B. Our lives matter, not only to God, but to our world.

Paul wrote two letters to the church in Corinth—1 Corinthians and…2 Corinthians. Around AD 55, Paul wrote his second letter in the midst of false teachers who were challenging Paul’s authority and character. In the opening verses, Paul—and Timothy—provide encouragement in the midst of suffering.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

If you are discouraged, suffering, or struggling with your faith or because of your faith or in spite of your faith, you’re in good company, both with the church in Corinth and First Alliance Church. But honestly, most of us have never encountered the suffering Paul and Timothy had faced, including feeling the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:9).

Our text today is from chapter 4, but since it begins with a “therefore,” we must first address what the therefore is there for. He’s addressing the church, a group of believers, and as such, there is something of an assumption that his audience is filled with people who have devoted their lives to Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Although the original letter had no chapters or verse numbers, we can turn to chapter 3, verse 17…

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate
the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

Believers are being transformed to become like Jesus through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. We have a
quest, a mission, a purpose…to know God and make Him known, living with eternity in mind.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Life is hard. Discouragement is all too common. Depression is real, and can even lead to the ultimate despair—suicide. Kate Spade’s death this past week was another reminder of the intensity of suffering…and if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, I urge you to get help. Talk with me. Call 800.275.TALK (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Attend Celebrate Recovery next Wednesday (our church calendar has been cleared this week due to Sports & Arts Camp).

But Paul is saying we do not lose heart. We can’t just focus on this moment—the pain, the sorrow. God is in control. He is at work making all things new. It doesn’t look complete because God’s not done yet. Just wait. There is hope.

How easy is it in this life to lose heart, to give up? Much research has suggested people often quit right before a breakthrough. One statistic—which may or may not be true but is worth pondering—is 97% of people who quite too soon are employed by the 3% who never give up.

A few years ago, I read a report which suggested if couples in crisis would simply give their marriage two more years, they would likely overcome whatever is threatening their relationship and move on with a healthier marriage. At the time, a good friend told me his marriage was over and I explained the report and said, “Would you please just give it two years? I’ll do everything I can to help you both, but don’t quit too soon.” He said, “We have struggled for six months. How about eighteen months?” I said eighteen months would be fine. They both committed to working on their marriage for eighteen months. It wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. But today they are not only happily married having worked through some significant issues, they have a beautiful daughter, too!

Whether it’s your marriage or your job or your prayers for an unbelieving friend or your work on a crossword puzzle, don’t give up! Don’t lose heart.

Seriously, Paul and Timothy had life-threatening issues related to their ministry but they persevered. Ministry is hard. It can kill you. Literally! And we’re all called by God into ministry—to love God, love others, and make disciples. That’s not just a professional Christian thing. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been commissioned as a missionary…and ministry can be hard. It can be frustrating. It’s so tempting to throw in the towel, but don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. God sees your efforts. He knows your struggles. You are not forgotten.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:2-3)

False teachers were twisting the truth, watering down the gospel, but not Paul. Paul’s message is clear—Jesus is LORD.

Family, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus loves us, died for us, reconciles us to our heavenly Father, offers us hope, offers us forgiveness, offers us abundant and eternal life, shows us what it means to be human, teaches us how to live…

The late Keith Green sang, “How can they live without Jesus/How can they live without God’s love/How can they feel so at home down here/When there’s so much more up above.” Look, it’s hard to live this life
with Jesus, but living without Christ? I can’t imagine! Jesus gave us a mission—a commission—to go and make disciples, to proclaim good news, to let the world know Jesus is alive! Tragically, millions of men, women and children have no knowledge of Jesus. They’ve never heard his name, much less been introduced to His love, the cross, the empty tomb, and his promised return. That’s why we support the Great Commission Fund—that all may have an opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ as not only Savior but also LORD.

But what about those who have heard and who have rejected? Honestly, it boggles my mind! How can you say no to Jesus? How can you opt out of forgiveness? How can you decline an invitation to experience eternity with God? How can you walk away from someone who died for you? Paul explains it in one sentence.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

I love this image. Paul was talking about a veil. It’s as if satan covers the eyes of unbelievers so they can’t see Jesus. The reason people reject Jesus is because of satan getting in the way, covering their eyes, blinding their minds.

A popular worship song in the 90’s said, “Open the eyes of my heart, LORD/Open the eyes of my heart/I want to see You/I want to see You.”

Do you want to see God? Do you want to know God?

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

One of my constant prayers is for God to remove the veil, to open the eyes, to tear off the mask that blinds unbelievers and keeps them from seeing how wonderful the image of God, Jesus Christ.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

This is where the popular group Jars of Clay got their name. We are weak, broken vessels. The great thing about jars of clay is that the light shines through the cracks. The light of Jesus can shine through our brokenness.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Paul will later write, “For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10b). It’s all about Jesus.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:13-15)

Now Paul’s looking to the future. He’s not forgetting the present, but he’s encouraging the church with God’s promises of heaven.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In the midst of an extended out-of-state hospitalization, our daughter had a photo of a cruise ship she kept close. My parents had planned a vacation for us and our daughter's health was a potential obstacle. She was suffering with CRPS, the second most painful condition known to humankind. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome feels like pouring gasoline into your veins and lighting them on fire. The path to relief included physical therapy so intense it sometimes caused her to pass out. In the midst of the struggle, she drew inspiration—hope—from that photo. She did not fix her eyes on her present pain, but rather the future, the healing, the cruise.

She did it, by the way, walk with crutches onto the cruise ship.

So What?

Where’s your focus? What dominates your thoughts? Your present condition? The state of our nation? Today’s headlines…or a secure future with our Creator?

Yes, “some Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good,” but at the same time there’s so much negativity in our world it’s easy to be discouraged rather than preparing for eternity…and helping others prepare by generously sharing faith, hope, and love.

It’s a joy, a privilege to be able to introduce people to Jesus. Good news needs to broadcast!

In the faith hall of fame, the book of Hebrews says,

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Let’s use it prepare ourselves and others for an incredible eternity with Jesus.

Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The World, 1 John 2:15-17, 10 May 2015

    Big Idea: We are not citizens of this world, but citizens of heaven on God's mission in our world.

    Scripture: 1 John 2:15-17

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.


    Do you like to travel? What’s the most fascinating place you’ve visited? Why?

    There’s a common expression many make regarding a place. The phrase is…

    “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

    There are various reasons people give for their statement, but interestingly enough virtually every visited place has people that live there!

    In 1972 Christian music pioneer Larry Norman released an album called “Only Visiting This Planet.” More recently, t-shirts have proclaimed, “Don’t mind me, I’m just visiting this planet.”

    Visitors and residents live very different lives, don’t they? I was with a friend from out of town last week during the election and they weren’t too concerned about whether or not Proposal 1 was going to pass. They don’t have to drive on our crater-filled roads each day!

    Actually, it would be quite odd if they were deeply concerned about the election, aside from their interest in how it would affect me.

    This past week I joined a group of people in downtown Ann Arbor for the National Day of Prayer observance, an annual half hour of prayer at the Federal Building flagpole. While I appreciated their concerns and prayers, I was struck by how opinionated their prayers were, certain of God’s will for the United States and ever so bold in telling God how politicians and leaders should vote, with hardly a word of thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the progress we’ve made, or even worship for God simply being God. A day set aside for talking with our Dad turned into a laundry list of fear, angst, and pleas for power.

    I’m quite sure I over-reacted to their prayers, but today’s passage from the first epistle of John reminds us not to be overly concerned with this world. I want to live in peace and freedom and smooth roads as much as the next guy, but we’re just visiting!

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. (1 John 2:15a)

    This is not a reference to creation or the planet. It’s not a reference to people in the world. It’s a reference to the world’s system, to worldly things, to temporary things.

    Since sin was introduced to our world, evil has been present, causing death, pain, and destruction…all disguised beautifully in tempting forms…like chocolate covered poop!

    Jesus spoke of this world. Although he created it, he has allowed satan and his demons to tempt and deceive, presenting us with daily choices to follow God or the world. Jesus called him the prince of this world (John 14:30; John 16:11).

    I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, (John 14:30)

    …and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:11)

    In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul spoke of what it was like for people before they followed Jesus.

    …in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2)

    Evil is real. Just watch the news! Every day we are bombarded with lies that suggest we will be truly satisfied when we have __________.

    Fill in the blank: money, sex, power, the latest cell phone, the fastest car, the best clothes, the most Facebook friends, the most encounters with celebrities, the biggest paycheck, the most prestigious job, the best grades, the finest school, the most beautiful family…

    Paul told the Galatians…

    May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

    The cross and the world are in tension. Good and evil are in tension. God and satan are in tension.

    Peter recognized the evil in our world.

    If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)

    John continues…

    If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15b)

    This is harsh, but true. Jesus said nobody can serve two masters.

    Have you ever had two bosses?

    A few years ago I found myself driving a fifteen passenger van in Los Angeles with three navigators! I finally had to tell two of them to put away their GPS devices so I could follow one person.

    You can’t run with the devil during the week and run with the LORD on Sunday!

    You can’t love sin and God. We are in the world but not of the world.

    There is a perpetual conflict between our old sinful nature and our new, righteous nature given to us through Jesus.

    For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:16)

    God gives us all desires. Those desires are not bad since they were from God, but we are often tempted to meet those desires in unhealthy, sinful ways.

    It’s like running a marathon, wanting to finish, and then taking a taxi to the finish line.

    The flesh, the eyes, and pride. Notice how these themes appear repeatedly in the Bible.

    The lust of the flesh. Our bodies have cravings. Gluttony is a real temptation. Eve was tempted by satan to eat the forbidden fruit. It wasn’t that God said she couldn’t eat, but rather she couldn’t eat from just one tree in the garden.

    Jesus was also tempted this way in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. He was hungry after fasting for forty days (duh!) and satan tempted him to turn stones into bread to inappropriately feed his flesh. He even misquoted scripture to lure Jesus into sin.

    By the way, temptation is not sin. It’s what we do with the temptation that matters. Eve said yes and Jesus said no.

    The lust of the eyes. Our eyes are drawn to attractive things. They are often the gateway to lust, pornography, or materialism. The tree looked good to Eve. The fruit looked good.

    Jesus was also tempted this way. He was taken to a high place and satan showed him the kingdoms of this world, offering them to Jesus if he would only worship satan.

    The pride of life. Eve was told if she ate the fruit she would be wise. It wasn’t simply an urge to eat something tasty, but a desire to be like God.

    Jesus was also tempted this way. He was told to jump off the top of the Jerusalem temple and show his superiority by summoning angels to protect him. Jesus never performed a miracle to impress people.

    The stomach, beauty, and even religion can be deadly and of the world when we give into sinful temptation. Here’s why:

    The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

    The Roman Empire, Michael Jordan’s athleticism, the wealth of many who invested in Enron and Radio Shack, …

    It All Goes Back In The Box

    Author and pastor John Ortberg tells a great story about learning to play Monopoly from his grandmother. She repeatedly beat him and finally said John needed to risk it all, go for broke, buy every house and hotel possible and accumulate as much wealth as possible. She said, “One day you’ll learn to play the game.”

    So he played with a neighbor all summer long, understanding money and possessions were the way to keep score. That fall he sat down to play with grandmother and ruthlessly beat her, taking every last dollar she had! She had one more thing to teach John. She said, “Now it all goes back in the box. All of the houses and hotels, railroads and utilities and money goes back in the box. None of it was really yours. It was here before you came along and it will be around after you’re gone.”

    So What?

    This world is not our home. No matter how exciting it can be to experience money, sex, power, fame, and comfort, the thrill will eventually wear off. Then what?

    What really matters?

    We are just visiting this planet.

    As odd as that may sound, we’re not the only ones. Jesus made a visit, and He set for us a great example of how to live here while being citizens of heaven. He only visited for about 33 years. He said to give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God. He never demonstrated fear, even when seemingly most of the world wanted him dead. There is no record of him campaigning for a candidate or even a political issue, though his sermons were loaded with radical commands and ideas no politician would dare utter.

    Some Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. We need to be involved in this world, but only to the extent that we’re on mission, that we are obediently following our assignment to make disciples, to love others, to lose our lives for God’s sake.

    A growing trend in travel is eco tourism where people do more than visit and consume; they serve the residents, perhaps through digging a well or volunteering at a soup kitchen. They are on a mission, but permanent residency is not part of the arrangement. The tourists know they will eventually return home.

    This world is not our home. We’re just visitors. Let’s live like it! In the meantime, let’s complete our mission and leave this world in better shape than we found it!

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast
    here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.