Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

I can’t get no…..!

Only God gives true satisfaction in life. In Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 we read, “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” this is interesting because God is rarely mentioned when Solomon bemoans life under the sun. Under the sun depicts a life devoid of God. Life is different when we recognize God as the giver of all good gifts and acknowledge Him in our lives.

Everything we have is a gift from God whether we acknowledge it or not. Each of us have our own unique blessings in life but the true enjoyment of them is only realized when God is recognized as the source. I think this is what Solomon is getting at as he opens Chapter 6. He has already emphasized the truth that there is no real satisfaction under the sun. There are many things in life that are satisfying, but God withholds the pleasure of many of life’s good things until we acknowledge the source: God! Ecclesiastes 6:1-2, says, “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them…This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.”

The good things of life do not automatically bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or a lasting benefit! Rather, they can bring unhappiness, ingratitude, restlessness, and grief. A perfect example of this is Howard Hughes (1905-1976). One commentator described his life. “At age 45, Hughes was one of the most glamorous men in America. He dated actresses, piloted exotic test aircraft, and worked on top-secret CIA contracts. He owned a string of hotels around the world, and even an airline—TWA—to carry him on global jaunts. Twenty years later, at age 65, Howard Hughes still had plenty of money—$2.3 billion to be exact. But the world’s richest man had become one of its most pathetic. He lived in small dark rooms atop his hotels, without sun and without joy. He was unkempt: a scraggly beard had grown waist-length, his hair fell down his back, and his fingernails were two inches long. His once powerful 6’4” frame had shrunk to about 100 pounds. This famous man spent most of his time watching movies over and over, with the same movie showing as many as 150 times. He lay naked in bed, deathly afraid of germs. Life held no meaning for him. Finally, wasting away and hooked on drugs, he died at age 67 for lack of a medical device his own company had helped to develop.” He had everything he needed but enjoyed none of it. This is what happens when God is left out of the equation. All that this world has to offer can be incredibly empty and unsatisfying. It can be, as Solomon concludes, “vanity of vanity!”

1 Peter 1:3-6

Putting on the Ritz!

My favorite Easter passage is 1 Peter 1:3-5. It reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The next phrase is what I’d like to focus on this morning. It goes on to say, “…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  An inheritance is something we get for being connected to a family. By virtue of our being adopted into God’s family by being born again our names are written into His will. There are three great words that describe what this inheritance is like. First, it is incorruptible. This means it’s not subject to decay and growing old. It’s undefiled. That means it’s perfect, without blemish in every way. It won’t fade away, that means it’s permanent. The next part of the verse goes on to say that it is “reserved” for you. You can depend on it being there waiting for you when you get there. You have a place. Jesus once said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He promised to take us to be with him in that place.

A man named Joe McUtchen preaches the gospel each Wednesday night at a homeless shelter in Atlanta. A drug addict named Willy began attending and responding to the message. Seeing his progress, the Shelter had Willy placed in a Christian rehab program in Tampa. Willie opened his heart to God’s Love expressed on the cross of Calvary and he was born again through new found faith in Jesus Christ and began to recover. Some months later, Willy called Joe. “Joe, when I got here they asked me about my addictions, and they helped me through withdrawals. They talked to me about God. When they found out I used to be a master chef, they called around and got me a job at the Ritz-Carlton. In my rehab program I learned that I should do everything with all my heart, like I was doing it for God. Now I’m head chef at the Ritz-Carlton. I’d like to come back to homeless shelter some Wednesday and give my testimony.” “That’d be great, Willy,” said Joe. “And while you’re here, Judy and I would like for you to stay with us. No need to pay for a room.” There was a pause on the line, then Willy said, “That’s not necessary, Joe. When I come to Atlanta, there’s already a room waiting for me. I’ll be staying at the Ritz.”

You and I have a place reserved for us. It’s far grander, far glorious and far greater than the Ritz! I love the way the King James translators handled John 14:1-3. It reads, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” The Ritz might be the slums in comparison to what awaits us.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Vivit!

My favorite Easter verse in 1 Peter 1:3-5. It begins, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”  Some people spend the days of their lives moping around. Things haven’t turned out the way they had “hoped” so they throw in the towel and give in to despair. Paul looked at the funerals of un-believers and noticed that they are “lost and without hope in the world.” He told the believers in Thessalonica that he wanted to be sure that they understood that those who have died are simply sleeping for a time and there will be a glorious reunion. That truth keeps the hopeful from the depths of despair. Without that hope despair reigns supreme.

But the world is full of iron-willed individuals who find various ways to cope with life’s pains and heartbreaks and setbacks. They trade what is eternal for what is temporal and fill their moments with pleasure, possessions, or positions of power or prestige. They live for the moment. They go for the gusto. “You only go around once in life,” the saying goes; you have to get it while you can. There are those who mope, those who cope, and then there are those who grope! They go through life seeking answers to life’s most profound questions; where did I come from? Where am I going? What am I here for? They experiment with every new fad that invades the culture; Transcendental meditation, Eastern Mysticism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, various forms of the occult, and some even grope through the horoscope section of the papers in search for purpose and meaning in life.

During one difficult period when things appeared especially bleak, the reformer Martin Luther was seen tracing two words on the table with his fingertip: “Vivit, vivit!” This is Latin for “He lives, He lives!” This truth brought Luther up from the dumps into a world filled with hope. Because Christ lives, we can live abundantly today. Jesus’ promised that he’d come to bring to us abundant life. But even more, we will live eternally tomorrow, a life in which the sins of our past have been forgiven and in the glory of God’s Mercy and Grace we will bask forever! So lift up your eyes, and lift up your hearts and lift up your spirits and focus your thoughts and hopes on the Lord of Life. Put a smile on your face and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten me again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!”

Psalm 91

The Meaning of Easter

Death is in the hands of the evil one. He’s the “duke of death.” He’s the “Phantom of Fatality.” He’s the “king of corruption.” He’s the “prince of putrescence (the putrid!).” He’s the “knight of the night.” He’s the “minister of misery.” He’s the “monster of mayhem.” He’s the last and greatest enemy of all mankind. As we approach Easter Sunday, we need to begin to think about the fact that Jesus Christ has completely defeated the “duke of death.” Through our faith in Christ, we are protected from his arrows, his spears, and even the more modern weapons of warfare he might wield against us.

The Bible is full of images that depict God’s protective nature of His people. The one that is truly moving is the one of a mother bird for her chicks. It is beautifully versed for us in Psalm 91, verse 4. It says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Now, birds have numerous natural predators that constantly threaten their lives. There are not only the canines of the ground along with the feline family; there are other feathered carnivores that always threaten their lives as well. But momma bird won’t let it happen. She covers her chicks with her wings and hides them and will give her life when necessary to protect her chicks.

Psalm 91 says “surely God will snatch us away from the snare of the fowler.” You see God will make sure we are not caught in the traps and nets set by Satan to destroy us. The person under God’s care will never become a meal for the evil one. He will never be trapped or caged. The Psalm goes on to say that God will deliver him from “perilous pestilence.” That is to say that God will deliver him from death dealing diseases. God is not promising to keep us from Covid 19 or any other form of sickness that plagues all of mankind. Everyone is susceptible to human diseases. Now, on the surface the Psalm might seem to say that God will deliver us from human adversity. But in light of verses 5 and 6, it’s clear that there is something much more sinister in mind. It is actually the dark knight, and his death dealing dirge that God promises to protect us from. It is death itself. This too, does not promise that we won’t die. The Bible makes it clear that it’s appointed for all man to die. The mortality rate has always been 100 percent!  The passage says, “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.” God has promised to protect us and deliver us. He does not keep us from death, but preserves us through death! This is what Easter means to us!

Matthew 11:28, Romans 5:8

A Place to Rest!

When we were driving home from our vacation visiting relatives in Georgia we were discussing what we thought Church should be like. As we were driving along the Highway we saw signs of all kinds. There were Highway signs, advertisements for fuel, lodging, food and other accommodations one might need when they got weary on the highway. It doesn’t take too long for us to get weary in the car after 6 to 8 hours of driving so when we saw the “Rest Area” sign it was rather encouraging. We need to get out and stretch our legs and get away from those 18 wheelers passing us at 75 miles an hour and all the other stresses on the road.  You really have to stay alert and pay attention to everything going on around you. That’s when I began to think of life as the long highway. We all drive the same road. It’s the road of obligation, diligence, and hard work. Everyone has responsibilities in life. We have to work, we have to get up with alarm clocks, we have to struggle with difficult relationships on the job, at school and even in our homes at times. Our lives on life’s road are filled with signs of “must do…, should do…, ought to do,” and responsibilities that make us all weary.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest.” I began to think of Jesus as the great rest area for our lives. God has called us to set aside one day to rest in our lives. In the Old Testament that was the Sabbath day or Saturday. In the New Testament I believe the Sabbath is replaced by the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I don’t think  a church should just hold up more signs of obligations for me to fulfill in life. Even in retirement I have enough “deeds to do and promises to keep” to make me weary at times. I want a church that will lift up the one who delivers me from the curse of the law and sets me free from all the “gottas…” in my life. This is the kind of a “rest” that will prepare you for getting back into the world on Monday.  This is the kind of rest that God intended the Sabbath or the Lord’s day to be.

I want to enter into the “rest” that Jesus offers us along the road of life on Sunday mornings. I want to hear about the one who saved my soul, forgave my sin, and purchased for me a place in heaven where I will inherit an eternal rest. I want to be refreshed in my life with God’s love for me as expressed on Calvary. In Romans 8:5 we read, “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I don’t think that church should simply tell us what to do. I think  church should give us something to believe that settles our hearts and minds. I think church should focus on giving its congregation things to believe about God and his love for us that restores our souls and prepares us for the obligations that always await us in life. I think that’s what Jesus promised when he called us to Himself with the promise of “rest.”

Matthew 2:23, 28:20, John 4, Luke 2:4

There’s no PLACE like Jesus!

One of the interesting paradoxes in the Christmas story is the two cities associated with Jesus’ home town: Bethlehem and Nazareth. Bethlehem as you know, is the city of David. It was the city of the great king. Jesus was from the “house of David” (Luke 2:4).  The greatest of all kings came from Bethlehem. Nazareth was the place from which “no good thing could come” (Matthew 2:23). The extremes of these two cities are significant. This paradox is educational for all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. They are not just geographical locations. To those who can think metaphorically, who can look outside the box, it’s a powerful figure of speech called a “merism.” A merism is a phrase that involves two extremes that is intended to include everything in between. It’s similar to Jesus’ own use of “The Alpha and Omega” referring to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It’s not that Jesus is only one or the other, but that He is both and everything in between.

Jesus made it clear to the woman at the well in John chapter 4, that true worship was not at a geographical location. True worship was neither in the mountains of Samaria nor in the mountains around Jerusalem. True worship was worship that was in the spirit and in truth. A. W. Tozer observed, “I wonder why the Crusaders did not consider that. Why all the starvation, the suffering, the blood? Why the long, weary treks to get to the place where Jesus was born, where He was crucified, where He died? There is no geographical advantage anywhere in the world. Not one of us will be a better Christian by living in Jerusalem. And not one of us is disadvantaged spiritually for living far from Judea or Galilee. Jesus Christ is in the very center of geography. Every place is just as near to Him as every other place! And every place is just as far, also. Geography means nothing in our relationship to our Savior and Lord.”

I truly loved my visits to Bethlehem and Nazareth in my tours of Israel, but the truth is they lend nothing of true spiritual significance in and of themselves. My son Chuck made a comment at our farewell dinner at the close of our last trip that rang true for all of us. He said that he enjoyed the tour and will always treasure the places he had seen but he knew that Israel would always be with him no matter where he was as he studied the Word of God. The scriptures testify of Jesus and Jesus is the hub, and geography is all around Him! As he was departing at his ascension, he told his followers, “Behold, I am with you always even to the ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus loved using figures of speech. In John 14:6 He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Luke 2

The Shephard’s perspective

Every Christmas pageant in the world has shepherds in it. What would a Christmas play be without shepherds? It would be incomplete, that’s what it would be! The Gospel of Luke makes a big deal out of the shepherds coming from the hills of Bethlehem to visit Jesus in the manger. The text of Luke 2 regarding the shepherds begins “And in the same region…” That means Bethlehem! They are not just any ordinary Shepherds. Bethlehem was a major suburb of Jerusalem. It’s the place where David, as a little boy, was a shepherd. He was a song writer and poet from his earliest days and he did that in these very same hills. But more importantly, the hills of Bethlehem were occupied by shepherds who were assigned to take care of and watch over the sheep that were being raised for one purpose, and one purpose only. They were the sheep that were to serve as the sacrifices that were offered in the temple. There are several things worth noting about the Luke passage in this regard.

First, when the angels appeared to them the text says, “the glory of the Lord, shone around about them.” That’s a clear reference to the Holy of Holies where the “Glory of the Lord” was believed to reside. These shepherds were raising their sheep to be offered at the temple as sacrifices to the glory of the Lord. But they themselves were never allowed to enter into God’s presence. That’s why they were “filled with great fear.” The angel tells them not to fear because he has some wonderful news for them of great joy that will be for all the people. They were about to be introduced to the one great sacrificial lamb who would rend the veil separating God from the people. That’s why the angel added the idea that this great joy will be for “all the people.” It’s not just for the religious elite who enter into the presence of God. It was for them too. It’s for me too! It’s for you too!

One more thing. The angel told them that “this would be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” How could that be a sign for shepherds? One of the toughest jobs of the shepherds was to protect the new born sheep. The mortality rate of sheep (and humans) in those days was pretty high. But even more important was the fact that when sheep are first born, they struggle and wiggle and strive to stand up and bump into things and very often break legs or cut themselves or hurt themselves in such a way that they are no longer “perfect” and cannot be offered as a sacrifice at the temple. Shepherds worked hard at watching the expectant ewes so they could be there for the delivery. They would receive the baby sheep right from the womb and to insure it would remain acceptable as an offering, they would wrap it up tightly and bind it so it couldn’t hurt itself. You guessed it; they would use “swaddling” clothes. Further, after wrapping the new born sheep, it would be laid in the feeding trough, so that the other sheep would not bother it until it had time to survive the birth experience without damage. The swaddling clothes and lying in a manger would assure the shepherds that this infant was the “perfect” sacrifice that would be offered for the sins of the world. Yes, John the Baptist knew what he was saying when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Matthew 21:16, Psalms 95, 1 John 1:3

Christmas is about Jesus – the Savior!

If the kingdom of heaven and Christmas are for kids, what exactly is it about kids that give them this honor? When Jesus was entering Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday, the crowds were shouting and singing and praising God for they had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah who was to come. But the religious leaders rebuked the crowds and called for Jesus to do the same. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” They asked him. “Yes”, replied Jesus. Then Jesus quoted an Old Testament passage that prophesied that upon the arrival of the Messiah, God would make sure that “children and infants” would praise Him. (See Matthew 21:16). What kids do is worship! They especially worship at the coming of the Messiah which is what we celebrate at Christmas time.

Children always look up to those all around them. I once got lost in Brandies when I was 6 years old.  Brandies, for those of you who do not know, was the largest department store in downtown Omaha back in the 1950s. It would be compared to Higbees in The Christmas Story movie. I was on the 8th floor where all the toys were, and I got disoriented and my mother was waiting in a checkout line.  The most frightening thing was that everyone around me was so huge and I was so small. I felt helpless. I didn’t know which way to turn and the big people were all too busy rushing past me to stop and help. It wasn’t until I began to cry that someone stopped and took me to a store employee who announced in the store that if anyone had lost a little boy to come to the lost and found. That was me, I was lost! But then Mom showed up and I was found. That was me, once I was lost, but now I’ve been found. I remember how happy I was to see my mom! It was like being rescued from a raging sea of fear and confusion and being placed on dry ground.

Uncorrupted worship is worship that comes from that salvation experience. It’s what the Psalmist described in Psalm 95 when he wrote, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” So John reminds us in 1 John 1:3, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

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