Friday, June 19, 2015

Why are we Here?

(Message preached Oct 3, 1999 at the Forest Glen Baptist Church) Listen Here:

You can learn a lot about people by listening to their mottos, for example:

  • The one who dies with the most toys wins.
  • Live and let live (or McCartney’s, Live and Let die)
  • No pain, No gain
  • Life stinks and then you die.
  • Eat drink & be merry, for tomorrow we die.
  • Been there, done that.

Did you notice how the mood became darker?

Pessimism runs deep in today’s society.

 What’s the point?
Why should we Live?
How should we Live?

It’s all meaningless!  It’s all a just a big waste!
Why do we try more?  Why don’t we just give up?!

People in the world want to know…
Christians want to know…
            What are the answers???

These questions probe so much that Dr. James Dobson has written a book called, “Why bad things happen to good people” in order to address them. 

This has been a problem for centuries.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh we read,

   Gilgamesh, whither rovest thou? Why do you roam about?
    The life thou pursuest thou shalt not find.  The life that you seek you will not find
    When the gods created mankind,
    Death for mankind they set aside, They kept life & death for their own purpose
    Life in their own hands retaining.  skip
    Thou, Gilgamesh, let full be thy belly, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full
    Make thou merry by day and by night. 
    Of each day make thou a feast of rejoicing,
    Day and night dance thou and play!
    Let thy garments be sparkling fresh,
    Thy head be washed; bathe thou in water.
    Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand,
    Let thy spouse delight in thy bosom!
    For this is the task of [mankind]!”[1]

This sounds a lot like Eat drink & be merry…

In a much lesser known writing on a tablet of cuneiform is the Dialogue of Pessimism.  The writer here creates a scenario of a dialogue between a servant & master.  The pattern is as follows.  The master suggests a worthy goal, then talks himself out of it.  The servant is just a tool of the writer for the dialogue.  The master does this 9 times before he gets to his conclusion. "No, servant, I will not do a good deed for my country." "Do not do it, master, do not do it.  Go up to the ancient ruin heaps and walk around; look at the skulls of the lowly and the great.  Which belongs to someone who did evil and which to someone who did good?" "Servant, listen to me." "Yes, master, yes." "Then what is good?" "To have my neck and yours broken and to be thrown into the river.”[2]

His conclusion was that it is better to commit suicide than to live!

James the half brother of Jesus says in James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.[3]

Even Job asks in the beginning of his sorrows (Job 3:11) Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?

Did you know that for the atheist the most often quoted book of the Scriptures Ecclesiastes? Solomon seems to agree to this pessimistic worldview in Ecclesiastes. This message is designed to show you an answer to the pessimism of this age, and to show you that Ecclesiastes is not the pessimistic book some would like you to believe.

Read Ecc 1:1-11 Solomon begins by showing the breadth of the problem:  We cannot know what will happen after we are gone. Yet for some reason we are driven to understand it anyway.  And his conclusion is that it is all meaningless, a waste of time.  Look at verses 17-18 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. 18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.  (BTW those of you who don’t like pain can leave now…but remember, No pain no gain!)

In chapter 2 he examines pleasure & ownership.  Read vs. 1-9 Vs 10 All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. 11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.

Solomon was not only the wisest man in all history, but also the Scriptures attest to the fact of his enormous wealth.  2 Chron. 9:22 records, “So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. 23 And all the kings of the earth were seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.”  Solomon was perhaps the only man ever who could make such a grand experiment.  He had the wisdom beyond measure from God, and the means to try anything his mind desired to inquire.

Verses 24-26 gives his conclusion after this experiment, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.

This reminds me of an incident when I was in Nicaragua in ’95.  When we first arrived my friends & I were among the last to get settled in and we got the absolutely worst beds.  The mattresses were burlap sacks filled with something not too soft.  Our first night was rough.  And then to make things worse, the roosters start crowing at 4:30 am!  It was not a pretty picture, but we dealt with it.  Our purpose in Nicaragua that summer was to build a Sunday School building and we had 2 weeks to do it.  When we got to the site, there wasn’t even a foundation dug!  So we worked, and worked And every night we collapsed on those burlap mattresses.  About halfway through, during a Bible study one evening, we were sharing various thoughts on how we were growing through our experience and one of my friends Danny spoke up.  He told us that he was glad we had to work so hard ‘cause the sleep was so much sweeter!!  I later found out that he was right on target ‘cause Solomon says of sleep in Ecc 5:12 The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.

In chapter 3 we read the very well known passage on time. There is an appointed time for everything.  The popular song of the ‘60s “Turn Turn Turn” speaks of it. In Vs. 10-12 we read, “I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. 11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.”

It is from these verse we get our chorus “In His Time”  I believe this is one of the key passages to unlocking man’s unsatisfying search for meaning. God has set eternity in our hearts.  One commentator puts it, “The world cannot satisfy the heart because the heart is too large for the object.[4]  To put eternity in their hearts is to say that we know there is something more, yet without any guide we don’t know where we’re going!  We feel lost in an unfriendly world and don’t know the way out, the way home.  The world says to us over and over, Man is the measure of all things, yet implicitly we know that’s not true!  Or if it is, we might as well end it all for the emptiness we feel inside;  hence the pessimism so prevalent in today’s’ society.  It is as though we know we have a purpose, but without knowledge of what that purpose is, we wander about seeking the final destiny.  The ‘60s saw unprecedented numbers of individuals who were out finding themselves.  These individuals were right on target, in that they knew something more had to be.   Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith has a song called “Place in this world” The lyrics read as follows.

The wind is moving, but I am standing still. A life full of pages, waiting to be filled.  A heart that’s hopeful, a head that’s full of dreams. But this becoming is harder than it seems.  Feels like I’m; Looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world, my place in this world.  Not a lot to lean on, I need Your light to help me find my place in this world, my place in this world.

If there are millions down on their knees, among the many can you still hear me? Hear me asking, where do I belong? Is there a vision that I can call my own? Show me I’m; Looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world, my place in this world.  Not a lot to lean on, I need Your light to help me find my place in this world, my place in this world.”

Solomon’s whole purpose in the book of Ecclesiastes was to seek out the purpose of life.  Lets read again 3:12-13  I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God 

In the next passages Solomon examine certain activities and evaluates them  In Ecc. 4 he views oppression.  Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. 2 So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living.  My friends, there is no comfort in power.  There is no freedom in wealth from the emptiness that is in your heart without Him who put eternity there.  John 3:16-18 refers to that which can fill the eternity in our hearts.  It is that everlasting life which our Lord Jesus bought for us at the cross. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  Do you know where that judgment occurred?  In the garden of Eden, when the Lord sent Adam & Eve out.  At that point every person longs for the return to the fellowship we once entertained in the Garden. Solomon congratulates the one who is dead over the living.  He says this to illustrate that their striving is over, the search is done.

In verse 8 he has a special message for workaholics. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task. It’s all a waste of time if you don’t enjoy the work.  Some people get themselves so busy about life simply to avoid dealing with the intangibles.  If you’re too busy to think, you’re too busy.  Slow down.  What is important in life is simple. You won’t feel the need for speed when you are satisfied with God.  He meets our needs, not in that we get lots of things, but in that we can be with Him. He fills that place in our hearts.  Enjoy your work, eat from the fruit of your labor and obey God.
You might think that all this sound a bit like the adage I’ve shared earlier, Eat drink & be merry, for tomorrow we die.  Lest you feel that way look to Chapter 5:1-2, Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. 2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.

Here we have another reminder that God is, and that it’s because He is that we are.  Far too often we begin to think the other way around.  Our prayers become routine, O Lord, Thank you for the day we’ve had, bless us as we sleep this night.  Or they become like the all request hour on a local radio station. We assume God has nothing better to do than do our bidding.  Folks, that’s not what Jesus meant in Matt 6:11 Give us our daily bread. A few verses later He said, 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Your needs will always be met.  It is true that we can’t always understand the whys of this life.  You can’t always know understand why tragedy occurs.  We will never know why God allowed the Duane Willis family to go through the tragedy of a loss of 6 children as he was driving between here & Milwaukee.  We may not find out why the Lord has allowed earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan, or México these past few weeks.  Why did God allow the Holocaust?  What matters is that we trust Him.  He is the Creator.  He knows the end from the beginning.  He is the Beginning and the Ending.  We must not allow the inscrutable to consume us.  It could be that were we to know the future, we wouldn’t go there, yet God has a wonderful journey for us to pass through, as long as we trust Him.

The next several Verses in chapters 5-9 are essentially individual proverbs.  Right in the middle is a passage which is also key, Ecc. 7:29 “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” One commentator puts it, “If God exists and is concerned for man's response to him, why has he made life so frustrating? The answer is that God originally made man perfect, but man fell and thus brought frustration into the human race (7:29).”[5]  We need to remember our falleness led to the wandering estate we find ourselves in and must find peace with God.

In Ecc. 9:10-13 we read,Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going. 11 I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. 12 Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them. 13 Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me.”  Our work is not a means an end.  It is the end itself. Paul elaborates on this in Col. 3:23-24, Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  We need to take heart our Lords words “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Don’t get wrapped up in worries about getting ahead in life, whatever that means to you.  Find your peace with Christ.  He alone satisfies.

Earlier in the message I shared some quotations from James & Job.  I’d like to read a bit more of the context to be fair with them:

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Near the end of the book of Job he makes a confession to God. It reads as follows:

Job 42:1 Then Job answered the Lord and said,

2 “I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?
“Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
4 ‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
6 Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”
It is interesting to note that Job never did know why his family was lost and himself afflicted.  His story is for us a small bit of the bigger picture that may never be known. 

Paul shares with Titus a passage that seems to address our purpose from the Lords view. Titus 2: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Again we see that we are to live rightly, and look for the blessed Hope.  The final chapter of Ecclesiastes gives us a sober reminder of the brevity of our lives. Solomon uses poetic language to illustrate old age.  Ecc 12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; 6 Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; 7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. 8 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!”

Ecc 12:13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

This message has been designed to show you an answer to the pessimism of this age.  The measure of a man must be the crowning point in God’s created kingdom.  Our purpose in the Garden was to keep it Gen 1:28 says Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. God never rescinded that role. Ecclesiastes is not the pessimistic book some would like you to believe, rather it is a sobering look at life and what it is without the Lord.  Brothers & Sisters, remember that in the Lord we have a benefit others do not have.  Let’s shine the light a little brighter.

[1] Pritchard, James B.; et al., Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament; third ed. with supplement,  (Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press) 1974
[2] Ibid.
[3] This and all other Scripture quotes--The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1996.
[4] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.
[5] Gaebelein, Frank; et al., Expositors Bible Commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Zondervan NIV Bible Library, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House) 1976-1992

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