I looked around me and saw towering skyscrapers that reached toward the heavens. Beneath my feet I walked upon asphalt streets and paved thoroughfares. Everywhere I turned was the concrete structures of man’s design and I began to understand – I began to see that I stood in the midst of manmade Christianity.
Yet as I looked I remembered a wide open field, a panorama of life and light with the gentle blowing wind of the Spirit of God that caressed the air and touched my soul. I remembered the faith of Christ. The life that He promised to those who believe is more like the open field than the concrete city. God is calling and His voice beckons me back to the freedom and life of Christ.
But I have grown accustomed to the city. I am habituated to the order and the restrictions set by men, the concrete towers all lined up like soldiers at attention. I know the city – I know the parameters of men – and I know how to live within the walls created to maintain the illusion of structure and stability. But deep inside, somewhere in that place where the echoed whisper of God is still heard, I remember… I remember!
In that moment of revelation my heart is enraged and I want freedom – I want liberation – I want out of this concrete captivity! The walls of men surround me, but they no longer support… they suffocate. Man’s order is not God’s and I want to break free, to feel again God’s breath of life like the morning breeze and to walk in the vale of God’s ever-present love.
Behind me I hear a voice whisper, “Give it time.”
When I look, I see a small blade of grass, a simple growing thing breaking through the asphalt and tearing down the concrete walls of man’s design. My heart leaps in delight! God’s life cannot be held back, it is stronger than all of man’s efforts to contain it.
As you read this, know that the order of God is filled with beauty and life, rich in love and abounding in grace. The order of man is a prison, no matter how well constructed it might be.
The philosopher asked, “Is this all that I am… is there nothing more?” It’s the question of the ages, the request of the heart to know that life has real meaning. Atheist astronomer and evolutionist, Carl Sagan, once postulated that “the cosmos is all that there is.” But what does that mean? How does that answer the question – “is this all that I am?” Basically it says, “Yes, this is all that I am – there is nothing more.” No meaning, no purpose, no value.
Listen to the first two verses of Ecclesiastes, “The words of the teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 NIV). Later, the teacher would say, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14 NIV).
This is, I’m afraid, where most people in our modern society have found themselves. Adrift in the ocean of uncertainty, and not having any sense of meaning in their lives, they will strive with vain efforts to try and invent meaning for themselves. So they latch onto causes and enterprises that promise to offer them at least a semblance of meaning and purpose. At the end of the day, however, it still seems like a “chasing after the wind.”
The entire book of Ecclesiastes puts the spotlight on this very thing. From first chapter to last, the teacher explores the hunger in the heart of mankind to find meaning in life. This is what we are going to explore as well – taking a journey with “The Teacher” from the book of Ecclesiastes. The framework of our study is found in the last two verses:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV).
The Summation of a Futile Life – “Now all has been heard…”
We begin by asking the question: where do people search for meaning?
Some of the examples from the book of Ecclesiastes:
1. Pleasure – “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good’” (Ecclesiastes 2:1)
2. Projects – “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).
3. Perception – “Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly” (Ecclesiastes 2:12).
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12 is the story of the rich fool who prospered and believed that his entire life was set. God comes to him with this statement, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” If all we have to sum up our lives is the treasures of this world, the prestige of momentary fame or the temporary sense of power, then life is futile… it has no meaning.
The Satisfaction of a Focused Life – “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
There is one place to go to find true meaning and purpose to life – the Creator. Most people won’t look to the One who created them because it terrifies them that there is a greater authority in life than their own determinations. (We’ll see this in the final point.) However, I have found it refreshingly satisfying in knowing that my life is in focus because God has provided it with meaning.
Some statements from Ecclesiastes:
1. Revere – “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing take from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
2. Respect – “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).
3. Remember – “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
God has created us to be His masterpiece. We are the workmanship of His hands and, as such, are destined to have a life rich with meaning and value. Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If we don’t find the meaning of life in the person of Christ, we won’t find it at all.
The Sobriety of a Finished Life – “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
It is sobering to think that the final judgment of the value and meaning of a person’s life belongs to God. Most people want to believe that they have some say in the matter, that they can determine their own value and meaning – but no. God alone is the final judge.
Some more thoughts from Ecclesiastes:
1. Reality – “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
2. Realization – “Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
3. Remember – “Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6).
There will come that day when all of humanity will stand before God to give an account of the life spent here. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
There is, ultimately, a “bottom-line” meaning to life: “Fear God, and keep his commandments.” It might sound confining, stringent, and rather oppressive—and it is for those who do not know the salvation of Jesus Christ. Yet, for the Christian, to fear God is the most liberating experience and to walk in the path of His commands is to walk out of darkness and into light. The fear of God and a life of obedience to His word is a life filled with meaning, purpose, value and destiny. All other objectives in this world are temporary – God is eternal. And then, when you stand before God—knowing that your life has found its deepest meaning in Christ—the judgment of God will be this: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Come and share your master’s happiness!” – Matthew 25:21.
(This was originally aired on Alive in Christ Radio 2/5/2013. To listen to the discussion with the pastors panel, click here:
Alive in Christ.)
(This was originally heard on Alive in Christ radio - www.aliveinchristradio.com)
When the early church began to grow, what foundation was set for the people of God to stand upon? For years I’ve heard how the church needs to “assimilate” new members and that the only way for new members in the church to maintain a healthy attachment to the congregation is to provide avenues of involvement. However, pot-lucks and programs are not the formula for spiritual vitality and maturity in the church.
It seems to me that a current trend in many churches is to build a fellowship that is geared toward the self-interests of the congregants. That is to say, many churches have adopted ministries and programs that only serve to feed the constant demand for entertainment and emotional hyperactivity. Pastors must be performers and the musicians had better be marque or the membership will move on to more pleasant pastures.
There was something different about the early church. Their leaders were “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). They had no marque members, no organized social events, no Sunday school, no eight-week study course on spiritual formation and no building to meet in that could be decorated according to the whims of the women’s auxiliary. The early church didn’t stage protests – they prayed. They didn’t organize marches – they ministered. And they didn’t call people to a self-imposed religion – they called people to a self-denying repentance. And they changed the world.
What was it about the early church? They were devoted, not to a cause but to Christ, and that devotion was played out in every aspect of their lives. It is a devotion that is sorely lacking in the hearts of many Christians today and it is what we will be exploring, with a call to embrace the same principles that built the early church and gave it a strong and secure foundation. If we ever hope to build a Biblical culture, it has to start here. So let me encourage you: take these four commitments as a challenge for your own life. You may be surprised at how God will use you when you follow them.
Acts 2:42 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
· Apostles Teaching – Devoted to the Word of God
This is where it begins. Without a true devotion to the Word of God, there will be no real foundation that can be trusted. But this foundation cannot only be knowledge of the Word of God, that’s just where it starts. The true foundation is built through obedience to the Word of God.
This is how discipleship is built: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
The Great Commission of God concludes with this: “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19b).
Love is seen in obedience: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Personal Commitment - Commit to participating in a regular Bible study
· Fellowship – Devoted to the People of God
God has called us to live in fellowship. There are Christians today that harbor the idea that they can be the “Lone Ranger” Christian and live their faith without the structure and support of the church. But God has purposed that only together will each individual Christian grow and develop as God intended.
Through fellowship we become mature: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
It provides the means of mutual encouragement: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
The evidence of real faith: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).
Personal Commitment - Commit to gathering with the church every Sunday unless God prevents it
· Breaking of Bread – Devoted to the Worship of God
The issue of “breaking bread” together is two-fold. First, it is the remembrance that Christ has given us when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is an expression of worship and a reminder of why we have salvation – the sacrifice of Christ. Second, it is an expression of sacrifice toward those around us by bringing them into our homes to “break bread” with us, especially those who cannot repay.
It is a call to self-examination: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
It shows a heart of generosity: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
Christ is honored in this: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Personal Commitment - Commit to a personal sacrifice once a month for someone who cannot repay
· Prayer – Devoted to a Life with God
In all healthy relationships communication is critical. No marriage truly grows in depth and happiness without it. No family can survive when communication is lost. And no believer in Christ will have any hope of truly knowing and living in a relationship with the Lord if prayer is not an essential devotion in their lives.
Prayer is personal communion with God: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Prayer should fill the fellowship of God’s people: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).
Prayer is essential for spiritual readiness: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
Personal Commitment - Commit to daily, vocal prayer at home and at least once a month with your church
People are devoted to many things. Watch a football game and see how devoted the fans are. The team might be losing but the devoted fan will cheer them on as if they’re ready to take the Super Bowl. People are devoted to causes, political endeavors, altruistic philanthropy, medical research – and all these can be good. But the Christian must be devoted, first and always, to Christ Jesus our Lord. This devotion is played out in four arenas: the Word of God, the people of God, the worship of God and a life with God. This is how the early church anchored their faith and grew in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The modern church must return to this or risk losing her identity to the world.
Are you feeling run down? Is it hard to get up? Then try Pastor Michael’s miracle cure! It’s all the power you need in one handy capsule. And after just one dose you’ll feel brand new!
Okay… that’s not actually true. There is no “miracle cure” that will enliven and uplift your life. In fact, just the opposite is too often true. Men and women searching for that rush of euphoria end up becoming slaves to whatever it is that has captivated them. The cravings for drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power, etc. have a downward spiral that leads to destruction and leaves a crater where once a life used to be.
How do we do it then? How do we find that power to live when life falls apart and our world is failing? You’re not alone in the search. The Apostle Paul had the same struggle. Do you know what God told him? It’s the same thing He will tell us – you need to be empowered by grace. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and then follow along these next few moments as we explore this text.
First - you must see your present affliction. How is a person afflicted? Often through trials and temptations, with the constant reminder of the failings of the past, will come the enemy of our souls. There are some who think that Paul's "thorn" was his bad eyesight. However, that doesn't agree with the reality that his "thorn" was a messenger of Satan. What does Satan come to do? He is the accuser of the brothers, the tempter, the one who comes to "steal, kill and destroy." This "thorn," by my speculation, was the constant reminder of Paul's failings - his sins. All are afflicted in a similar way and in the midst of it must be empowered by grace.
Second - there is always a plea for deliverance. The afflictions in our lives cause us to cry out – to seek God’s rescue from pain. Jesus did in the garden, Paul does here, and we all want to find deliverance. God's answer, however, may not be deliverance from affliction, but deliverance through affliction. And, ultimately, our cry must be "not my will, but Yours be done."
Third - you come in contact with the power of grace. When you truly know the Grace of Christ and have received it in its abundance, the thorns inflicted upon you will become the points where God’s strength dominates. Instead of finding destruction and despair you will see how much God has done for you, even as the enemy himself stands to accuse you. His accusations will fail because the true Judge has already issued you a pardon through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Fourth - this leads to the promotion of humility. In what do you boast? In this world people often boast over the arrogant successes of men. But God has a higher place for us – and that is the place of humility. When you are empowered by the grace of God you will have no room to boast except in the Lord Jesus Christ. His ways become yours, His life is yours, and His power is your source for all that you are. There is no room for self-boasting in a heart empowered by grace.
Fifth - this brings your pronouncement of faith. It is a declaration of faith to say that you can delight in the sufferings that come as you walk with Christ Jesus. From the inward turmoil to the outward attacks, all things must be seen through the eyes of faith. You will take every experience and tie it together with your relationship to Christ, declaring with certainty that even your afflictions have been God's tools to shape you, until Christ's power, and His power alone, rests on you.
As we begin this New Year, many thoughts are turned to the idea that 2012 might be the year that ends it all! Movies, Mayan calendars, and doomsday prophets have all had their say in the great debate surrounding this year.
But I see this as a year of hope. There is something grand about the turning of the time, the resetting of the calendar to a new day - a new year and new opportunities presented by God.
But, to get to this "Brand New Day" there are some things that must transpire. Let me encourage you to read Psalm 40:1-3 before you go any farther.
Okay... if you've read the Scripture, let's begin.
First: Patiently Wait. Know that God has a plan and purpose for you and it is not to leave you in the mud and mire of life. He waits for you to cry out to Him, and when you do, trust that He will hear and respond. So many who are hurting and hungry will ask: how long? When will God show up? Be patient, and wait, for the Lord has promised deliverance to all who hope in Him.
Second: Trust God's Powerful Work. He will lift you up! God’s powerful work is to give you a firm and permanent place to stand. Reach up to Him and know that He will take you from the mud to a Solid Rock—from the mire of sin to the firm place of salvation.
Third: Express Passionate Worship. On this brand new day, voice your praise to the God of your salvation. The delivered soul cannot help but worship Him. The redeemed of the Lord will lift up their voices in songs of praise and in passionate worship of Him who has secured their lives.
Fourth: Become a Personal Witness. God has delivered you! Now is not the time to become closed off to humanity and never let your light shine in this world. An artist will sign his or her masterpiece in order to verify its authenticity. You are the masterpiece. You are not a cheap imitation but the signature portrait of God’s great love, the handiwork of the Master who others will look upon and sense the powerful draw to Jesus Christ.
Remember: This is the day the Lord has made - let us rejoice and be glad in it! You have a brand new day, a new opportunity, a refreshed hope to accomplish what God has purposed for you. Let me encourage you to take this year and make it the very best for Jesus Christ.
All for His Glory
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:9-10
That morning bore the singular distinction of winter. The world was painted white, dazzling, beautiful, with trees dressed in tapestries of the soft wintry garb. Atop every roof sat a glacier and from the heavens above God generously provided a continual shower of cotton-like snow, a pageant of crystalline beauty that drifted through the atmosphere and caressed the cheeks of valiant young adventurers with their sleds.
As I gazed out through the large picture window of my comfortable living room, that winter scene was spectacular to behold. Clear crystal spires hung like ornaments from the eaves and endeared the house with a magical aura. Even the grey clouds and quiet hour brought a sublime tranquility to the beautiful season. And, as I waited, I knew that the calm serenity would soon be overcome by a wealth of laughter and sounds of joy as families and friends joined together to celebrate the birth of our King.
What an honor and privilege to know the meaning of Christmas: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). What grace! What love! He who is holy sent His only begotten Son into this fallen, sinful world to be the hope for all mankind. The great gift of Christmas is Jesus; and the greatest gift you can give to anyone is the love that has been given to you—the love of God in Christ.
I’ve often wondered if the Father in heaven celebrates Christmas. I think He does, but He celebrates it all the year as He continually offers His love and mercy to all who call upon His Son. Even as Micah says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18). God delights to show mercy, He celebrates the salvation of all who trust in Christ.
So, as you watch winter fall upon your world and as the gathering of friends and families fill up your homes, don’t forget the One who has invited you to share in His celebration. And one more thing, in the bustle of the season, as you parlay your way through the malls and halls of this world, take a moment to listen. You may just hear the echoed voice of the shepherds calling to you as they say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15).
Reflect and Pray
Heavenly Father, forgive us when we let the chaos of the world shape our celebration of Christmas. Help us to find that sublime night in our hearts, to hear the angels declare the birth of Christ and to go with the shepherds to see this thing that we have been told about. Amen.