The longer I’m in ministry, the more I’m convinced: we all have the same questions and insecurities. And, we assume no one else would understand the thoughts and fears inside our head. It leaves us unnecessarily isolated. Alone in our own heads. Solomon, another human, had the same questions. He feared the same things. He wrote a book about them: Ecclesiastes.
How Do I Finish Well?
What does a life well-lived look like? How can we live in a way that people will say good things about us when we’re gone? That’s how Solomon finishes Ecclesiastes: his commentary on life under the sun. He gives us practical advice on finishing life well under the sun:
* How to avoid foolishness by asking yourself two powerful questions.
* The value of hard work over entitlement.
* Sharpening your axe rather than banging at trees with a dull blade.
* Making good money decisions and leaving an inheritance for your grandkids.
* Knowing what you’re about and have a bias toward action. This keeps your “want tos” from turning into your “I wish I would haves.”
Finally, he reminds us the value of choosing joy in every season of life. Whether we’re young or old, joy is a decision we have to intentionally make. Perhaps the greatest key to choosing joy is a healthy fear of God—the one thing Solomon advises above all else.
His reasoning is simple: a healthy fear of God frees you from fearing anything life might throw at you. Once we know what it means to fear God, we’ll never truly know fear again.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 10.1-12.14)
Death - What's the Point?
Regardless of how healthy we are, how much bottled water we drink, and how many hours we spend doing cardio, one thing is still certain: we’re going to die one day. The death rate has always been one-per-person.
From God’s perspective, this means death is not an accident. It’s an appointment.
Still, for many, it’s an unnerving appointment. When our loved ones die, survivors find it to be a painful, sad appointment. But in spite of the regularity of death, we never quite get to a point where we’re “ok” with it—especially when it means losing someone we hold dear.
Often, death—and all of its accompanying sorrow—causes us to ask: What’s the point?
Why are we allowed to live and love if we’re just going to die anyway?
That’s what Solomon addresses this week. His conclusion: based on your view of God, death either renders everything utterly meaningless or beautifully meaningful.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 9.1-18)
Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Regardless of our background or belief system, one unavoidable truth is the existence of pain. Sometimes, life just hurts.
It hurts physically and emotionally—to be sure. Other pain is so severe it seems to cut straight to our soul. This pain—spiritual pain—can cause us to question our deepest-held convictions, threatening our identity and sense of purpose.
Pain is only compounded when we can’t find its source. Pain without meaning or explanation only adds insult to injury. Put simply: pain that doesn’t make sense is the hardest pain to carry.
This is the reason we scramble to find answers. If we learn something from a painful experience, that can often dampen the discomfort—especially if the pain seems warranted or self-inflicted as the result of bad decision-making.
We call this karma: what goes around, comes around. Bad things happening to bad people, and good things happening to good people. It’s simple. It’s fair. It’s understandable and sometimes comforting.
But, what about when that’s not the case? Sometimes, you can do all the right things and still get hurt. Or sick. Or fired. Or divorced. What’s up with that?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
This is the topic Solomon turns to next. He’s honest about how often life just isn’t fair. As he rants against the injustice he sees, he comes to two conclusions: (1) Karma doesn’t work; it’s not the way the world operates, and (2) There’s something much better than karma anyway.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 7.1-15 - 9.1)
What do I do When I Don't Know What to Do?
Sometimes, we just get stuck. Even after praying, reading your Bible, consulting some fortune cookies, and phoning a friend, there are still times when we just don't know whether to zig or zag.
Do I stay or go? Do I take the job, or do I turn it down? Accept the proposal? Start having babies? Move my family to a new town? One hamburger or two?
Often, the choice isn't as easy as right vs wrong. Life is more complicated than that. What do you do when both options seem right? Or if you're forced to choose from a bunch of bad scenarios? What do you do when you don't know what to do?
This is what the wise old Solomon turns to next. He starts painting with a wide brush, offering a rapid-fire collection of general insights broad enough to fit any number of situations. We receive guidance on building a legacy, seeking good feedback, enduring frustration, and cooperating with the inevitable.
Regardless of where you find yourself stuck, Solomon's guidance here is at least enough to keep you moving in the right direction.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 7.1-15)
Why is Money Such a Mystery?
Money. Whether you have a little or a lot, it's a topic we all care about. It's a topic God cares about too. He talks about it often. Jesus taught about it frequently. Solomon covers it in great detail.
In spite of all the guidance, we still think a lot of wrong things about money.
We hold tightly to mythical ideas about money--usually without any idea as to where those myths came from. Most of our money myths fall into one of two extremes: we love it or we hate it. We live for it, or we live in fear of it.
Neither extreme is fair though. People who have money aren't necessarily evil. "Poor people" aren't automatically righteous. Money isn't the root of all evil, and poverty isn't a fast track to salvation.
Why do we give money so much prestige? Why do we use it to keep score? Why do we have so many bad ideas about how it fits into our lives?
Solomon addresses all of this and more. His philosophy on money is different than the one many of us are used to. Allowing him to guide our understanding will restore money to its proper place in life. This small shift can replace our money anxieties with the one thing we're all chasing: contentment.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 5.8-6.12)
Can I Get God to do What I Want?
The book of Ecclesiastes is a survival manual for a world where survival is not guaranteed. It bypasses philosophy and academic arguments that seem to have little bearing on our lives. Instead, it's full of help for people who are just trying to make it every day.
At this point in his book, Solomon turns his attention to how we feel when "making it" feels less and less probable. During those difficult seasons, we've all wondered: Can I just get God to do what I want?
Please? At least once? I'm doing everything I know to do down here, but God doesn't seem to be doing his part. So, now what am I supposed to do?
Regardless of what we're supposed to do, there are plenty of things we try to do in an effort to make God behave the way we think he should. Maybe you've tried to buy him off with a bunch of good deeds or a hefty donation? If not, you might try talking him into submission so he finally admits you're right. At some point, we've all tried to make a deal with him. "God, if you get me through this, I promise I will..."
What do you do when none of those tactics work? In spite of all your efforts, the tumors keep growing, the spouse keeps leaving, or the friends stop calling?
How do we pray or listen to God when it feels like he stopped taking our phone calls?
These are the heavy questions Solomon helps us navigate. At the end, he suggests something far more realistic--and fulfilling--than anything we could imagine.
(This message is based on Ecclesiastes 5.1-7)