My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Dead Flies in the Chanel" - (06/26/11)

“Dead Flies in the Chanel”
Ecclesiastes 10 (Message #10 in Series)
June 26, 2011

            Solomon is best known for his wise sayings, his proverbs.  He apparently had a lot of wise one-liners that he used to use.  Many of these were collected to form the Book of Proverbs.  We don’t know if Solomon actually penned Proverbs with his own hand or if someone else collected his saying and put them all down on paper.  Either way, they came from him.
            Here in the Book of Ecclesiastes we have this latter portion of the book that sounds very much like the Book of Proverbs.  We have a whole bunch of wise sayings and observations with very little apparent connection in between them.  Sometimes it feels as though Solomon’s mind was just spinning off topic after topic, one after the other.  However, if we observe closely we discover that he had a plan, a point he wanted to make.  These are not just random thoughts.

            As we begin this morning you need to remember that the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles were not a part of the original writing.  They were added later for our convenience in finding our way through the text.  This becomes obvious when you look back at how chapter nine ends: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”  In context, Solomon has been talking about the power of evil to destroy and contaminate things that are good.  We can all think of examples of how one bad person has brought down a good organization.     

            Throughout this chapter Solomon will be contrasting fools and wise people.  We see it here in this first section, verses 1-4, where Solomon is talking about the power of wisdom verses the power of foolishness.  But you need to remember what I told you about the biblical definition of fools and foolishness.  In the Bible a fool is not merely a silly person who acts goofy, and is always clowning around.  The “fool” of the Bible is a morally flawed person who is in rebellion against God and who flaunts the traditions of men as well.  Remember the verse in Psalm 14:1 that says, “The FOOL says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”  From God’s perspective, only an evil person denies God’s existence.
Verses 1-4: 1Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.  2A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.  3Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.  4If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.
  • In verse 1 Solomon talks about the destructive influence of even a little folly.  This is connected to what he said in 9:18 about how “…one sinner can destroy much good.”  He says that a fool can stink up the place in the same way that a dead fly can contaminate a batch of perfume.  Flies were one of the scourges of the East.  Though necessary to the ecosystem, flies are nasty creatures and they carry lots of bacteria.  To die and decompose in the vat of Chanel #5 would spoil the whole batch.  So a little evil, a little folly can degrade much wisdom and honor.  While it may seem insignificant, it can destroy all the good that wisdom has accomplished.  For example, a man may commit one sin, and this can end up destroying a lifetime of virtue.  We’ve seen plenty of high profile cases, such as Anthony Weiner, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, etc.
  • I’ve got to confess that I really like verse 2 because it confirms my beliefs about politics.  Read it again carefully.  Can anyone miss the clear meaning of this verse?  “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.”  It seems perfectly clear to me J.  Of course there is another answer.  I’m pretty sure that this is not a divine endorsement of the conservative movement.
  • In the mind of the Jew (and of most other civilizations) the right hand symbolizes the place of strength, blessing and honor.  For example, Christ is “seated at the right hand of the Father.”  We salute with the right, shake hands with the right, Arabs always eat only with the right, etc.  The left hand symbolizes evil, cursing, and bad stuff.  In Latin the right hand is called the “dexter,” while the left hand is called the “sinister,” which give us the English word, “sinister” meaning evil, ominous, unlucky.  With all that in mind, go back and look at verse 2 again.
  • In verse 3 Solomon tells us that a fool is pretty easy to spot if you’ll just be observant of him.  He doesn’t need to go around with a placard saying, “I’m a fool.”  Both his words and has actions give him away every time, and sometimes he doesn’t even have to open his mouth.  That’s because a fool’s folly extends to his whole character.

            In verses 5-7 Solomon discusses the anomaly of an unworthy fool being elevated to a position of power, authority, and prestige while a more-deserving and better qualified person is frozen out.  We’ve all seen this happen in elections.
Verses 5-7: 5There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— 6folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places.  7I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.    
  • In verse 5 he says that on occasion fools rule and princes serve.  One of the evils of life is human judgment, which can appoint a fool to a place of authority, and ignore those who should rule.  This can even happen on a large scale when a nation chooses a wicked ruler, like Hitler in Germany.  That’s because the elevating forces of this world are not always those of wisdom.
  • Look at verse 6: “Folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places.”  One of the things that has happened in our day is that sin and immorality have been given a place of dignity and honor.  Talk shows will interview madams and strippers, immoral actors, and every sort of loser.  They are given places of honor on shows like Jay Leno’s Tonight Show where people act like these people are wonderful and fascinating.  It just shows how morally bankrupt we have become.

            Here we have a series of proverbs that are just general observations on the dangers of various activities, and therefore on the need for prudence.  The good news is the folly will inevitably be defeated.
Verses 8-11: 8He who digs a pit [i.e. for others] may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a fence or a [stone] wall.  9He who removes [landmark] stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs [presumably a neighbor’s] may be endangered by them.  10If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength.  Wisdom has the advantage of giving success11If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. 
  • In verses 8-9 Solomon observes that actions have consequences, often unforeseen.  Moreover, if you set out to do harm to someone else, it may backfire on you.  The Jews have traditionally interpreted these verses in this light.  For example, in verse 8, if you dig a pit for others you’ll end up being your own victim.  If you break into someone else’s property or through their wall something bad may happen to you.  If you dig up the neighbor’s boundary markers to enlarge your own property you are running a bit risk, and so on.  God has a way of repaying us for our evil intentions.  No one gets away with sin indefinitely: “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
  • In verse 10 the fool expends himself trying to work with dull tools because he is too lazy and stupid to sharpen them; the wise person, on the other hand, conserves time and energy by sharpening his tools.  This business comes down to very practical terms.  When I was a boy my dad taught me about a “lazy man’s load.”  For example, you are hauling sand in a wheelbarrow.  Wanting to make less trips you overload the wheelbarrow and end up loosing control of it, spilling sand everywhere, which all has to be cleaned up, thus wasting time.  A wise man will make a few more trips and avoid the mess and waste of time.  The fool will always opt for a lazy man’s load.
  • In verse 11 Solomon reminds us that success in life comes by knowing when to exercise wisdom.  His example: when you come across a snake call for a charmer immediately.  If a charm is to work, it must be used before the serpent bites, not afterward.  If the snake has already bitten you what’s the point in calling for a snake-charmer?  It’s too late.  By the way, the word “charmer” literally means “lord of the tongue.”  It reminds me of certain politicians or tele-evangelists.

            In this next section, in verses 12-15, Solomon points out the foolishness of worldliness.
Verses 12-15: 12Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness.  14Yet the fool multiplies words.  No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?  15 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 
  • Verses 12-13 say that a fool eventually devours himself.  There is a Brazilian maxim that says: “O peixe morre pela boca.”  It means, “The fish dies by means of his mouth.”  So it is with a fool.
  • Verse 14 reminds us that a fool is also often known by his verbosity, his use of many words.  In other words, he likes to hear himself speak.  He is enamored with the sound of his own voice.
  • The humor in Solomon’s last statement in verse 15 is that the fool doesn’t even know how to get to town.  It’s like the old expression, “He’s so stupid he doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.”  Also, apparently being a fool is hard work and all of his talking tires him out.

            In these last five verses of the chapter Solomon discusses the prudence of enduring even foolish leaders.  On the surface this seems contrary to all he has just been saying, but just listen to his logic.
Verses 16-17: 16Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning.  17Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness.
  • What is Solomon saying in verse 16?  “Woe” is the opposite of “blessed”.  It speaks of anguish, sadness, despair, and wretchedness.  He says that a nation who has a yahoo teenager for a leader who starts partying with his yahoo friends at 10 AM when he first wakes up is a nation in serious trouble.  Feasting is not for the morning hours.  That’s the time for work.  He’s saying that an immature leader who is influenced by foolish and unscrupulous advisers is a curse to a land.
  • On the other hand, he says that a nation is blessed if it has wise leaders of noble character who do their own thinking and know the right time and place for everything, and who are not ruled by their appetites.
            A foolish leader looks only to the present, not to the future.  He doesn’t “take care of business” and as a result buildings are ruined and money is squandered.
Verses 18-19: 18Through indolence [laziness] the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.  19Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.
  • Have you ever had a lousy landlord who wouldn’t be bothered to fix anything?  Before long his house or apartment was in a state of disrepair and collapse because of his laziness.  The same could be said of a homeowner who just lets everything slide.
  • Verse 19 is not the truth but it is the belief of the lazy, foolish king that Solomon is describing.  He thinks that life is just about pleasure, and wine, and money.  Not so.

            But in the last verse, verse 20, Solomon warns us to beware of cursing even a foolish leader, because the worse they are the more paranoid they are about anyone who speaks critically of them.  There are lots of examples in history of lousy leaders who were very savvy about how to keep themselves in office or in power.  Even if the king is a fool, don’t underestimate his power to complicate your life if you tick him off.  Solomon also touched on this subject up in verse 4.
Verse 20: 20Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known. 
  • You’ve heard the old expression, “…a little bird told me…”?  I’m pretty sure that it came from this verse.  Solomon says we should be careful of cursing or criticizing the king or other powerful men, even when we think we are in a place where no one can overhear us.  Things said in confidence or in secret have a way of getting out.  Many people’s lives, reputations, and careers have been destroyed through “loose lips”.
  • The poster child for this is former President Richard Nixon.  All those secret tapes—he never expected them to be made public; he never dreamed that his words spoken in private could end up as front page news.  They brought his whole administration tumbling down and have caused his name to be a symbol of shame.
            How can we tie all this together?  The more we listen to him the more sense Solomon starts to make.  There is much in this chapter that reminds me of the modern world we live in that has adopted and glorified the very vices and character flaws that he warns us about.
            As I see it, we are surrounded by fools, who are wise only in their own eyes.
  • To deny the existence and sovereignty of God makes a man a fool.
  • To value pleasure and possessions over virtue and nobility makes a man a fool.
  • To honor and elevate sinful behavior makes a man a fool.
  • To criticize righteousness makes a man a fool.
  • To tolerate and celebrate sinful people makes a man a fool.
  • To elect foolish leaders, ignoring their vices in favor of political expediency makes a man a fool.

            What do you think?  What does this text say to you this morning?

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Pictures of Our Father in Heaven" - (06/19/11)

Matthew 6:9 (Father’s Day Message 2011)
June 19, 2011

            Happy Father’s Day, all you dads, granddads, stepdads, etc.!  Father’s Day, contrary to popular misconception, was not established as a holiday in order to help the Hallmark greeting card company sell more cards.  In fact when having a “father’s day” was first proposed there were no such things as Father’s Day cards because they hadn’t yet been invented.
            The idea of a “father’s day” was conceived by a lady named Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, while she listened to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909.  Mrs. Dodd wanted a special day to honor her own beloved father.  Her dad, William Smart, a Civil War veteran, was widowed when his wife (Mrs. Dodd’s mother) died in childbirth with their sixth child.  Mr. Smart was left to raise the newborn and his other five children all by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington State.  It was after Mrs. Dodd became an adult that she realized the strength and selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent.
            The first Father’s Day was observed in Spokane Washington on June 19, 1910.  June was chosen because it was the month of Mr. Smart’s birth.  At about the same time in various towns and cities across the country other people were beginning to celebrate a “father’s day.”  In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of a national Father’s Day.  Then in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father’s Day.  Finally, in 1972 President Richard Nixon signed the public law that made it a permanent commemoration.  In later years Father’s Day has evolved to become a day to not only honor our fathers, but all men who act as father figures—stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, and even father-like adult male friends.

            Here’s some trivia for you this morning.  On what day of the year are the most phone calls made?  Answer: Mother’s Day.  It seems that on Mother’s Day everybody wants to call home.  So what do you thinks happens on Father’s Day?  Anyone want to make a guess?  The most collect calls! 
            Personally I guess that’s OK, because dads like to feel needed.  They like to be called on for advice and help.  Mom’s traditional job is to keep the house looking nice, take care of the clothes, prepare meals, and bandage up wounded little bodies.  Dad’s job is to bring home the bacon, fix all the broken stuff around the house, take care of the yard and flower beds, empty the garbage, and defend his family from all enemies both foreign and domestic, especially his daughters.  That’s the traditional “division of labor.”  It’s not a perfect system but it’s the one many of us grew up with.
            I read a thing on the Internet this week entitled, “50 Reasons Why It’s Good To Be a Guy.”  I won’t read all of them but I did put together a short list of some of my personal favorites: “Because you are a guy…”
            #12.  You are not expected to know more than 5 colors.
            #11.  You think the idea of punting a cat is kind of funny.
#10.  If you retain water, it’s in your canteen.
#9.  You can go to the bathroom without a support group.
#8.  If someone forgets to invite you to something he can still be your friend.
#7.  You can drop by to see a friend without bringing a little gift.
#6.  If another guy shows up at the same party in the same outfit, you’ll give him a high-five and you just might become lifelong buddies.
#5.  Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
#4.  You can be showered and ready to go in 10 minutes flat.
#3.  Your pals can be trusted never to trap you with, “So, do you notice anything different?”
#2.  If something mechanical doesn’t work, you can bash it with a hammer and throw it across the room.
#1.  You can “do” all 20 of your nails with a pocketknife.

            Yes, it’s good to be a man, but it’s even better to be a dad!  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Any male can sire offspring, but being a good father is a big challenge.  Today we want to look into God’s Word to get some insights into what it means to be a good father and how we can improve in the job.

The Bible often speaks of the FATHERHOOD of God.
            Matthew 6:9-13 is one of the best known passages in the Bible.  If you ask the average person on the street to say The Lord’s Prayer, most can at least start it. “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”  Many people can quote that, but they don’t really appear to appreciate the full import of the words they are saying.  “OUR FATHER in Heaven”.  What a tremendous thought!  What an untold privilege to be able to address the mighty Creator of all things this way... Our FATHER.
            There are scores of other places in the Bible also where God is described, and indeed describes Himself, in the terms of His fatherhood.
  • Psalm 68:5 - “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God...”
  • Psalm 103:13 - “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.”
  • Isaiah 63:16 - “You, O LORD, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.”
  • Matthew 7:9-11 - Jesus said: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
  • John 20:17 - After He rose from the dead, Jesus told Mary to go to His disciples and tell them he was alive and He said, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

            Proverbs 17:6 says, “... the glory of sons is their father.”  Here are some pictures of my dad.  He died on May 26th, 2006 and I still really miss him.  He was a good man and a good father, though I didn’t always have the good sense to recognize that fact.  I would give anything to be able to spend with him again, to work alongside him, to learn from him, and to listen to him.
            I cherish these pictures and others like them, because they remind me of the wonderful person my father was.  Likewise, there are pictures in the Bible that reveal something of the character of God, our Heavenly Father.

            This morning I’d like us to look at three biblical pictures of fatherhood, each of which shows us an aspect of the great father-heart of God.            
            The first picture is found in Genesis 22:1-19.  It’s the picture of...
            This is the familiar story of Abraham and his son Isaac.  Abraham was WILLING, in his love and devotion to God, to be obedient even in sacrificing his own son.  This was the boy God had promised him, and he had waited years for his wife Sarah to conceive him.  And yet, at the word from God, Abraham took his son up Mount Moriah, with Isaac carrying the wood for the fire of his own sacrifice.
            Not only do we have a willing father here, but evidently a willing son also.  It’s very doubtful he was a little boy - he was most likely a youth or young man - certainly strong enough to carry the wood up a mountain!  But God had spoken to His father, and they went together, willingly.  Abraham stood on that mountain, no doubt with his vision blurred by the tears streaming down his face, and he raised the knife to sacrifice his beloved son.  But at the last possible moment, when God saw that he was obedient, the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham to stop: “For now I know that you fear God.”  Those of us who are fathers here today can only marvel at Abraham’s total obedience and faith.  What a test!
            God, likewise, is the WILLING Father who, in His love and devotion to us, was prepared to give up His own Son.  His Son, Jesus, was willing to be obedient and carry His own cross up on a mountainside - a hill called Calvary - to give His life in sacrifice.  However, while Abraham was given a reprieve - because it was a test - there was such no reprieve for God; it was no mere test!  WE were in the balance.  God went all the way and gave His Son.
            You see the Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  When Adam and Eve rebelled against God it cut the entire human race off from God.  Right to this present day, man has continued in sin.  And the Bible says that “the wages of (our) sin is death.”  Everlasting death!  When God gave up His only Son to death, He was dying in our place, providing a substitute sacrifice, so that whoever believes in Him, trusting Him to be their Savior, can be forgiven and come back into right relationship with God forever.  Our Heavenly Father was WILLING, in love and devotion, to give us His Son.  Yes, He is the WILLING Father.

            The second picture I’d like you to see is found in II Samuel chapter 18.  It’s the story of...
            This is the story of when King David’s son, Absalom, had plotted treason against his own father.  He raised an army of discontents and sought to bring about a military coup to take his father’s throne by force.  David’s loyal soldiers, under the command of General Joab, went out to stop them in battle, and they did just that.  However, in the fighting Absalom was killed, and the news was brought back to David by a messenger.  Let’s read the passage: II Samuel 18:24-33 [Read it to them].
            Here is David, heartbroken over the death of his son, Absalom.  Absalom had not been a faithful son.  He had dealt treacherously with his father!  He had sought to overthrow him from the throne.
            But perhaps David remembered the sweet little boy he had bounced on his knee, the youth he had watched grow before him into manhood.  Absalom was his own flesh and blood.  True fathers do not stop loving their children just because they act like idiots.  David still LOVED Absalom, even after all the horrible things he had done and said.  At the news of his death, David’s heart was torn and he wept over his son.
            Here we have a picture of God, the God who takes NO delight in the destruction of the wicked.  He loves us.  We all have turned our back on God and gone our own way, and so many refuse to return, even after His willingness to give up His Son for us - but God still remembers how it SHOULD have been / COULD have been.  He knows the plans He had for us, the relationship He wanted with us.  God’s heart is broken over every lost person.
            There’s a glimpse of this in Jesus’ words over Jerusalem.  The refrain sounds very much like David’s words over Absalom: “O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom.”  Jesus said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”  Israel would not receive Jesus, and in rejecting Him they were rejecting God.  Jesus’ heart was broken and He wept over Israel.  God’s father-heart is still broken by people who try to live without Him.
            You see, our God is a holy God.  He cannot condone sin or overlook it.  His ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts.  There is no fragment of sin in His perfect nature.  God loves you with a committed and everlasting love, a love more real and powerful than any other you have ever known, but do not mistake that for some human sentimentality that would allow Him to sweep our sin under the carpet and overlook it.  He cannot deny Himself.  God’s HOLINESS coupled with His JUSTICE mean that He WILL banish people to hell.  The Bible is very clear about that.  But He will not do so gladly, but mournfully, reluctantly, and with a breaking heart.  II Peter 3:9 tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 
            II Samuel 14:14 says, “For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.  Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him.”  God DEVISES MEANS - He goes to extraordinary lengths and works extravagant plans so that people can be saved.  God sent prophets to prepare the way, He fashioned history to prepare a time, and then, “when the fullness of the time had come” He sent His only Son to live and die for us that we, the banished ones, may not be expelled from Him.
Having done all this, do you think He won’t be heartbroken when people keep going without Him, lost in their sin?  It breaks His heart.  God is the Weeping Father.

            The third and final picture of God is found in Luke 15:11-32.  It’s the story of...
            You certainly remember this very famous story that Jesus told, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Verse 11 begins with, “A certain man had two sons...” [Briefly tell the story.]
            This is another son who has walked away from his father’s house and gone off in his own rebellious ways.  But the WAITING father is out in the fields - WAITING - LONGING - HOPING - LOOKING for his wayward son to return.  When the prodigal returns, even when he is still afar off the Bible tells us that with tears streaming down his face the father RUNS to embrace, welcome, and restore his son.
            My friend, if you will take just ONE step toward God today, He will run to you with arms open wide to embrace, welcome, and restore YOU, to give you a place in His house, and to dress you in the robes that show you belong to Him as His son or daughter.  He loves you!  He is the God of all grace and He has been waiting for you to finally come to your senses and come home to Him.

            Yes, like Abraham who sacrificed his only son, Isaac, God is the WILLING FATHER who willingly gave up His only begotten Son, Jesus, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  And like David who wept over his son, Absalom, God is the WEEPING FATHER who “desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  And thirdly, like the father of the prodigal, God is the WAITING FATHER who stands gazing down the road, waiting for sinners to turn around and come to Him, admitting their sin and guilt, and receiving the salvation that He so freely offers.
            Will you please bow your head and close your eyes?  What will be your response to the waiting Father today?  Will you come home?  Will you cast yourself on His great mercy today, and say: “Father, I have sinned.  I am not worthy to be called Your child.  But I believe You willingly gave up Your Son, Jesus, to die in my place, to take my death penalty.  I believe you bankrupted Heaven to keep me out of hell - to have me home with You and I will not ignore that sacrifice.  Please forgive me, Father, for I have sinned against You.”  
            When God hears that simple prayer of trust in Jesus, you are going to find that the waiting Father will be there to receive you.  He will take you as His own son or daughter, and you will live with Him forever.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Live Dogs Versus Dead Lions" - (06/12/11)

Ecclesiastes 9 (Message #9 in Series)
June 12, 2011

·         “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
·         “Better to be a live chicken than a dead duck.”
·         “Better dead than Red.”
·         “Hotter than a penny fire-cracker.”
·         “Busier than a beaver.”
These are some well-known and overused old comparative sayings.  Can you think of any others offhand?
            There is one in our text for today that you may have heard along the way, but you may not have known that it comes from the Bible.  It’s found in Ecclesiastes 9:4 and it says, “A live dog is better off than a dead lion.”  What does Solomon mean by that?  We’ll find out in just a minute, but first, let’s start at the beginning of the chapter so that we understand the context.

            Thus far in our study of the Book of Ecclesiastes we have heard Solomon say some pretty troubling things.  Taken out of their historical context and separated from the intentions of the author we could come to some very bizarre conclusions based on some of Solomon’s remarks.  That’s why I think it is so important to reemphasize the purpose of this book and explain why God saw fit to include it in the holy canon of Scripture.  Solomon was not a godless heretic and Ecclesiastes was not included in the Bible by mistake.
            So what was Solomon, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, trying to accomplish?  To put it simply, he was trying to give us a glimpse into the thoughts and attitudes of a person living his life apart from a relationship with God.  He did that by giving us a window into his own life and his own screwed-up thinking when he was away from God.  Even with all the blessings of being the crown prince of Israel and being raised in the king’s palace, it wasn’t enough for Solomon.  When he got the chance, after he became king, for many years he abandoned the Lord and the faith of his father, David.  Instead, he ran after wine, women, and song, build his fortune, searched for sensual pleasures and generally lived his life according to his own rules and values.  By his own admission he took this on as a project, a kind of psychology experiment, to seek out life’s ultimate meaning.  He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines.  He became the wealthiest and most powerful man of his generation.  He built huge projects and raised fine horses.  He built up the city of Jerusalem so that it was considered the pearl of the Middle East for many years.  Solomon had it all, did it all.  But it left him hollow and dissatisfied.  Nothing that he possessed and nothing that he accomplished was sufficient to give real meaning to his life.  In the end he discovered that only God can do that for us.
            Ecclesiastes is the story of his search and of his dissatisfaction and depression along the way until he finally made his way back to God, who had been there all along, just waiting for Solomon, the prodigal son, to come home.  The Book of Ecclesiastes examines life “under the sun,” that is, the natural life of a person who leaves God out of the equation.  Much of the book does not present the Christian viewpoint, nor does it represent God’s viewpoint.  For this reason, this has long been the favorite Bible book of atheists and skeptics.  That’s because when they read it they can actually relate to it.  It makes perfect sense to them.  For example, both Volney and Voltaire quoted from it frequently.  It fit in perfectly with their pessimistic philosophy of life.  For example, the gloomy fatalist would conclude that
(a) Since God’s ultimate purposes are unknowable (8:15-17), and
(b) Since there is no visible proof of an afterlife (9:1-10), and
(c) Since the length of life is uncertain (9:11-16),
(d) Then, the wisest and only logical course of action is to enjoy oneself here and now.  
However, here in chapter nine of Ecclesiastes Solomon explores the futility of this “here and now, this world only” philosophy of life.  By that I mean he looks at the meaninglessness of life if what we see now is all there is to human existence. 

            The first section of the chapter includes verses 1-6 in which the author outlines the fatalistic attitude in general.
Verses 1-6: 1So I reflected on all this [in my wanderings under the sun] and concluded that the righteous and the wise [i.e. the righteous wise] and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them.  2All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good [morally] and the bad, the clean [ceremonially] and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices [like King Josiah who offered sacrifices to God] and those who do not [like King Ahab who stopped the sacrifices to God].  As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.   3This is the evil [i.e. bad thing] in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all [i.e. death and the grave].  The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.  4Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!   5For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.  6Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
  • In verses 1-2 Solomon parrots what many claim, that men seem to be mere pawns in the hand of the Almighty.  He rightly points out that you can’t know through observation what God thinks about a person by His present dealings with them.  The love and hatred of God are not to be measured and judged of by men’s outward condition or the apparent physical/financial/material blessings of God.  These are know by that which is within us if we love God with all our heart, and will ultimately be known by that which shall happen hereafter, by men’s everlasting state.
  • Furthermore, in verse 2 Solomon points out that goodness often goes unrewarded in this life.  Look at the pairs he mentions: good/bad, clean/unclean, etc.
  • Then he says in verse 3, ”The same destiny overtakes all.”  Speaking as a fatalist he asserts that both the good and the bad finally end up in the grave, putting an end to their earthly existence.  “The dead know nothing,” i.e. so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned.  Also, they know no door of repentance open to them, such as is open to all who are still alive on earth.  (By the way, this is a favorite passage of the 7th Day Adventists.  It is from this text, especially verses 3-5, that they draw the idea for their doctrine of “soul sleep.”)
  • In verse 5 “dog” is a metaphor for the vilest kind of people (cf. I Sam. 24: 14).  You have to remember that for the Jews dogs were considered to be “unclean” animals, at least as far as eating them.  Moreover, most Jews would not keep one for a pet.  The “lion” on the other hand was considered to be the noblest of animals (Prov. 30:30).  So the expression in verse 4, ”Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” means that even the noblest person who dies unconverted has no hope; while the vilest sinner, so long as he has life, still has hope.
  • In verses 5-6 Solomon says that there is at least some profit on earth in this life from a man’s labor, and he is at least “somebody," while the dead person is not even a memory.  “They have no further reward.”  Notice that he’s talking here not about the righteous, but the wicked, who with all the pains to perpetuate their names, are soon “forgotten.”
  • Indeed, death seems to be the final leveling agent for the good and bad alike, but is that so?  Solomon is not saying that these cease in a future world absolutely, but as the end of this verse shows, relatively to persons and things in this world.  What a man is found to be at death he remains forever.  The man who dies an unbeliever, separated from God, will remain so forever.

            In the next section, verses 7-10, Solomon gives a somewhat more optimistic point of view concerning human existence.  But for some reason the NIV which I have been using this morning does a poor job of translating these verses, giving to them a dark undertone that I do not believe Solomon intended.
Verses 7-10: 7Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do [your works].  8Always be clothed in white [purity/holiness], and always anoint your head with oil [health and blessing].  9Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless [NASB “fleeting”] life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless [“fleeting”] days.  For this is your lot [reward] in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun [NASB is better: “…for this is your reward in life, and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”].  10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead [lit. Sheol], where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge [added by NIV, not in original] nor wisdom.    
  • These words are spoken to the “righteous wise” addressed up in verse 1.  Solomon says in 7-9 that we should live life joyfully as unto God.
  • Dressed in white, like Solomon at his inauguration, stands for the purity and holiness of the believer.  The NT tells us that one day we, the redeemed, will stand before God clothed in the spotless righteousness of Christ (Rev. 3:18; 7:14).  The anointing of the head with oil speaks of God’s blessing of health and healing [cf. Psalm 23, “…he anointeth my head with oil, my cup runneth over…”].
  • I find verse 9 ironic and somewhat sad.  He speaks of sharing your life with your wife (1, not 700).  God’s plan was for marriage to be between one man and one woman.  He did not have a Plan B, and still doesn’t.
  • In verse 10 he says that we should live our lives with zeal, energy, and vitality, pointing out that the grave will not give us these opportunities.
  • The ancient Hebrews thought that Sheol was a pit deep under the earth where the dead reside (cf. Deut. 32:22).  It is almost always depicted as the place to which both righteous and unrighteous went after death, and where there were no punishments or rewards (cf. Eccl. 3:19-20; 6:6).  To them it was a “land of forgetfulness” (Psalm 88:12) and darkness (Job 38:17), where men existed as shadowy replicas of their former selves (cf. Isaiah 14:9-10).  Of course, when we turn to the NT we have a much fuller picture of what awaits both the believer and the unbeliever.  But in the OT God did not see fit to give out much descriptive information about the afterlife.

In verses 11-12 Solomon recognizes the fact that wisdom is not always properly appreciated.
Verses 11-12: 11I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance [seemingly just dumb luck, but really Providence] happen to them all.  12Moreover, no one knows when their hour [of death] will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.  
  • In verses 11-12 Solomon shows us that “cause-and-effect” is not always operative.  In fact, the element of “chance” often seems to affect the results.  But we must ask: “Is that true?”  NO!  In the NT, in Romans 8:28-29 we learn that God “…causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  For the Christian there is no such thing as chance—just God’s divine sovereign providence.
  • For us as believers luck does not exist.  Rather, we have a loving Father who works behind the scenes to carry out His plans and purposes, which will result in glory for Him and blessings for us.  It’s true that it appears that we sometimes are overtaken by “bad luck” in the form of illness, financial collapse, or even death, but things are not always what they seem.  God is still in charge and in control.  Never forget that!

In verses 13-16 Solomon tells us again that wisdom is better than folly.  This has been one of his recurring themes.
Verses 13-16: 13I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14There was once a small city with only a few people in it.  And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it.  15Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.  But nobody remembered [acknowledged] that poor man.  16So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.”  But the poor man’s wisdom is despised [looked down on, thought to be of little value], and his words are no longer heeded.  
  • In this example Solomon points out that the rewards of wisdom are sometimes reaped by the undeserving.  The people of the city were saved through the application of the poor man’s wisdom [possibly through skilled negotiation, or extraordinary military stratagems].
  • The man described in verse 15 was financially poor in spite of possessing true wisdom.  And although he saved the city he received little or no reward for his service.  That’s because he was neither rich nor great.  He was only wise.
  • Generally speaking poor people are not heard, no matter how good or wise they might be.  They are generally overlooked and unappreciated.  That’s because the world does not value wisdom highly, unless it accompanies power, money, and influence.

In the last two verses of the chapter Solomon tags on this reminder that we should pay special attention to wise people.  When they speak we should listen.  This proverb seems to have been added to suggest that what was said up in verse 16 is not always true though it is often true.
Verses 17-18: 17The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  18Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. 
  • In verse 17 Solomon says that the counsel of wise men is more often heard in quiet words, while fools, even foolish leaders, tend to shout. 
  • But then in verse 18 he goes on to point out that while wisdom is better than powerful weapons of war, the diabolical power of sin should not be underestimated.  He says that “…one sinner destroys much good.” 

            I have watched the power of evil at work.  I have seen what one sinner can do.  There can be a tremendous influence exerted by the life of one individual, for good or for evil.  The Bible is full of examples: Achan sinned, and because of him and entire nation went down in defeat.  They had to deal with the sin of Achan before they could achieve a victory.  Rehoboam’s sin split the kingdom of Israel.  Ananias and Sapphira brought the first taste of judgment into the early church.  Moreover, secular history is replete with examples: Chairman Mao and his little Red Book, Marx & Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. just to name a few.
            When your life comes to an end are people going to have to lie or exaggerate at your funeral?  What will be the spiritual legacy that you leave behind?  When I was a boy, growing up at home, my mother had a little wooden plaque that always hung on the wall in our living room, wherever we happened to be living.  It said: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  That’s as true now as it was back then.  How will you be remembered?

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" - (06/05/11)

Ecclesiastes 8 (Message #8 in Series)
June 5, 2011

            “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  We’ve all heard that old saying but most people don’t know that it actually comes from the Bible, or more accurately, from two Bible verses put together.  The first part comes from a verse in our text for today, Ecclesiastes 8:15, which says, So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”   We will examine the meaning of the verse in its context in just a few minutes.
The second part of the old saying comes from Isaiah 22:12-14.  In that context, God has called the people of Jerusalem to repent and turn from their wickedness and return to worship and obey Him.  Instead they mocked God and His warning of impending judgment.  12The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. 
13But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! 
“Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”  14The LORD Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,” says the Lord, the LORD Almighty.  This response on the part of the people of Jerusalem was obviously a bad choice.  In essence, they were thumbing their noses at God.
Somewhere along the line someone took these two verses and put them together and turned them into what people have taken to be their philosophy of life.  “Eat, drink, and be merry” has become the motto for our modern American culture.

            So what did Solomon really have in mind?  What was he trying to communicate to us?  Let’s try and find out.  Turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 8, and as we start, let’s pray and ask God to give us a clear understanding of His Word.  [Lead in prayer.]
Most of you know that I normally use the New American Standard Version but this morning I am using the New Living Translation because I really like it and believe it is more understandable in this particular text.  Solomon begins this chapter by making an observation about the value of wisdom in general and how its application brings joy to all aspects of life.
Verse 1: 1How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things.  Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.
  • Solomon tells us that wisdom is a gift from God and like every good gift it enriches all who are touched by it.  It shapes the character and attitudes of the one who possesses it and it puts a smile on the face of the man or woman who views life through the filter of godly wisdom.

In verses 2-8, Solomon talks about the wisdom of showing loyalty toward our leaders.
Verses 2-8: 2Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would.  3Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants [i.e. to you].  4His command is backed by great power.  No one can resist or question it.  5Those who obey him will not be punished.  Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, 6for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.  7Indeed, how can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen?  8None of us can hold back our spirit from departing [in death].  None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle.  And in the face of death, wickedness will certainly not rescue the wicked.
  • In verse 2 Solomon says that we should recognize our leaders as appointed by God and we should obey them because it is part of our loyalty to God who put them into power in the first place.  I tell you that Christians should be the best citizens and the most loyal of all.
  • There is also the practical side to this.  Verses 4-5 remind us that we should recognize that rulers have power on their side.  Don’t underestimate what will happen to you if you choose to break the law or go against the wishes of the king.  In the NT the apostle Paul made the same observation in Romans 13:1-7: Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.  5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
  • Solomon asks a profound question in verse 7: How can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen?  That’s a great question!  And the answer is, we can’t.  That’s why we need to act wisely and take care of business while we still can.  Death eventually overtakes every one of us.  He correctly points out that… None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death.  The time and place are in God’s hands.  We need to be ready to go at any moment.  That’s what a wise person does.

In these next verses, 9-11, Solomon bemoans the fact that on the surface justice sometimes seems to go begging.  Even the courts don’t always get things right.  The O.J. Simpson trial stands out in my mind.
Verses 9-11: 9I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other.  10I have seen wicked people buried with honor.  Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes!  This, too, is meaningless.  11When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.
  • Solomon brings up the example of a wicked man who was “righteous” on the outside but evil on the inside.  Yet in death he was honored and his crimes were never mentioned at the funeral service.  We can almost hear the frustration in Solomon’s voice as he writes this.
  • And we, like Solomon, often find ourselves frustrated by the reality that in this life immediate justice and judgment are not always exacted.
  • However, we should not be quick to judge an act by its immediate consequences, because God doesn’t always pay His bills right at the end of the month.  But He does always pay His bills and the wicked will eventually get what’s coming to them.  No one can outrun God!
  • But this delayed payment policy of God’s often seems to promote evil.  Solomon says in verse 11, When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.  That is true of street criminals but it is also true of us.  If we sin and then God doesn’t whack us right away we think we have gotten away with it.  But have we?  Of course not!

Still dealing with this same subject, in verses 12-14, Solomon reminds us that God will finally settle all accounts in a just manner.
Verses 12-14: 12But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off.  13The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God.  Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.  14And this is not all that is meaningless in our world.  In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good.  This is so meaningless!
  • Solomon tells us not to be impressed by the prosperity of the wicked.  It is a mirage and will not last for very long.  In the long run it is always best to follow and obey God because in the end the righteous win and the wicked lose.
  • Solomon says though that in this life it’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  For example, lots of righteous people have spent time in prison, and lots of wicked people who should be in prison are out walking the streets.  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  You can’t judge people by their rap sheet because it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Remember, the apostle Paul was imprisoned multiple times, and Jesus was sentenced to death as a convicted felon.

In this last section, Solomon says that, given how screwed up this world is, we should enjoy life as a gift from God, and leave the judgment to Him.
Verses 15-17: 15So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life.  That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.  16In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night.  17I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun.  Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim. 
  • The human mind is not capable by itself of discerning God’s purposes and methods.  Apart from divine revelation we would be clueless.  The truth is, even with the Bible we sometimes don’t understand what God is up to.  It finally comes down to whether or not we trust Him to do the right thing, every time.  Solomon says, Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim, and that even includes him, the wisest man of all.
  • Solomon sums up his perspective by recommending that instead of stewing and fretting over what’s wrong in this life, and the things we can’t change, that we take the opportunity to party hardy and celebrate what’s right and good about life.  His philosophy is not, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” but “Eat, drink, and be merry, because God is in control and everything will turn out right in the end because He’s got it all covered.  Those are two very different life mottos.  We have to learn to rest in the knowledge of God’s sovereign rulership in the affairs of men, including in our personal lives.

            In this life, with our limited knowledge and understanding there are many situations that leave us scratching our heads, and there are many questions for which we don’t have satisfying answers.
·      Why do good people die young and evil people live so long?
·      Why do the bad guys seem to win so often?
·      Why does God let His own people suffer, get cancer, and sometimes die horrible deaths?
·      Why does He let babies die?

Some of these questions will make you crazy if you spend too much time fretting over them.  God promises to answer our questions someday, but for now He says, “Trust Me.”  That tosses the ball back into our court.  We can either shake our fist in His face and say, “Never will I trust You because You are mean and evil,” or we can choose to believe that He is good and that He knows things that we don’t know and could not comprehend even if He explained it to us.
I, and millions like me, choose to trust Him.  We choose to “eat, drink, and be merry” in spite of the fact that life is hard, because He has things well under control and will make it all work out right in the end.  We call that, faith!

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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