Sunday, January 11, 2009

God Doesn't Give Us Answers, He Is The Answer

Pastor welcomed us by noting that today was the first Sunday after Epiphany, which speaks of Jesus revealing Himself. Sunshine filled the sanctuary as Brad introduced his theme for today, sharing how during a crisis of faith when his father died the Book of Ecclesiastes brought light into the dark places in his heart. The author of Ecclesiastes does not give all the answers to life's troubling questions, but shows us who God is.

Opening announcements included the following:
~ Sunday school begins next week. 9:00 a.m.
~ Adventure Club, confirmation and youth group activities begin this Wednesday
~ Women's Bible study begins Friday, Jan. 23
~ Women's Circle will meet this Saturday at 10:00 a.m.
~ Building Committee will meet here at the church Thursday eve at 7:00

After Darlene's introit we were treated to some special music, bluegrass style, by de Elliot Brothers, which included percussion, washtub bass, wash board, harmonicas, slide guitar and some sweet harmonies. Despite the chill outside, hearts were warmed within.

Today's Scripture readings were from Genesis 1:1-5 and Acts 19:1-7... followed by a time of prayer, which included intercession for several people battling cancer or recovering from surgeries.

God Doesn't Give Us Answers, He Is The Answer

Brad opened by talking about his time of soul searching after the loss of his father. We question everything in times like that, including our faith in God's goodness. He said that it's something akin to living life on the back slope of a question mark.

The book's author is someone who refers to himself as The Preacher. The original Hebrew word is Qohelet, which has been translated "a man who addresses an assembly."

According to Brad, rabbis had difficulty with this book. They weren't sure of its aim. By the end of the book much of it appears to be a Naturalistic religion, not necessarily God-inspired. Yet the book is included in the canon of Scripture, and it is included for good reasons, as summarized in these verses from chapter 12:9-11

9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.

That is to say, the wisdom here is like tent pegs which give stability in a shaky world.

Good books begin with a prelude that tell us where they're going, and usually summarize the main points in a conclusion. The Book of Ecclesiastes is no different. At the outset, the writer states "Everything is meaningless." Or another way of putting it, "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." Life is futile.

The conclusion, however, exhibits a less pessimistic sense.

13 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.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

As Paul writes in II Corinthians 5, we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. Hence, wisdom dictates that we "fear God and keep His commandments."

One of the recurring themes in the Book of Ecclesiastes is captured in verse 2:24... "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God..." Verses 3:12, 3:22, 5:18, 8:15 and 9:7 all reiterate this theme which almost sounds Epicurean rather than Christian. "Eat drink and be merry."

Brad noted that there is a distinction between the statement, "Life is vain" and "Life is not worth living." The author of Ecclesiastes can only be understood in the of the admonition at the end to fear God and keep His commandments.

The point Pastor Brad sought to bring home today was this. There are many questions that life throws at you, especially during the hard times, and especially those challenging "Why?" questions. But there is no promise in Scripture that all these questions will get answered for us, either now or later. We all want to have pat answers, to see everything complete and have it all figured out. The truth is, you will never figure it out.

He compared it to trying to solve complicated crossword puzzles with a limited vocabulary.

Here are more verses that are challenging to wrestle with.
Eccles. 6:1-2
"I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil."
Also, vs. 9:11
"I 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 happen to them all."

Sometime life isn't fair. And, verses like Eccles. 2:14 make it almost seem that whether you are good or not hardly matters. "The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both." Isn't this how it feels sometimes, especially when struggling with death and loss? It's like children who build castles in the sand only to see all their creative fun washed away when the tide rolls in.

Why is this so? All our efforts seems so temporary and transitory. It all seems so empty.

In the realm of science we keep rediscovering that there is nothing new under the sun. And in the realm of history, Brad said, it is almost surprising how quickly the men of old are forgotten, and we ourselves will likewise one day be forgotten a few generations from now. This weighs heavily upon us when we begin to think deeply about these things. And as the Preacher, Qohelet, notes in chapter one verse 18, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know.

In point of fact, mystery is intentional, Brad stated. God intends for there to be mystery. How we respond to this makes all the difference in the world. Do we live it up? Give up? No, we're to look up.

When we study Ecclesiastes we see that it affirms three things about God. First, God is sovereign. And as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, God works all thing for good for those who love the Lord."

Second, God is good. And in His goodness, we find many blessings to help us through the difficulties of life. Don't let the questions in your heart so cloud your life that you fail to enjoy the good gifts He gives. Enjoy your food. Savor the coffee. Brad points out that it actually used to be considered a sin not to enjoy life.

Third, God is holy and just. He will bring our deeds to judgment, including not only what we do but what we didn't do, including the failure to enjoy the good things He has given.

God doesn't promise us answers, but He gives us Himself. He is God, and owes us no explanations. But He has also made other promises, including this one, "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you."

Today's sermon seemed especially heartfelt, and as "deep calls unto deep" this message spoke to many hearts today.

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