Category: Sermon Notes

Sermon notes

05 Meaning(Less)

“Living Wisely in a World of Fools”  Download here
Ecclesiastes 9-10

What will you hear today? There will be two sources of listening, if you’ll participate. One is listening to my words. God may spark something inside of you as your mind traces what I say. But more, the second source. The most important source. Let God speak through His Word. Your Bible open before you. Your phone or tablet open to a Bible app. Listen. God wants to speak, and He does. But we have to listen.

1). Living wisely involves accepting deaths reality (9:1-10)
Solomon has already dealt with this subject in Chapter 7. “It’s better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind.” Death is inevitable. And we live in a culture that denies that more and more. The basis of many of our neuroses and anxiety and most of our fears is the reality that we don’t want to face this truth. Living wisely means we do.

An English poet laureate wrote,
“Oh, why do people waste their breath
Inventing dainty names for death?”

We live in a day that has become skilled in denying the ultimate reality of death. We have renamed it. We pay a great deal of money to make the person lying in the casket look natural…meaning, alive. “They look so natural.” I love the Woodie Allen quote that he gave in an interview where he said, “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Sometimes, we don’t even bring the deceased to the funeral.

Paul Simon wrote a song in 1965 called “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall.” I saw the Broadway production just a few weeks ago with my kids. In this song, Simon writes, “So I’ll continue to continue to pretend that my life will never end, and flowers never bend with the rainfall.” But they do bend. And our lives do have an end.

Death is a serious thing, because sin is a serious thing. God never wanted death to be a part of His perfect creation. It wasn’t. Sin…our choice to sin…made death a necessity. “The wages of sin is death…”

I have stood on the porch of a funeral parlor with young men big enough to wrestle a bear. But they were terrified to go inside and view their mother’s remains. Why is that? Death reminds us…this is our fate. It is going to happen to all mankind. We grieve our own death. The Bible is unambiguous about death. “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes ashes we all fall down.” But death has become something akin to a profanity. It’s offensive to us to be reminded that it is our fate; that God has numbered our days. That, “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.” If we just live “under the sun,” without taking God into account, there’s a period there. But for the Christian, when death comes, another kind of life just begins!

2). Living wisely involves acknowledging life’s unfairness (9:11-18)
Everybody dies. The wise man is buried beside the wicked man. Living righteously does not guarantee a longer life or a more honorable death and burial. Death equalizes it all. The best person isn’t always rewarded under the sun… “the race doesn’t go to the fastest, or the battle to the strongest…” The good man isn’t always remembered under the sun…

We are morbidly fascinated with Job because of the unfairness of his circumstances. We are magnificently humbled with Jesus because of His acceptance of the cross…the ultimate unfairness and injustice…Jesus was crucified by religious fools…which He endured without fighting back or speaking back…but he died on the cross and endured and absorbed death and sin’s penalty for the rest of us sinful fools…religious and non-religious alike.

3) Living wisely involves attention to the small things (10)

So just what is a fool?

a. Fool: Doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. So, he goes to school. I may know lots about genetic engineering, but if you slide me under a car on a lift and tell me to repair the transmission, I wouldn’t know where to start
b. Student: Learns what he doesn’t know. That’s why we get an education. But we don’t get answers. Not important ones. You will probably live long enough to see everything you learn in school become obsolete (tubes to integrated circuits). / They told us after two intense years of study, “You now know enough about electronics to go out and really hurt yourself…All you learn in school is what you don’t know.
c. Graduate: Knows the right question to ask…a graduate simply knows more questions that she doesn’t know how to answer. Wisdom is painful, Solomon reminds us. The more we know, the more we learn what we could be, but aren’t.

“If any man lacks wisdom…” (God gives wisdom “freely” and without partiality…no student loans necessary). Solomon’s prayer at the beginning of his reign was “God give me wisdom to lead your people.” God was impressed. And He’s equally pleased with you if you’ll ask! Wisdom pays attention to the small things.

a. Fly in ointment/ bird in filter (My church was on a cistern…thought that was what we called women…” brethren and cistern” …I also thought a bush hog was a pig that ate landscaping). A little thing can pollute a big thing. A little fly spoils the ointment. A little foolishness, a little self-indulgence, a little indiscretion can destroy a thirty-year marriage. “But honey, it was just a little affair…” Stay in tune with the little things.
b. Doing work with integrity … watch the little things…Do what you KNOW to do…don’t fall in the hole…sharpen your axe…watch for falling rocks.
c. Watch your tongue (Charm the serpent in your mouth). I learned in communication classes that, for every statement made there are six possible ways to interpret it. That means you have a one-in-six chance of being understood when you speak. Warren Wiersbe identified five different kinds of tongues

i. Destructive tongues (v 12). “The tongue is small but can start a forest fire.” This is the tongue of the gossip. The rumor monger. The tale bearer. The person that posts an untrue statement online.

ii. Irrational tongues (v 13). Talking nonsense. Much of what is said and written today falls into that category. A New Age speaker named Doreen Virtue, who has written numerous books and is flown around the world to give lectures and conferences renounced her writings and speeches when she became a Christian.

iii. Uncontrolled tongues (v 14a). “I can’t help it…I have to say what I think even if it hurts your feelings.” You can always control your tongue if you want to.

iv. Boastful tongues (v 14 b-c) Boasting about a future they don’t know, and they can’t control. Can’t find their way. “Self-praise stinketh.” “So dumb, he’d get lost on an elevator.”

v. Indiscreet tongue (v 20). The world celebrates and elects fools…. don’t be one. The fact that they are applauding you may not be a compliment. Live with wisdom.

As Solomon concludes his argument, he critiques those in leadership. He includes, we are certain, himself in the critique! Four kinds of people (fools) find their way into leadership.

They are …

  1. Immature leaders (vv 16-17)
  2. Incompetent leaders. (v 18)
  3. Indifferent leaders. (v 19)
  4. Indiscreet leaders (v 20)

It’s hard to imagine that a part of this was a job review of his own staff! Solomon was surrounded by leaders and advisers in his role as the King of Israel. He saw each of these in turn. The first, maybe is more like Solomon than the other three. He certainly was not incompetent, or indifferent, though perhaps he was indiscreet. But most certainly he came to the throne as an immature king. Some of his decisions were decisions that an immature leader would have made (see his propensity for foreign women).

Leaders who do not lead well do much damage to their business or, in the case of governmental leaders, to the people they lead. He is right to call for wisdom among those who are responsible and in charge of others.

Life is a gift… live it… live so the mortician has to pry the smile off your face! Death is coming…prepare for it! A wise person lives knowing that death comes but doesn’t allow that reality to stop him from living. In fact, it propels him to take life with more intensity.

04 Meaning(Less)


“Finding a Heart of Wisdom”  Download here

(Ecclesiastes 7-8)

In 1982 a California man named Larry Walters decided to follow his lifelong dream of flying.  Along with some friends, Larry went to an Army Surplus store and purchased some weather balloons and a couple of tanks of helium.  He tied the balloons to the arms of a lawn chair with the plan of floating at about 10,000 feet, tethered to the ground, then shooting some balloons out with a pellet gun, and then slowly descending to the earth.

Things did not go according to plan.  The ropes tethering the chair to the ground snapped, and Larry and his amazing chair floated quickly up to 16,000 feet and into the flight path of the San Diego Airport.  The other thing he hadn’t thought through was how much a role fear would play.  He couldn’t let go of the arms of the chair to fire the pellet gun.  When he finally did take the chance, he took two shots and then dropped the gun.

By now he was on the radar of the airfield.  A pilot reported, through the clouds, seeing a man floating in a lawn chair.  But luckily, he had hit a couple of the balloons before dropping his gun.  They did have to pry his hands off the lawn chair when he finally landed!  Larry “gained a heart of wisdom” from his experience floating high in his lawn chair.  He never tried it again!  Sometimes we learn wisdom the hard way.

Solomon is taking us on a bird’s eye tour of life from his perspective “under the sun” or, life without taking God into account.   Solomon’s writing goes through something of a transformation at this point.  We don’t know exactly what brought about his turning point, and he now seemed headed in the right direction.  The words “wise” and “wisdom” are used 30 times between Chapter 7 and Chapter 12.

To have God’s perspective is the definition of wisdom.  Seeing ourselves and seeing life as He does…no balloons… through His Word, through His Spirit, and through His people.  That is wisdom.

Observations About Wisdom

Four things that flip our way of thinking on its head. 

  1. It is better to go to a funeral than a party…. (7:1-4)

It was Solomon’s conclusion that going to a funeral, “the house of mourning,” will teach you wisdom more effectively than going to a party.  Honestly, would you rather go to a wedding or a funeral?  People have asked me more than once, “would you rather preach a funeral or a wedding?”  Well, funerals are simpler.  There’s no rehearsal, no seating charts, no mother of the bride or bridezilla to manage, no drama.  It’s just simpler.

I enjoy weddings.  Yet we learn more at funerals.  Every funeral is a caution to us.  My grief class taught me that every funeral is a mortality check.  ^ It reminds us of our own limits. All of us won’t end up having a wedding.  But short of the coming of Jesus, all of us will have a funeral.  “The end of a thing is better than the beginning.”  Weddings are loud and joyful and expensive celebrations.  But a big wedding doesn’t mean the marriage will last.  There’s something quietly, deeply glorious seeing a couple who have made it 60 or 70 years and to see the widow or widower sitting on the front row, reflecting on their life lived well.  “The end of things is better.”

Solomon is just saying, “Don’t miss the wisdom that comes from times like that.”  In fact, occasionally it’s not a bad thing to walk through a cemetery.  I know.  That’s morbid, right?  One guy walking through a cemetery came to a grave marker that said, “Pause friend, as you pass by.  As you are now, so once was I.  As I am now, so you will be.  So, take your heed and follow me.”  Someone came along and added another line to the marker.  “To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.”

Wisdom is knowing which way you’ll go when this life is over.  As we have on our sign outside, there’s only two choices of destination.  Which way are you going?  Paul had no question about this.  In Philippians 1:23-24– “to depart and be with Christ.”

  1. It is better to receive a rebuke than a compliment

Mark Twain said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.”  But Solomon is suggesting that we will live those two months with wisdom after a good rebuke.  I don’t like criticism.  No one does.  Sometimes criticism is unwarranted.  An old farmer told his son, “Son, when a mule kicks you, just consider the source.”  Yet “a rebuke is better than a compliment.”  It takes a courageous person to offer an honest rebuke.  Wisdom tells us to receive those as gifts, not curses.  A wise person learns from the critics.

  1. It is better to be patient than to be angry

You know, anger is something that all of us struggle with to different degrees.  Some of us blow up externally at a situation and others implode internally and make ourselves sick with it.  But anger is an inevitable part of being alive.  It is a God-given defense mechanism.  But for insecure people, their “defense” button is stuck.  They are continually angry about something or someone.  Anger is like a porcupine’s quills.  They stick everything in their path.  That’s what an angry person does.  And the first law of the jungle is, “You can’t hug a porcupine.”  Angry people alienate others.

Solomon gives clear warning to that person.  It is unwise to live in anger, lest it make its home in you.  (v9). Anger releases a chemical that we become addicted to.  We can’t live without it.  Then, we have to have it to feel ok.  And then it owns you.

  1. It is better to experience adversity than prosperity

You know who disagrees with that?  Those who are going to through adversity right now!   But we actually learn far more from difficulty than prosperity.   We see people struggle sometimes and feel sorry for them, and yet Solomon says, “They’re better off.”  Jesus Himself was called “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”   Our sufferings make us more like Jesus, but they also give us “a heart of wisdom.”  As AW Tozer said, “God can use no man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”

Laughter is fine, but Solomon says it’s empty, “like thorns crackling in a fire.” It’s empty, with no heat, no depth, no lasting value.  A man came to his doctor complaining that his life was tedious, hard, and it just made him not want to get out of bed.  The doctor gave him a prescription and advice: “There is this great comedian holding some shows at a nearby comedy club…Doc, I am that comedian!

There are none who are perfectly righteous; this is the beginning of wisdom (v20)

Then Solomon takes us to the beginning of wisdom.  The beginning of wisdom is realizing that there is no righteous person on earth.  No one, in themselves, is righteous.  This paves the way for the most important lesson in life:  By ourselves, we can never make ourselves acceptable to God.  “There is none righteous, no not one.” Paul said.  Solomon agreed.  (v29)

Conclusions Regarding Humility

  • “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
  • “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

Wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective.  Someone has said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

1. In the presence of authority. (8:1-9)

                One of the most important lessons we have to learn in life is that there is always some authority we must learn to obey.  A parent, a teacher, a police officer, a military chain of command, a CEO, a board of directors, the president.  And they don’t always exercise their authority wisely.  It’s hard to humble yourself in their presence at times.  But wisdom dictates that we must exercise humility in our dealings with those in authority.  We need to learn we are not always in control and understand our limitations (v 8)

We obey, Solomon said, “because we have made a vow.”  Because the government can compel us to do so, and because we don’t always have understanding of what God is doing through the authorities placed in our lives.

2. In the times of injustice.          (8:10-14)

                Sometimes in life, the wicked prosper and are celebrated, while the righteous seem to suffer for doing good.  It is hard for us to live in a world where things seem so unjust and inequitable.  “Oppression drives the wise person mad.”  We are angry at Russia because of the unfair match-up against the Ukraine.  It’s like an entire nation, or a demagogue dictator, has become the school ground bully.  They are good people who just want to be left alone.  But it torments us to see good people hurting.  We feel this because the love of justice and fairness is hard wired into every person by God.  (Evidence of God’s identity in you)

3. In the moments of mystery (8:15-17)

                Life is full of mysteries.  Why does your peanut butter sandwich or your toast always fall jelly side down?  Why is your traffic lane or your grocery store checkout line always the longest?   Where do your spare socks go in the washing machine?  And why is it just ONE?           Solomon says, in these closing verses, that some things in life will always be a mystery.  There are some things that we must just have the humility to say “I don’t get it.  I don’t understand.”   Some things are just out of our pay grade.  But then, we trust in the God Who holds the keys to all mysteries!

Romans 11

[33] Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  [34] “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


03 Meaning(Less)


“Life without Meaning”

(Ecclesiastes 5-6)  Download the notes here


“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

Ephesians 1 tells us clearly that, when God created us, He created us with a plan for our lives.  There are no random, accidental people in the world.  God made us all and gave us freedom so we could love Him by our choice, because if we can’t choose, it isn’t love.

God has a specific plan for each of us.  Jesus tells us, “The very hairs of your head are numbered.”  So, we aren’t just numbers…we’re names.  We’re people made in God’s image.  We’re part of God’s plan to love the world.

In fact, it goes further in Ephesians 2 and tells us in verse 10 “we are His workmanship…”  The word the Bible uses there is “poema.”  I met a guy recently who named His daughter “Poema.”  It means “masterpiece.”  We are God’s master work.

And even more than that, we are unique!  Every person.  That means there’s nobody in the world quite like you.  Now there may be some other people who look like you in some ways.  We all have doppelgangers out there; people who weirdly kind of look like us.  A few years ago, I apparently reminded people of the guy on America’s Got Talent who was a ventriloquist.  “You look just like that guy.”  I always thought I looked just like Tom Selleck or Kevin Costner.  But no, I look like a ventriloquist.

But we’re all unique, and God has a custom-designed plan for YOUR life that nobody else fulfills!  You are unique.  Nobody does you like you!

But in spite of this, we choose to go our own way.  That’s what sin is.  It’s not just being evil, like Putin.  Sin means we go our own way.  We turn our back on God’s plan, revealed in His Word.

And then at some point, we hit the wall.  And we wonder, “so what is life about?  What does it mean?  Why does it all seem so pointless?”  We neglect our Creator; we reject His Word.  And then, life is just empty.  It’s meaningless.

That’s where Solomon found himself.  Like so many of us, Solomon thought he knew more than God.  He knew better than God.  He could find meaning in life without reference to God.

And Ecclesiastes is his testimony to life “under the sun” or, life without God.

Worship without Meaning

1. An authentic consistency (“Watch your step”) 5:1

            Our spiritual walk has a great deal to do with our worship.  If we are walking in the counsel of sinners, our worship is just going to bring conviction to our lives.  If we are thinking scornful thoughts, we are going to mock the things of God.

I did that in my life, in a time when I had wandered far from God.  The preacher was one of the best in the state at that time.  He was anything but boring.  But I was bored.  I was empty.  What was inside of me, and how I was walking, affected my worship.

2. A Quiet Spirit. (“Watch your mouth”) 5:2-3

            Solomon’s counsel if you don’t want your worship to be meaningless is, “Come to listen, not to talk.”  Be still in the presence of God.  Don’t come to give your opinion.  Come to learn. Don’t make promises or vows that you don’t intend to keep.  Watch your mouth.

Singing?  Sometimes we lie in worship.

3. An eager obedience. (“Watch your heart”) 5:4-7

            Don’t try to manipulate God.  If you make a vow to God, keep it.  If you make a promise, “don’t delay” in fulfilling it.  “Don’t let your mouth cause your flesh to sin.”  Bring a prepared heart.

For worship to be authentic, we must be sincere.  What’s your motive for coming to church?  i.  Are you coming to impress others?  ii. Are you coming to try to manipulate God?  (Counseling—divorce).   Because what you bring into worship is pretty much what you’re going to be getting out of worship.  If your reasons for coming are genuine, your worship will be too.    But sometimes our worship has no meaning.

Wealth without Meaning   5:10-20

I’ve shared these thoughts before, and I’ll remind you again this is adapted from another preacher. *  I’ve taught this passage before for a stewardship message, so this is a review for some of us.

Solomon was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived.  Maybe, if his wealth was calculated in today’s economy, he would have been the richest man.  He had so much gold he used it to decorate his palace.  Silver in his kingdom was so common it was almost without worth.  He was a rich guy.  So, as Boomers remember the old commercial said, “When EF Hutton speaks, everybody listens.”  Maybe we should hear Solomon the same way.

  1. The more we have the more we want. (5:10)

If you or someone you know has been addicted to gambling, you understand the allure of having more.  A gambler’s heart is never contended with the first round of winnings.  It leads to the need for a second.  And a third.

This is the promise and illusion of materialism. There is no end to the itch.  We want more.  We NEED more to make us happy, or so we think.  I think a great name for a gambling house in Las Vegas would be “The Mirage.”  Oh wait…there is one of those!  It’s all a mirage, and they tell you that going in with huge neon lights.

Materialism is a mirage.  A promise that never delivers.  A puff of smoke than vanishes.  Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15).  Materialism says, “that’s a lie.”

  1. The more we have, the more we spend. (5:11)

“The more loot you get, the more looters show up.” (The Message)

The more we have, the more we need, the more we have to have, the more we want.”

My hamster, Diggy, was busy last night.  She was really working her wheel hard.  She does that when she’s stressed.  Well, and also when she isn’t!  But I noticed this morning, after she worked all night, she’s still the very same place.

So, with us.  We have more, we spend more to keep it, we need more, we want more and then the wheel starts over.  It never ends.

  1. The more we have, the more we worry. (5:12)

John D Rockefeller was the world’s only billionaire at age 53, but he was continually sick and lived on a diet of milk and crackers.  Until he learned how to give his money away.  As a philanthropist, he lived to be 98!  Guess the lesson is, if you’re worried about money, give it away!

If the world works so hard to keep everything they have and end up miserable, maybe if we’d work equally hard at giving away, we’ll be fulfilled and happy!  That’s what Rockefeller learned.  Maybe we should take the hint.

  1. The more we have, the more we lose. (5:13-14)

I worried less about stuff when Pam and I were first married and living on a shoestring budget.  My living room suit, brand new, cost us $188.  They were miserable to sit on. But I never worried about stuff when I was renting an apartment, sharing food with our seminary classmates and owned 2 beat up cars.  When you own stuff, you worry more about what you could lose!  I never gave two thoughts to the stock market…until I started investing in it!

  1. The more we have, the more we leave behind (14-17)

The trick to surviving the money trap is to learn that, for the Christian there is no own. There’s only loan.  “You are not your own…”  We invest what we have here in eternity.  We will one day leave it all behind for something or someone.  Maybe our family, or maybe the government.  Or maybe you could figure out how to bless the work of God’s Kingdom here on earth and see that your investment is awaiting you in glory!

“But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither rust nor moth corrupt, and thieves don’t break in and steal.” (Matt 6:20-21)

(*Jeremiah, Heaven…)

1. God gives us the ability to make money (5:18)

            Solomon here is alluding to Deuteronomy 8:18 where it says, “It is God Who gives us the ability to produce wealth.”  You may argue, “No, it’s not.  I’m going to work every day.  I’m putting in the hours.”

But who wakes you up in the morning, and gives you grace for your body to function?  Who opened the door so you could get the job you have?  Who allows you life and breath to earn a living?

2. God must give us the ability to enjoy the money we make, or it will destroy us! (5:19-20)

Work without Meaning

            A dimension of how God created us is to work.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  Work is not a curse.  Work was part of what God created, and He gave Adam and Eve jobs in the garden BEFORE sin came.  But remember you are bigger than your job.  You are a human BEING, not a human DOING.

Your job was never intended to make you miserable, to take away your personhood, or to be a way to do things that aren’t ethical or legal.  It was meant to bring you fulfillment and even joy.

If you are looking at the right ends for your labor and can enjoy the process and not just the weekend when you’re off, you can find enjoyment in life.  If you are working to fulfill the will and purpose of God in your life, your job can be a source of great satisfaction.

1. Work has no meaning when we can’t enjoy the proceeds (6:1-2)

            If we work and never stop because we’re working for the “end game,” for money, then we will never enjoy the fruit of our labor.  Sometimes we find ourselves laboring hard just to pay off debt we’ve accumulated buying things we couldn’t afford.

Occasionally we need to stop and ask the hard question: “Do I need more money?  Do I have to sign up for overtime again this weekend, taking me away from time with my family?” How much money is enough?

When we are off-track from the purposes of God, He will not allow us to have joy from the things we accumulate.  Oh, maybe we can look to others like we’re living it up as we climb in and out of our leased Lexus, but in truth in the middle of the night, we know it’s like sand in our mouth.  It’s nothing fulfilling or exciting.  It’s dull, monotonous, and we don’t enjoy the things we have and use.

Unless God gives us the power, we can’t enjoy anything.

2. Work has no meaning when you lose the honor of your family: Nobody wept when he died.  (6:3-6)

            Solomon tells a sad story that is repeated far too often.  A man works hard…too much…in the name of “providing” for the family, and then one day he comes home and realizes his family is grown. Or his family is gone.  Or the family barely knows him.

Sadly, Solomon says, this man would have been better off never born.  As it is, he faces the end of his life with a family that provides him “no burial.”  Now that doesn’t mean the family just leaves his body where they found it.

Not having a burial basically had nothing to do with burial processes.  It had everything to do with being eulogized; being remembered fondly and emotionally by the family.  The man in Solomon’s illustration left the world without a tear being shed for his passing.  This, he said, is the ultimate insult and a grievous evil.

Howard Hughes, the world’s wealthiest man in his day, lived as a recluse only speaking in letters to his assistant.  He lived with the motto “Every man has his price…otherwise a man like me could never exist.”  When his employees and closest associates were able to speak about him, they universally revealed their absolute disgust for him.

He “had no burial.”  No one cared that he no longer lived.  What a tragic end to a life.

3.Work has no meaning when you sacrifice your soul for income:

            We are a soul with a body, not a body that contains a soul.  That means the essence of who we are is far more invisible than visible.  Far more spiritual than physical.  And yet the most of our years are spent living for the part of us we can see to the neglect of the invisible and unseen and most important part of us: Our soul.

Jesus told of a man who was a successful and productive farmer who needed more storehouses for his crops.  At the end of a particular day, he sat back in his office chair and began to inwardly congratulate himself.  What he didn’t realize was that this was his last day. All the things he had worked for to feed and clothe and care for his body suddenly meant nothing.  “This day your soul (the essence of who you are) is required of you.”  But you know, the man had lost his soul already to the accumulation of stuff.  (6:7)

What are you sacrificing for the work you are doing?  It’s one thing to spend time.  It’s another to spend…your soul.   Rule of life:  Never sacrifice the eternal for the temporal.  It only leads to pain.

4. Work has no meaning when you don’t REALLY know how to live (6:8).

Why are you living? Are you making a living, or making a life?  You make money with your job.  You make a living with your life, and by having the right allegiance in life to the One Who created you!

5. Work has no meaning when you don’t know how to die. (6:9-12)

            No doubt Chapter 6 is a self-portrait of Solomon.  At the end of life, Solomon realized to his sorrow that the path he thought would lead to joy and fulfillment led to emptiness and sadness.

What do you want to leave behind of yourself?  Do you use your time in the workforce to love people as Jesus would?  Or do you just go through the motions?  Do you want people to remember you for more than the fact that “you were always on time for work?” (Eulogy…” He was never late for work a day in his life.”)

Your work, no matter how productive, or powerful, or wealthy you become, cannot take the place of simply knowing God and accepting that He is the One Who is in control of everything.  Not you.  You may be a CEO, or the clerk on a sales floor.  But God is the One Who controls life.  The sooner we accept that, the sooner we will find the meaning we are all searching for!

You see meaning comes to us and everything we do when we know Who made us, Who put us here, Who created us, and Who we will one day stand before.  Meaning comes when we honor the Bible as the guidebook for our life.

We have a choice to make today.  Will we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, or will our life be lived without meaning?  A puff of smoke in the wind? It is a clear decision we must make.

God is waiting for you to decide.  But some may still argue.  (6:10-12) Solomon reminds us that there is no use arguing with God about how He has wired the universe He created.  We simply learn to live within in or destroy ourselves trying to kick down gates and make our own way.

God is in heaven…you are on earth.  Remember your place…and live joyfully under God’s loving pleasure!

02 Meaning(Less)


Meaning (less)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4:16

“The Human Dilemma”

You can download the notes here

 A few weeks ago, I challenged us using a simple two-story house diagram created by Will Mancini.  Using that illustration I asked the question, “Are you a first floor or a second-floor church member?”  Second floor members are those who have embraced the mission of the church, the Great Commission of Jesus to take the Gospel to the world and make disciples.

The purpose of this study we are in is to give you a different way to look at what we do here on Sundays…we want to equip you, to resource you to make disciples where you live, and work and play.   So, as you listen today, you need to listen not just to “get” a message, but ask, “How can I take the truth of the Bible into my world?”  There are some additional resources online at to help you do that.

So, we are in a series called “Meaningless.”  Now that doesn’t mean the series is meaningless.  It is a way of presenting the message of Ecclesiastes to our world today, a world that denies that God exists.  A world that sees life as devoid of meaning.  Solomon is taking us on a journey into that world.  It’s not an easy study, but it’s an important one.

I wonder who in here today would say, “I’ve got plenty of time to do all the things I need to do.  I’m never stressed about time.  There’s always just enough.”   Anybody?  I doubted it.   You know we’re not always honest with each other or ourselves about time.  How many times have you said, “I’m sorry, I just didn’t have time to do that,” when the more honest answer is, “I’m sorry I chose not to call you back because I chose to spend my time differently.”  So at least you know if someone says, “I didn’t have time,” they had just as much time as the president.  Just as much time as a surgeon.  Just as much time as a composer or author.  Same 24 for everybody.  They just didn’t invest their time wisely or chose not to invest it with you!

One of the places that most people express frustration or dissatisfaction with life is knowing our time is limited.  We have expiration dates.  The Bible tells us “three score and ten” a total of 70 years.  On average, that’s about right.  My father-in-law lived to be well over 90 but he would remind us often that we were never promised more than “threescore and ten.”

Time flies.  Whether you’re a king or a truck driver, a young person starting out in life (think about how fast spring and summer break used to feel) …unless you’re the parent.  Then it feels like eternity unfolding.

But time is something that is in God’s control, not ours.  That’s the first reality we encounter in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3.  The ticking of the clock.  The passing of the seconds and the days and months and years.  In a Psalm written by Moses, we read “…teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  But eternity doesn’t run on a clock.

Wisdom takes time seriously.  Wisdom requires us to understand that we live life on loan.  We ultimately can’t control how many minutes or days our lives will be.  We just know that, at a day set by God, we’ll spend our last second on earth.  “Teach us to number…” Or as Solomon puts it in our text, “There’s a time to be born, and a time to die.”  We had no control over our entrance into the world.  We will have no control over our exit.

But right here is where we encounter:

The Source of Our Dissatisfaction:  God is eternal

He has placed eternity in our hearts.  What that means, simply put, is that God is in control of that most precious commodity in our lives:  Time.  The one thing we all share in common is that an hour is an hour.  It’s not 36 minutes to one person and 60 to another.  A day is 24 hours.  And the other thing we get is we have a choice how to spend that time…or waste it.

At this stage of my life, I would really like to have some of those wasted hours and days back for a do-over.  But while with hard work or just being smart we can make up money we’ve wasted, we can’t make up time with our families…or time we could have spent walking with the Lord instead of wandering in the world.  No do overs exist.

But here’s some good news this morning.  “God has set eternity in our hearts.”  We were made to yearn for something that transcends the clock and the calendar.  We were made to enjoy eternal things.  Our dissatisfaction comes because of this.  You see, if we only live “under the sun,” we try to make the pleasures and joys of a fallen, temporary world have eternal significance.  They can’t.  I know I have an eternity of time awaiting.  It takes the sting out of not having enough time now.

Every pleasure you enjoy, every joyful moment with your spouse, or your children, or looking at a beautiful landscape or work of art…all of it is destined to lead to dissatisfaction unless you know that, with those things God is just hinting at what’s waiting for us in eternity.  When we focus on the things of this earth as our ultimate reality and our ultimate enjoyment, we make our ultimate meaning about that relationship or that possession or that experience.

God goes to great lengths to remind us that our time here is limited.  How we use our time will be something we’ll be called to account for.  “…God will call the past to account.” If we invest it with a view toward eternity, it’s something for which we will be rewarded!

Our dissatisfaction comes when we forget that it is God Who gives us the time we enjoy.  We need to invest it wisely.  “God makes everything beautiful in its time,” if we can see God’s hand in it.

The Reasons for Our Frustration:  God is just

             We struggle with the same issues Solomon did.  He lists them for us in Chapter 3 and 4, and they were the source of his frustration, and the source of ours as well.

Inequity (vv 16-17)

Life isn’t fair.  And it isn’t perfect.  If it was, the driver who ran you off the road speeding by you would be pulled over at the next mile marker.  The person who gossips about you would have her teeth fall out that same night.  But the Christian NFL player doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, and the guy living it up as a partying pagan doesn’t always fumble at the goal line. Bad things happen to good people, and equally frustrating good things happen to bad people! But we really don’t want to live in that kind of world either.  We just want other people to be punished for evil, but we want to be allowed to get away with it.


Death, we are told, is the great equalizer.  One out of one people die.  And one out of one animal die.  While it looks like man and animal experience the same fate, that is not the case.  “Who knows,” Solomon asks, “if the breath of man ascends upward…”  Life isn’t fair.  We work like a dog, and then die just like a dog, or so Solomon concluded “under the sun.” But we know, as Christians, that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Oppression/When it seems the wicked are always winning

             Ecc 4:1-3

In Psalm 73, the Psalmist said, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps nearly slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  But then, an important thing happens.  “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me, until I went to the sanctuary of God.  Then I understood their end.”

A pastor had a golf buddy who was not a Christian who was always challenging him.  As they put their clubs away, he said, “See pastor, in my world, the good guy always finishes last.”  The pastor replied, “Yeah, but the bad guy goes to hell.”


Ecc 4:4-6

A survey on reported than nine out of ten office workers suffer from “professional envy” of colleagues they picture to have more glamorous or higher paying jobs…a third envy a partner or spouse’s jobs, while a fifth feel jealous of a colleague further up the work “ladder.”  We compensate for those feelings by underperforming or over competing.

Materialism… riches over relationship…things more important than people

             Ecc 4:7-8…This is directed to those who blow up their relationships and never take time for friendships to accumulate money and things.  They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but often we let our ambition for things and status and money to push out the important things.  You find yourself, at the end of the day, rich.  But alone.

The Root of Our Isolation: God is love

Ecc 4:9-12

            We were made for relationships.  “It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said.  We need to keep reminding ourselves that God revealed Himself to us as a God in relationship with Himself.  The Trinity is an eternal relationship in which God is one-yet-three.  I don’t have time to go into all the explanations of that, but the Bible proclaims it’s true.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And this relationship is open-ended.  God invites us to join Him in this joyful dance.  He didn’t create us because He was lonely.  He created us because He wanted us to enjoy what He had!

Earthly relationships are a reflection of that eternal and invisible reality.  We are made to relate, not isolate.  We are wired to know and be known, because the God Who made us is like that.  He knows that the most painful reality of Hell is not the flames but the eternal aloneness. And those who are lonely can testify to how difficult it is.

2 are better than 1.  For working, for walking, for warmth, and for weaving.  You know, when we get married, we are to leave, cleave, and weave a life together.  I will sometimes use the three-stranded cord as an illustration in a wedding ceremony.

Rope makers know that you can take two cords and wrap them together…into eternity… and they will eventually come apart.  But they learned if you put a third cord in the center and wrap the other two around that cord and around each other, it will never come apart!

We have changed marriage into a relationship where it’s just the two of us against the world.  We wrap ourselves around each other and then we wonder why it comes apart.  But the marriages that understand the need for that third strand in the middle…don’t come apart easily at all.

When a marriage is done right, with Christ as the center strand, you create something that is greater than just two people clinging to each other.  There’s a synergy that is created…and those marriages will seldom pull apart.

Popularity (4:13-16)

This ends with a particularly telling thought.  We live in a day when people long for popularity and recognition from others.  People will do silly, funny, dangerous and even deadly things in an effort to get more likes on their social media accounts.  It is a very enticing sin in our day, and the church is not immune.  Neither is politics.  Here’s the story of a popular king that got old, was replaced by a popular upstart young king (who was, ironically from the same background as the old king) and we see the rise and fall and fickleness of popular applause.  It’s frustrating to those who hang their self-worth on this.

Solomon is no doubt reflecting back to his own father, David’s, history.  The popularity of a young king named Saul was replaced by the rising star of King David.  David’s popularity was eventually eclipsed by the new young king named Solomon.  Solomon, once the rock star of Israel, is now the old king who sees his once soaring popularity poll sliding south.

If we are seeking an earthly crown of glory, it will perish quickly.  But if the crown we hope to wear is an eternal reward that we can “cast down” at the feet of Jesus, we will find our star never sets as we live in the glory of making Jesus famous!

Paul said, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14).  May our pursuit be that kind of glory…the glory of the cross.

What’s the solution to our dissatisfaction, our frustration, our isolation?  Knowing the God Who invites you to come into a relationship with Him through Jesus!  It brings satisfaction and fulfillment and fellowship to us.  Without God, life is without meaning…without purpose.  With God, you get meaning now…and heaven later!  And it comes by grace, through faith in Jesus.  Won’t you trust Him today?

Resources and References:

  • Nelson, The Problem of Life With God
  • Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge
  • Stedman, Is This All There is to Life?
  • Jeremiah, Heaven on Earth
  • Kidner, Ecclesiastes


A Study in Ecclesiastes

Click to download: MEANING(LESS)

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (Chapters 1 and 2)

I do feel some connection and affinity with Solomon.  I’m now looking back through the same tunnel of time that he was staring through.  And he didn’t have it all figured out either.  I believe this book we call Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, although he never directly says so.  He refers to himself as “the preacher,” or “the quester” or we might even say, “the pundit.”

Solomon was one of the most powerful monarchs of his day.  He led Israel over 40 years in peace. He was also the smartest guy in the room.  Any room.  He could talk politics, religion, finance, agriculture, horticulture, or architecture.  People would literally travel from around the world just to get a seat at one of his lectures.  He had more money than Jeff Bezos and was smarter than Elon Musk.  He was literally sitting on top of the world…and found it empty.  Vain.  Boring.

Jan Krakauer was a journalist who scaled the summit of Mt Everest.  Twelve of his fellow climbers died in the incident.  He wrote in his book Into Thin Air about standing “with one foot in China and the other in Nepal.”  He continued, “I cleared away the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared down at the vast wasteland of Tibet.  I had fantasized about this moment for months, the emotional release that would come.  But now that it was finally here, I couldn’t muster the energy to care.  I snapped four quick photos…then turned to begin my descent.  All told, I spent less than five minutes standing on the roof of the world.” (Krakauer, Into Thin Air)

            Solomon could identify with the climber’s disappointment.  While he had scaled no mountain peak, he stared into the extent of his accomplishments and said, “It’s empty.”

He’s taking us on a journey through the paths of life he has taken.  It is, mostly, one dead end after another.   It’s not an easy book to read and study, although there are a couple of high points we hit along the way.  His words have become lyrics to popular songs, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrd’s.  Google it.  His thoughts make this book the most-quoted Biblical book by atheists.   Most of us wouldn’t buy a coffee mug with the inscription “a time to be born and a time to die” on it.

But I think, of any study you can do, this book takes you into the mind of those around us trying to live life without reference to God.  We read the phrase “under the sun” thirty times in twelve chapters.  I heard a line from a very popular new TV show that said, “We are now in heaven.  And in hell.  They happen simultaneously.  And the land is God.”  Life under the sun.

That is where the majority of our post-Christian culture lives today.  “Under the sun” means “assuming there is nothing but what we can see and experience with our senses.”  That’s where the dominant philosophy of our day takes us.  As Ephesians has it, they are “without hope and without God in the world.”

We have become a people who believe the extent of existence today is set by the limits of a universe that we can see, study empirically, and explore.  Nothing of consequence exists beyond the visible, material world.  Nothing eternal.  No God Who created all things.  As Carl Sagan, a proponent of today’s philosophical naturalism put it, “The Universe is all there is.”  (In Sagan’s last book, Contact, he did conclude that there is a majestic artistry to the universe.  There must be an artist behind it).  For many who live in such a system there is no room made for invisible, all-knowing, all-powerful God.

If that’s true, then the words of Qoholoth are exactly right.  At the end of the day, there is no meaning to it all.  There is no reason for existence, except to exist.  Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant cosmologists who ever lived, concluded that we have pretty much understood and can explain most things scientifically or mathematically, except why there is existence!

Solomon’s conclusion in the opening soliloquy of Ecclesiastes is “everything is boring.  Everything is the same.  Nothing makes sense.”  “The wind blows on the same circuits, the streams run to the same ultimate end into an ocean that’s never full.  Every day is the same.  The sun rises, and sets.  We punch in, we punch out.  The course of life, the circle of the sun, the circuit of the winds, the cycle of the water.  What’s the point? “There’s nothing new under the sun.”


Now lest we think that the insight of these words really has no bearing on our lives, let me remind us of something.  You see, I believe this is THE most important question we can answer for ourselves today.  Without reference to God, does anything make sense?

That’s exactly where “the preacher” found himself at the end of his life.  Looking back over it all, he concluded, “It’s empty.  Vanity.  Smoke and mirrors.”  I read a copy of an anonymous suicide note written by a bright young college student.  Partly it said:

To anyone in the world who cares.  Who am I?  Why am I alive?  Life has become stupid and purposeless.  Nothing makes sense anymore.  The questions I had when I came to college are still unanswered and now, I am convinced there are no answers.

            Our young people today, bright, educated, talented…are walking into the abyss of suicide because it’s preferable to living the life they know… a life of guilt, and frustration, and despair, and futility.  This isn’t a theoretical, abstract question.  It’s life and death.

And it’s not just the young affected.  Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer who lived a Solomonic-like life…traveling, fishing for Tarpon in Florida, hunting wild game around the world… turned a rifle on himself.  After all the words he had written, his suicide note was chillingly simple: “Life is just one d*** thing after another.”

Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life reports on a survey conducted by Dr Hugh Moorland, a philosophy professor from Northeastern Illinois University, in which he polled 250 intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, and writers and asked them, “What is the meaning of life?” Most wrote back with answers which many admitted later they just made up.  Some were honest enough to write him back and ask if HE had discovered the purpose of life!


If Solomon had a theme song, I would think it might be something like the Rolling Stones “Can’t Get No Satisfaction.  And I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried…I can’t get no…” Mick Jagger is now 78, in his fifth marriage and the father of 8, but he’s still singing it.  He’s the most prominent rock musician in the world, maybe in history.  He has more money than he’ll ever find time to spend (well, except on alimony).  But it hasn’t brought satisfaction.

Unrivaled education (1:12-18)

Solomon sat on top of the world.  One of the most, if not the most educated man of his day.  His intention was to figure this problem out.  (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).  But he found accumulating knowledge…education… to be a dead end.  Listen, if you think your college degree or your high school diploma is going to be the answer to all your problems, you need to pay attention here.  It won’t be.   Some of the world’s greatest evil has been committed by brilliantly educated people.  There’s no guarantee education will make you a better person.  TS Elliot said, “All of knowledge just brings us nearer to our ignorance.”  That was Solomon’s conclusion.

Unbridled pleasure. (2:1-3, 24-25).

I drove past a bar called “The Muse” in Mandarin on Friday and Saturday nights this week.  Both nights, the parking lot was full to overflowing, with cars lined up to find parking.  If you follow any one of those cars home, ask the person “Are you happy now?  Does life make sense now?” I have a strong suspicion their answer will be a resounding “no.”

If you had virtually limitless resources, could I ask you a question?  What would YOU do to make yourself happy?  Your answer speaks volumes about your soul.

Unlimited accumulation. (2:7-11).    In a survey called the World Values Survey, the poorest countries in the world consistently score highest on the happiness index.  As boxer Joe Lewis used to say, “I don’t like money actually.  But it calms my nerves.”  Maybe.  But it won’t make you happy.  And it’s the people who have it who say so.

Unending work. (2:4-6, 17-23).   That did not satisfy him.  It keeps you busy.  It won’t satisfy you.  So many people lose themselves in their daily work, thinking that the next level, the next step, the next raise will make it feel it makes sense.  Solomon testifies that it never does.


So, are you thoroughly depressed yet?  Some of you aren’t because you’re on the right path.  You know this is your Father’s world, and it’s not the final stopping point.  But so many don’t know that.

If you are living just for what you can see and feel and taste and touch and put in your pocket, believing these things will make you ultimately satisfied, you are headed for a great disappointment.

In other words, without God it’s all meaningless.  What’s the point?  But if God is in the center of your career, your relationships, your finances, your joy then suddenly the lights come on.

Most of the things Solomon was doing are things we couldn’t criticize.  But anything we try to do…leaving God out in the process…will lead to emptiness.  And anything we do for His glory and for His honor, will fill us with meaning and satisfaction beyond belief.

So how do you want to live?  Do you really want the epitaph of your life to be, “I Never Got Any Satisfaction?”   Or do you want it to be, “All That Satisfies My Soul is Jesus?”

I have wondered through the years why Ecclesiastes attracts me so much.  But I think I’ve figured it out.  When I made my decision for Jesus as a 20-year-old, I was coming out of a season of deep searching in my life.  I was searching for meaning in all the wrong places, too.

I thought fulfilling my dream as a professional musician would do that.  It didn’t.  I followed all the dead ends associated with our culture in the early and mid-70’s.  Nothing did it for me.  At the end of the day, I came to a point of true despair in my life.  Life had no meaning.

Then I met Jesus.  I mean, met Him for real.  I was hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny, and I had everything I thought I wanted.  It wasn’t what I wanted after all.  The partying, the popularity, easy money.  All of it meant nothing.

But when I walked out of the house after praying, repenting, and receiving Christ, things suddenly began to make sense!  Jesus is better.  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” the Bible says.

Your heart…and your life…will be full if you know Him.

Introduction to the Gospels: Mark: Session #2


“The Early Ministry of Jesus” (Part 1)

Mark 1:14-2:28

  1. The First Disciples   (1:15-20)
  2. Jesus and Demons   (1:21-39)
  3. Jesus First Healing   (1:40-44)
  4. Jesus Heals a Paralytic   (2:1-12)
  5. The Calling of Matthew   (2:13-17)
  6. Jesus and the Law   (2:18-28)

Introduction to the Gospels: Mark: Session 1


The Gospel of Mark. (Session One)

 Outline of Mark’s Gospel

  1. Prologue                                             Mark 1:1-13
  2. Jesus’ Early Ministry                       Mark 1:14-3:6.
  3. The Galilean Ministry                      Mark 3:7-6:6
  4. Beyond Galilee                                  Mark 6:7-8:21
  5. Toward Jerusalem                           Mark 8:22-10:52
  6. Teaching in Jerusalem                    Mark 11:1-13:37
  7. Jesus Faces Death                            Mark 14:1-15:47
  8. The Resurrection                              Mark 16:1-8
  9. Addendum                                         Mark 16:9-20

i. Authorship and Date of Writing

ii. The Synoptic Problem

iii.  Purpose of the Gospels

  • John:  Jesus is the Divine/human incarnation of God in Whom we must believe to have eternal life. (universal)
  • Mark:  Jesus is the Suffering Servant Who ministers on our behalf and gave His life as a ransom for sinners. (Romans)
  • Matthew:  Jesus is the Old Testament fulfillment of Messianic prophecy of a promised King sent from God.  (Jews)
  • Luke:  Jesus is the perfect Son of Man Who came to minister to and save people through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Greeks)

iv. Difficulties in Mark


“Free to Change” – Galatians 1:11-24

Free to Change * Galatians 1:11-24

We live in a world of change opportunities.  Browse the internet or magazine covers in the store or book titles on Google, and you will encounter hundreds of offers to change: a better marriage, be better parents, be a better you, lose weight, be happy, gain muscle, get a Beach Body, remodel your home…

One of the great freedoms we receive in Christ is the freedom to change.  So many people feel that their life is “stuck” where they are:

  • Past failures that hamper us and CONTINUE to define us
  • Past efforts that discourage us and ATTEMPT to limit us
  • Past fears that haunt us and THREATEN to torment us
  • Past relationships that trap us and TRY to restrict us

Our own mind can tell us that trying to change is futile.  A new book called Chatter written by a neurologist deals with the internal conversations we continually have with ourselves that can severely hamper us.  We get trapped in ‘stinkin thinking;’  cycles of  bad memories discourage us;  wounding words spoken by parents or those in authority still influence us.

We have tried to change before, and it didn’t work.  Our past distorts our present.  Our fears raise their heads.  Lies permeate our thoughts.  Why make the effort?  Maybe even people close to you tell you it’s useless… or you’ll always be





…a failure?

But the Gospel brings us freedom and power to change!  And no greater example of that freedom to change exists than in the testimony of a former Jewish rabbi named Saul of Tarsus, or as we most commonly know him, Paul the Apostle.

One of the things we learn as we hear Paul’s heart and story, is the power our testimony has to impact other people.  While your story may not be as dramatic as Paul’s was, (actually few are), it is still your story.  You need to know that more people will respond to the Gospel by your testimony than by your efforts to argue or reason someone into a decision.  People will reject your arguments.  They cannot ignore your testimony, and the way that following Jesus has affected and transformed you.

In the Book of Revelation we read, And they have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  (—Rev 12:11)

Paul wrote later in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “If any one is in Christ they are a new creation…old things have passed away and behold, all things have been made new.”  In the passage in Galatians 1, Paul begins telling us his testimony of how he knew this was true.

TEXT. Galatians 1:11-15

The Origination of Paul’s Message

a. Not from man.

b. Began in God

The conversation that spurs Paul sharing something of his life’s experience was a challenge to his authority as an apostle.  By definition, there are no “new” apostles.  An apostle was a person who had spent time with Jesus on earth, who walked with Him and followed Him, and who then encountered Him in His resurrection.

The apostles, by the way, were younger men.  It is thought that Peter was probably the oldest, and he was just about Jesus’ age which puts him in his early 30’s.  Paul may have been a little older, but probably not by a lot.

But the early Christians knew and respected these men.  They had walked with Jesus and were eyewitnesses of His ministry for three years!  An apostle was one  “sent out” with a message.  The word “apostle” literally means “sent one.”  They were apostles of Jesus, sent with His message of hope into the world.  (Acts 1:21-26)

Apostles, however, were not limited to the Christian community.  The Jews also had their own apostles, sent with messages into various settings and situations as they were authorized by their leaders.  This maybe helps us understand Paul’s early statements that he was an apostle sent, “not from men, but from God.”  (Gal 1:1)

That opened the door for him to explain how it was that he could consider himself an apostle sent from God rather than from men.  The Jewish legalists were undermining Paul’s credentials and credibility with the Galatians by challenging his apostolic claims.   And so the claim that his message “was not from man…but by revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:11-12).

The Conversion of Paul

Paul’s grace story is truly dramatic and amazing.  It is not, by the way, normal.  It is not to be used as a measuring stick to evaluate the genuineness of our conversion.  Paul was changed from a terrorist into an apostle.  We cannot imagine the depth of change that had to take place in Paul’s life.

a. Our need of grace

We all need grace to change.  Paul was a fervently religious man.  As we learn elsewhere, he was a member of one of the most radical and highest ranking groups in Judaism.  And he took his God, his religion, and himself very seriously.  His testimony is the example of a person running headlong in one direction, being confronted, and then turning and going in the opposition direction.

He “persecuted (forced into silence) the church.”  Even those who didn’t know Paul personally knew of his reputation.  Let’s imagine for a moment, that Osama bin Laden was still living.  And not only living, but still wreaking havoc through acts of terrorism.  Then one day, something incredible happens to him in the desert.  He has a vision of the resurrected Christ, and then he disappears for some time.

A couple of years later, we get a flyer that says, “The former terrorist, Osama bin Ladin would like to come to your church and share his incredible testimony of miraculous transformation.”  This man, fervent and fanatic for the religion of Islam, who took countless thousands of lives of American people in the name of Allah, now wants to come and preach to you about Jesus.  Would you trust this?

Your reluctance was the same reluctance people felt about Paul.  They knew him as Saul, the fire-breathing Jesus-hating rabbi who had been authorized by the Jewish authorities to kill, imprison, torture, and harass believers…and he did it zealously and proudly.  He believed he was serving God as he did this.

But now, he comes as Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, preaching peace and love and mercy and grace and forgiveness of sins.  People didn’t want to let him forget what he once was.  The reality is, he never forgot.  And for some, we can’t let go of what we once were.  The deeper our sin, the greater our gratitude for the grace of God.  We know how much we needed to be forgiven.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9–10)

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” Paul was forgiven much.  He needed grace, and found that grace given freely in Jesus.

b. God’s offer of grace

But this fervent, Jewish rabbi who was living and breathing hatred for all things Christian and who wanted to destroy anything remotely connected to this renegade Jesus, was changed by God’s grace.  “But God, who caused me to be born, called me by His grace…”. “To reveal His Son in me….”

When God calls us, it’s not like you calling.  You can call your children to the dinner table, and they can say “just a minute!”  And in just a minute they still aren’t there.  “Ill be right there…”   Or you can call someone you need to talk to and get put on hold.  You know what I mean.

But when God calls, you don’t say “just a minute.”  It stops you in your tracks.  The call and the deed are simultaneous.  The strength to do what He calls comes.

What stopped Saul, the angry and violent rabbi in his tracks, was a vision of the risen Christ just outside of Damascus.  Acts 9 tells us it happened in the middle of the day,  the risen Lord appeared to Saul.  As we understand it, only he saw Jesus…none of those with him.  The appearance and power of the resurrected Jesus knocked him to the ground, and He said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting ME?”

And because of  that encounter with Jesus, Saul came away a new person with a new mission and direction in his life.  He was transformed…changed by the grace of God.   This is probably an opportune moment for me to ask you:  Has your life been changed by the grace of God?  A few thoughts occur to me from this:

Gospel Driven Change

  1. When we wrestle with God, God wins. Perhaps, like Paul before he met Jesus, you are fighting against God.  Maybe the idea of the existence of a God bothers you.  Perhaps Christian people annoy you, and you really don’t know why.

Maybe you’ve given up on the idea of following Jesus because you’ve been hurt by the behavior of Christians or by a church.  And all of this has left you disillusioned about the claims of the Bible.  And yet, something inside you wants it to be true, wants it to be real.  You feel empty or just feel alone in the universe.

  1. When we lose the battle, life begins. My life began; my transformation began on the floor of my youth pastor’s home midnight, Dec 26, 1974 when I finally surrendered to God’s call in my life.  I walked out his door a different person that I was when I walked in.  I was changed by the grace of God.  My doubt, my confusion, my rebellion, my pride, my sin fell off of me like chains.
  1. When new life begins, a testimony emerges

i. Not a sermon—just talk

ii. Not complicated—be simple and clear.

iii. Not an argument—just tell your story (“Can I tell you…”)

iv. Not long—be brief. Two-three minutes.  (All the useless stuff on insta) 1 billion registered users on Instagram in 2020

v. Not confusing—be logical (before Christ, conversion, life since)

vi. Not about you—glorify God! (v 24)

People aren’t coming to church to become Christ followers…they are being touched by your story…your testimony…your witness to them…the life you’re living.  SHARE YOUR STORY!  You work where they are; you live where they do; you go to school with them.


  1. When transformation comes, change is not always quick but it is real

Gritty hope.  Endurance…

i. The unlearning curve. Paul had to rethink his whole life!  “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

ii. Time in obscurity (14 years, Gal 2:1). Obscurity is a great location for a degree in following Jesus.  Our day of instant notoriety for some who were famous before coming to Christ is not healthy.  I’m suspicious of any leader who hasn’t spent time in obscurity.

iii. Taught by Jesus, not by men. Learn to read the Bible

“Coming Back to Grace” – Galatians 1:1-11

Coming Back to Grace”  *  Galatians 1:1-11

Galatians is like the balance pole that trapeze artists carried.  Its purpose was to keep them from falling off one side or the other and plunging to an injury or even death.  Paul was seeing the Galatian Christians lose their spiritual equilibrium…a balancing act we all have to master.

A lot of things come at us as believers that can knock us off balance if we’re not careful.   On one side, we can fall off into a legalistic mindset and belief system, believing that our own work is what pleases God or is truly what He requires.

On the other side is a life of license, a disregard for the truth and standards set forth in God’s Word leaving us to determine for ourselves what good and evil are.  It cheapens grace.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, it is “forgiveness  without repentance,  forgiveness without a cross.”  These are people who consider themselves “spiritual,” but have no use for the Bible.  They apply Jesus to themselves like an app on a phone that offers some inspiration on living your best life now.

So, what does the tightrope look like?    How do we know we are keeping our balance?  How do we know we are standing on the real Gospel, and not a distorted one?  (BTW, the word “gospel” was not a spiritual or religious term…it was a word that simply meant “good news.”)


Accept the truth of reality.

We are, by nature, born into a world that will one day be ground zero of God’s judgment and wrath against sin.  We are by nature children of wrath.  The world we live in is broken by our sin.  We can’t put it back together, and ultimately God will judge it.

Whether we are aware or not, we desperately need to be rescued, and we cannot rescue ourselves.  God has done everything necessary to accomplish our rescue, by sending His Son to save and deliver us.  But we’re like people who are asleep in a burning house and unaware of the smoke and flames threatening us.

(NEO/Matrix) Like the lead character in this movie, the human race lives in a kind of deluded, dreamlike existence, blinded by our sin, until by grace God opens our eyes and we see what is really us, and to the world.  Every person is impacted by this, and lives with a death sentence.  “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  (Tightrope walkers find a fixed point to focus on)

Trusting that there is no other means of rescue than Jesus is what saves us.  We cannot save ourselves, or anyone else.  Having confidence that what the Bible says about why Jesus came and what Jesus did is true, and He really died “for our sins” a death for us on Calvary…He was buried…and He physically rose from the dead on the third day to deliver us, literally, to “rescue” us from this present evil age.

We will keep our balance if we stay focused on the simple Gospel:  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.  That is the balance we must cling to without letting go.  Accepting reality helps us keep our balance.


Address the Danger of a Distorted Gospel

You know, Paul was really intolerant about this.  “Let those who preach another Gospel be accursed.”  Those are hard words, especially in a culture that now tolerates ANYTHING…except intolerance.  Tolerance is the highest virtue and intolerance the greatest evil in our culture today.  He called those who came promoting legalism “troublemakers.”  He said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning….”  This means they were changing allegiance.  If your team is losing, you go out to the kiosk, but the jersey for the other team.

But think about it.  Add something to the vaccine formula or take something out of it.  now what?  People will die.  Or they will think they’re vaccinated but they’re not.  Paul knew there was only one “vaccine” for sin…the sacrifice of Jesus.

The Jewish proselytizers had come to “fully convert” these new believers to full acceptance by God, they taught, by teaching them Jewish religious system; a system filled with rituals and rules and self-effort.  They came and loaded the new Christians down with burdens of law and man-made rules and rituals that they themselves couldn’t keep.  It disrupted the delicate balance of the Galatian Christians.

Paul’s campaign against the Jewish proselytizers was successful.  But while the Jewish form of legalism doesn’t threaten the church today, other forms do.  The flesh is incurably religious, and we are continually looking for ways to justify ourselves by our own works.  So, we add our own “man-made” rules and treat them like they are from God, and judge others when they don’t do it our way.

“Contend” (agonize, struggle)  for the Gospel…(Jude 3)

The problem of a distorted Gospel, whether we add to it or take from it. “It is not a gospel.” “No Gospel at all.”


Adhere to the Gospel You Received

THE Gospel of Jesus Christ, the GOOD NEWS about Jesus, is that He has come to rescue us and bring us salvation by grace…and we receive it through faith.  If we lose that simple perspective, we will lose our balance.

1).  The Gospel-centered Proposition

There is a truth to the Gospel…a rational, propositional process… that’s the only way people could “distort/pervert/reverse” it.  “My truth….Oprah and Prince Harry and Meagan’s interview….telling ‘their truth.’  New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo apparently has a version of “his truth” that stands in conflict with statistics.  Which is “truth?”  Truth is an objective, verifiable reality…not a picture of reality we create.

Jesus did not say “I am a way, a truth, and a life…or I am my truth…” but “the truth” without which no one can come to the Father.

2).  A Gospel-centered illumination

(Seeing the truth…hearing the truth….first time…It’s why when you try to tell someone what you know to be so wonderful and true about Jesus, they look at you like you’re crazy, or more…they’ll stare at you with the eyes of a corpse.  We are dead in trespasses and sins.

This is how people who are not Christians can sit through a church service unmoved even though they have heard truth, heard the Gospel that can set them free.  That’s how many of you did that for years and years until your eyes opened.

The first thing we begin to see is ourselves in honest light.  We see our sin, and even our desperation.  But then, like for the very first time, we see God for Who He is, that He loves us and stands ready to forgive us and that is what changes us….forever.

3).  A Gospel-centered adoration

We love God for Who He is…want to spend time alone with Him…”Who, having not seen, yet we love…”. God pursues us…it is not because we have done good things that He pursues us, but because of His own nature and love for us.

If we are working for our acceptance and salvation, we will only love God for what He does for us…feel like that is what we deserve….forsake and be disappointed with God when He doesn’t pay up.

So maybe today you are feeling a stirring inside of yourself that you can’t explain or understand.  Maybe you have begun to have your eyes opened to truths you thought you knew,  but now they’ve come alive.

What do you do?  You trust it.  You trust it.

Blondin was one of the most famous high wire artists of all time.  He had walked across Niagara Falls on a thin wire hundreds of times. Occasionally, he would up the ante and would juggle some balls or push a wheelbarrow across the wire as he walked.  And then he would come back to the crowd, and ask them “Do you believe I can do that again?”  They would roar back, YES!  Then he would single out a man or woman, and say “Do you believe I can do it?”  Again, YES!  “Do you believe I could do it with a person in the wheelbarrow?”. YES!  And then he’d ask, “Would you get in the wheelbarrow with me?”

Some say, “OF course I believe what Jesus did on the cross, and I believe he was resurrected.”  But have you ever “gotten in the wheelbarrow?”  Are you willing to stake your life on it…your eternity?

“Legalism, License, or Liberty” Galatians 1:1-9

GALATIANS: “Legalism, License, or Liberty”

Galatians 1:1-9

Are you a free person?  I’m not asking if you’re an American.  I’m not even asking the fundamental evangelism question “have you trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”  I’m asking, “are you living out your freedom in Christ?”

In his book Traveling Light, the late Eugene Peterson wrote,

Living in the land of the free has not made us free; we are a nation of addicts and complainers.  Being provided with freedom of religion has not made us free; coercive cults and enslaving superstitions still proliferate.  Assembling with people in church and listening to ringing proclamations of freedom—“He whom the Son sets free is free indeed!”—has not made us free.  Our churches are attended regularly by the inhibited, the obsessive-compulsive, the fearfully defensive—enough of them to provide outside observers with a stereotype.

We will begin a journey today that will take us several months to conclude.  My prayer is it will lead us to a place of practically living out the freedom that is ours in Christ!

“The Letter to Galatians” is probably the earliest, meaning the first writing we have in the New Testament.  It may also be one of the most important.  Galatians historically has changed individuals and started movements unlike any other letter!

Like our nation’s Declaration of Independence or Constitution, it is a document that guarantees your freedom and defines what that looks like.  However, even though you have privileges from this document that affect your life every day, very few Americans have ever really, seriously thought much about it…or even read it.

In the same way, Galatians is a charter of our freedom in Christ.  And in the same way, very few Christians have ever taken the time to read the six chapters that make up this letter, let alone to seriously think through its implications.  So, we’ll take some time over the next few months (off and on) to walk through this important book of the Bible with the goal of more completely embracing the freedom we have in Christ.


Galatians starts out as an affirmation of faith, but it is also a defense of Paul’s authority as an apostle.  Though there is a doxology, there are no individuals named or well-wishes offered.  Most New Testament letters start with a personal greeting.   There is just this white-hot urgency to Paul’s words.  He has no time and no words to waste.

Galatians was written to address a very urgent situation in a specific time.  But while that is true, it has application to us today.  One said that all the great love songs ever written were written to one person, yet the whole world loves them.

Paul’s heart was broken for those who had just come to Christ, found freedom in Him, but were now returning to their former ways which led back to spiritual captivity.  A key statement of the letter is “for freedom Christ has made us free…why submit again to a yoke of bondage?”

In our work with prisons, we have encountered the word “recidivism.”  It speaks to the rate at which freed inmates of our prison system eventually return to be reincarcerated.  The rate in the US in 2020 was 50%.  It tells us that many who have spent years inside the prison system never learned how to survive and flourish outside.  Though the prison system says they’re free, they never really learn to flourish in that freedom.

We can find ourselves in the same spot as those returning prisoners; who prefer chains to freedom; bondage to liberty.   The threats to our liberty fall under two broad headings:


The practice of legalism, which leads to frustration

Legalism, in a simple definition, is trying in our own energy and through our own rules to make ourselves righteous before God.  It is adding to the Gospel.   Grace says, “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less; and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.”  He loves you perfectly, just as you are.

But while we might agree, and we may even buy a coffee mug with that on it, far too few live like it in actual fact.  We don’t believe “there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less,” so we live in condemnation for everything we do wrong.  Then we set out trying to be as religiously and morally pure as possible to satisfy that insatiable voice.  That’s one version of legalism.  Just trying not to get it wrong, lest we lose the love and approval of God.

Others might hear, “…nothing….make God love you more,” but we don’t believe that either, and set out trying to add to the simple Gospel that says, “all that we need to do to receive the love and approval of God is trust Christ’s finished work at the cross.”  So, we add lists and rules and regulations…a list of rules and dos and don’ts we try to keep…as if they were handed down by God.  (The Jewish Torah added 613 rules to the law of God.)  We aren’t much different.  Avoiding certain activities, subscribing to the right political views, reading the right authors, doing really good things but making sure they end up on Instagram, all fall in the definition of legalism.  This is the false gospel of good works.

Legalism isn’t a private thing.  Legalists need others to embrace their lists of “don’t do this” or you’ll be condemned or “do that” and God will really love you in a special way.  They need to be seen adhering to that list, as the Pharisees Jesus condemned who “love to be seen giving alms to the poor and being heard saying the loudest prayers and giving large sums in the offering. Legalists need you to join them in alternately feeling condemned for falling short or feelings superior for getting it right.  We lock ourselves in bondage by our practice of good deeds to get God’s approval.  And we never know if it’s enough.

The promise of license, which leads to futility

 If legalism adds to the simple Gospel of grace which says Jesus + nothing=freedom, the promise of license takes away from the Gospel.  “Jesus?  I don’t believe in a God.”

Human nature does NOT like to be constrained.  We do NOT want to be controlled.  We want to set our own boundaries, our own priorities, and live for our own self-fulfillment.  The issue of transgender (the “t” in LGBTQ)  and sexual identity is one way of throwing off the constraints we feel are placed on us as human beings.  “Who are you to tell me I have to be a man…or a woman…”   That is called “license.”  In other words, “I alone have the right to determine my life and my identity on my own terms, without the constraints of cultural restrictions or religious or moral limitations.”

You know, we are limited, finite beings.  We have no control over which body we are born in, or no control of the parents or family we’re born to.  You can’t control the race you are born from, or the parents you are born to, or the country you are born in…the place of your birth.  “God establishes these things.”

Nor do we have control over our gender.  It’s a limitation that we have now come to feel we have the right to throw off, or in reality that we MUST throw off, chemically or surgically,  if we’re unhappy about it because that is how freedom is now defined.    We must “live our truth” and “be our authentic self,” which almost always means going public with a hidden life of LGBTQ.   But now our culture is making heroes out of those who do this.  See the appeal to impressionable young people who don’t know who they are?

But this “other gospel” is secular society’s version of the good news which states “You can be whatever you say you are.”  “Live your truth.”   That’s the culture’s new gospel,  that’s the “other gospel”  that is now mainstream.  But like other false gospels, it promises freedom but leads to bondage…a life of insecurity and loneliness and as one trans- gendered man admitted, “a fear of never being forgiven.”   This is how it goes when we try to root our identity in ANYTHING or ANYONE but Jesus, Who created us as we are.  He is the only One Who can give us identity, meaning and purpose.  Anything less is a fake gospel, which leads those who follow it to futility.

A position of liberty, which leads to freedom.

There is one path between; a path that leads to liberty, a truth that truly makes us free.  And that path, that truth, is embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a path of self-denial to gain true fulfillment and true freedom.  There is a right way to believe this: “Who has bewitched you?”  Believing correctly matters.

Another gospel won’t work.  Adding to the Gospel, as we seek to do when we become legalistic, won’t work.  Taking from the Gospel in license is following “another Gospel,” and not the Gospel that leads to freedom.

Paul said, “If anyone preaches another gospel…” than the one he preached….” let them be accursed.”    (Another of a different kind.)

2+2=4.  I think that’s still correct.  So, does 2+5=4?  No, that is adding to the total.  Does 2+1=4?  No that’s taking away from the total.  While part of the formula is intact, if we add to or take away from the truth of the simple equation 2+2=4, the answer is wrong.  It may be wrong by one digit, or it may be wrong by 5,000 but it’s still wrong!

The right answer is “I take Jesus; Jesus alone…add nothing to that simple equation: Not good deeds, not religious rituals, not being from a Christian family or even a church membership.  Simply Jesus Christ, alone.  By faith I receive Him.  Jesus is our justification.

The right answer is “I take Jesus; Jesus alone…taking nothing away by living for my own fulfillment and self-actualization.  Taking nothing from the simple equation:  Jesus plus nothing = freedom.  Jesus plus nothing=life.  Trusting Jesus, and that’s all.

Well, what do I need?  Nothing…but your need.  We need rescuing.  God did not throw a rule book into the sea as we were drowning.  He sent His Son, Who was born like us, and Who died to save us.

“Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Your hands are empty and free that you might simply cling to Jesus.  That’s freedom.  That’s liberty.   That’s life!

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