I want to be transparent with you this morning for a few
minutes. We’re right in the middle of
this whole small group launch thing and that’s cool and we’ll get back into
that in just a minute, but I just want to share with you my heart this morning
because I think that I should model vulnerability with you if I expect you to
be vulnerable with each other.
This month has not really been a good month for me. Emotionally, spiritually, I’ve just had a bad
month. And I haven’t even admitted that
to anyone, probably because I didn’t recognize it. So if I’ve made you mad this month because of
something I’ve said or done, or not said or not done, I’m really sorry. Pray for my wife, too, because I’m sort of
depressing when I get like this. I know
what you’re thinking: “this guy’s about
to lose it and start running over kittens or something.” I promise I’m not going to kill kittens,
maybe the chickens that live in the backyard behind me or the yippy dogs next
door, but not kittens. I’m kidding. I wouldn’t kill the chickens or dogs. I’m not that mean…yes, yes I am. But anyway, my sermon isn’t about killing or
not killing kittens.
So I’ve been just in this spiritual desert for the last
month or so, trying to find something to drink, something to keep me
going. I started studying for my sermon
earlier this week and, as I sometimes do, I pulled down a sermon from another
pastor who preached on the same passage I was planning on preaching from this
week, which incidentally is Ecclesiastes 4.
I had read the whole chapter a couple of times and was working my way
through it and I thought “I’ll see what other people have to say about this
chapter.” I’ll pull out commentaries or
look at the notes in study bibles or Google passages just to familiarize myself
with what other people are saying. I
think this is good because I check my own perspective with that of others and
hopefully protect you from me saying stuff that isn’t true.
Anyway, I went to the website for a particular preacher I
like to pull down his sermon for Ecclesiastes 4, only I got the wrong one. I got Ecclesiastes 5. I printed it off and started reading and
highlighting it, making some notes, and it was almost halfway through that I
realized I wasn’t reading the right sermon, but, let me tell you, it was so
refreshing. It was through his words
that I began to find some solace. I’m
still going to preach Ecclesiastes 4, don’t get me wrong, but I just wanted to
talk to you about my own struggles for a few moments. I want you to know that I have
struggles. I feel pain and loss and
heartache. I think that sometimes we put
this idea on pastors that they have no problems. After all, they’re supposed to be close to
God all the time, so of course they don’t ever struggle with anything. Can I tell you that that’s crap? Let me describe for you some of what I’ve
been struggling with and let’s see if that resonates with you, too.
I’m so grateful for this other pastor because he put into
words what I was feeling but couldn’t say.
I’m going to quote him not because I can’t tell you what I’ve been
feeling, but because he said it so plainly.
“I woke up to find that my faith had become incredibly intellectual, but
Jesus felt far from me. What do you do
in that moment where you wake up and everything you profess to believe seems so
far from you?…What do you do when you know the right answer, but it’s not
enough?…You’ll even be able to help other people out that are in the same
scenario as you with advice that’s supposed to set them free, despite the fact
that it’s done nothing for you…What do you do when you have the right answers,
but it does nothing for your heart?”
This is where I’ve been, just in this spiritual desert desperate to feel
the presence of God that I’ve come to take for granted and not being able to do
anything about it because the right intellectual answers don’t mean anything.
It was in the words of this other sermon, the one based on
Ecclesiastes 5, that I found great hope and even began to realize that
sometimes God ordains the desert just like he ordains Youth Camp. Sometimes the desert is what is necessary for
us to grow in deeper intimacy. It makes
us crazy and makes other people around us tread lightly because they don’t want
us to snap, but sometimes it’s necessary for us to spend some time in the
desert. Does that make sense to
you? Does that speak to you at all? Because 5 minutes into reading this I was
just broken over my own obstinacy, as if I deserved God to always be holding my
hand and making me feel good about myself, as if I deserved to wake up and have
Jesus waiting on me downstairs with a cup of coffee and a Pop Tart, which,
incidentally, Amanda does, and I’m often not very grateful. But this just resonated with me, you
know? I started to see patterns in my
life and it was the perfect catharsis for me.
So the rest of the week I’ve just been really mellow, trying to process
my way through this. If you’ve been
around me the latter part of the week and I’ve seemed mellow or out of it, I
haven’t been smoking weed, just processing truth.
I promise, there really is a point to all this. In the book of Ecclesiastes you have this
king, Solomon, the son of David. You
remember David, the boy that killed a giant, became king, killed lots of other
people, slept with another man’s wife, killed some more people, and was called
“man after God’s own heart.” He had
children who raped each other, tried to kill their father, and eventually
chased him out of his own kingdom. If
anyone had family issues it was this boy, Solomon. So the book of Ecclesiastes is basically this
really rich king who decides that because he’s so rich and so bored, he’s going
to conduct an experiment to see what really is worth anything in this world. And you know what he found were the only two
things that would satisfy anyone? God
and people. So in chapter 4 we find
Solomon in the middle of his lament over everything in life being vain and he’s
going to give us a way to cope with these problems.
We’re probably all familiar with verse 9-12, but I want us
to spend a few moments looking at the first 8 verses because I believe they
build the context for what he’s going to say in the rest of the chapter. Yes, we’re talking about community again, but
I think that if we don’t do our due diligence with the rest of the text, we run
the risk of mishandling the truth and not applying it well. When we do that, we end up more broken than
before because we end up giving people lists.
Lists and steps can be great in a sales presentation or a 12-step
program, but I don’t think they fit for Jesus.
For instance, have you ever heard a sermon entitled “7 Principles for
Having a Better Marriage,” or “Nine Steps to Financial Freedom,” or how about
this one “Five Ways to Developing Intimacy With God?” Now, hear me, are there biblical principles
for handling your finances well? Yes,
there are. Are there God-given ways to
protect your marriage and for developing greater intimacy with him? Yes!
What’s the danger in these sermons, then? What if the five steps for me don’t lead you
anywhere? What if I preach a message
about developing intimacy in your marriage and when you implement the 7
principles you end up more miserable than you were because they were the 7
things that I’ve found that work in my marriage and I just slapped some
scripture on them so you would listen to me.
There are Christ-centered programs that exist that are designed to help
you handle your money better, and they have worked for people. What I’m trying to say, though, is that not
everything is as neat and pretty as we would like it to be. Sometimes we have to sweat. Sometimes we have to sacrifice. Sometimes it doesn’t come easily and if you
hear me say it is easy and then it’s not easy for you, you’ll quit coming
because I’m trite and uncaring.
Solomon laments life in this passage. He says in verse 3, “Better…is he who has not
yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” This isn’t a pretty thought. This is a cry of anguish. He says that it would be better never to have
been born than to struggle through life.
This does not sound like the prayer of a happy man. Verse 2, “I thought the dead who are already
dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive.” Brother’s got some issues. But here’s the thing. We all have them. We all struggle at times. Solomon’s about to give us, not the answers,
but the way we cope with our junk.
I think that most of us in here would probably agree that as
Christians we’re supposed to live somewhat in community with each other. If we’ve read the book of Acts, I think we
would understand that the early church loved each other and took care of one
another. I don’t think the question,
then, is “how do we do this?” as much as it is “why aren’t we doing this?”
He’s going to describe several things that make coping with
our pain hard and then he’s going to give us the remedy. Look back at verse 4. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in
work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.
This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” If you read this whole book you see this
phrase over and over “striving after the wind,” or “chasing after the
wind.” What Solomon means is that much
of our lives are spent working for and striving for things that not only we won’t
ever catch, but, even if we did, it wouldn’t be worth anything. What is wind?
It’s a movement of the air. It’s
not even the air itself, but the action of the wind moving. Did you ever play Pictionary? Amanda loves Pictionary. There’s this category in Pictionary called
“action.” Basically when you draw a card
and have an “action” word, you have to somehow draw this action taking place,
which is very hard. So for the word
“kick” I end up drawing this little stick guy with disproportionately long legs
and a circle with some little lines behind it trying to indicate movement. That’s what wind is. It’s an action. You can’t catch it.
So what is Solomon saying?
He’s saying that those things you work so hard to get are so you can
impress everyone. Like, get this, this
is going to make you feel so good about yourself. The clothes you’re wearing, you didn’t buy
them because you needed them; you bought them so that everyone else could see
you in them. This is a real “feel-good”
message so far, isn’t it? You’ve got the
pastor running over kittens and smoking weed, then telling you all that you’re
selfish. This is your kind of church,
isn’t it? Hang on with me for a few
minutes, I promise it gets better.
Even as I say that, though, doesn’t it give you a check in
your spirit? I have an iPhone. And while it’s certainly useful and I
actually depend less on my computer than I used to, I basically have an iPhone
because they’re cool and everyone else has an iPhone so I thought I should get
one, too. I have a high-definition
television in my den. Why? They’re cool.
They look neat. HD is better than
real life. Why do we set up our houses
the way we do? I mean, some of it is
functional, but basically we want others to like us. This is what Solomon is talking about. He says that toil and skill in work come
because we envy our neighbors.
“My car has heated seats.”
“So what? Mine has an
ejection seat in it.”
There’s always something new coming out, something better.
Jealousy is one of those things that destroys our ability to
know other people. Let me ask you
this: have you ever found yourself at
some quiet, deep place celebrating someone else’s failures? You know what I’m talking about? Have you ever just been so frustrated with
someone that, when they failed, it secretly brought you a little joy? No? I
haven’t either. Jealousy is a killer
because, here’s the thing, if I feel like I deserve what God has chosen to
bless someone else with, I’ll never be able to love them. You get that?
The good things that happen to you, I’m supposed to celebrate with you,
not be upset that you got it and I didn’t.
The things that cause you hurt are supposed to cause me hurt. That’s community. Instead, we put on these pretend faces that
make us appear joyful or sorrowful at the right moments when secretly we’re
glad you didn’t get the promotion because you don’t deserve it or, and here’s
the most devastating thing in my opinion, we put on the mask because we don’t
care at all. “Oh, something good
happened to you? Great! Now back to my life…”
Solomon is going to give us several more things that ruin
relationships in verses 5-8. In verse 5
you basically have the picture of this guy who just says to the world “it’s too
hard! I give up! I’m just going to sit here and die.” And he does.
He refuses to move, refuses to make any effort at all and simply wastes
away. Here’s the other thing. Not only does he destroy himself, but he
sucks the life out of everyone else who tries to pour into him. If Jealousy is a relationship killer, then so
is apathy. Have you ever met those
people who are like “because the world is a hard place I’m just not even going
to try anymore?” They don’t deal well
with pain because they don’t deal with anything. They just ignore everything and they waste
away. They may look alright on the
outside, but there’s no real life inside.
They’ll pretend, but inside they’ve given up because everything in life
is vanity after all.
What about verse 6?
“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and
striving after the wind.” The next thing
that destroys us…dissatisfaction. Have
you ever met that person who is always looking forward to tomorrow? I can’t wait until I graduate high school, or
graduate college, or get married, or get that promotion, or get that new
house. I can’t wait until I
can…whatever. They’re always looking
forward to tomorrow, and hear me, it’s not just kids. I can’t wait until I retire. I can’t wait until my kids are out of the
house. I can’t wait until… Dissatisfaction will eat you alive. Why?
Because you’re never here. You’re
always looking toward some future. I’ve
got news for you, and this may sound a little ridiculous. You’re here.
You’re right here! Stop living
like you’re not. Start enjoying the fact
that there is a here and you’re in it!
Solomon goes to great lengths to try to help us understand
the vanity of most of life. I think that
as he looked around his kingdom and tried to find the meaning of life he began
to realize that there isn’t much meaning in the things that people do. When I think about human life it seems the
same way to me. When you really stop to
think about it, the human body is designed to sustain itself through
nourishment, and to reproduce its own kind.
That’s it. We were designed to be
astonishingly simple. Obviously to us
who call ourselves Christians, there seems to be more to life, so in our search
to understand what that is, we turn to scripture. What do we see in scripture, then, to indicate
what we’re supposed to do? If anyone
ever attended any of our Wednesday night services at Highland Park you should
be able to quote pretty quickly what our purpose is in life. We must have said it ten thousand times. We are to love God and love people. Apart from that, there’s nothing. If you read the Great Commandment given to us
by Jesus he says the same thing: “love
the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love
your neighbor as yourself.” It’s pretty
When you read Ecclesiastes, you hear the same wisdom. It’s almost as if the same author wrote
them. (That’s a little
tongue-in-cheek. Of course the same
author wrote them…God!) At the end of
Solomon’s journey for the meaning of life he’s going to say something like
this, “Love God, love your wife, do something that makes you happy.” Pretty basic stuff, huh?
Solomon has spent an inordinate amount of time bumming us
out. He’s basically told us that there
is oppression in the world and we can’t really do much about it. Not that we shouldn’t try, just that it will
still be there after we’ve died. He’s
drawn the conclusion that envy and jealousy are what motivate people to do anything. Now he’s going to give us, not the answer
because there is no answer, but a way to cope with all this. Here’s the point. You’ve hung with me this long, don’t miss
“Two are better than one.”
He goes on to talk about why, but this is his point. It’s better to share all of this with
someone. Whether it’s your oppression,
your sins, or your labor, it’s better to share it. Here’s what I want you to hear. You don’t have to go through life alone. Amanda gets so frustrated with me sometimes
because when I’m dealing with deep issues, like this past month, I kind of close
off and get really quiet. It’s just my
nature. She’ll want me to talk to her,
but I can’t. I don’t know what to say. Sometimes there’s nothing to say except, “I’m
hurting.” But we don’t like to do
that. We don’t like to admit that
there’s something we can’t handle.
Solomon is telling us, “You idiot!
Don’t you know that you can’t keep warm by yourself when it’s cold? Don’t you know that if you share the workload
it becomes lighter? Two are better than
One more quick illustration and I’ll close. I realize I’ve been using a lot of personal
examples today, but I just want you to understand me a little better. Amanda gets cold really easily. I don’t.
In fact, I’m sweating right now.
I sweat in the winter. I don’t
know why. Maybe it’s a glandular
problem. Anyway, Amanda gets cold. She won’t go to bed until I go to bed because
she gets cold. If I’m up doing something
late, she’ll stay downstairs with me until I’m done. But when I crawl into bed, it’s like the
whole thing warms up. Then I get hot and
have to hang one leg out of the covers, but that’s not the point. It’s easier to stay warm with someone else
there. Two are better than one.
Perhaps you’re struggling today like I’ve been for the last
month. Two are better than one. Maybe you’re struggling with oppression or
depression. Two are better than
one. Share your frustrations with
someone. Share your life with someone. You need people. You can’t do it alone. Here’s the other thing. You need people who will love you enough to
be honest with you. You need someone who
will punch you in the teeth when you need it.
You need people who will hold you accountable when you mess up. Why?
Sometimes it’s easy to know when we’ve messed up. Sometimes it’s obvious. We know we’ve messed up. Other times, though, we may have been
travelling down a path for a long time that we just haven’t seen and we need
someone to come up and point us back in the right direction. Two are better than one because we can’t see
our blind spots. We don’t always know
when we’re treading in dangerous waters.
Two are better than one because they can gently (or not so gently) nudge
us back in the right direction.
Last thing and then I’m done. This all sounds idealistic and it is. It sounds like all you have to do is get a
group of people together, make some brownies and coffee, and then sit around
with your Bibles open to Lamentations and everything will be alright. Like, if we play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
enough times everyone will just start to believe it. The thing about vulnerability is that it
leaves you vulnerable and even the most well-intentioned people will hurt
you. Even your favorite people in the
world will let you down. It would be
easy for you to shut down and just end that relationship, and maybe in some
instances you should, but don’t let that deter you from real community, real
intimacy. I can’t promise that you won’t
get hurt. I can’t promise that it will happen
for you this week, either. All I can do
is point you in the right direction and say that if you walk this way you can
find lasting relationships eventually.
We have several different small groups that have started or
are starting this week. Please give them
a try. It’s possible that none of them
will work for you and that’s ok. Let us
work with you to develop one that will work.
Please don’t try to live your life alone. You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to struggle by yourself.
Maybe you, like me, have been in the desert for a while and
are just really dry right now. That’s ok
too. Let someone come along side with
you and bring you some water. It may not
help out the situation, but at least you’ll have someone with you.
Two are better than one.