At the beginning of a story we’re introduced to a hero that wants something. Because we know the hero wants something, whether it’s to disarm a bomb or get the girl, a question is asked and the audience is curious about the answer to that question. Will the hero get what they want?
Ecclesiastes introduces us to the hero having problems getting what they want––happiness, peace, purpose in life. It seems the hero keeps “grasping after the wind” in their attempts to work for the answer to the question of life.
You are the hero. How is your journey going? Dive into Ecclesiastes with us to wrestle with the questions that all of us are asking.
In this series we walk through Ecclesiastes verse by verse, thinking with the ancient teacher on the seeming meaninglessness of life and how futile our efforts to make it better appear to be. Yet many of us have found hope in the midst of the struggle. How can faith help us?
In the first verses of Song of Solomon we read, “Your love is better than wine.” While too many of us have turned to the bottle to medicate our relationship problems the bible offers a better way. But for us to experience true love, whether it be with God or another person, we need to first discover our true selves.
Adam & Eve walked hand in hand with God, receiving 100% attention, complete love & acceptance and as a result didn’t even realize they were naked. Then they ate the fruit and immediately began covering up, hiding, denying, and blaming. Through the story of Adam & Eve we’ll learn how to “get naked” . . . metaphorically! By peeling away the ways in which we hide and live in denial, we can begin to address the sin and shame that must be dealt with before discovering our true selves.
John 20:24-30 Thomas gets a bad wrap.. Most have had some healthy skepticism before committing to something. I hope you don’t believe everything you hear about God and the bible, or believe everything on TMZ. Thomas didn’t. Maybe somebody needs to start a new recovery group for doubters; you can call it “Doubting Thomas Anonymous”
John 20:19-23 Our story tonight finds our heroes behind locked doors shaking in fear. Jesus was crucified that Friday and the disciples were distraught. They had the wind knocked out of them. They were shocked and confused and didn’t know where to go or what to do. Jesus was their life for the last 3 years and now He was gone. In the midst of their greatest fears, while feeling like failures for not standing with Jesus in His time of trial, Jesus comes to them. He comes not with condemnation but with life and peace. Because Jesus is alive, in a very tangible way you can be filled with life and peace with a renewed purpose. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Peace be with you,” but he also blows the breath of life into his disciples.
John 20:1-18 The disciples are in a despair that we can’t really imagine. They had quit their jobs and left their families for Jesus. They believed in him with all of their hearts and had sold out to be part of this Love rEVOLution that he was leading. They were ready to fight to the death to protect their Lord but Jesus wouldn’t let them. He turned the other cheek and gave himself over to be crucified. He suffered and he bled and he died on the cross and they didn’t understand why. But the gospel story doesn’t end with the disciples crying on the streets. The good news is that Jesus is alive and the impossible is possible when God’s at work.
Jesus died for you. Through the last week of Jesus’ life we see a man who was arrested in place of the disciples, went on trial in place of Peter, was convicted in place of Barabbas, and died on the cross in your place. In other words: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God’s love towards us. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
Jesus came to show us what love looks like. He came to destroy the power of evil by disproving the system of scapegoating. The crowds responded to God’s Son by making him the scapegoat and nailed him to a cross. We are part of that crowd; our sin nailed him there. Yet Jesus’ response was love and forgiveness, turning the other cheek and returning good for evil. This is true love.
To be human is to ask the question why do we suffer? When someone is experiencing pain there is no argument or sermon that will convince them; only God coming from heaven and entering into their suffering would make a difference… And that is exactly what happened. Rather than answering the riddle of suffering, the Gospel tells the story of a God who actually suffers with and for us.
Love can be a drug and chemistry can cloud our thinking. But love is intended to be a verb and a beautiful engine for healthy relationships. Sex is good… but in a different way than you might think. The bible offers amazing wisdom on sex, love and relationships. Tune in!
Unlimited money and power are offered to Jesus, but at a price. Later he would say, “What would it profit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?” Jesus lived out of a different story than the world. Power is made perfect in weakness and the path to peace is through suffering. Down is the new up!
What does it mean to test God? Testing God is when we haven’t prayed or planned and just jump expecting God to bail us out if we can’t fly. Jesus is tempted to do this when he was asked to jump off the top of the temple so that the angelic rescue would be a testimony to God’s power. When we test God we hold Him hostage, put God in the role of servant, at the beck and call of us when we’re in a bind. It’s when we make our belief in Him contingent upon this kind of demonstration that we’re testing God. Join Jesus in trusting that God will take care of you and seeking a life of faith where we are not in control but God is.
Our insatiable appetite for more will never be enough. Jesus knew this and was prepared when tempted with turning stones into bread. The big problem with sin and the reason we so ineffectively deal with it is because we don’t seriously engage the problem until it reaches the stage of behavior. We mistakenly think of sin as external when in reality it is a response from the position of our heart. Jesus shows us how to quench our hunger through God’s word. How can we be filled if not by McDonalds? Listening to God, being obedient to the will of God, seeking 1st His Kingdom.
Matthew 4 tells an epic story of Jesus in the wilderness that teaches us about who we are and who we can become. It’s about learning to resist temptation so that we don’t take the bait. God’s will for us is to be made strong to handle ourselves during any situation. For that to become a reality we must have adequate preparation.
In the midst of the anxiety and stress of the holidays the gospel promises us peace and commands us to rejoice. Only through trusting in Jesus, the Prince of Peace can we unlearn the old ways of dealing and put on a new mind to see with a different set of eyes.
Many of us have experienced dysfunctional holidays and have become jaded about all the Christmas cheer. But the story of Jesus’ birth begins in the Wilderness where the word of God comes to John, giving us hope as we navigate through dry and weary lands.
Job’s riches quickly were lost. But his sufferings finally come to an end as well. The things of this world will eventually pass away. Good things will pass, be grateful for what you have, love the one you’re with. Bad things will pass. Wait it out, our souls are meant for eternity. The word of grace in Job is, “This too shall pass.”
Job Couldn’t let go. He was under attack and was doing his best to stand strong. First he came under the attack of the devil but then he was attacked by his friends! Often when we are attacked we resort to trying to have some kind of control. You can’t let go if you’re trying to control. God steps in to break the cycle and finally Job is satisfied. His vision of God has been expanded beyond all previous bounds. He has a new appreciation of the scope and harmony of God’s creation, where he is only a very small part. He can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to be God.
When people in recovery talk about progress not perfection it doesn’t mean that people should not try to be the best they can be. But if we always aim for perfection we will consistently disappoint ourselves so maybe we ought to try shooting for something a little less ambitious. If we can make an honest attempt at overcoming one character defect at a time by God’s grace we will be moving closer to perfection. But if we knew that we had arrived, our pride for having done so would set us back again! That’s why John Wesley said that anyone who was walking in Christian Perfection, did so unknowingly. The point is that by setting the more realistic goal of progress rather than perfection the individual is far more likely to achieve their aim.
Job 4:3-9 – Job’s friends believed that if you weren’t perfect, you got what was coming to you. In chapter 4, Eliphaz begins by complementing and encouraging his friend, but then reminding him of what he “saw in his experience. . .that those who plant trouble. . . will harvest the same.” This is truth, have you seen it happen in your life? Any trouble farmers in the house?
Buddhists call it karma – Hindus say you going to come back as mosquitos – and Cypress Hill sing about it like, “What goes around comes around.”
But it’s not an always and every situation truth. There are some trouble-planters who haven’t reaped their harvest, and some will not in this lifetime. But apparently Eliphaz hadn’t seen that happen in his lifetime. Well, he was either really sheltered or lying to prove a point. But that’s his experience and it’s hard to argue with that.
You know what’s the problem of basing things for others from our personal experience? Their experience is different!
When you start thinking you have to have good karma all the time and your primary goal is to become the master of your destiny thing you develop little dysfunction called perfectionism
Perfectionism put on to you by others
Perfectionism is developed as a result of feelings of inferiority or of being less than others. When a child experiences these feelings he develops perfectionism in order to maintain a sense of superiority over his friends and over his environment.
Perfectionism brought on by yourself
Perfectionism helps you to hide your defects from others. After all if you did everything perfectly then no one will dig behind that wall of perfectionism to unfold those well hidden defects.
Perfection given by Jesus
There is something deep within that longs for the perfect and the good news is that God has made a way when there is no way. In the midst of our broken and messed up world came a child who grew into a man that was without any imperfections.
*God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
* But Job’s friends probably didn’t mean ill-will. They just wanted Job to get right with God. And we see in chapter 6 that they also know that sometimes the truth hurts.
Job 6:25 – Constructive Criticism vs. Condemning Comments
“Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to?” Constructive criticism is helpful, that’s not where we’re going with this, but condemning comments only bring you down.
Constructive Criticism or Critical Comments? There’s a difference. The hurtful truths that Job’s friends were spitting upon him weren’t true in his situation. They were generally found in God’s truth but not for Job in his circumstances!
And being on the receiving end of those critical comments often is what helps to develop perfectionism
Problems with Perfectionism
You never know if it’s enough.
– examples of perfectionist tendencies
– Job lists his accomplishments yet wisely offers it to God for judgment. He knows of no sin worth this kind of punishment but ultimately leaves it up to God.
If your expectations are that perfection leads to reward, like Job life will disappoint you.
Unmet expectations often leads to relapse
You don’t get to Fail
Those people who are afraid to fail are unlikely to ever find much success in life. Their desire for perfection actually gets in the way of making progress. The benefits of facing failure in life include:
* Knowing what does not work can be almost as important as finding out what does work. It means that the individual can avoid these wrong paths in the future.
* It forces people to think outside the box and try new approaches. Most of the great innovations in the world have occurred as a result of failures.
* People tend to learn and grow more from their failures than their successes. This is because pain is sometimes more motivational than reward.
Gets in the way of Progress
If you’re sitting around waiting for the perfect situation to arrive, you’ll pass up a bunch of great opportunities!
Can lead to disillusionment, lack of fulfillment, and turn back to old behaviors. Perfectionism is a big cause of relapse!
* It is vital that people have realistic expectations. Change does not occur over night, and it can sometimes feel to people as if they are going backwards.
* Keeping a recovery journal is a good option so that people can view their progress over time. It can be highly satisfying for people to read back on old entries in their journal to see how far they’ve come.
Then Eliphaz shares what he heard from God, not just from his experience, “Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?”
But Job’s response would have been that God’s desire is for His children to strive for purity according to God’s standards and that our life should be seeking to be right with our Creator. Eliphaz despairs that humans die in ignorance, but Job fights for his right to ask God what He’s up to. Even if there is no answer Job believes that he is right in asking.
Becoming pure is different than being perfect. Purity comes when you extract the impurities out.
“There once was a man named Job.” This is how writers start parables and history books and biographies and we don’t know if it is fact or fiction. But this we know, it could happen to the best of us and the worst of us.
Job is described as “blameless—a man of complete integrity.” It’s important to realize this isn’t saying that Job was perfect, but that he was honest. There’s a difference. He gives burnt offerings for his kids who are far from perfect. Burnt offerings are to make atonement for sin-guilt. I met a lady on the streets Wednesday night that told me she still makes burnt offerings unto the Lord. She said people get on to her for smoking cigarettes, but to her they are burnt offerings and that’s biblical. Yet one of the big reasons Jesus came was to end all of our vain efforts to atone for our sin.
Jesus died on the cross, once and for all, to pay for the sins of the world. He is our atonement for sin and when we trust in Him we can find that forgiveness and blamelessness that Job was seeking. Back to Job…
“He feared God and stayed away from evil.” Job didn’t just talk about what was evil and what was good, it says he literally “turned away from evil.” Job was genuinely a good person. It doesn’t help us understand this book by trying to explain away his goodness based on a theology of total depravity or the idea that we are all sinners. Everyone in this book agrees that all are sinners, including Job himself.
Sin has consequences and our negative choices often lead to struggle and suffering. But Job teaches us that not all who are struggling and suffering have sinned.
It is possible for sinful people to be genuinely good. It might be rare, but it is possible for someone to love and obey God. It requires a lot of grace and a lot of work, and Job had made the effort.
There is only one man in the bible who surpasses Job in his goodness and his grief––Jesus. He was not only blameless but sinless and endured the greatest agony of anyone in history. In his perfection of obedience and suffering, the questions of Job and all of us have their final answer in Jesus. Yet while Jesus and Job help us answer some of the deep questions of life, they raise others. Isn’t it unjust for the innocent to suffer and the guilty be set free?
One of life’s oldest questions is “Why do bad things happen to good people.” And that’s exactly what is happening in the story of Job. To answer this sometimes we try to refute one of the parts of the question. Like Job isn’t actually a good person, but we’ve already talked through that. Others will argue that maybe these aren’t actually bad things that happen, maybe they will turn out for good. Really? It’s the violence of men alternating with the violence of nature and not only results in the destruction of everything he has, but the deaths of all of his family. Somebody say, “That’s bad.” Maybe, possibly, in theory something good can come out of it, but how does it make that right!?!?
And what makes it worse is that Job lives in a universe where God is ultimately in charge. Job believes in a God who can stop natural disasters, who can reroute pirates, and can destroy cancer, but he didn’t do any of that here. Job doesn’t think to curse the raiders, the watchmen, or even his stupid servants now laying dead for their watchlessness. All secondary causes disappear and only the Prime Mover, the Lord who gives and takes away who stands in the spotlight. This kind of tragedy is not as problematic for the polytheist, the dualist, the atheist, the naturalist, the fatalist, the materialist, or the agnostic. These are still terrible atrocities, but they make sense to them. But how can this make sense to someone who believes in a God who is both good and almighty?
This is what we will explore over the next 5 weeks. Why do bad things happen to good people? How can a good God allow tragedy and suffering at such magnitude? Not problems we can solve tonight. But there is a principle that I believe can help. It’s become a cliche on the walls of rooms of recovery but before that it was something that helped Job make it through another day. Accepting life on life’s terms.
Life’s terms don’t always include hardship and disaster. Sometimes life’s terms have sunshine and roses. But Job identifies the two terms we can bet our lives upon.
I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
You are born and you die. You come out of your mother’s womb with nothing and that’s how you return to the ground. Those are life’s terms. What happens in between is what we call life. Don’t waste your life.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Gratitude vs. Entitlement
Luke 12:15 – Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.
Life on God’s terms
The Lord as owner
There is great relief in being under a good landlord. When something is broken, you can know it will be fixed. If we need to move, we can work it out and not be responsible for the house after we’re gone. The Landlord pays the taxes and insurance, is responsible if natural disaster hits, etc. There comes great stress with home ownership. But our problem in Memphis are the sleazy slumlords. God is not a slumlord!
Job passes the first test. Verse 22 says he doesn’t “charge God with wrong” or blame God for these things.
Job’s confidence in God’s blessedness goes beyond any other in the bible. Eli watched his sons die at the hand of the Lord, but he knew of their wickedness. King David grieved the death of his baby from Bathsheba, yet knew he was only a victim of his adultery and murder. Job doesn’t have the satisfaction of knowing that he is paying for his sins, for he doesn’t have any, or at least done deserving punishments of such magnitude.
Back to how Job reacted to the news of his loss in v 20. He responds in 3 ways. He tears his robe, he shaves his head, and he worships God. Tearing one’s robe was a customary reaction to receiving bad news or to show extreme shock and dismay. Shaving one’s head was a practice of mourning, identifying the person has someone who is deeply sad. And finally Job does something unexpected. He worships.
In John 2:1-12 Jesus graces a wedding at Cana and he showed up at the Tedesco wedding at Jacob’s Well. The problem happens in the alcoholic’s life when the wine runs out. What is the wine that you are seeking to fill that void within? To begin the journey of fulfillment we would be good to follow the example of Mary and ask for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry that out.
So what’s going on in this story and how does it relate to us today? It’s pretty clear that the way they celebrated Holy Communion was a whole lot different than the way we do it. They’re sitting around a dinner table in someone’s home—we gather around the Lord’s Table in our church-house. Just in the last century, archaeological digs in the city of Corinth did a lot to explain the situation for us. We’ve discovered that the typical Roman home highlighted with two spaces for guests—the dining room and the foyer. The dining room could fit about nine people and usually your best buddies and close family were the ones invited to eat in there. Another 30-40 could sit or stand in the foyer—where those of lower class and social status hung out and got the leftovers. Like in airlines today, those with money and social status go to first class (dining room), while others are stuck in coach (foyer). So what is going on in the church here is not at all out of the ordinary for their day in time. In fact, to do anything else would be really weird. So why is St. Paul scolding the people so hard for just doing what their culture taught them is the right thing to do?
From Consuming to Receiving to Giving
As I looked a little closer at the wording Paul chose to fuss at his people I think I understand. In verse 19, The Greek word translated as, “to come together,” can mean “to assemble for a meeting, as well as “to be united.” When the Corinthians come together as a church they paradoxically do not come together in unity and peace. So the big sin here is the division—the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. As we read further, we see the root causing this division. In v 21 we read, “Each of you takes his own supper” in the KJV and NASB.
The Greek word here for take, prolambano actually has a stronger connotation of “devour” or “consume.” So the original recipients of the letter heard their pastor saying, “Each of you is consuming and devouring your dinner—while your friends in the foyer are going hungry, you’re getting drunk!” In v 18 Paul makes clear that the main problem is the division between the haves and the have-nots. And the root issue behind this division seems to be the consumption and devouring going on in the dining room contrasted with those hanging out in the foyer who are hungry. How have our lives been centered in the dining rooms, spending our time and resources on ourselves, our friends, and family who already have plenty? How has the inner city been like the foyer where the people with less get our leftovers when we get around to it?
Paul hears of this going on in his church in Corinth—that they are over-consuming, prolambano, at Communion. So he reminds them of the purpose of Communion, to remember how Christ did the exact opposite of what they are doing. Rather than taking and grasping for more, Christ gave of Himself—through broken body and shed blood— and calls us to do what He did. Let me say that again. The purpose of Communion is to remember how Christ gave of Himself and then for us to respond to this good news by being the Body of Christ in the world—redeemed by His blood.
This is spelled out in vv 23-26 as Paul recalls the words of Jesus Himself as He instituted this holy meal. Look with me at v 23—a word from that same root for consume pops up again, followed by it’s opposite—“For I received from the Lord that which I also gave to you.” Prolambano – consume; Paralambano – receive. These are from the same root but mean very different things. When we consume and when we receive, we end up with the same final product, but we go about getting it in different ways. When we consume we get it when we want it and we only have to rely on ourselves—when we consume, we’re in control.
On the other hand, when we receive, we often have to wait; we rely on others and have to approach them humbly with hands out. So when we receive Communion tonight, we’re going to do it a little differently. Throughout our daily lives, many of us have been grabbing and devouring. When you come forward to receive Communion, come with your hands open—Drew will place a piece of bread into your hands. Receive the body of Christ.
Look at verse 23, “The Lord Jesus on the night in which He was given, took bread.” Who gave Him? Some say Judas, and so many translations read, “betrayed.” But this Greek word (same as the one earlier in the verse) is very rarely used in that sense. It usually just means “to give” or “deliver” or “hand over.” So who gave Jesus over? Was it Judas? Yes. But who else gave Jesus? Think about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son. . .” This is the gospel, God gave His Son over to death for you and for me. The class division in Corinth cannot be solved by trying harder or becoming more polite. The way to bridge the gap between rich and poor is by the same way the gap between us and God was bridged—the gospel. We cannot find true reconciliation by becoming more socially aware or through working hard to serve in the city. To truly give, we must first receive. For Paul to give the story of the Last Supper, he first had to receive it from the disciples. For us to give of ourselves as Jesus calls us to, we must first receive God’s gift to us, life in Jesus.
Be God’s Gift
And we pick up on the action in v 24. “And when He had eucharisteo. . .when He had given thanks. . .” Wait—eucharisteo? That’s Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper—eucharisteo. . . Eucharist. . .give thanks. It’s what Jesus did in response to what God has done. It’s what we are called to do in response to what Jesus did. It’s why the Catholics call this the Eucharist—it’s why we call the liturgy the “Great Thanksgiving.”
In Holy Communion we celebrate this gift and find our life-source in this gift. And central to the scriptures is being thankful for this gift. God has given us Jesus—His body was broken and blood poured out on the cross so that we could have life. So central to the scriptures is this command, “Be thankful” for this gift and live a life of gratitude and generosity for the gift God has given you. The word eucharisteo is made up of basically two Greek roots: “eu,” which means good, and “charis,” which means grace or gift. So to be thankful in the Greek literally means to be a good gift. Be a Eucharist. Read on with me in verse 24:So Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when He had eucharisteo (given thanks), He broke it and said, ‘This is My body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
God gives us Jesus whose body is broken and blood is poured so that we can have life. And the command is for us to be Eucharist.
This is the body of Christ, broken for you. The first Christians called the church the “body of Christ” because we are to be for the world what Christ is to us.
We are to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out so that others can receive life. Some of you know exactly what this is. You have given your life to somebody—you broke yourself open and poured yourself out—you served them, you listened to them. When they were going through an addiction you walked with them the whole way through it. When they broke through to the other side they said, “Thank you . . . I don’t know what I would have done without you.” What was that? It was a Eucharist. You broke yourself open and poured yourself out so that someone else could have life.
The good news is that we don’t have to already be there. We don’t wait to come to the table when we have it all right. Instead we come to the table very aware that we don’t have it all right. But it’s not your mom or your husband or your teacher or your boss criticizing you. No—the incredible thing about this sacrament is that it’s not my table—it’s not the table of the United Methodist Church. This is Christ’s table.
Holy Communion shatters consumerism. We consume to fill the huge need in us. In Communion we’re called to give of ourselves to meet the huge need out there. As we receive the bare elements of bread and cup, not even enough to fill us, the whole ideology of what we hear in all commercials is reversed. We don’t deserve more; we are privileged to receive little. Consumption takes on a new meaning. We consume the body and blood of Christ and in response we offer ourselves for the world. It is absurd to go from the communion table and continue our blatant consumption.
Why is it that you’re so angry? What is so important to you? For Jonah it was about being right and doing what he wanted to do. Yet his self-centeredness only led to deeper bitterness and resentment. The temporary happiness of the shade tree revealed where his heart really was and God invites us into a new relationship where ultimate joy is real.
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The message of the world is sink or swim, rise up or fall down. The message of heaven is that we must sink in order to swim. The king of Nineveh stepped down from his throne, took off his robes of manageability, and repented with a true faith and trust in a God he could not see and did not know. God’s grace and mercy flowed through the streets of Nineveh and will in our lives when we learn to sink to swim.
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Jonah’s wish to escape from life’s problems led him into the belly of a whale and it was here that he was finally ready to admit powerlessness and pray to the only One who can save. It was through this surrender that Jonah learned how to breathe underwater.
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As Jonah fled from his problems he boarded a ship heading to Tarshish. Scholars have sought to find this ancient city to no avail and Jonah couldn’t find it either. Tarshish is the place in his and our dreams where all our troubles go away and everything is ok. Jonah was woken up to the reality of a storm raging yet he kept trying to evade responsibility but finally was hurled into the sea.
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John the Baptist is a classic over-achiever. He didn’t just go on a diet, he only ate locusts and honey. He didn’t just downsize to a smaller home, but moved to the desert. Jesus talked about John as a “burning and shining light,” but even the greatest of oil lamps burn out when the fuel is exhausted. The good news is that Jesus continued where John left off and took the ministry far beyond where John could have ever taken it and so it is with us. When we get to our end we can finally tap into the power of eternity.