bible study

Life’s Big Question

Man on the edge of pier

Animals die. People die. This is a certainty. Death is inevitable. It happens to us all. This reality should cause us all to ask a very important question, and I think for most of us it does. This is also the question that King Solomon was asking in Ecclesiastes 3:21-22. Solomon asks, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?”

Solomon is asking the question here: Is there life after death? He said, who knows? And like I said, this is a question I think that we all deal with at one time or another in one way or another. It’s a question that most people have.

The inevitability of death is one thing. But here is the real kicker – and if you don’t believe me just read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes – if this life is all there is, then life IS meaningless. And if this life is all there is, and if life is meaningless, then we all should despair, because that is a terrifying thought.

BUT, if there is life after death, then everything changes doesn’t it? That’s the game changer!

Solomon wants the answer to this most important question, he asks, “Who can know?” And it is true, in one sense, that there is a limit to what we can know about what happens after we die. Yes, we can hear stories or read books about folks who have had near death experiences, but still, there isn’t anyone who has ever been dead for a long period of time, and then came back and told us what the after-life is all about. We have no truly first-hand accounts of all of the details….

Still, we want them! And that’s why books about people going to heaven, and their tales (and I would say tall tales) are so popular to people. Because we want the details about what happens when we die. We want to know what we can expect. Because the unknown is scary. But in and of ourselves, our knowledge of life is pretty limited to our present state. In and of ourselves, we don’t know what happens beyond the grave. This bothered Solomon, and I think it bothers many people.

So Solomon says we might as well just enjoy our present existence, and enjoy life all we can. And IF we are uncertain about our eternities, then I guess this IS the best plan, to simply enjoy life while you can and to get as much joy out of this life while you can…

But the question I have for all of us is this: Do we have to be uncertain about our eternity? I don’t think so. Solomon himself would figure this out too. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he says of man, “…the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

But even better than this, we have a great advantage over Solomon, don’t we? Why? Because we know Christ. We KNOW the one who can, as Solomon says in verse 22, “…bring him to see what will be after him.” We KNOW the one whom Solomon was longing for.

We KNOW the one who has been through death, and yet came out victorious. We KNOW the one who came down from heaven to reveal the truths of eternity to us. We KNOW Jesus the Son of God who was put to death on a cross.

But He didn’t stay dead did he?

We know that on the third day he conquered death and was raised. He is now in glory at the right hand of God! And now all who believe in Him will rise again to the better life that Hebrews 11:35 tells us about. Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a better place for us, so that we can be where He is. That’s what John 14:3 says. And because of these things we can be certain of our eternities, and we can have the blessed assurance that we sing about so often.

Jesus has revealed eternity to us, and He has won it FOR us…and all we have to do is receive it, and trust and rest in Him.

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

follow-me

On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

rather-have-jesus

Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.