A Note from the Old Pastor Concerning the New Pastor

As you transition from one pastor to another, here are some things to consider…

(1) Recognize him as your pastor. You do me, nor him, nor yourself any favors by either trying to guess what I would have done in a situation (or what Pastor Simpson would have done) or by telling him that Jeremy would never have done whatever it is he has decided to do. Is Faith my church? “Is Christ divided? Was Paul”—or even Jeremy—“crucified for you?” (1 Cor 1:13) Is it not Christ’s church? May your only loyalty be to Jesus as you follow the pastor you have called, ever looking forward, not looking back.

(2) Understand his priorities. If he is to be an effective pastor, his priority must be to his personal relationship with Christ, then to his family, and then to you. This is the model we see in 1 Timothy 3:4-5. If he cannot manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? Understand that his first priority in terms of earthly relationships must be his family. They will validate or invalidate his ministry to you.

(3) Recognize his gifts. He will have greater and lesser gifts in particular areas than either of his predecessors had. Pastor Simpson was an evangelist. Pastor Jeremy was an expositor. Maybe Jonathan will be both, but in very different ways. Give him the latitude to use his gifts. Pretending to be something that he is not will never grow this church.

(4) Don’t let him do everything. He does not have every spiritual gift and neither does the Bible allow him to do everything for the church. Many of you understand this only too well and have done phenomenally. It may still do well to take this question to heart: Does our understanding of a pastor’s job more closely fit with the model of a mom-and-pop store where the proprietor (or pastor) provides a service that we come and consume, or does it fit a team approach with the pastor as captain or coach leading us into action. Come alongside of him and work next to him. The church was never meant to be a one-man show. That is why it is referred to as a body with many parts (1 Cor 12:20) and as a spiritual house, being built up together (1 Pet 2:5). Use your gifts: to reach out to those outside the church, to minister to those inside it, and to consider that we have not come to be served, but to serve (Mat 20:28).

(5) Love him and his family. Don’t wait to get to know him; don’t hesitate to love his family. Christian love involves loving the unloveable as Christ loved us. You have called a man and wife who are extremely loveable. They will be easy to love. Don’t use that as a temptation to love like the world. God calls us to love in this way: patiently, kindly, humbly, respectfully, non-irritably, and truthfully as you bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things (1 Cor 13). Do not believe an accusation of him unless it has been established by the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). Keep in mind that unless he leaves town, you’re the only family he has. I praise God for your Christian love towards my family and I. Do so even more towards him and his.

Are You Living Like the World?

When we study Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 we find ourselves living in an upside down, paradoxical world—a world where good is punished and evil celebrated. And there is the temptation for us as Christians to succumb to that, rather than to live counter-culturally and counter-intuitively. We mirror culture when we bow to our old natural sin nature. The following are potential evidences that you may be living like the world.

(1) You may be living like the world if you turn to friends, family, money, or the world when you’re in trouble, instead of seeking the Lord’s help, forgetting that He is in control.

(2) You may be living like the world if you turn to friends, family, money, or the world when you need advice, rather than to God’s Word or God’s people. There is a lack of discipleship in the American church. In every place I’ve lived, I’ve looked for 3 kinds of relationships: a Paul (a mentor or someone who disciples me), a Barnabas (a friend and accountability partner), and a Timothy (someone I disciple). Is that your practice, or do you do what you’ve always done, either doing what your parents did (if they did a decent job) or doing the opposite of what they did (if they did not do a decent job)? We are called to make disciples and to be disciples, not pew-warmers.

(3) You may be living like the world if your first instinct is to weasel or work your way out of a situation rather than to pray your way through a situation.

(4) You may be living like the world if your Bible is a decorative, Sunday accessory, rather than a well-worn, well-used manual for life.

(5) You may be living like the world if you do not take any and every opportunity to grow spiritually, whether it’s to be here when the church has something for you, or to invest yourself into building relationships with others in the body of Christ.

When Were the Good Old Days?

I’m not sure how many of you are old enough to remember Archie Bunker, from the 70’s TV show All in the Family. I was born in the late 70’s, so I’ve only caught it on re-runs. The show centers on a man in his 50 or 60s who’s having a hard time coming to grips with the rest of the world. He’s a working class bigot with changes swirling about him: from African-American neighbors to women’s lib to homosexuality and on and on and on. And the opening theme of this sitcom had Archie and his wife, Edith, singing a song called Those Were the Days. It talks about how good everything used to be: “You knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men; didn’t need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight. Those were the days.”

That mentality runs contrary to what we see in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Anyone over a certain age has said and meant and believed otherwise. The question is: do we really want to go back? Ever since most of us were alive there’s been world wars, nuclear bombs, racism, depression, and sin, left and right. Things may be different now—certainly not better—but it’s foolish for us to want to go back. Perhaps most of our youthful days were somewhat idealistic (unless you grew up in the middle of a war zone—domestic or otherwise). What former days truly were better? We would have to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, before the fall into sin, to find one. Since then there has been disobedience, murder, envy, strife, wickedness, idolatry, and beyond. It may have been packaged in more palatable forms (for you), but it was sin all the same. The answer to our problem ultimately lies in the future—when our faith will be realized in Christ. Certainly our pardon was purchased in the past, with Christ on the cross, but even that day was not the day we ultimately love and want to experience. We long for Christ’s return—not a former day, but a future one—when things truly will be better. Don’t live in the past, your hope is in the future.

The Chiasm of Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9

Last year, I introduced the church to chiasms (ki’azem) in the Bible while we studied the book of Daniel. For those of you who did not see that note, let me remind you what a chiasm is: it is a pattern of repetition for clarification and emphasis; a pattern within a passage in which the second half parallels the first half, but in reverse order. For instance a verse, chapter, or book may be laid out in a pattern of A-B-C-B-A. The first ‘A’ corresponds with the last ‘A’, ‘B’ with ‘B’, etc. Whatever lies at the center is the main point. What we see in Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9 is also a chiasm. The main point in Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9 comes in 5:18-20 where we see the blessing of basking in—or enjoying—God’s gifts (point ‘C’ below).

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Our first point (5:8-12 & 6:7-9) acts as a picture frame setting up the argument. Our second point (5:13-17 & 6:1-6) acts as a matte in that frame, in which the picture, our third point (or main point) is offset and embellished. And all of that draws us right into the middle of our text in 5:18-20. Unlike the English language, where we typically move linearly through a passage from point A to B to C and so on, Hebrew oftentimes makes a point (point A), then moves to point B, and C, and then back to point B, and then to point A. And whatever is at the middle of all of that is what the author really wants you to hone in on: in this case, “The Blessing of Basking in God’s Gifts.”

I am indebted to Sydney Greidanus, and his extremely helpful book Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons in finding the chiasm within this passage.

Who is Worship For?

I recently read an article from an evangelical music minister entitled, Are We Headed for a Crash?: Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship.   This music minister had recently attended the National Worship Leader Conference. He said it was eye opening in many ways. He had several good things to say, and certainly didn’t see the entire conference in a negative light, but he did express concern over a common, troubling theme. It’s the theme of what he calls ‘performancism.’ In many a church the worship leader is the performer, the congregation is the audience, and the sanctuary is the concert hall.

Now I doubt that we will ever be technically and musically sophisticated enough here at this church to succumb to that problem. Yet, there is perhaps a greater problem that all churches remain susceptible to. That is, the man-centeredness of worship. When worship becomes about us: our needs, our preferences, and our tastes, we have ceased to make God the object of our worship and have replaced Him, with us.

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 we come to grips with a God who is there. Sometimes, we come to worship with hardly a thought as to whom we’re worshipping. There may be moments we do not forget in every hour we meet, but for the most part we forget that God is here in our midst. When we’re more about what we get out of our time together—whether it’s good company in the presence of friendly people, or songs we like, or a good message that does something for us (a message that we stand in judgment over)—we forget that God is here. We’re here because God is here.

In Matthew 21, Jesus entered the temple and saw that people had turned it into something that strictly profited them, at the expense of honoring God. Jesus turned over tables, with a zealous and righteous anger for the glory of God. He later went to the cross and became that house of worship (John 2:21). Jesus invites us to come and worship Him. Stop playing church and take up your cross and follow Him: worship Him, love Him, fear Him, and serve Him. Anything less, is for someone less.

Hero of the Faith: George Whitefield

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In today’s sermon, I relate a story about the great Methodist evangelist, George Whitefield (1714-1770). His preaching to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, on two continents, both in Europe (in particular, the British Isles) and the American colonies were unrivaled in his age. He was instrumental in the Great Awakening, preaching over 18,000 times in his lifetime; often every day, and twice on Sundays. As an itinerant preacher (meaning that he traveled from place to place) he would often preach in the open fields, particularly when many churches closed their doors to him. At that time, preaching out of doors was unheard of, particularly in the Anglican high church, for which Whitefield was a part of. Yet it was he who made the practice popular. In fact, Whitefield was the one to first encourage his good friend and contemporary, John Wesley to adopt the practice.

Whitefield received his education at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met John and Charles Wesley in their holy club meetings. Though they differed greatly theologically in terms of eternal security, perfectionism (Wesley’s belief that one could attain a sort of sinless perfection in this life), and the sovereignty of God in salvation, they remained good friends throughout their life.

Whitefield traveled from the colonies to Britain several times. He started an orphanage in the new colony of Georgia, and assisted in the beginnings of Dartmouth College (then a school to train Indians to be ministers to their people). He was friends with Benjamin Franklin (Whitefield’s publisher in America) throughout his life and regularly witnessed to him to no avail (Franklin remained a staunch deist). The good George Whitefield did and the souls saved under his preaching are incalculable. I commend his two-volume, 1,200 page biography by Arnold Dallimore. There’s also a condensed version.

 

3 Workers. Which are You?

In Ecclesiastes 4:5-6, we see humanity divided into three categories as to how they approach work. These categories are explained via three hand postures or positions that show us how each particular group views work:

(1)    The Fool. His posture is described as having his “hands folded.” He opts out of work; he folds his hands—or maybe even his arms—rather than use them to earn his bread. And we see this sort of entitlement mentality more and more in our society. Even the church in Thessalonica fell prey to this delusion. And Paul rebukes them, “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thes 3:11-12). And the preacher lets us know that a lazy, hand-folding, fool will end up eating his own flesh (he’s destructive to himself).

(2)    The Godly. His posture is described as “a handful of quietness.” His hand is extended outward, ready to receive his day’s wage. And he will go home in quietness, with a peaceful contentment.

(3)    The Greedy Workaholic. His posture is described as “two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” He is so consumed with both his work and the reward that he so desperately wants and feels that he deserves, that he has his hands cupped in order that he might get as much as humanly possible. This is the guy that opts for the Big Gulp when all he really needs is a medium.

The preacher would have you know that it’s better to just get half and have time to quietly enjoy life, rather than get it all and find you were striving for wind. It seems the middle ground is the godly ground. The fool, does nothing, folds his hands and gets nothing, and thereby starves; the greedy workaholic, puts all of his eggs into his work basket, banking on that being his way to find contentment and worth, and ends up losing the only thing in life worth having: a life lived in quiet service to God.

How to Use the Time

In Ecclesiastes 3:1 we’re told, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Each of us has been given the same amount of time per week. Each of us gets 168 hours—whether you are a king or a peasant. Each of us should be spending roughly 56 of those hours sleeping; it’s how God created us; it’s what we need to not only survive, but flourish. That leaves 112 hours. 40 of which, most of you are probably going to work, whether it’s at home or at some other place of employment. And so that leaves you 72 hours—plenty of time—to effectively use your time for God. We’re told in Ephesians 5:16 to make the best use of the time—or to redeem it, or buy it up—for the days are evil.

Now, much of what we see in Ecclesiastes 3 happens outside of our control, for God determines a time for everything. Yet, that does not give us permission to adopt a fatalistic, ‘Oh well, I have no power’ attitude, and therefore do nothing. In fact, we’re to do quite the contrary. Because we are not ultimately in control of time, we must make the best use of the time we have been given, remembering that there is One in control of time: Jesus Christ. He existed before time began, entered time and space as a man. Yet, despite the fact that He was in time, He was not subject to time. No, rather He controlled it. In Mark 1:15, at the beginning of His public ministry, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”   Throughout His ministry He let others know that His time had not yet come—meaning it was not time to reveal His true person and purpose, that He was the Son of God, who had come to die for the sins of His people. And then in Mark 14:41, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “The hour has come.” And when it had, He went to the cross for you and for me. In all of that, He was in control of time, for He is God. But, you and I are not. We are subject to time and space, with eternity in our hearts, yet with no ability to determine the beginning from the end. As you contemplate the time you have or don’t have this week, remember your need for the One who controls it all.

A Misplaced Confidence

A scientist from Illinois, William Walsh, had in his laboratory, some strands of hair from the famous classical composer, Ludwig Von Beethoven. He has trying to ascertain the cause of Beethoven’s death in his experiments. And in his findings he found that Beethoven’s body had 100 times the normal amount of lead in it. He came to the shocking conclusion that Beethoven may have poisoned himself. Yet, that was never Beethoven’s intention. You see, Beethoven’s lead poisoning may have been due to the mineral spa that he went to for relaxation. The very thing he thought was bringing his relief and healing slowly poisoned him to death.

That’s what life is like for those who make wisdom, or self-indulgence, or toil their singular pursuit: they’re slowly poisoning themselves with the very things they are looking for hope and meaning in. Solomon had more wisdom and self-indulgence and possessions, and more to show for all of the work he either did or had done, and he comes to the conclusion that all is vanity … under the sun. So where do we turn? We’ve asked is there meaning in this life. We’ve looked for it in wisdom and the philosophers of the age; we’ve looked for it in self-indulgence and the entertainers and worldly goods; we’ve looked for it in our work and possessions, to no avail. Finding life’s meaning has thus far eluded us. Maybe we’re making it more complicated than it really is. Maybe it’s not what we’re doing as much as it is: Whom we are doing it for.

Solomon goes on to say this in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment.” What it comes down is the most simplest of things: don’t try to find meaning in the pursuit of wisdom, self-indulgence, or anything else under the sun. Don’t amass all of those things for yourself, for some future use, for all of us will die and be forgotten. Rather, we are to find our satisfaction in God—end of v.25—and do what he created us to do: eat, drink, work, and glorify Him in the process.

“Under the Sun”: What if this Life was All there Was?

This week we begin our study of Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes 1 we find that all is vanity, under then sun (vv.2-3), and that nothing is new under the sun (v.9). If all there was, was under the sun—if there was nothing above it, then you and I would have to subscribe to the philosophy of nihilism. Nihilism, in its essence is a belief that life is meaningless. Nothing has meaning. Now if the preacher’s sermon ended here, we would deduce that he was no better than our modern-day nihilists: the philosopher Nietzsche, the author Franz Kafka, the playwright Samuel Beckett, and the satirist Douglas Adams who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He would be no better than they. But the preacher’s sermon doesn’t end here. Hang on to the phrase ‘under the sun,’ for now. The Preacher wants you to know what life is under the sun, apart from whatever might be above it. He’s chipping away at our self-reliance—at our earthly reliance—until we come to the end of ourselves and of this world.

When will we come to that end and see that life under the sun has no real meaning? We tend to look at life as “What’s in it for me?” “There’s got to be a payoff or I’m out.” One commentator says, “Without exception, all people who live merely to gain earthly goods will find that those goods are ultimately meaningless. And when goods are the sole object of one’s toil, the toil itself becomes equally meaningless. While humankind dwells on human efforts, Scripture tells us to ponder what God has done. While the sinner looks for value in what he can get, his gracious Lord sees value in giving himself for and to the sinner.” The only toil that was not in vain was that of our Lord. Christ died and rose again to give you and I new life—a life infused with meaning and purpose. And when our identity is hidden in Christ, then our toil under the sun also has meaning, for it is done for One above the sun: Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” You’ve got to do it for the One above the sun, if it’s going to have any meaning here under the sun.