God in the Center!

God is the Center of Reality
Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
July 26, 2015

Back in the 1960s the mayor of the city of Chicago was Richard J. Daley.  He was famous for being the last of the big time bosses of the city.  Daley was sharp, powerful, and had an enormous ego.

One fall a speechwriter who worked for Daley – demanded a raise.  Daley was amazed that anyone would have the gall to ask.  He told the guy, “I’m not giving you a raise.  You’re getting paid more than enough already.  It should be enough for you that you get to work for a great American hero.”  The speechwriter eventually gave notice that he was leaving.  Daley was scheduled to give a speech on Veteran’s Day and he demanded that the speechwriter write his speech.

Daley was notorious for never reading his speeches thru ahead of time; he enjoyed winging it.  There’s nationwide press coverage and hundreds of people are there.

The speech was passionate and engaging.  Then Daley said, “I’m concerned for you, I have a heart for you.  I am deeply convinced this country needs to take care of its veterans.  I haven’t forgotten about you.  I’m proposing a 17-point program at the city, state and federal level, for us to care for our veterans.”

Everyone was excited to hear what Daley was going to say.  Daley himself was excited.  When he turned the page – he saw the words . . . “You’re on your own now, you great American hero.”

We live in a society that exalts the ego; in our culture being number one is all too often what life is focused on.  We see that in sports, we see it in the entertainment world, we see it in business, we see it in every aspect of life

In Greek, the word “I” is a little word spelled E-G-O.  Does anyone want to guess what word we get from that Greek word?  How appropriate is that!

Now, the ego is like anything else in our lives; it can be something good, healthy, and godly; or it can become tainted and sinful.  Because of sin, our egos can get to the point where we think we’re the center of the universe and we begin to act like we’re in charge of everything and everyone.

Management consultant Ken Blanchard says that, sometimes, ego is an acronym for the phrase “Edging God Out.”  Have you ever done that?  Have you ever let your desires, your will, your ego get to the point where you think, It has to be done my way because I’m always right.  Have you ever “Edged God Out” of your life, or at least moved him to the margins?  I would guess that, on occasion, we all have.  When we do that, the results aren’t very attractive or promising.

John Calvin said, “For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads.  Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God.”

Solomon discovered the truth of what Calvin wrote.  Throughout much of his life he gave into his ego and put himself at the center of life only to discover that much of what he did and accomplished was fleeting—it was like chasing after the wind.

Here, near the middle of chapter 3, Solomon picks up on that theme.  Let’s look at verses 9-15 of chapter 3.

9 What gain has the worker from his toil?

10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;

13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before him.

15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

Let’s ask the question:  What does the worker gain from his toil?  Solomon realizes – we’re not the center of reality.

This is something of a rhetorical question and the implied answer is not really very much.  Our honest reaction to that might be: Hey, wait a minute; that’s not necessarily true.  I built a business, we raised a family, I got an education, and had a good career.  What do you mean we don’t get very much from our toil?  To answer that, we have to look at this verse in the context of chapter two.

Solomon looked at all the things he experienced and accomplished — he pursued wisdom, pleasure and property.  He discovered it was all “vanity” or “fleeting.”  That phrase occurs 38 times.  In 2:17, he concluded ~ “So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after the wind.”

He got so frustrated because he realized that all the experiences he had, all the knowledge, the pleasure, the property . . . were fleeting because he put himself at the center of life.  Those achievements weren’t necessarily bad and I would argue that from a human standpoint many of them were tremendous — but they wouldn’t last or endure.

At this point Solomon makes a really good decision.  He turns his attention away from himself – to the source and the center of all reality, Almighty God.

God is the subject of verses 9-15.  He’s the one who is taking action.  He makes everything beautiful.  He sets eternity in our hearts.  He’s the One who works from beginning to end.  Solomon is saying God is the center of reality because He’s the Creator.

The Apostles Creed is a great summary of early Christian doctrine.  It begins by saying “I believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  He’s the Creator who made everything on our planet, everything in our solar system, everything in our galaxy; in fact, everything in our universe.

Isaiah 40:25-26 says 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?  says the Holy One.

26  Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?  He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.

Like Solomon, Isaiah argues our God is the Creator and He’s at the center of reality.

In verse 11, Solomon wrote — 11 Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

God has put eternity in our hearts.  This is a fascinating statement.  It means we know in our spirits that this earth and what we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell is not all there is to life and reality.  But as the rest of that verse says, there’s a catch: On our own we cannot figure out what God has done — or often times what God is doing — from the beginning to the end because we are limited.  We realize we are not in control!

In spite of our education, knowledge, science, and technology we still don’t understand the way life.  It’s a mystery and will remain so because we are limited.  There is no explanation for some of the events in life.  Like why are there mosquitoes and poison ivy and chiggers.  All things I had to deal with this week.

But it goes so much deeper than that.  It’s questions about why are there tsunamis, earthquakes, why is there such evil, why don’t political leaders follow God’s law, why do some people die young . . .  We have lots of questions . . . and we could go on forever asking those questions.  And I have bad news for you – – – but I also have good news for you.

The bad news is that our limitations and lack of control; as hard as we try, we’re never going to figure it out.  That’s the burden God has laid on us that Solomon speaks of in verse 10 and, in all honesty, that can be frustrating.

But the good news is that God will make everything beautiful or appropriate in its time.  This is part of the gospel!

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon wrote,  He has made everything beautiful in its time. That passage reminds me of Romans 8:38, when Paul tells us — “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  

I want us to know that our Creator  — who has made Himself visible in Jesus — is so good that in His time, He can turn even the most difficult and mysterious things in our lives into something positive and even beautiful.

So the questions is: Do you trust your God?  Do you trust Him when life gets dicey and pain comes your way?   We’ve all experienced loss and it’s not always easy to trust God in the midst of these events.  This text tells us our God is at the center of reality and that He can be trusted — even in the midst of mystery.  We can also trust Him because He is our provider.

Solomon gives us a powerful message of encouragement to get in life and enjoy it because all the good things we encounter come from the hand of God.  Your family, your job, your health, your home, your car, your pets, this church — they’re all gifts from the hand of the one who provides for us!  This is grace, our God’s lavish generosity poured out on his fallen and undeserving creatures!

Solomon says to take the gracious gifts that our God so richly provides and enjoy them all and share them — whether “it’s eating, drinking or engaging in our work.”

In his book, A Life Well Lived, Tommy Nelson wrote ~

Everyone is going to die.  As you read this book, the clock is ticking.  The 24-hour virus is waiting on you.  There are germs in your teeth that will cause cavities.  One day you’ll have a root canal.  All of those things are bad and they are coming.  So today, while everything is OK, go get a double dip Rocky Road ice cream (or whatever flavor you love).  Take some friends or family with you, lick your ice cream slowly, and just enjoy being together.  Call an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and get caught up.  Rent a movie you’ve wanted to see and curl up on the sofa with some hot popcorn.  Enjoy today — love God, enjoy life and have fun.

Solomon is telling us the same thing.  He says “Be as happy as you can, enjoy all the good parts of life and find satisfaction in all you do – – – because God has provided it all for you.”

We live in a world where we have more, even when we don’t – we still do.  It’s all relative!  Yet, we have our homes, A/C, heat, water, food, clothes, not to mention . . . ipads, iphones, smart phones, window phones, smart cars, cars that park themselves, we can keep on going.  We have so much!  It’s all the provision of our good and gracious God.   God has provided so much for us—not least our salvation in Jesus. And our call is to respond to him with gratitude.

Solomon has shown us God is our creator and our provider.  But he’s saved the most interesting part for last.

God is the center of reality because he is the Ruler

In verse 14, Solomon said – 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before Him.

What God does will endure forever.  He does all this so people will fear Him?  That is not the kind of fear we think of.  This literally means God does this so that we will STAND IN AWE of HIM.  When we consider God, we are reminded of His great love for us, of His constant presence and goodness, and in the end we stand in awe before a holy God.

Solomon is reminding us — God is the King and God is the one who is in complete control.  There’s nothing and no one beyond His sight.   When God chooses to act, nothing or no one can get in His way.

God’s heart is constantly being revealed to us throughout the Scriptures but especially in the life of Jesus: His heart is always to reach out to the least, the last and the lost.

Louis XIV was the King of France in the last part of the 17th century and the early 18th.  He called himself the Sun King, claiming he was the nation of France.  He had an ego that would have put Mayor Daley to shame.  But like all people, he eventually died.  His funeral was held in the evening at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  It was lit by hundreds of burning candles in order to create an atmosphere of reverence for Louis.

Massillon, the archbishop of the Cathedral, was assigned to preach the funeral sermon and he entered from a side door.  Then he slowly walked in front of the king’s casket and ascended to the pulpit.  It was completely silent and every eye was upon him.  What would he say about the great king?  How would he describe him and his many accomplishments?  Massillon paused, then said, “Only God is great!  Only God is great!”  He was absolutely right.  You and I will serve ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world well if we always keep in mind that our God is good and must be at the center of reality and He alone is great.

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