Bob's Sermon for Sunday, January 14, 2017

 

Please note: Robert’s Sermon series are copyrighted. They may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without express written permission. A single copy may, however, be downloaded expressly for personal use.

                                  

 

 

 

 “New Year resolutions everyone should make”

 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 NIV

 

     (Ecclesiastes 5:1) “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

      (2) “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (3) A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.

     (4) “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. (5) It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. (6) Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?

     (7) “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.”

 

     Do you agree that the last five words of verse two make a perfect resolution for a preacher—“let your words be few”? According to a recent poll, 47% of men and 53% of women make New Year resolutions. Because women tend to live longer than men, this means that probably more than half of us make resolutions. Perhaps men need to start resolving to live longer. Seriously, our topic concerns a resolution all should make--men and women. You likely noticed keys terms in our text: guard, listen, and don’t hastily make vows.

 

     Are you thinking this?

 

     “Bob, you are telling us we should make certain vows, but this text tells us to be careful of making them. Which is it?” I can explain this apparent inconsistency only by going on a tangent and then filling you in on a big secret.[1] This text tips us off to something that few Christians ever discover. On occasion, you have surely decided to better your rapport with God.

 

     Suppose someone asked you, “What is the best way to improve my relationship with the Lord?” how would you answer?  

·         What would you tell that person?

·         Would you tell a young person: “Just live your life the way it seems best to you; you’ve got plenty of time ahead of you,”?

·         Would you reassure that person saying: “Don’t worry; God is a merciful,”?  

·         Might you reply: “Jesus has already forgiven you; don’t sweat it,”?

 

     Today’s text contains a vital insight. Until we gain this awareness, all life-perspectives will be distorted-skewed. We will not grasp the rest of today’s text or anything in the Bible. It is impossible to overstate the urgency of what this text tells us. I am not speaking of some obscure point that only theological experts ponder. This truth is as evident as gravity, but most folks close their minds to it. Many religious leaders glide past and not notice the truth within this text. I confess to not paying it the attention it deserves. It is as if the Holy Spirit whacked me on the side of the head— or boxed my ears.   

 

     To what do I refer? Ecclesiastes offers great guidance. Do the words: “guard,” “listen,” and “keep” sound familiar? Parents constantly say these words and kids regularly hear them. Parents anxiously plead: “watch out,” “be careful,” and “promise me.” As kids, we rarely welcomed these words; as adults we anxiously spew them.

 

     Here is what I discovered about these oft-spoken terms in our text:  Consulting Bible dictionaries and other helps on what these words sometimes leaves folks more confused than when they started. An example is the word translated “guard,” which the NIV uses: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” The KJV reads: “Keep thy foot.” “Guard-keep” is a Hebrew word pronounced shamάr. Young’s Concordance lists 13 different renderings of “shamar, including:” beware, keep, look narrowly, mark, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, etc. That is a wide array of words, isn’t it?

 

      One commentator explained that “shamar” means: “Make sure you know what you are doing.”Another cautioned against coming to worship God in the wrong way. The insights I read were helpful, but none dealt with the truth underlying the cautions. When your kids were little and you asked them to do something, did they ever say, “Why, mommy?—“Why, daddy?”

 

     Did you hear about little Johnny, who watched his little brother being christened?   All the way home in the car, little Johnny cried the whole time. His father kept asking him why he was upset. Finally little Johnny blurted: “The minister said he wanted baby brother and me brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”  

 

     Ecclesiastes deals with our “why” questions: “Why do I have to do this?” What are the whys and wherefores? Our text refers to guarding “your steps when you go to the house of God.”

 

·         The Lord ordered Israel to have only one true worship place.

·         No Israelite was to offer sacrifices at any other location than the one so designated.

·         In the time of Ecclesiastes, the Jerusalem Temple was the Jews’ worship center.

 

     It is likely that just after Ecclesiastes was written, the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and the ark was forever lost.[2]

·         In about 16 BC, King Herod rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.

·         Jesus warned his contemporaries that unless they gave up their greed, hate, and worldly ambitions, they would lose their nation and that new Jerusalem temple.[3] 

·         His generation refused to listen.[4]

·         The Romans destroyed that Temple in 70 AD and it has never been rebuilt.

 

     Jesus said something else to which most of the so-called Christian world pays no heed. He spoke to a Samaritan woman in the area now called the “West Bank” in Israel.

The woman probably pointed to nearby Mt. Gerizim, an area Samaritans considered holy and then said: “’Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’ (21) “’Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . (23) “’Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (24) God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’”[5]

 

     Correctly worshipping God has nothing to do with location or the building. If the whole world is God’s creation, no part of it is any more holy than another. Houses of worship are often monuments to those who finance and build them. They do not necessarily enhance or stimulate true worship. Though intended to depict certain aspects of God, they often detract from true worship because they are human creations. 

 

      When people see the Sistine Chapel, who gets more praise—God or Michelangelo? When he spoke with the elite philosophers in Athens, the Apostle Paul made this truth clear. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.”[6]

 

     True worship of God does not require church buildings. God wants us to worship him “in Spirit and in truth,” said Jesus. What does our text teach about worship? Does it even apply to us? In what contexts do we guard what we say, limit the words we use, and fulfill all vows? Our text supplies the answer and gives a reason for every “why” anyone could ask. “Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. (2) Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.”

 

     Why does the Holy Spirit include these warnings in Scripture? Here is the reason we need to quit talking so much and thinking we are so wise: “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Contemplate that truth.

 

     A few weeks ago, we discussed the Bible’s description of us human beings. Recall what God told the first couple? “You are dust and to dust you will return.” Gussy us up, paint us, dab makeup on us, tan us, and attire us in costly designer clothes and lengthy, elaborate holy garb.Thus disguised, we are no more and no less than dust and 60% water. Four letter words spew from our lips, but it takes only three English letters to define us: M U D. Billions of ancestors who laughed, cried, cursed, worried, sweated, boasted, and dreaded have returned to dust. 

 

     Before Christmas Norma and I spent a short time in a newly-opened antique store in Cherokee, Iowa. Old time photos fascinate both of us. As we checked out, I saw a bundle of a dozen early 1900s photos tied with a red ribbon. Pictures on top the packet of super-ugly old timey women caught my eye. I paid a few dollars for the lot intending to give them to one of our daughters as a prank gift. Writings on some of them were in European languages I did not recognize.

 

      One was a death-notice written in German, showing the photo of the deceased, a charming young woman. Getting out my old college German textbook, I eagerly translated vitals details as best I could. It read the same as many funeral notices.

“IN LOVING MEMORY

Loving mother- Helena

Born, 21st of May 1889.

Died, 11th of October 1913.

24 years, 4 months, 21 days.”

A photo shows her warm, gentle smile.

And the commonly used expression:

“Gone, but not forgotten.”  

Finally a six line German poem,

the last stanza reading:

“Rest in peace. Good-bye.” 

She must have left a very young child or children; perhaps she died while giving birth. Her child or children would be 100 plus now.

 

     The fact that her obituary notice found its way to an antique store proves she likely is forgotten—“vergessen,” as it reads in Deutschlander on her photo memorial. We are “dust and we return to dust.” Some hope to be long-remembered. On ESPN and other venues they talk about star athletes “immortalized” in Halls of Fame. This hype has been practiced for millennia. The Greeks and Roman enshrined athletes, political figures, and musicians. No human can immortalize another human. How can mud immortalize other mud?

 

     Consider what we are compared to God, our Creator.“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”[7] God spoke hundreds of billions of stars into being from nothing. Many of the stars would make our sun look like Fourth of July sparklers in comparison. God created gravity, light, and phenomena that astound modern scientists and physicists.

 

     God is eternal, all-knowing, all-wise Spirit, who created all things. Compared to God we are less than ants in an ant hill. Or even a microbe on the leg of an ant. Yet we don’t want to stop and listen to God’s advice.We assume we can disregard God, turn our backs on him, make promises we do not keep and he won’t remember or care.

As the father did in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, God will forgive us, we think.

 

     Do we not realize that the son while still in a distant country came to his senses?

“’I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (20) So he got up and went to his father.”[8] The son recognized his wrong and returned begging to be accepted, not as a son but as a servant. Have you come all the way back to God to fully serve him not holding anything from him?

    

     Our Ecclesiastes text emphasizes these truths:

A) Remember your origins.

B) Do not forget who God is. 

C) Therefore:

1) Let your words be few.

2) Listen to him.

3) Fulfill all your promises.

4) He created the Cosmos; we are mere dust on a tiny speck in His Cosmos.

The writer of Hebrews recognized this:“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, (29) for our “God is a consuming fire.”[9]

   

     Yet our eternal God gives us hope. Daniel 12:2 NIV: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

 

     Next week, God willing, we shall learn exciting details of that hope. I pray that you will be with us to humbly worship our merciful God.

                   

     God bless you and keep you!

 


[1] This is not an attempt to evade answering you. 

[2] Jeremiah 3:14-17 regarding the Ark.

[3] See Matthew 2, especially verses 37-39. 

[4] See Matthew 24 and Luke 21

[5] John 4: 20-24 NIV

[6] Acts 17:24 NIV

[7] Hebrews 11:3 NIV

[8] Luke 15:18-20 NIV

[9] Hebrews 12:28, 29 NIV

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 


 

Back To Home