Sunday, January 26, 2014

Satisfied // Toil & Burden


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/26/2014
video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:


IN my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.

Sam Polk, founder of Groceryships

When he was a kid, Sam’s father would say to him, “Imagine what life will be like when I make a million dollars.”

Sam says when he grew up, money made him feel powerful. It was like a drug. Kept him from having to deal with the pain of the powerlessness he felt as a child. His first $40,000 bonus thrilled him. Now millions weren’t enough. He wanted a billion.

Money’s like that. You get a raise, and it feels great for about a month. And then, it’s just your salary. And you want more.

Sam said when he realized what he’d become a wealth addict (which he compared to being a drug addict willing to do anything – in his words, “walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma, [anything] to get a fix”), he finally had the courage to walk away. To, in the language of Ecclesiastes, stop “chasing after the wind.”


But it wasn’t easy. He said he was terrified of running out of money. Of not being able to get enough in the future. He’d wake up at nights panicked. He still buys lottery tickets sometimes.

But over time, it’s gotten better. As Sam describes it, he started to realize he had “enough.” And that if he needed more, he’d be able to get it.

Sam’s describing the same dynamics we see in Ecclesiastes, isn’t he? Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.


That money is, like so many other things “under the sun,” just vapor. (Remember, meaningless better translated vapor.) A thing we think will satisfy us, make us feel powerful, give us the power to do what we want to do, protect us, make us happy, and on and on. But when we get it, we realize the main thing that it does is make us want more. Its satisfaction is elusive, fleeting, insubstantial, not very long-lasting. Nonetheless, sometimes, we become willing to abandon our selves, our values, our integrity, so that we can have more. So that we can have enough. We’re chasing after the wind. Miserable. Running over whoever gets in our way.

So what are we going to do about money? This massively addicting bit of vapor that we have to deal with every day. It’s not like we can just go home, flush all our money down the toilet, go cold turkey, get clean, and avoid going to banks and atm machines.

(On the other hand, I suppose something like that is a valid option – after all, Jesus did tell the rich young ruler to sell everything he had, give his money to the poor, and follow him.)


Seriously. What are we going to do about money?

How many of you, if offered a 3.6 million dollar bonus at work tomorrow, would gladly accept it?

How many of you, at the same time, believe that Sam is on to something in his realization that money promises more than it can deliver, and that any one of us could get caught in the same addictive relationship with it that he found himself?

How many of you would say, in fact, that you’ve already felt something of that desperate, anxious pull of more money? That you know can identify with the temptation to sacrifice all kinds of things that you know are good and healthy – say, rest, time with your family, spiritual pursuits, helping others, etc. – in order to get more money. Not because you’re greedy, but because…

Well, because you need it. Because the opportunity to get more may pass you by if you don’t take it now. Because although you might have enough now, today, you’d feel a lot better if you had more for tomorrow. Because someday you’d like to have enough to really enjoy life. Because you’ll be respected more if you have more. Because others will judge you if you don’t go after it. Because you’ll feel more in control if you had more money. Because you could prove someone wrong if you had more.

As we continue our series, Satisfied, we’re going to take two weeks to explore how the wisdom of Ecclesiastes would reshape our relationship with money. Let’s read the first part of chapter 3.


3 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

9What do workers gain from their toil? 10I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

This passage doesn’t have the word “money” in it at all; nonetheless, it’s all about money. Verse 9 is our first clue. “What do workers gain from their toil?” In our modern world, the first answer that would come to mind is, “a paycheck.”

We’ll spend some time unpacking this, because it’s not immediately apparent in our first reading of the passage, but here’s what Solomon is driving at: satisfaction comes from trusting God for everything that we need, and trusting money for none of it. Our relationship with money is healthy when we see it as a gift from God, not as a reward for our labor. And our relationship with God is healthy when we fear the loss of him, and not the loss of money.

Solomon, the author of this book, Ecclesiastes, understands how immersed we are in our materialistic view of the world. As we talked about last week, it’s no small task to disrupt our current entrenched and dysfunctional perspective so that we can receive a new, life-giving one.

We tend to trust in ourselves and our resources to get for ourselves what we need, and trust God will reward us for our productivity and good resource management. God helps those who help themselves, right? We see money as a reward for our labor, an affirmation of our worth as human beings. We fear the loss of money, and when it happens, we think we are out of God’s favor. Not realizing along the way that our double fisted preoccupation with self-dependence and the accumulation of money has caused our hands to be closed to every good gift of God long ago.

So Solomon gets to work.

He describes our lives, the varied experiences which fall on different ends of the spectrum in our lives. Birth and death. Weeping and laughing. Mourning and dancing. Scattering and gathering. Tearing and mending. War and peace. He’s really just laying out the full spread of human existence out for us to look at, without flinching, without avoiding any of it. Saying, basically, “Look, we’re all going to experience all of this, or a least a lot of it. Some of it we’ll be excited about, some of it we’ll wish we could avoid. But it’s all part of the package. It all comes and goes in its time, like birth and death.”

It makes for a beautiful song. A song that is usually played as a plea for peace, it’s last line being a time of peace, I swear it’s not too late.

But that’s not the heart of the Ecclesiastes passage. At its heart is this message: There is a lot you can’t control. Just like you can’t control the seasons. The sun will shine and it will be warm and summer, and then fall will come, and then it will be bitterly cold in winter, and then the spring will come and the ground will thaw and birds will return and soon it will be summer again. Your power is real, but it’s also limited. You feel this sense of agency in your life – which is all well and good, and true, up to a point. But step back for a second and look at the big picture. Forces larger than you can wrest that control from your hands. You are laughing now. But the day of weeping will come, and you can’t avoid it. You are in mourning now. But a day of dancing will be here eventually. You were born. You will also die. Regardless of your best efforts between now and then. (See Ecclesiastes 9v11-12 if you’re not convinced…)

And then Solomon asks,


What do workers earn for their toil?

This is the big question. “So what does all the money you earn buy you?” This is the reality check that pokes the hole in money’s balloon. Can it buy you a pass on death? Can it buy you peace and laughter and dancing and love without ever having war or tears or sorrow or hate? Can it buy you life that goes on and on without ceasing?


We know that’s the answer.

We just don’t like the answer.

This is the burden God has laid on the human race.

We’re made in the image of God. Which, in part, means we have will and agency. We have desire and ability, the capacity to exert power. But our ability, our capacity, our power is limited. We can only do so much. Get so much. Control so much. And it’s never enough to fulfil our desire.

But we want control. So badly. We’ll do anything to feel like we have control. We’ll listen to anything that tells us it can offer us a sense of control.


This is the burden God has laid on the human race.

We have this incredible gift to do, to get, to plan, to achieve, to organize, to create. Yet, we have this one task that we must do before any of that matters. We must learn to wait on God. We must rely on him.

We are creatures who imagine we can be gods. We desperately want to eliminate our neediness and dependency. We hate powerlessness; we’ll trade away our best shot at joy even for a shot at feeling powerful. At least, that’s what Adam and Eve did. And it’s what we who follow in their footsteps have so often done.

This is the burden God has laid on the human race.

The word for burden might also be translated painful effort or grievous task.

It is a painful effort to let go of control.

Yet it’s the only way to a satisfied life.


The writer says God has made everything beautiful in its time.

Control is all about what’s going to happen. Ensuring we have a say in how it all turns out.

Everything beautiful in its time means being fully present right now, right here, to what is before us. To the gift that God has for us to enjoy.

We aren’t in control when we are receiving a gift, are we?

Yet, that’s how God invites us to live, moment after moment after moment.


And then it says God has set eternity in the human heart. The Hebrew word for eternity is olam. It is that which is outside of birth and death. It is outside of the created. It is not “under the sun” like everything which is vapor. It’s that reality we experience when we step, for a moment, outside of time.

We’ve tasted it, felt it, haven’t we?

You know how sometimes time can fly by, like when you’re having a great time with a friend. Or how it can drag on and on, as slow as molasses, when you’re waiting for news. Or for your number to be called at the secretary of state?

But sometimes, when you are most alive, when joy has filled up your very being – an experience of awe, or powerful love, or pure beauty, or you’re right in the midst of doing what you were born to do with full focus and effortless competence – and it’s as if time has simply ceased to be and everything is just now. That’s olam. Eternity. What the New Testament writers in Greek call aeon zoe, eternal life or the life of the ages. It’s the kind of life, the experience of timelessness that God enjoys always.

God has set that in our hearts. The unending, ongoing, God-inhabited, love-soaked experience of joy that is only accessible as we receive what he has for us, moment by moment, day by day.

It was a painful effort for Sam to leave his multimillion dollar Wall Street job. To face the wounds inside of himself. It was terrifying, anxious work. But it is giving way to real satisfaction. To the liberating experience of enough.

If you’re chasing after the wind, you’re running away from the eternity in your heart.


I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.

There is nothing better for people than to rejoice (a better translation of “be happy”) and do good.

Rejoicing is just a way of recognizing and celebrating the goodness and beauty of God’s gifts now. Whatever they may be.

Rejoice and do good. Do that thing that flows from your joy in the gift. What is it you would do that flows from the joy of the gifts God is giving you? That will always be a good thing. Do that good thing.

Eat the food God has provided you as a gift. Drink the drink God has given you as gift. See the good in the work God has given you to do. Rejoice in the beauty of what God has given to you now, today. Do the good that flows from that joy.

The one who lives in this way has access to the eternity God has set in his heart.

Compare that to the life that seeks control. We see only the danger, the bad, the threat all around us. If we see anything “good,” it’s only the good that’s off in the distance, that we might be able to get if we get enough money, if we play our cards right. If we have any joy, it’s the momentary joy of succeeding in our goal, but even our joy is like vapor. It’s fleeting, not lasting, and it can be taken away by the seasons changing. And we “do good” far less than we’d like. Far too often, we are doing what seems necessary to get ahead, to make ends meet, to get enough money.

Oh, right, money. We started all this by talking about money.

Pull out some money, if you’ve got any.

Look at it.

What’s your relationship with that money? What is it to you?

Is it something that’s going to help you get something? Do something? Feel something about yourself? Make something happen?

Or is it a gift from God, an expression of and container of his love for you?

When you look at it, do you think to yourself, man, I wish I had more of this? Man, I don’t know if this is going to be enough. I wonder how I’m going to get more?

Or do you think to yourself, wow, God’s sure taken care of me of me well. Look, I’ve got extra! Hmm, I wonder what joy he intends for me with this?

Now think about all the money you have, savings, debt, investments, cash and your current income, salary, what have you. Your financial status.

When you think about that, if it’s like a good, solid amount, do you think, I’ve worked really hard for that, made some good decisions with it. I feel pretty good about myself. I think others would think pretty highly of me, too, if they could see it. Or if it’s not a pretty picture, do you think, oh man, I hope no one ever finds out the true picture of my financial situation. That would be embarrassing.

Or, instead, do you think – if you feel like you’ve got a lot - God’s really provided a lot for me. It’s a joyful thing and a privilege to figure out what to do with all this gift. Or, if you are in a place of need – God promises to take care of me as I depend on him. What a joyful thing and a privilege to be in a place to watch him come through on my behalf and glorify himself.

Let me say again what I said earlier.

Satisfaction comes from trusting God for everything that we need, and trusting money for none of it.


Our relationship with money is healthy when we see it as a gift from God, not as a reward for our labor.

And our relationship with God is healthy when we fear the loss of him, and not the loss of money.

Let me add one last thing.

Every promise money makes is a false promise. Money can’t promise anything. Because money is “under the sun” just like every other created thing. Like all the vapor, it only has substance and power when it is an expression of and container of God’s love.

Only God can make promises that he can keep. Because he is uncreated, above the sun. He isn’t subject to the seasons; he’s the author of the seasons. His promises can be trusted.


Everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.

Unlike money, God has substance and power. Unlike money, he loves us. Unlike money, if we have him, we have everything. Unlike money, if we don’t have him, we have nothing.

Let’s make our lives a response to him and his love.

Next week, I’ll tell you the joke about Shamus, the 1 pound coins, and the 5 pound notes, and we’ll have fun learning how to get right with money and get right with God. Oh yeah, and maybe we’ll get to the slinkys next week too! (I’m kind of excited about the slinkys.) For now, though…


A practical suggestion:

Put your money in its place. Re-gift 10%.

Figure out how much money you have. The kind that’s available to spend. Not locked up in investments or whatever. Just your most liquid accounts. Include savings accounts if they are the kind you can get money out of pretty easily. Figure out what 10% of that is. Now take that amount and figure out some fun ways to give it away. If it’s a lot, maybe give it away over the course of the year. If it’s less, maybe you can do it all this week. If you want to get more bang for your buck, do it prayerfully in cooperation with God. But the main point is having fun giving it away. Give it to someone you know who it would bless because they have financial needs of some sort. Give it to someone it would bless because it would surprise them and make their day. Give it to a cause you really care about. Adopt a compassion child. Give it to a student for the 30 hour famine. Buy a present for someone who’s really been wanting something but wouldn’t ever spend the money for it. Give it to the church. Give it to another church. Talk with your family about what do with it. Or your small group. Or have fun all by yourself thinking of how to give it away. Whatever you do, take 10% of your money and let it become a gift again, a sign that all of it was gift in the first place.

If you don’t have any, or worse, you’re in the hole, then take 10% of your week’s work hours and give them away. Say, 4 hours, if you’d work a 40 hour week. Give them away to someone. Babysit their kids. Shovel their snow. Clean their bathrooms. Help at compassion ministry. Go help with the homeless ministry in Ann Arbor on a Friday night. Come clean the church.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Satisfied // Fear & the Cross

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/12/2014
video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:


5Fools fold their hands

and ruin themselves.

6Better one handful with tranquility

than two handfuls with toil

and chasing after the wind

Ecclesiastes 4v5,6


Fear drives so much of destructive human activity. In our struggle to survive, we see two great enemies. The enemy “futility” or “failure” that threatens to frustrate all of our efforts if we take action in our lives. The other enemy is “scarcity” or “not enough.” It drives us like a slavemaster, never letting us rest in the quest to stay one step ahead of it.

One enemy says, give up!, satisfaction is available to no one. The other enemy says fight!, satisfaction is only available to a few, the ones at the top.

If we fear futility and failure, we never actually live. We stay back, in hiding, from the wild world where life happens. We try to satisfy ourselves with comfort, with what pleasures we can, with escapism or numbing agents to dull the pain from the marks futility has left on us. We waste away. We live in a world of make believe, where we convince ourselves we’ve made the best choices, but somewhere deep down, we know there was meant to be more to us than this.

And we end up in the same condition as if we’d never gotten started in the first place.

We’ve got our hands folded, consuming our own flesh.

If we fear scarcity, we strive and chase and run and fight and claw to get to the top. Or at least high enough that it slows down to feast on those below us, buying us some time. The big problem is that no matter how high we climb, satisfaction proves elusive. Always just around the corner.

A little more money. One more promotion. A little thinner. A little more beautiful. A little more success. Respect. Fame. More obedient kids. A better spouse. More caring friends.

We’ve got two fists full of labor and striving after the wind.

But we never ever catch it.


“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless!”

Listen to this conversation between two partners on HBO’s new drama, True Detectives…

[show video clip…you can view it by watching the stream from on January 19th, starting at about the 17:50 mark]]

I’ve got an idea. Let’s make the car a place of silent reflection from now on.

Which maybe isn’t such a bad idea, is it? Because if we go on what we can observe about life – which is what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is forcing us to do – it would be easy to come to the conclusion that suicide is really the best way out. Unless, like Matthew McConaughey’s character suggests, we just don’t have the constitution for it.

What a dark view! But like Woody Harrelson’s character realized, it’s hard to argue with it. Echoing the same observations as Solomon, both Egyptians and Babylonians came to the conclusion that when you add it all up, everything is meaningless. In light of the meaninglessness of life, the Babylonian wisdom literature even recommended suicide as the wisest course of action.

But doesn’t something in you resist? Doesn’t something in you say, no, wait, there has to be more to the story?


As we began to see last week, the writer of Ecclesiastes agrees with that something in you that resists. Because the sense of life’s meaning can’t come from what is seen – what is “under the sun,” in the language of Ecclesiastes – but rather from what God makes known.


In other words, there is more going on in the world than meets the eye. There is an uncreated One above the sun who inhabits our vapor filled world and gives it substance and meaning through his love. There is a way to not seek satisfaction from the vapor – the fleeting, insubstantial pleasures and successes and things and activities under the sun – but instead to receive every thing, every present moment, every person, every task set before us, every joy and even every hardship as a gift from God’s hand. And in so doing to discover a true and lasting satisfaction in the God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. And along the way to discover that all that is “under the sun,” – our own selves and lives included – exists to be an expression of and container for God’s love.

Purpose of Ecclesiastes is to teach that there is no basis for confidence in ourselves; our only confidence is in what God will do for us.

This is why the teacher begins with disruption. He disrupts our confidence that we can ever achieve satisfaction for ourselves. Because as long as we buy the lie that we can eventually have or achieve enough to be satisfied, we will keep chasing after the wind, and discover that everything is vapor. Fleeting. Insubstantial. Unsatisfying.

[This is one of the fundamental flaws of the prosperity gospel – its appeal rests in advertising itself as the best vapor management scheme. It says the way to get enough is to be obedient to God’s instructions, and then we will have enough to be satisfied, nay, more than enough – we will be truly, abundantly, prosperous. Its flaw is that it peddles the lie that vapor – prosperity, money, wealth, good things – matters at all on its own. It doesn’t! It’s meaningless. It will be gone someday. It will be given to others who will mismanage it. Until what little we have is received as an expression of and container of God’s love, as a gift, then getting more doesn’t do anything for us.

Here’s the truth that the prosperity gospel twists. Once we receive what we have as gift from God’s hand, why then it’s filled with joy for us, such that we have no lust for more. And then finally, perhaps, we can be good stewards of it, and then God may entrust us with more.

But the more that God gives us will never be our source of satisfaction, and as long as that’s what we want, it won’t matter how much we have. It will all be vapor, a chasing after the wind. And so it will be taken from us, so that it can be transformed again into an expression of and container of God’s love, to be received by another who can receive it as gift.]

So if you read all the way through Ecclesiastes, you will come to Solomon’s conclusion, right at the end of the book, in chapter 12.


3Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

for this is the ⌈duty⌉ of every human being.

Fear God and keep his commandments.

The word Fear here comes from a Hebrew word meaning fear.

Huh? So our problems stem from the fact that we are afraid, and how we either cower in response to that fear or strive and claw in response to that fear. And now the solution to our fear is just another fear?

Well, yes.

Of course.

Except that this fear has a very, very different outcome.

Scarcity and futility are lies. They are the perversion of reality into unreality. They are smoke and shadow. They are less than vapor, less than meaningless. Why would we bend our ear to them? Why would we build our lives in response to them? Why would we pay them our attention? Why would we account for them in the equations of our actions. The fear of scarcity and the fear of futility drives us to death.

But God is reality’s deepest foundation. He is the Truth that undergirds all truth. He is substance. Fire and light. He is the one to whom we should bend our ear. Build our life in response to. Pay attention to. He is the one to factor into all our actions equations. The fear of Elohim – the creator of the universe – leads us to life.


Where then does wisdom come from?...It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing…God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells…And he said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

Job 28


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Proverbs 9:10

When we human beings are afraid, our amygdalas, the more primitive parts of our brain, hijack our frontal cortex and bend it towards the amygdala’s primitive, fear-driven purposes. [For what it’s worth, this is part of why the politics of fear are so effective …if you can make someone afraid of something, you can get them do almost anything you want, even if it’s not in their best interests.] We lose our sense of humor when we are afraid. We can’t think straight. Our memory doesn’t work very well. We have a hard time learning.

So what is God to do if he wants to rescue us fearful human beings, enslaved in fear to slave masters who are bent on our destruction?

He turns our misplaced fear towards himself, the one who loves us. So that he can arrest our attention, and begin to lead us to joy and hope. The condition in which we thrive.


Think about Jesus’ disciples out in the boat, in the storm, rowing hard and getting nowhere. Isn’t that the human condition? Surrounded by fearful things, in the dark of night. Straining so hard to get to the shore, pinning our hopes on the shore. But not getting any closer no matter how hard we try. Thinking, the problem is the storm, this wind, and these waves. If I just try a little harder, I can overcome them. I can get there, and then I can rest. Or maybe thinking, I should just give up. What’s the point? It’s all futility, failure. Let me enjoy my last moments before the waves swallow me up, at least.

And then they see Jesus out on the water, and they are frightened.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The disciples’ attention is turned from the wind and waves to Jesus – they are still afraid, perhaps even more so, or at least they are conscious of their fear for the first time, so much so that they cry out. And this is exactly what Jesus needs from them to give them life. Now he can engage with them. Show them who he really is. Invite them into a life without fear, walking on the water with him. Calming the wind and waves. Getting in their boat. Being worshipped by them – because now they are experiencing life as gift, and sure enough he gets them to the other side (immediately!), but that’s not what they care about. They just care about the fact that the Son of God is with them in their boat. That’s enough for them. They’ve got nothing to fear anymore.


All wisdom literature is designed to strengthen our trust in Yahweh. To get us to fix our eyes on him and realize that he is good. That he loves us. That he is going to provide for us. That there is no scarcity to worry about. That futility and failure aren’t valid concerns because his love isn’t conditioned on our performance. That all he wants from us is that we would trust him, depend on him, wait for him, so that he can bless us. That all he wants is for us to be free of fear so that we can enter into his love, his perfect love that drives out fear.

This is the goal of Ecclesiastes, as we see in its last verses. And yet, it spends all its energy on immersing us in an experience of meaninglessness. What’s going on?


What if the Christian life really begins by following Jesus to the cross and participating in the loss that we find there? The doubt that cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What if that’s true faith? What if that’s where life is found? In that kind of death?

I entered 2014 unsatisfied,

and without any particular expectations of satisfaction on the horizon.

Unsatisfied with the results of my life to date.

Unsatisfied with my prospects for the future.

Unsatisfied with many of the things that felt like they mattered.

Not a pleasant place to be.

Don’t get me wrong.

I had hope in the existential sense. I knew God was good. That he delights in doing good. That he has good ahead for us. For me.

I knew I was surrounded by all sorts of good.

Good things. Good people. Good goings on.

But I didn’t know what I was supposed to be going after.

What the point of anything was, really.

It all felt pretty meaningless.

Which was strange, a bit, because I know, that basically, I’ve done as God has asked me to do. I know I’ve followed his leading, more or less, but surely on the whole, I’ve followed to this place where I found myself.

It wasn’t clear what I was supposed to be doing, now.

I mean, I know that what I am doing is a good thing.

But as I looked at my life, at God’s promises, at the things I care about

And I looked at what I could see on the horizon

The prospects for satisfaction looked bleak to me

Nothing was adding up to any form of satisfaction in the foreseeable future.

What I wanted was rescue. A particular kind of rescue. I wanted God to miraculously re-arrange the vapor in a way that looked more satisfying to me.

Have you ever been there? I can’t imagine I’m the only one.


But I think what God wants for me – and may I be so bold as to suggest, us – is true rescue. The kind that begins as we follow him to the cross. A journey that we can’t take if we are responding to the fear of scarcity. Nor one that we can take if we are responding to the fear of futility. A journey that we can only take if we are responding to the fear of the Lord. Because if we have the fear of the Lord, we won’t be afraid to stand to toe to toe with Scarcity, as Jesus did on the cross. To stand toe to toe with Futility, as Jesus did in the tomb.


This is what the teacher in Ecclesiastes is inviting us into. Into an experience where we come face to face with the loss of everything we’ve been chasing after. Dying to it. Dying to the idea that money or relationships or success or stuff or fame or people (a spouse, a child, a friend) or respect or good health or even holiness or ministry effectiveness is anything more than vapor, a chasing after the wind.

What if the only way we’ll ever be freed to receive everything as a gift from God, encountering him moment by moment with fear that gives way to peace and joy, is if we first experience the fullness of meaninglessness. If we first experience the cross of Christ that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Everything under the sun is meaningless, says the Teacher.

But not the sun.

The sun itself has meaning, gives meaning.

The sun bathes the world in light.

Everything under the sun that can receive its light and reflect its radiance can receive meaning from it, and become meaningful because of it.

Jesus rises from the dead just before dawn on the first day of a new week. Just before the sun has had a chance to shine and give meaning to world that is now about to be filled with the living presence of God.


God is light.

God is love.

Love is meaning.

Love brings all real things into existence.

Love bathes the world in light.

Love is that which illuminates others, not herself.

Like the wind, she can be received and felt and delighted in, but never grasped.


Practical Suggestions:

1. Write down two things and bring them to communion to leave at the cross.

One thing you have not done out of fear of failure or futility. Something you really wanted to do or felt God calling you to do at some point in your life.

One thing you have chased after out of fear of scarcity, hoping that if you got enough you’d be satisfied. Money. A person. A job. Success. Popularity. Appearance. Etc.

At communion, say, “I’m done being afraid of you. God, help me to fear you instead.” Do that every day until you encounter God in that fear and feel what it is to be afraid of him.

2. Pray for one person you know locally – that you interact with monthly at least, and preferably weekly – and that isn’t, so far as you know, aware of God’s love for them. Pray that they would experience everything in their life, in an increasing way, as God’s gift to them, an expression of and container of his love.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Satisfied // Disruption & Gift

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/12/2014
video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:



A new series for January and perhaps February

On the subject of what it means to find satisfaction in our lives

In our relationships

In our jobs

In our financial status and material possessions

In our spiritual lives

And personal maturity

In our vocations

And service to others

And parenting

And spousing

And why not, maybe even in our bodies

And our churches

And sports teams


How satisfied are you?

Scale of 1-10.

With your friendships __________

With your car __________

With your self __________

With your work __________

With your spouse __________

With your cellular service __________

With your income __________

With your pastor __________

With your living situation __________

With your physical fitness __________

With your parents __________

With God __________

Which brings up another question.


How satisfied should you be?

Which, the more you think about it, requires you to answer another question.

What does it even mean to be satisfied?

Does it mean you can’t imagine it improving?

Does it mean it doesn’t have room to grow?

Does it mean there is no ache in you for something more?

Our primary text is the book of Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon.


“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes will seem at first, perhaps, to be the wrong book for this subject. How is a book about meaninglessness, about vanity and futility the right book for us? Great question. Maybe it’s not. But maybe, just maybe it’s exactly the right book. Maybe only in truly understanding meaninglessness and dis-satisfaction can we move towards true satisfaction. Let’s see.

Oscar Wilde, the 19th century Irish author and playwright (A Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest) wrote something provocative on the subject, in the same vein as Solomon:


In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Dumby, in Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

Think about the patron saint of Dis-satisfaction, of Not Getting What You Want. (No, not Mick Jagger. He sings about not getting what he wants, about not getting no satisfaction, but only one truly embodies it. )

I’m talking about the coyote.

Wile E. Coyote.


Spending his whole life chasing the roadrunner. Again and again and again. Always frustrated.

What are his options?

Give up, throw in the towel. Settle down. Have a family maybe. A couple coyote pups. But we know he’d always be thinking, “If I got that bird, I’d be happy.” No matter what good things happened in his life, secretly, he be thinking about that bird all the time. A miserable option.

Or maybe, what if he actually caught the bird…? “What are you going to do now?” Not really any better than the first option, is it? Maybe worse.


Or, he keeps chasing it and hopes he never catches it. Maybe that’s the option he’s already chosen. Maybe that’s why his equipment always fails. How would Acme stay in business if their products were actually that unreliable?


More likely, Wile E. is sabotaging himself, because he knows if he succeeds, it won’t actually be satisfying.

Oscar Wilde, Wile E. Coyote, and Solomon all get at profound truth about satisfaction from different angles. Namely, that satisfaction isn’t found where we are normally looking.

Listen to more from Israel’s King Solomon, a man of legendary wisdom.


Ecclesiastes 1 & 2…

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

3What does anyone gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

4Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

5The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises.

6The wind blows to the south

and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

7All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again.

8All things are wearisome,

more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

10Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

11There is no remembrance of people of old,

and even those who are yet to come

will not be remembered

by those who follow them.

Wisdom Is Meaningless

12I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on the human race! 14I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15What is crooked cannot be straightened;

what is lacking cannot be counted.

16I said to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;

the more knowledge, the more grief.

Pleasures Are Meaningless

2 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2“Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

4I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

and this was the reward for all my toil.

11Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun.

Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless

12Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,

and also madness and folly.

What more can the king’s successor do

than what has already been done?

13I saw that wisdom is better than folly,

just as light is better than darkness.

14The wise have eyes in their heads,

while fools walk in the darkness;

but I came to realize

that the same fate overtakes them both.

15Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.

What then do I gain by being wise?”

I said to myself,

“This too is meaningless.”

16For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;

the days have already come when both have been forgotten.

Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Toil Is Meaningless

17So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21For people may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to others who have not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.


Satisfied? A series from Ecclesiastes? How is this going to be helpful!? How did this even get in the Bible?

Well, it’s a bit like when you go to the doctor with a chronic condition, something that’s been bothering you for a long time. Something that you’ve tried to fix, unsuccessfully, on your own. Something that you tried to make your peace with, but it’s just getting worse. And the doctor says to you, “Well, I can help you. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to hurt. But if you trust me, if you let me do what I’m about to do, and if you do what I’m going to tell you to do, and you keep at it, this time next year, you’ll be all better. Whadda you say? Are you in?”

Our lack of being satisfied is like a chronic condition for many of us. We’ve almost always had it. We’ve tried to fix it, we’ve tried making our peace with it, and it’s just getting worse. At least, that’s my experience.


And Solomon is like the doctor. Or better, like a master teacher. And he’s been really helpful to me. So I’ll be preaching to myself here, if nothing else, and whomever wants to listen in is welcome.

Ecclesiastes falls into the general category of wisdom literature. But it’s not like most of the other wisdom literature.

Most wisdom literature falls along the lines of:

Do good, get good.

Do bad, get bad.

This series, this book Ecclesiastes,

is for everyone who did the right thing, and it all fell apart.

Or, maybe, it’s for those of us who did destructive things, and we came to the end of ourselves, and still found a God who loved us and rescued us.

This is Wisdom beyond wisdom.

A master teacher’s first job is to disrupt. To make you unsure of everything you think you know. So that you can receive something new.

Think about the first time human beings encountered the idea that the earth was round. Or that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

You can’t begin to absorb the new perspective until you can let go of the old one. And it’s hard to let go of the old one. Because so much of your current life rides on the assumptions that flow from the old one.

So the master teacher has to begin with disruption.

Jesus does this all the time, doesn’t he? He makes the outcast the hero of his story about what it means to be a good neighbor. The cheat the hero of his story about forgiveness.

Blessed are the poor.

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are those who mourn.

The last shall be first.

You have heard it said…but I say to you…

Anger towards your brother is the same as murder. Lust the same as adultery.

You’ve got to lose your life if you want to find it.

Love your enemies.

The teacher here in Ecclesiastes wants to disrupt our understanding of satisfaction. To disrupt our assumptions about success and meaning and what matters in life. We’ll get to that more and more in coming weeks, as we talk about satisfaction in various areas of our lives, in our work and relationships and money and stuff and faith and all that. For today, though, I want to give you a window into some central ideas in Ecclesiastes that we can build on later, and that you can take with you as, perhaps, you read for yourself this week.

Let’s start with the word, “meaningless.” It’s the Hebrew word, “hebel” and many versions of the Bible use “vanity” to translate it. Vanity, all is vanity.


Literally, hebel means vapor, or breath.

You can’t get your hands on it. It disappears. Evaporates and is gone. Fleeting, temporary. Insubstantial.

Vapor, everything is vapor.

Not everything, actually, but everything “under the sun.”


“under the sun” occurs 29x

It’s the realm of the created. Everything that exists in time, between birth and death, rising and setting.

Solomon does it all, explores it all, everything there is to do or see or acquire under the sun. He learns, he builds, he buys, he tastes, he feels. He experiences everything the created and the creation has to offer. And it’s not bad – a lot of it is pretty dang awesome. As he says in 2v10:


10I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

and this was the reward for all my toil.

This is a bit refreshing, isn’t it? He’s not fooling himself, so we know he’s not trying to fool us.

A lot of things under the sun are desirable and pleasurable. There is delight to be had. Fast cars are fun to drive. A nice crib is pretty cool to live in. A job where you can accomplish things and feel good about your efforts beats flipping burgers you can’t even afford to eat yourself. The buzz that wine gives you doesn’t necessarily feel half-bad. An expensive cut of steak, well prepared by a great chef tastes good. Most harems get good reviews on All things being equal, being smart and in the know and making good decisions sure beats being dumb and ignorant. Life just works better. And it’s a good feeling to wake up to a vault filled with gold and a 401K that you could live comfortably on for a 100 years if you had to.


[5 Minutes of Heaven…

Joe: So! The man shot my brother three times in the head. The man is having the life of Riley. What should I do? Do I shake his hand or do I kill him?

Vika: Well, killing him wouldn't be good for him.

Joe: For sure of that!

Vika: But it wouldn't be good for you either.

Joe: Oh, not good for me? My five minutes of heaven! How would that be not good for me?]

The answer is in chapter 2, verse 11:


“Yet when I surveyed…”

It’s the morning after.

After the pleasure of the moment has passed.

You’ve caught the roadrunner and feasted on it, and you’re cleaning up the dishes.

5 minutes after the 5 minutes of heaven.

This is when you evaluate whether you are satisfied or not.

Not, whether the food was good or the product was worth buying or if the house you built is a good house or the company a good company.

But whether you’re actually satisfied now.

Now that you’ve got the job.

Now that you’re married.

Now that the mustang keys are hanging in your kitchen.

Was it meaningful?

Did it really matter?

Are you truly content?

Are you left with lasting joy?


11Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was vapor, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun.

Everything under the sun is vapor.

Our physical lives and current bodies.


All of our stuff. Our houses and cars and clothes and phones and tools and food and lawns and companies and teams and countries.


Our jobs, our tasks. Running errands. Managing people. Selling insurance. Gardening. Filling out permission slips. Cooking food. Filling up with gas. Shoveling snow. Making beds. Doing dishes. Cleaning toilets. Scoring touchdowns. Walking the dog. Organizing the garage.


That’s not all there is, of course. Not everything that is, is vapor. Not everything that is, is under the sun.

Listen to 2v24 & 25:


24People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

God isn’t under the sun.

He’s uncreated, he’s not in time, no birth or death.

He doesn’t fall in the category of vapor.

And yet, he can somehow be connected to the things that are under the sun. He can give them meaning, transform them from vapor to glory, from insubstantial to meaningful. The food and drink and toil that is received from God’s hand as gift is something loaded with the breath of eternity. It becomes satisfying, somehow, in a way that on its own, divorced from heaven, it can never be.

Is love the stuff of heaven, or the stuff of earth? Is hope, and faith? Is joy? Peace? Is love vapor? Will it be here today and gone tomorrow? Or will it last forever and ever, even after all vaporous things have passed away?

We, like Solomon, spend our lives looking for satisfaction in things under the sun, and discover that they are vapor.


Satisfaction is found only in the uncreated one who is outside of time, who gives light to the world and brings all true, substantial things into existence. A satisfied life finds satisfaction only in God, who creates all things, including us, as an expression of his love, and as containers of his love.

Is your work, to you, an expression of God’s love – a container of God’s love - that you receive as a gift from him? Or is it something you look to, hoping it will satisfy you? Is your money, to you, an expression of God’s love that receive as a gift from him? Or something you look to, hoping it will satisfy you? Is your spouse? Your child? Your stuff? Your body? Your church?

Are you expending your energy to make your life more satisfying – to get more, be more, see more, do more, have more, give more?

Or is your expenditure of energy an expression of the gifts God has already given you? Are you expending your energy to fashion yourself and the world around you into containers for the life that God desires to give? Containers for God himself in this vaporous world?


I like an expression of Rob Bell’s – he says that sometimes our lives are nothing but “vapor management.” Trying to turn our vapor into something that will satisfy us. Trying to manage our relationships, our work, our money, our stuff, all of it, to corral it into some form that we’ll find satisfying.

We’ll even come to church, to God, thinking we need his help doing better vapor management. Thinking he can help us manage our money or our relationships or our stuff in such a way that it will start to give us life. Ah, if I spend money more wisely it will satisfy me. I’ll be more prosperous. If I give it to the poor. If I forgive people I’ll have life. If I do the right things with my body or my mind. Or whatever. I just need to follow the owner’s manual for this vapor, and it will finally be satisfying.

And it never works. You can never get good enough at vapor management to make vapor satisfying.

Which is why some come to church, to God, because they have gotten it all, they’ve won, they are the best vapor managers on planet earth, and they still have nothing but vapor.


The satisfied person is not defined by the quality of their vapor management. They might be rich. They might be poor. Their lives might be all in order or all out of order. What they have in common is the profound awareness (“this too, I see”) that life, all of it, is a gift from God to be appreciated and enjoyed.

This is why the teacher in Ecclesiastes is here to disrupt us. To shake us from chasing after the wind. To get us to stop. To look around. To feel the wind of God’s breath blowing against our skin right here, right now. To feel the warmth of the sun he made to shine on us. To receive Christ in the person before us, to receive him in the meal prepared for us, to receive him in the good work prepared in advance for us to do.

Jesus says it this way in Matthew 6v33

But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well …

God’s kingdom started before time, and will extend beyond time. God’s love, his provision, his power, the life of the ages, it’s eternal. Don’t seek after what you will eat, or what you will drink or what you will wear – the pagans look for satisfaction in these things. The Father knows what you need.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, it’s all gift, an expression of the Father’s love, a container of his love, and when you see that, when you become aware of that, you’ll finally know what to do with it.

Practical Suggestions:


Make a resolution to

Let your life be

An expression of (God’s gifts to you)

Instead of

A search for (something satisfying)


Let go of the lie:

If I could just _________________

Then I’d be ________________