Sunday, February 23, 2014

Satisfied // Joy & Toil


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/23/2014
video not available for technical problems this week
instead, listen via podcast here:
or via iTunes here:

My first job, other than the chores I did to earn my allowance as a kid – chopping wood for our wood burning stove, cleaning up the garbage when the raccoons got into our trash cans – was a paper route. Hauling up the stacks to the house from the curb, counting them, folding up the papers and putting them in the carrying sack or wagon, walking to the assigned neighborhood, throwing the papers on porches or putting them inside of screen doors, collecting payments once a month, trying to get new customers, finding and training subs so I could go on vacations with my family.

A summer lawn mowing business as a teenager, with my dad’s gas powered walk-behind push mower, a Snapper.

After school in high school, packing orders in the shipping department for Creative Solutions, a software company in Ann Arbor.

Working drive-through at McDonald’s on Stadium as a proud member of the McFamily.

Lifeguarding for the Ann Arbor Parks and Rec Department, and teaching swimming lessons in-between shifts.

Building fences on horse ranches, listening to Chicago and Foreigner on my Sony Walkman.

Selling voice-processing equipment to law offices, medical practices, and car dealerships, and then managing a sales team and new product launch for Dictaphone Corporation.

And since 1996, working as pastor in different capacities. Once a week on Sundays, rain or shine.

I’m guessing my experiences aren’t that different than many of yours, generally speaking. The U.S. Census Bureau says Americans hold 7-8 different jobs before the age of 30, on average.

Jessica Pryce Jones, in her book, “Happiness at Work” calculates that the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. 90,000 hours. And that doesn’t even account for the kind of vocational work done by full-time parents and homemakers.

Which might just be an interesting bit of trivia, except for this little nugget. Deloitte’s Shift Index Survey in 2010 shows that 80% are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Add to that other research which shows that 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is “very or extremely stressful.”

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes, this book of ancient wisdom in the Bible that we’ve been looking at in our Satisfied series - even though he lived thousands of years before us, in a different part of the world and in a different culture – he seems to identify with how we experience work so often in our lives.


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.



17So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is [vapor], 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 [vapor]. 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 [vapor] 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 [vapor].



4And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is [vapor], a chasing after the wind.


7Everyone’s toil is for the mouth,

yet the appetite is never satisfied.


Surely this can’t be the whole story? Surely there must be some hope? After all, work is part of what it means to be human, isn’t it? Or is it just a necessary evil?

Well, yes, thankfully there is more to work than this. Even in Ecclesiastes.

Work can be hard, it can be painful, there’s no guarantee of lasting results. It can make us stressed and anxious, it can rob us of rest because it we can’t get our minds off of it. It often doesn’t even come out of good motivations; we do it to keep up with the Joneses. And no matter how much we succeed, our work can never keep up with our ravenous appetites.


But listen to these passages.


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?


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.



15So I commend the enjoyment of life because there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.


10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.


How can both of these realities live together at the same time? Frustration, pain, futility, grief on the one hand. Joy, satisfaction, full-hearted engagement on the other.


As with so much we’ve learned from Ecclesiastes, everything has to do with perspective, with the relationship we have with work, with the posture we take towards it. If we look to work for satisfaction, if we count on it for any kind of control or meaning or identity in our lives, it will be futile, like chasing after the wind. Those first passages are designed to disrupt that, shake us loose from that way of relating to work. Stop! the teacher is saying. It’s getting you nowhere good. The second set of passages are an invitation into a new relationship with our work. An invitation to develop the profound awareness that our work is a gift from God’s hand, a container of and expression of his love, than we can stop trying to manage it like so much vapor, and begin to experience joy in our work that flows from hearts happy in God and his goodness.

In the scriptures, the first thing we learn about the Divine is that God works. Humanity, in fact, was created to help finish the creation God had started. Work is the first activity where people meet God.


15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it…

19Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

Genesis 2v15,19-20


Work, in other words, is a fundamentally spiritual pursuit. The God who is love, creates value out of the welter and the waste. Out of his love, he shapes chaotic nothingness into a container of, and expression of, his love. And then he invites us to join him in his work, adding value to the vapor, putting our hands to creation, as he first did, and shaping it into containers of and expressions of his love. This is the first purpose of all work. Whether we are making cars or raising kids or managing money or training people or inventing new technology or teaching or making art or cooking food or farming land or building homes or planning projects or creating new fashion or adding to the beauty of people and places and spaces or marketing or developing productive and profitable businesses.

Of course, along the way, we human beings chose to work against God, to disastrous result, which means we’ve got twice as much work. Not only are we joining with God in adding value to creation – to everything under the sun – we are also redeeming everything that has gone and is going wrong as a result of our working against God. So some of our work is fixing cars and fighting fires and nursing and therapy and doctoring and disaster relief and social justice and helping people get out of debt and repairing appliances and rebuilding after tornadoes and cleaning up oil spills and working in prisons and serving in the military and law enforcement and lawyering and judging and on and on.

But all work – value adding or redemptive – is meant to be this thing we do with God and with one another to creatively coax the wild and wanton, the beautiful and the broken world into more robust and ready containers of, and expressions of, his love.

So coming back to Ecclesiastes, maybe our eyes can be a little more open to seeing what the Teacher is saying.


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?



Find satisfaction isn’t a very helpful translation, to my mind. The grammer is a little tricky, because it’s structured the way we would say “tell themselves that their work is good.” But the main Hebrew word at work there is ra’ah, which doesn’t mean tell, but rather to see or look at or perceive. Show yourself that your work is good.

Our work is a container of and expression of God’s love to us. It is a gift to join with him, to cooperate with him in creation and redemption. We can meet him in our work. He’s already there, doing it before us and inviting us to help him.

But we’ll only perceive him if we change our relationship to our work. If we stop trying to find satisfaction in it – and instead find satisfaction in the one who is already present in our work, and who gave us the work to do as a gift, as an expression of and container of his love.


12I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy (samach) and to do good while they live. 13That each of them may eat and drink, and [perceive the good] in all their toil—this is the gift of God.



Again, be happy isn’t a very helpful translation. The word the Teacher uses here is samach which means to rejoice. Being happy isn’t really something we can pull off. It’s not like turning on a switch. But rejoicing is something we can do. We can recognize that life is a gift – that there is gift everywhere, all around, in the very fact that we have breath and strength at all. And out of that awareness, we can have joy. We can rejoice. We can choose to say, Yes! This is good.

I’m not talking about some kind of denial of reality, shiny happy face. Even when the vapor isn’t arranged to our liking, when not everything is as it should be (maybe we aren’t getting paid enough, or our boss is really a messed up individual, or the company we work for is a dysfunctional organization, or the job we have doesn’t match our giftings, or our co-workers are a real pain to put up with, or whatever), we can see that here, now, nonetheless there is gift from God in the work we have before us, and we can rejoice. It’s like Paul and Silas rejoicing in prison in the story in Acts 16. They are in prison, but they are rejoicing. An earthquake happens, the cell doors fly open, their chains come loose. But they don’t leave. They recognize God is in that place, and their joy comes from him, not their circumstances.

We’ve mentioned this passage earlier in our Satisfied series, but it’s worth revisiting now.


5Fools fold their hands

and ruin themselves.

6Better one handful with tranquility

than two handfuls with toil

and chasing after the wind.


Hands, handful, and handfuls are all different Hebrew words. Understanding them can give us a clue about the healthiest approach to work.


5Fools fold their hands יָד] [yad /yawd/] – hand, strength, power]

and ruin themselves.

6Better one handful כַּף] [kaph /kaf/] – palm, open hand] with tranquility

than two handfuls [חֹפֶן [chophen /kho·fen/] – handfuls, fist] with toil

and chasing after the wind.


God has given us yad – strength, power – at the core of what it means to be a human being. It’s a holy gift, a gift to be spent in work, in creative and redemptive labor. If we ignore it, fold it, turn it inward and make it about us or about our appetites, it will ruin us.

Far better to hold our hand out, palm up, like we are receiving our work as a gift from God, and offering it back to him for his purposes, in a posture of peace and rest and quietness, no striving

Than to knuckle down, both hands balled up, grabbing after success or achievement or significance in our work. Then our work is just toil and futility.

Now, this encouragement maybe makes sense:


10Whatever your hand יָד [yad /yawd/] – hand, strength, power finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.


It’s like we are reaching out our hand for whatever gift God might place in it, and when he does, then we give ourselves to that wholeheartedly, for we are meeting him in that gift, and he is meeting us, and we are alive with him in this moment, here and now.


15So I commend the enjoyment of life [joy, from the same root as rejoicing] because there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad [again, that word for rejoice]. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.


Are we getting the picture? The teacher commends joy. Receive everything as a gift. Rejoice in it. Choose to say, “Yes, this is good. God is here.” It may be the good fight of faith you are fighting, because it may be hard for you to see him in your work. But he is there. Work itself is an expression of and container of his love. It’s where we first meet him as human beings.

Maybe there is work that suits you better. Maybe there is other work God is preparing you to do. Maybe God is calling you to new work tomorrow, work that fits better with who you are and with God’s gifts in your life, work that when you do it you feel his pleasure like nothing else. But today, this is work you have is gift from him. Seek first the kingdom – perceive him present now, here, in your work – and everything else will be added to you. Your father knows you need these things. Until we can relate to our work here, now with joy and rejoicing, until our satisfaction comes from God present to us in our work and we aren’t seeking satisfaction from our work, only then can God entrust more to us.

So rejoice. Choose to say Yes, this breath, this body, these people, this provision, this work that God has given me today is good. The living God, is present in all of it, all of it is container of and expression of his love. Out of the joy that gives me I will breathe, and I will act, and I will love, and I will steward, and I will work. Then joy will accompany us in our toil all the days of the life God has given us under the sun.

And of course, there is the whole matter of God bringing all things to completion in Christ Jesus, and the way in which none of our work done in cooperation with God’s vision for the world will be in vain, and all of that, but we’ll save that for another time, some time in God’s good future for us.


For now, some final practical suggestions in our satisfied series.

1. Good Expectations. Before your work, take a moment to imagine where you work as a garden. And picture God bringing your work to you, like YHWH brought the animals to Adam. Do it again after each break. All week long.

2. Show yourself that it was Good. After work, before you re-enter your non-work world, pull out this business card, and read Genesis 1:31, putting your name in place of God, or better yet, along with God. (“saw that it was good” uses the same words as Ecclesiastes for “find satisfaction.”) All week long.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Satisfied // Relationships


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/16/2014
video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:


Propaganda is getting at one of the essential truths of Ecclesiastes, isn’t he? Satisfaction comes from a profound awareness that all of life is a gift from God.


Life comes in the present moment from the presence of God who is present to us through everything which is a container of and expression of his love. If we try to find satisfaction in any thing other than him – in money or success or our bodies or power or wisdom or anything we build or achieve, even in people – it will be a chasing after the wind, a futile attempt. The explosions of the past and the future may make us afraid to move, or they may make us spend all of our energy trying to avoid them, but either way, we lose. Fear God, says Ecclesiastes. Take joy in his gifts now. They are containers of and expressions of his love, from which all true satisfaction flows. This is the way to live a satisfied life. Satisfaction is found in this present moment, or not found at all.


And of course this is true when it comes to relationships as well.

Either the people in our lives with whom God has allowed us to love are gifts from his hand that we are to receive as containers of and expressions of his love, or they are things that we use and abuse in our quest for satisfaction in something other than God. Either we have joy and satisfaction in God’s gifts to us now, today, in this present moment, or we have no joy and we chase after the wind seeking satisfaction.

Let’s start with some of your favorite people.

Maybe a friend you love.

Or someone with whom you are in love. Maybe someone you’ve married, or someone you asked to be your Valentine.

Maybe a child, a son or a daughter.

Maybe a parent. Your dad. Your mom.

You know how it goes.


As long as they are a gift from God, an expression of his love to you, a container of his love for you, your relationship with them is one of the greatest treasures in your life. You are facebooking and tweeting about how great they are.

They are a sign to you that God is good and that he loves you. Birds are singing. Flowers are blooming. Life is good.

In a sense, they can do no wrong. Not because they are perfect. But because they are gift. Like a newborn baby. There may be poop and crying and spit up and sleeplessness. But they are gift. They are being themselves. And themselves comes along with the gift.


But as soon as you let them become anything other than a gift – as soon as they become a source of your happiness, a condition of your satisfaction in life – everything changes. You have expectations, and they don’t meet them, and that leads down an ugly road, littered with pain.




It doesn’t matter.

Something in you wants to control them. Change them. Fix them.

You get demanding.

You get clingy.

You get anxious.

You get angry.

You get depressed.

You get passive-aggressive.

You get revenge.

You get upset.

You get paranoid.

You try to do everything right to please them.

You say forget it and drop them like a lead balloon.

Maybe you’re wrapped up in an explosion in the past. Maybe someone you once saw as a gift hurt you, and you cannot enjoy them as a gift now because all you hear is the explosion. Or maybe you’re wrapped up in a coming explosion, in some fear about what will become of the relationship in the future, and you cannot enjoy them as gift now. All of your energy is focused on controlling the relationship. Getting it back to what it once was, or keeping it from becoming what you fear it will be. Whatever the case, now, this present moment, is obscured by what has been and what might be.

Let’s look at what Ecclesiastes specifically says about relationships, and see what wisdom it may have for us when it comes to satisfaction and our relationships.


7Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:

8There was a man all alone;

he had neither son nor brother.

There was no end to his toil,

yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.

“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,

“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”

This too is meaningless—

a miserable business!


9Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

10If they fall down,

they can help each other up.

But pity those who fall

and have no one to help them up!

11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

12Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

What an extraordinarily different tone. Nothing in Ecclesiastes compares.

A good return. They can help each other up. They will keep warm. They can defend themselves. Not quickly broken.

So different than the apparent pessimism so common in Ecclesiastes. As if the Teacher views the relationships we can have with other people in a completely different light than he views the relationships we have work, or money, or our bodies or accomplishments or wisdom or knowledge.

Relationships are not described as being “under the sun.” Not described as vapor, or a chasing after the wind.

Instead, relationships are praised, commended. Especially in contrast with being alone.

And have you noticed that a good relationship, a healthy one, can actually be satisfying, after a fashion?

You don’t always want more, like with money or stuff or almost anything else. I mean, sure, we often want more time. But in the moment, it’s possible to experience a relationship as more than you could ask for. As enough.

Yes, there’s something different about relationships. Or at least, there can be.

Obviously, we can relate to people we relate to in unhealthy ways, and then we do want more. More of their time. More of whatever they do for us. More of their loyalty. More of their affection. More of their praise or approval or respect. (This happens with parents, especially. And lovers. But it can happen with anyone.)

Or maybe we want them to be who we want them to be, for our own benefit. (This happens with kids, especially. And lovers. But it can happen with anyone.)

And relationships can feel fleeting, like vapor. They can end. And it can be devastating. The opposite of satisfaction.

What’s going on here? Why do relationships have this capacity to rise above everything else that’s under the sun, while at the same time being subject to all the brokenness everything else in our lives is subject to? What’s so special about relationships? And how can we have the kind Ecclesiastes is recommending to us? The kind that are rewarding, where we are greater than the sum of our parts, where we help each other in difficulty, where we keep each other warm when it’s cold, and protect each other from attack, and weather all kinds of stresses and strains with strength?


Well, what’s going on is that loving relationships between people – image-bearers of their creator – are a participation in God’s love.

God, the scriptures say, is love. God is irreducible relationship. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

So it’s no surprise that the universe that love creates is a relational universe. It is, at its core, a relational system. Nothing stands on its own – from strings to quarks to protons to atoms to molecules to cells to organisms to ecosystems to planetary systems and solar systems and galaxies and on and on. Every bit of matter and energy is in interdependent relationship with every other bit of matter and energy.

We are made for relationship. For relationship with God, and with others, and with creation. We thrive in relationships. We wither without relationships. One of the first human experiences recorded in Genesis is that “it’s not good for the human to be alone.”

Which means the ache many of us feel for loving relationship with another person is unlike the ache we feel for food or money or a new car. It’s central to what it means to be human. The life of eternity flows to us through relational channels, and relational channels alone.

Which is why, when we see money, or food, or stuff or anything “under the sun” as a gift from God, it becomes a channel of his life for us. Love can flow through that thing when we relate to that thing as a gift. That thing becomes an expression of and container of God’s love for us. It becomes a relational reality.

Human beings are, at their core, relational realities. They are expressions of and containers of God’s love by virtue of being made in the image of God. Which means they are loaded with life-giving, relational capacity that goes beyond the fleeting, insubstantial capacity of everything else under the sun. Which isn’t to say to we can’t screw that up – no, of course we can! But it is to say that we don’t have to try too hard to access the life God intends to fill us with in relationship with one another.

Most of us know this truth instinctively and experientially.


[Challenge day experience“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”]

So how do we lose the plot so easily? What chokes off this channel of eternal life from God present in relationship with one another?

Judgment is how. Judgment is fundamentally a posture issue. It has to do with how we relate to others. Do we stand above them, as if they exist in some way to serve us, as if we have some responsibility to determine the goodness or wrongness of their hearts and actions?

Or do we love them? Do we lower ourselves to serve them? Do we receive them as gifts that belong to God but are given to us, in this moment, and in this capacity, to participate in his purposes towards them?


[Calvin and Hobbes cartoon… “Just what are you implying…?”]

Remember how Jesus sums up everything that God has spoken to human beings through the law he gave to his people, the children of Israel, and through the prophets he sent to them?


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.

After all, Jesus came to give us life, and life to the full. And he tells us the greatest commandment is simply to love God and love people in the way that we love ourselves (which, as we talked about last week, involves receiving ourselves as gifts from God’s hand, as containers of and expressions of God’s love).

So, when you first meet a person towards whom you feel deep affection – whether they be friend or parent or child or lover – they are so delightful and such a surprise that it is difficult not to receive them as gift. But soon, oh so very soon, we come to take them for granted. And soon, oh so very soon, we have expectations or demands or hopes that we should only properly place on God, but because these people have been such channels of his life to us, we confuse the gift and the giver, and we place those expectations or demands or hopes on them. And they cannot possibly meet those expectations. Not even the best of us can meet those expectations. And soon, we find ourselves let down. Not getting from another person what we should be asking God for.

What is our first reaction to this letting down? Well, our desires only get more demanding, like a toddler being told no, so we just up our game to get what we want. We step above the other person who used to be gift to us, even if ever so slightly, in judgment. It was wrong of them, what they did or didn’t do, wasn’t it? They need to act differently, don’t they…?

In that instant, they become to us no longer gift. They no longer belong to God. They belong to us. For our purposes.

In that instant, we have ceased to love. One cannot simultaneously love and judge; the posture of judgment prohibits love for us human beings in relationship with each other.

In that instant, we are not satisfied. We are in judgment. We have been cut off from love, from that which is above the sun. Our whole lives have now gotten smaller and less substantial and more fleeting. We are in the realm of all created things, of vapor. Our lives have become vapor management. There is no joy in the present, in now, in God’s gifts to us, in his presence with us.

Ecclesiastes wants to deliver us from that.

Ecclesiastes wants us to seek our satisfaction and life and power and strength and hope in God, and God alone.


Ecclesiastes wants us to relate to everything, and everyone, as gift from God’s hand, so that we might have joy from which everything else in our life flows.

Ecclesiastes wants us to take joy in the gift that our friend is, and relate to our friend out of that joy – even when they are acting badly towards us, or towards God, or towards themselves, or towards creation. To take joy in the gift that our child is and relate to our child out of that joy. To take joy in the gift that our wife or our husband is and relate to them out of that joy. And even, if Jesus is to be trusted, to take joy in the gift that our enemies are, and relate to them out of that joy.

So that we might have truly satisfied lives.

[share personal experiences…?]

Perhaps you’ve experienced being profoundly wronged by someone with whom relationship was gift to you from God. Perhaps the relationship ended. Or perhaps you lost someone through death. But they come to mind from time to time. You see them somewhere, or hear about them, or something reminds you of them.

If they were gift once, they are gift still. All of our gifts of relationship are eternal – even if they experienced very differently in different seasons of life. They are not under the sun, they will continue in some form when God sets all things right. Can you receive them as gift, afresh, even now? Even the pain of betrayal or hurt or harsh words or rejection or loss or grief can be a gift that drives you to God with your pain and brings you life from him, who is the author of life. And that experience of gift can move you down from the elevated posture of bitterness and anger and frustration and settle you on your knees, in the posture of love and grace where you have communion with Christ, and the love and grace that flows from him.

Because that is how Jesus relates to us.

Then you can get on again with loving the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.

And you won’t be alone in the judge’s seat any longer. But rather, knees to the earth, walking in the way of Jesus, ready to experience the profoundly satisfying truth that

9Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

10If they fall down,

they can help each other up.

But pity those who fall

and have no one to help them up!

11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

12Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Practical Suggestions


1. The Big Three Experiment. Right now, identify three of the most significant relationships in your life, and ask God to reveal to you how you have been relating them. As gifts that allow you to love them? Or standing in some form of judgment that makes loving difficult? Tonight, Monday night, and Tuesday night, write down any experiences or thoughts you have. On Wednesday morning, do some business with God about those relationships. Repent if needed. Thank God for those relationships and people as gifts to you, designed by God to be channels of his love to you (even if the main way they function now is to drive you to him for help). Do a joy dipstick test with respect to those relationships. Full? A quart down? Running dry? Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning, begin the day thanking God for those three relationships and people. Sunday morning, take stock of your joy in those relationships. See if it’s gone up at all.

2. Fill in the Blank.

If my relationship with _______________ improved, I’d have a lot more joy in my life.

Whose name did you put in there?

What would happen if you swapped out that name with Jesus?

Now try another fill in the blank.

If I looked at ___________________ as a gift, my relationship with him/her would improve.

Whose name did you put in there?

Ask for God’s help in relating to that person in a new way.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Satisfied // Remember


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/09/2014
video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:

I’m 43 now, and fighting a losing battle with my body.

I went to play basketball with some friends from the church, and some neighbors a couple of weeks ago. On the way, we were all bemoaning various injuries and aches and pains. Quietly, in my head, I started cataloguing my ailments. My left wrist, for example. I hurt it a year and a half ago that still isn’t up to snuff, and no matter how well it gets, the odds of it ever being as strong as it once was are slim to none. My right wrist and hand I’d hurt when I slipped on the ice and fallen earlier that week. My left knee was sore from the same fall. My right Achilles tendon was tender from a 2 year old rupture that had been acting up while jumping rope the day before. My right hip was sore from compensating for it, and had been for about 9 months. My right ring finger is permanently disfigured from being disjointed playing touch football with some junior high students when I was a youth pastor.

I cracked a joke to the guys in the car from the back seat. “I feel bad for some of you guys. I’m just lucky that I’m not injury prone.” “Ha!” said Ross, who was driving the car and knew better from playing hoops with me since he was in high school. “We’ve got a pool on you. We all bought squares last week on what you’ll hurt next, and when.”



We've all got them.  Various sizes and shapes and conditions.  

They are also one of our greatest sources of dissatisfaction. Maybe they aren’t tall enough, strong enough, flexible enough, shapely enough, thin enough, fast enough, and on and on. They get sick. Injured. Old. Hairy. Bald. Blind. Sore. Wrinkly. Saggy. Smelly. We wish we had someone else’s. We wish ours was more like it used to be. Whatever.


For some of us, maybe many, satisfaction and our bodies is a constant struggle. We do that if I could just __________, then I’d be __________ equation all the time. If I could just lose 10 lbs (20, 30, 100?), then I’d be _________. If my _________ would heal, then life would be so much better. If I looked like _________, then ________. If I could just fix ___________, or have better ___________, then I wouldn’t feel shame.

Which is a bit of a problem all on its own, since research shows that the less satisfied we are with our bodies, the more likely we are to engage in behaviors that only make us less healthy.  But even beyond that, questions remain. What does a satisfied life look like when it comes to our bodies?  How do bodies fit in a satisfied life? How do we relate to them?

Before we look at Ecclesiastes 12 (our text for today), let’s briefly review a few key things we’ve learned from the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.


Every created thing in this world that is subject to time (what Ecclesiastes refers to as “under the sun”) is fleeting, insubstantial, and ultimately will resist even our best attempts to control it. It is, in the words of the Teacher, vapor.


The satisfied person, according to the Teacher, 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 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 God 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.

Because if he can get us to see how fleeting everything we look to for satisfaction truly is, if he can get us to see how little control it can really offer us, how little control we ultimately have over our world, then there is hope we might start, finally, to look to God for everything, where true satisfaction is found.

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, all of these things, food, drink, clothing, money, our bodies, our very lives, 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.

And so we are learning from Ecclesiastes how to let our lives be an expression of God’s gifts to us, a response to the joy we find in his gifts, instead of a search for satisfaction in anything other than God himself.


And we discussed a bit that the beginning of movement in that direction always starts by shifting our fear from the destructive fear of scarcity and futility (which are like shadows, unreality) to the life-giving fear of God, who loves us and is the foundation of all that is real.

With that all in mind, let’s look at Ecclesiastes 12, which is all about these bodies of ours (even though that may not be obvious, at first glance).


12 Remember your Creator

in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come

and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them”—

2before the sun and the light

and the moon and the stars grow dark,

and the clouds return after the rain;


3when the keepers of the house tremble,

and the strong men stoop,

when the grinders cease because they are few,

and those looking through the windows grow dim;

4when the doors to the street are closed

and the sound of grinding fades;

when people rise up at the sound of birds,

but all their songs grow faint;


5when people are afraid of heights

and of dangers in the streets;

when the almond tree blossoms

and the grasshopper drags itself along

and desire no longer is stirred.

Then people go to their eternal home

and mourners go about the streets.


6Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,

and the golden bowl is broken;

before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,

and the wheel broken at the well,

7and the dust returns to the ground it came from,

and the spirit returns to God who gave it.


8“Meaningless [Vapor]! Meaningless [Vapor]!” says the Teacher.

“Everything is meaningless [vapor]!”

The indentations in this section of the Bible are a way of indicating that we are reading poetry here. It’s poetry using another language (Hebrew), and using word images from an ancient culture that might be obscure to us, so it takes a little work to access its meaning. So let’s do that together first, and then we can try to learn what the Teacher is trying to teach us.


“In the days of your youth….before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark…”

What’s being set up here is the idea that our bodies start out young, but it’s not long before they begin to deteriorate and fail with age. And one of the primary experiences of that, especially in the ancient world, was blindness. Especially without corrective lenses. The moon and stars growing dark suggest failing eyesight. Even for me, in my relative youthfulness, if I go outside on a cloudless night without my contacts or glasses, the sky looks black to me. There might also be the suggestion of our bodies getting colder and having a hard time staying warm, and even the idea that our cognitive capacities can diminish over the years.


“…clouds return after the rain…”

This is what I’m experiencing with respect to aches and pains. It used to be, when I was young, I’d get hurt (that’s the rain bit) and then I’d recover fully, relatively quickly. The rain would come, but then clear skies. Now? Not so much. The clouds return after the rain. I get hurt, and maybe get a little better, but the chance of re-injury is just a matter of time. And the pain is almost never completely gone.


“…the keepers of the house tremble…”

Keepers of the house is a common metaphor for hands. So we’re talking about trembling hands here.

“…strong men stoop…”

Muscles go slack.

“…grinders cease because they are few…”

Losing teeth. [root canal experience…]

“and those looking through the windows grow dim…”

Failing eyesight again, here.

“…when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades…”

Picture two doors, and when they are opened, the sounds of the street come into the house. The poet is describing hearing loss.

“…rising at the sound of birds...”

Not sleeping very well any more, woken even by birds whose songs you can only barely hear with your failing ears.


“…afraid of heights and dangers in the streets…”

Hard to get out and about anymore. Your driver’s license gets taken away.


“…when the almond tree blossoms…”

Hair going white.


“…the grasshopper drags itself along and desire is no longer stirred…”

Oh my. Please don’t make me spell this one out.

Maybe do this. Picture a grasshopper, which normally hops, strong and sure, explosively powerful legs…now dragging itself along, limping, limp.

We’re talking specifically about a man here. About his Jiminy Cricket.

There you go. Yup, you got it.

“…people go to their eternal home, and mourners go about…”

In Solomon’s culture, you’d hire professional mourners to grieve you publicly, getting the word out about your death.

Which reminds me…have you driven past Marble Memorial Cemetery on Platt Road, recently? Not long ago, this sign showed up in front of it…


After a minute of reflection, it was obvious that this wasn’t a cemetery sign, but an unfortunate (or brilliant!) placement for a sign from the city to give people a good feeling about Milan on the way out. Shortly afterwards, I saw this sign on Main, near Kroger, placed for people leaving heading west and leaving the city…


Which, it occurs to me, also would have been pretty funny in front of the cemetery….but alas, behind it, is this boarded up, dilapidated house…



Ok, enough of that…back to the text.

“…before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken…”


Imagine your soul connected via a sliver cord to your body, a valuable bowl containing oil, representing your life, and that cord being severed, and the bowl falling, shattering, the oil running out.

“…before the pitcher is shattered at the spring…”

A similar idea, but this time life like water that your body, like a pitcher contains.

“…dust returns…spirit returns…”

The last image is more familiar to us, rooted in the creation account in Genesis. Dust (out of which our bodies were formed) returning to the ground, our spirit (or breath – it’s the same word) returning to God who gave it to us in the first place, reaffirming the idea of our lives as a gift from him.

Through all of this, the Teacher is suggesting one thing we need to do. He’s laying out the human condition, the reality of our bodies that are sure to die, and that, at best, have only fleeting health and youth and vigor and full functionality, and saying, here’s what we should do in light of all that.


Remember your creator.

Simple and profound wisdom that changes everything when it comes to our dissatisfied, frustrated relationship with our bodies.

Remember your creator.

All of our dissatisfaction has its roots in forgetting our creator. In forgetting that our bodies are gifts from someone who formed them and gave them to us for a joyful purpose.

When we forget our creator, we look at our bodies and we want them to do something for us.

We want them to make us live forever.

We want them to give us pleasure.

We want them to give us control over our surroundings and our lives and our activities.

We want them to impress others.

Maybe to give us dominance over others.

Or at the very least, to keep us from being dependent on others.

We begin to see our bodies as us, as an expression of us.

We are arrogant about them, or shamed.

We have confidence in them, or fear of their failing or inadequacy.

We want them to give us something to love about ourselves, and instead we loathe them, and ourselves along with them.

They will never ever satisfy us.

They are vapor. Looking for satisfaction in them is like chasing after the wind.

Remember your creator.


God made something (you, your body) out of the vapor that is a container of and expression of his love. He has made, out of this fleeting, time-bound, under the sun stuff, an image-bearer that can contain eternity, the life of the ages, the life of God. A wonder that bears witness to his love to all who encounter it. You, an embodied synthesis of spirit and dust, are a wonder of wonders.

You are, first and foremost, a container of his love to you. You are an expression of his love to you. The creator took dust, matter, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, protons and neutrons, electrons, quarks, and shaped it into you. You are fleeting, insubstantial, under-the-sun vapor that can breathe. And feel. And think. And know. And live. And love with his love. Eternity is in your heart. Because he chose you. Because he loves you. He gave you a body. Through which and in which you can experience the gift of life.

You are the steward of this thing he has made. This body. It’s made by his hands, but it’s in your hands now. Under your dominion and care. Freely given to you in love.

What will you do with it? How will you relate to it?

Remember your creator.

This is the wisdom of the Teacher.

Remember your creator.

Each time you consider your body and you receive it afresh as a gift, a container of and expression of God’s love, you are remembering your creator. You are remembering that you were shaped and formed out of the vapor as a container of and expression of God’s love.

Each time you consider your body, and the question before you is, “how can I let this body serve as a container of and expression of God’s love to the rest of the creation” you are remembering your creator. You are remembering that you were shaped and formed out of the vapor as a container of and expression of God’s love. And that your relationship to your body is therefore one of steward, not creator.

Sing. Shout. Dance. Kneel. Raise your arms. Stretch out your arms. Clap. Play an instrument.

Does fear of scarcity or futility drive your actions?

Then you have forgotten your creator. You have taken the gift and made yourself yours, dependent on yourself.

Or do you do what you do as a response to the joy that comes from receiving the gift?

If so, you are remembering your creator.







Does scarcity or fear of failure drive your actions?

Then you have forgotten your creator. You have taken the gift and made yourself yours, dependent on yourself.

Or do you do what you do as a response to the joy that comes from receiving the gift?

If so, you are remembering your creator.

The primary benefit in remembering your creator, of course, is that your satisfaction is rooted in God, and not in your body. Which means your satisfaction is secure and deep. Because God is above the sun and eternal, unlike your body which is under the sun and fleeting.

There is a secondary benefit, too. Which is that when our satisfaction is in God and not in things under the sun, we relate in much healthier ways to all the fleeting things, including our bodies. We can creatively cooperate with God in increasing their capacity to be containers of and expressions of his love. We can actually enjoy the gift of our bodies, in whatever state they are currently in, without our joy being stolen or corrupted by fear. And we can steward them out of that joy, which is the only effective kind of stewardship.

One final thought before a practical suggestion or two.

This remembering thing goes two ways.

The first way, we just talked about. We remember our creator, and we have a profound awareness that our bodies are gifts from his hands. And they become containers of and expressions of his love again, agents of joy in our lives, moment by moment, as long as they last.

The second way follows from the first, and is perhaps even more exciting.

When we remember our creator, our fleeting lives are connected to eternity, and become bound up with eternity.

And the promise of Jesus and his resurrection is that God will remember us after our old creation bodies have released our spirits.

He will re-member us.

He will give us new creation bodies like Jesus’ resurrection body.

Do you recall the thief on the cross next to Jesus?


Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Today, Jesus said, you will be with me in paradise.

John Polkinghorne, a physist and angelical priest, says that all matter is, at the most basic level, information. That we are, fundamentally, information about how all of our atoms are arranged, information about how they relate to one another, information about the experiences that caused them to be in those arrangements. And he says that when we die, God holds the information, every last detail of it, all of it that makes us who we are, bodies and spirits, in himself. And at the resurrection, he re-members us. He takes the information that is us, and re-creates us out of the new creation materials of the second creation, no longer fleeting, subject to decay, the heavens and the earth no longer divided between that which is under the sun and that which is above the sun.

[Bible nerd note: God remembers Noah and the animals in Genesis 8 – the flood is a foreshadowing of the new creation / remembering is how new creation begins…]

Do you recall what time it was when Jesus rose from the dead? It was before dawn it says in the scriptures. His resurrection body was a body made before the sun had risen. A body still that breathes and eats and feels and contains the record of his suffering in his scars, but also a body that suffers no longer, that decays no longer, a body that has eternity not just in its heart, but is shot through with the stuff of heaven.

This is what awaits all who, with Jesus, remember our creator, and receive our bodies as gifts from his hand, to be stewarded with joy, surrendered in worship as living sacrifices to God, and offered to the world as containers of and expressions of God’s immense and wondrous love.


Practical Suggestions:

1. Remember your creator in Worship.

Sing. Clap. Do something with your body posture. Kneel. Bow. Raise your hands. Dance if you want. Avoid a posture of firm control. If your work is physical at all, this week, mindfully offer your physical effort as worship. Or your exercise or play or recreation or even sleep.

2. Remember your creator in meals.

Use eating as a chance to be aware of the gift of your body. Give thanks for the meal. Enjoy the flavors and textures and pleasures of eating.