Years ago Sally and I travelled from San Francisco to meet my parents at my grandmother’s house in Boise… up up up Donner Pass… the engine ran out of oil, the engine block was cracked… the car became instant toast. It was an early 70's Plymouth Gold Duster that we had purchased from Elsie Miller. We had little money… long way from home. We tend to remember the negative…
The other line always moves faster.
Anything you try to fix will take longer and cost you more than you thought.
If you fool around with a thing for very long you will screw it up.
If it jams - force it. If it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.
When a broken appliance is demonstrated for the repairman, it will work perfectly.
Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening.
Murphy's golden rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules.
Erma Bombeck’s rule: "Anything dropped in the bathroom will fall in the toilet.
A skeptical age…skepticism/fear keeps us from dreaming… from taking risks… from believing God wants even more for us…
Right in the middle of this scripture is a little tiny word: TEST (Ecc. 3:18). Life is a test from God. Skeptic or dreamer? Holding onto today in fear, or yearning for the promise of eternity of tomorrow. Today is a test from God. How do you respond? Fear or faith. Look down or look up. Do you live your life minimizing problems by not taking risks, or assume God has a better future? God can do anything ~ live by that truth and it makes a difference in the decisions you make, the risks you take.
Here’s a true story of two college students that failed a test… Introductory Chemistry at Duke has been taught for about a zillion years by Professor Bonk (really), and his course is semi-affectionately known as "Bonkistry” One year two guys were taking Chemistry; they did pretty well on all of the quizzes and the mid-terms so that going into the final they had a solid A. These friends were so confident that the weekend before finals week, they decided to go up to U Virginia and party with some friends. They had a great time. However, with their hangovers, they slept all day Sunday and didn't make it back to Duke until early Monday morning. They missed the chemistry final and found Professor Bonk to explain why they missed the final. They told him that they went up to UV for the weekend, had planned to come back in time to study, but they'd had a flat tire, didn't have a spare and couldn't get help for a long time and so were late getting back to campus.
Bonk thought this over and agreed they could make up the final on the following day. The two guys were elated and proud of their story. They studied that night and went in the next day at the time Bonk had told them. He placed them in separate rooms, handed each of them a test booklet and told them to begin. They looked at the first question, a simple problem about molarity and solutions, worth 5 points. "Cool" they thought," this is going to be easy". They each did that problem and turned the page. They were unprepared: one question, worth 95 points: WHICH TIRE?
Life is a test from God. Only it’s a different kind of test. Not about competition, not about getting the right answers, not about cramming for a final, not about the right and wrong answers, not about getting the most money. When my father died of leukemia at age 69 I had a number of people lament asking why he died so young, a good man, as if God let us down. It’s not that kind of test, as if somehow a shorter life is not as good/a life with riches means more blessed… The test is about responding to life. A common mistake people make when they become Christians is that life will be perfect, that all our problems will be resolved.
This is what Solomon wrestles with in Ecc. 3: as if to say I had wisdom, I was serving God, blessed by God, but then Solomon meets injustice.// Everything is wrong. The test of God is for you to love him, serve him, be thrilled with him even when life takes the unexpected twists and turns, the injustices…. “in the place of justice, wickedness was there…” (Ecc. 3:16). That’s reality. Here is reality: as long as we are on this earth sin will abound, bad things will happen, ugliness will triumph. Satan wants you to live by Murphy’s law: if anything can go wrong it will. To live by fear, refusting to take risks, refusing to make yourself vulnerable. The Lord wants so much more: to live in hope, yearning for eternity, to believe God can and will do anything…
How easy it is to dwell on everything that’s wrong. Focus on the flat tire. Sally and I went on a trip from San Francisco to Boise. On the way our car sputtered and stopped with a broken engine block as we went up up up Donner Pass, rendering the car nothing more than a very large door stop. It was utterly and totally broken, not worth the repairs, especially at such a long distance from home. My heart sunk when we got to the side of the freeway. Not knowing what was wrong I thought maybe it was the transmission, or maybe just a belt of some sort that needed to be popped back into place. I was lost, I imagined the worst, which I found out later was not as bad as what really happened. The worst for me at the moment was a major repair, not completely broken. What unfolded the next few hours was as if God was saying to me, “Oh, no, Carl, the car is actually far worse than what you imagine, but I am with you, and you will be amazed that you can handle it.” Ecc. 3:11 ends with these words: “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” These are words to live by, take them to the bank. Our sight is limited! God knows more than you do! This is good news. Living in fear means living more by what we can see… none of us knows the future, but God does. These words are a way of living. This is an invitation to enjoy the journey of life with God at the steering wheel. I used to enjoy sitting on the downhill side of the old station wagon when I was growing up as my father steered the car up to the end of the Mt. Baker highway, peering down the hillside, like everyone imagining the car accidently tumbling down, but resting in confidence that my father was driving and all was well. Nobody but God knows the story of your life that is unfolding… I was dumbfounded as Sally and I sat on the side of the Road towards Donner pass, no money, no resources… and then God took over, as if saying, “quit feeling sorry for yourself and let me take over.”
Within moments a couple stopped, surely angels sent by God, and we were on our way to the town a few miles away. We were dropped off at a repair station and a few minutes later I was in a tow truck to retrieve the car, minutes later the car was hooked up and I was back in town. We were told it would take a bit before the repairman could look at the car, so we went across the parking lot to a restaurant, we were seated where we could see our car. In just a bit I watched through the window as two repairman opened the hood and started looking around with one scratching his head and sighing. I had a gut feeling the news wasn’t good. So I walked over and joined the two mechanics. Silence. I prodded for information. Well, one guy finally said, the good news is that the transmission is fine… and he stopped talking. He looked like he was about to cry. Finally he spit it out… it was a cracked engine block. Doesn’t God have a sense of humor! Here I was, no money, no resources, 100’s of miles from home, no car, and I felt more sorrow for the agony of this stranger appointed to tell me the bad news. I ended up comforting him to keep him from crying, assuring him it would be ok, that it wasn’t the end of the world. God orchestrated it to force me to listen to my own words out of my own mouth.
(the end of the story since I did not include this in the sermon and lots of people were curious: we took a bus to Boise the next day after staying a night at Winnemucka, NV [which is another story]. At Boise my parents helped us buy a car, a Lancer that served us well for many years. On the way home we stopped at the repair shop, confirmed the effort and expense to get the car fixed was too much, and later sent the title to the repair shop in exchange for towing, storage and disposal fees. Who knows, maybe they fixed the car because a lot of people really liked it and saw it as a classic. The body and interior were in near mint condition, because small Elsie Miller hardly drove it and weighed so little which kept the car clean for years.)
Nothing in this world is so bad but that God is greater. There are injustices. Sin wins in the short term. I still cannot explain tragedy, why people die, shootings, heartaches, life cut short because of health… but this I know, the test of God is to take the long view and understand he is in control even when I don’t understand, even when the car brakes down and I am hundreds of miles from home with no money. As the scripture says in Ecc. 3:10, life becomes a “burden.” As long as we live on this side of eternity, we will be weighed down by a heaviness. So what do you do with the weight in your life, the burden.
If you read the first verses of Ecc. 4:1-6, it gets into the idea of comparison, dwelling on how unfair life is, even anger at God. Clearly one response is bitteriness toward the world, bitterness toward God, dwelling on how unfair everthing is: “I work hard, I take care of my business, and my car breaks down. How unfair God. I don’t deserve this…. My father lived a good life, a servant of servants to the community, and he died way too young, how unfair, God.” That’s one response. That’s the short view. The skeptics view. The view of fear. But that is not God’s view. God says to lift up your eyes and look at the horizon, live by faith, lift up your spirit and see the bigger picture. God forced me into a situation where I had to hear my own words and tell a stranger everything would be fine. That’s God. Whatever your situation, whatever heartache, tragedy, whatever life situation you are in, look to God who knows the end of the story: “God has made everything beautiful in it’s time” (Ecc. 3:11a). That’s the long view. You and I cannot see “the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end!” (NLB, 3:11). What a beautiful story God is writing of your life.
What you know without a shadow of a doubt is that God is moving us towards eternity. On this old earth, we are being tested by God. Only two choices in this test: 1. dwell on the here and now, the problems of this old world, the injustices, limiting ourselves purely to that which we can see, living by fear. or, 2. live our lives looking towards the future, responding to the burdens of life with a light heart knowing God will make everything beautiful.
The world’s definition of beauty is cultural and artificial. What we define as success is not what God defines as success. Every person here has an extraordinary beauty, a wonderful person. Understand how God sees you. An extraordinary person that is loved. While we dwell on the negative, God sees the positive. He is creating us into a beautiful person, a beautiful life, a loveliness that melts God’s heart.
Live by the longview of eternity. The day that is coming, the transformation God is making of our lives even now… We may not see the fullness of where we are going, but God is driving the car. If your destination is a road trip to Disneyland, you may not know the exact route of how you will get there, where you will stop, the problems along the way, the heat of the day, a flat tire, a detour on the route ~ but keeping the destination in mind makes all the difference. Imagine Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Pirate of the Caribbean… How much more with the things of God: God has set eternity in your heart ~ live by a yearning for eternity, every breath, a joy in your heart, a longing for the day when you will see the fullness of Christ in everlasting life. You will run into a rough patch of road along the way, you will get hungry, lament the detour, feel the burden of the journey, but live by the destination: you know where God is taking you… and what an incredible positive difference it makes today.
As soon as Solomon speaks the words of God making everything beautiful in it’s time in Ecc. 3, God placing eternity in the heart of every human, he immediately points out the injustices, the unfairness, the difficulties, the burdens and says you have a choice in how to respond…This old world is a test….the test is not so much about what happens to you, but how you live it… Where’s your focus? are you plunged into fear and chaos, or do you maintain even a smidgeon of peace knowing all is well because God is orchestrating creating something beautiful of your life.
When you are feeling the crushing weight of a burden, keep your life in perspective understanding God is creating everything beautiful, and he has set eternity in your heart. Amen.