When my father was dying, I came across a paragraph that has long since been lost to me. The author spoke of the transformation of a person dying on this earth who has one foot in heaven and one on this earth, and how some of the things of this earth begin to take on a trivial tone ~ that was helpful to me.
Sometime later I was honored to often visit a man by the name of Ken Roberts as his body slowly deteriorated ~ former mayor of Nooksack. The Gazebo in Nooksack City Park bears the name of “Ken’s Place.” I’d know Ken for decades. I was his pastor in the Nooksack Church. Ken was always a Christian as long as I’d known him, yet, I am speaking very humanly now, he had a lot of conditions to his faith, somehow the things of earth would take on more importance for long periods of time, not bad things, but distracted, like his faith was always there, but on the backburner…. As it became obvious Ken was dying, he knew it, Francie knew it, his kids knew it, I knew it,~~ the things of God welled up within him.
Before my eyes, I was honored to watch as Ken became an incredibly strong man of faith, the things he cared about and the things he didn’t care about. If I remember correctly, he died before the season ended the year the Mariners won 116 games, an incredible season. Ken loved sports, having been a player in his younger days in the minor leagues, baseball was his sport. I remember one day going to his house in the last days and telling him the Mariners had won game #99 or 113 or whatever was current. That was mildly interesting news to him.// He wanted to talk about the second coming of Christ. He wanted to talk about eternity. He wanted to talk about faith. Ken was changed. Suddenly the things of earth were contrasted with an eternal perspective. In his last days, nobody lamented he likely would not live to see how the incredible Mariners season ended because it did not matter anymore, other things were so much more important.
Let’s not wait till we are dying to find that balance of living in two worlds, this world and eternity. As my father used to remind people in the last months of his life when he was battling luekemia: “we will all die, I just have a better clue as to when I am likely to die.”
God has placed within us a yearning for eternity; live your life in the here and now celebrating that awesome promise of the day we will see Jesus Christ face to face. A foot in two worlds, heaven and earth. It’s the promise of God. And while we wait, while we anticipate, find a balance….
The scripture today, Ecc. 7:15-25, over and over speaks of not being too extreme: Ecc. 7:15, don’t be too good or too wise… 17 don’t be too wicked either… v. 18 in the NLT: “So try to walk a middle course – but those who fear God will succeed either way.” Over and over, finding a balance, walking a middle course… not a balance in what we believe, but in the style of your life. the way we conduct ourselves on this earth as we live in two worlds. There is a place for prescription drugs, filling a real need of keeping people healthy, replacing deficiencies in our bodies, overcoming pain, whatever the purpose might be, but to cross the line into addictions is destructive ~ a balance is needed, and isn’t that the way in so many areas of life. Many video games are good entertainment until they take over and become our masters. Food. TV. Work. Play. Relationships. We are to live with a foot in two worlds. God has placed eternity in our hearts, and if the things of this world begin to take over, upsetting that balance, God becomes more and more distant!
The next several verses address how to find a balance, “walking a middle course”.
**** Don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t be too demanding. “Don’t be too good or too wise” it says in Ecc. 7:16, because you will fail. The is a message to those who think they are pretty good. The strutters. The world loves to see arrogant people fail ~ the cocky golfer that slices the ball into the woods.
A DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas, and talked with an old rancher. He told the rancher, "I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs." The rancher said, "Okay , but don’t go in that field over there", as he pointed out the location. The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, "Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me." Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher. "See this badge? This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish. Have I made myself clear?" The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores.
A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s enormous bull. With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified. The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs…
"Your badge, show him your BADGE!"
The message I hope the community hears is not come to SACC and be like Carl Crouse, I’m reluctant to show my badge…we aren’t that good, we aren’t that smart, we are doing our best. But we need some wiggle room.
Ecc. 7:16 is about not being too good. It’s not only a warning to the arrogant who think they can be good enough to deserve God’s merit, but it is also a warning to those who have a tendency towards perfectionism. Maybe your problem isn’t arrogance, but perfectionism. In essence, this verse is saying you can never reach perfection on this earth. Later, in Ecc. 7:20, the same point is reinforced: we are all sinners. The point: quit being so hard on yourself, quit beating yourself up. Give yourself some wiggle room. Only God is perfect. The problem many people see in churches as they look in from the outside is that they think everyone is better than them, too good, and they don’t measure up. I won’t name any names, but that’s why I am so glad to have some of you in this church because there is no way the world would conclude we have it all together!!!!!
Why destroy yourself with trying so hard to be good, v. 16 concludes. We are all sinners. God knows that. You find a balance by not being so hard on yourself, getting rid of arrogance, and shedding perfectionism. Life is a process of growing in Christ. I am disappointed when I fall short of what I know are God’s standards, yet it’s ok…
***** The other side of the coin is found in Ecc. 7:17, “don’t’ be too wicked.” In other words, don’t be easy on yourself either, too easily keeping the old patterns that are not edifying, the habits that keep you away from Christ. A way to say it more succinctly, “grow up!” quit playing the old games that keep you mired in the mud of life. It’s time to move on and strive to live up to the standards that you are called to live when you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. Yes we are sinners. But that is no excuse to fall into a life of sin that never ends ~ this is the balance, like the toys on the domino… don’t be too good or too bad, allow yourself wiggle room, but when you fall, strive to overcome your sin… there is a tension… a foot in two worlds…
V. 17 ends with a question in the NLT: “Why should you die before your time?” I think the death being talked about might be physical death on this earth, but I suspect the deeper meaning is spiritual death. If you keep on in the same patterns seemingly never pulling yourself out of the quicksand, it’s like you die spiritually.
Don’t be too hard on yourself getting caught up in the trap of perfectionism. And don’t be too easy on yourself giving in too quickly to patterns of sin. Walk the middle road, finding a balance between the two…
**** Ecc. 7:20 can only be embraced with humility. The verse is a fundamental truth that puts a balanced life in perspective READ. This is similar to the towering verse Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is why we need to be so careful in going out to the world and declaring we have all understanding, that we are wise and know how to make it through life with ease. This is why perfectionism will never work. Ecc. 7:20 also serves as a warning to watch out for evil that is waiting for everyone of us, to flee evil. To embrace the truth of this verse demands that we respond in humility: don’t be too hard, don’t be too easy, find the middle road in humility because none of us are perfect. We need a fair amount of humility because none of us is without sin. I am a sinner, I am wicked, evil is lurking around the corner waiting to ensnare me.
***** One more bit of wisdom in how to walk the middle road: Don’t even try to understand everything: READ 7:21-22. Instead of “curse” the NLT uses the word “laugh at you.” /////// “Don’t eavesdrop, you may hear your servant laughing at you.” I loved a quote I read earlier this week: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” ///////
Maybe there is value in eavesdropping: Seems an elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. He went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear 100%. The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, "your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again." To which the gentleman said, "Oh, I haven't told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I've changed my will three times!" Life is really too short to get involved in caring what others think. This is probably my #1 advice for how to get along in some of the pockets of Sumas…
Another way to say the same thing: In order to live a balanced life finding a measure of happiness, a measure of contentment, with a heavy dose of satisfaction? Be Purposefully NAÏVE. You don’t have to understand everything. Who cares what other people are saying about you ~ you’ll never get to the bottom of it. I dare you to start living this week with just a little bit of a naïve spirit. Limit involvement in the unhealthy chatter. Why do we think we need to have all understanding anyways, explaining everything, it’s a form of control….I think I’ll wear a badge this week: “I am naïve.”
The last couple of verses of our text today (Ecc. 7:23-25) reinforce the idea that nobody should try to be completely wise and nobody should fall to the depths of complete wickedness. Don’t be too hard on yourself becoming a perfectionist or arrogant. Don’t be too easy on yourself never expecting to grow in your faith. Walk in humility because we are all sinners. Walk the middle road with a purposeful naïve spirit.
A balanced life allows you to keep one eye on the things of earth and the other eye on the things of God. In one place Jesus says you are of the world, and in another place he says, you are not of the world. They are both true, because even though we are on this earth the Lord has placed eternity in our hearts.