there has to be a better way

Hello friend,
Today I am sharing with you something a little different than my usual writing. Every once in a while, my church leadership gives me the opportunity to teach on a Sunday morning. It's a nerve wracking and, humbling experience. I am sharing with you the written piece of the sermon I shared. Thank you for joining me! 

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There was a woman who held a very important and integral place in my spiritual journey. I remember sitting in her office, when I first decided I wanted to follow Jesus and, in turn, wanted to serve by teaching Sunday School. When I walked into her office, she didn’t smile but did say hello and told me to sit. So, I did; intimidated to the core. She didn’t look me in the eye; instead, she would glance at my volunteer application, some other papers and what not. Occasionally, she would make eye contact with me yet, it was the kind of eye contact that made me want to crawl under a chair or look at the speck on the wall behind her. This woman seemed powerful to me. No nonsense. Intimidating. Scary. And yet, I didn’t hide, and the weird part is, I wanted to stay longer and just spend time with her. Our meeting took about 5 minutes and she not only decided I would be a teacher but, I would also be one of her key people to help mentor new volunteers.

Wait, what?

Did she even know my story?

Shirley Storm was a woman to be reckoned with. As I served in children’s ministry and international missions under her mentor-ship, my initial perspective was how Godly she was. The perception I had was, “Wow, this woman has it really good with Jesus and must have lived an incredible life filled with serving Him. I need to learn from her.” But here’s the thing. A refreshing thing. Shirley was just as messed up as me. She had her own past. Her own obstacles. Her own hurts and hang-ups. She was far from perfect. For someone, like me who was stumbling through this new-found faith in Jesus, it was refreshing to meet someone who wasn’t perfect.

How does this relate to Solomon?

As we have been going through Ecclesiastes something has stood out to me. Here is Solomon, this man, who clearly doesn’t have it all together. For the most part, this book has shown us how his life did not reflect putting Jesus first. Yet, God chose the words of Solomon, a man after the world and what it had to offer, to include in His word. His Holy Word. The Word of God that we can go to and learn and receive so that we can grow in our relationship with Him. So many times, I could be speaking more for myself, but we in our faith journey, tend to seek out those who seem to have it all together. People who seem to be full of wisdom and living life on the straight and narrow path. It would make sense to heed the wisdom and Godly mentoring from someone who has perfected spiritual health and looks put together. Again, perhaps I am speaking more for myself but, I must believe I am not alone in this.

Isn’t it interesting that God would choose Solomon’s story to be a roadmap for our relationship with Him? That He would use Solomon’s words to help shape the trajectory of where our lives should lead. That Solomon would even be the one to share wisdom with us about who God is and what He desires for us. Solomon – far from perfect, far from getting it right, far from the picture-perfect Christian that one might think to seek out for Godly wisdom, far from the standards one may place on a mentor or counselor and yet, here we are. Like my own mentor Shirley, I learned so much from her. Imperfections, mistakes, and all. Just something to think about as we continue to read the words, and wisdom, of Solomon and all the things he wanted us to know as a result of his own choices.

In the first 6 chapters we have had Solomon telling us why we should listen to him. He has all this stuff. All this wealth. Everything he could ever want. All the power he could ever want. All the wives and concubines he could ever want. And it is all he could ever want…. No, what is it? How does he put it? Meaningless. A chasing after the wind.

As we move to Chapter 7, our mentor, if you will, Solomon, has some wisdom to share with us. A man who placed the world before God. A man who chased after money, wealth and materialism. A man who boasted in his riches is now about to share some Godly wisdom. He doesn’t meet the standards that some of us may hold for a mentor and yet, here we are. Let’s begin by imagining you are sitting with Solomon, over a cup of coffee of course, and have asked him this question, “Solomon, in all your years of life, what wisdom or advice would you give to someone as they embarked on their own life journey?” Get ready because he is about to unleash a bucket load of wisdom nuggets. Are we going to be humble enough to listen to him?

Have you ever seen those infomercials where there is a person (we will name him Kevin) and the narrator’s voice says, “Kevin was struggling to open his can of tuna. His old fashioned can opener just wasn’t working…” Then, in the midst of Kevin’s bad acting skills, the narrator says (while Kevin mouths them of course) these words, “There has to be a better way!”

Solomon is about to give us 8 “better things” that come to the life of the person who follow’s God’s wisdom in comparison to this earthly life. The question we get to ask ourselves is this:

We will give up our better for God’s best?


We really start things off with a bang…
A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Verses 1-2
Let’s consider how The Message paraphrases these verses:
A good reputation is better than a fat bank account. Your death date tells more than your birth date. You learn more at a funeral than at a feast – After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it.
Lesson #1: Your name, or character, how you pursue Jesus are far more important than the external perks.

In the midst of the Eeyore, “we’re all just going to die anyway” tone, we learn some valuable information here. I am going to lean on my womanhood here and speak to the standards our society seems to hold us ladies to. Men, I am sure there will be some similarities you can take away with this. Beauty and health magazines in every aisle. Photo-shopped photos with airbrushed skin. Makeup. Perfectly coiffed hair. Perfect body. Anti-aging skin care. Polished nails. Perfumed lotions. For you guys it may be the six pack abs, perfect facial hair, anti-aging as well, etc. I must admit, it’s uncomfortable for me to leave my house without makeup and doing my hair. It is vanity that I struggle with because, without those things, I feel exposed. You can see my flaws. But here is the beauty with this when we look at it from God’s perspective. Many times, we are more moved towards God when someone reveals their vulnerability. When they decide to confess what they struggle with. The sin. The doubts. Did you know humility is on the list of good character traits? So is honesty, compassion, etc. Yet that word humility. It creates an uncomfortable tension. One that may make us feel less in control of who we are. The things we can hide from others. And this isn’t to scare you but, it should bring you comfort, God already knows all of it and, guess what? He loves you. He wants you. Scars, beauty marks, wrinkles and all.

Listen, while taking care of yourself is important, all that other stuff is vanity. It is in vain. What we learn here is character matters more. Solomon always says in another book of wisdom,

Proverbs 31:30 says, Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Proverbs 9:10 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

The word fear in this scripture is one that sometimes has people thinking it means to be afraid. The Hebrew word is Yir’ah and the definition of this word translates to fear and the synonym of this word fear is reverence. This is the type of fear that means we acknowledge the power, authority, greatness and wonder of the Holy One. The God who created the entire Universe who is impossible to comprehend.

Beauty, vanity, the outside is fleeting but, our character is what matters. When our life comes to an end, which it will, will we have lived a life that acknowledges the wonder of who God is and reflected as such through our choices?

Lesson #2: How we finish our life is more important than how we start.
We’ve been given one opportunity. What are we going to choose? Are we going to heed Solomon’s advice here? A man who had every ounce of wealth and earthly power. Was he happy? As we have read through this book, it could be safe to assume the answer is no.

Let’s keep reading,
Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. V. 3&4
Wait, what?

How can sorrow be better than laughter? We live in a society that pushes the thought that happiness and success is so much better. That things that make us feel good are way better than focusing on the not to pleasant aspects of life. We are told things like “you will get over it”, “you’ll find someone new”, “look on the bright side!”

Lesson #3: It is better to be squarely confronted with the reality of death and sorrow.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but SHOUTS in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” - C.S. Lewis
Wow.

He speaks quietly to us in the good times and shouts in the bad times. I don’t know about you but, I don’t always hear Him shouting. Could it be because I am louder with my cries of why? Louder with my questions of how could this person be gone so soon? Could it be because we run from the pain and mask it with things and habits? We go towards the world and, what it seems to offer and miss the shouts of God to us in our deepest pain and grief.

This isn’t to say we never laugh. Laughter is good. We learned that in chapter 3 – a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

If given the choice to attend a party or a funeral, which would you choose? I would choose the party! I love a good time. I love to dance. I love to laugh. If given the choice between mourning and partying… well, I’m going to party!

For some of us, when it comes to pain and sorry, we would much rather run to something to numb it, rather than face it. Some run to whatever they can to stuff down the undesirable emotions that come with grief and pain. For some it could be a substance or alcohol; pornography; gambling; a relationship that you know full well isn’t God-honoring; some shop or eat. The fear of never being able to get past the sorrow and grief can hinder some from facing it full on. Here is the lesson in this,

Lesson #4: Facing God with our sorrow and grief (eternal) is better than avoiding it with the temporary. 

My question to you is, what is eternal? The pleasures of this world or the steadfast love of God?

For the past 14 months, I walked with a good friend who has faced her grief, fear and pain head on. As she watched her husband live through the pain and discomfort of cancer, as she cried out prayers and rallied the rest of us around her to pray for a miracle… because we believed God could do a miracle, she did not once hide her pain. Her frequent posts to the Facebook Prayer page she had started, reflected a woman who was raw with tears. Weary from the battle. Grieving the thought that the love of her life could be leaving this earth. She was outward with everything. In so doing, she had this community who lifted her up in prayer; who wept with her because we knew it was okay. In her honest brokenness before Jesus, and her family and friends, was where the power and glory of God were manifested. Listen, God can handle it, okay? You’re not saving Him from anything by holding it in. By masking it or avoiding it. He LONGS and YEARNS for us to draw near to Him. To be the one we go to. To be honest and real with everything we feel.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73.26

Facing the fear of what full healing could look like exposes us to experiencing the freedom, hope and love of God. We can respond with words like this: "Okay God, I trust you with this. Let’s do this. Your word says that you are close to the brokenhearted and that you never fail so, I am going to acknowledge this pain, grief, discomfort and the unexpected and give to you."  Just like a wound, if you don’t get to the source of the ailment for complete healing, it will constantly need a bandage. That’s too much maintenance and bandages get expensive.

He kind of gives us a gut punch in the next verse here,

It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless. Verse 5 & 6
Oh, this is hard for a woman who thrives on words of affirmation.

Where do you go to for affirmation? Do you seek out anyone who will tell you, you are great? Or will you heed the accountability of someone who is wise and close to you? Will you listen to those who know you best and have your back? Sometimes it’s not what we want to hear and so, some will search for any affirmation or support. Even if it comes from a source that is less than stellar.

Lesson #5: Your real friends will love you enough to say what you don’t want to hear.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. But I would rather have a friend hurt my feelings, a little bit, if it is going to point me towards Jesus, rather than a quick-fix-affirmation that will be harmful to my soul.

Let’s keep reading some more nuggets of wisdom from our mentor Solomon,

Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. V. 7-9
There is a lot of lessons we could take from these three verses, but we’re going to focus on the last verse, just for today, do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.

In other words, Lesson #6: Think before you react.

I am tested on this lesson every day I commute to work. Confession, I have a tendency for road rage. In my weakness, my reaction to certain drivers is fueled by anger. I am so thankful that I am alone in my car and the other driver doesn’t always hear me but, God quickly reminds me, in those moments, my foolishness. For others of us in the room, we may be provoked by attacks on a family member or someone who cuts in line, doesn’t hold the door open, lacks manners, etc. Many times, when confronted with someone unpleasant or something that stirs anger up, we want to lash out. Oh, the things we want to say and the ways we want that person to feel! We watch movies and TV shows that glamorize revenge plots and show it being successful and the person lives happily ever after. That’s not our reality though. Think before you react. Give it to Jesus first.

How are you doing my friend? Are you still with me? This is lot of wisdom we are receiving, isn’t it? Well, we are going to keep going. Have you ever found yourself reminiscing to the good old days? Solomon has something to say about that too,

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
I’m not sure of the main point here but, what can we assume happens when we reflect on the “good old days”? Do we remain in our wonderful nostalgia or, is there a glimmer of sadness that goes with it? It is easy to recall the past and wish we could go back or, even change it but, God has so much in store for us in the present and in the future.

Let’s keep reading from our mentor Solomon, about what he has to say about wisdom,

Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it. Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool – why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not leg go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes. Wisdom makes one person more powerful than ten rulers in a city. Verses 11-19
That is a lot! There is a lesson here within all of those words.

Lesson #7: Wisdom gives us God’s perspective and way to live a balanced life.
Solomon has recommended to us a balanced approach to living. Be righteous, but not too much; be wise, but not too much. Do not be arrogant in your faith and overzealous with spiritual advice and wisdom.

At the same time, he seems to tell us be wicked, but not too wicked. Wait, we get permission to be wicked??? Doesn’t this contradict what we’ve been learning? What I believe we are learning here is that we are all wicked. Romans 3:34 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Isaiah 53:6 says, all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.

Putting it shortly, none of us is perfect.

In fact, in verse 20, Solomon says Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.

Final Lesson#8: The wisest thing we can do is realize not how bigger or better we have it but how broken and sinful we are.

Remember the infomercial? “There has to be a better way!”

There is!

Let’s land the plane! I bet you didn’t even know you were on a plane. Maybe you were on a boat. Or a bike. You know what? Let’s get back to the topic here.

Solomon, with all his possessions and wealth and earthly power, came to a place of needing forgiveness for his sinfulness. Just like us. This isn’t be a downer. This should give us freedom and life.

What Jesus did for us on that cross, is better than any other better way. We acknowledge our brokenness and we trade it up for God’s faithfulness, grace, mercy, life, and power. Solomon is telling us the lessons he learned after chasing after the meaningless things in life. He is leaving us with the advice to chase after the One true, sure, constant, meaningful person and that is Jesus Himself. When we look to Jesus, everything else grows dim. When we meet Him face to face, we begin to see His glory and light and the fullness of who He is.


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