The Plan of God, Part 2 – July 14, 2023

It’s no secret that our world is full of wickedness. Prisons are full. The court system is swamped with cases of all kinds of illegal activity. The news is filled with fresh stories of corruption in government, religious groups, and social elites. However, this rampant wickedness is nothing new. Ecclesiastes 3:16 says, “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” Solomon observed the world around him and all he saw was evil. This is a puzzling fact considering that Solomon just wrote about the sovereignty of God and His control over everything. Last week we learned that God has a time and purpose for everything on this earth. So then why is there so much wickedness? In Ecclesiastes 3:16-22, Solomon addresses this question with the third fact about God’s sovereign plan for the world.

The third fact is, God will judge everyone on this earth. Governments are corrupt. Judicial systems are corrupt. Society is corrupt. From our perspective, we wonder, “If God has a plan for everything, then why is there so much evil?” Solomon reminds us in verse 17 that God has a plan for evil- “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.” The fact is judgment is coming. Everyone has a divinely appointed judgment. Everyone is accountable to God and will stand before Him in judgment. God will deal with sin. He will punish the wicked for their sin. If you reject God and live for this world, then He will not be merciful on judgment day. Everything has a time, even judgment. So, although wickedness prevails right now, God will judge mankind and put an end to sin.

Solomon uses the rest of the chapter to address the implied response, “Okay, prove it! We believe that God is good and that He has a plan for everything, but how do we know that He will deal with sin?” The answer is death. Death is the proof of the coming judgment. Death is a reminder from God that we are accountable to Him. Everything we say, do, or think will be judged after death. Death is the penalty for sin, and everyone dies. No one can escape death.

Man dies just like the animals. The beasts of the earth die and return to the ground. Likewise, man dies and there’s nothing he can do to stop this coming disaster. One day your heart will stop beating and your lungs will stop breathing, and you’ll return to the dust. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (v. 20). Death is a mystery. Death is frightening. Almost every 5-year-old has asked their parents, “What happens when we die?” Solomon’s answer is clear- when you die, God will judge you. 

Solomon isn’t afraid of the hard questions. He doesn’t sugarcoat the question or the answer. His answer to the problem of evil is- God will judge sin, and death is proof of this coming judgment. But we can’t miss the final verse in this chapter. Ecclesiastes 3:22 – “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” This is a shocking twist after discussing the inevitable nature of death and judgment. Solomon gives us a glimpse of hope. Our only hope is to live for God.

Although death is coming, life can be enjoyed with God. He created life. He knows what’s best for His creation. If we work and live for God, then our lives will not be in vain. Enjoying God’s plan for life brings true satisfaction. We can’t count on the future because we’re not promised tomorrow. So Solomon points us back to verse 14 and the need to fear God. 

Our plans fail, but God’s plan will never fail. He has a time for everything, a purpose for everything, and everyone will face His judgment. He has a purpose for the sin and suffering of this world. He has a plan. So don’t live for yourself or for this world. Recognize that life is a gift of God and use your life to serve the Eternal Creator and Sovereign King.

The Plan of God, Part 1 – July 7, 2023

Have you ever made plans just to have them fail? When I was sixteen, my family went camping in Watkins Glen, New York. We planned to stay for two nights and enjoy a nice vacation together. However, the weather had other plans. It rained the whole second day we were there, and everyone quickly became miserable. So, after very little discussion, we packed up and drove home to have a pizza party. Our plan failed. Human plans fail because there’s too many things outside of our control. We can’t control the weather, other people, or the future. Unlike us, God controls everything, and His plan will never fail. In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon shows us that God has a sovereign plan for everything and our lives are included in it. To prove this point, Solomon gives three facts about God’s sovereign plan for the world. Today we’ll look at the first two:

The first fact is, God has a time for everything on this earth (Eccl. 3:1-8). In this list of times, the point is- everything has a divinely appointed time. Solomon lists common events like birth and death, planting and harvesting, killing and healing, building up and breaking down, mourning and dancing, war and peace, etc. These common events happen all around the world, and yet every single one of them is a part of God’s plan. He is fully aware of each event because He planned them all. God has total control over time. Theologians refer to this as God’s Providence. Solomon says, “for everything there is a season.” Every event in history is a part of God’s eternal plan. He is the Ruler of the Universe and the Author of History.

The second fact in this chapter about God’s sovereign plan is that He has a purpose for everything on this earth (Eccl. 3:9-15). Considering God’s control over time, Solomon explains that everything has a divinely appointed purpose. In verse 9, Solomon practically asks the question, “What’s the purpose of man’s existence?” To answer this question, he states that God has made everything beautiful in its time. Man can labor all he wants but can’t control time. But God is beyond time because He created it. So, the beauty of everything’s time is that God has planned it for a greater purpose. 

In verse 11, we see that God has given man a desire for purpose. He has put “eternity into man’s heart.” That means we desire significance in the universe. We look at the big picture and wonder, “Why am I here?” We long for meaning because God has put this in our hearts. We’re never satisfied with the things of this world because they’re passing away. We’re bound by time, but our souls are set on eternity. Ultimately, this is a desire for God Himself. This desire to have meaning and purpose is not bad. Sadly, because of sin it has led people away from God. But God gave us this insatiable desire for Himself because God is the highest good and meaning can only be found in Him. In verses 12-13, Solomon concludes that man should use his life to please God and enjoy life as a gift from God. Instead of trying to find joy in this world, we can find it in God. Instead of trying to satisfy our desire for meaning with vanity, we can rest in the grace of God. Life can be joyful and good when we have a relationship with our Creator. 

Then in verses 14-15, we see God’s purpose for everything. Solomon describes God’s actions. Everything God does is eternal and secure. Nobody can change what God has done. Nobody can add to or subtract from His power. Then Solomon says, “God has done it, so that people fear before him.” Spoiler alert! Solomon just gave away the ending. This is the conclusion to the whole matter. What is God’s purpose for everything He does with mankind? All of God’s actions are to bring people to fear Him. We’ll talk more about what it means to fear God later, but for now we will summarize it as knowing, trusting, and obeying Him. His actions should cause us to fear Him. His actions are final. Nothing can thwart His plan. No one is more powerful, more knowledgeable, or better than God. So, we should fear Him.

God is sovereign over time, and He has a purpose for all of time. He can handle everything in your life. So don’t worry about friends, finances, or your future. God is in control. Life does have purpose because God created it. Therefore, the purpose of life is to fear God. That means the purpose of your existence is to fear God. You were created to know, trust, and obey God. Sin has separated us from God, but thankfully Christ paid for our sins on the cross so that we can be forgiven and restored to a relationship with God. Do you know Christ as your Savior? Are you trusting in Jesus for salvation? Only He can reconcile us to God and provide true joy. 

The Vanity of this World – June 30, 2023

What do all these people have in common- Julius Caesar, George Washington, Betty White, and Steve Jobs? They’re all dead. Each of them was wealthy, successful, and powerful, but all of them died. Last week we looked at the vanity of pleasure. We concluded that the things of this world can never bring true satisfaction because they don’t last, and they don’t fix our problem with death. Death is the problem we all face in this world and Solomon is wrestling with the question: “Can life have meaning?” Today we’ll look at the rest of Ecclesiastes 2 and discover that the meaning of life cannot be found in this world, but it can be found in God. As Solomon examines the vanity of this world in Ecclesiastes 2, he gives three facts about life.

The first fact is found in verses 12-17, where Solomon says that living for this world is vanity because death comes to all. Solomon considered wisdom and foolishness and discovered that wisdom is more profitable. Walking in light is better than walking in darkness. Wisdom will get you money and success. Foolishness will get you in prison or killed. So, wisdom is better but ultimately death comes to all. 

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how rich or poor, you will die someday. Death comes to all by age, tragedy, or disease. Death is no respecter of persons. Therefore, no amount of success in this world will give you satisfaction and meaning because it won’t help in the end. Both the wise and the fool will be forgotten. Most people that live on this earth are forgotten when they die. Those that are remembered are only ideas or statues, not living people. A life spent on the vanity of this world is miserable because life without God is meaningless.

The second fact is, living for this world is vanity because everything you work for will be given away (Eccl. 2:18-23). Everything you earn will be given to someone else when you die. You don’t know what they’ll do with your possessions because you’ll be dead. They might waste your riches or invest them, but it doesn’t matter because you’ll be gone. Possessions and wealth are vanity because they don’t last forever. No matter how hard you work for something, you can’t take it with you when you die. This world can only offer sorrow and frustration. We work all our days only to reap sorrow. We toil day and night to find rest only to be frustrated.  

The third fact is, living for God brings true joy and satisfaction (Eccl. 2:24-26). Finally, we have some good news. Solomon shifts to the answer to our problem. Instead of giving up on life and being completely hopeless, Solomon turns to God for the answer. The truth is, we can enjoy life and work if we live for God. God is the ultimate source of joy and satisfaction. There’s nothing better for a person than a relationship with God. We can enjoy life, work, and success when we are living for God.

God will bless those that please Him and curse those that reject Him. Why is God the only One that can satisfy your soul? Because He created it! Those who seek to worship and serve their Creator will find wisdom, knowledge, and joy. God blesses those that please Him. But those who reject God and continue in their sin will be cursed to a life of misery and vanity. Here’s the cold hard truth- if you live for this world, your life will be meaningless! But if you live for God and seek His glory, your life will have eternal value.

Death is our problem in life. The Bible tells us that we all die because of sin. Sins separates us from God, and the penalty for sin is death. This is why we can’t find meaning and purpose in this world. Nothing this world can offer will save you. We must look to God for salvation. Only God can satisfy your soul because He created you. He made you to worship and enjoy Him forever. True joy can only be found in God. 

Thankfully, we can have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior, believing in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9). God offers salvation through His Son. So don’t fall into the trap of trying to replace God with the worthless things of this world. Don’t worship the creation over the Creator. Seek God’s glory above all and you’ll find true meaning and joy.

The Vanity of Pleasure – June 23, 2023

“They have it so good! If I only had more… (fill in the blank), then I’d be happy.” Does that sound familiar? Maybe you’ve said something like this before. Our 21st Century American minds are incredibly materialistic. For instance, when you get a surprise bonus at work, where does your mind immediately go to? Is it a vehicle, a project around the house, or a vacation? We tend to think more money means more happiness. But this idea couldn’t be further from the truth. How do I know? Because God said so in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

Remember, Solomon is on a quest for the meaning of life. In this passage, he described his test of pleasure and self-indulgence. As we examine this section, we need to keep in mind that Solomon’s net worth was estimated to be around $2 trillion dollars in today’s currency. According to, that’s wealthier than Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates combined! Solomon had it all. He was the richest man to ever walk the earth. However, those riches didn’t provide meaning and satisfaction. The truth is the pleasures of this world cannot provide the meaning of life.

Solomon used his wealth to experience all this world had to offer. He tried substances. He cheered his body with wine and planted great vineyards. He tried to find meaning in great accomplishments. In verses 4-8, we have a list of all his amazing works. He built houses and made great gardens with pools and trees. Solomon had servants and livestock. He gathered silver and gold and many treasures. He entertained himself with singers, dancers, and mistresses (700 wives & 300 concubines). Solomon held nothing back from providing himself with fun, entertainment, and pleasure. In verse 10 he says, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure…” King Solomon had everything he wanted. Surely this was satisfying, right? Not even close.

In verse 11, we see Solomon’s conclusion to the test of self-indulgence, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” You can have all that this world offers, and it will prove empty! You’ll probably never be as rich as Solomon, so take his word for it – the pleasures of this world are vanity. They will never satisfy your soul. Pleasure, fun, and happiness are not the meaning of life.

The pleasures of this world cannot provide satisfaction and meaning. Alcohol, drugs, and foolishness cannot provide meaning and happiness. Money, possessions, and sex cannot provide meaning and happiness. Only God provides true satisfaction and meaning. King David stated in Psalm 16:11 – “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The meaning of life is only found in the Creator of life. And by His goodness and grace, He offers eternal joy to those who call upon Him in faith.

The Vanity of Wisdom – June 16, 2023

Road trips are exciting. Many of us have childhood memories of packing the whole family in a car, traveling to a beach or campground, and enjoying a nice family vacation. There’s always a mix of emotions at the start of a long road trip. The kids are excited, the parents are usually overwhelmed, and mom is always nervous. If you’ve ever been on a road trip, then you know it’s vital to prepare. You need snacks, gas, money, directions, clothes, and extra socks. The book of Ecclesiastes is like a long road trip. Solomon is on a quest for the meaning of life. The first chapter lays out the map, introduces the guide (King Solomon) and the supplies for the journey. Last week we looked at Solomon’s introduction where he pointed us to the vanity of this world. As we noted, Solomon is hinting at the fact that the meaning of life can only be found in God. Today we’ll discuss Solomon’s first stop on his journey for the meaning of life in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18.

Solomon had all the resources he needed to complete this quest. He was the king of Israel. Under his reign, Israel experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity. Certainly, if anyone could find meaning and fulfillment in this life, a king could. He used his resources to experience everything this world had to offer. Ecclesiastes 1:13 says he applied his “heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” As a king, Solomon had the money, power, and time to do anything he wanted.

In verses 13-14, He gives the conclusion of everything this world has to offer – it’s all vanity. He says, “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” Man has an insatiable desire to find meaning in the things of this world, but this desire only leads to frustration. God gave humans the desire for purpose. That desire has been corrupted by sin resulting in frustration and anxiety. Because of sin, mankind is so arrogant that we live our whole lives trying to escape death and God that we waste our lives on a futile task. Our efforts to know everything and to fix all our problems are constantly foiled. This world is full of vanity. The king saw enough to know that man doesn’t have the answer to the problem of death. Solomon describes this vain pursuit as “striving after wind.” This is a graphic picture of wasted effort and pointless striving. Nobody can grab the wind. It would be insane to chase the wind and try to catch it. Likewise, it’s irrational to try to find meaning in the empty things of this world.  

This world is vanity because it cannot be fixed by man. People are broken, culture is crooked, governments are corrupt, families are torn, and man can’t fix these problems. We can’t escape this vain world with wisdom or knowledge. We need a Savior. We need Someone who is powerful enough to fix all things, loving enough to help us in our brokenness, and faithful enough for us to rely on. We need God.

Solomon continues by describing the different tests he used to reach his conclusion. First, Solomon tested wisdom and experience for the answer to his problem. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed everyone else (Eccl. 1:16). Remember, God blessed Solomon with wisdom and fortune. He was smart, wealthy, and powerful. Wisdom is the ability to discern right and wrong. Knowledge is understanding facts, skills, and reasons. Solomon had both. He was brilliant. In modern terms, Solomon had a Ph.D. in the study of life.

Solomon was so thorough in his research that he even tried the opposite of wisdom by testing folly and madness. These were also vanity (Eccl. 1:17). He pursued both reason and foolishness for the meaning of life, but both were empty. Whether he sought the answer by knowledge or ignorance, both efforts were futile. 

Interestingly, Solomon doesn’t tell us how he tested wisdom and folly. We can speculate that he tested these by going to the people that employed such lifestyles. He probably went to the smart and sophisticated crowd to see what they had to say about the issue. After being disappointed, he moved on to the outcasts and wild crowd to see if they had the answer, but they weren’t helpful either. He ran with the nerds and the fools but neither of them had the meaning of life. Man’s wisdom and knowledge falls short. The “wisdom” from politicians, celebrities, or professional athletes will fall short. Man’s wisdom is vanity. 

The irony is the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know (Eccl. 1:18). When we study the world around us, we realize how small and insignificant we are. When we search out knowledge, we’re led to more questions than answers. As you learn about life, you realize there’s no escape from death. The wise man gains insight into the problems of the world and is more aware of his inability to fix those problems. If you take life seriously, then you can’t take it lightly. More knowledge means more frustration.

The fact is education, knowledge, and experience are not the meaning of life. Science can’t fix our problem with death. You can prolong your life with medicine and machines, but in the end, you will die someday. Knowledge is good, wisdom is helpful, but neither can give you meaning or purpose. A life full of experiences will not satisfy your soul. No amount of education, science, or good times will stop death from coming. So once again, we’re challenged to humble ourselves and look beyond this vain world. The meaning of life must be eternal, universal, and personal. Knowledge, wisdom, and experience are too inconsistent and inconclusive to solve your problems. That’s why we need God. Only He can fix our problems.

“Vanity of Vanities” – June 9, 2023

Have you ever wondered: “What is the meaning of life?” If we’re honest, all of us have asked this question. We think: “Why am I here? What’s the point of all this? Does my life have purpose?” Maybe you desperately want the answer to this question but have never found it. Well, I have good news. The Bible gives the answer in Ecclesiastes.
As we begin to examine Solomon’s quest, it’s helpful to think of some of the answers that people give for this fundamental question. Some people say that life is about family, fun, pleasure, love, doing good, or being happy. But what is the issue with every single one of these answers? They don’t solve our problem. The meaning of life must fix our problem. What is our problem in this life? Death. We’re all going to die someday. So, the meaning of life must fix the problem of death. Because if it doesn’t, then it’s not the true meaning of life. If we don’t have an answer for the problem of death, then we don’t have a reason to exist. This is important to understand as we evaluate this essential question in Ecclesiastes.
In Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, Solomon introduces his book and his topic. He identifies himself as “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” That sounds like King Solomon. To understand this book, we need to know some facts about the author. Solomon was a man of conflicted desires. He loved God but he also loved sin. In 1 Kings 3:5-14, God appeared to Solomon and told him that He would grant one request. In humility and faith, the young king requested an understanding mind to govern God’s people and to discern right from wrong. Solomon loved God and His people. Sadly, later in Solomon’s life he fell away from God (1 Kgs 11:1-8), and even started to worship pagan gods. Eventually Solomon repented but still faced serious consequences for his sin. Before his death, Solomon reflected on his life and wrote this book.
Solomon comes right out of the gate swinging. He says in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Remember the word vanity means empty, frustrating, fleeting. Solomon is not saying that life is meaningless, but he’s stating that man’s endeavors in this life are futile. Ultimately, this is because man can’t escape death. Any effort to live forever on this earth won’t work. Solomon is considering the purpose of life from the perspective of death and the outlook is bleak. The Preacher gives two reasons for the vanity of this world.
The first reason for vanity is that this world will go on without you when you die. In Ecclesiastes 1:3-8, Solomon describes the endless cycle of the earth. He demonstrates that work and labor mean nothing in the end because man lives, works, and dies. And what does man get from all this? Money that will pass on, food that will rot, things that will fade, and eventually he’ll lose all of this to the grave.
In verses 4-7, Solomon shows us that everyone dies, and life goes on. People move on without us. Your generation will live and die like the one before. The next generation will go on without you. Time and nature move on without us. Solomon describes the never-ending cycle of the earth, sun, wind, & water. The earth will be here after you. The sun will continue to rise and set without you. The wind will continue to circulate. The waters of the earth will continue their cycle. They’re all in an endless cycle that will continue after you die. Isn’t that just the best news ever? (sarcasm)
This world is stuck in a cycle of never reaching the goal. In verse 8, Solomon says, “All things are full of weariness.” The world is in a restless cycle that never ends. The sun will rise and fall over and over again. Winds will circulate around and around. Waters will flow downhill but never overfill the ocean. They never cease but they also never change anything. They go on and on and on.
Man reflects this in his heart. We find no rest or contentment in this world. We live every day in a pursuit of meaning, looking for a solution to our impending death, but our efforts are futile. We wake up, eat, live, breathe, eat some more, go to bed, and do again and again until we die.
The second reason for vanity is that this world will forget you when you die. Verses 9-11 demonstrate this sad reality. Solomon says there is nothing new under the sun. Nothing is “new” in the cycle of life. There may be new inventions, but creativity and the excitement it brings is not new. Man’s desire to fix his problems with stuff is not new. Humans will keep doing human things long after we’re gone.Every generation looks for something “new” to satisfy their craving for meaning but it’s the same old story. “This invention, technology, medicine, or diet will give u a longer life…” But in the end, they all fail. This is nothing new. Your life will be forgotten. Each generation is forgotten by the next. The great ones of today will be forgotten tomorrow.
For example, most people can’t remember who the 23rd president of the United States was or who invented the World Wide Web or the first programmable computer. These were notable people in their generations but few of us can remember them even though they had great achievements. Generations come and go. People live and die and are forgotten.
What is the meaning of life? Solomon painted a very bleak picture. This world is vanity. So,the meaning of life must transcend the vanity of this world. It must be above and beyond the endless cycle of life and death. It must be sufficient for every human being. And it must be satisfying to the individual. Therefore, the meaning of life must be eternal, personal, & universal.
Solomon is already setting the stage for his conclusion. The meaning of life is only found in God. The Eternal God, the Creator of heaven & earth, the Covenant-Keeping Lord is the answer to the question. Solomon is pointing us to God. He points us to the brevity of life to get us to turn to the Creator of life. Solomon is trying to destroy the arrogance of mankind and bring us to a humble respect for God. To find the meaning of life you must humbly accept your inefficiency and look to the One who is Eternally Sufficient. Only God can give us the meaning of life.

What Is the Meaning of Life? – June 2, 2023

What is the meaning of life? Why do we exist? Does life have purpose or are we just pointless animals doomed to oblivion? Every human being has asked some form of these questions. We wonder if there is significance to our existence because we desperately crave meaning and purpose. Because without purpose, our lives are just pitiful blips in the vast universe.

How someone answers this fundamental question determines everything about their life. Many philosophers have tackled this question, but their answers vary and often fail to bring true satisfaction. Some philosophers embrace humanism, the idea that humans are basically good and can fix their own problems. These people believe that there is a spark of goodness in humanity that must be educated or focused on to fix the problems we face in the world. However, such naïve claims were squashed in the world wars of the 20th Century. After witnessing the brutal power of man, many people rejected the idea that we are basically good. Although with the recent advances in technology, such ideas are resurfacing.

Some philosophers that are not satisfied with these answers embrace nihilism, which rejects any absolute truth or purpose to human life. Like many secular philosophies, such a view is impractical to the highest degree. Even those that embrace this view must contradict their own thinking on a daily basis. If life has no meaning or purpose, why would we even ask the question? Why would we eat, sleep, love, or live? A monkey doesn’t ponder the meaning of life. A bacterium on the bottom of your shoe doesn’t question its significance in the universe. Then why are humans cursed to face this question?

Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this matter. In fact, there’s a whole book in Scripture devoted to this question. In Ecclesiastes, the author (King Solomon, in my humble opinion) is tackling this very question. Throughout the book, King Solomon considers the different answers that man gives for his purpose in this universe. However, Solomon determines these philosophies to be “vanity.” The term “vanity” is used frequently throughout this book. Our 21st Century minds may think of a magazine or place when we see this term, but its definition is very important. According to Strong’s Complete Dictionary, “vanity” means, “something transitory and unsatisfactory, empty.[1]” Solomon illustrates this term with the phrase, “striving after wind.” If I went outside on a windy day and tried to grasp the wind in my hands, I’d be considered crazy. No matter how hard I try, I can’t grab the passing wind. This picture describes man’s attempts to find meaning and satisfaction in this world. Man lives “under the sun” and his life is a brief moment of endless striving.

Because of sin, man has rebelled against his Creator and desperately tries to find meaning in this world. However, the creation can never replace the Creator. Therefore, this world with all its pleasures, philosophies, and possessions can never truly satisfy your soul. And thus, the premise of King Solomon’s book, Ecclesiastes.

For the next few weeks, we will take some time to examine King Solomon’s quest for the meaning of life as we study the book of Ecclesiastes. We’ll be confronted with our need for God in a world that tries to replace Him. We’ll be challenged to heed John’s warning in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” We’ll also be encouraged by the hope that a relationship with our gracious God can offer. And finally, I hope you’ll be empowered to share the light of Christ with a lost and dying world.


[1] James Strong, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 350.

Worship with Obedience – May 26, 2023

In Christ’s answer to the Samaritan Woman in John 4, He informs us that we are to worship in Spirit. While we are to worship the right One, the right way, we are also to worship with the right heart. So we must ask the question, what does it mean to worship God in Spirit? There are three vital things to consider when we discuss worshipping God in Spirit. Over the past two weeks, we looked at the first two: Worship in Spirit involves our emotions, and worship in Spirit involves our devotion. Today we conclude our series on worship in the church with the final thing to consider: Worship in Spirit involves obedience.

This final principle arises out of one of the minor prophets. Consider Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased withthousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Judah was heading towards destruction. As we saw a few weeks ago from Amos 5, this was not because worship failed to occur. Instead, it was because the worship was not how God had prescribed. Micah poses the question to Judah about what exactly pleases God. In truth, we need to ask this same question often. From this interaction, we must draw two important conclusions.

First, we must understand that God is not impressed with empty ritualism. Micah poses to Judah acts of extreme sacrifice. In this, he asks, “Will God be pleased if I simply go through the prescribed rituals?” “What if we offer thousands of rams?” Now he ups the ante. “What if we go beyond God’s requirements and do extreme acts?” “What if we offer 10,000 rivers of oil?” What if we make the most extreme sacrifice to God possible and offer our firstborn?” But Micah notes that God is not interested in empty ritualism. You can go through all the rituals you want. But it does not make your worship authentic. You can stand when you are supposed to and sit when you are supposed to. You can ensure your church uses the right hymnbook, instruments, Bible version, and anything else you think is important. Still, God is not interested in empty rituals.

Instead, we see secondly from Micah that God desires an obedient heart. Micah states that God has already told us what pleases Him. Micah summarizes it in three statements. First, we are to do justice. God desires more that we act righteously and justly than that we make incredible sacrifices. Justice is who God is. It was His very justice that sent Jesus to the cross.

Second, we are to love mercy. While this would seem to negate justice, this is mercy found on the cross of Christ. Rather than show kindness (or compassion or steadfast love), particularly to those less fortunate and less successful, the people of Israel pursued a ruthless policy of exploitation, greed, fraud, and murder. God desired that they would develop the inward character of holiness through mercy. We are not to look down on the less fortunate or the sinful. Instead, we are to act in mercy towards them. This is a reminder that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Proverbs 3:3 informs us that mercy is to be imprinted on us like a jewel around our neck. We are to be known as merciful people.

Finally, Micah states that this means we are to walk humbly. God is honored by a church marked by humility. Too many believe we don’t need to learn at church. We are here to instruct others (as though God has given us the spiritual gift of counsel). But 1 Peter 5:5 informs us that God will go to war against the proud. God is not impressed with your intellect, abilities, finances, personality, or social status. James 1:17 informs us that it all comes from Him anyway. So, we are to be humble people. People marked by mercy and love. Any worship that does not come from this kind of heart fails to approach God rightly.

While not comprehensive, we have looked at some important principles in worship over the last two months. We are to worship in truth. This means we remember God’s glory and worship for Him, not ourselves. We also recognize that God is a God of truth. Everything we do and say should be driven by and come out of the truth of God’s Word. We care more about the questions, “is it true?” and “is it right?” than about the questions, “do people like this?” and “will this get people to come here?” We must worship the right One, the right way. So we sing the Word, pray the Word, read the Word, preach the Word, and picture the Word in the ordinances. Worship in truth also means that we seek one another’s edification in worship. We care more about others’ spiritual growth than about our preferences. We humbly serve one another. And we don’t make this church about us! Finally, we sing together. We all sing to one another. We sing joyfully, boldly, and triumphantly.

But we also worship in Spirit. If we worship in truth but go through the motions, we have fallen into the other ditch. We respond in naturally emotional ways. This means that sometimes we will raise our hands, sometimes we will clap, sometimes we will shout, sometimes we will rejoice, and sometimes we will mourn. But we will not suppress our emotions because others think it is weird. This means that we will worship with devotion. Sunday will lead to worship all week. God will dominate every area of life. We will seek Him with everything that we have. We will love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.

And finally, we will worship with obedience. When God convicts, we will respond. We will obey the Word. This must entail a humble, teachable spirit. No one is better than anyone else. We cannot look on with disdain or ridicule at others. We cannot throw a fit when we don’t get our way or others do things differently than we wanted. We must love justice, mercy, and humility. Every Sunday should be a picture of the Kingdom of God. We should love gathering with our church body and joyfully participate. We should worship the right One, the right way, with the right heart.

Worship with Devotion – May 19, 2023

As we discussed worshipping in truth the last few weeks, there is a danger. As we have worked through these foundational principles, the message has been that we must avoid being worked into an emotional frenzy devoid of truth. Just because something makes us feel good does not make it right. However, often to avoid this ditch of emotionalism in worship, we end up in another ditch. We become stoic, passive, and hard. We have seen that we must worship God in truth. We must worship the right One the right way. However, in Christ’s answer to the Samaritan Woman in John 4, He also informs us that we are to worship in Spirit. We are to worship the right One, the right way, with the right heart. So we must ask the question, what does it mean to worship God in Spirit? There are three vital things to consider when we discuss worshipping God in Spirit. Last week we looked at the first: Worship in Spirit involves our emotions. This week we will look at the second: Worship in Spirit involves our devotion.

In Matthew 22, as the Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus, they sent a lawyer to ask him about the greatest commandment. In response, Jesus gave a lesson about worship. “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5. And by this, He informs us that worship of God requires devotion. We should note two things about this devotion.

First, we should note that this devotion is complete. God commands that we love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind [might]. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart referred to the core of one’s being. It was the very center of one’s person. Central to their very identity. The term soul is closest to what we would call emotion and was the word Jesus used when he cried out in the garden of Gethsemane. Again this love was not to be a stoic, passive, or hard love, but rather one that resulted in great emotion. When this is the case, everyone knows about this love. It’s the picture in movies where the boy and girl’s eyes meet, fireworks explode, birds sing, music plays, and everyone knows they are in love. It is the picture of the parent sitting up all night in anguish with a sick child, tenderly brushing back their hair as they cool their brow with a cool cloth. It is the picture of the spouse married for decades grieving at the graveside of their departed companion. This is the kind of emotion that we are to have in our love for God. Mind corresponds to what is usually translated might in Deuteronomy 6:5. Mind is used here in the sense of intellectual, willful vigor and determination, carrying the meaning of mental endeavor and strength.

Therefore, Christ says we should love God in every way possible. Love for God and the corresponding worship of God cannot simply be a part of who we are. It must be who we are completely. Love for God cannot be something we accomplish on Sunday. Instead, love for God must be the central aspect of our being that drives everything we do. Note that God says we are to love Him with ALL of our heart, soul, and mind. God is not interested in a part of us. He requires all of us. So worship in Spirit involves our complete devotion to Him – every aspect, every place, every minute devoted to God.

This concept builds then into the second aspect of this devotion. When the devotion is complete, it is also caring. Jesus’ answer to the lawyer did not stop in verse 38. He stated, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). When we worship in Spirit with complete devotion to God, it pours out into the way that we interact with others. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Every Sunday, we ask God to help us remember that Cambria Baptist Church does not belong to any one of us. He alone purchased it with the blood of His Son. This means that no matter how long we have been at this church (50 years or one week) and how much we have given to it, it is still not about us. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Some of us struggle with this principle of complete devotion to God. We love ourselves. We have our opinion and don’t like anyone who contradicts that opinion. But to worship God in Spirit, we must get over ourselves. And instead, sacrificially love our neighbor. We cannot say that we love God while we are simultaneously standing in conflict with our neighbor. Worshipping in Spirit means that we love. We love God, and we love our neighbor.

Worship with Emotion! – May 12, 2023

As Jesus traveled through Samaria, he stopped at a well and conversed with a woman of ill repute. Very quickly in the conversation, this lady recognized that Jesus was a man of incredible wisdom. So, she asked him a question to distract him from the heart-probing questions he was asking her. So she went to the hot-button issue of the day, the worship war between the Jews and Samaritans. The Jews believed God said what he meant and that true worship needed to involve the temple. However, the Samaritans believed that as long as they had the right heart, they could worship on a mountain they had set apart for worship. The woman inquired about Jesus’ thoughts on the matter. Jesus replied with incredible wisdom, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Over the past several weeks, we have focused on the second half of Jesus’ answer. Worship that honors God must be true worship. In other words, we need to worship the right One the right way. So we have examined four foundational principles from God’s Word to help us in that endeavor: Our worship should be to God alone and for God alone, our worship should be how God requires, a primary purpose for congregational worship is the edification of fellow believers, and the church is congregational so we should emphasize congregational singing.

As we emphasize worshipping God in truth, there is a danger. As we have worked through these foundational principles, the message has been that we must avoid being worked into an emotional frenzy devoid of truth. Just because something makes us feel good does not make it right.

However, often to avoid the ditch of emotionalism in worship, we end up in another ditch. We become stoic, passive, and hard. While we must worship God in truth (we must worship the right One the right way), Christ also informs us that we are to worship in Spirit. We are to worship the right One, the right way, with the right heart. So we must ask the question, what does it mean to worship God in spirit? There are three critical things to consider when we discuss worshipping God in spirit.

Today we will examine the first. We should understand that worshipping in spirit involves our emotions. This point arises from several texts. However, today, I will point to just three. “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1). “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!” (Psalm 134:2). “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8). From these texts we see that God does not desire a dry ritualism. Sadly, to ensure we are true, we have interpreted that as a message that worship should be devoid of emotion. We must be stoic and bland. We must stand rigid and be careful lest any smile come across our faces.

As good Baptists, we maintain austerity and severity as we worship. But sometimes, someone gets out of line. The song’s message, or the Bible’s content, begins to take hold in an individual’s heart. And before they know it, a tingling begins in their arms, and those arms begin to rise up in praise to God. And the next thing we know, here is this person, in the middle of our service, holding up their hands while the worship takes place. And like all good Baptists, we do what we do. We all stop and stare at them while thinking, “what a weirdo.”

But I would like to propose to you today that they are not the ones who are weird; instead, we are weird. In the natural course of life, when we hear great news or are confronted with some message of incredible nature, we do not respond with stoicism. Instead, we react with joyful explanations, raising hands, clapping, and enthusiasm. But somehow, that is wiped out when we walk through the church doors. We could use some good old enthusiastic emotional responses to worship. We should not look at someone as strange or immature when they raise their hands or clap. In fact, the Bible tells us we ought to do these things.

I don’t think the Bible commands unnatural, forced, or manipulated reactions to worship. The moment it becomes forced or rote, it becomes a dry ritualism. But I do think that what these passages are saying is that worship should engender natural emotional responses. In his commentary on 1 Timothy, Kistemaker notes, “Posture in prayer is never a matter of indifference. The slouching position of the body while one is supposed to be praying is an abomination to the Lord. On the other hand, it is also true that Scripture nowhere prescribes one, and only one, correct posture during prayer. Different positions of arms, hands, and of the body as a whole are indicated. All of these are permissible as long as they symbolize different aspects of the worshiper’s reverent attitude, and as long as they truly interpret the sentiments of the heart.”

This principle would also apply to singing, reading Scripture, receiving the preached Word, or picturing the Gospel in the ordinances. These all should engender natural responses in us that are appropriate to the message from God. So, if the singing overwhelms your soul and you want to raise your hands, then by all means, raise your hands. And the rest of us should not look at them with disdain. If the Spirit’s conviction leads you to bow your head in prayer, then do so. But what should never happen is a stoic, passive, or hard response to the worship. That response is indicative of a heart that is hard to the Gospel. I am not proposing forced or false emotions. But I suggest that we should be engaged in worship involving our emotions. To worship in the spirit involves our emotions.