“What Is It? : Wrong Way”
October 20, 2019 | Ed Young
The scene: The Rose Bowl, 1929. Two undefeated teams, the University of California facing Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech has the ball, they fumble. An All-American named Roy Riegels, from the University of California, scoops up the fumble. He knows intuitively, this is my moment. The crowd is going bonkers! He’s rumbling down the field. He’s flying… the wrong way. The wrong direction. Finally, one of his teammates chased him down on the one-yard line. Wrong-Way Roy Riegels. YouTube it, as I did this week. You feel so sorry for him. But he became famous because he went the wrong way. You know that down deep when he walked to the sidelines, utter humiliation.
We’ve been talking about a guy names Solomon lately, and Solomon scooped up a fumble. He turned and as the crowds were cheering, he ran, he rumbled down the field in the wrong direction. I want to ask you this question. Could it be that you’re running in the wrong direction? Solomon wrote a book called The Ecclesiastes. It’s kind of like the journal. We have an opportunity to look over his shoulder and really get into his mind what he was thinking about. This book is about the meaning of life. Isn’t it interesting to know that even in 925 B.C. people were contemplating the meaning of life, like we are today?
I’ve written over 30 some-odd books. I’ve discovered something about writing. You better capture the reader’s attention in the first paragraph or two. If you don’t, good luck. The readers have to go, “I want to read this. I want to take this journey with you.” So, you write this compelling (hopefully) sentence or sentences. OK, I’m gonna read your book.
Solomon does something strange. As he opens this book, Ecclesiastes, he says, I’ve got nothing. I have nothing to say. Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, “The words of the preacher…” That’s Solomon. We call him Solo-man because he curled his toes over the diving board of depravity, and for 40 years he did whatever his heart desired. He had the wealth, he had the women, he had the wisdom, he had the way to search like we will never be able to search. A Silicon Valley billionaire can’t search this way. A hip-hop artist can’t search this way. An A-Lister can’t search this way. You’re never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever gonna be able to search like this guy. Ever! That’s what’s so cool about this book. So, if you’ve ever fantasized (I have), if you’ve ever wondered (I have), if you’ve ever contemplated (I have) what it would be like to just do whatever you want to do, this is your book.
So, “The words of the preacher, the Son of David.” He was a member of the lucky sperm and egg club. His dad was a multi-squillionaire, “…king in Jerusalem.” He says “Vanity of vanities.” Any time the Bible repeats itself, pay attention. We call Jesus the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus, many times, when he wanted to emphasize something would say “verily, verily, I say unto you.” Hey students, when your parents say something twice, they might say, “Don’t let me say it a third time.” You better do what they’re saying. You better listen up.
So, Solo-man, the guy that was trying to find the meaning of life, under the sun (a phrase he uses repeatedly in this text), Solo-man tries to find what the purpose of life is away from God. That’s what this book is about. And his answer is life is absurd. That’s it. Life is chaotic. This book could be called The Meaning of Meaninglessness. That’s what Solomon’s saying. He’s saying if you live your life under the sun with no regard to God or eternity, you’re gonna get sunburned. And you’ll get melanomas and you’ll have a cancer, and you can waste this one and only life.
I just turned 39… (laughter) and when I look back over my life, I have some regrets. I mean, I do. And if you’re my age, 58, you’re gonna have a few more than someone who’s 8 or 18. But overall, I look back and thank God for my life because at a surprisingly young age I connected the dots. I connected the under-the-son living with above-the-sun living. The temporal with the eternal. Solomon, though, is saying here’s what it looks like to do life under the sun, a no-holds-barred existence, and when that happens your answer is it’s just meaningless.
Why are so many young people committing suicide? Well, there are a number of reasons but one of the big reasons would be young people are exposed to things at surprisingly early ages that even adults back in the day weren’t exposed to. They’re coming to the same conclusion that Solomon came to, it’s vanity. There’s nothing new under the sun. So, this book is both cynical and significant. It’s depressing and also dynamic. It’s existential and eternal, it’s mystifying and magnificent, the book of Ecclesiastes.
You know what Solomon says to us? You’re not gonna figure life out. You will not put the dots together. It’s not gonna happen. That shouldn’t be just a doggy downer. That should be, OK, I’ve got it. Things in life don’t make sense. They make sense to God, but they’re not always gonna make sense to you and me.
One day I get a text, and someone has died tragically. Recently I received one where a whole family, they were taken out in a nanosecond in a Jeep accident. The next day I got a call from a family that’s been struggling with infertility and they had a baby boy! Life is a mystery. Life doesn’t make sense. Philosophers haven’t found the answers, historians haven’t, scientists definitely haven’t, and we know lawyers don’t know, and pastors are even worse off. You’re not gonna find the meaning of life. And God has made it that way. Well, why? Because this question that we have about the meaning of life drives us to a point where we go, all right. I’ve got a choice to make. I’m either gonna connect the dots with under-the-sun and above-the-sun or not.
Solo-man. There’s no one like him, 40 years of wasting his life. So, whenever you fantasize, or whenever you think about, man, what would it be like to do this, or that, or whatever, just read this. You’ll save us all a lot of trouble.
I’m gonna talk about just two things today, first of all, Solomon’s Terrible Choice. Say that with me: terrible choice. Now say it like you mean it. Terrible choice. And #2, his Tremendous Conclusion. His what? Tremendous conclusion. That’s where I’m going. So, there’s no one better credentialed to write this book than Solomon.
Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It’s all been done before. There is nothing new (what?) under the sun.” The seven deadly sins are still as deadly. Bad language is still bad. People still lie. We all do all sorts of things in wars and our motivations are questionable. So, is there anything new? No. We can probably sin faster today because of technology but is there anything new? History repeats itself. Just look. We don’t learn from it. And it’s part of a mystery.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-11, “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He’s made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity (I love that) in the human heart. Yet, no one can fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We have this longing for eternity, this focus on forever, yet, we’re locked into time and space. So many try to get out of time and space, but we’re locked in. We’re locked in. And Solomon talks about time and how time is a gift, and how, on one hand, we live forever in one of two places, but on the other, we don’t have much time. When someone has a birthday we don’t say, “Ho-ho! Wow! You’re closer to the box. Let’s talk about death, let’s talk about the grim reaper.” No.
Now, when I do a wedding people don’t really listen to what I’m saying at all, because weddings are for women. It’s your day. Guys let me just save you a lot of hassle. You could be a mannequin standing there in a tuxedo. It doesn’t matter. Weddings, wow! We don’t talk about death, really. I mean, maybe in the vows I just kind of skim over it. “Until death do us part.” That’s about it. But let me do a funeral, as I did recently. People are locked in. One hundred and fifty-three thousand people a day die. That’s a lot of funerals. Yet, 300,000 births occur per day. So, you’ve got rejoicing, a new life! You’ve got weeping. Then Solomon goes on to say does it really matter if you have a lot of money?
This past week I had something really interesting happen, because I had a conversation with a guy, I met who was walking a dog. I love animals and I started talking to him. I could tell he was lower class. I could tell he didn’t have much of the things of the world. Yet, very bright, very smart, I really enjoyed the conversation I had with him, but again, he really wasn’t educated, and he didn’t have much. Several days earlier, I interviewed one of the wealthiest men in America. I’ll show that interview in a couple of months. This guy is worth billions of dollars. And Solomon is going, “Go figure! The guy who was walking the dog could be smarter and more creative and more innovative than my multi-billionaire friend. Read Ecclesiastes. Time and chance.
Have you ever met someone (I have) and they’re very successful? And you go, this guy’s a moron. We all have. Oh, we go to these seminars about leadership, about being successful, about making money. Everyone’s not gonna be successful in the world’s eyes. Everyone’s not gonna make money! And Solomon is saying it doesn’t make sense. That’s what should drive us to our knees. One moment there’s peace, one moment there’s war. Gladness, sadness. Look at Ecclesiastes 7:14, “When times are good, be happy. When times are bad, consider this. God has made the one as well as the other, therefore no one can discover anything about their future.” I’ll say it again. It might not make sense to you and me, but it makes sense to God. God is sovereign. He’s sovereign. He’s in charge. God’s about glory. We’re here to glorify God. That’s even a mystery. Our boy Solo-man is not saying that we don’t enjoy life. His conclusion is all about joy and expectation and seizing the moment. He’s saying, though, life is short.
So, he goes through all sorts of things. He goes through al sorts of things. He goes through nature. He goes through history. Again, history tells us what. Science tells us how. Neither tells us why. He talks about wealth. He talks about working. I mean, I’ll use myself as an example. I know right now there are a number of people in the Sudan who have more talent than I do. There are people in Borneo who are smarter than Mark Zuckerberg. Time and chance. Time and chance. Life doesn’t always make sense to you and me. But, like Monopoly, at the end of the game it all goes back into the box. We’re facing the box.
So, why are you gonna waste your life? You’re not gonna sleep with the beautiful people like Solomon did. You’re not gonna do it. You’re not gonna have the money. Bezos doesn’t, but Solomon did. You’re not gonna have the fame. Justin Bieber is not even close. You’re not gonna have the intelligence, you’re not. So, why waste your life? I’m really glad that there’s a book in the Bible about this, aren’t you? So, we should go, like, wow. This is awesome. Maybe I will be a billionaire, like the guy I talked to. You could be. It’s a gift from God. Maybe I won’t have much. Maybe I’m just gonna be walking a dog and having a good time. Great for you! As long as we glorify God. Because death is the great equalizer.
I read, last night, a very interesting story and research on the human brain. I wasn’t even doing any research for this message because I study during the week, but these Israeli researchers have discovered that the human brain fools itself about death. The human brain kind of lies to itself thinking that death will happen to someone else. It’s not me! Oh, no, no. Not me, not me, not me. Oh yeah, it’s you. It’s me. And Solomon says we’re gonna find out we have a one-on-one appointment with the Lord that we can’t put off. We can’t file a continuance. We can’t go, well, I’ll back-burner that one. We can’t wheel and deal. It’s gonna be one on one, you and me, with the blazing glory of our Lord. Are you ready for that? Because you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Have you connected under-the-sun living with above-the-sun living?
I’m ashamed to say but I have the new iPhone 11. It’s totally overrated. Apple is clueless. Once Steve Jobs dropped off the Apple tree, the whole tree is rotten. Apple is a great example of a lack of leadership. And you can see this.
This is not preaching. Let me just tell you something about leadership. Whenever you have a great leader accompany a team at church, they never hire another great leader. They always hire someone who’s safe. That’s a great story about Apple. Apple has diversified too quick; they roll out stuff too fast without checking it out. I just want to say the iPhone 11 is highly overrated. Everybody said, and everybody said, OK, who does not have an iPhone 11 in this room? All right. Isn’t that great? Because I’ve done what Solomon did. I’ve saved you from buying it! It’s a waste of money! I want to throw it in Lake Fellowship! I’m on that thing and it’s dropping calls. I don’t want to say anything bad. I’ll just stop. I’ll just stop. I’ll just stop. But you see and you feel his terrible choice. But here’s one thing about the 11 that I’ll tell you. I do know this. This is about as smart as I am with technology. You’ve got to charge it. And it does have a longer battery life, OK? I’ll give it that. But you connect it. If you don’t connect it, you’re really in trouble.
Solomon is saying connect the dots. God has given us an opportunity to know him and to make that choice. Life is a gift. So, his tremendous conclusion, we’re almost done. We’ve got about a minute left and I can go over it for just a few minutes but… His tremendous conclusion, Ecclesiastes 3:14, “I know that everything God does will endure forever.” And we know that. We have a fascination with forever. Children’s books end “and they lived happily ever after.” Your favorite movies, my favorite movies, always have a happily ever after ending. Are you feeling me? Say, “Ed, I’m feeling you.” OK, good. I just want to see if you’re still alive. I thought some of you might be in the box already. “I know that everything God does will endure forever. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” We do know this. God allows this (it doesn’t always make sense to us, but it makes sense to God) to drive us to that point of choice.
I’ve got to blow my nose, excuse me. LeeBeth on the front row, our oldest daughter, gave me a used Kleenex. No, no, thank you. Anybody have any sinus problems? Oooh, I am. Excuse me. I know this is bad but just let me turn my back. Now here’s something that I’ve done before. I promise you, and I’ve had just a Kleenex as a pocket square, and I’ve had people go, “Dude, nice pocket square!” and they think it’s real. It’s not bad, is it?
Was I in Ecclesiastes 3:14? “I know that everything God does will endure forever. Nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” OK? It’s not fear… ah!!! It’s reverence him. It’s to reflect the brilliant blaze of his glory. Solomon takes us through this search to show us it isn’t it. What is your it? I thought it would be, if I could be a #1 recruit in high school. You know I was picked in the top 10 most highly recruited players in the state of Texas in 1979? I was. But “it”, that was not it. I used to think it was starting in a major college basketball game, Division 1A, right? Florida State Seminoles Criminoles? I started. It is not it. I thought if I married this beautiful girl, she is beautiful. Beauty queen. She is a beauty queen. I thought that would be it. It’s not it. I thought it we had kids, that would be it. I thought if I pastored a church, a big church, Fellowship is one of the biggest. It’s not it. I thought if I made over $100,000 a year, that would be it. It’s not it. I thought if I wrote books. No, it’s not it. It’s not it! And you know what I’m saying because you’re chasing your it right now and you know it’s not it. It’s about him. It’s about God. It’s about reflecting him. That’s it. It is when we connect under-the-sun living with above-the-sun living. It is when we connect under-the-sun living (whoosh!) with above-the-sun living. Then, suddenly, we have this view, this perspective.
So, when great things happen, God I want to give you glory. When awful things happen, even though we don’t understand it, God, I want to give you glory. Because too many people are running around saying it’s just the love of God. God loves you, that’s enough. Sorry. That’s not enough. When your child dies, when you experience tragedy, when you get a bad report from the doctor, God loves you? Oh really? That’s enough? It’s not enough. Oh, I’m blessed. Sorry! That’s not enough! I’m living the blessed life. That’s not enough! There’s a bigger net out there. The glory and the sovereignty of God, and we’ve got to fall into it and rest on him, and even in our questions and doubts and dark days, we know that he is in charge and he is a good God, and he will get glory.
So, the last part of this is what I call the chocolate bunny text in Ecclesiastes. The chocolate bunny. My first culinary disappointment was when I was 4 years old. I woke up Easter morning, saw the Easter basket there, saw this big honking chocolate bunny in the fake grass. I got up. I’m 4. I remember like it was yesterday. Opened it up, and I started with an ear. I was expecting something solid, you know? And I bit into it… it was hollow! What are you trying to bite into? Name it! Solomon did, and he’s saying it was hollow!
So, what do we do? Well, he says, “Remember your Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1) in the days of your youth.” Remember your Creator before you can remember to remember. And we love it when old people come to the Lord but we ain’t got much to give. I’m following Jesus, now. Well, great, but you’re one step away from the box, all right? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “Now all has been heard, believe me. Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God…” God, you’re God. I glorify you. You’re sovereign. “… and keep his commandments.” They are simply laws that liberate. They’re for our best. “For this is the duty of all mankind.” I mean, what’s the meaning of life? Recreate, fornicate, do deals, and die? That’s it? “God will bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
Which way are you running? Which way are you rumbling down the field? That’s a question that only you, my friend, can answer.
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]