Risen Thinking (Easter 2019)

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Risen Thinking (Easter 2019)

When I was growing up there was a saying, I don’t hear much anymore. You are what you eat. What a ridiculous saying. That’s why we don’t here it much anymore - it’s like our entire generation woke up and said, Nah, that’s not true. “If i eat this chocolate bunny …” yeah, no. It doesn’t make sense - I think it said to try to make us eat more healthy food, but who wants to how up and me a head of lettuce?

Maybe we’ve lost something when we threw out that idiom however. Maybe there was wisdom in the saying, it's just that I heard it wrong all those years. Maybe the idiom was never supposed to be taken literally at all (yeah, of course, you don’t really turn into a chocolate bunny.” What I mean is, maybe the idiom wasn’t about food at all. It wasn’t about what we consume with our mouths, but with our minds. If it’s not about food, but about our thoughts, then the saying has a bit more staying power. You are what you think about. You are what you let into your thoughts. You are the media and philosophies you consume.

This seems to be the Apostle Paul’s concern in this verse that I want to centre our thoughts on this morning, that our thoughts shape us, we are what we eat: 

Phil. 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Last week, we finished a series in the book of Ecclesiastes, and at the end of that book, we saw a description of God’s communication to us through the Biblical writers as thoughtful, careful, delightful and true. That’s a great framework for all of our communication. And it is my prayer this morning as we reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For there is nothing more excellent or worthy of praise than the resurrection, and for that reason, it is good and proper for us to “think about these things”. But my prayer here this morning is not only to communicate information, but that the Holy Spirit might grant us illumination, that will turn our hearts to celebration.

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The Righteous Mind

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The Righteous Mind

I want to tell you about a book I’m reading. This book had been on my radar for a while. I had heard it referenced on a number of podcasts I listen to, a couple of blogs that I read. People were highly recommending it - that not strange, but what was strange was who was recommending it. People on the left. People on the right. Pastors. Academics. I saw an interview with the author sitting down with pastor Tim Keller, and a review by the Gospel Coalition. Russel Moore of the Southern Baptists called it “the most important book in years.”

The book is called “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathon Haidt. Haidt, a social psychologist at the NYU-Sterm School of Business, is interested in how people think. More specifically, Haidt, a ethnically Jewish, politically left-leaning, and religiously atheist democrat, was interested in why people on the right politically were so irrational. The book is centred around the question of why people on the left and people on the right talk past one another, misrepresent one another, and think that each other irrational. It’s a pretty amazing book. Haidt’s major conclusion after undertaking major anthropological studies across continents, age groups and social classes, is that people think differently - process facts differently, reason differently, and argue differently, not because they are irrational, but because thinking is first and primarily an expression of one’s deeper moral inclination - what Haidt called intuition. How the heart is inclined influences what the mind accepts as rational. The reason Haidt’s book is so influential is that it basically argues against the way that we in the West have been thinking about thinking. Since the enlightenment, we’ve come to think that we are primarily rational creatures - like computers. Data comes in, is processed by reason, and adjustments to our thinking are made. Haidt proves that is not the case. Haidt provides scores of evidence that one’s moral inclination precedes reason, that we use reason not to come to justify the beliefs we are morally inclined to accept. How the heart is inclined influences what the mind accepts as rational.

I was thinking of Haidt’s book as I reflected on this last passage in this book of all books, Ecclesiastes. For Solomon, or since Solomon is referred to in the third person here some people think a later compiler of Solomon’s writings, in any case, this final passage also speaks to our thinking, and the relationship between our thinking and our moral inclinations

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Living Life in Light of Eternity

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Living Life in Light of Eternity

Resolved, I will live so, as I wish I had done when I come to die.” 

These words were penned by nineteen-year-old Jonathan Edwards, who in 1722, kept a diary and wrote seventy guidelines which he called “Resolutions”. In his article, “The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards”, Dr. Stephen Nichols writes that Jonathan Edwards resolved to live a life that counts, not through legalistic grit and determination, but with God’s help and grace in accordance to His will.

Edwards’ seventy resolutions deal with various topics and themes. One such theme is the reality of his death and living before God with an eternal perspective. In his youth, Edwards knew all too well about the brevity of life. His life and preaching demonstrated that he took seriously that life is a breath, a mist, “that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). Just as life in Edward’s 18th century was frail and fragile, life continues to be frail and fragile today.

One theme that Solomon has addressed in Ecclesiastes is the sober reality of death. The brevity of life is a reality we just as soon forget, escape from, ignore and not talk about. In his sermon “The Bad Days are Better”, pastor Dan spoke of how a sober look at the reality of death actually helps us to put life into proper perspective and order.

We know that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die;” (Ecc.3:1-2). We are all going to die yet none of us know the day and hour when death shall overtake us. Though life is hebel - a vapor - a breath - Scripture actually teaches us that the fleeting, transient, breathiness of life can actually teach us how to live with eternity in view.

In Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8, Solomon deals with the reality of death and the afterlife in such a way to help prepare us, I believe, for eternity. From the context, it seems to me that the main idea of this passage is the call to live life in light of eternity.

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Why Work Hard?

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Why Work Hard?

one thing I’m learning about the way Solomon thinks and presents his outlook on life, is that he leans more pessimistic (or possibly realist). This has been a challenge for me, because I am an optimist by nature. When I make an argument, I find it more natural to outline all of the positive points first, and then speak to the critical objections. Solomon does the opposite, and I’m finding it very effective. What Solomon does, is he’ll lay out a thesis statement, and then state all the problems with it first, but by the end, he’ll convince you that what he originally said is the only viable way forward, through all the trouble that may be. This isn’t a bad way to think. If you’re an optimist, and you think life is going to be all rosy, when you slam into the reality of life, you may be likely to give up. But if you’re a pessimist, or at least a realist, and you’ve gone into an endeavour with a realistic understand of all that can go wrong, then when you hit a wall, you’d more likely perhaps to be more like, “yep, I knew I’d hit you sometime.”

So let’s make a ledger this morning, a pros and cons list, and debate Solomon’s proposal: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” - Now you might paraphrase this to suit your own needs: “Why should I work hard?”, “Why get myself out of bed this morning?”

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Perplexed? Try Joy

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Perplexed? Try Joy

How do you respond to the difficult perplexities of life? What do I mean by the difficult perplexities of life? Well, Ecclesiastes has been full of them: In the previous chapters Solomon has taken us on a tour of our dissatisfaction with our possessions and our inability to derive lasting happiness from the things that we own, the seemingly absurd proposition that days of adversity and death are as much from God’s hands as days of merriment, the reality of our human condition so that none of us are absolutely righteous or wise, and the frustration of having to submit to authorities over us with whom we disagree. However, Perhaps the most bewildering and discouraging reality we face in life is addressed in 8:14: 

Eccl. 8:14   There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 

How do you respond when you are faced with injustice or adversity or silence from God? or any of the other miriad of ways that God’s ways confuse us, disappoint us, perplex us?

In chapter 8:15-9:10, Solomon gives his answer. This is the heart of the positive instruction in the book. This is the absolute climax of Solomon’s argument, his thesis of how we are to respond to the hebel of life. He’s alluded to this answer a number of times already in the book, but here he unpacks it for us. And you might be surprised by his answer. His answer is not to give up, or to walk out, or to suffer anxiety, or to try to change the difficult perplexities of life. No. Here is his answer:

15 And I [therefore] commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

I commend joy. Three words. I commend joy. How are we to respond to the difficult perplexities of life? Solomon carefully weighs all the options and comes out with this: I commend joy.

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When Those Above You Are Idiots

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When Those Above You Are Idiots

My message this morning is, “When those above you are idiots.” We all live under authority. Parents, bosses, government, church leadership - there is no such thing as a society without any measure of authority. Authority is one of the restraining factors in this world that keep us from drifting into chaos. We all live under authority, and that means we all have experienced both the blessing and curse of authority. Authority is a blessing when it leads to prosperity and safety. But there will be times when you will face the unfortunate reality that the ones to whom you are required to submit make decisions that are foolish, arrogant, harmful or downright wrong in your eyes.

And this, “in your eyes” is important. Because whether or not the people above you are actually idiots, there are days when you think that they are because they are not listening to you. You never think the people above you are idiots when they listen to you - only when they are not listening to you do they magically transform into idiots. 

Your perspective on power and wisdom changes when you are the one in power. Remember being a kid and thinking that your parents knew everything? Then you become a parent and you’re like - ok, when is all of this knowledge supposed to kick in? Or you’re the boss and you realize that you actually have no idea what you are doing?

This perspective is what makes Ecclesiastes 8 very interesting, because Solomon is writes a chapter basically around the theme - what to do when your boss is an idiot … and Solomon’s the boss! He is the king! and this is not a democracy - he has absolute power. However, he also knows he doesn’t have absolute wisdom, or absolute righteousness. Yet neither did his advisors. And neither do you. So power without wisdom - somebody is going to get hurt, and somebody does. Look at the key verse in the section:  Ecc 8:9 All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

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We're Not Ned - We're Needy

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We're Not Ned - We're Needy

Now, because we do not truly believe in our hearts that the day of adversity is as much from God’s hand as the day of prosperity, we believe that there has to be some way to game the system, and if we somehow play the game of life in just the right way, God will reward us with prosperity and long life. Or we bargain with God - God save me and I’ll be a good person. Or we berate God - God, I’ve been a good person, why are you doing this to me? Spirituality becomes a transaction. If I pray right and live right and present myself in the correct way, God will honour that and bless me with life and success. 

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The Bad Days Are Better

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The Bad Days Are Better

A common way of understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is that the preacher, Solomon, is observing the perplexities of life and concluding that life is meaningless or vanity and so in the end you may as well give up and grasp on to God. Some of our modern English Bibles make it pretty easy for us to come to that conclusion; for example, the first verse of the NIV declares, “Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Now, I don’t believe that is the message of the book. As we have seen, Solomon is actually developing a positive case that, yes, life is a breath (a better translation of the key word in the book),however, there is beauty in the breath, when every moment is observed to be a gift from the hand of God.. I’ve suggested to you that the key verse in Ecclesiastes is 3:11: "He has made everything beautiful in His time”

Coming to chapter 7, this chapter of Ecclesiastes makes no sense if Solomon’s message is that “Life is Meaningless”. If life is truly meaningless, then it wouldn’t matter how one lives it. However, this section of Ecclesiastes clearly suggests a better way to live. The word better is used seven times and comparisons are made throughout the chapter.

Yet as this chapter unfolds we will find that Solomon is responding to perhaps the most threatening counter to his thesis that God makes all things beautiful in His time. How does God bring beauty out of death and suffering?

He is going to say that there is a better perspective on life, and what he points us too may be surprising: he is going to suggest that the hardest, most difficult, most sorrowful, moments of our lives are actually good things in the hands of God. 

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The Joy is Not in the Stuff

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The Joy is Not in the Stuff

The power to enjoy the gifts of God and the ability to accept our lot and rejoice in toil, is itself a gift of God. This is what Adam last week defined as contentment: “Contentment is finding joy in the lot that God has given you.” Well this week we’ll find that Solomon presses on deeper to explore this idea of contentment, and we’ll see him press his argument forward by pointing out three simple observations, and then really press in upon our hearts. The first two observations are related: 

  1. Joy Comes From God, Not Stuff.

  2. You Can Have it All and Still Have Nothing

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Contentment - The Gift of God

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Contentment - The Gift of God

While these are the extreme views there are also views that should be more familiar to those of us who are urban North American evangelicals. On the one hand, there is what I would call, Christian conservatism. Those of us who hold to this view are tempted to look at the homeless among us or the brother or sister who is struggling financially or is out of work and conclude that that such brothers and sisters are simply not faithful. They must be wasting their money. They must be lazy. They must just be irresponsible. For these people, being poor is the mark of a bad Christian and being middle-class is a mark of being a good Christian. This perspective is suspiciously similar to the pull-yourself-up-by-your-boots-straps individualism of political conservatism. The result is that middle-class-ness becomes akin to godliness.

On the other side, there’s the view I call, radical Christianity. Often a response to Christian conservatism, radical Christianity emerges from Christians who grew up in middle-class homes, became disillusioned by what they perceived as worldliness and hypocrisy in their home churches and their Christian families, and therefore decided that, even though they are university educated, academically gifted, and have lots of opportunities, they were called by God to intentionally live in the worst neighbourhoods in town, to abandon career paths to work at McDonalds, and to urge other Christians to do likewise lest they waste their lives and ruin the Church’s witness.

Perhaps this simply reflects my own experience, but these two views appear to be popular perspectives on prosperity: Christian conservatism and radical Christianity. But what does the Bible say? What does God think of prosperity? And with that question in mind, let’s turn to Ecclesiastes 5:8-20.

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