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08-11-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Eccl 3:1,11
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: He has made everything beautiful in its time… 11 He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Eternity—it’s not just about where we’re going! It’s about how we live right now! Everything we do…everything we are is connected to eternity.

It’s like an athlete in training—he or she has a goal in mind. You don’t just train without a purpose. Those who train—but never compete and never play in the game—end up frustrated. What’s the point? Life has a point. There is a purpose. There is a reason why we go through the “training” of life.

What would a football season be like if it never had any games? Nothing but “pre-season” games, where nothing ever counts, where the score is meaningless, where all you want to do is avoid injuries. Life is not meaningless.

What would you think if your baby in the womb never wanted to be born? A baby is supposed to develop in the womb with a goal in mind—to be born and start living life. A baby that wants to stay in the womb misses the point. Being in the womb is not the purpose of its existence.

It’s the same way for us. Life itself—everything about it—points to a bigger purpose, a higher cause. Everything about life is connected to eternity! The problem is we’re obsessed with life here: physical life, material life.

I heard about one couple who really worked on living a healthy lifestyle. They exercised…a lot. They didn’t smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. They took vitamins and ate a balanced diet. They avoided fatty foods and high chloresterol items and excessive carbohydrates. They ate a lot of rabbit food—green, leafy salads… Oh, and granola. They avoided desserts and other sweets. They cut out chocolate.
    In short, their lives were miserable.
And in the end, they died anyway. First she died; then a couple years later, he died.
When he arrived at heaven’s gates, his wife was there to welcome him, all aglow. She said, “Heaven is a wonderful place! Everything is beautiful! The presence of the Lord is beyond words. The glory and the splendor is unbelievable!” And she led him around on a grand tour of the place.
All along the way, though, he was surprisingly quiet.
Finally she said, “What’s the matter? Why are you so quiet? Don’t you like it here?”
He said, “No…it’s all very wonderful. It’s just that I was thinking, if you hadn’t had me on all that health food crap, I could have been here years ago.”

If we believe in heaven—a wonderful, fantastic place—why do we become obsessive-compulsive about life on earth?

This past week the results of a Pew Research Center survey were announced in which people were asked how long they would like to live:
http://www.pewforum.org/2013/08/06/living-to-120-and-beyond-americans-views-on-aging-medical-advances-and-radical-life-extension/   http://www.deseretnews.com/images/article/graphic/1184138/1184138.jpg

If medical treatments were available that would slow the aging process and allow the average person to live to at least 120, would most people want those treatments? 68% said yes; 27% said no.

But change the question slightly, and researchers got surprisingly different results: If medical treatments were available that would slow the aging process and allow the average person to live to at least 120,
would you want those treatments?
38% said yes; 56% said no.

I think it’s because we don’t want to just live. We want to live well. We want to be healthy right up to the end. We just don’t like the idea of suffering. Someone said, “I don’t mind the idea of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Maybe that’s why a majority in the survey say they don’t want to live too long. Could it be they’re afraid that as the number of their years increase, their quality of life will decrease? Maybe they think extra years will mean less quality. It’s not so much long life they hope to avoid, but health problems, financial limitations, lack of mobility, and being a burden on someone else. They want to avoid pain and suffering.

On the other hand, maybe some are ready to go sooner because they know this life is not the end. They know there is something more. They know that eternal life—a positive, pain-free, glorified existence—is available after this life is over.

We don’t like the idea of having our physical bodies gradually “waste away,” but the Bible tells us that while “…outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16) Then it goes on to explain that our focus should be on the spiritual, not the physical: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)

Eternity is “in” these days, even in our skeptical, materialistic society. Ninety Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper has sold over 1.6 million copies and is available in 16 languages. Heaven Is for Real—the story of Colton Burpo, a young boy who had a near-death experience—has sold over 7.5 million copies.

More recently a book called Proof of Heaven has topped the New York Times best-seller lists for months. In it Harvard-trained neurosurgeon (Eben Alexander) tells about his near-death experience. He claims that while in a coma for 7 days, he was guided by a beautiful girl riding a giant butterfly, flying around the “invisible, spiritual side of existence.” He also encountered “God,” whom he often calls Om—short for omniscient and omnipotent—an unconditionally loving God. Seems like new age gobbledygook to me…

Even people without a Christian or biblical world view often expect life after death. Alexander said his experience “absolutely changed the way I look at everything,” and it gave him confirmation that “at the core of it, we are eternal spiritual beings.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/under-god/post/do-you-believe-in-life-after-death-neurosurgeon-shifts-view-on-faith-life/2012/12/01/e6ab99a8-3a5d-11e2-b01f-5f55b193f58f_blog.html

A recent study found that 81% believe in heaven—but more believe in heaven than in hell [2011]. A study of 40-something people in Britain found more of them believe in heaven than believe in God—that’s Europe for you. See http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/05/07/the-heaven-boom/

So you don’t have to be Christian to have those kind of thoughts or questions. You only need to be human. Thoughts of eternity and of God—the mystery and wonder of the universe—these seem to be hard-wired into the nature of man. God put it there! I believe God has set eternity in the human heart.

God sparks within us an urge to seek the supernatural. He gives us an awareness of mystery, the sense that there is something more than this material world, something transcendent, something spiritual, something beyond ourselves—in short, something ETERNAL.

Sociologists acknowledge humanity’s “religious reflex.” Since the dawn of time, In all eras of history and in all cultures, humans have felt a longing or a need for God—a desire to know what is “beyond”: beyond themselves, beyond this earth, beyond life itself.

They are aware of something (or Someone) bigger than themselves. Some fear the divine power; some hope or trust in the holy—but in one way or another, most want to worship.

God’s word (which is special revelation”) tells us that he offers clues about himself in creation (that is, general revelation”) so people will seek for him.

Maybe at times you’ve felt God’s presence underneath a starlit sky…or you’ve sensed him while hiking through the morning mist of the forest…or sitting, listening to the waves pounding the rocky shore.

God reveals himself in very profound ways—not just in the pages of the Bible, not just in the worship songs of a church service.

My friend, Dennis Hodulick, whom some of you remember when he was here as a guest speaker a while back, was a hardened, dope-pushing, motorcycle dude. He spent time in prison for his criminal behavior. When he looked at the world around him, he could only see bad stuff—mean streets, bad people, pain, and sadness. But then God began to open his eyes—not through the pages of the Bible, but through a camera lens.
He acquired a passion for photography, and when his lens zoomed in close on the spectacular beauty of a flower or the delicate intricacies of a butterfly, the view shut out all the ugly meanness around him. He began to see details he had missed before. He began to see the fingerprints of God in creation itself.
It was a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey as he discovered beauty he had been missing before. In time, Dennis gave his heart and his life to Jesus.

These “clues” about God are not empirical “proofs” of God—and many agnostics or atheists will argue that the existence of God cannot be proven by such things. But with so many “clues” all around us, most people and cultures recognize that Someone is behind it all.

If a CSI team finds “fingerprints,” they know there’s a chance they can get a positive ID on who was there. Investigators look for “forensic” evidence—the tell-tale clues that are left behind, even though there were no eye-witness.

Well, the world is full of the fingerprints of God. His presence and his activity can be seen everywhere. We can see the forensic evidence. And if we continue to search, the clues begin to add up.

Ps 19:1,4 1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands… …their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…

Rom 1:19-20 19 …what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Acts 14:17 (Paul speaking in Lystra): …[God] has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.

Acts 17: 28 (Paul speaking in Athens) …As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Even Greek poetry, steeped in Greek mythology and the pantheon of a polytheistic society, recognized the spark of the Divine within mankind.

Some try to extinguish the spark—try to wipe off the fingerprints of God. They say those things alone are not proof. They say you need faith to believe it.

And that’s true—as far as it goes. But what they fail to see is that it also requires faith to ignore all the clues. It takes faith to dismiss the fingerprints of God. Someone once asked me why I believed in God, and I said, “Because I don’t have enough faith to believe all this happened by accident.”

If you see God’s fingerprints, you’ll also have a sense of eternity: an omnipotent God and a timeless eternity touches every aspect of our earthly existence. Everything we do is ultimately part of something bigger, something grander…

Eccl 3:1-11
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. 9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

This passage was written by a frustrated, disillusioned man (most think Solomon), who became dissatisfied with life on earth. He had achieved far more than any of us ever will. He enjoyed phenomenal wealth. But he found his success to be empty. Unfulfilling. It’s all meaningless, he said. Vanity…like chasing the wind. There has to be something more.

So when you read Ecclesiastes, you have to understand its frame of reference. It’s not all directly true—like when he says everything is meaningless or that there is no difference between human beings and animals or that animals and people all go to the same place when they die (3:19-20).

But here’s the thing! We can learn eternal truths by listening to a man who is going through the depths of a midlife crisis. That’s why God included this book in the Bible: the questions and doubts become the basis for us to discover awe-inspiring, eternal truths. Ecclesiastes gives us nuggets of golden inspiration nestled between mountains of despair and frustration.

So even though the writer of Ecclesiastes struggles over things he does not know—even while he is frustrated about his limited understanding—nevertheless he has flashes of brilliance, reinforcing what we’ve said about the fingerprints of God in the world, about clues for eternity.

He offers several important insights:

  1. Everything is connected to eternity. Everything we do has significance. In some mysterious way, every part of our lives—every moment—is connected to eternity’s purpose.
    There is an appointed time for everything (v 1, NASB)
    …a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages. (v 11, AMP)
  2. Life on earth is hard.
    I have seen what difficult things God demands of us. (v 10, CEV)
    I have seen mortals weighed down with a burden… (v 10, GW)
  3. This hard life is not the end of the story. There is more! God plants eternity within us.
    He has planted eternity in the human heart… (v 11, NLT)
    He has put thoughts of the forever in man’s mind… (NLV)
    …he has put a sense of past and future into their minds… (NRSV)
  4. God wants us to question and to search.
    …he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. (CEV)
    God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future… (VOICE)
  5. We cannot understand it all. God is infinite; we are finite. Human beings cannot grasp the whole picture. God’s ways are beyond our ways; we will continue to wrestle with mystery and wonder.
    Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done… (CEV)
    He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does. (TEV)
  6. In the end, our lives are accountable to God. So we should live with eternity in view.
    God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed. (NET)

We can’t know all there is to know about eternity, but God has given us answers. Specific answers. Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about eternity—and how it touches our lives right here and now. The Bible says…

Col 3:1-4. 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.