Graduation is such a weird time for me. This is my 10th high school graduation that I’ve done as a youth Minister, I think. And I don’t know how you feel when high school graduates come around, but I feel like I’m like reliving it over and over again.
Have you seen the Friday Night Lights movie? The movie at the end of the movie, he takes the names of the seniors off of his football team board and stuff and then put new seniors up there. That’s kind of what it’s like to be a youth Minister this time of year. It’s a little strange. It makes me think of my own graduation, my 17 year old almost 18 year old self and all the fear, all the excitement, but definitely like the oh, my gosh, I’m supposed to know what I’m doing I think.
Right now I tend to go back to whenever these graduates, there’s always a part of me that goes back to, man, if I could have done this just a little bit differently, this might have been what I would have done differently. How many go through that a little bit around these seasons?
And the reality is in life, and high school is kind of one of these moments, high school graduation is one of these moments, where God kind of gives us these benchmarks. Graduation, marriage, career changes, having kids, becoming an empty Nester, retirement, things like that, where hopefully in these moments we can take pause to examine the direction that we’re headed in and what really matters as we move forward. If you like some of the same public speakers that I do in the lecturers that I listen to, a lot of them talk about examining your why. Why am I doing this? Why am I taking on what I’m taking in life right now?
Why am I headed in this direction? And this is the direction that I need to be headed in? This morning, I had three working titles, and I’m just going to share all of them with you right now okay? I wanted to say the end of the road, that’s kind of depressing. And I really like boys II men, but I don’t want to be sued by them.
Okay. That doesn’t work. Okay. Turn the page. But that’s a Metallica song, and we definitely know they like to sue people.
So I settled on this one. This is our title for today. The next chapter. Okay. I think that works for us.
Okay. We can all agree on that. All right. We’re going to be going through the Book of Ecclesiastes today. We’re going to go through.
Let’s say a prayer on that note. Father, I just want to thank you so much for the opportunity to be in your house this morning, to be surrounded by family, to celebrate these amazing young men and women as they venture onto the next chapter of their lives. But, God, I pray for all of us right now that you will center us to help us to focus and listen as we hear your word. God, please speak through me. Allow your spirit to share exactly what you want said to us today.
I pray that we’ll be humble as we receive it and then take it into our lives and how we live even out this week. We love you and your son, Jesus name we pray. Amen. Like I said, we’re going to be in Ecclesiastes. So I want you to go ahead and turn to chapter two if you got a physical Bible. If you bring your Bible to Church, you are my people. I love the rustling sound of pages. There’s something that just a physical Bible, it never runs out of power.
You see what I did there? All right. I want to give us a little bit of background on Ecclesiastes, though, because this is a book that oftentimes we misunderstand and not totally misrepresent, I would say. Okay, so the book of Ecclesiastes is actually written as kind of a combination of an interview with somebody at the end of their life, but also somebody who kind of discovered personal writings after somebody had already passed. So it’s not actually written by whoever we’re reading about.
It’s written by somebody else that you can imagine maybe sitting across a coffee table from them and asking them some questions and then finding their Journal after they’ve moved on and kind of seeing some of the wisdom of their life.
The person that’s exploring these things, they’re examining what they’ve experienced and what is valuable in life.
There’s something significant to me about kind of somebody that’s lived a long life, that is reflecting on what they’ve experienced, sharing with us what’s important. Luckily, the Bible gives us a couple of insights into that. But I would say this is some of the reactions there. This is not a book that I would classify as encouraging necessarily. Read it in small chunks maybe. It’s a little much.
And the author of this book is actually really debated. We automatically attribut it to Solomon, but there’s a lot of scholarship that actually suggests that it may not have been him. We don’t know exactly. But for our sake today, it’s actually kind of better we don’t know who it is. And here’s why.
Because it leaves us with the ability to maybe imagine and personalize somebody that we would know and respect ahead of us in life, giving us wisdom. As we read this, I want us to imagine that. I want you to imagine somebody that is just ahead of you in life that is already in that next chapter that you’re working towards and they’re telling you about what’s important as you venture into that next chapter. All right. Before we get into this reading, there’s actually a word that’s very important for us to know in this book of the Bible.
It’s a Hebrew word that shows up 32 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s the word hevel. In the NIV, you’re going to read it as meaningless. Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless. It’s all meaningless, right?That’s how you want to send off your graduates. In the ESV, it shows up as the word vanity.
It doesn’t use meaningless. It says vanity. It’s all vanity.
And sometimes in this book, the writer actually does mean maybe meaningless in vanity. But these translations are actually not a very holistic way to approach this Hebrew word. In Hebrew, this word most commonly shows up in the Old Testament as breath. Vapor.
Sometimes it’s used as like worthless or idle. But breath and vapor is kind of the thing there. And here’s why this is significant. There’s something about vapor. You can see it, right?
You can even feel it. You can smell it sometimes, right? Those of you that are married morning breath, right? Not trying to start any fights. But when we say vapor, there’s something that you can visualize. Right.
But what happens if you try to reach out and grab it? This thing that is physical, you can see it, you can kind of feel it, you can smell it, you can perceive it. But yet when you grab it, there’s nothing there. There’s nothing behind it. This word shows up 32 times throughout this book to describe things that we think that are important. But when we really try to grab onto it, it’s vapor.
Let’s pick up in Ecclesiastes chapter two. All right.
Starting in verse one. And we’re just going to go through this chapter in chunks.
“I said to myself, now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. But that all will prove to be hevel. Laughter I said, is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish? I tried cheering myself with wine and embracing folly, my mind still guiding me with wisdom.
I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. Let’s stop there. So the teacher starts off this chapter by basically saying he went all in on the pleasures of life, everything that life had to offer. I mean, if this was Solomon writing this, one of the richest Kings who maybe ever lived. So you can imagine what that might have looked like on some level.
But this is just somebody saying, look, everything that you could enjoy, that you could feel pleasure from in life. I did it all to see if there’s any value to it.
If he is at the stage of life where he just graduated College, he’s talking to these new high school graduates and saying, look, I had the full on College experience. I went to the parties, I went on the dates, I got the degrees. I did everything that- I went to the football games, whatever it is, the College experience, I did it all. He’s somebody that had young kids, and he’s talking to those new parents out there. He gave his kids the full on Disney treatment, the fast passes that we’re staying at the resorts.
We’re even eating at Disney. He went all in like, I want to make sure my kids get to enjoy Disney.
If he didn’t have kids home, he was in the presidential Suite at the all inclusive vacation.
You can feel it, right? Some of us got really excited. He felt a little more relaxed, right? He had the backstage passes to the best concerts. He was living the dream vacation.
Verse ten. Later on in this chapter, he actually says, I denied myself nothing my eyes desired and refused my heart no pleasure. I don’t know if you feel reading that. There’s a mixture of excitement and fear and like, oh, that’s not wise. Because we can think about if life is just, man, we’re just going to go all in on this. We’re going to get every pleasure we can get, you know, the damage that that creates. And he says, I did it all. And you know what? It was hevel.
And I’ve had a hard time with this. I think even as I’ve been studying this out, I’ve been going through Ecclesiastes again lately in my own quiet times. I love to have fun. I enjoy a good time. Amen.
When we first moved to Orlando, some friends of ours hooked us up with a day of Disney during Covid. All right? And I’m not a big Disney guy. I’m definitely not the I was going to say weirdos, but I love you guys. That’s too much to say that.
So I backtrack on that. The adults that go to Disney by themselves, I’m not that guy. Right. But I would love to take my kids to Disney and see the wonder on their face as they enjoy it. Okay, I’m not a Disney guy, but we got to go during COVID and man, the lines were like, ten minutes.
It was the best Disney experience outside of people yelling at you to put your mask on and telling my two year olds it was the best experience you could ever ask for at Disney. We didn’t spend a dollar on their food. We got to get on the rides right away. We did all the rides we wanted to, and we left by three. It was amazing.
And my kids had such a blast. Last week, my wife took me to the movies and top golf for my birthday. And that was I had so much fun. We got to go see Doctor Strange 2, and got to go swing at some balls. And I’m not very good, I play hockey, but I can just kind of crush it really angrily.
You know, we’ve got a cruise coming up in July. It’s been three years in the making. This is going to be our celebration of our 10th, 11th and 12th anniversary.
I like a good time. Why is this hevel?
And if we’re stopping to think about this for a second, all these moments in life that are fun, there are good memories that are pleasurable, not even a bad thing. They’re a good thing, but there’s a reality to it. They don’t last. These moments and memories, they’re not enough to sustain us for life. You don’t have like one really good vacation and say, we’re done.
We’re clearly done forever, right? What tends to happen is you’re done and you go like, man, we’re not going to get another one.
Because the chasing of what life has to offer and fun and pleasure and parties, all that stuff, there might be some temporary enjoyment in it, but it’s gone. It’s over. Even if it was good. Let’s keep reading.
Verse four says, “I undertook great projects. I built houses for myself, planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water Groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.
I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasure of Kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers in a harem as well. The delights of a man’s heart.” We’re not going to touch that one today.
“I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this, my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor. And this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I had surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was Hevel a chasing after the wind. Nothing was gained under the sun.” Let’s pause again.
The teacher then goes, okay, look, I learned that pleasure didn’t work. I learned that fun and an experience that’s not going to work. So I’m going to move on to projects and achievements and making me some money. All right? That’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to find out if this is worth setting my hands to. For the incoming College students pursuing some amazing College degrees, right? Maybe for others of us here, it’s the desire to start your own business.
Or maybe it’s remodeling or building the house of your dreams.
Or maybe it’s buying the car you’ve always wanted. You know the one. I know the one. It says he had everything he wanted. He built everything he wanted. And it was hevel. A chasing after the wind. That word picture when you think about that, looks like Lunacy, right? It’s like that scripture where Paul talks about, I don’t fight like a boxer beating the air, right? Trying to picture chasing after the wind. He said, that’s what it’s like to live a life trying to chase achievement, trying to chase, trying to make your life about my next project, my next big thing that I’m going to set my hands to.
How many of you have ever heard of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world? Yeah. So these are them. These are the Seven Wonders, the Temple of Artemis, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes. These are some incredible things.
If you look at the history behind them, part of it is just even the feats of ingenuity that they were for their time. Right? What I want to focus in on for a second here, this is one that’s fascinated me for years when I found out about it, the hanging Gardens of Babylon. Greek writing talk about just this spectacle when the Greeks showed up in the Babylonian world. It’s just like these tall structures that were on the water with vines and all kinds of beautiful foliage just laying over on the top of it. I mean, like, this picture is beautiful, but it probably does not even do it justice.
How incredible this garden was. You know what we can’t find any significant archaeology of this.
We have writings, and because of this, there’s even historians that suggest that maybe it was just a poetry thing. Maybe these things were just they didn’t really exist because we can’t find anything that shows that it was there.
So this incredible marvel that we can just you read it in the Greek poetry and you’re just like, oh, my gosh, I could just not imagine if you’re one of those people that love gardens and things like that botanicals stuff.
This would have been a dream come true to witness. And yet we don’t even know if it existed because there is no record of it physically. So these marvels really the only one of those seven that’s really still standing is the Pyramid of Giza. All these other ones, they’re lost. They’re lost to invading nations, to time.
These marvels that we can look back on just go, oh, my gosh, I could just only imagine what it would have been like to witness. They’re gone. These things that took hundreds of years to build, vanity projects for some of their Kings that were just like, Man, I want everybody, every nation who lays their eyes on this to know that we built this. It’s gone. We’ve been able to experience that in our world even in the last few years. People’s life savings, their businesses that they started, that when COVID hit it shut it all down. I know so many people that started a restaurant and then the restaurant closed down or whatever, it changed everybody’s life.
The stuff that you may have poured blood, sweat and tears into, it’s gone. Not because of any fault of your own. Because of life.
That means our best achievements, our best possessions. The most amazing things you could build with all your smarts and ingenuity could be here today and gone tomorrow. Left to imagine as a picture in somebody’s memory one day. Feeling encouraged? Let’s keep going.
Verse twelve. “Then I turn my thoughts to consider wisdom and also madness and folly.” Good combination. “What more can the King’s successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, Amen, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads while the fool walks in the darkness.
But I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I said to myself, the fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise? I said to myself, this too is hevel. For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered. The days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise two must die.”
How many of you out there are researchers? Before you make a purchase or like a step into something, you spend hours Googling, duck, duck, going Consumer Reports, YouTube videos. I do that for anything that’s like over $20.
That’s my nature. My headphones. I like, stressed about which headphones I was going to buy. These ones are good for this reason. But this guy says that is my nature right?
Now really for those of us that are like that, we don’t want to go into something unprepared, right? You don’t want to get caught off guard. You don’t want the salesman to pull a fast one. No, I got my research.
Now, luckily, the teacher does say here, wisdom is better than folly. Amen. It’s a good thing to be wise. It’s better than being and unprepared.
But in chapter one, he actually elaborates on this a little bit more. He says that he applied his mind, he applied his mind to study and exploring all the wisdom under the heavens. Like the teacher was like in it. He was one that he wanted to make sure I knew the things I needed to know about life. But he says, at the end of the day, I realized something.
He says, the fate of the fools will overtake me also. That at the end of the day, whether I know everything I need to know or not, life is going to happen. And so is death.
No matter how much you think you know, there’s still coincidence.
College. I remember that realization for me in College when I was doing my upper division work, when a couple of my teachers said, hey, just so you guys know, the things that we’re studying right now, in a few years they’re going to become obsolete.
Why am I paying money for this, right? There’s just a truth to that. Certain degree. Certain things you study, man, if you don’t stay up with it. They’ve moved on.
They found new things. Research keeps going. Things are just going to get better and better, right? But that means that my degree that I was so proud of eleven years ago. I don’t even know if those numbers still work.
When my wife got pregnant with our oldest, we went all in on research. We wanted to read the books. We wanted to hear the lectures. We want to make sure we want to have the best birth possible. We want to be ready.
Almost none of the things that we prepared. Nothing in our birth plan happened.
It all went awry. My daughter was two weeks late, so my wife had to be induced. She didn’t want the drugs, but she had to get the drugs in order to get the baby right. She labored for like 28 hours. She was pushing for like two.
Then the baby is born, and then they take the baby away because she’s got to go to the NICU because she swallowed Mcconium. Then we have to spend a whole week visiting our baby in the NICU from home.
All of the preparation, the study, the research, nothing.
But I did bring the candles and the fan. We did have those things for the birth experience.
And then the nurse goes, here’s a baby, good luck.
And I realized we do all this research to get ready for the birth. But we didn’t spend nearly as much time getting ready for actually having a baby.
We laugh about it now. Any new parents say, look, don’t get over obsessed with the birth. Make sure you do some reading about what it’s like to take a baby home. Get ready for that part. But as funny as that is, there’s a truth of this when it comes to the pursuit of trying to make sure you’re on top of everything you need to and staying ahead of the game. You can’t solve everything. Life will happen. Coincidence takes place. God sometimes just says flat out, no. Now it’s time to read the really encouraging part. Okay, let’s keep going.
If you guys are still with me after this, you know this is the Bible we’re reading, but I know this one’s a fun one. All right, first words. “So I hated life.” Okay, I need a minute.
“Because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless. A chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish.
Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This, too, is hevel. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun, for a person may labor with wisdom knowledge and skill, and then they must leave it all. Leave all they own to another who is not toiled for it. This too is hevel and a great misfortune.
What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days, their work is grief and pain, even in their minds do not rest. This too is hevel.” I told you it was encouraging.
Now this part hits home in a very significant way for me. I want you to think to yourself about how many late nights you’ve had in anxiety and worry. For the students out there doing homework and studying, pouring over school projects. Right? I don’t think I ever got a school project done before 11:00 at night.
I did in College, just not in high school. Or for work where you had an assignment. You had a project that you had to do where you were stressing out because you have a deadline, days where you’ve gone home from work sore and tired, neck hurts, back stiff, hate your chair at the office.
You can’t sleep because you’re so anxious about what’s coming the next day.
Teacher says, man, all this is Hevel.
What are we doing? Why are we doing this? And we’re doing it, and we may not even be the ones that get to enjoy it. Maybe somebody else is going to and they didn’t have to back ache. They didn’t have to stay up late that night.
I’m not even talking about your family. Maybe it’s somebody at work that gets your credit.
How many of you feel really encouraged about your life right now?
We get it, Jake. It’s all hevel.
What’s the point? Let’s read that part. 24.
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. For without him who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness. But to the sinner, he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is hevel, a chasing after the wind.
Now there is something about the book of Ecclesiastes and the wisdom literature, the Bible that I think is important for us to note with this. The good chunk of them and even in Ecclesiastes they’re not one to one promises. Do this and then you get this. Like think, for example, one of the big ones in youth and family Ministry, train up a child and the way they should go and when they’re older and not turn from it. Is that a promise?
No, because they got to make their own choices. But it’s wisdom. And it’s a good thing to do. So is the writer here promising that God’s going to take money from the people that are selfish and sinful and he’s going to give it to us? No, but there’s still wisdom here. I want us to take note of this because this feels a little bit bipolar, right?
He just got done telling us that toil is meaningless. It’s a chasing after the wind. This is dumb. Why are we even doing this? You get anxious.
But hey, it’s from God.
The toil the pleasures of life. It’s all from God. What do we think he’s saying here? None of the things that we experience in life are wasted when God is in the rightful place he should be in our lives. Without God, take him out of the picture.
Everything we may pursue in this life your degrees, your careers, your houses, your achievements they’re all hevel.
If the why of our lives is self improvement, self importance, bettering ourselves, bettering our family’s lives, we’re chasing after the wind. We’re trying to stand and grab ahold of vapor because nothing will ever be enough. We will constantly be pursuing that next thing.
But if the why of our lives is centered on living to please God, then even these temporary vapor things, these meaningless things, can have meaning.
I’m going to read this part again.
This, too, I see, is from the hand of God. For without him who can find enjoyment? If you take me out of the picture, then, yeah, this is all chasing after the wind. But if what matters in your life, if I am where I should be in the importance here, if you are living about me, then even the stuff that is temporary can be good.
I started going to therapy again recently, and I’ve been wrestling with a lot of things at this stage of my life.
I’ve been wrestling with my role as a Minister and what it’s been to do this, to do it full time without my wife to do it here in Orlando, I’m wrestling with my role as a father and what I feel like my kids need from me at this stage of wondering if I have enough to give it. I’m wrestling with my role as a spouse and how I’m taking care of my wife. I’m wrestling with a lot of things at this point in my life. Kind of having my mid 30s crisis on some level, maybe. I don’t know if that’s a thing. I’m exaggerating.
It’s not a crisis. It’s a good thing. And so I just want to be able to get some help because I realized there’s even some things in my history, the stuff that I wasn’t dealing with in a way that was healthy. And the talks with my therapists have been great. Really like him a lot.
But one thing he actually grateful for, he actually told me, he said, I think you need to study the Book of Ecclesiastes. So what you’re getting right now is the results of my therapy. All right? But he also encouraged me to read this book. It’s called Ordering Your Private world, which I would say has been one of the most like, life wrecking in the best way possible books I’ve ever read.
It’s not about your organization. It’s about putting God in the rightful place he’s supposed to be.
And I’m doing a lot of self examination, a lot of frustrated prayer times, a lot of frustrated journaling.
And in my core nature and the way that I tend to process, I always struggle with I’m not enough. I’m not enough for my wife, I’m not enough for my kids. I’m not enough for you. I’m not enough for anybody.
But then I work so hard, do all the things, try to preach a really good sermon, stress out about whether or not these fonts are pretty enough, because I want you to like it.
It’s a lot of chasing after hevel and what God has been trying to get in my heart and my attention with all this stuff is that if I’m not secure in who I am in his eyes, then none of the outside stuff is going to ever fill it. All of my external things that I do, all the good sermons I preach, all the appointments I may set, the studying the Bible, I may do people I may share my faith with. It doesn’t matter because it’s not rooted in who I am in God.
It doesn’t matter to me. God still works. I want to close here at the end of Ecclesiastes, the part that I’m sure we know and have heard several times, it says, “Now all has been heard. Here’s the conclusion of the matter. Fear God and keep his Commandments. For this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
This book is a humbling book, and it’s good to read periodically, like the Book of Job. You don’t necessarily just go and read the Book of Job. You got to get ready for it. But I love this book because whoever the writer, whoever the wisdom teacher is, has experienced all that life has to offer. And at the end of it, he’s looking back and says, look, at the end of the day, you know what matters? God. Life is about Him. It’s not about your career, it’s not about your achievements, it’s not about your degrees, it’s not about your fun. It’s not about your life experiences. It’s about Him. He’s the only one that makes it have meaning.
And my grandfather, when my dad became a Christian, really struggled with his walk with God. Specifically when he made the decision he was going to leave medical school to go be in the Ministry full time. In the town that my dad grew up in, you became a Minister because you weren’t good at doing anything else. The Minister drove the bus for everybody else. So now my dad’s saying, I’m dropping out of medical school to be a minister.
So the course of my dad’s Ministry career in my grandfather’s life, this was a struggle in their relationship. On my grandfather’s deathbed, he told my dad, he said, look, what you’re doing is right.
And there’s a lot more about the conversation that I don’t know.
And my grandfather didn’t die a Christian. It’s something that I struggle with in my life. When you’re in school and they ask you who’s somebody from history you would have always wanted to meet. It was always my grandfather.
But at the end of my grandfather’s life, he couldn’t deny what a life worth living was.
So when I read the book of Ecclesiastes, when I read something like this, this has significance to me.
I don’t want to spend my life chasing after the wind.
My grandfather was a very successful man. There’s apparently a building in Denver named after him that I’ve never seen before. But in the end what does it matter?
As you examine your own life, I want you to consider. I want to ask you in humility to consider the chapter of life that you’re in and maybe what the chapter that you’re trying to pursue is next.
And in that, you got to ask yourself a question. This is for every single one of us in here and everybody online. Is God in his rightful place?
Is your why clear?
Or are you chasing vapor? We’re going to say prayer here and then we’re going to sing one more song to close out our service.
Father, I just want to thank you. So humbled, so grateful for your immense patience with us. God. That when we are pursuing the wrong things. When we’re pursuing empty things.
Father, you are gracious. Every single one of us, every single person that is an earshot of these scriptures, we have a chance to do something to recenter our life on what counts. I pray that we will not take these words lightly.
I pray that as these graduates, they move on to this next phase of life. Father, I’m so excited for them. I’m so eager to hear what the next few years becomes for them. And then the kind of men and women that they grow to become. But God, I pray that they will pursue what counts.
And I pray for all the rest of us. No matter what phase of life we are in, we will pursue you the way that we were made to. God, I love you. Thank you and its in your son Jesus name we pray.