We spend countless hours and resources putting all of our efforts into climbing to the top of the proverbial mountain. And at some point in your life, perhaps multiple times, you’ll likely ask yourself, “Is this all there is in life? Is this all that’s worth living for? Does any of this really matter?” Have you been there before?
We all seek lasting significance of some kind, but no matter how great our accomplishments, we are unable to achieve the significance we desire. What spoils life, according to Ecclesiastes, is the attempt to get more out of life—out of work, pleasure, money, food, or knowledge—than life itself can provide. This is not fulfilling and leads to weariness, which is why the book begins and ends with the exclamation “All is vanity.” This refrain is repeated throughout the entire book.
Ecclesiastes states powerfully and repeatedly that life, and our preoccupation with material and temporary things, is meaningless (“vanity”) without a single-minded focus on God. Tremper Longman suggests that the book of Ecclesiastes is “an idol buster.” It teaches us that if we try to find the meaning of life in things such as wisdom, pleasure, wealth, work, etc. they will ultimately let us down. They are merely false gods. Ecclesiastes encourages us to put God first, and when we do, everything else finds its proper place in life. The book aims to show that there is no contradiction between living life to its fullest and living a life of obedience to God.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes warns against a life caught in the pursuit of empty pleasures that have no lasting value. He reminds us that life without God at the center is meaningless. No matter how wise or rich or successful one may be, one cannot find meaning in life apart from God. Rather than striving to gain meaning on our own terms, what truly is significant is taking pleasure in God and his gifts and being content with what little life has to offer and what God provides.
So why study Ecclesiastes? It asks some of the hard questions that people still have today. It is honest about the troubles of life, and the Teacher’s honesty helps us to also deal honestly with the reality of life. It teaches us how to live for God and not just for ourselves. And at the end of the book we realize that there is more to life and our existence than what is experienced “under the sun” — where nothing seems to matter. Once we are able to look beyond the sun — and live “above the sun” — we realize that “everything matters.” As we go through this study together, I pray that our lives and our pursuit of Jesus will be filled with this reality.
“As part of his campaign, Jesus told stories…They were, for the most part, not simply ‘illustrations’ to decorate an abstract thought or complicated teaching. If anything, they were the opposite. Jesus’ stories are designed to tease, to clothe the shocking and revolutionary message about God’s Kingdom in garb that would leave the listeners wondering, trying to think it out. They were stories that eventually caused Israel’s leaders to decode his rich message in such a way as to frame a charge against him, either of blasphemy, sedition, or ‘leading the people astray.’ Whatever the parables are, they are not, as children are sometimes taught in Sunday school, ‘earthly stories with heavenly meaning.’ Rather, they are expressions of Jesus’ shocking announcement that God’s Kingdom was arriving on earth as in heaven.”
– NT Wright, Simply Jesus
There is perhaps no more characteristic feature of Jesus’ teaching than his parables, and no aspect of his teaching is more memorable and influential than these vivid stories. Yet the parables aren’t simply a clever way that Jesus taught moral and ethical truths. They are an expression in the service of his announcement of the kingdom of God. Parables were the means Jesus used most frequently to explain the kingdom of God, to show the character of God, and to illustrate the expectations that God has for humans.
The parables often were prompted by Jesus’ need to explain what he was saying and doing with the rest of his mission. In other words, what Jesus was saying and doing prompted questions, and many of the parables are his response to those questions. Why does this man eat with sinners and tax collectors? Why does he heal on the Sabbath? Why does he spend so much time with undesirable people? The parables are necessary explainers, but they invite us to investigate more. They do that as much as they make anything clear.
Nevertheless, some parables are clear as bells, and, while we may discuss backgrounds in length, they do not need explanation so much as implementation. They in effect say to us, “Stop resisting and do it,” or “Believe it and pursue it,” or “Go and do likewise.” For example, we don’t need much commentary to know the intent of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Despite the numerous studies of this parable, the story at its core compels us to stop resisting and to live its message. Still today, the parables need to be allowed to speak, and they need to be heard. How did Jesus seek to change attitudes and behaviors with this parable? How will it change our own?
Ultimately, the parables of Jesus are stories with intent. And the intent of the teller—Jesus himself—with all the power and creativity of his teaching is the goal of our understanding. These stories invite us into a new view of reality, and they deserve a fresh hearing from people who are ready to learn and follow Jesus’ instruction.
God continues to seek conversation with us, not for conversation’s sake, but for deepening relationships with us. And God enriches these conversations through the questions that God asks us. Have you ever wondered why God would want to ask us questions? In his book Questions God Asks Us, author and minister Trevor Hudson offers several reasons for us to consider:
To begin with, God wants to enter into a conversational relationship with each of us. One way in which God shows this deep desire is by asking questions. They are the same questions that God asked the people of God throughout the Bible. When we start hearing them as addressed to us, we receive a glimpse into those things that God wants to talk about with us. Our answers draw us into a relationship of deeper sharing and intimacy with God…. Second, God gives greater dignity to us by allowing us to wrestle with the questions rather than simply giving us the answers…. And third, a question has greater power to transform us than a straightforward answer, especially when it comes from God who knows exactly what questions to ask.
As we set out on this study, we will explore five questions from the Old Testament and five questions from the New Testament. In the process, we will engage the stories in which these questions are asked, and we will personally explore God’s question in the context of own lives (see the section “Answering God’s Question” at the end of each lesson)>
- Where are you? (Genesis 3:1-13)
- Where is your brother? (Genesis 4:1-9)
- What is that in your hand? (Exodus 4:1-4)
- What is your name? (Genesis 32:22-32)
- What are you doing here? (1 Kings 19)
- What are you looking for? (John 1:19-38)
- Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:27-29)
- Do you want to get well? (John 5:1-9)
- Why are you crying? (John 20:11-18)
- Do you understand what I have done for you? (John 13)
God wants to have a two-way relationship with us, and as Hudson reminds us, we “cannot have that kind of relationship without listening and speaking…these ten questions provide a starting point for a deep dialogue between God and yourself.” The ultimate goal, moreover, is for us to explore these questions together with others. Hudson writes, “Something really good can happen in our lives when we share our personal experiences of engaging God’s questions with other significant people in our lives.” Questions have the power to transform us much more than answers, and as we begin a new year, I’m excited for us to consider the challenging questions God asks. As we wrestle with these questions in our own life, may we find ourselves in a whole new world of conversational relationship and discipleship with God.
Have you heard we are living in unprecedented times? Well, so was Peter. He was living in a time of strange heresies and false teachings. Sound familiar? In 2 Peter, Peter assures all Christians that our faith in Christ is very well placed, and he urges us to wait well for Christ’s return. Lamar Bowman will lead us in the study of 2 Peter.
This class is now in-person at Brentwood Hills on Sunday mornings. Here is Lesson 1 from Sunday, February 28.
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? -Esther 4:14
Lamar Bowman is teaching a video class on the Book Esther. We invite anyone looking for a personal study or a study to use with your small group to watch and study along.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:16
The Bible Project video of Colossians is a great introduction to our study. You can find it HERE. The drawing from this is video is included in the lesson and would be a great coloring sheet for kids – and adults!
Click HERE for Lesson 3 in our Colossians Study.
Click HERE for a video message from Josh about Lesson 3.
Lamar Bowman is teaching a four – part series on the Book of Ruth via video. We invite anyone looking for a personal study or a study to use with your family or small group to watch and study along.
Click HERE for Ruth Lesson 1.
Click HERE for Ruth Lesson 2.
Click HERE for Ruth Lesson 3.
Click HERE for Ruth Lesson 4.
March – May 2020 we studied Philippians in our at-home Bible study. We are keeping those lessons posted for anyone who would like to reference them.
Click here for Lesson 1 in our Philippians study. Please read and engage in discussion with your family.