From Faith Pulpit, Winter 2012.
Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes,1 looked at the various areas of life and concluded that everything was vanity.2 He started (1:2) and ended (12:8) his writing by stating, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Is vanity, however, the theological message of Ecclesiastes? Or should it be understood in a more positive light? Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, co-authors of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, take differing views: “[one of us] understands Ecclesiastes to be an expression of cynical wisdom, which serves as a kind of ‘foil’ regarding an outlook on life that should be avoided; [the other one of us] understands the book more positively, as an expression of how one should enjoy life under God in a world in which all die in the end.”3 So is Ecclesiastes a warning to us of the vanity of life outside of a relationship with God or a message of how one can enjoy life despite its vanity?
At some point during my tenure as a pastor at Grace Baptist, I decided I needed a succinct, memorable expression of the gospel—a phrase I could repeat frequently in a variety of contexts until members of the flock would recall it reflexively.
What I came up with is pretty much straight from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose again.
Though I didn’t end up teaching it as well I’d intended, the statement did become an important tool in my own thinking. It eventually became reflexive for me, and that was instrumental in a sanctification project God was advancing in my own life.
It was instrumental in two ways: First, it increased my gospel awareness in general sermon preparation, personal Bible study, and random reflections on life and being human. Second, it revealed its own inadequacy. As my understanding of the gospel deepened and expanded, I came to see that my “gospel in a nutshell” statement was too small.
I’m keeping it, though—all the nutshell statements are too small!
Someone I respect said the gospel is simply, “Jesus saves.” I’ve also heard, “The gospel is the cross,” and, “It’s Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In a way, the gospel can be boiled down to one word: “Christ”!
"A recent poll in the United Kingdom revealed that 89%—nearly 9 in 10—of young people, aged 16 to 29, 'believe that their lives have no meaning or purpose.' This saddening statistic is explained with a corresponding statistic shared in the same article—only 1% of this age group identifies as belonging to the Church of England.... In England, such attendance is down to less than 5%." - AiG
"Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End is by David Gibson, minister of Trinity Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. It’s a poignant and powerful exposition of the message of Ecclesiastes." - TGC
"As if living on a giant sphere spinning at 1,000 miles per hour, while orbiting around a gargantuan fireball at about 67,000 miles per hour, in a solar system that’s traveling around the Milky Way at over 500,000 miles per hour, while the galaxy itself is hurtling through space at more than 1.3 million miles per hour is just sort of ho-hum." - Your Life Is Not Boring
A forgotten country cemetery sits atop a windswept hill not far down the gravel road from where my parents used to live. While living at home, my attention was always drawn in the opposite direction of that cemetery.
In the other direction was “town.” School, friends, athletic events, parades, concerts, restaurants, church—everything exciting was in that direction. But as the years passed and occasion afforded a brief visit home, my interests were strangely drawn toward that quiet graveyard. On occasion I would walk there and stroll among the tombstones.
Bordered by a shallow creek and cow pasture, nestled among a few gnarly trees, this little cemetery is one lonely place. I never saw another person there. There is no marquee, driveway or parking lot. No flowers, shrubs, benches, sidewalks or manicured lawn. Nor are there any impressive monuments—just simple, weathered tombstones rising in obscurity from the prairie grass. Some of the stones, as if too weary to stand any longer in their struggle against time, have been toppled over and rest on top of the graves they mark.