Share the Wealth

Sunday, May 21, 2006 - 11:00am
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Recently, someone from Valley View sent me an interesting article from CNN Money that they thought I might appreciate in light of our current series on Ecclesiastes. I must admit that the title caught my eye when I read, "Bill Gates wishes he wasn't so rich."

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said recently that he wished he were not the world's richest man. "I wish I wasn't. There is nothing good that comes out of that," said Gates

The corporate leader who made Microsoft into the world's largest software maker and who is also one of the biggest philanthropists of our time does not like the attention of being the world's richest person.

Gates said that the person he learned most from in the world, aside from technology colleagues, was fellow-billionaire and legendary investor Warren Buffet.

"He has this very refreshing, simple way of looking at things so I put him at the top of the list," said Gates, adding that the top lesson he learned from Buffet was the importance of integrity.

Gates has been the richest man in the world for eight years running and was worth $90 billion at his fortune's peak in 1999. Currently, his fortune is estimated to be only $50 billion. Asked if he surrounded himself with financial peers, Gates quipped, "No, I sit alone."

And when I read that I thought immediately of what Solomon has been saying to us throughout his journal in Ecclesiastes. Wealth isn't all that's it cracked up to be. It certainly can solve some problems. And there is nothing inherently wrong with having money. But at the same time wealth creates other problems. And great wealth has to potential of leaving us all alone.

The friend who sent me that article had a simple solution for Gates. "Share the wealth, Bill. Let us take some of the burden off your back. We'll help you fulfill your wish of not being so rich."

This morning we continue our series called Been There. Done That. Now What? with a teaching I've called "Share the Wealth." If you have a Bible meet me at Ecclesiastes 11.

Now believe it or not we're finally approaching the end of this series. We're starting to land the plane. This week we'll look at chapter eleven and next week we'll finish up with chapter twelve.

Now if you remember at the out set we said that the name Ecclesiastes actually comes from a Greek word that means "the person who addresses an assembly of people." Today some would call that person "the preacher." And the Ecclesiastic in this book is King Solomon the richest, wisest, most powerful person on the planet at the time. He is the one who addressed Israel and now is addressing us with his reflections on the meaninglessness of life.

And the reason that life had become so meaningless for Solomon is because he's taken God out of the equation. And so throughout the book he's been looking at life from an "under the sun" perspective. Some have called it "flatland living." And he's been desperately trying to figure life out and to find satisfaction in wisdom and in wealth and in women and in work and in projects and in power. But all of these things have left him empty, as they will us.

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." That's his sad refrain throughout the book. And yet in the midst of it all he draws two conclusions.

His first conclusion is to enjoy life. Again and again he tells us to eat, drink, and be glad. Enjoy the gift of life that God has given to you. He puts it this way in Ecclesiastes 8:15, So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their work all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

Stop trying to figure everything out and make sense of life. The paralysis of analysis will drive you crazy. Life can't be figured out. It's a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Yes, there are difficult things that happen in life and painful experiences that we all go through. Yes, there are things that are unfair and life holds no guarantees. But life is still worth living. It's still a wonderful gift from God. That's his first conclusion. And come back next week and we'll give you his second conclusion which occurs at the end of chapter twelve.

But today, let's see what Solomon has to say to us in Ecclesiastes 11. Look at verses 1-2, Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.2Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

Verses one and two are very interesting and there are a variety of opinions as to what they mean. Some believe that this is a call to diversify your portfolio. Don't put all your money in stocks. Give portions to seven, yes to eight. In other words, spread out your investments in stocks and bonds and gold and real estate. And that's wise counsel, but I'm not sure the NASDAQ is exactly what Solomon had in mind.

Cast your bread upon the waters. When I read that phrase I got this image of taking bread and feeding ducks on a lake or fish in a pond. That's about the only time I've ever thrown bread on the water. But I'm not sure that's what Solomon was thinking about either.

Apparently there was a custom in his day where seed was actually thrown from boats into overflowing rivers or onto marshy ground. And the seed would float to edge of the river and when the waters receded it would drop to the wet soil, take root on the banks, and spring up to produce a crop. And if you threw a lot of seed into the water you'd get a big crop.

Now whether that's exactly what Solomon's thinking or not his point is to give, be generous with what you have. Share the wealth. That's all part of enjoying life. This same principle in the New Testament is that you reap what you sow. And if you want to reap a great harvest, you need to sow lots of seed.

The apostle Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

I love those verses. Paul can't say it anymore emphatically. God will bless our giving. Those verses have radically changed my life over the years. Generosity is one of the marks of a Christ follower. Giving is a big part of kingdom living giving of ourselves, giving of our time, of our talents, of our treasure. The word "give" appears over 1,000 times in the Bible. And everywhere we are commanded to give God always attaches a promise of blessing.

I'm told that the Turks have a proverb that says, "Do good. Throw it into the water. If the fish doesn't know it, God does." In other words, God never misses an act of generosity. And in due time we will be rewarded.

This week I was speaking to a couple who are new to Valley View. And they had a bunch of questions about the church and one of them was how we're financed. They noticed that we don't take an offering and that's different than any other church they'd ever been in. And it a provided a wonderful opportunity for me to tell them about the faithfulness of God and how we view giving as worship and how people give because they want to, not because they have to, and that we don't pass an offering plate because we know how jaded some people are towards the church because in their past the church was always asking for money. And they could relate to that.

And it reminded me that as long as we're generous to God, God will be generous to us. That's his promise so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Don't miss the blessing of giving. It's a big part of enjoying life.

Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Notice, God doesn't say right away. But after many days you will find it. Let God decide how and when he wants to bless you. But rest assured he will.

Notice too, he doesn't promise that if we give we won't hit hard times. In fact, he says just the opposite. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. We may hit hard times, but give so when the hard times come you'll be provided for.

Jesus tells a story about a business manager who knew he was going to lose his job. But before he got fired he went out and reduced the bills of those who owed his company money. So that when he did lose his job he'd have friends who would take care of him. "That's a shrewd man," Jesus says. And at the end of the story he adds in Luke 16:9, I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

This week I read about a Midwestern couple named Bob and Cilia. They were known for their generosity. If there was in need in their church, they'd be the first ones there to answer it. If someone was struggling with life, they would be there to encourage them. Then a tornado completely destroyed their house. And hundreds of people showed up offering a helping hand. The bread that Bob and Cilia had cast on the water for most of their lives came back at the moment of their greatest need.

Now look at verse 3, If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie. (That's a brilliant insight, isn't it? It's like what a friend says to me before I take a trip, "Bruce, remember wherever you go, that's where you are!")4Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. 5As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.6Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

What's Solomon saying here? Well, I think he's saying, "Don't wait to be generous. Start giving now." The conditions will never be perfect. Don't wait until you pay off your mortgage or your car or your school loans or until you get completely out of debt. Start young. Don't wait until you get out of school or become an adult. There will always be some reason to wait.

This can be applied to diligence in any area of life, not just in giving. We can't wait for conditions to be perfect to start anything because they never will be. And there is so much that's out of our control. Who can stop the rain from falling? Who can change the direction of a tree when it falls? If we worry too much about the wind we'll never plant or about the clouds, we'll never reap.

We don't know how a baby is formed in the womb, but that doesn't keep parents from getting things ready. We can't understand the work of God so sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

Bottom line don't let the uncertainty of life keep you from living it to the max. Now in verse seven, Solomon begins the final section of his journal which in my Bible is captioned "Remember Your Creator While Young."

Look at verse 7, Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. 8However many years people may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. 9You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your hearts give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. 10So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Youth is a wonderful thing! There are two things I thank God for about my teenage years. One is that I survived them. And two is that you didn't know me back then. "It's great to be young," Solomon says, "be happy while you're young and let your hearts give you joy in the days of your youth."

I can remember speaking on this passage at a high school graduation banquet full of students and their parents. And when I told the graduates that the Bible says to go out and have fun their faces light up. Then I looked at the parents and I thought they were going to kill me! I guess that's why I was never invited back!

But that's what Solomon is saying, "Follow your heart and pursue your passions." That's the counsel we give our kids when they're trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. "What do you enjoy doing?" we ask, "What subjects interest you in school? What do you feel passionate about?"

It's great to be young. And you're only young once. You can do things when you're young that you can't do as easily when you're older and have more responsibility. I love to encourage young people to travel and to see the world. It's the best education you can get whether it's through college or with the military or on a mission's trip to New Orleans or Tijuana or Honduras or Peru or some other place where God is at work in the world. Young people from Valley View are going to all these places this summer.

Have fun. But don't forget God. You see Solomon is not saying, "Sow your wild oats when you're young and then pray for a crop failure when you're older." That's not what he's saying. He's not saying, "'Go ahead live it up. Experiment with drugs, sex and alcohol. Do whatever you want it doesn't matter."

No. Banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body. He's not telling us to live with reckless abandon, because all those things come with a stiff price tag of emotional distress, anxiety from your heart, and physical pain, troubles of your body, that can tragically alter and even shorten our life.

This is not a license to sin. Instead, he's saying, "Have fun, but within limits." Know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. The judgment I think he's talking about here is not in the afterlife, but the consequences of sin that Solomon himself had experienced right here and now. He wants to spare us of that. So he says, "Don't go down the same road that I went down. It will cause you great anguish and pain. The best days of my life were when I was tender towards God and his presence was so real to me." He's encouraging all of else, especially those who are young, to enjoy life and to have fun, but don't forget God. And sometimes we need to slow down to do that.

I'll close with a poem I came across this week written by a woman named Judith Viorst. The title is "Self-Improvement Program" and it's out of her book called "How Did I Get to be Forty and Other Atrocities." And after reciting all the many new things that she's be involved in like needlepoint, guitar lessons, advanced Chinese cooking, primal-scream therapy and a half dozen other things she sighs as she concludes,

And I'm working all day and I'm working all night
To be good-looking, healthy, and wise.
And adored.
And contented.
And brave.
And well-read.
And a marvelous hostess,
Fantastic in bed,
And bilingual,
Artisitc ...
Won't someone please stop me?!

Slow down. Enjoy life. Have fun. Share the wealth. And don't forget God.