8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
9 – not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 – For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Have you heard of this famous painter—and atheist—Paul Gauguin?
Well, here’s something you might NOT know about him. When Gauguin was middle-aged he decided to end his life because he felt he had failed to achieve meaningful success as a painter. In a twisted attempt to find the purpose he longed for—he’d already abandoned his wife and children, alienated his friends, and headed to Tahiti. He said he went there in search of the authentic life untouched by the poisons of conventionality, greed, and power. But even after all this he was still just as sad and disillusioned as ever. Just days before, he’d completed one last painting, intended to be his final testament to the world. As you can see, it was a massive, three-panel work depicting Tahitian women in all the phases of life. Moving from right to left, it shows the beginning of life in an infant and the end of life in a sad, old woman—and various stages between. In English it was titled: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”
Having finished his greatest work, Gauguin walked up a wooded hill and swallowed arsenic. But the foolish artist ingested too much of the stuff—and too quickly—causing him to violently vomit the poison before it could take effect. He recovered and managed to find his way back down the hill to his home where he would die a few years later at the age of 54.
Well, the fact is, all people have the same yearning and hunger that Gauguin did. Everyone wants to live a life of meaning and purpose. We all wrestle with the questions that he used as the title for his painting. As the title of the book we are studying puts it, all people wonder, What On Earth Am I Here For? And—if you are seeking an answer to that question—you’ve come to the right place because for the next six weeks that’s what we are going to focus on. Now—to be a part of all this you need a copy of Warren’s book. If you haven’t gotten one yet, they are here at the front and you can pick one up at the end of the service. They are free—one per adult or teen. And—if you can convince a neighbor or friend or co-worker to join us—grab them a copy too.
Here’s how our study will work. There’s a reading—a chapter—for every day. Today is DAY ONE. And—as much as you want to—please DON’T READ AHEAD! Let’s do this together! Let’s stay on the same sheet of music every day of these six weeks. Every morning or afternoon or evening—whenever you do your daily readings—take your time, underline phrases that are meaningful. Write notes or questions in the margins. Share your questions in SS. E-mail them to me. Let’s work together to find the answers.
As Warren quotes Scripture in his book—which he does constantly in various translations and paraphrases—look at the index in the back to find where it is in the Bible—and then take your Bibles and read that verse in context. If you don’t like the translation he uses, read it in the one you DO like. And—speaking of Scripture verses, each week you will have one to memorize.
We have sets of these six memory verses available today in these baskets. You can carry them in your pocket to help you memorize or if you’re more techie—transfer them to your phone.
Every Sunday—starting today—[as you know if you came to SS this morning] the Bible Study lesson in SS will preview the week’s reading—so will the sermon you are about to hear. By the way, I’ve assigned these sermons to our staff based on their job description. For example:
- Bill will do the sermon on worship.
- Kevin will do the sermon on discipleship.
- Peggy will do the sermon on evangelism.
- And I’ll do the other three.
By the way, I’ll also be offering the same material in my Wed PM group for those of you who can’t make it to Sunday School for some reason. Okay—that’s enough logistics—let’s get on with today’s message—which will cover the reading you will be doing in the first seven days of our study. As I said, everyone is like Gauguin in that they hunger for meaning in life. And, this yearning is nothing new. The quest for purpose or fulfillment is as old as the hills. Even in ancient times people realized that something was missing in their lives. For example, it was this inner hunger for fulfillment that inspired the Greeks to write the mythological tale of Sisyphus.
Remember the story? Sisyphus was punished by the “gods” for sharing some of their secrets with mere mortals and his sentence for this crime was to roll a massive stone to the top of a hill—-which was too pointed for the rock to rest there. So poor Sisyphus would watch it roll down again—and repeat the exercise over and over again. In short, his was a life consigned to meaningless futility, which is how many people have felt about their lives for thousands of years.
In fact, the prophet Jeremiah himself once asked God, “Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace?” (Jeremiah 20:18) Isaiah once wrote, “My work all seems so USELESS. I’ve spent my strength for nothing and for no purpose at all.” (Isaiah 49:4a) Even wise King Solomon began his Ecclesiastes by exclaiming, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” And the truth is, young and old, we’ve all felt like these ancient writers at times—we’ve all wondered why we exist—why we are here—especially when life seems like nothing more than a series of trials and tribulations.
A national survey was conducted a few years back—and in it people were asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?” Of the top five responses four were various forms of this question: “What is the PURPOSE or meaning of life? What’s the point of it all?”
So, even today thousands of years after the Greeks were moved to write the story of Sisyphus, people still want to know, as Gauguin did, why they are here—why they were born. Even in the 21st century we hunger for something meaningful to live for.
I think this explains the popularity of the ancestry.com deal. People think they can find at least part of the answer to their questions about life by determining their ancestry—where they come from. I’m thinking of the lady who found out she was 33% American Indian and then excitedly redecorated her home to reflect that–or the guy that went from wearing lederhosen to wearing a kilt. These people looked for meaning in their heritage.
The fact is, everyone wants to know where they come from—and where they are going. Without the answers life IS meaningless—and for many, like Gauguin, not worth living. A few years ago, Life magazine published an entire book on how individuals have coped with this quest for purpose. The publication is a cross-section of words and pictures and it includes comments from all kinds of people—from philosophers to drug addicts—from painters to plumbers. As an example of the kinds of things the book quotes people as saying. Jose Martinez, a taxi driver in New York city wrote, “We’re here to die—just live and die. I live driving a cab. I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes, do a little reading, then [a few decades later] get ready to drop dead. Life is a big fake! You’re rich or you’re poor. You’re here, you’re gone. You’re like the wind. Life is nothing!”
Why do so many people feel like that? Why do they feel like life is pointless? Why can’t they find the answers to their questions?
(1) One problem is they look for the answers—they look for meaning—in the wrong PLACES.
For example, some, like the “Hugh Hefners of the world” seek to give their lives meaning by PURSUING HAPPINESS, you know—shopping and partying and pursuing pleasure. Others try to find purpose in life through EXCITEMENT, so they become adrenaline junkies, always looking for the next high—but unfortunately, thanks to the law of diminishing returns, these pleasure seekers and thrill seekers are never really satisfied.
Most people look for purpose in life by pursuing SUCCESS in some arena. They pour themselves into their careers and get all kinds of positive re-enforcement and that sparks a cycle of working harder and harder—-for MORE kudos. But REAL fulfillment—LASTING fulfillment—meaning and purpose—always seems just beyond their grasp. If you doubt that then listen to the following titles of many best-selling books—books that have to do with the DOWN side of success.
Ambitious Men: Their Drives, Their Dreams, and Their Delusions
The Price of Success: Is It Worth It?
Quiet Desperation: The Truth about Successful Men
Beyond Success—Coping With the Fast Track Blues
If I’m So Successful, Why Do I feel Like a Fake?
The Success Trap: Rethinking Your Ambitions
The writers of these books have found out that success doesn’t really satisfy. It too is a dead end for those who are trying to find genuine, lasting fulfillment in life.
Dr. William Breitbart, the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—specializes in end-of-life care for terminally ill cancer patients. By the way, he has nothing to do with Breitbart news! That’s ANOTHER Breitbart! All kidding aside, for much of his career Dr. Breitbart has been surrounded by suffering people who just want to die. Breitbart said, “When I walked in the room, my patients would say, ‘I only have three months to live. If that’s all I have, I see no value or purpose to living.’” One of his patients, a former IBM executive who had been diagnosed with colon cancer, said, “Everybody said how important it is to have a positive attitude, but I’m not Lance Armstrong. I want to jump in the grave.” Dr. Breitbart’s patients reasoned that if death means nonexistence, then what meaning could life possibly have? And if life has no meaning, there’s no point of suffering through cancer.
Do you see the error in the thinking of these people? We do not find MEANING by pursuing the things of THIS life. Pleasure, thrills, success, athletic achievement—all these things focus on THIS life—and as we know—THIS life is not all there is. The average life expectancy here in the U.S. is 78.74 years. But that’s not the extent of our lives. No—that number just tells us when our bodies wear out—on average. You and me—we are ETERNAL beings.And inside their heart of hearts—all people know that. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God, “Has set eternity in the human heart.” This means in every human soul is a God-given awareness that there is “something more” than this transient world. As James 4:14 says, this “life is but a vapor.”
And, as I said, we all know that—we know that there is something PAST this life. We have a divinely implanted awareness that the soul lives forever. This is why focusing on temporary things—the things of this world—does not satisfy. The things of this world don’t last—so we can’t find the caliber of meaning we all long for in them.
This week I read about the death of a man named Arthur Werner, Sr. Arthur was an avid motorcyclist. It was a way of life for him—and a way of death. I say that because before Arthur died at the age of 89 from a form of leukemia, he asked the he be laid to rest in the sidecar of his 1990 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. The funeral home chosen by the family is run by a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, who were honored to comply with the request. The sidecar would not even require any modification for the arrangement. As you can see they even built a special “Herse attachment” to get it to the graveyard. Werner’s family says he bought the bike with his retirement bonus after 42 years as a steelworker. After his passing, his daughter-in-law said, “He lived for that bike.”
How many of you think that’s sad? Well, I love motorcycles as much as the next guy. In fact, my first motorized vehicle was a Honda 100. But to live for that kind of thing IS sad—to live for a hunk of metal?! I imagine some of you motorcycle enthusiasts may be thinking, “But it’s more than a hunk of metal, Mark. That’s not a Honda—it’s a Harley!” No, it’s not—it may be a specially-crafted hunk of metal—it may make more noise than a Honda but it is going to rust.
Unless some Harley lover breaks in to steal his fancy side car—eventually that man’s burial vault will be filled with a pile of bones and dust and rust and dirt. This is what Jesus was warning us about when He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Do you see the point? The reason we read this guy’s burial story and think, “What?!” is because we know there is supposed to be MORE to life than that. We know you’d have to fall OFF your motorcycle and hit your head to think otherwise! Real joy—lasting joy—a only purpose that fulfills us—is found in spending our moments and days and years focusing on ETERNAL things—things that can’t be taken from us—things that don’t rust.
This is why even people who don’t know Jesus find joy in helping others. People learn there is a special satisfaction to be found in helping hurricane victims—and carrying complete strangers to safety when an evil man is spraying a crowd of concert goers with gunfire and giving to their “gofundme” pages. Anyone who focuses on things of eternal significance—like helping other people—learns that, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
But—even that kind of selfless—altruistic focus—is not enough. It too is a dead end. It too leaves us hungry for more. This is because we weren’t just programmed for eternity—we were made—designed for fellowship with our eternal Creator. So, the only activity that REALLY brings our lives the meaning we all long for is working alongside Him.
And that leads me to talk about a SECOND reason people feel their lives have not meaning.
(2) You see, they seek answers to their questions about life from the wrong PERSON.
Too many of us—seek the answers from other humans and that is foolish—and pointless. You know, I for one, have never understood why our culture elevates TV stars and talk show hosts and movie stars and musicians to the status as experts on life. Why do we look to them for guidance and wisdom?
- Why do we think five celebrity women sitting around a table is a source of wisdom?
- Why do we think someone who plays the role of a movie hero stopping a fictitious Zombie plague is knowledgeable about life?
- Why do we look to singers who sell millions of albums for guidance in life?
Actually—I do know why—it’s because we idolize these people. We think they have arrived. We think they are somehow “above us” and know more than your common every day Joe.
It’s like High School all over again. Remember those days when we foolishly assumed that quarterbacks and head cheerleaders were people to look up to and emulate? Listen—NO human can give us answers to the questions about life. Only GOD can do that because He created us—and He created us for His purposes. Warren writes, “God didn’t make you for you. You were made by God and you were made FOR God. Until you understand that, life is never going to make sense—and you’re going to get bored and you’re going to get frustrated and you’re going to have all kinds of difficulty because you don’t understand you were made for God.”
Listen—our lack or meaning and direction in life is really a loneliness—an emptiness. As I said, you and I—every human—-is an immortal being dwelling in a mortal body and we long for fellowship with our immortal, eternal Creator. The REAL reason people feel unsatisfied in life is because deep inside all people are LONELY for God. Only He is capable of providing the companionship that chases our aloneness into the shadows. Only He can satisfy, sustain, and secure us.
Think of the people you love most in this world, your wife or children or parents. Imagine what it would be like to be a marine in Afghanistan right now separated from these who are so important to you. Think of how lonely that would feel—how empty. No matter how busy you were, or how successful you were in battle, something would be missing from your days. You would feel incomplete.
I know that when I’m separated from Sue—I feel like half a person. Something is missing—and that “something” is a someONE. Well, magnify this and you begin to understand how lost people—non-Christian people—feel. There is something missing: daily relationship with the ONLY SOMEONE who can make them feel complete. There is indeed a God-shaped whole in every human life. We are like the Prodigal son, still hungry after filling our lives with the world’s pleasures, longing to come home to what we really need—a relationship with our Heavenly Father. This understanding is what moved Augustine pray to God and say, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.” This inner yearning is what inspired the Psalmist to write, “As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1) My soul thirsts for You God—like I’m in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1 )
This is why our days are dark and empty, if we don’t have a relationship with God. No matter how much excitement we experience or how much pleasure we enjoy. As Augustine ALSO said, “He who has God has everything. He who does not have God has nothing. He Who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone.” As C. S. Lewis once put it, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”
And this is why the GOSPEL is good news! You see, no one can have the relationship they long for on their own. We are sinful sinners—and that separates us from our Creator—our HOLY God. Jesus came to fix that. He came to take our sin on Himself and in so doing remove the barrier between sinners like you and me and our Holy God. Do you remember how Jesus put it in John 10:10? He said, “I have come that you might have LIFE and life in ALL it’s fullness.”
The only way to live a life of meaning—the kind of life we were designed to live—is to know God and the only way to know God is through faith in His Son. Then we can JOIN God in His work—only as GOD’S CO-LABORERS do our lives take on significance! This week I saw a video about a woman named Eva. I want you to watch it. This is a woman who has found meaning.
Note—Eva didn’t find meaning in doing something HUGE and flashy. No—she found it by obeying God and doing something little—like making a dress for a needy little girl on the other side of the planet—a dress that showed that child God loved them—a dress that opened the door for her to hear about Jesus. Eva found meaning in the right PLACE—by doing something of eternal significance. She found the answer to the questions we all ask in the right PERSON. Her life has joy because she is committed to GOD’S purposes. She’s involved in worship—didn’t she sing beautifully—and ministry to others—and evangelism—and the fellowship of a church—and discipleship. I for one think that may explain her longevity!
We were made—designed for GOD’S purposes—CALLED—and we’ll be studying more about those purposes in the days to come.
Let me ask each of you: Are you a Christian? Have you ever prayed to God and said something like this? “I am a sinner in need of Your grace. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son and that He died for me on the cross and then rose from the dead on the third day. Forgive me. Cleanse me.
And use my life as You see fit. I want to give my life to YOU and YOUR purposes” If you haven’t prayed something like that, then pray it now! And then come and share that decision with me or Kevin or Peggy. Those of you who ARE Christians—if you died right now, would you be able to say that you have been working to make an eternal difference? Would you be able to say that God’s will has been first in every area of your life? If not, then you should spend some time in prayer as well—recommitting your life to Jesus’ Lordship. For some of you that could mean, joining this church—following the Lord’s will by coming forward and committing to serve God here with us at Redland. We sing to give you a chance to respond publicly. Won’t you come now as God leads?