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New Years Day - Happy New Year

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Happy New Year!

New Years Day 2006

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Focus: Happiness comes from knowing that God works through every moment of life.

I. Defining Happiness

Have you ever thought how many seconds in this year you’ll be unhappy? Have you ever thought how much can happen in a second? When you say, “Happy New Year!” you’re saying a remarkable thing. It only takes a second for your life to be totally changed or totally ended. In a year full of seconds, anything can happen at any second. If we’re going to talk about having a happy new year, there are some things to bear in mind.

We’re not always sure what happiness is. For a lot of people, happiness depends on their happenings. If their happenings don’t happen to happen the way they happen to want their happenings to happen, they’re unhappy!

Some people spend their time organizing their happenings to make sure everything happens the way they want it to happen. The assumption is this: if they can make everything happen the way they want their happenings to happen, they’ll be happy. There are two problems with that: you can’t do it, and even if you could, you’d probably be bored. Do you remember Alexander the Great? It is said that he got everything happening his way. He conquered everything and then sat down to cry, because he was so young and there was nothing else to conquer. For people who get everything they want, life is good. They have everything, and they don’t know what to do with it.

The Greeks had a word for happiness: makarios. This word describes what they perceived as being the experience of the gods. The Greeks had lots of gods, and the gods were sort of magnified human beings. They had all the failings of human beings and all the strengths. For Greeks, the idea of the gods was that they had everything made. The word makarios found its way into the New Testament, and it’s translated “blessed” or “happy.”

Jesus picked up on this word, and said some stuff that will absolutely blow you away. Listen to what he said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”

Jesus is saying that happiness, or fulfillment, or makarios—having everything just wonderful—comes not from having everything. It can come through being poor, through mourning, through hungering, through thirsting. It can come through being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. That’s exactly the opposite of what we think is the road to happiness.

So Happy New Year! But remember two things. Define happiness correctly. Happiness is not just getting all your happenings to happen the way you happen to want your happenings to happen. Secondly, make certain you’re thinking through all the possibilities of this year. You’ve got to reckon that you may not always be able to control them. 

II. Realizing There’s a Time for Everything

With that in mind, let’s read today’s passage from Ecclesiastes. Turn with me to chapter 3 and follow along as I begin reading at verse1: “There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, 

a time to plant and a time to uproot, 

a time to kill and a time to heal, 

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, 

a time to mourn and a time to dance, 

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 

a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 

a time to search and a time to give up, 

a time to keep and a time to throw away, 

a time to tear and a time to mend, 

a time to be silent and a time to speak, 

a time to love and a time to hate, 

a time for war and a time for peace.”

 

In the Hebrew, this is poetry. Translators picked up on this repetition of the word time. There’s a rhythm to it that’s not accidental. It gives the reader a feeling of time going on relentlessly. The poet says there is a year full of seconds stretching ahead of us.

When we begin to think of being happy in this new year, we’ve got to reckon with two things. This year will be full of 1. inevitable events and 2. irresistible events.

One of the great myths about humanity is that we are in charge. It is a most pernicious myth, because nothing could be further from the truth. I can prove it to you very simply. The second verse of this passage says, “There’s a time to be born and a time to die.” Those are the two biggest events of your experience, and both of them are totally outside our control. We are not masters of our own destiny. You were initiated by birth, and you had nothing to do with it. You’ll be terminated by death, and probably you’ll have nothing to do with it. In between initiation and termination is perpetuation, and there’s very little you can do about that either.

There’s a wonderful segment in Scripture describing God. It says, “God, in whose hand your breath is.” It gives me the shivers. I have all kinds of pictures of God, but now I have a picture of God just gently massaging windpipes. My breath is in his hands. Just think of it. All he needs to do is say, “Okay, Dave, time’s up.” He just gently applies pressure, and I’m through. That keeps me in perspective.

Every single moment I am perpetuated because God graciously doesn’t apply the pressure on my windpipe, and he continues to graciously give me life. All life’s experiences are inevitable and irresistible, coming one second at a time. You are caught in the middle. Let’s look at one or two of these ideas in Scripture.

Scripture says there’s a time to be born, a time to die. In verse 3 there’s mentioned a time to kill and a time to heal. You have this monotonous regularity of life, but you’ve got these anomalies in life. Birth and death couldn’t be further apart, yet they’re part and parcel of life. Killing and healing couldn’t be further apart, yet they’re part and parcel of life.

The Old Testament had rules about capital punishment, but it also had a lot to say about healing. Life, as far as the Old Testament days were concerned, meant that in some instances people were executed, because of what they’d done. At other times they had to heal people. That’s life. It is full of extremes.

There’s also a time to tear down and a time to build up. Sometimes you get into a relationship and discover something fundamentally wrong. There comes a time when you have to tear it down for the good of everyone. At other times relationships need hard work to build them up. Some relationships look identical on the surface, but further experience reveals that they require totally opposite responses.

There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh. The Scripture tells us that God has given us all things richly to enjoy. He wants us to be a celebrating people. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” we’re told.

Laughter is one of the greatest mental tonics known to man. It is the second most powerful human emotion we as people can possibly express (the first being love). Laughter can dispel anxiety, help manage stress, depression, fear and worry. It can stimulate the healing process. Laughter provides strong medical, psychological, social and even spiritual benefits.

Laughter is like internal jogging. It enhances the respiratory system, helps oxygenate the body, relaxes tense muscles, and is an all-around pain killer. It will lower pulse and blood pressure. Laughter can pave the way for a new and exciting outlook on life. It is the universal communicator that can cross all boundaries of race and culture.

You can't laugh and be mad; you can't laugh and worry. Stress, worry and laughter are not compatible.

People who’ve got the idea that God is a spoilsport have done a desperate disservice to God. There are things so wrong about us that the honorable and noble thing to do is to weep. One who knew George Whitefield (the famous preacher)  well, and attended his preaching more frequently, perhaps, than any other person, said he hardly ever knew him go through a sermon without weeping; his voice was often interrupted by his tears, which sometimes were so excessive as to stop him from proceeding for a few moments.

"You blame me for weeping," he would say, "but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and for ought you know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you?"

We need to know when to celebrate and when to weep. Sometimes the things that make you laugh or cry are outside of you. They will come relentlessly, and you’ll never know from which extreme they’ll come. Happy New Year!

There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance. There’s a time to scatter stones and a time to gather. That’s an interesting one. That’s probably the most difficult part of this particular passage. Theologians have come up with various theories, but let me suggest the most simple one.

In Old Testament days, when soldiers came in and conquered a city, they totally destroyed the city walls. They took the rubble from the destroyed walls and purposely scattered it over the arable lands so that the inhabitants couldn’t start growing crops there again. Sometimes it was necessary to go into an area and gather the scattered stones to build secure defenses.

Some things come along, and it is imperative to challenge them in the name of God and scatter them, like the stones scattered by soldiers.. At other times, there is so much demolition going on in lives that we must patiently, carefully gather and build. We find ourselves in tension. What should I be doing at this moment? Should I be scattering? Or should I be gathering?

That’s life, folks. Happy New Year!

It only takes a second for irresistible, inevitable circumstances to occur. If we’re trying to organize these irresistible, inevitable circumstances, if our happiness depends on our happenings happening the way we happen to want them to happen, we have our work cut out for us. How on earth are we going to make sure that we never mourn and always dance? How can we make sure we always laugh but never weep? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just make sure that we’re always born and never died? Unfortunately, we can’t do it.

III. Turning to God

In verses 9 and 10 of Ecclesiastes 3, we read, “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.” Now the writer has a very keen eye for what’s going on, and he has a very deep faith. He’s a fascinating fellow, because he keeps this sort of jaundiced, skeptical view of life and marries it to a deep faith in God. That’s a healthy combination. As he does this, he says, “ I have looked at the way people are living, and I’ve looked at the way I’ve lived my life. There’s a whole lot of inevitable, irresistible things happening there, and this is really burdensome to men.”

What’s the nature of the burden? There are things we cannot regulate, and things from which we cannot escape.

You say, “Why would God put that burden upon us?” Because God allows the circumstances of life to help us recognize there is something greater and grander and richer about life. That burden is upon us to make us aware of Him. In this passage we’re told what that is.

Verse 14 says, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”

 

When people recognize their frailty and their limitations, when men and women recognize they cannot regulate or escape the irresistible, inevitable factors of life, God is waiting. He says, “Hey, look this way a minute. How about me? How about recognizing that if there’s any sense, if there’s any rhyme, if there’s any reason to life, it’s because there is a transcendent God who is working in these circumstances for your greater good”, so you will revere Him.

If this life is all we’ve got, and if we can only find happiness in manipulating and escaping the irresistible, inevitable events that only take a second to come into our lives, we’ll wear ourselves out. That’s the tragedy of our society today. We are becoming blatant secularists in outlook. We have forgotten that we can turn to a God and learn to revere him. We can’t handle ourselves in the immensity and the awesomeness of life. This burden we cannot escape or regulate. The reason for the burden is that we might learn to revere him.

God has done two other things. Verse 11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” He has firstly, made everything beautiful in its time and, secondly, set eternity in the hearts of men.

 

God’s Word tells us there is a beauty in all the things that He purposes.

God can work in and through and despite all the irresistible, inevitable things of life. There’s a deeply rooted sense of well-being when I revere God, far removed from a superficial happiness that comes from getting your happenings to happen the way you happen to want your happenings to happen. That’s futile. But if I can learn to revere God and begin to recognize that he can bring a certain beauty into all the circumstances of life, there’s hope for a happy new year.

Secondly, God has set eternity in your heart and mine. C.S. Lewis wrote that humankind, in every part of the world, has a sense of something bigger and greater than themselves, something worthy of their awe.

The second thing that Lewis points out is that every human being has within him or her a built-in sense of morality.

Little kids have it. You see two little kids playing, and suddenly one of them is howling tearfully, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” He’s talking morality. You don’t teach a sense of morality. It is intrinsic.

When we recognize there is an awe-inspiring something from which a sense of morality originates, we’re very close to understanding why people in every area of the globe are religious. It doesn’t mean they’re Christians or Buddhists or Muslims. It just means that they have to believe there’s something bigger and grander than themselves, something worthy of their awe..

That is not an accident. God has put eternity into all people’s hearts

Conclusion: The Ingredients of a Happy New Year

Now, when you begin to put all of the preceding together, that there is a time for everything God purposes, both good and bad it’s as if you are mixing the ingredients of a cake. When you mix them with faith, you begin to bake something very sweet and very beautiful. When I wish you a happy new year, this is what I mean. I wish you an awe-inspiring, God purposed, blessed new year.

I trust the new year will give you the opportunity to recognize that whatever the irresistible, inevitable realities of your life may bring, you will recognize the transcendent one who has given you a sense of awe and morality. God has given you a sense of something bigger and grander and greater than yourself. He is allowing all  things to come into your life, He won’t allow you to escape or to regulate them so you can begin to recognize your own mortality compared with His infinity. You will recognize your own limitations and see him as illimitable. As you learn to revere him, you will bow humbly in worship and discover joy.

If this sounds a little cold and callous, let me remind you of one thing: God laid aside his glory, stepped down from his throne, and assumed our humanity. He lived with our pain and circumstances and learned to laugh and mourn, weep and dance. God shared our life. God is not remote and untouched. He is a God who loves us so much he comes right alongside and says, “I understand, I care, and I know. Trust me. Revere me and discover in me real joy.”

Those are the ingredients of a happy new year as I understand them from Scripture. Happy New Year!

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