Explore God – Finding Purpose by John Burke

Explore God is a citywide conversation in Austin. No matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, Explore God is an experience that will help you on your journey  through life as you search for meaning.
Join us at Gateway at one of the following locations:
  • McNeil Campus (7104 McNeil Dr 78729) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm
  • The Internet Campus (http://live.gatewaychurch.com) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm (CST)
  • South Campus (Crockett High School – Manchaca and Stassney just south of Ben White Blvd)
This week, John Burke spoke at the McNeil campus and I spoke at the South Campus on the topic: “Does Life Have a Purpose?”
Here are some of the ideas we shared:

Building a train with your Dad as a kid has no meaning outside of the relationship. The trains just go round and round in circles. Without the relationship part, it gets old pretty fast just watching it go around and around.

All of life is like that if you stop and think about it long enough. You know, we live in a fast-paced society. Everyone’s going somewhere fast. We talk fast, drive fast, think fast, eat fast. Have you ever slowed down enough to consider what’s the point? What’s the purpose? Most of us never slow down long enough to think about it, but those who do realize something troubling. If you leave God out of the equation, it adds up to nothing.

Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian Novelist summed it up well, “What is life for? To die? To kill myself? No, I’m afraid of death. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for, in order to die?”

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “life is just a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness.” Not believing there was a God to give purpose to life, he took his life.

Thoreau said “Most people live lives of quiet desperation.”

Searching but never finding. Without relationship with God who gives meaning to life, they’re right—life’s absurd, going around and around for no purpose at all.

But deep down, if we stop and reflect, we realize “there’s got to be more!” We fight against the meaninglessness of life—Doesn’t something in your soul tell you that you DO have meaning and purpose? Existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote, “Man is absurd, but he must grimly act as if he were not.”

Why? Why do we all desperately need to believe our lives matters? From the earliest days, We all grew up with a sense of hope and purpose. That youthful zeal to change the world or make a difference. We are on a search to find something—something that makes life truly worth living, but what is it really?

The first person to write about this search for meaning and purpose lived nearly 1000 years before Christ. King Solomon was King of Israel, the wisest and wealthiest ever. Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s journal as he traveled through every experience known to man. Solomon speaks to all of us about all of life. As prosperity abounded in his life and kingdom, Solomon began to seek his own pleasure and turned from the Lord. He didn’t “need” Him anymore. As a result, Solomon set out to discover experientially what life was like without God. To our benefit he kept a journal the entire time.

I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. Ecclesiastes 1:13

He reflected, studied, and experimented with everything possibly fulfilling or meaningful leaving God out of the equation. Solomon was the first existentialist traveling down every imaginable path.

Listen to what he discovered about purpose, pleasure, intimacy, and peace with the hopes of us learning wisdom from his experiences. Here’s how he starts his book after all he tried:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

Well Solomon starts his journey seeking Knowledge and Wisdom – “I thought to myself, ‘Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone…[but] with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.’” Eccl 1:16, 18

Throughout the then-known world people knew of Solomon and his great wisdom. He had studied it all – science, philosophy, psychology, – Doctorates in all! What does he say about it? “More Wisdom = more sorrow, more Knowledge = more grief.” Why? Because the more educated you become, the more you realize how screwed up we are.

Knowledge isn’t bad, it’s just not enough. It doesn’t solve the greatest human problems. Sure, we can now send people to the moon, but we can’t figure out how to feed starving children though the earth supplies more than enough food for us all. Knowledge can’t overcome things like greed or self-centeredness or fear—our real problems which are spiritual. Knowledge can’t keep marriages together, or children in loving homes. Leave God out of the picture, and even though we’ve amassed more knowledge than any other society—something’s still missing. Our longing for knowledge is a finger pointing somewhere, but to what?

Achievement – I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees… Eccl 2:4-6

He built the famous wall of Jerusalem, and many other cities which have been recently excavated. He planted vineyards and orchards, made pools, imported peacocks and apes. Solomon built the great temple in Jerusalem. Solomon undertook great projects to find meaning. Solomon built a palace 2 football fields long and 1 field wide. That’s over 200,000 square feet! It took 13 years to build. It was made of the finest cedar shipped from Lebanon and of costly stones. His throne was made of gold and ivory. But when he was done, just like people today he cried out “Now What?”

I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. Eccl. 2:10-11

Solomon still lacked satisfying meaning in life, because he would die and it would all crumble—nothing lasted, nothing really mattered “under the sun.”

Accomplishment’s are great, but without relationship…it’s just going around and around.

Wealth & Fame – I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. Eccl. 2:8-10

Solomon controlled the caravan routes between Asia and Africa. His business acumen won him control of the middle east. He had more wealth than he knew what to do with. He bought everything he wanted, went wherever he wanted, did whatever he wanted—he was so famous people came far and wide to see him.

Many in our society have financial independence as the purpose they’re shooting for, but can wealth and material things truly make your life meaningful or make you happy? If not, many of us would like to learn that lesson the hard way—right? Just give me a chance to prove that lots and lots of money will make me miserable. So we keep going, going, going not even stopping to think: what do I really want and how will I really get it?”

The problem is not the wealth or fame, but the fact that we usually destroy what we want in the process. John Cheevers writes: “The main emotion of the average adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.” What Now?

John Rockefeller was making $1mill/week near the end of his life. Someone asked him, how much is enough? He said, “Just a little bit more.”

Solomon warned us long ago: Those who love money never have enough; those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. Eccl. 5:10

That’s the paradox of external success – you never arrive. See, when we buy into the lie that you can attain success – as if one day you will have enough money, or enough toys, and then you’ll be satisfied – that day will never come. Why? Because contentment isn’t a state of having, it’s a state of being!

Well, so far Solomon’s definitely NOT getting the Self-Help book of the year club. But Solomon doesn’t leave us in despair—he comes to some conclusions he asks us to take seriously. He basically says, If there is nothing but nothing under the sun, our hope must be above it. Solomon concludes:

I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart…God does it so people will revere him. Eccl. 3:10-11, 14

We were made for something bigger and more fulfilling than any temporary going round and round with achievement, wealth, fame or fortune can satisfy. We’re searching for God. God has rigged this life to not satisfy apart from relationship with him because God created us for himself. God alone gives meaning and purpose to the dash between birth and death.
So Solomon cries out, don’t chase the wind—it’s meaningless, learn from me. You can repeat the experiment for yourself that’s been going on and on, round and round, but let me spare you the pain: Without God, under the sun, life is meaningless.

Remember your Maker while you are young, before the days of trouble come and the years when you will say, “I have no joy in them,”… Remember Him before the silver rope of life is broken and…the dust will return to the earth as it was. And the spirit will return to God Who gave it… The last word, after all has been heard, is: Honor God and obey His Laws. This is all that every person must do. Eccl 12:1,7,13

Solomon says seek God…seek to know God, honor God, follow God. That’s the only hope for lasting meaning and purpose in this life. Otherwise, you can pretend, you can make up some temporary purpose—but in the end it’s nothing but a dash on a tombstone that no one will remember 3 generations from now. But with God…everything can count. All you do can find meaning and purpose.

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever. Eccl 3:12-14

Without God, in the end it’s all meaningless—but with God in your life—everything you do can find purpose. The gift God wants to give you is to know there is a purpose for your life. You can enjoy your life, accomplish good things, feel good about your work, see it all as God’s gift. Then the pursuit of knowledge becomes lasting understanding of the One who created it all, loves you, and wants you to know him. Achievement becomes a means to serve God and people and do good in the world—what’s done in relationship to God lasts. Even wealth or status or fame becomes a gift from God, to humbly enjoy, but also to use to make an impact. But leave God out of the equation—it’s just a meaningless dash between two dates.

God told Moses 500 years before Solomon: No matter how far away you feel, it’s never too far to find your way home. “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

Some of you this morning may feel like you’ve known God…or at least known about God for years. Don’t just keep going around and around…what’s the point, really? Let us help you discover what so many people here have—there really is a God who created you on purpose, who loves you, and wants to lead you into a fulfilling, truly satisfying life. Jesus taught that the ultimate purpose of life is relationship—with God and others. Loving God, loving people—using everything else to live out that purpose—that lasts. Like my dad with the trainset—it’s the relationship that brings meaning to all other purposes. When you get that right—it brings purpose to everything you do and all situations of life.

The ultimate purpose is relationship—God and the souls of people live on…all else is dust in the wind.

“You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense.” Rick Warren

What does this insatiable desire for meaning and purpose point toward? Does it make more sense to believe we are this way because our Creator made us for a purpose? We long for purpose because we were created for one. Jeremiah, An Old Testament prophet, records God saying, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

The message of all the Old Testament Prophets is that God created you and me for Himself—what brings purpose to life is this relationship we were created to have with God. God created you as His work of art. That’s your true identity.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

When we wander from God (which we all do), we lose our identity, we struggle to find meaning and purpose, our hearts thirst for something this life can never fully satisfy. Doesn’t that seem to be where the finger of experience is pointing? Maybe you don’t believe that yet, but are you Open Minded—what truly best explains life?

Our human reaction is to want good to triumph over evil, we cry out for justice, our instinctive understanding is that all humans have equal value. Deep inside we believe the weak and marginalized should be protected, not exploited and destroyed. This all points toward the claims of Scripture—that a Creator put these things in our hearts. “Even [those] who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” Romans 2:14-15

What’s amazing is we see this common moral law come out through most all religions and cultures for all history. What’s the most rational explanation? That Natural Selection has deceived us into feeling that goodness and justice matter, or that there is a Moral Law Giver? Are you Open Minded to really test and ask Why?

What best explains where the finger of humanities experience points? Isn’t it what Jesus taught and demonstrated—“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love…This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:9-13

That the purpose of life is loving relationship with God, who can teach us to love one another sacrificially in a world that is free to choose against God, who is love, and pain and suffering result. But God’s love can overcome it all–in relationship with God Love does last. And all suffering and sacrifice done out of love for God and people can count. Doesn’t that make the most sense of how we instinctively feel life should go? Are you Open Minded to considering where the finger of evidence points?

It’s all about loving God and people…

Consider: How open-minded am I toward God? And if you already believe—ask “How much am I really pursuing relationship with God if I believe He is the reason and purpose for my life? Who can I help in their spiritual journey?”

9/15 Is There a God?
9/22 Why Does God Allow Pain & Suffering?
9/29 Is Christianity Too Narrow?
10/6 Is Jesus Really God?
10/13 Is the Bible Reliable?
10/20 Can We Know God Personally?

Find a discussion group near you at www.GatewayChurch.com/explore-God and scroll down to find the options.

Explore God: Open Q&A – Mondays
Every Monday night at 7pm at www.exploreGod.com, we will host an open Q&A Online with John Burke and others. You can submit your questions via the hashtag: #ExploreGodQA. We’ll also have live chat during the broadcast to take your questions.
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