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God is the Center of Reality

God is great, he's at the center of reality, so focus your life on him.
This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Most Relevant Book of the Bible: Ecclesiastes". See series.


Back in the 1960s the mayor of the city of Chicago was Richard Daley. He was famous for a number of things, most notably for being the last of the big time bosses of the city. Daley was sharp, powerful, and had an absolutely enormous ego.

One fall a speechwriter who worked for Daley came to him and asked for a raise. Daley was amazed that anyone would have the gall to do that. He told the guy, "I'm not giving you a raise. It should be enough for you that you get to work for me, a great American hero." The speechwriter waited until early November & turned in his 1-week notice that he was moving on. Daley was scheduled to give a speech on Veteran's Day and he demanded that the speechwriter complete this task before he left.

Daley was famous for never reading his speeches thru ahead of time; he just enjoyed winging it in the moment. So on the day of the speech, he's going on and on about how valuable our veterans are and how forgotten they are. And he says "But I haven't forgotten about you. In fact, today I'm proposing a 17-point program at the federal, state and local level, for us to care for our veterans."

There's nationwide press coverage, hundreds of people are there and everyone is really eager to hear what Daley is going to say about this. Daley himself was curious so he turns the page in his speech, all it says is "You're on your own now, you great American hero."

We live in a society that exalts the ego; in our culture being number one is all too often what life is focused on. We see that in sports, we see it in the world of entertainment, sometimes we see it in business and I can personally vouch for the fact that we even see it in education. But is that a good way to live?

As many of you know the New Testament was written in Greek. The word translated "I" in Greek is a little word spelled E-G-O. Does anyone want to guess what word we get from that Greek word? Yes, it's "ego," the center of who I am.

Now, the ego is like anything else in our lives and our world; it can be something good, healthy, and godly; or it can become tainted, soiled, and sinful. Because of our fallen condition, our egos can get to the point where we think we're the center of the universe and we begin to act like we're in charge of everything and everyone.

Management consultant Ken Blanchard says that, sometimes, ego is a short word for the phrase "Edging God Out." Have you ever done that? Have you ever let your desires, your will, your ego get to the point where you think, It has to be done my way because I'm always right. Have you ever "Edged God Out" of your life, or at least moved him to the margins? I would guess that, on occasion, we all have. When we do that, the results aren't very attractive or promising.

John Calvin said, "For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God."

Solomon discovered the truth of what Calvin wrote. Throughout much of his life he gave into his ego and put himself at the center of life only to discover that much of what he did and accomplished was fleeting—it was like chasing after the wind.

Here, near the middle of chapter three of his great book Ecclesiastes, he picks up on that theme: Look at verse nine and let's ask the question: What does the worker gain from his toil?

Solomon's realization: We're not the center of reality

This is something of a rhetorical question and the implied answer is not really very much. Our honest reaction to that might be: Hey, wait a minute; that's not necessarily true. I built a business, we raised a family, I got an education, and had a good career. What do you mean we don't get very much from our toil? To answer that, we have to look at this verse in the context of chapter two. Solomon had looked at all the things he had experienced and accomplished—engaging in intellectual pursuits, giving himself to the pursuit of pleasure, acquiring and building a vast empire and a beautiful city, constructing a temple for God that was the envy of many ancient cultures. He discovered that it was all "vanity" or "fleeting"—the key word in this book that occurs 38 times. He concluded in 2:17, "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless (fleeting), a chasing after the wind."

He got so frustrated because he realized that all the experiences he had, all the knowledge he gained, all the things he constructed were fleeting because he had put himself at the center of life. Those achievements weren't necessarily bad and I would argue that from a human standpoint many of them were tremendous—let's give credit where credit is due—but they wouldn't last or endure. At this point, in his book, he makes a really good decision. He turns his attention away from himself to the source and the center of all reality, almighty God.

God is the center of reality because he is the Creator

Please note that God is the subject of these verses and that he is the one who is taking action here: He lays a burden on humanity. He makes everything beautiful, a better translation of the word from the original text is "appropriate." He sets eternity in our hearts. He is the one who works from beginning to end. Solomon is saying that God is the center of reality because he's the Creator.

The Apostles Creed is our earliest systematic articulation of orthodox Christian doctrine. Some of you may have grown up reciting this. It begins by saying "I believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth." He's the Creator who made everything on our planet, everything in our solar system, everything in our galaxy; in fact, everything in our universe. In what is certainly an understatement—something I'm not generally prone to do—we can say the universe is pretty doggone big.

Isaiah 40:25-26 says "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens; who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name." Like Solomon, Isaiah argues that our God is the Creator and he's at the center of reality.

Our text goes on to say that he has put eternity in our hearts. This is a fascinating statement. It means we intuitively know that this earth and what we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell is not all there is to life and reality. But as the rest of that verse says, there's a catch: On our own we cannot figure out what God has done—or often times what God is doing—from the beginning to the end because we are limited. If you've been in church world for any time at all you've heard the saying that "We're not in control."

I know we say that a lot but I think it bears repeating because—in spite of all our education, knowledge, science, and technology—much of it is really amazing—we still don't understand the way life works much of the time. It's a mystery and will remain so because we are limited. There is no explanation for an event like an unexpected tragic death, other than we're fallen creatures in a fallen world who sometimes unexpectedly get sick and die. Some of you have experienced similar types of situations and you may be wresting with those today. I have bad news for you but also I have good news for you.

The bad news is that our limitations and lack of control make life mysterious; as hard as we try, we're never going to figure it out. That's the burden God has laid on us that Solomon speaks of in verse 10 and, in all honesty, that can be frustrating. But the good news is that God will make everything beautiful or appropriate in its time. This is part of the gospel!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 prefigures that wonderful section in the eighth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans where he writes "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That verse can be and has been misused to the detriment of many suffering people and I don't want to be guilty of that today. But I want us to know that our Creator—who has made himself personally visible in Jesus of Nazareth—is so good that in his time, he can turn even the most difficult and mysterious things in our lives into something appropriate, positive, and maybe even beautiful.

So the questions is: Do you trust your God? I'm going to assume that since you've expended the energy and taken the time to be here that you believe in him. But do you trust him when life gets dicey and pain comes your way? Please know that I'm preaching to myself with this message. At points I've had some big losses and I know from personal experience that it's not always easy to trust God in the midst of mysterious events. This text tells us that our God is at the center of reality and that he can be trusted—even in the midst of mystery. It also goes on to tell us that we can trust him is because he's our provider.

God is at the center of reality because he's our Provider

Here we're given a powerful exhortation to engage life and enjoy it because all the good things we encounter come from the hand of God. Your family, your job, your health, your home, your car, your pets, this church—they're all gifts from the hand of the one who provides for us! Oh, friends, this is grace, our good God's lavish generosity poured out on his fallen and undeserving creatures!

When I come home at night Melanie will greet me with her arms up in the air waiting for a hug; our little dog Darcy, always barks a greeting; our bigger dog, Zach, comes over and leans into me as a sign of love. I try to keep a picture of that scene in my mind and burn it into my memory because it's the grace of God in my life. Solomon says to take the gracious gifts that our God so richly provides and enjoy them all and share them—whether "it's eating, drinking or engaging in our work."

I'd like to read you a quote by Tommy Nelson, in the book A Life Well-Lived:

Everyone is going to die. As you read this book, the clock is ticking. The 24-hour virus is waiting on you. There are germs in your teeth that will cause cavities. One day you'll have a root canal. All of those things are bad and they are coming. So today, while everything is OK, go get a double dip Rocky Road ice cream (or whatever flavor you love). Take some friends or family with you, lick your ice cream slowly, and just enjoy being together. Call an old friend you haven't spoken to in a while and get caught up. Rent a movie you've wanted to see and curl up on the sofa with some hot popcorn. Enjoy today—love God, enjoy life and have fun.

Solomon is telling us the exact same thing. He says "Be as happy as you can, enjoy all the good parts of life and find satisfaction in all that you do because God has provided it all for you."

I've read a lot of history in my life and I can tell you that we live in a time and place that Solomon in all his glory could not have conceived of. From indoor plumbing and heating to flying halfway around the world in a day, to iPods, iPhones, and iPads—it's all the provision of our good and gracious God. God has provided so much for us—not least our salvation in Jesus. And our call is to respond to him with gratitude.

In early 1939 the quiet first baseman of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig, discovered that he was dying of a horrible, debilitating disease. But on the fourth of July that year, he stood on the field of Yankee Stadium and thanked everyone who made his playing days with that team so wonderful. He thanked the fans, the grounds keepers, the vendors, the ticket-takers, his manager, his teammates, his parents and especially his wife. He thanked everyone who made his job possible and then he concluded his remarks by saying "I'm the luckiest man alive."

I can hardly imagine the character of a man who, while facing a horrible death, could express such gratitude. But I do know that in a culture where players hold out for millions more because they think they deserve it, the great ones always play with gratitude. Are we thankful for the many good gifts God has provided? Are we grateful that he's the center of reality and the source of our salvation?

Solomon has shown us that God is our creator and our provider. But he's saved the most interesting part for last.

God is the center of reality because he is the Ruler

Let's note his description of God here. What he does will endure forever. He does all this so men will revere him. He will hold us accountable. The point is that God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. The idea of a sovereign ruler over all is hard for Americans because we've never had a monarchy; since 1776 we've never served a king, queen, Pharaoh, or a string of dictators like they have in Egypt. We're a country that is a democratic republic and our culture is pretty egalitarian by nature. We vote people in, we pressure others out, and we don't like it when someone gets too powerful, too rich, or too big for their britches. There are a lot of benefits to a culture like ours; but sometimes it hinders how we view God and his call on our lives. Solomon says here that God is the King and that he is the one who is in complete control. There's nothing and no one beyond his eye, ear, arm. When he chooses to act, nothing or no one can get in his way.

Because he is at the center of reality and runs the universe we are, as the text says, to revere him. But what does that mean? What does that look like? Solomon is saying, don't fight God. Respect him. Make sure to put him at the center and align your life with what he wants. This text says don't let your ego get so big that it goes against the rhythm of creation. Don't be selfish and take his wonderful gift of sex outside of your marriage. Don't take the good gift of food and turn it into gluttony. Don't turn the good gift of drink and let it descend into drunkenness. Don't turn your humor into coarse joking. Since we're going to be held accountable we need to make sure that what's on our hearts is in alignment with what's on his heart. His heart is revealed throughout the Scriptures but especially in the life of Jesus: his heart is always to reach out to the least, the last and the lost.

Friends, if you know Jesus, you have gifts and time, talents, and treasures. As his follower, you're called to align your life with his rule and leverage some of your resources to extend his reign. You don't want to live for yourself. You don't want to let your ego to get to the point where you think you're at the center of life and that reality revolves around you. Solomon tried that and he found out that it only leads to a dead end. Instead, you want to remember that God is good and that he's at the center of reality and then focus your life on him.


Louis XIV was the King of France in the last part of the 17th century and the early years of the 18th. He called himself the Sun King, claimed that he was the nation of France and, overall, had an ego that would put most politicians to shame. But like all humanity, he eventually died. His funeral was held in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the evening and it was lit by hundreds of burning candles in order to create an atmosphere of reverence for Louis.

Massillon, the archbishop of the Cathedral, was assigned to preach the funeral sermon and he entered from a side door. Then he slowly walked in front of the king's casket and ascended to the pulpit. It was completely silent and every eye was upon him. What would he say about the great king? How would he describe him and his many accomplishments? Massillon waited a moment, eyed the congregation and then said, "Only God is great! Only God is great!" He was absolutely right. You and I will serve ourselves, our families, friends, and our world well if we always keep in mind that our good God is the center of reality and he alone is great.

Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Solomon's realization: We're not the center of reality

II. God is the center of reality because he is the Creator

III. God is at the center of reality because he's our Provider

IV. God is the center of reality because he is the Ruler