Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Searching for a
New Normal"

by Dr. Walter Jackson
Pastor, Judson Baptist Church
Nashville, TN

Dr. Walter Jackson

Ecclesiastes is for life’s emergencies. It is as though Solomon has placed this book in a red fire alarm with the instructions: “ In case of emergency break glass!” In seconds, a foolish lifestyle or life’s unfairness can leave us trapped. Seconds can turn into decades of difficulties. One minute we are fine. The next...we realize that life will never be the same again. One minute everything is normal. The next... we feel doomed. What can we do?

Solomon encourages us to look for a New Normal that God sends as a gift to enjoy. ...every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God (3:13). His experience in the real world of painful knocks teaches us how to restore our love for God:

SIMPLY OR SINK

Solomon began his adult life with a simple arrangement. He requested and received wisdom from God. I... have attained more wisdom than all before me (1:16). Former TV talk show host Phil Donahue once said to Los Angeles syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, “ The problem with you conservatives is that you have simple answers to complex problems.” Cal replied, “The problem with you liberals is that you’ve ignored the simple answers and that’s why the problems have become complex.”

The answer to this complex world is simple. Love God. Solomon [feared] God and [kept] keep his commandments (12:13). Then he began ignoring God (1:17). He sank into a selfish lifestyle. When we swap wisdom for foolishness, normal life vanishes. To achieve a New Normal we must replace some things in our lives. These include:

I. FIRST, REPLACE FOOLISHNESS WITH THE FACTS OF GOD’S WORD

Wave after wave of foolishness swept over Solomon. Solomon’s heart sank. There was no one to blame but himself. He ignored God by dabbling in a foolish lifestyle:

Wisdom (1:17) Many students are making Solomon’s mistake. “Seventy per cent of today’s [youth] claim absolute truth does not exist, that all truth is relative.” Solomon learned, normalcy is relative but The Word is not.

Wine (2:3) Solomon experienced liquor’s hard lessons. R. G. Lee taught, “Booze was as bad as sewage in a drinking fountain, as bad as strychnine in a baby’s bottle, as bad as poison ivy in a bride’s bonnet, as bad as a mad dog on a children’s playground, as bad as a rattle snake in a kindergarten, as bad as a rapist in a girl’s dormitory, as bad as a maniac wielding a razor in an old folks home.”

Works and Wealth (2:4, 2:8) When Patrick M. Morley first believed he, like Solomon, adopted a foolish lifestyle. “I became a follower of Christ with the commitment to God I wanted. I created the fifth Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Patrick. My life was shaped more by the forces of commerce than Christ.”

Women (2:8) When a woman was asked about her husband leaving her for a younger woman, she answered. “Of course he left me for a younger woman! Anyone his own age would see right through him.” I wonder if any of Solomon’s 700 wives or 300 concubines felt this way (I Ki. 11:3)?

Worldly Recognition (2:9) Like Solomon, Vanessa Williams has regretted her lifestyle. “I should have made better choices. I was so obsessed with becoming famous that I made bad decisions. Like [my] nude [photographs] that came out after I became Miss America. [It cost her the Miss America title.] I wish I’d made better choices back then.”

Worldly Pleasure (2:10) [The counseling session opened urgently,] “I want to feel better quick.” The psychologist responded, “I suggest you get a case of your favorite alcoholic beverage, find some cooperative women, and go to the Bahamas for a month.” [Looking puzzled the man asked,] “Are you a Christian?” “Why do you ask,” said the psychologist? “Well your advice doesn’t sound very biblical.” “Well it’s the best I [the psychologist] can do given your request. If you really want to feel good right away and get rid of any unpleasant emotion, then I don’t recommend following Christ. Drunkenness, immoral pleasures, and vacations will work far better. Not for long, of course, but in the short run they’ll give you what you want.”

With no one but himself to blame for his complicated life, Solomon returned to God. Swapping wisdom for foolishness made normal life vanish. So God gave Solomon a New Normal. Returning to The Word restored Solomon’s simple love for God.

The President of Union University, David Dockery said, “After W.W. II in Southern Baptist Churches…orthodoxy was understood in terms of ‘doing the right program’ rather than articulating the right belief system. God breathed out [His Word not only for] orthodoxy but orthopraxy before a watching world” (2 Tm. 3:16). Solomon would concur with Dockery that the authority, inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of God’s Word is to be lovingly moved off the page, into our lifestyles and into the lives of others.

II. SECOND, REPLACE LIFE’S UNFAIRNESS WITH FAITH IN GOD

Unfairness is a another way that life can leave us painfully trapped. There are many trite answers when normal life vanishes and none of them seem to matter. Especially when trouble strikes. Solomon wandered through this world scratching his head over what he observed:

Why does doing the right thing still go wrong? (2:15/9:11) [A teenager sat in church with his Mom.] When the collection plate was passed, he pulled a dollar bill from his pocket and dropped it in. At that moment the person behind him tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a $20 bill. Secretly admiring the man’s generosity the [teen] also placed the $20 bill in the plate and passed it on. Then, he felt another tap from behind and heard a whisper: “Son, that was your $20. It fell out of your pocket.”

Why does hard earned wealth disappear so easily? (2:21) The Wall Street Journal reports, “We are on the eve of the largest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. As the post-WWII generation passes on, literally trillions of dollars will be passed on as well….”

Why do hypocrites worship every week? (5:1) James Sullivan’s (former president-BSSB) ancestors in wild pioneer days settled in Mississippi. Even in the church house, knives and fights broke out among the congregation. Dr. Sullivan tells the tale of a pastor relative who assembled the people to communicate God’s love: “He did not bother to call the law for protection. He simply armed himself with his own rifle and brought it to church. When the service began, he publicly laid it across the pulpit to keep order. System reigned from that time on. While he prayed during those tense [services] he would lay the rifle across the pulpit and would pray with one eye shut and one open. A curious friend asked him why, and received this terse explanation: “The Bible says, ‘Watch and pray.’ Given my circumstances I intend to do both-simultaneously.”

Why do families suffer? (6:3) I will never forget what a secretary friend said, “Through the years the definition of normal changes.” My friend, despite her difficult childhood, has raised a missionary, doctor, economics professor, and beautiful grandchildren. What is her secret? A simple love for God.

Why do bad things happen to good people? (8:14) Flipping through radio stations on my way home, I heard part of a Christian talk show. A caller phone to say that her infant had died. The mother stated, “My husband and I have gone through all the Scriptures and have prayed. But depression stays like a disease. What can we do?” The therapist asked, “How long has it been since your baby passed away?” “Eighteen months,” replied the mother. Then the therapist said something to the mother that almost stopped my car: “Eighteen months is a very short time to face anything. It usually takes four years. Life will never be the same again. Trust God. What you are looking for is a New Normal.”

Why do the young become old? (12:1-8) You know you’re growing old …

  • When you feel like the night before and you haven’t been anywhere.

  • When your little black book contains only names ending with M.D.

  • When you sit in a rocking chair and can’t make it go.

  • When your knees buckles and your belt won’t.

  • When your back goes out more than you do.

  • When you sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there.

  • When you turn out the lights for economic reasons rather than romantic ones.

  • When you step out of the shower, and are glad the mirror is all fogged up

  • When you lean over to pick something up off the floor, and you start wondering, “Now what else can I do while I’m down here?”

Solomon asked, “Why is life unfair?” God never answered. Instead, God explained how we can deal with unfairness. Have faith and love God.

“Why me?” Even when he felt like a dog, Solomon discovered the answer. There is hope. Hope for a living dog is better than a dead lion (9:4). Listen to Chuck Swindoll, “In barren times, the Spirit of God hasn’t necessarily lifted from us.” Faith and love for God will guide you into a New Normal that God will send as a gift to enjoy. [For God] has put eternity in [our] hearts. I know of nothing better, than to rejoice and do good in [our] lives (3:11-12). A.T. Pierson said, “The key to Ecclesiastes is that man is too big for this world.” Solomon is not offering the “help” of a winning lotto ticket, fountain of youth, or positive thinking. He is teaching us to have faith in God.

III. FINALLY, REPLACE WANDERING AS A VICTIM WITH WITNESSING FOR OUR LORD.

God as the only saving Shepherd finds us when we wander (12:11). This Shepherd died on the cross for His sheep and resurrected to return us to His fold (Jn. 10:11, Is. 53:6). God’s restoring love moved Solomon from a wandering victim to a witness. He wrote Song of Solomon as a young man, Proverbs at middle age, but Ecclesiastes as an old man. Ecclesiastes means “the assembler.” Solomon found his New Normal. Assemble people and communicate God’s love. He had climbed Fool’s Hill and scaled Stupidity’s Mountain. Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of a [worldly] desire (6:9). Out of his foolishness. Great communicators always assemble people to present God’s love.

Spurgeon, Metro Tabernacle, London: Received 14,700 new believers and/or members in 38 yrs.
Truett, First Baptist, Dallas: Received 19,531 new believers and/or members in 47 years.
R. G. Lee, Bellevue Baptist, Memphis: Received 23,721 new believers and/or members in 32 years.

Listen to R. G. Lee who numerically out assembled even C. H. Spurgeon and George W. Truett. “My ambition to be pastor of a big church,” said Dr. Lee, “ in a big city with its multitudes was not a little sapling but a tall redwood tree in the forest of my thinking. My purpose all along would not die down – a fire that needed no extra wood.” Dr. Lee communicated, “Saving souls was the life passion of Jesus. Saving souls was the only business big enough to bring Jesus out of heaven into this world of woe and wickedness.”Scripture quotations are from THE NEW KJV. Copyright @ 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers This was the fire God gave Solomon as a New Normal. This is the privilege God gives us.

Foolishness and life’s unfairness have a way of making normal life vanish. Through the Word and by faith we must simply love Christ as God. Life may never return to normal. But a New Normal that God will send is a gift to enjoy. This is a gift from God, because [He] keeps [us] busy with the joy of [our] heart (5:19-20). So remember, Ecclesiastes is for life’s emergencies. It is as though Solomon has placed it in a red fire alarm with the instructions: “ In case of emergency break glass!”

Written by Walter Jackson
Pastor, Judson Baptist Church
Nashville, TN.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Walter Jackson has been pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee since 1993. He holds a BA degree from Union University; a masters of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and a doctor of ministry degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Pam, have two children: Lauren and Austin.


Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry