Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom - Follow Your Heart?

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"Living from the heart is business — the business of caring for self and others. Understanding this will take us past the age of information into the age of intuitive living." - Doc Childre

I think Solomon and the rest of the Bible might disagree.


The concept of following your heart is something that has become increasingly common within our culture, specifically pop culture. From children's videos to movies and music, this is an oft repeated saying that is rooted in a certain view of humanity.


The idea that man is basically good arose in reaction to the over emphasis on man's depravity during the Middle Ages. While it should be noted that man is a valuable, image bearer of God, the fact remains that he is still marred by sin. This biblical truth is almost universally dismissed as archaic by most. Almost all recognize that mankind has issues, but those are believed to be the result of nurture rather than nature.

As we move into Ecclesiastes chapter 2 we get a glimpse into Solomon's decision to follow his heart. What we come to find is that, contrary to Doc Chidre's comment, when Solomon followed his heart he was self-absorbed rather than concerned with others. He served his own needs and pursued his own desires and, rather than being fulfilled and happy, what he found was only disappointment and despair.


The Test of Pleasure
Chapter 2 begins with Solomon's decision in his heart to "test" himself with pleasure. Following the flow of the text from chapter 1, this was clearly in response to his pursuit of academic knowledge. These intellectual pursuits only served to provide him with greater knowledge of the broken and crooked nature of the world (1:15, 18). Since intellectual endeavors didn't satisfy, perhaps gratifying his physical desires would.

He began by examining laughter and worldly joy. These were meaningless and accomplished nothing (2:2). He then turned to alcohol to intensify his experiences. In the midst of this drunken revelry he seemed to analyze himself and his experiences using the wisdom that God had given him (2:3). The analysis of his condition revealed that this too had failed to deliver the satisfaction and joy that he was seeking.


CRIBS: The B.C. Edition .


In 2:4 Solomon explains that he turned from revelry to great building projects. These would provide clearly attainable objectives that would give him temporary purpose and would lead to even greater sensual experiences and enjoyment upon their completion. He built a great palace that we know from 1 Kings 7 took 13 years to complete. The palace was furnished with gardens, vineyards, parks, and all kinds of fruit trees (2:5-6). This palace was stocked with servants he had purchased and his wealth included more flocks of animals than any other king to come before him (2:7).


Within this palace he fully indulged himself in sensual pleasures. He had wealth and treasure to feast his eyes upon as well as musical performers to keep him entertained. On top of that, he indulged himself sexually. The second half of 2:8 tells us about his harem. This was a group of women, probably wives and sex slaves, whose task was to satisfy the king's physical desires. There is no need to go into detail here but Solomon had the opportunity to indulge himself in every possible sexual experience.


Temporary Enjoyment

2:10 is a really important verse that is sometimes not emphasized when Solomon's experiences are referenced. Solomon very clearly states that he enjoyed all of the things he was doing. It's shocking I know, but apparently sex feels good, getting drunk is kind of fun, and being rich gives you the chance to own really cool stuff. There was definitely a short term gain for Solomon. He states that his heart took delight in all that he had done. The problem with the heart is that gratifying it's desires can only offer enjoyment in the short run.

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."

Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure?"

The problem with following our hearts is that they don't lead us to God. Proverbs 20:19 asks the above question. The answer, according to scripture, is that no one's heart is pure. We see this especially when it comes to relating to God. In Romans 1:18-32 tells us that man suppresses his knowledge of God and chooses to worship created things rather than the Creator. When man does this, his worship will almost always be directed towards himself. This worship manifests itself in many ways but especially sexually (Rom. 1:24-27).


As Solomon looked back on his pursuit of wealth and pleasure he honestly assessed the long term results. Nothing was gained and he was filled with an overwhelming sense of emptiness. He failed to see God as the giver of all good things and to enjoy the experiences of life from a position of worship. As we live a life of true worship we can enjoy life within the boundaries that God sets for our protection. As soon as we begin to live outside of worshipping the Lord we open ourselves up to long term disappointment and misery even if the short term of worshipping ourselves through sensual pleasure is enjoyable.


How has our thinking been impacted by the idea of following our hearts?

Are we enjoying the experiences of life from a position of worshipping God or ourselves?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ok, so he was French and a 5 Point Calvinist (ha ha ha), but he also had some really good things to say. Continuing with our study of the Reformers in World History, we have now arrived at Calvin. I'll share some selections with you guys over the next few days.

"Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant that you will be attracted, delighted, moved, and enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear; so that it is easy to perceive something divine in the sacred Scriptures, which far surpasses the highest attainments and ornaments of human history."
-Taken from Institutes, Volume I

I love that Calvin doesn't say not to read the famous writings of the secular world. He encourages us to read them and to appreciate them. He does, however, point out that we must always be captivated by the scriptures. When we study the Word and understand who God is based on His revelation, we can more clearly see Him in the writings of the secular world.

Who, no matter their field of study, could ever compose poetry, portray emotion in a novel, write of the natural world, or analyze human history without intentionally or unintentionally portraying some element of the divine? We can only come to this appreciation when we are allowing our minds to be transformed (Rom. 12:2) by the scriptures.

"These absurdities...are good trade, and procure a comfortable income to such priests and friars as by this craft they get their gain...What can be said bad enough of others who pretend that by the force of such magical charms, or by the fumbling over their beads in the rehearsal of such petitions (which some religious impostors invented, either for diversion, or, what is more likely, for advantage), they shall procure riches, honors, pleasure, long life, and lusty old age, nay, after death, a seat at the right hand of the Saviour?"
- Taken from In Praise of Folly (1512)










It's fascinating to me that the words of a man who lived so long ago can still ring so true today. Perhaps those of us who are followers of Jesus should be a bit more careful about who we give a mic. Maybe the church should spend more time reading dead guys than watching live ones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom

"What is twisted cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted."

Solomon's Advantages
Solomon closed the first section of Ecclesiastes with a lament about being forgotten after his death. This pessimistic look into his future is followed with a look back into his past. He reminds us of his high position in Israel as king (1:12) and goes on to explain that he sought to explore with his wisdom everything that a person could pursue in this life (1:13).
Solomon's wealth and power afforded him virtually unlimited resources to undertake this quest. There may be some alive today who have the wealth of Solomon, but none wield the absolute power he had. When he speaks to us about his search for meaning using unlimited power and means, we should pay attention. Unfortunately for Solomon all of this searching did not bring about the desired result. We have already been given his conclusion (1:2) and verse 13 begins his systematic overview of all of his areas of seach as well as things he learned along the way.
His careful examination of the human condition revealed what he considered to be a great burden (1:13). No matter what a person pursues in this life or how hard they pursue it, the ultimate result will be a sense of emptiness. A key phrase here again is under the sun. Meaning cannot be derived from experiences of this world alone.

The World is Jacked Up
If you don't believe that, you haven't watched a Tom Cruise movie lately. If you think the world is a great place, let me suggest you watch War of the Worlds or Mission Impossible 3. Terrible.
Solomon points out the messed up nature of things in verse 15. When we examine the world, we can't help but notice something is wrong. Things don't feel right. How did they get this way?
We are told in Genesis that after man sinned God cursed the ground. Romans 8:20 sheds more light on this curse. There we are told that "the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the one who subjected it." Our experience of reality, the world around us and our lives, has been "twisted". As 1:15 says, what is lacking cannot be counted. The life that God set before Adam and Eve was like a road that was simple to traverse. Man was to cultivate the Earth and his life which would be a joyous process inwhich man would partner with creation. Unfortunately, as a result of man's sin, the creation was cursed and now works against him. Despite the good that can be expereienced in the world, the road of life has been twisted and made crooked. That fact is, for Solomon and us, a tremendous frustration and burden (1:13).
Solomn's Pride/Wisdom/Disappointment
After Solomon observes the condition of the world, he returns to the recounting of his quest. In pride, he examines himself and concludes that he is more wise than any who have come before him (1:16). This scene is remeniscent of Nebuchadnezzar's prideful declaration that he had built Babylon the great with his own strength (Dan. 4:29-30). That statement preceded a great fall that eventually brought brokeness and humility. The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar involved him living life in madness as an animal. Interestingly, Solomon's experience would be somewhat similar and would bring humility and a turning towards God.
Solomon tells us that he decided to pursue both wise and foolish living (1:17). This verse is really a summary of all that is to follow in the book as he will go on to describe each of these pursuits in detail as well as the lessons he learned along the way. His ultimate conclusion is again repeated, all of his efforts were akin to attempting to catch the wind. The chapter itself concludes with a terribly sad but true statement.
"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief."
The more we come to know about the world around us and the older we get, the more we come to see the fallen condition of both the world and ourselves. Solomon pursued happiness, pleasure, and meaning in this life with limitless resources and power. All he got in return was misery and disappointment because this world and nothing in it can ever fully satisfy our deepest longings. C.S. Lewis made a similar observation in Mere Christianity.

"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was meant for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not mean that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."

Solomon mistakenly believed that he could find enjoyment and satisfaction through the various pursuits of life. He learns the hard way that the world is a broken place that cannot be enjoyed or truly experienced apart from knowing the one who made it.

I heard a preacher say it this way: Life is like a can of peaches. It can be sweet, delicious, and enjoyable as long as you can get to it. You can look at the picture on the outside and imagine the taste, but without a can opener you can't truly experience the peaches. Life is like a can of peaches, but apart from God giving us the ability to enjoy it, we will only experience a shadow of what it could be. Solomon came to the conclusion that he had to acknowledge God to find meaning and purpose but took the long, hard road to make that discovery.

Do we look for satisfaction in this world?
Do we believe that our wisdom, or wealth, or power will bring us joy in this life?

May we look to the Lord as the one who gives our lives meaning and may we in turn enjoy the work of our hands that He has placed before us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sermon Idea

I was sent this by my good friend Herr Reynolds and I thought it would be worth sharing because of its wit and wisdom (kind of a theme here). I teach something similar in my 9th grade Bible curriculum and I feel sure that at some point in the future I will preach a sermon on it. Until then, I'll leave it to the great theologian Craig Ferguson. He uses one or two "colorful" phrases so don't watch this with your kids.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My World History class is currently studying the Renaissance and the Reformation. This is a facinating time period in Christian history because of the unique individuals that were working towards new movements in theology as well as church reform.

One of these men was Desiderius Erasmus. Born in Rotterdam as the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest, he managed to become one of the leading Latin scholars of the Renaissance period as well as a covert church reformer. As I have been reading some of his writings I have come across several notable quotations that I thought would be interesting to share with you guys. Enjoy.

"Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plow and that the weaver might hum phrases of scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from scripture the weariness of his journey."
Taken from the preface of his 1516
version of the Greek New Testament.
What a convicting quote. We have come so far in our access to scripture, and yet we take that priviledge so lightly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom - Life: What's the point?

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

After identifying himself as the author, Solomon gets right to the point in 1:2 and shares the conclusion of all his efforts and pursuits. Not really a recipe for a best seller is it? Especially considering the titles of certain books that you find on shelves nowadays. So what is the role of such brutal honesty in our world of best sellers and self help gurus?
The world we find ourselves in today is an existential mess. We are constantly bombarded by messages that focus on our individual worth and desires. "Just do it", "Impossible is nothing", "Be yourself", "Have it your way", and others. We are also told by pop psychologists that self esteem is the primary thing we lack in dealing with our personal and relational struggles. The problem is that, with all of our focus on the individual, we have failed miserably to provide people with any life purpose or meaning that transcends their life experience or helps them to answer the big questions of life: Who am I? Where am I going? How should I live? Does any of this matter?
Right from the beginning, Solomon takes a sledgehammer to all of these ideas. Does life here on Earth have any meaning? The answer from Solomon is a resounding "NO!" If the message stopped here than we would have to question whether this should even be in the Bible. Solomon, however, qualifies this proclamation of meaninglessness by connecting it to an important concept.
"What does man gain for all of his labor at
which he toils under the sun?"

The concept of "under the sun" is vitally important to understanding the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes. The phrase itself is used 29 times throughout the book and illustrates that anyone searching for meaning within the realm of creation will remain unfulfilled despite his many pursuits. Real meaning can only be derived from outside of the temporal. The infinite must give meaning to the finite and therefore, in our quest for meaning, we must look to God alone.

Man vs. Wild
In verses 4-11 of chapter one Solomon takes up a lament for the finite nature of human life when compared with the seemingly infinite natural world.
"Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever."
Scientifically and theologically we know that the world is not eternal. Solomon's point is that people are born and people die, yet the earth they inhabit continues as if nothing has happened. When the lifespan of a person is compared with the "life span" of the earth, the earth wins. In a competition of man vs. nature, nature always wins.

Solomon's overview of various natural phenomena is meant to show that even in nature, nothing is ever really satisfied. He moves from there to illustrate this point about the longings of people. Just as nature is never satisfied and fulfilled, neither are people, especially when it comes to seeing and hearing (1:8). Because of this, people will continually search for something new even though their really is nothing that is new under the sun (1:9).

Exhibit A

I give you...dum dum dum dumb...THE RETURN OF 80's FASHION. Run for your lives. The picture on the left is taken from a 2009 women's fashion catalog and the one on the right is from an 80's workout video. Notice some similarities? Those of you who are a bit older have seen this happen numerous times.
And this is really what Solomon is talking about. There's nothing new under the sun, we just recycle old ideas and even old fashion. The people of Solomon's day were just like people are today, constantly seeking something new. As a result of never finding it, they recycled old things.
Solomon's conclusion in this section is that just as nature moves on relentlessly, so does life. For people, this life under the sun will bring us no real joy and in the end we will make no long term impact (1:11). If you look at history, who do we remember the most? Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Darwin, Nietzsche. Most of them are not remembered because of their positive contributions to humanity. So what does this all mean? What was God's purpose in having Solomon point out that we live, we die, and we are forgotten?
The Hebrew word that is translated as meaningless or vanity can also be rendered as "breath" or "vapor". The point that Solomon is making is that life lasts only for a short time. The world that we live in cannot offer us any meaning or purpose during this short time and so, as we will see, Solomon advises us to look outside of our world to God as the source of joy (2:25, 5:18, 8:15). Solomon rightly points out that most of us will probably never be remembered in this life, however, God is the one who does remember and judges and rewards accordingly (3:17, 12:13-14).

Let us take a look at ourselves and our lives. Do we buy into the various "meanings" the world offers us, or do we look outside of our experience to the Creator God as the one who can truly give our lives purpose?
How, and by whom do we want to be remembered? Do we seek the approval of a meaningless world or of the God who made it?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Caramel Apples!

When you get the craving... you gotta act on it! I'm a little late making these this year, but I had two senior girls come over and join me in making caramel from scratch, drooling over the finished product and eventually eating and slobbering on the apples.
It was great!

This one was made by Thad :) He was very excited about making them and ate all of his caramel leaving the apple.....
he's one smart cookie!

"I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties...So give your servant a discerning heart to
govern your people and to distinguish
between right and wrong."

It is with these words that Solomon, as a young man, began his reign as the last king of the unified Israel. God was pleased with Solomon's request and told him that as well as wisdom (1Kings 3:12) he would be granted both riches and honor (3:13). The rest of chapter 3 gives us insight into the wisdom of the man, chapter 4 gives us a glimpse of his unimaginable wealth, and chapter 6 describes for us Solomon's construction of the temple of the Lord.

It would seem logical that a man of such wisdom would have lived a life characterized by good personal choices. Unfortunately, we see that his life eventually became a great tragedy. He was a man of great wealth (7:1-12 describes the construction of his palace and 10:14-15 his yearly allowance of gold) and that afforded him the opportunity to pursue virtually any material thing he could ever have wanted. This, along with his inability to control his physical lusts, eventually bring destruction to his kingdom and separation in his relationship with God.

"The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice."

Chapter 11 gives us insight into his greatest failings as a man and servant of God. The chapter begins by telling us that he loved many foreign women (expressly forbidden by the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 7:3-4) and reveals that the turning of is heart away from the Lord would be the result. The extent of his perversion of God's original design for marriage is seen in 11:3 where we find that he had over 700 wives and 300 concubines. As he grew older, these women turned him to the worship and service of other gods. The Lord's anger burned against Solomon and yet He withheld his direct judgement until after Solomon's death. Even with the withholding of His active wrath, God punished Solomon with His passive wrath by removing enjoyment from Solomon's many sensual experiences.

Given the content and tone of the book, it seems clear that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes from the perspective of a broken down, unfulfilled, old man who is lamenting his wasted life. The book itself is a memoir of repentance as well as a warning to those who would travel the same meaningless paths that Solomon himself so vigorously tread. We should be thankful that the old king came to his senses and left a book that is incredibly straight forward and honest in its presentation.

The quest of philosophy throughout the last two millenia has been a search for truth, meaning, and purpose in life. It's amazing that the words of a man who lived in the 10th century B.C. could speak so clearly and directly to those themes today.

Are there certain choices that we have made and, like Solomon, need to repent of?

Do we learn from the poor choices we make and then share that wisdom with others?

Chapel & Ecclesiastes

Sometime towards the end of this past summer I decided that my times of speaking in chapel this year would revolve around teaching through a specific book of scripture. As I looked through scripture and sought the Lord's wisdom on the issue I eventually decided to teach through Ecclesiastes. So far we have gotten to chapter four over the course of 5 weeks spread throughout the past few months.

I also thought it would be cool for me to share summaries of the various themes and ideas from the book that we have been studying in our chapel times. So I guess this is really just a preview post for what we will call Wednesday Wisdom.

Fun side note: My buddy Jeff and I had a unique opportunity to contribute to a blog that is hosted out of NYC. Jeff and one of his friends were having dinner one night and began discussing Scientology. When his buddy found out about his fascination with the "religion" he asked if Jeff would be interested in crafting a blog post dealing with the subject. Jeff and I spent an afternoon working on it and the blog actually published it.

Here's a link: