Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The greatest business advice I ever received

Ecclesiastes has several key words and phrases. Most notable among them is "all is vanity." Vanity means empty, useless, void of meaning. It is despair. It is like someone saying, "Well, that was a waste of time."

Another key phrase is "under the sun." There are disagreements about what is meant by this phrase. It was suggested to me that it refers not only to human life, but to a humanistic view of life. In other words, it is a view of life that does not consider the eternal. That might be. Solomon did live as carnally as anyone ever did.

One of the key words is "business." Business refers to the things men must do, and choose to do. Twice he refers to this life as an "unhappy business" (Ecc. 1:13; Ecc .4:8). He implies that there is such a thing as too much fun (Ecc. 2:2), and that we are better off attending funerals than parties (Ecc. 7:2).

This life is an unhappy business. That is not to be morose or fatalistic, per se, but to be realistic. It is by design. God cursed Adam, Eve, the serpent, and "the ground because of [Adam]" (Gen. 3:17-19). The earth is under a curse - the curse of sin. It hurts. It is supposed to be unhappy. It was God's design following sin.

Much of what men do is an unhappy business because they want life on earth to be optimal, and it fails, repeatedly. Futility is built-in. It is the consequence of sin.

I would not encourage that men stop trying to improve earthly life, just to refrain from obsession, or from making that an end in itself. It is important to maintain this perspective because all attempts at improvement fail at times. Some will only ever fail (like designing the perfect government).

Ecclesiastes is the reminder of the fragility and futility of earthly life. This is not the place where dreams are made. It is the place where dreams are crushed, hopes are dashed, and expectations are not met. It is a cursed planet full of sin. Why should we expect anything more?

You may think that I've lied to you, that I am being morose and fatalistic. To that I would answer: no more morose or fatalistic than God.

There are momentary joys in this life, but under the sun, none of them are abiding.

A modern phrase that would summarize much of what Solomon wrote is: life is unfair. That is correct. That doesn't mean it is never enjoyable, or that there is no happiness to be found, or that life isn't worth living. But it is still unfair.

Crimes occur, they go unpunished, otherwise good people are hurt. There is theft, loss, disappointment. There are inexplicable horrors and random tragedies.

Life is short, stressful, and unfair. It is completely counter-intuitive to our hearts, because we were made for endless fellowship and joy. So something is off-kilter, and we know it. It's just hard to put our finger on.

We seek to remedy the sense of imbalance we experience. The world is beautiful and meaningful to the eye, but everything seems wrong to the heart. It is as if we are living in an alternate universe.

Close. We are living in an altered universe.

We attempt to restore order by creating procedures to correct, medicines and therapies to treat, and vaccines to prevent. These are all amazing. These, through our feeble efforts, reflect the goodness and glory of our benevolent Creator, whose heart is hidden deep within all of ours.

But one day, the unhappy business will conclude. Life under the sun will be no more.

What to do? Keep living. Keep trying. Life under the sun is still life and it is precious.

But more importantly: Remember the Creator. As soon as possible. The cursed land of sin and disappointment will jade you. It will tell you: Forget God. But you? Remember God instead (Ecc. 12:1-8).

Fear the Creator. Tremble at the God who has the power to curse an entire universe. Tremble at the God whose wrath against sin is held by the dam of mercy, but only for a while. Tremble at the God who tests the hearts, and who will judge them by His Son (Ecc. 12:14; Acts 17:30-31).

Obey the gospel of His Son (Rom. 10:17; John 8:24; Luke 13:3-5; Mark 16:15-16), and live your days in the fear of God.

This is man's most pressing concern. This is his true happiness.

This, is his business (Ecc. 12:13).

Friday, January 6, 2017

Time and chance

Life is like a card game: you can't choose the cards that are dealt, you can only choose how to play them.

Some people never seem to get a good hand. Some people seem to have all the luck.

But reality is somewhere between; all lives have parts of both - like what Forrest Gump famously said about boxed chocolates. 

Solomon said, "time and chance happen to [us] all" (Ecc. 9:11).

Though true, for a child of God there is a force greater than time or chance, and that is God's Providence.

The fact that God is on our side means that time can be made to stand still (Josh. 10:12-14), and that even chance must ask God's permission to fall upon us (Romans 8:32-39).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Topical preaching has a valid context

Context, context, context. Context is so important.

However, some seem to think that topical sermons, which usually do not explore the immediate context of a statement or phrase, or "proof-texting," in which an individual cites a verse or two in proof of a point, are invalid forms of biblical presentation because they are too (seemingly) divorced from the immediate context.

Shakespeare famously wrote, “I am constant as the northern star” (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1). It is a statement of hubris made by Julius. But the constancy of the northern star already has relevant meaning apart from this context, valuable and interesting as it is. One may describe a person’s faithfulness as, “constant as the northern star,” utilizing the Shakespearian quote, while never even mentioning the context of the play.

Likewise, a presentation entitled, "She did what she could" (Mark 14:8) may not deeply explore the whole chapter, setting, background, parallel accounts of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. However, it is a great acclimation of the value of serving Christ mightily. Relevant points can easily be developed from this statement, and much good can come of it. 

I'm certainly not attempting to make the case that it is a good approach to every sermon, just that it can be relevant as a biblical presenatation.

One of the greatest sermons I ever heard was called “Weighed in the balances – and found wanting.” The text was Daniel 5:27, but the context from which the statement came was only glossed over for a minute at the beginning, to springboard into three relevant points drawn from the same principle. It was still a masterpiece.

Of course, context should not be abandoned altogether, and expository preaching/study is an excellent form of communicating the text - perhaps the most excellent form; but remote and immediate context doesn’t always need to be explored deeply to make a valid biblical point in a presentation. 

The fact is, a topical sermon does have a context, it is just larger than a single statement, or a chapter, or a book. It is developed within the broader context of human redemption revealed on the pages of all Scripture. 

And that is a valid context.