Archive for April, 2012

Two Wise Men Got into an Argument…

April 28, 2012

It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.  Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools.  This too is meaningless.

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.  Ecclesiastes 7:5-7.

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves, if with no one else, and just bring it out in the open: all of us can be bought with something.  It might be value by another person we respect, money—which can be for security or pleasure—respect itself, power, and the list could go on and on.  Until we understand where we are vulnerable, we remain a danger to ourselves spiritually—and even knowing doesn’t guarantee the danger is over.  A sinner cannot save or change him- or herself because “Without me you can do nothing,” as our Master made so poignantly clear.  The branch gets its nourishment from the tree or main vine, without which it withers.

The song of fools sounds like a great song title and subject to explore (guess what I’m gonna do with it), but the imagery of the thorns crackling under the pot didn’t make clear sense until I started writing this post just now.  Those thorns under the pot are burning up; they are on fire.  In a way, Solomon might be suggesting anyone looking just to party their life away will burn, and burn out eventually—sooner rather than later.  In the mean time their lives will be a fog, indistinct and numb.  Laughter which doesn’t come from a happy, joyful place internally cannot be serious happiness but is merely a veneer we put over “life” to distract ourselves from whatever we feel is boring, dull or depressing.  In other words, we use the words “really living” to point to the exciting things we do rather than the responsible life we live.  The former are the hilltops; the latter the rest.  Yet “really living” isn’t just the peaks in what we call “life”, it’s the whole journey.

Notice Solomon doesn’t stop with the wise man’s rebuke and the emptiness of a fool’s laughter.  He moves on to tackle a subject most of the powerful would probably rather he leave alone.

A fool is one who is morally or spiritually compromised, meaning doing something shady for their own gain.  A wise person who chooses extortion (which implies not only theft by exorbitant graft but deception and oppression as well) in order to benefit themselves will be transformed into a fool.  It’s foolish to believe we can benefit ourselves at the expense of others and not pay for our sins eventually.  It never works that way because someone always pays.

I know the following thought might not seem comforting but it is for me:  Even the wise like and need to feel good, secure and happy.  I don’t know that they would essentially sell their souls to get any of those things, but since they are human just like the rest of us and crave to matter as well as do something with people who matter to them.  Most of us don’t feel comfortable enough with the opinions or possible reactions of others to confess our constant need for wisdom in all areas.  Some of us have established a line in the sand or built fences as boundaries around ourselves to demarcate what is right and wrong, but it doesn’t stop us from craving or indulging in many of the things we preach against.

I remember hearing about Jimmy Swaggart before his big scandal hit.  I couldn’t listen to him at all because all he talked about was how sinful everything was and the need to repent.  It wasn’t that I disagreed with him entirely but more a sense that this man was obsessed with one aspect of human nature.  When his secret became public I understood who he was preaching to—himself.  His guilt destroyed any amount of joy or contentment he could have as well as creating guilt in thousands of loyal followers in the meantime.  His situation and many since then (and long before) give me the reason to live openly while being cautious with what I reveal.  I am a sinner.  Accept it.  Get over it.  Know I intend to grow.  Also realize that I’m not gonna’ just get rid of all my sin at once and neither are you; that’s why there’s grace, my friends.

We don’t sin because of grace, we have grace because we sin.  I’m not talking about lust, greed, gluttony, lying, etc, but rejecting God as Master and Lord of our lives.  The Pastor at Bridge City here in Milwaukie, OR, said something quite profound that I will have to paraphrase,  “If you believe in any part of you that you can please God or do something to make yourself better by your own efforts, you have essentially dethroned Him as God and placed Him as lower than your own ability.”  There was a lot more along that line, suffice it to say I don’t believe anyone is sinless this side of the re-creation of all things.  Sin is putting us, someone or something else in God’s place as the commander and chief of our choices and actions.  Any time we mess with God’s place, we destroy our ability to depend on Him.

What we can do for ourselves is submit to Him.  That’s the hard work, quite frankly.  Sin itself isn’t the wrong we do, that’s the malignant growth on an organ or body part which is the evidence of it.  No, sin is rejection of God as God.  The reason a wise man becomes a fool is he or she decides to become commander and chief of their own lives.

In this light we have no right or place to condemn (a type of judgment) anyone else for their fallen state.  It doesn’t mean we excuse or support their bad habits or choices, but neither should we place ourselves on any sort of pedestal to shake our moral finger at them.  Without Jesus we are all lost.  Without His saving grace, none of us would know mercy.  Those who understand grace know mercy and practice it.

The End of Wisdom

April 20, 2012

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Ecclesiastes 7:7.

What could turn a wise man to accept a bribe or begin extorting from others? Greed.

A Good Name

April 13, 2012

A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.  Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

 

Working at a good name takes perspiration more often than not, for there are plenty of people out there with reputation hatchets willing to chop your actions up or give them a slant they don’t deserve.

So now you know my first reaction to the text centered on the reputation thing…

My second reaction turned to the context and connections a good name came with.  I don’t think Solomon’s purpose is to just randomly throw out platitudes, though these ideas might seem to have nothing to do with a good name.  The rest of verse one and the other three turn our attention to death, sorrow and the attitude of the wise.  It is no coincidence he first speaks of a good name then turns our attention to the place of death and sorrow.

The idea being to show what is good in life while revealing the only way to appreciate it fully.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.  The word “fools” as we discussed before is one who is morally deficient.  The heart of a person is the essence of their being (the self) in a sense; the mind and attention, if you will.  It’s the essence of the internal person.  So the wise think about the reality with a certain soberness in order to bring value to living as much as possible.  The fools chase pleasure as if it were the answer to the futility wise men speak of so eloquently.  Now this doesn’t mean wisdom keeps laughter at bay rather it means we don’t lose sight of reality for the sake of a laugh.

Solomon declares that neither wisdom nor foolishness actually solves the problem of death and loss—that which makes everything meaningless—however, pursuing wisdom and healthy enjoyment of everything being “alive” means brings a specific fulfillment to it the other won’t.  If I plant good things into my son, on my deathbed with him near me I’ll be able to see the fruit of my work in him.  Passing on the value of life and living in such a way as to value those along the road is the point.

Knowing the destiny of every man doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be morose and I don’t get this from the author’s diatribe on laughter’s comparison to the crackling of thorns either.  What makes more sense is that fools pursue pleasure minus substance of reality.  A person who drinks alcohol for enjoyment does so in moderation in order to also enjoy other things; a person who drinks alcohol for any other reason tends to be headed for disaster.  Narcissists have a propensity for excess, all for the sake of feeling good or getting whatever high they can sustain.  That’s why people stay drunk for long periods of time, they want to sustain their “high” indefinitely. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that once we remain intoxicated or high at a certain level it begins to feel “normal” which means to feel any different we have to do more to notice a change.

Fools look for the sustained high and do their best to make that the norm of life.  Unfortunately, they either ignore or refuse to deal with the variety in life.  For instance, not to be gross, but when we eat food or drink water we must eliminate it sometime then repeat.  The wonderful tastes we put in our mouth must also hold some nutrition or we are taking in empty calories.  Children don’t care because they would eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; conscientious parents recognize this and make candy or sweets a reward for eating other foods more nutritious.  There’s nothing wrong with candy as a treat but it can’t be a meal.  Fools, however, believe or want to believe they should always get candy and nothing else.

Death is the destiny of everyone, therefore recognizing it either brings despair or purpose.  A person who gives into despair might become bitter, or they might just go narcissistic.  The motives won’t matter to the outcome really because both mindsets (and everything else in between) end with death and no quality of life.  Those who find a purpose learn to enjoy everything life offers while they live.  This attitude doesn’t single out one specific thing and obsess over it but concentrates on bringing quality living to all aspects.  Since we are alive and here on earth, the purpose minded decide to make the best of the few years given by creating a good name and heritage.

As followers of Jesus we do this in His context, with His mindset and attitude.  Our lives are not futile nor are we hopeless anymore.  So, understanding what life is without the hope of the cross opens our minds up to what a gift we have been given in Christ Jesus.