The Futility of Knowledge and Wisdom

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.  Ecclesiastes 1:18 
These words were written by the sage and philosopher king, Solomon. They contradict the quote from Hannah Arndt and the spirit of the age. Whose words ring more real?  My money is on Solomon. 

But if his words are true, why are they true? Why does knowledge and wisdom increase sorrow. Isn’t it said that the solution for all human maladies is education?

Arndt’s statement assumes a good heart and that evil always redesides outside if me. Solomon knew that evil was innate in the human individual. (2 Chronicles 6:36). Just because we know does not mean we do. In fact knowledge has no power over the will. The human will, untouched by the divine influence of grace, is not naturally subject to the law of God. (Romans 7:13-25; 8:7).  We see this illustrated on the daily news. 

Therefore knowledge provides only a reason to do right.  It requires the will, empowered by divine grace from the Holy Spirit alone, to make knowledge beneficial and practical and real. 

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Vin Sculley or Tommy Lasorda?

The Dodgers are perhaps my second or third favorite major league basball team. I especially enjoyed watching them in the 1980s. (Maybe more because they beat Reggie Jackson and the Yankees when my KC Royals didn’t)  

Two of the greatest Dodger personalities of all time were Vin Sculley and Tommy Lasorda. Sculley was the Shakespeare of Baseball commentary calling Dodger games for over 50 years.  Lasorda, a hall of fame coach with multiple World Series wins. How do these two men relate to my blog today on preaching?  Keep these two men in mind as I explain. 

As a preacher I want to be open to discovery and improvement. Honestly if I don’t occasionally experience some improvement in my preaching my ministry becomes stale. 

Today as I was studying for my Sunday morning message, I realized a weakness I have in sermon formatting and composition. I shy away from offending my hearers by presenting truth in a sterile format. I use the third person instead of the first or second person. This permits the listener to remain on the outside as an observer rather than forcing them to step inside the message as a participant. 

It’s the difference between a Sculley and a Lasorda. Sculley sits in the booth and talks to the fans about the game, the players, the strategies, the rules, etc. He may be considered an expert but he is distant and removed from the game. He works to be objective and report on the game as a third person. Sculley uses words like “they and he.”  “He was behind the pitch.” “They need to play harder.” The Sculley, as good as he is, is still outside the game.  

But Lasorda was in the game.  He cared more about the outcome of the game than Sculley.   His job security and future negotiating leverage was at stake. So he addressed players directly.  He used “you” more than the Scully did. “Here’s what YOU need to do.”  Here’s how YOU can inprove.”  Lasorda got personal. And sometimes offended players. 
And that’s why I avoid the Lasorda approach and favor the Sculley approach. I want to explain truth without becoming offensive.  But I’m learning that this approach creates fans who know the game, can discuss strategies, and watch victories;  it does not develop players who are playing the game, living out the life, experiencing victory. 

So in order to become more effective in my preaching, and develop players instead of just fans, I will need to change my pronouns, get more personal and think more like Tommy Lasorda. 

Sunday Synchronicity

For many years it seemed that my activities and experiences on Sunday were out of synch with my life the remainder of the week. Sunday life means attendance at church where we sing hymns, receive communion, give an offering and hear a sermon.  Since these are strictly Sunday activities it  felt as if  my spiritial life  didn’t fit with or was foreign to “normal” life. But is this accurate?  I’ve begun to challenge that notion. 

Just because Sunday activities are different than Monday thru Saturday activities doesn’t make Sunday life out of synch with the rest of our week. In fact, a very strong case can be made that worship activities on the Lord’s day contributes to a more synchronized life rhythm. Worship without labor becomes irrelevant or at least unproductive; but labor without worship deteriorates into a chasing of the wind. We need both work and worship to be balanced. In fact, a truly Christian worldview attaches spiritual value to every mundane task-even that of eating and drinking. 

With that said, most days my heart prefers the rhythm of Sunday. 
 

Surprises in Scripture

Anyone who takes time to read the Bible with an open and hungry heart will occasionally encounter verses that jump off the page, stand up and demand attention. This happemed to me this morning as I was reading Isaiah 8. A verse I had never noticed suddenly caught my attention. Today’s blog addresses this phenomenon. 

Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 AMPC

http://bible.com/8/heb.4.12.AMPC

The power and mystery of this phenomenon is explained by the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is full of verses waiting to be released upon our hearts. But my question for today is,  “why does this phenomenon happen?”  

The Holy Spirit, who applies truth to our minds knows exactly what we need at any given time. So when a verse I’ve never noticed before surprises me, I can be sure the Holy Spirit is communicating with me along a line of thought that I need to hear and apply. He knows my thoughts, my struggles, temptations and inner arguments. He uses the Word to awaken my heart to His truth. At that point it’s critical for me to stop reading and allow the truth to sink into my heart. If there is something for me to do differently, I need to obey. If it is a point of encouragement, I need to take heart. 

The bottom line is we never know when the Holy Spirit will cause a passage to come alive to us suddenly. But when it happens, He is speaking His truth into a need we have at that moment and it would benefit us to pay attention. 

Having Grace

Grace as a human quality is resiliency in trouble; it is kindness in response to criticism;  gentleness returned for harshness. It is treating others well when they haven’t earned it. 

Grace is not a natural human quality. Gracious living is only possible when we ourselves receive grace from God first. No grace coming in means no grace going out. Supernatural grace to respond in kindness, gentleness and resiliency comes by the disciplines of prayer, humility and servitude. 

Oh how we need grace! 

A Theologian Learns to Preach

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I’ve been thinking lately about how my preaching style has changed recently. In previous pulpits, I considered myself to be more of a theologian. My mission with each sermon was to get people to appreciate, embrace and conform to the deep rich truths of doctrine. While it still matters to me that my preaching be Biblically sound and theologically true, I have come to see my listeners less as students needing educated and more as sheep needing nurtured and fed.  So I’m finding that my sermons are less systematic but more human.  Less philosophical and more practical.

That being said, I still long to be able to better connect the average pew sitter with doctrinal glory. For instance whose soul wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be aroused upon contemplation that Jesus is God incarnate;  that Scripture is the literal and perfect message of God to mankind; that communication with God is not just possible but can be a regular occurrence, accompanied by the inner assurance that God has heard your prayer and is already at work?  

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Truly we might reason that anyone content to maintain a poker face while being drenched in the eternity of God just might be a spiritual  swine unworthy of sacred pearls. 

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So how can the minister who is trained in the divine doctrines present the Word in a manner which magnifies the glories of Christianity without oozing his hubris or confusing his hearers? 

First it must be said that theology  must be couched in application. Truth is not given for the mind alone but for the heart and hands. Even the most theological of theological truths can be applied. Take for example the great truth of election. Scripture explains that God chose to save us (Eph 1:4; 1 Thess 1:4. 1 Peter 1:2). The point of this doctrine is not that some are elected and some are not. Rather election means God was not obliged or tricked  into saving us.  Salvation is intentional. Therefore our salvation was not accidental. It was not coincidental. It was planned and we were chosen by God. One application we can make is that we should resist the urge to take credit for our salvation.  Without Him choosing us we could never be saved. Further we should act out our salvation in the light that God is not just tolerant of us but has embraced us purposefully. This should produce humble confidence and joy in us.

Secondly? we cannot avoid theology or doctrine in Scripture. Every passage is by nature theological. Thoughtful prayer can Illuminate our spirit and mind to see how the theology of each passage applies to life. Theology is so often like a code which underlies a software program–invisible but necessary for the software to operate correctly.

Lately in sermon preparation, I have been letting the theology and doctrine come to me rather than me seeking it out. My focus has been more on the message to the heart and as I find that message, usually a great theological truth emerges for exploration. 

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To avoid over salting our sermons with theological hubris or spiritual pride, I recommend that we guard our use of technical terms unnecessry for clear communication. The use of terms like sublapsarianism, Docetism, or anthropomorphic may be appropriate in a lecture format where we may be trying to stretch and inform students but our sermons are not typically expected to be lectures. John Wesley described a good sermon as “sublimity and simplicity together, the strongest sense and the plainest language!”  His practice was to read his sermon to a servant who would stop him each time he used a term she did not know. At which he would change his term to a simpler one.

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Isham Holland, patriarch preacher of the Church of God (Holiness), once said that a sermon is supposed to help people.

In closing let it be said that where theology and doctrine arises let us not insist it sit down. And where it is content to remain silently present in sitting position let us not draw undue attention to it. Let our sermons be messages linking sublimity with simplicity.  Let our sermons help people. Let our sermons be more like a floodlight enlightening the pathway of people and less like a fireworks display which captures their attention for a few moments, only to fade from the longterm memory of the listener.