Are You Communicating?

loudspeaker-1459128_1280Introduction

How long should it take you to make three points to an audience that is more or less acquainted with your subject matter? Three minutes? Fifteen minutes? How about 45 minutes, or maybe 60 minutes?

I’m thinking of a particular talk that I listened to, once. The speaker told us that he would be giving us three basic points to think about, then dived into his subject with as much zest as a small boy eating his first chocolate bar. He gave us background and foreground, and buttressed his argument with various quotes and evidence of all sorts. After going over his time limit by about 20 minutes, he eventually sat down. The moderator, of course, lauded his efforts properly with appropriate figurative pats on the back.

I was curious, however, as to how many people actually understood what had been said, so I discreetly asked some people what the speakers three main points had been. Interestingly, half of the people I asked apparently didn’t remember a single point. The other half remembered one, but only in a general way. Incidentally, I couldn’t remember all three of them myself, since they had become so buried in the speaker’s brilliant verbosity, that they had vanished from my memory.

I am forced to conclude that the speaker’s preparation time had been mostly wasted, as had the time the audience spent listening to him.

So how do we avoid this? The following points mostly apply equally to writing and public speaking, though they may need to be applied differently. But for the sake of clarity, I will refer to speaking.

Create an Outline

Creating an outline should be close to the beginning of your preparation. You may want to jot down a bunch of ideas first, but then sort them into a sensible sequence. Choose three or four main ideas, then use the rest of your points as sub points. If they don’t fit, drop them. Most people won’t remember more than three or four main ideas from a presentation.

Creating an outline forces you to be systematic in your presentation. It also forces you to evaluate each point to see if it even belongs in your outline.

You should consider handing out copies of your outline if it is important that people remember what you said. Not everyone takes good notes.

Be Brief…

The oft repeated advice to public speakers is: Stand up, speak up, then shut up. In other words, avoid the bunny trails, the clichés, and the unnecessary clutter – if it doesn’t further the purpose of your presentation, don’t say it. Unnecessary clutter only drowns out your message.

Going overtime is rude, counterproductive, and unnecessary. If your talk is scheduled to close down at 2:45, you will start to lose the attention of your audience at about 2:46. By 2:50 people will be squirming. By 3:00 they will need to go to the bathroom. By 3:15 they will be utterly antagonistic to anything you have said all afternoon.

One way to avoid going overtime is to schedule yourself. If you have three points to give and a half hour to give them in, each point can be ten minutes long. Jot down the approximate beginning and ending time for every point in your notes, and check your time at the end of every point. This will keep you from talking for twenty minutes on the first point and then only having five minutes available for each of your next two points. Remember to schedule time for closing remarks and your final summarization.

…and Concise

Your choice of vocabulary counts as part of being concise. Rudolph Flesch said that you should always chose the simplest word that will say what you want to communicate. That’s a bit hard on the ego, because vocabulary is one way of proving to your crowd that you are an expert. But in reality, your purpose for being there is to communicate those three points, not to promote your ego. So either use simple words, or define your words with simple and concise words. If it takes more than a sentence or so to define a word, find a way to avoid using it, unless you know for sure that your audience will understand it.

Be Relevant

Who are you talking to? First graders? University graduates? It will make a difference!

If your subject is assigned, hopefully it is relevant. But if you are coming up with your own subject, be sure that is of either general interest, or general use, to your audience. There is little use in speaking to an operations crowd about theoretical subjects or abstract ones, even if the subject is your pet one. If you don’t have the expertise or personal interest in subjects relevant to your audience, refuse the assignment.

Ask Questions

Questions are a good way to get your audience thinking, or to get their attention. Just make sure that your questions relate to the subject at hand. I asked a group one time how many of them were taking my class because they had to. Every hand went up. It was a depressing start to what could have been a good time.

It is a good idea to introduce every main point with a question, if possible. The question can be rhetorical, or if the setting is informal, you can go for an actual answer from the audience. Just be sure not to lose control of your presentation, if you ask for audience input.  Questions are a great way to keep everyone with you and thinking.

Use Visual Aids

Visual aids are one good way to gain and maintain an audience’s attention. People will remember points they both see and hear for much longer than points that they just hear. One of the simplest ways of doing this for a small crowd is to use a white board or chalk board and write down every main point as you introduce it. Leave them on the board until the end of your talk so that they have a chance to soak in.

White boards have become pretty old fashioned however, and you should become acquainted with power point presentations and their use. This allows you to use charts and diagrams, illustrations, and bullet points to get your points across. The days of ad lib presentations are pretty well over, and people expect you as a speaker to do your homework if they are to listen to you.

 Summarize

Can you tell me in one sentence, or short paragraph, what are trying to tell me in your speech or essay? That is what you want me to learn, and what I should carry away from your presentation. If you can’t tell me what that is, I probably won’t figure it out either. In fact, it’s a good idea to introduce your presentation, and end it, with a brief summary of what you are saying. Give the three main points you are trying to make, at the beginning, and at the end, as well as emphasizing them during your presentation.

After all, what is the use of spending half an hour telling a group something they won’t remember?

Pornography and Lust

Pornography when it has conceived gives birth to lust. And lust when it is fully grown brings forth death. (See James 1:15, ESV)

An Illustration

A few years ago, a young man sat down at his father’s computer to do some writing. But while he was looking for a document, he saw a file name that caught his attention. He clicked on it and was floored by the lewd picture that flashed up on the screen. He had never seen anything like it and the shock made him feel weak inside.

He quickly clicked on the little X and the picture vanished. But he noticed that the folder where he had found it was full of files. He hesitated, then reached slowly for the mouse…

keyboardSeveral hours later he reached the end of the folder and shut down the computer. He felt sick, literally sick, as he sat there staring with glazed eyes at the blank screen. Finally, he stumbled away from the computer, his face hot and burning.

He could hardly eat. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t read his Bible, and he couldn’t pray. The lewd pictures he had seen had seared themselves indelibly on the memory plates of his mind and they followed him everywhere he went. They danced in front of his eyes, despite his best attempts to forget. They raised desires within him that he couldn’t handle. Finally, in desperation, he went to talk with his pastor.

His pastor helped him to find peace again, and to regain his victory, though he would struggle with the aftermath for years. But one of the questions his pastor asked him was, “How did those pictures get on your father’s computer? You didn’t put them there, did you?” He hadn’t thought of that, and his pastor saw the shocked look that crossed his face. There was only one possible answer.

His father.

A Word to Women

Men are created differently from women. If you are a woman reading this, you need to realize this before you can understand the struggles your boy friend, your husband, or your sons might be going through. Or even your Christian brothers who go to church with you. And certainly, the ungodly man across the street.

Most women, especially Christian women, are disgusted when they see lewd sights, whether in pictures, or in real life. Women have their temptations, but they are based more on the sense of touch and their emotions. Men are attracted by these things as well, but they are especially attracted by what they see. You should consider this when you make or buy your clothing. While it is a sin for a man to lust after you, do you really want to be responsible for stirring up that lust in his heart? Isn’t that a sin too? It isn’t showing Christian love to your brothers in Christ to dress or act in a way that will cause them to struggle with sin.

Unfortunately, more and more women are getting sucked into the pornography trap as well. In some cases, these are gay, which opens a different door. But the same warnings apply to you as men, if you fall into the grips of pornography.

Meet the Octopus

Pornography has become North America’s 7th largest industry according to one source. The young man in our opening account didn’t intend to sin when he sat down at his father’s computer. And the first picture he saw probably didn’t make him sin. But once he clicked on that second picture, he rapidly became powerless. The pictures drew him right in, like an octopus wrapping its slimy and sticky tentacles about him. There was a moment or two that he could have fled. But when he gave in and opened that second picture, then the third one, then the fourth one, faster and faster in his feverish rush to see more and more—he was doomed. The octopus snapped its beak in glee. Another juicy, tasty victim to gloat over and devour slowly in the days and weeks to come.

Pornography is one of the devil’s most successful tools. If he can trip a father, he might be able to trip a son. And one son may induce another one, or a friend. Worse yet, if he can trip a pastor, he may be able to tear a whole congregation apart. Pornography effectively neuters a man’s manhood, especially if he is a Christian. He will not be able to look a woman in the eyes or face himself in the mirror. Deep inside, he knows that he is just a beast, living by his beastly desires. Slowly, but surely, the octopus sucks him in. By the time he gets his eyes off the bait and sees his doom, it is too late. His marriage has been destroyed, his children despise him, and worst of all, he has lost his relationship with his God.

You can find a lot of statistics about this epidemic that is slowly destroying the manhood in our nations. Various studies will give various statistics, but all of them are bad. According to a poll taken by Josh McDowell Ministry for a conference in 2016, 47 percent of men and 12 percent of women in general society seek out porn on a regular basis. We might expect that from today’s sinful society, and I’ve read worse statistics than that. But the same poll discovered that 27 percent of born again, practicing Christian men and 6 percent of born again, practising Christian women[i] also deliberately seek out porn at least once or twice a month.[ii]

It is not for nothing that King David vowed that he would not set any evil thing in front of his eyes. (see Psalms 101:3a) He knew from bitter experience what would happen if he did. (See 2 Sam 11) If you give in to the deathly influence of porn, you will learn it as well.

Victims of the Octopus?

Few people are victims of pornography from one perspective. Normally people fall into this trap by their own choices in life. In that sense, you can’t really call yourself a victim. But in another sense, every person falling prey to the octopus of pornography is a victim because once you get tangled in it’s tentacles, you are pretty well helpless. Without outside help of some sort, you doomed to a lifetime of misery.

But not everyone looks at it that way. Victims of the octopus fall into several categories. The first category is Christian men and boys who have fallen, for some reason or other. The boy in our opening account is an illustration of that. Normally, such victims will be tortured enough by their conscience that they will eventually go for help. They will hate the trap they are in. They will plead with God for deliverance, and ask for forgiveness when they fall. This essay is for people like you, if you fall into this category. Please read it carefully and allow God’s Spirit to direct you to the help you need. Thank Him for your conscience! It will drive you to find a way of escape.

But there is another category of “victims” today. These are the men and boys (along with some women) who don’t hate their bondage. Instead, they want more, and MORE. They get a thrill out of watching pornographic videos and looking at lewd pictures. They may joke about their addiction and shamelessly trade internet links with other people. They seldom go looking for help to escape their addiction because they don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

Unless such people fall at the feet of Jesus in repentance, they have no hope of escaping eternal judgment. Read Jude 12 – 16.

There is one final class of victims, and they are truly victims. A growing segment of teenagers were introduced to pornography at the age of 12 or younger. By the time they reach their upper teens, or before, pornography and immorality has become a daily habit. For such people, their normal desires soon grow into uncontrollable passions. It is important for parents to make sure that their children are not inadvertently placed in such a situation.

The power of God is sufficient to save and deliver any sinner, even from the obsessions of pornography and uncontrollable passions. But in some cases, it can be very long and difficult process.

From Innocence to Addiction

In a Christian setting porn addiction rarely starts with actual porn. It is more normal for teenagers to get started by reading romance novels that include a few borderline scenes that awaken their curiosity. Or, in some circles, it may start with YouTube videos containing a few somewhat raunchy scenes. The devil is very patient. He will stalk his victims for years, if necessary.

Adults for instance may get started by reading news sites on the internet. The article they are reading may be fine, but it may include sideline material that can draw you deeper and deeper, from one site to another. Before you realize it, you are looking at material that isn’t much different from some of the softer porn. In almost all cases, curiosity is the key word that starts the downhill trail. This is true for almost all ages.

Porn has been a problem ever since grocery stores started installing magazine racks. But the internet has increased the porn epidemic dramatically. Probably a third of internet traffic is porn related.

Smartphones have become one of the greater impetuses behind the porn epidemic. People can get porn on their smartphones and view it in secret. They can share it with friends. They can bookmark it for viewing later. Plus, not only can teenagers use their phones to view porn sites, but more and more they are using them to swap pornographic pictures of themselves with others.

And far to often these things infiltrate Christian churches and homes. So, what can we do?

Band-Aids?

Some churches react to today’s internet and technology threats by rejecting technology completely. That seldom works for long, because most people will be forced to rub shoulders with it somewhere or other. It is better to understand the dangers so that people can cope with them when they face them. But it is one way of dealing with it. And some men may need to do this to be victorious.

Other congregations ask that their people install filters and accountability support systems on their computers and phones. Accountability helps a lot when temptation comes along and you are only one click away from the octopus. But remember, when a man wants to sin, he will always find a way to do it. You must deal with the “want to” in your heart. Build up a relationship with your Savior that is so strong that you want to please Him more than you want to gratify your lusts and desires.

Don’t ever allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that these temptations are innocent and a normal part of life. Many a man has been pulled into the mire by the octopus and destroyed. You could be the next one. Read Proverbs 6:23 – 29.

Only One Solution

There is nothing wrong with using aids like I mentioned in the last section, but I only know of one solution that really works. That is for men to fall at the feet of Jesus and repent of their sin. Repent of the looks they sneak at women passing by. Repent of the pictures and videos they have viewed on their smartphones. Repent of their evil thoughts. Once they have done this, then the solutions in the last section can help to keep them pure.

Evil imaginations and inordinate affections (fantasies and illicit passions) make a lot of trouble for some very godly looking men and boys. Married men, and a lot who aren’t married, have a fairly good idea how every woman they meet would look if they didn’t have any clothing on. Many women would be horrified if they knew what thoughts some men struggle with about them. At its root, that has nothing to do with the internet or Playboy magazines. It comes from not letting God deal with our sinful hearts.

Secrecy militates against victory in these areas. I’m not saying that you need to confess every sinful thought or temptation to the church. But if you are having ongoing problems, you need to find someone who can and will help you find victory. Often just talking with someone will help. If that isn’t enough, then arrange for an accountability relationship.

Cultivate Your Marriage

Here are a few more thoughts. It has been proven that men and women who are in a good marriage relationship are far less likely to fall into this sin than those who aren’t. In fact, one study says that a happily married man is 61% less likely to fall into the porn trap. Quite a bit of the responsibility for this falls into the lap of the wife. She can ward off a lot of temptation for her husband by being willing and eager to build a strong intimate marriage that fulfills his needs (and hers). Every married couple should sit down and read 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 together. The word defraud, used in verse 5 of this passage, is often translated, deprive. Refusing intimate relationships with your spouse is cheating him or her of their rightful dues. Fulfilled husbands and wives are not nearly as likely to fall into the porn trap.

Note also that this passage makes it clear that intimate relationships should not be selfish. Husbands and wives have power over each other’s bodies to give them fulfillment in ways that they could not rightly give to themselves. Indulging in porn is totally selfish.

But What if I’m Single?

Single men and women are about twice as likely to fall into pornography and lust than their married counterparts. In many of these cases, the people involved would like to be married but haven’t had the opportunity. It is important that married people don’t push these people out of their lives, but are willing to provide the support and friendship they need. You can see the signs if you look for them. The young man who looks defeated in church, or who starts to distance himself, might need your help. Girls and young women aren’t immune to sexual sin either, so don’t discount that when someone seems strangely unhappy.

If you are single and struggling, keep in mind that fulfillment in life doesn’t come from marriage or sex. It comes from being in the will of God. God has not deprived you of finding fulfillment in life.

Flee from the Octopus

The octopus is out to get you. It will gladly wrap its slimy, sticky tentacles around you andoctopus draw you into its deadly embrace. Few creatures ever escape the embrace of an octopus. You won’t either unless you determine in your heart to avoid the bait that it will set for you. The bait will look so delicious, so enjoyable, and so innocent. You may yearn for it with all your bodily desires. But it is poison. Deadly poison. Once you are wrapped in its deadly embrace, the octopus will slowly dismember you with its beak, all the while gloating over you with its enormous yellow eyes. One of my worst nightmares would be to be entangled and devoured by an octopus. But the pornography trap is even deadlier because your eternal life is at stake.

And there shall in no wise enter into it [the holy city] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27 KJV)

 

 

 

End Notes

[i] Regular church attendees are 26% less likely to look at porn, however, self-identified “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn. See http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/ .

[ii] According to http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/ 64% of Christian men, and 15% of Christian women admit to watching porn at least once a month. Part of the discrepancy in statistics could come from a difference in the definition of Christian.

What is Truth?

Truth is something which is still real, even when you dont believe it. In other words, it is an absolute. Ive heard of a group of people who believe that the world is flat. That doesnt change the fact that the world is round. I could persuade myself that gravity doesnt exist, and walk off the edge of a skyscraper. All I would prove is that what I thought was truth was a lie. Or what I thought was a lie was the truth. Either mistake can be catastrophic.

The opposite of truth is a lie. And the word lie is just as objective as the word truth. Both words mean exactly what they say. You can believe that a lie is true, or the truth is a lie, but that wont change a thing. No matter what some modern philosophers try to say, truth is true, unless its a lie, and nothing can change that.

A friend of mine was following his GPS through a rural area he had never visited before. It took him down some rough back roads, then finally told him to turn left into a dry creek bed. Now it is possible that this route would have led him to where he wanted to go, but he would have had to walk. So, the GPS had given him a route that looked good on screen but didnt work for him in real life.

So, was it telling him the truth, or a lie?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of ideas about truth floating around to day that are similar. They look good on a computer screen, or in a book. Hypothetically, they make sense. But when you try to make them work in real life, they prove to be a lie. Or if they are true, in a sense, they are not practical enough to use in real life, which still makes them a lie.

So, if an idea works, does that make it truth?

We could add one reason the GPS instructions didnt work for my friend. He had hip problems that made it hard for him to walk, especially on rough terrain. So, does that mean that what the GPS said was a lie for him but might have been the truth for someone else who could walk better?

In other words, is truth subjective, depending on circumstances?

Not really. The GPS in his car was intended for use in a car. It should not have tried to take him anywhere that a car couldnt go. If you need to twist and turn something or adapt it to a purpose it wasnt intended for in order to make it true, then it really isnt true.

Truth is an absolute. If not, it isnt truth.

Jesus said that Gods word is truth. The New Testament records the words and actions of Jesus and we can find truth there. A good place to start learning about truth is by reading the Gospel of Matthew.

Music

I’ve added some old music to my site and you can get to it by clicking here.  They are in chronological order. It might tell you how old these are when I say that the first recording was released on an LP album as well as on cassette. We never made any 8 tracks of these, and by the second recording, we didn’t bother with LP’s either.

I was teaching those days. I scanned the picture from one of our old copies of the LP we released. The two girls singing with us were my fellow teachers.

Those were the days. Now I can’t sing much above bass anymore. And my breathing wouldn’t let me do it anymore either. Mind you, this was 35 years ago, or more.

 

CM-1

Where is God?

bookJust a quick update on this project. I’ve finalized the editing, and it has been moved into typesetting. A new project always makes me cringe a bit as it comes closer to release. Will it sell? I’ve invested a lot of time in this, and I hope God can use it, somehow.

Keep in touch, and I’ll let you know here how it goes. Cover design is the next step and then printing is next. Then e-books.

Update to Date

I finally bit the bullet and moved my domain to WordPress. Here I can put my blog and my website together and not need to maintain two separate sites. I’m not done yet. I need to move my entire portfolio to this site, which will take awhile.

If you have a suggestion for me, leave it in the contacts page and it will be emailed to me. That’s one page that I know works.

I was thinking recently of how many lost people there are in this world. And right alongside that, how many Christians there are who never talk with the lost people, or if they do, they never say anything about Christ and what He has done for them. How can we spark a revival in North America if we never talk to our neighbors about Christ?

I’m hoping that some of my writing will help with that. I have one book at the publishers that I hope will be on the market by the end of October. I’m working on another one that I hope to get finished by then and ready to send in as well. I’ll be placing more details in my portfolio pages on some of that, as well as listing some of the books I’ve written in the past.

Some of you have heard of God and Uncle Dale. I learned recently that Rod and Staff has sold approximately 12,000 copies of the English version of that book and is still averaging  about 450 copies a year. I often wondered what made that book take off like it did.

I guess it hit the right slot, and that had to be God’s timing.

Mary Christians and Martha Christians

Once upon a time a woman called Mary lived with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus in a small town close to Jerusalem called Bethany.

A famous and very gifted rabbi became one of their close friends, and stopped in to see them whenever his travels took him past Bethany. 

During one of these visits, Martha became upset with Mary. She came to the Rabbi, and told him, “I’m busy making supper and getting everything ready for the company that will surely come since you are here. But Mary won’t help me. She just sits in here and listens to you and Lazarus talking!”

The rabbi listened to Martha’s outburst patiently, and smile sympathetically. “Martha,” he replied gently, “You are a very busy person. You want everything to be just so so when I come. And that is an honor that I appreciate.”

He paused. “But Mary has honored me even more. She has actually listened to what I am teaching. She wants to learn from me how to be like me.”

“What I have to offer you is more important than what you have to offer me. A simple supper would be fine. You could join Mary and learn what she is learning.”

This was hard for Martha to understand because she had been raised to believe that what she was doing was very important. Only when the work was done, if it ever was, was it proper to relax. She had been sure that the rabbi would rebuke Mary for shirking her duty. 

I was thinking of this little account recently and the parallels that it has for many areas in our lives. We are surrounded with Martha Christians. These Christians are driven with the need to be active, to be working, to be doing many things for God and for their fellow man. They are so busy with their activities that they have no time, or little time for prayer meeting, or for studying their Bibles. 

They are very useful people. Surely the church bills would never be paid but for them.

Similarly, there are others who are very busy in keeping the church pure. They search out clothing that might be immodest. They remind people to paint their cars if the color seems to worldly. They notice if their brother’s hair becomes a bit too long, or if his trousers are too light colored. They see every tight fitting dress, or bright colored dress worn to church. They calculate whether the flowers on those same dresses are an eighth of an inch wider than they should be. 

They too are very useful people. Surely the church would soon apostatize but for their tireless efforts. 

But most churches have a few people – often a very few – who are Mary Christians. They are often belittled by the Martha Christians, because they seem to get so little accomplished that is of any worth. Often they don’t get paid well. They aren’t in the forefront of the fundraising efforts, or even the evangelistic efforts. Often you will see them in the background, quietly talking with someone who is discouraged or needs encouragement. You may see them sitting with a far away look in their eyes, or reading a book. 

These people, though many of us do not realize it, are more useful than all the others put together. They are the ones who sit at Jesus’ feet. They learn of Him who to have and live the mind of Jesus. It is their prayers that hold the church together. 

They probably don’t notice the little deviations in their brother’s life. They will be the first there to help to restore a brother who falls into sin, but they don’t criticize and belittle those who need to grow. They just encourage them. 

Much more could be said, but I think you understand. However, I have a question for you. Are you a Mary Christian, or a Martha Christian? 

I think the distinction is very important. It is the Martha’s that divide churches. The Mary’s hold them together. 

Be a Mary.

Wisdom and its Counterfeits

I’ve been thinking about Solomon a lot over the last few months. He asked God for wisdom, and God gave him not only wisdom, but prosperity and popularity. Possibly the last two were as much of a test of his character as they were a reward for his desire for God’s wisdom. At any rate, they were what took Solomon under. The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a rare glimpse into this process.
In this post, I would to explore some of this a little.
First of all, we don’t have to look at Solomon and envy his gift of wisdom. God has made us the same offer.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV). But he also gives us a warning along with this offer, in the next verses. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8, ESV).
There is lots of evidence in the Bible that God answered Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. For instance, study Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, in 2 Chronicles 6. However, later in his life, Solomon gave in to a series of counterfeits that led to his downfall.
As I look at individuals like Ben Carson, and churches like the Conservative Anabaptists, I see some of the same processes at work. That is the burden of my thoughts in these posts. Will we trade the true wisdom that comes from above, for the counterfeits offered by this world? The temptation is great sometimes, both for individuals and for groups.

Counterfeit 1: Knowledge

Trading wisdom for knowledge is a great temptation, especially for people with brilliant minds. Solomon definitely had a lot of knowledge. In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes he talks about the water cycle, and wind patterns. Where he got this knowledge, I’m not sure. It may have been from his own observations. But he became intrigued by knowledge. In Ecclesiastes 1:13, he said, “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” If you read this entire chapter, you will see that he sought this knowledge as an antidote for the seeming meaningless that he saw in life. He felt that nature and man were caught in a mindless spiral of uselessness and vanity.
The antidote didn’t cure the poison, however. In verse 18 of the same chapter, he stated, “In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Seeking knowledge simply highlights the vexations of life, and Solomon soon saw right through that.
This thirst for knowledge is often evident in talented individuals. They gather books together, they learn the language and intricacies of various intellectual disciplines, and they immerse themselves in learning. But at the end of it all, they will look back at life like Solomon did and realize that knowledge doesn’t have the ability to bring satisfaction.
John Howard Yoder is an unfortunate example of someone who sought fulfillment in the study of theology and history. His immoral conduct showed clearly that his vast knowledge of history and the Bible, and thoughts about God and the Bible didn’t satisfy him. He excused his immorality as a part of his intellectual pursuits, but it seems likely that, like Solomon, he died a frustrated and unfulfilled person.
The contrary side of this can be a similar trap. In too many of the plainer groups today, ignorance is viewed as an answer to this problem. We take out children out of school after tenth grade, and get them to work learning “useful trades.” While this isn’t all wrong, the assumption too often is that “book learning” is a necessary evil but that working with our hands is somehow more “godly”.
The results of this response to the worship of knowledge has led to a dearth of people who can take the Bible and really study it and teach it. So many of the topics given by our people and the Bible studies taught by our people are simply shallow regurgitations of things that they have heard someone else say, and which they don’t really understand themselves.
Both the worship of knowledge and the worship of ignorance are definite counterfeits to the wisdom that is from above. Read 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 31 for Paul’s input into this.

Counterfeit 2: Materialism and Pleasure

In Ecclesiastes 2:1 Solomon made a momentous decision. He said to himself “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” He tried wine first. He also built houses and planted vineyards for himself. He made gardens and parks, and planted orchards. He set up irrigation systems to water his horticultural masterpieces.
Along with all of this, he bought slaves and herds and flocks of animals – more than any other king in Jerusalem ever had. He hoarded together silver and gold, and other treasures. He even collected singers and concubines. He concludes his list like this: “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure…” (Ecclesiastes 2:10a, ESV)
But even though Solomon was experimenting with pleasure and materialism in his search for meaning in life, his earlier wisdom hadn’t totally left him yet (see 2:9). He stepped back from all of this and took a look at the results of his experiment. Verse 11 of this same chapter is very enlightening: “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Have you ever felt that way? I have. I can remember various times that I wanted something that I really didn’t need. I struggled with it and struggled with it until finally I found a “good” reason for buying what I wanted. The joy of my new possession seldom lasted more than a day or two, and often I wished I had my money back. We do well to heed Paul’s teaching: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6 – 8, ESV). (Read the context as well).
I don’t think it is wrong to be frugal, and save for a rainy day. But too many Mennonite people (and other Christians) seem to have followed Solomon’s example of gathering possessions in order to find fulfillment in life. Many have even made it a pious occupation – insisting that their success is God’s blessing on them for being good Christians. Or if they don’t come out and say that, they feel that way inside.
Solomon’s example should show us the fallacy of that feeling.

Counterfeit 3: Work

Solomon seems to have been a real workaholic. But even his work drove him to despair because he realized that he was growing older and would die someday. Then what would become of the possessions and improvements that he had labored for? Why someone who hadn’t done any work for them would inherit them and use them in whatever way he wanted to. This frustrated Solomon, since he seemed sure that the next king would probably abuse this privilege. In Ecclesiastes 2:18 and 19, he makes this interesting observation: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (ESV)
This is mine, Solomon is saying. Why should my son enjoy the benefits of what I have worked for? I want the joy myself! This seems like a selfish attitude, but in reality what bothered Solomon was the unfairness of it all. He had worked a lifetime, and now all the benefits were being snatched from him. So what fulfillment did work offer, if he couldn’t benefit from it? This seems to be the thrust of verses 20 – 22: “Sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.”
This frustrated Solomon so much that he actually insinuated that you might as well eat, drink, and be merry with the fruit of your labor because if you don’t some else will. It would be better for you to enjoy what you have, than to leave it to someone who won’t appreciate it anyway.
This kind of philosophy is shocking to God-honoring, hard-working Mennonites. In many churches, it is a point of honor for you to take the material things you have and increase them. You might give them to the church when you die, or use them to start your children off in life – either is usually acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is if you are a parasite and can’t pay your own way in life, and need to depend on the church or the government to live.
Yet there is a sense in which Solomon is right. You will not find fulfillment in life by working, even if you are successful. He was the most successful “worker” of all time, yet in the end he reaped only vanity and frustration. If we could boil the message of Ecclesiastes down to one central complaint it would be this one, because Solomon keeps returning to it, over and over again.
“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil” (Ecc 6:1-2, ESV).

Counterfeit 4: Popularity

The Queen of Sheba summarized the world’s opinion of Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1 – 10 and 2 Chronicles 9:1 – 9. The Bible says that “When the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon…, there was no more breath in her” (2 Chronicles 9:3 – 4, ESV). The entire passages that cover her visit and their context are worth reading, just to get the complete impression. It would be very interesting to read the rest of the life story of Solomon, which was apparently recorded in books written by Nathan the prophet, Ahijah the Shilonite, and Iddo the seer. However, these writings have been lost, so we can only guess at the rest of the story.
Yet Solomon summarized his own popularity by giving the account of a poor wise man who was very popular for a little bit. “There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it.   But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man” (Ecclesiastes 9:14 – 15, ESV).
Popularity is one of the most fleeting of life’s pleasures. Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). Unfortunately, plain people have gotten used to being highly thought of in today’s world. This is on the verge of becoming a trap for them, I fear. Normally the people who flatter you the most are the first to turn against you.
Popularity becomes a great trap for us if we depend on it for our fulfillment in life. There are times in life when we need to take a stand against the crowd in order to remain faithful to God. This becomes very hard to do, if we are accustomed to being popular and have grown to enjoy it. In fact, Jesus warned his apostles, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Joh 15:19, ESV). Sooner or later this hatred surfaces if we are following Christ.
Popularity is perhaps the most treacherous of the counterfeits that we are looking at here. Solomon lost his popularity at the end of his life, in spite of his efforts to maintain it by marrying the daughters of the rulers of the worldly kingdoms around him. While God didn’t remove him from the throne, because of his promise to David, He took most of the kingdom from Solomon’s son, however, and Israel never regained the glory it had once possessed under Solomon.

Counterfeit 5: Knowing about God rather than knowing God

This last counterfeit is one that probably traps more “Christians” than any other. The Bible speaks of those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5, ESV).
Many people know about God and think that this means that they are Christians. Solomon knew what God expected and was able to give good advice. The last verses in Ecclesiastes 11, and most of Ecclesiastes 12 are good teaching for all of us. However, there is really no indication that Solomon understood that pleasing God required more than a blind obedience to God’s law, and an intellectual assent to His plan.
When Solomon was young and saw his need of God, God came to him. God blessed him and offered his lifelong friendship. But Solomon’s eyes wandered away from God and his desire for intellectual and physical fulfillment in life led him away from the spiritual fulfillment that God offered him. In essence, you can’t really have both, and Solomon lost sight of that.
What is my passion in life? I think this is an indicator of whether we are finding fulfillment in genuine wisdom from above. Is my service to God because of my duty – something I need to do to avoid hell fire? Or do I serve Him because I love him? Does His spirit bear witness with my spirit that I am His child (see Romans 8:16)?
I’m afraid that too many plain people, and others are satisfied with an intellectual knowledge of God, rather than a relationship with Him. Most of the church’s problems stem from this fact.
So, will you be satisfied with the counterfeits? Or will you seek the true wisdom which is from above? It’s the most important decision we will ever face.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (14)  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. (15)  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (16)  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (17)  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (18)  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18, ESV).

Comments and discussion are welcome…

The Buzz Machine


Oscar woke up one morning to find that everybody from church that he spoke with that day acted strange around him. They threw little remarks his way that seemed aimed at “fixing” him; fixing some problem that they all knew that he had, and that they knew that he knew that he had.

Only thing is that Oscar had no idea about this thing that was supposed to be wrong with him. You know, the “need” that the buzz machine had, only last week, been cranking out info about.

Why, just last year, the buzz machine had informed all subscribers to its yellow press that Oscar was a trophy; a “real church builder,” the buzz machine had branded him last year.

Last year, after that broadcast by the buzz machine, Oscar woke up one morning to find that everybody from church acted like he was a hero; like he had just rescued the church from horrible peril. Some buzz machine subscribers called Oscar “God’s man for the occasion.”

What occasion? Oscar had no clue. But everybody he met at church in those days threw little remarks his way that seemed aimed at praising him for some heroic deed he had done. They all took for granted that Oscar knew what they meant. He didn’t. And his modesty about the praise the buzz machine subscribers’ gave him only increased their estimation of him. Oscar was “highly appreciated” in the church in those days.

But all that was last year. This year, the buzz machine knew different things about Oscar.

Buzz machines. They have them in most communities where there are large, happy tongues; small, draggy brains; and slow to no internet service.

If you are Oscar, enjoy surfing the waves of gossip that the buzz machine washes up on your beach. Beyond that, do nothing about, or to, or at, the buzz machine.

Lest you attribute credibility to something that has none, and never can.

Daniel R. Huber