We will not live forever in the flesh. We cannot do all the things, visit all the places, love all the people, fix all the crises. There are limits. We can either accept the limits and give thanks for them and work within them as we’re able, or we can attempt to ignore them or deny them or distract ourselves from the painful/humbling parts of the limits.
This book was a good read, even though I do not share some underlying worldview with the author. He uses more Zen and Hindu and humanist resources, though Ecclesiastes did get one shout out. He argues that his version of “and then you die” allows for true freedom. But his version has nothing and no one after the final breath. If you take that all the way down, there is not a consistent reason to work, and certainly no reason for joyful toil. But if, as Christians can, we take our limited time all the way up to God and His purposes, we shouldn’t bury our talents no matter how long it is until the Master returns. We will give an account to Him, and we will be resurrected to live with Him forever.
But amidst this book’s shilling for climate change and criticisms of capitalism, he really does let us out into the field to chew the cud on the fact that we can’t do it all, and a wise person stops trying. He urges a better perspective over better life-hacks.
I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are. (Loc. 369)
He also has some helpful (if inconsistent with his own worldview) observations on how so much productivity advice is about setting up “bulwarks against the risk that other people might exert too much influence over how your time gets used” (Loc. 2339). When, turns out, sharing time with other people is exactly what makes our time meaningful. The book doesn’t quote Solomon on this, but wisdom avoids isolation:
Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. (Ecclesiastes 4:7–8)
Here are the notes from my Convocation address at ECS yesterday.
The word perspective derives from two Latin words, the preposition per meaning “through” and the verb speciō meaning “I look.” We might think of a person with perspective like a bird, high enough to see a broader landscape, or as one using a telescope, far enough away to see how things relate. But at its root, someone with perspective is someone who is able to look through. Someone who can look through is someone who can see clearly as if having found a window in the wall.
From a calendar perspective, we are only on the first day of an entire school year, and so we have a long way to go. From an institutional perspective, we are on the first day of year ten, and so we have come a long way. From even another perspective, not just looking at time, we can see through the fog and know that what we have here is something special.
Follow me here. Perspective enables us to see that what we have is special, and I’d say that what’s really special is that we have perspective. My evidence for that is all the laughter. Bona fide laughter requires perspective.
Both our mission statement and our motto talk about laughter. Here’s our mission:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
Our motto is: Risus est bellum, or Laughter is war.
We talk about laughter, and in the nine finished years of ECS, there has been nothing more difficult, and nothing more important, than laughter. This kind of laughing is not mostly due to a specific personality type, though it’s certainly true that laughing comes easier to some than the melancholy. I feel as if I have a good view of what this laughter looks like, like a drowning man looks up at the water’s surface with desperate attention and desire to reach it. Laughter is that important.
Of course not all laughter is the same. Solomon had some unflattering things to say about chuckling fatheads.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; (Ecclesiastes 7:6)
Thorns in fire heat up fast, but don’t last. They burn out before providing any real benefit. The laughter of fools is as useless as it is noisy.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. (Proverbs 29:9)
Fools laugh because they can’t see the bigger picture and because they don’t want to look at the immediate problems. A fool’s cackle is mere defense mechanism, making a racket against the reasonable.
Weaponized laughter, the kind we’re after at ECS, is laughter from faith for faith. It is able to see through the current troubles to what God is accomplishing in them. We have some historical examples surrounding us in a great cloud of witnesses.
“When sometimes I sit alone, and have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is my God, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me.”
Latimer was the same English Reformer burned at the stake in 1555 with Nicholas Ridley, when Latimer is reported to have said:
“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
That is the kind of thing you can only say with perspective. A man with the perspective of faith in God can “laugh at all troubles” even to the point of greatest sacrifice.
John Bunyan, who lived less than a hundred years after Latimer, also in England, was the sort of man who had perspective enough to laugh, and his counsel for those being persecuted:
“Has thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hands.”
Godly laughter is God-trusting laughter.
It’s why David wrote, “The righteous shall see and fear, and laugh” (Psalm 52:5). Not only did David have perspective, while on the run from King Saul and from Doeg the Edomite, he was laughing at the man who didn’t have perspective. Doeg seemed to have the upper hand, and he had the King favor, but he wouldn’t make God his refuge. The righteous see right through that.
We will be tempted not to laugh for a number of reasons, especially because of our work. This is true of students, new and old, true of parents, and true for teachers, a thing I know by personal testimony. Temptations come because:
The work is unknown, and we don’t know what we’re doing. There’s a certain level of discomfort, and fearfulness is an easier default than trying while laughing.
The work is unenjoyable, and we don’t like what we’ve been assigned. It’s easier to do the job with more whining than laughing.
The work doesn’t have enough time (from our perspective) to get finished. It’s easier to be flustered than to be laughing.
The work (we got finished) isn’t perfect. It’s easier to to be proudly irritated than to humbly laugh.
The work is tiring. It’s easier to belly ache rather than belly laugh.
The work is unappreciated, at least not praised as immediately as we’d like. It’s easier to fuss than to laugh.
Are you doing your work from faith and for faith? Are you doing your work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)? Then trust the Creator of time with the use and fruit of the time He gives you. The woman who fears the Lord has such an approach.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)
There is a potent sort of laughing, and it’s the sign of a virtuous man.
You’ve got to be able to not get sucked in by the complainers, to keep your cool when everyone is freaking out about the assignment, to be patient even when the deadline is looming. Laugh in faith because your life is bigger than your grade, and then laugh in thanks when you got a better grade than you probably deserved.
“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”
Choose this day which character you will be, Distracted, Fearful, Grumpy, or Dopey. How about instead we aim to be those who are laughing in wartime?
I also said the following on the first day of ECS, 3290 days ago:
“We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.”
As we present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as He blesses the fruit of our hands and homework, we will sing with the psalmist:
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psalm 126:2-3)
May the Lord give us His perspective on 2021-22 and fill our mouths with laughter.
The gospel is the power of God to get us to stop looking at ourselves. In ourselves, we see not a thing worth celebrating, and that’s if God helps us (without His help we might see something good, but it would be because we’re deceiving ourselves). We see the desire to do what’s right, but lack of ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Other times we do what some other part of us didn’t want to do (Romans 7:19). God’s Word cuts down to the covetousness in our hearts that others might not even see (Romans 7:8), and what seems worse, our sin even misuses God’s Word to stoke our desire for what we aren’t supposed to want (Romans 7:9).
So, then, can you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table in a “worthy” manner? You can’t if you’re looking at you. You can, and you must, if you are looking at Christ.
One of the great crescendos is in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The judgment coming down on us as sinners, the true sentence and just punishment we deserved, have been taken by Christ for all those who are in Him. We have been weighed and measured, and we have been found without remaining charge in Jesus.
By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3b-4)
The ordinance of communion is not when we look at what we’ve done in our flesh, but when we look at what Jesus accomplished in His flesh. Only one is gospel.
The bread and wine are gift. Receive them as symbols of your freedom from condemnation in Christ.
The word “repent” doesn’t appear once in Romans. The word “repentance” occurs just once (Romans 2:4). In a similar and surprisingly empty vein, the word “confess” (or “confesses”) only occurs three times, but none of the three are about confessing sin but rather refer to confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9, 10; 14:11).
Repent and confess are vital words in biblical soteriology; both are revealed in other Scripture as conditions of forgiveness (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9). It could be argued that the idea of both are found in Paul’s longest letter, but there is as much explanation of it as there is exhortation to it. If the Spirit gives understanding of the Word, the Spirit will also help us know what to do.
The fact is, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, which is actually a quotation of Psalm 14:1-3). Those are the revealed facts. What are we supposed to do with them?
We are supposed to stop arguing otherwise; no more “Nuh-uh!” The law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). But God is after more than our silence. He calls us to turn to the One the Law and the Prophets bear witness to: Jesus Christ. We are to receive Jesus by faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24).
Let us not be ashamed to keep confessing that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), and presenting ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13).
For our Sunday evening series this upcoming year, we’re going to have the elders preach through First Peter. We’ve never rotated through paragraphs of the same book before, and this will cover the letter from different angles. It seems like an especially timely study, full of teaching on true submission and costly, righteous suffering.
One of my favorite verses in 1 Peter is one I have to hold off using too frequently as a reminder of forgiveness.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that me might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)
That is not actually the entire verse, let alone the entire sentence, which extends to the end of verse 20. It introduces what is probably the most difficult and debated paragraph in 1 Peter, and I volunteered to preach that passage when we get to it. But this gospel salvo is worth celebrating.
It is also what we’re doing here at the Lord’s Table. We are thinking about Christ, the promised and perfect offering. We remember His righteousness, His unjust suffering, His payment for our sins, and we remember what we get from it. Yes, we are saved, but saved for what? Saved as in brought to the Father.
We are forgiven for forgiveness’ sake, because in our guilt we needed it. We are forgiven for justice’s sake, so that God might be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). But we are also forgiven for fellowship’s sake, because we were far away. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10).
We’ve chosen the next book for our Men to Men meetings, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson. Watson was a Puritan, and a non-conformist, meaning that he refused to “conform” to the Church of England’s requirements. When the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662, Watson was take off the list of “approved” pastors. He continued to preach anyway—in homes, barns, and backwoods. As a group of men we’ve not read one of these Puritan paperbacks before, and our first discussion will be at the October meeting.
Not far into his subject, Watson points out the problems with “painted on” godliness. Though the title of his work is about a “picture,” the descriptions he gives are three-dimensional, of spiritual substance, not surface.
Watson laments beauty that is only paint-deep. “Will painted gold enrich a man? Will painted wine refresh him who is thirsty?” (17).
He who has only a painted holiness shall have a painted happiness. (17)
This is what we cannot be, as men, as Christians. If we are to be those who rejoice in their trials (James 1:2), if we are to be those who rejoice in their toil (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 5:19), then we must be those whose rejoicing wells from the heart-deeps. This also means that our confession of sin must do more than scratch and scrub at the surface. Strip off the layers and let godliness be like stain in the grain, not a veneer, a coat of gloss.
If we are to be godly, and have a godly gladness about us, then we must get all the way down to it, even from our knees.