Lord's Day Liturgy

The Vanity of Man-Centered Vanity

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. … What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 9)

This qualification, under the sun, matters. It’s sort of like saying “in 2020”; we expect certain things to be true in those conditions. Of course, 2020 itself can be viewed under the sun, as could the tumults of the 16th century, and yes I just tried to sweep together the Protestant Reformation and a pandemic and a presidential election into the same thought bucket.

The great temptation among men is to forget God, or just to behave as if they have. This can even be done in His name, as the Roman Catholic Church has proven. Solomon’s observations about the apparent meaninglessness and mundaneness and weariness happen not from geocentricity, but from anthrocentricity, seeing life with man at the center, or even egocentricity, where things revolve around me. Man-centeredness, me-centeredness is vanity.

This is what the Reformers brought to light from Scripture, that by grace through faith in Christ we see the glory of God. The Word, which proclaims the gospel, announces our freedom from man-centeredness. We are delivered from the narrow frustrations of oppression and deceit and injustice and suffering and endless gathering and collecting under the sun, to see that actually, life and wisdom and joy come from the hand of God.

When our feet almost stumble, when we are tempted to envy the arrogant who seem to prosper, when it seems a wearisome task to figure it out, we come “into the sanctuary of God” to see Him at the center and we discern their end, and our place (see Psalm 73:1-2, 16-17).

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

A Shot of Encouragement

How We Say It

In The Preacher on Preaching, Danny Akin made the point,

What we say is more important than how we say it, but how we say has never been more important.

He used Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 (especially verse 10) to emphasize that dull words are not delightful.

Other thoughts I had while listening to this message:

  • The preacher’s passion is different than the preacher’s polish.
  • If the preacher is boring because he is disinterested, that preaching is sinful.
Enjoying the Process

My 2008 Resolutions in Review

Having reached 2009 (Happy New Year!), I need to lay down my 2008 resolutions so I can build new ones on top.

My first resolution for last year was to build more structure into my supplication struggle. (You can read here to see why I’m calling prayer a struggle). I desired to be more devoted to scheduled, private prayer times and more diligent during those hours. I also made a renewed commitment to corporate prayer (whether in [one28][3] or with family or with the Thursday Friday morning guys).

Part of my plan was to pray for a class of students per day. Starting with the seniors on Monday and finishing with the freshmen on Saturday, I committed to pray for each student by name every week this year. The only thing greater than my excitement to embrace this supplication system was my shame at not being busy with it already. I stuck with this exercise program for the most part and intend to continue it in the new year.

My second resolution was to cultivate three life adjectives: flexible, fun, and fanatical. It was a three pronged mental paradigm aimed to increase my joy, eating my own dog food by Enjoying the Process. Admittedly, some days were better than others; substantial happy-heartedness really is elusive in world of emptiness (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11) and sin. But this kind of personal culture is always worth pursuing, both for sake of God-fearing gladness and also for the influencing aroma it leaves on others. For that reason, I’ll keep striving by His Spirit to do even less apart from Him (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26) in 2009.

Enjoying the Process

Enjoying the Process – The Book

I am excited to announce that I completed a major project last week and picked up copies of the finished product on Friday. (You read that right: I picked up the copies from FedEx; they were not delivered by FedEx. The package tracking information read “delay beyond our control,” meaning, there was snow and ice on the roads. It wasn’t all bad; I learned at least one thing, and most importantly, I got to enjoy the process.)

A Bit of Context

During the final week of May, I adapted 14 sermons from my Ecclesiastes series into a book for the graduating seniors in our ministry. They endured 61 messages over the course of three years, and I figured this was the least I could give them. So I holed up in my home study for 16 or so hours a day for three days in order to rework and format the material. I self-published through Lulu (now owned by Amazon), and for what it’s worth, I could not recommend their product more highly.

The first order of books arrived in time for graduation and I presented a copy to each graduate. But the closer I examined the book, the more I regrettably realized how much it looked like something put together in three days.

I needed help. So I asked Patti Frisk, our school’s secondary English teacher, along with my mom, also a high school English teacher, to edit the book. Each one graciously agreed and went to work with red pens in hand. They returned improved manuscripts to me before June ended, and the ball was back in my court. Thank you, ladies.

Somehow, other projects kept creeping onto my calendar. Since I was eager to clean this meaty task off my plate, I spent the month of November and the early days of December making revisions, adding a chapter, and polishing the layout. I delivered the first copies of the second edition Friday night to the youth staff at our Christmas party.

The Contents

As the table of contents below reveals, roughly one paragraph in each chapter of Ecclesiastes turned into one chapter in my book. The chapters represent what I believe to be the high points of Solomon’s reminders in Ecclesiastes. They were chosen not only to expose the vanity of life, but also to turn the reader to God for true joy under the sun.

  1. Vain Repetition (1:1-11)
  2. Looking for Life Under the Sun (Pt 1) (2:1-8)
  3. Looking for Life Under the Sun (Pt 2) (2:1-8)
  4. Enjoying the Process (2:24-26)
  5. Everything is Beautiful in Its Time (3:9-15)
  6. 15 Minutes of Fame (4:13-16)
  7. You Can’t Take It with You (5:13-17)
  8. Loathing the Process (6:1-6)
  9. Get Over Yourself (7:15-22)
  10. Following and Influencing the Man (8:1-9)
  11. Act Now Before It’s too Late! (9:7-10)
  12. Out of the Mouth of Fools (10:12-15)
  13. Basking in the Sun (11:7-10)
  14. The End of the Matter (12:13-14)
  15. Why Ecclesiastes Needs the Cross (1 Corinthians 15)

Get a Copy

I’m glad this part of the process is done. I’d gladly massage each chapter more, but that may be the perpetual tweaker in me, so this will have to do for now. Order a copy.

Enjoying the Process

The End of the Matter

I finished a three year project today with my sixty-first and final message from Ecclesiastes. Of preaching many sermons there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh, but my life has been changed as I’ve learned about, and tried to practice, enjoying the process. As I told our youth staff, part of me is sad that it’s finished, like moving away from your best friend. Though the friendship isn’t over, I’m going to miss hanging out with the Preacher.

Enjoying the Process

Like Being Thirsty

I’m tweaking some three year old Ecclesiastes sermons. What follows is an illustration that needs to be cut from its current position, but yet seems worthy of a home somewhere. So where to put it? The void is perfect.

Searching for satisfaction under the sun is like being thirsty and:

  • picking up an empty glass and trying to drink from it.
  • picking up a glass full of water and then realizing it was only a dream.
  • paying a fortune for a glass full of water then taking a drink only to realize that it’s salt water.
  • picking up a glass full of water when the glass shatters in your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water when someone runs by and knocks it right out of your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water, drinking the cool, clear, clean, crisp refreshing water, then immediately having a fatal heart attack.
Rightly Dividing

Out of the Mouths of Fools

The fool loves to talk, loves to hear himself speak, loves to share his opinion. Solomon said as much in Ecclesiastes 10:14 (part of a larger paragraph on what comes out of the fool’s mouth which I preached about yesterday.

A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?

I hate to love this verse. It’s so accurate, so common, and so upsetting. The fool is verbose, meaning he’s most happy when his mouth is open. A fool multiplies words. He doesn’t just add them, he multiplies. This isn’t the first time in Ecclesiastes Solomon addressed bloviation.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (5:2)

The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? (6:11)

The fool’s mouth pours out folly. In particular he delights to declare his convictions on things he has no clue about, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him? Who can predict a man’s future or what will happen on earth after his death? The obvious answer is “No one.” Wise people listen and know their limits; fools babble. They go on as know-it-alls.

Some of the most wordy people are also some of the most arrogant. They’ve so convinced themselves that they know the answers, that they have true knowledge, and no one can convince them otherwise. Yet they have no understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Ecclesiastes 10:14 is aimed specifically at future-tellers, at those who talk big even though they have no information and no way to get that information. But the application spills over onto all sorts of issues. For example, it fires me up and tires me out reading blogs (or comments on blogs) by people with little to no understanding and little to no humility. They write or talk like the world’s been waiting for them to arrive with the answer. But multiplied words don’t prove their argument, they demonstrate their arrogance.

Out of the mouth of fools come arrogant verbosity. At times like these my mom and Solomon agree: watch your mouth.

Enjoying the Process

How to Make Solomonic Resolutions

Though apparently not everyone agrees, I think the new year provides a perfect opportunity to examine if there are lifestyle changes or attitude adjustments necessary to better enjoy the process and make progress in Christlikeness. Especially in light of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, if we’re eating our bread with dissatisfaction and dressing down and wasting life with our wife and loafing around, we may need to reshape our whole modus operandi (or at least tweak it).

Yet in light of Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 and the reality that under the sun the race doesn’t always go to the swift, maybe we wonder why try to get faster? If bread doesn’t always go to the wise, why stay up late to study? And if we might die in 15 minutes anyway, is all the wearisome effort really worth it?

The answer is Yes! It is worth it if we do it for the right reasons and pursue it in the right way. It is proper to work hard at whatever our hand finds to do. We should look for, and take advantage of every opportunity we can. So let’s resolve to do something new or something better. God ordained food for joy, so let’s resolve to get our feast on. We are obligated under God to have fun with our wife. So get one, or if you have one, resolve to stop being a sourpuss.

But–but–we must resolve to improve our joyfulness in the process not just at the end of the process. We might not succeed, but at least we can die happy trying. Fact is, if you don’t enjoy running, you won’t last longer than a few weeks on the treadmill no matter how much weight you want to lose. Achieving the goal is good, but what about the thrill of the chase? It’s easy to miss the joys along the journey because we only think about the destination. The problem is, we might never actually arrive.

So how can we make resolutions keeping in mind both Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 and 9:11-12? Here are three approaches I think Solomon would approve.

1. Seek out opportunities but submit to God.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 is a divine command to do so. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. Redeem the time because the days are evil. Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord. Commit your work to the Lord. But, don’t forget that no matter how detailed your plans are the Lord directs your steps. If you get upset about that, you’ve crossed the line from serving God to directing God. But start the semi truck moving and trust that He’ll steer you in the right direction.

2. Work as hard and as smart as you can, but rely on God.

It is a sin to be slothful. Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. Don’t run aimlessly or half-heartedly. The plans of the diligent typically lead to abundance. So work harder than anyone else. Likewise, wisdom does have (relative) value over folly, so get counsel and get wisdom and work intelligently. But, don’t forget that if you work harder than anyone else, it wasn’t you, it was the grace of God in you. Use all the (righteous) means available, but depend on God.

3. Play to win every time but enjoy the process.

Solomon is not anti-competition. He certainly isn’t telling the mighty warriors just to lay down their swords. Winning the race is still the goal, triumphing in battle really is better, obtaining food is important, making a profit can be good, and earning influence has great benefit. He isn’t saying those things are bad, he’s saying don’t depend on those things as your ultimate joy. Pick up the pace to obtain the prize. But remember the breeze on your face as you scamper around the track is intended for your gladness as much, if not more so, than finishing first.

In light of the fact that we don’t have the power to control the present or the wisdom to predict the future, we should fear God, work hard, and ETP. If we do that, we’ll not only have joy on the earthly road but eternal joy will be our destination. Fearing God is the only sure way to have our best life now and forever.