On Not Wandering Like a Verbal Amoeba

God made limits for increased glory. The size of the canvas frames the image and shows off how much the artist can fit in a small space (for example, have you seen the pencil-tip sculptor? It is more impressive how much he can do with so little to work with). A poetic convention restricts the impression or feeling to a form rather than letting it meander like a verbal amoeba. And the glory of man includes not running 60 mph, not flying without mechanical aid, and not working without sleeping.

Many limits we take for granted, that’s how we’ve always known life on earth. But we ought to give thanks for only 24 hours a day—though we’re tempted to complain when we have a lot to do, we ought to give thanks for not having eyes in the back of our heads—do we really want to see that, and we ought to give thanks for only having two hands. These are gifts, chosen for us by our Father.

There are other personal limits for which we should be thankful, certainly not bitter or envious. These are also unchosen by us, but chosen by God specifically for us. You don’t get to be 7’ tall, you don’t get to make a billion dollars an hour, and half of you don’t get to avoid the way it is with women. Are you humble enough to delight in your constraints?

Some limits are universal for the glory of mankind, some are for the glory of kinds of men, and then some limits get changed for a particular man. New lines are drawn by aging, an accident, a diagnosis, a relative’s diagnosis, a financial gift, a job loss, et cetera. I’m talking about the things that God gives you now that maybe you didn’t have yesterday. The page turned and God is writing for your glory in a new genre, and run-on sentences aren’t allowed like they were yesterday.

If it is from God, then what is the grace to you in it? Are you ready for Him, not to change the rules per se, but to change your restrictions per diem? Are you ready to give thanks for the personally chosen limits? Or are you fighting the limited givens of glory?

The Great Gravity of Glad Sacrifices

I gave the address at our school’s Fundraising Feast last Friday night. Here are the notes for my talk.


Oxford defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.” Isaac Newton calculated the movements of planets based on their masses and the distance between their centers. Albert Einstein argued his theory of general relativity that the curvature of spacetime accounts for the direction and momentum of free-falling objects. Scientists have measured gravity’s grasp on objects toward the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. These all involve observations and formulas and theories, and maybe a stopwatch, but none of them demonstrate what gravity does better than dropping a bowling ball out of a three story window.

Evangel Classical School is not large but, by God’s grace, we have a little bit of gravitational attraction. This isn’t scientific or philosophical speculation, it is something that can be seen. It is also a reason to give thanks to God and something to ask God to bless even more.

The journal app I use recently showed me an “On This Day” entry from four days before our school’s first Information Night in April of 2012. I had written the following:

With just a few days to go before the announcement meeting for ECS, a fall start with our current plans seems less likely than ever. There are only a few families who seem excited about the idea, and even fewer who seem committed to the work it requires.

Five years later ECS has almost 60 students, a modest number, yet that is close to a 500% increase from the 12 we had day one, and it’s manifestly more than none. We have a headmaster, three full-time teachers, and a troop of part-timers. We have textbooks and literature books and hula-hoops and footballs and tables and chairs and whiteboards as well, but those things are only as weighty as the people who wield them. Our people give the school gravity, and the gravity is growing.

There are other words for it, too: energy, buzz, traction, momentum. But I prefer the image of gravity, where mass and energy become an attractive force.

You’ve seen it at work before. Some individuals have a personal gravity; they can’t help but draw a crowd. Organizations can have gravity. There is a kind of pull that not only works to increase the numbers, it also works to change the attitude of the group itself.

In one of my classes this year I noticed a crippling lack of interest and effort from most of the students. Teaching felt like sweeping water uphill with a broom without bristles. But more than a month ago one of the students started to work. Her parents had come alongside of her and encouraged her, and she took to it. In just a couple days of class, her eager participation and obvious effort turned the tone of the entire class around. She didn’t stand up on her chair and exhort the other students to get with it. As far as I know she didn’t track them down between classes and threaten them if they didn’t work harder. She changed the culture of the classroom by her happy diligence. That’s gravity.

The whole school has a type of gravity to it. Not everyone is won by the gravity, but many are.

We start every morning of school at school with Matins. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say the Apostles’ Creed, and we sing a song from the Cantus. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through the entire 5-7 minute mini-meeting and keep a good grip on my grumpiness. I’m reminded that I’m a part of a group of 70ish people—students and staff and some of the parents who are still around at that point—who are committed to loving our neighbors as we express our belief in and love for God. Mr. Sarr is always ready to lead us joyfully, and that joy of being together and getting ready to work for the Lord pulls us further up and further in. That’s gravity.

It is a question we ask when considering whether or not to accept a new student. If the student (and his family) are not quite aligned with us, but still interested, do we have enough gravity to pull them in, or will they knock us off track?

We’ve seen a phenomenon with our end of year evaluation tests. We give spelling tests that include words a grade level or two above where the students are to see if they can take their understanding of phonograms and other rules they’ve learned to make educated guesses. There are two types of students: those who get upset, if not break down in tears, because they don’t know, and those who know that they don’t know but are totally up for the challenge. The ones who are up for the challenge—which is different than knowing how to spell everything correctly—are consistently the students who’ve been at ECS for more than a year, who’ve seen others around them joyfully trying things they might not succeed at. That’s gravity.

What is it that causes this kind of cultural gravity to grow? What is happening at ECS that God is blessing?

Jesus told His disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), which was a reference to the kind of death he was going to die (verse 33). The cross was the purchase point of salvation, it is also the sun around which the eternal life of every believer revolves. And the author of Hebrews said about Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His life wasn’t taken, He spent it without resentment. I think we could summarize the principle as follows: by God’s grace there is great gravity around glad sacrifice.

Both the glad and the sacrifice are required. Gladness without sacrifice may still be gladness, but it will probably be light. Dandelion seeds are playful in the breeze, but not much of a draw. Sacrifice without gladness may still have an effect, but it’s demanding, or done with a heavy stink. This is the Thanksgiving hostess terrorist, holding her guests hostage until they see and acknowledge all the work she did. Who wants to be around that? Who can sustain sacrifices like that? None is attracted to this, no, not one.

Glad sacrifices are a product and picture of the gospel, this is the Evangel.

We pray for God’s Spirit to make us glad in giving up our lives and He has given great grace for this so far. Mr. Sarr sets the mead hall tone that makes Grendel’s mom mad, the Board is on board the joy train, the teachers embody the war of laughter day by day, especially those on the “Full Time Team.” Mr. Bowers makes science lovers in one hour a week because he loves biomes. Mrs. Hall never walks a lap around the parking lot—and she makes a lot of laps—alone. Mrs. Bowers collects kindergartners around her desk and contrarians around her discussion. Because we live in the world God made, the world God loved so much that He gave His Son for, those who make glad sacrifices can’t help but draw others in. It doesn’t draw everyone in, but it is picking up size and speed.

You can be part of it. You can gladly sacrifice with us and make the ECS gravity a pull to Marysville: from some who are already in it, for some to come to it. You can gladly sacrifice your words, telling others about the school. No Facebook boosted post can do what you can. You can gladly sacrifice your minutes, coming in to volunteer in a variety of ways, using your gifts to serve the students. You can gladly sacrifice your dollars.

We hope to add 18 students to our total number for next year. This would enable us to hire (and pay) another full-time teacher. Why not two more, or three? The people are the most important piece of the gravity, but how great would it also be to have a playground, a field, facilities that show off what we’re doing? We can’t do that yet, and that’s fine, but you could help us get to a spot where others want in. That’s gravity that comes from glad sacrifice.

If it seems too smug to talk about our not-quite-five-year old gravity status, as if we’re the Pluto of wanna-be planets, I’d say these things. First, we’re not too smug to quit working. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote,

[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

We know we must excel still more in laughing and laboring. Second, we’re not too smug to invite others such as yourselves to join us or to ask you to help. That’s part of why we’re here tonight.

And third, we’re not too smug to feast in thanks to God. That’s the other reason for this evening.

Great gravity sustained through generations won’t happen without God’s blessing, and it will be God’s blessing, proportional to our glad sacrifices.

Stamped with New Value

Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.

What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.

The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.

John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.

Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)

The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

Easter Had to Be Effective

It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.

What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.

Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?

It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.

But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?

We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.

Beholding Him Better

Based on how the calendar works this year, Easter Sunday and Tax Day in the United States fell within two days of each other. Jesus often used economic vocabulary and asked some critical questions about our accounting categories. What is the price tag on your soul?

In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. They didn’t understand this. Peter even tried to argue Jesus out of it. Following that conversation, Jesus told His disciples how they too must take up a cross and follow Him. While that might sound difficult, He asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (verse 26)

This is a rhetorical question based on accounting principles. There is not one possible gain, but two, and likewise there are two possible losses. One can gain the world and lose his life or one gain gain his life and lose the world.

Only those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (verse 25). Only those willing to count everything as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord understand the gain. Only those who die will get a return.

On Sunday I asked our church, “What would make today a profitable Easter Sunday?” As Christians we can do many things for Christ’s sake. But by way of testing our hearts, could everything else be counted loss if you gained more of Christ? Would you give up your new Easter outfit, your family traditions? Would you give up your theological library for simple trust in Christ? Would you give up your job, your reputation? Are there any good things are keeping you from beholding Him better?

Accounting for Participation

The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.

This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.

The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.

The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.

Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.

On Not Sponsoring Stupidity

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.

One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)

The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.

Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.

If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)

Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.

Totus Pravus

It is sort of funny to think about the high moral standards of the Egyptians who refused to eat with the Hebrews. In Genesis 43 it is described as a “abomination,” something that causes disgust or hatred, a thing to be avoided at all costs. Joseph and his attendants ate at a separate tables from his brothers in order to avoid the defilement and dishonor of sharing such an intimate act with the unworthy.

How much more surprising is it to think about Jesus eating with His disciples and instituting a meal of His presence at a Table with sinners. The gospel isn’t for the righteous, for the ceremonially clean, for the cultured or civilized. The gospel is for the unworthy alone, for those who are totally depraved, solus et totus pravus. How amazing is the grace that meets us at a table of communion.

The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11)

And he wrote about the Father:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

The Lord’s Table is not the table where only the Lord sits. He does not set up two tables, one for Him and one for us, let alone one for Him, one for those who are sort of pleasing to Him, and one for those who should just be thankful that their donkey’s weren’t stolen for slaves. He eats and drinks with us, He gave His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. We are not an abomination to Him because Jesus atoned for us.