Divine Smack Talk

Even though He offers them no redemption, God is, perhaps surprisingly to us, interested in teaching the angels.

For much of the Old Testament, prophets searched and inquired their own prophecies about the grace that would come through the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. All of this good news, which Peter said had been preached to his elect readers, were “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

On the cross Jesus died for those who were dead in their trespasses. He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is Christ’s work for us. But in doing so He also “disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15). At the cross God taught the angels a lesson.

There is another lesson still going on. God is bringing to light for everyone what is the mystery of His plan. This “God who created all things” continues working “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). Angels learn lessons as God builds His church.

This demonstrating work goes all the way back to Eden. God told the dragon, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed,” and you are going to lose. We usually don’t describe God’s revelation as “smack talk,” but this is divine insult to the serpent. The woman’s seed wins.

For generations God has been talking this way to rebel angels and He continues to make His point by uniting the church in the Dragon-Slayer, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pots Throwing Pieces

I bit the bait and clicked an inflammatory link a while back that permanently burned my brain. A straightforward tweet asked: What is the most offensive verse in the Bible? and promised an answer behind a click. The answer surprised me, stirred me, and settled for me so much of our cultural, and even Christian and Christian cultural, woes.

The most offensive verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

If that verse is true–and I believe it without hedging or hesitation, without a wink or crossed fingers behind the back–then God must be acknowledged as Creator, thanked as Maker, and obeyed as Lord by all. This God who created the world rules the world and He makes the rules for the world. He does not need anyone’s counsel, nor does He ask for it or take it. He did not create in order to disclaim His authority but rather to demonstrate it.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you 
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

What is good for man requires man to submit to God. What is this strange word, “submit”? It means to do what someone else says.

As the t-shirt so memorably exhorts: There is a God, and you’re not Him. Resistance is futile, like clay pots throwing pieces of themselves at the Potter, destroying themselves in the process.

We would do well to take the posture and pray in a way similar as Jesus did, “Not my world, but Yours be done.”

Boy, Was I Bored

I read the following short story at our school’s year-end assembly last Friday. It was inspired by three things:

  1. The start of summer break
  2. This quote from Robert Capon: “boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”
  3. My favorite kids’ book: Boy, Was I Mad

Now here’s my version.


It was late one Wednesday morning, and boy, was I bored.

Summer break had started out fun. I would sleep in, have a bowl of Captain Crunch when I finally woke up, then go with my mom on a bunch of errands that she’d been holding off doing till school was out. When I got home I’d play in the sprinkler, or shoot the basketball, ride my bike around the neighborhood, or put together some Legos.

All of that entertained me for the first two days, but then, boy, was I bored. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to take off. I made myself a PB&J, grabbed a pocketful of pretzels, and walked out the front door in search of something to fix my boredom.

About a mile from home I was passing by the house of my good friend Pete. We go to school together. He was in his front yard throwing the baseball with his younger brother and asked me what I was doing. I told him: I was bored. There was nothing any good to do, nothing any good to see, so I was on the look out for something impressive, something exciting. He said he didn’t know of anything like that, but tossed me a mitt and said I could play catch with them if I wanted.

It’s sort of cool to think about how a little applied force causes a ball to fight gravity for a while. And if you flick the ball just right you can get the seams to catch the air and make the ball start out right and end up three feet to the left. Pete’s dad had recently taught him how to throw a knuckleball, and told him that “lateral deviations and the wavelengths affect the the unsteadiness of lift forces that can produce a change in lateral directions. The obtention of a large knuckle effect requires the ball to be launched in a particular range of initial velocities corresponding to the drag crisis of the ball.“1 I don’t know what any of that means, but it sure is crazy to watch the ball dance and zigzag. We were having a lot of fun until my arm started to get sore, and then I remembered how bored I was, so I said goodbye.

Not too far from Pete’s they’re building a brand new five-story hotel. We’ve driven by that place a bunch of times when it was just trees and signs, but today they were leveling the dirt with some of the biggest machines I’d ever seen. I stopped and watched through the fence for a while when one of the workers came over and asked if I wanted a closer look. He opened the gate and let me in and yelled up to one of the driver’s. “Hey, give this kid a ride.” He gave me a hard hat and told me to climb up.

It was pretty great riding on that bulldozer. We were pushing tons of dirt, making high piles disappear into low spots. I could see front loaders scooping up big rocks, and a special truck was pouring concrete in the shape of a curb as it was coming out the chute. The curb started to form a driveway as it connected to the main road and it seemed like it was done in no time. I thought it would be great to make stuff like that someday, until I remembered how bored I was, and I took off.

I headed down toward the city park where I hoped something good might be happening. It was getting hot so I sat down in the shade of a big tree to cool off for a few minutes. While I was staring up at the sky, feeling down because of how bored I was, I noticed that there were a bunch of different clouds. There were some stratus clouds that seemed close to me, stretched out like a thin cotton blanket. To the east some wispy clouds even higher in the sky looked like the tail of a horse, I think they’re called cirrus clouds. To the west there was a tall, dark, and pudgy cloud made up of some fancy Latin words I’ve heard my older sister say. They looked like they might rain later. But I was bored, so I left.

When I got to the park there were a lot of kids running around. I recognized my friend Jill and said, “Hey,” as she walked by. She was headed over to the ice cream truck and asked if I wanted some too. I don’t usually like to tag along with girls, but I do like ice cream, so I said, “Sure.”

When we got to the truck the guy had about 80 different treats to choose from. It’s kind of hard to believe. Who even invented all those flavors and combinations? And who figured out how to put a freezer on wheels and keep everything so cold?

I guess I must have said my questions out loud because Jill asked some questions back. But then she answered herself. “Have you ever wondered how they get the milk ready for us to drink? My teacher told our class all about pasteurization. Since it usually takes a few days or weeks from when they milk a cow to when we drink it, they run the milk through hot pipes or between metal plates heated to more than 160 Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. It kills all the disease causing microbes without removing all the micro organisms. Isn’t it amazing that we can do that?”

I remembered hearing once about Louis Pasteur, and I’ll admit that it is actually sort of impressive to drink milk or eat cheese or ice cream from a cow on some farm in Nebraska. More than that, it’s just tasty what comes from cows. I think I’ll have a cow someday when I grow up. But then I remembered how bored I was.

I was almost out of the park when I saw my school principal walking around staring closely at the ground. He looked up and saw me and said, “Hi, Robby.” I said, “Hi.” Then he said, “How’s your summer break been so far?” And I said, “Boring.” He replied, “Well, that’s too bad,” and went back to looking at the ground.

It surprised me a little that he didn’t give me a speech about being bored, but it was even more surprising that he kept pacing and staring at the ground. So I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “Looking for sticks.” That sounded even more boring than my day had been, but he just kept on looking. After another minute or I asked, “Why are you looking for sticks? To make a fire?” He said, “No, to make arrows. Come over and help me look.”

He told me that certain sticks can become great arrows that fly far and straight, then he showed me what to look for: not too thick or narrow, not too crooked but they don’t have to be perfect either. After we found a few more good ones we went over to a table where he had some tools. He let me borrow his knife to whittle off the bark, then he showed me a pile he had already prepared. I’ve never looked so closely at sticks before. He explained how to bundle and dry and straighten sticks, how to attach feathers to the end, and he even let me shoot at a milk jug with a bow he’d made himself. I thought, I think I’ll make my own bow and arrows when I grow up, too.

My principal said he had to go home and said goodbye. I said “Thanks” and “Bye” and started walking home. I was wondering if there were any good sticks in our yard when I walked into the house and remembered, “What am I doing? I forgot how bored I was!”

But something smelled good. It was homemade pizza night, and I could see that dinner was already on the table and the food was still steaming. My dad prayed for the meal and gave thanks for all God had given like he usually does, but I was thinking back about how many things I’d seen that day to be thankful for. While we were eating I told my dad and mom about my day and how stupid I felt for being so bored. My mom said something about how boredom keeps us from seeing beauty, and how opening our eyes just a little makes it almost impossible to be bored.

After dinner I took a hot bath then got in bed. I was really tired. It was a good day, that day when I was bored.

No More Intended Evil

The sovereignty of God and the suffering of men is not an academic exercise. Theodicy—a good God’s control over man’s evil (and nature’s destructive force that hurts men)—confronts us every day. If we say He can stop it, why doesn’t He? If we say He can not stop it, where can we go for help?

I’ve always found it helpful to remember that the most evil thing that has ever happened in the world was planned by God before He created the world. No torture has ever been more unjust than what the soldiers did to Jesus, and by those wounds we are healed. No State sanctioned capital punishment has ever been more malicious or murderous in intent, and by Christ’s death we know God’s loving intent. God used the most heinous sin of man to purchase the salvation of man.

The apostles recognized God’s hand in the crucifixion. Peter preached on Pentecost:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

The believers prayed in light of predestination:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)

God not only can use the evil of men, He meant to. He invites us to remember the glory of the cross–where He designed the ultimate display of glory–as we eat the bread and drink the wine together.

Calvinist Excuses

If God is sovereign, should we confess our sin?

In other words, if God planned that we were going to sin, then isn’t our sin His responsibility? If He willed our sin to bring about His glory, and, in some cases, to bring about good for us, then what is really wrong with it? It is not a new question.

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:5–8)

This is a deep subject, one that requires more than a few hundred words to cover. But there are a few things that we can hold as securely as oil is slippery.

  1. God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. His will, decreed before the foundation of time, always takes place. God meant the sale of Joseph for good, to save many people alive. God meant the crucifixion of Jesus for good, to atone for many sinners. God meant the rejection of Jesus by the Jews for good, to spread the gospel to all the peoples.
  2. God calls sin, sin. Joseph’s brothers meant evil against Joseph when they sold him. The Jews and Romans meant evil against Jesus when they tortured and killed Him. The Jews who failed to submit to Jesus as the Messiah were evil in their unbelief.
  3. God holds men responsible. The same God who wills history is the same God who wills obedience for men. He has revealed laws, instructions, prohibitions, and warnings. He has also followed through with many warnings, providing us with examples that He’s serious.

He wills to condemn every man who will not confess, He wills to forgive every believer in Christ if we do confess. Shall we excuse our sin because God is sovereign? May it never be!

The Patriarch’s Prophetic Blessing

Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed with a vision of the future he could only see by faith. He prophesied that a ruler would come from Judah’s line (Genesis 49:9-10), and he probably would have been impressed if he’d seen David and Solomon in their day. We know, though, that another and greater King came from Judah.

The apostle John saw a vision around a throne in heaven, and an elder said there was no reason to weep because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah…has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion was something to “behold.” He was worthy to open the scroll, and all eyes were on Him.

But this Lion didn’t look like a lion. Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders John saw a “Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (verse 6). Jacob didn’t see this. He didn’t see how the tribute of the peoples would start flowing. It was because the Lamb purchased them. The saints were singing a new song:

“you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (verses 9-10)

Men from every tribe, not just Israel’s Twelve, are ransomed. The Lion-Lamb purchased their salvation, their freedom, their obedience, and their praise. We who believe in Christ are in that number. We are part of the patriarch’s prophetic blessing some 4,000 years ago. We are redeemed servants and saints of the slain and risen Lamb, glad servants of the ruling Lion from whom the scepter shall never depart.

We gather around the communion Table together in the name of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The Damp Bounty Paper Towel

One way we know that we’re growing up is by how much we can absorb. I don’t mean absorbing information, though the more mature we are the more we will increase (and be able to increase) in the knowledge of God. The absorbing I’m referring to is the ability and capacity to take up and reduce the intensity of someone else’s difficulty, to help them keep calm and obey on, to swallow up some of the freaking out rather than freak out in return. It’s catching their negative energy with a pillow, not returning it with a ping pong paddle.

There is an absorption spectrum that includes size and soak-ability. There is the dry, giant beach towel on one end, the damp Bounty paper towel in the middle, and the iron screwdriver on the other end. The screwdriver doesn’t absorb anything, will probably get rust on you after a while, and hurts if you hit it at the wrong angle.

Those who are spiritually mature absorb the immaturity and even some of the sinfulness of others. This ought to be our desire: to increase in absorption glory. We definitely don’t want to be dumpers, and there are certain roles that should never dump on others.

Parents ought not spill on their kids. Parents ought to be the ones who take it. Paul told the Corinthians with different imagery that “children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” so that “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Generally, husbands should absorb for their wives, teachers for their students, pastors for their sheep.

We do, of course, run out of absorption room at times. Mom was already running at full capacity when half the household started vomiting, at 2am. Dad is in the middle of a busy season at work, and gets into a car accident, has to deal with insurance, and start physical therapy, and the kids “choose” that week to go off the reservation. What do you do then? Pray for grace to find a dry patch of fabric and sew it onto the towel. Remember that we are in Christ. Trust that His soak-ability is made perfect in our wetness.

Locating Trust

In Psalm 20 David has us sing,

Some trust in chariots and some in horses
but we trust in the name of the LORD our GOD. (verse 7)

The verse before (6) and the verse after (8) connect this song to battle. Verse 1 talks about “the day of trouble” and verse 9 includes a shout out for the king. Men are always tempted under fire to trust their strengths, their strategies and supplies, to trust what they can see. This is true especially for those out front.

What wins, though, is the Lord. “He will answer from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

We also trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are saved as we believe in Him.

Even though kings used chariots and horses he shouldn’t swear by them. Likewise the believing leader doesn’t believe in the means. For us, we utilize weapons in the spiritual war, but we do not trust those weapons. We “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

One of the most effective tactics of our shepherding, one that helps us to present every man complete in Christ and build up the body in part and as a whole, is to eat and drink. We do it because we believe that the Lord works, that He nourishes our faith and knits us together around His Table. Bread and wine are never so powerful as when received together in thanks, in the name of the Lord.

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.