Four Chariots Wide

These sermon notes on self-control are better than a heap of Babylonian bricks. Wilson aims his admonition at the angry, but certainly there is application for all sorts of afflicting or tempting emotions. It all starts from the text: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, KVJ).

Notice that a man who is not self-governed is compared in the first instance to a man who is defenseless. Not having rule in his own spirit, which means he does not have rule over his own spirit, means that the walls of his “city” are little more than rubble. Now this means that self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall. But there is more. The man who has “no rule” is a man who has no rule over his spirit. In other words, the problem is that his soul is tempestuous. He lets others live in his head rent-free. This is the man who is defenseless.

Someone who is self-controlled in his spirit is someone who is a warrior. His city is not defenseless, but this control is not just a defensive posture. Note what Proverbs tells us elsewhere. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32).

A man with self-control in his spirit can defend his city, but more than this, he can take a city.

Read the rest.

A Principal Ornament

Our elders are continuing to read The Supper of the Lamb and, in the chapter we talked about at our last meeting, Capon described how “a husband’s hunger is one of the principal ornaments of his household.” Too big a lunch means he’s not ready to be grateful for whatever his wife has prepared. Hunger is a sauce that sweetens even bitter things.

What kid wouldn’t love coming to the table to hear his dad talk about how he’s been looking forward to this meal all day? This isn’t dad being angry if the food takes a few minutes longer in the oven or if the menu is different than what his wife originally planned. He’s satisfied in anticipation, giving thanks before any bites because he knows what’s gone into the preparation.

I am very encouraged at how many of the young kids among us—I’m thinking in particular of those who are old enough to walk and talk but who haven’t been baptized yet—those who see what’s happening, who want to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Of course they could be doing it because it looks like a fun snack. That’s not what it is. But I would rather have that mistake for a while than the mistake of them not wanting to do what we’re doing for a long time. “Look at all those miserable, fearful people. I don’t want anything to do with that.”

Fathers and mothers who come to the Lord’s Table hungry for communion with their heavenly Father and with their spiritual family are showing that this is a table of joy. We know what went into preparing it, in heaven and on earth. May another generation see our glad hunger for Christ and come to love hungering for Him too.

Pater Noster

We started a series of exhortations about the Lord’s Prayer last week. Jesus assumes that men pray; even hypocrites and idolators pray. When we pray we should avoid pretense and superstition. I’ll probably come back to both of those preparatory instructions later.

But since the subject for my message last Lord’s Day was kids in worship, I want to point out the first part of Jesus’ pattern. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven….”

The medieval church referred to Matthew 6:6-9 less as the Lord’s Prayer or the Disciples’ Prayer and more often as the Pater noster. In Greek the prayer begins, Pater hemon, which is Pater noster in Latin, and “Our Father” in English. This is not as much the prayer of a believer as it is a prayer of the church, or at least of the family. We are brothers and sisters who come together to our Father.

When we come to the time of confession in our corporate worship it’s appropriate to think about God, the Lord, the Almighty. He is our Creator, the one with whom we have to do. He is also the Lawmaker, the Judge, and He is perfect in holiness. And for us in the church, He is our honored Father. As the ultimate Father He doesn’t lower the standard, He holds His children to it in love and with discipline as necessary. He also restores His children to fellowship by forgiving them.

Our sin is a reflection on our Father’s name. Our sin has consequences on our family. But He is a faithful and merciful Father who sent His Son to bring many sons to glory. So we confess as children to our Father.

Flammable Under Certain Conditions

On June 5th last year our school had its first graduation. It’s taken me until now to post my notes. Hahaha!


Good evening to our (almost) graduates, their parents and families and friends, and to all of our guests. Good evening to our teachers, along with the younger Raggants here to see what this graduation thing might look like for them in two (to twelve) years. Thank You to the Board for allowing me the privilege of giving this first commencement address.

Many schools have started for many reasons. Whether parents school their children at home or find a trustworthy school nearby or pool their resources to begin a cooperative work, children have been being taught for a long time in many places. It’s a present perfect progressive sort of thing.

In this place, a small group of parents with a growing conviction about one principle decided that we could not sit still. This principle is as simple as an ocean wave. The principle is as small as a mustard seed. The principle is like oxygen, always present, not always appreciated, and flammable under certain conditions. The principle is: Jesus is Lord.

According to God’s Word through the apostle Paul, to be a Christian requires one to make this confession. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be” schooled. Ah, it seems I’ve misquoted the epistle to the Romans. Mea culpa. But I wonder if the change in verb might help us meditate on the work leading to (ad), and leading away from (ab), the commencement tonight.

Paul actually wrote in chapter 10 that all those confessing Jesus as Lord will be saved. The Greek word is a form of sozo, and the Latin translation is a future linking verb with the predicate adjective salvus from which our English word “salvation” derives. Confess and believe and be saved.

But saved from what? Saved for what? This is what the E in ECS is good for. This is the Big E. The evangel is the good news that every bitter and blinding separation caused by sin is overcome in Jesus. You are saved from separation from God, reconciled to the Father by the Son. This reconciliation is supernatural, eternal, and effective now. You belonged to the domain of darkness, you were outside the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, now you have been brought in. “Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

For what? You are redeemed for life. Life is when separated things are united. This includes your soul being united to God along with your mind and your body. In Romans 12 the apostle urges the Christians to present their bodies as living sacrifices for the Lord and to be renewed in their minds for discerning what is good and acceptable and perfect to the Lord.

The presenting of our bodies and renewal of our minds do not take place automatically. They require the Spirit and the Spirit grows us up into salvation. We who “were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [we’ve] been committed” (Romans 6:17). Confessing Christ as Lord is the beginning and the ongoing motivation. Jesus is Lord is a first principle, not in isolation like a bookmark that keeps track of what page you’re on, but like the spine that holds all the pages together.

This principle motivated Abraham Kuyper to help open the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880. In his inaugural speech he said this:

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically (airtight or insulated) sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”

As the graduates have heard, and hopefully will remember forever, the translation of “a square inch” is not the most powerful image, or even the most accurate. Kuyper said there is not an een duimbreed, better understood as “the width of a thumb.” You cannot frame or feel anything that falls outside of Christ’s sovereignty or His interests.

Every Caesar is dead. Just ask Plutarch, Livy, Suetonius, Tacitus, or even Shakespeare. But Jesus lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Dominum Jesum. Jesus reigns. He sits at God’s right hand and before He ascended He said that all authority in heaven and on earth were given to Him. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom. So we make students in His name.

Kuyper saw in his day that schools were not starting with Jesus as Lord. He said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Something better is possible. You’ve tasted it.

The world crisis involves not inequality, self-interest, or justice, but a living person—involves Him who once swore that he was a King and who for the sake of this royal claim gave up his life on the cross of Golgotha. (Kuyper)

Every person, every school, every graduate, every government, will either confess or contest that Jesus is Lord. That is either reality or delusion. You will believe it to be the key to the development of human life or to its destruction. Your schooling has pointed you like a arrow to be true.

You must do more than be able to agree about the sovereignty of God, you must acknowledge it in your moments. The lordship of Christ should be a point of humility, not of pride. The hostility between the seed of the woman and the seed of there serpent will either be a theory, a theology, or a conviction.

When presidents offer to be your savior, when money offers to be your security, when others offer to provide you will approval and acceptance, you will know that these are useless apart from the Lord.

Jesus is Lord of every public sphere: the scientific world, the business world, the world of art, the world of politics. But also over every sphere of your life: your conscience, your faith, your reason, your talents, your time, your will, your work, your words. All things, visible and invisible, are for Him.

You will miss the daily reminders of our responsibilities to love our neighbors by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You will miss the Creed and the Cantus. You will hear about Mr. Bowers “accidentally” falling on a 2nd grader from Facebook rather than after recess. No one will read great books to you while you eat lunch. These are just some of the unique enculturation flavors you’ve tasted at ECS, and they are all for the Lord.

The principle that motivated the start of this school is the principle, the passion, we hope you’ll carry into any further schooling you pursue, any work you do, the families you begin.

The breath of Kuyper’s address applies tonight:

Only by ever focusing on our sacred principle each time the waves crashed over us did our weary head raise itself bravely from the water. If this cause be not of the Mighty One of Jacob, how could it stand.

The school has survived four years. You have survived your years here. But this work is “worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

We pray that our students:

won’t be embarrassed by old-fashioned virtues, like hard work and discipline. They will respect authority and defy the authorities. They won’t get fired from jobs because of laziness, and they will get fired from them because of something they said about homosexuality. They won’t resent money and success, and they won’t be dazzled by money and success. They will laugh at the hipsters, and they will laugh at themselves laughing at the hipsters. They will loathe the enticements of corrupt entertainment, and they will love a true story. They would rather die than become one of the cool kids. They will be cool. (Douglas Wilson Rules for Reformers)

You may be free from your responsibilities at ECS, but you are not free from responsibility for the gifts of enculturation that were given to you at ECS. You are free to serve the Lord. This is the starting principle of all you do, it is the goal of all you do. Jesus is the beginning and the end.

I can say on behalf of the school board and teachers, we love you—Dineke, Andrew, and John—we are thankful to God for you, and we pray that you—as the very first raggants trained and released into the world-wide wild—will risk your lives and disturb the lives of others in the name of the Lord.

Outright Dependence

Prayer is an indispensable way that that we express our dependence on God during corporate worship but not the only way. We also demonstrate dependence when we attend to God’s Word, and Scripture directs our Lord’s Day service from the opening call to the final commission. There is fellowship when we hear His Word and when we respond with words of prayer. Communication renews and sustain our relationship with God week by week.

Both of these are word-based and necessary. There is at least one more act of outright dependence, and that is when we eat the bread and drink the wine.

After Jesus fed the 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, the crowd followed after Him to Capernaum. In their conversation Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). But the Jews grumbled at this claim, so Jesus pressed further.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56)

We do this by faith at the Lord’s Table. Is God pleased with you due to your abilities? Of course not, so come and eat Christ’s flesh. Does God forgive your sins by sacrifices you’ve made? Never, so come and drink Christ’s blood.

At this Table there is dependence on the Holy One of God. In Him alone is eternal life.

Those Who Don’t Pray

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed common ways that people often practice their righteousness before men: almsgiving, praying, and fasting. There is a way to do any or all of them that misses out on reward from our Father in heaven. After introducing the theme (Matthew 6:1), there are three subjects in four paragraphs, with prayer being the focus of two of them. If we associate prayer with fasting, which we should, then prayer gets a supermajority of attention.

Not only does prayer get Jesus’ attention, His warning and instruction about prayer is also based on a big assumption. Jesus makes a distinction between men who pray seeking reward from men and men who pray seeking reward from God. He does not mention those who don’t pray at all; that’s not an option. He assumes that we’re praying; even hypocrites and unbelieving Gentiles pray.

Hypocrites love to put on a prayer show for men. Gentiles need to pray a lot because their gods get busy and are not entirely reliable, so the more words the better chances of being heard. This performance is before a different audience but it’s still a show.

What does it say about us when we don’t pray at all, or at least in such a way that it could be assumed? It says we don’t understand righteousness, we don’t know the Father, and we don’t care about receiving a reward from Him. A prayer-less life won’t remain a secret, and it’s a sin we should confess.

What was He doing here?

Someone has said before that many babies have been born a king, but only one king was born a baby. Jesus came to inaugurate His kingdom coming to earth.

In Pilate’s headquarters Pilate questioned Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus was disrupting things already, but not in the typical way. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom is not established by family lineage or use of force. If that were true, then His servants would have been fighting already.

His kingdom is not of this world, it’s not worldly, but that doesn’t mean that His kingdom is not in the world or for the world. If His kingdom had nothing to do with the world, then why did He come into it? What was He doing here?

Pilate replied, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Truth is a large category, and there are many truths that Jesus embodied, taught, and confirmed by His incarnation and life. The particular truth He’s talking about with Pilate, the truth for which He was born, is that He is King.

This was the question of the wise men. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” This is why Herod the king was troubled so much that it boiled over onto all Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2-3).

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Jesus grew up. He’s fought and won His greatest battle, defeating sin and death. Now He invites us to eat and drink around this outpost table of His kingdom until He returns to reign on earth.

Songs Working Overtime

Advent is a season of anticipation. I’ve given four exhortations to confession for sake of our preparation the previous four Sundays, and, now that we’re here on Christmas day, I’ve got a final imperative: rejoice exceedingly with great joy!

The angel told the shepherds that he brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). If we don’t have great joy, then we haven’t believed the good news. And when the wise men came a while after Jesus’ birth, “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Surpassing delightedness, not barely not complaining, is the response of those who see the Son of God, the Son of Mary.

One of my favorite lines from our Christmas carols, the line that has provoked my imagination more than others this December, is “let men their songs employ.” It makes me think of a company hired to promote a new cure, or a product certain to please those who get it. The team must consider how to get maximum reach, the most appropriate medium, and utilize their best resources to pull off the announcement.

Here we are to receive and respond and proclaim that His blessings flow far as the curse is found. Earth should receive her King. He rules in truth and grace. What should we get ready in order to rejoice exceedingly with great joy? We need to find some songs and put them to work. It’s going to be a long day for some of these songs, and some of them have been working overtime for a month or so. But the songs can handle it. Joy to the world—Jesus Christ is born to save-let men their songs employ.

The Suburbs of Fellowship

We have a natural tendency to think about relationships in spacial terms. Some are close, some are far. It makes sense when we think about Aunt Jane who lives two-thousand miles away. We don’t see her very often; we’re not that close.

Of course actual distance between people doesn’t actually determine their unity, their fellowship, their closeness. Your spouse might be in New Zealand and yet she is in your bosom. Or your spouse might be sitting in bed next to you eighteen inches away and yet a world apart.

Some of us have been reading Dante’s Inferno and there is a sense of spiraling distance from God the deeper into hell the pilgrim descends. Sinners get the punishment they deserve. That’s why, for example, gluttons who were never satisfied on earth, will gulp handfuls of mud. That’s also why those who rejected God are judged to stay away from the goodness of God’s presence.

As Christians we might feel that we are close to God, or further from Him at times. We do grow in our fellowship as we know Him better and relate to Him in love and obedience.

But He does not choose some for His favorites and push others in the suburbs of fellowship. We are in the center circle, not out on the periphery. He is no Jacob. Through the true Israel, Jesus, we are all sons of His right hand, not just those who write psalms. Through the true vine, we are all branches grafted in; you don’t have to graduate from seminary. None of us deserve it, but “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a).

Emmanuel – “God with us.” Hallelujah – “Praise the Lord,” us with Him. The bread and the wine is for all His children, no hierarchies to climb, no great distance to cover. We have communion with Him, seated at His Table.

A Time to Give, Apparently

We are less than a week away from Christmas day, and we’ve been trying to make sure we’re ready. It’s not best to do all your gift-buying at the last minute, and neither to do all your heart-prepping. I’ve exhorted us to be broken, to embrace the flesh (with provisos), and to expect anticipation.

With crunch time upon us, here is the fourth exhortation: give blessing. My son said the other night, “Christmas is a time of giving, apparently.” Yes, it is, apparently.

Here is our time to be little-Fathers, copying our heavenly Father who loved and gave His Son (John 3:16). We are also little-Christs, to be Christians, imitating the Son who gave Himself (Galatians 2:20).

Such divine giving was not according to the worth of the receivers. We’re just indirect objects. The greatness is in the subject. In other words, the ones who get aren’t the standard, the one who gave is. We learn something about His nature, especially when we realize what kind of grabby, selfish, petty kids we are.

So give, but not grief. Give freely, not with strings attached. Give generously because you are generous, or at least because your God is generous and you want to be more like Him.

And give blessing. That means that you desire the good of the other person, not just to give them something good. This can feel impossible when they are in a mood to complain and criticize. He is ungrateful about the package you gave him, which, if he saw the price you paid on the receipt in your wallet, he probably would have at least kept quiet. She is irritated at the food you cooked for her, too much refined sugar, or not enough. Okay, so you are not done giving. Give the gift, then give a gift in your response to how your gift was received.

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for revealing, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Here is a call for the sacrifice of the saints. We must give up our lives for others, as many times in a row as it takes. We’ve been called to give blessing all the time, and remembering the gift of Christ is a bright star to follow.