Last Number of Times

If you read my blog you probably already know through some other channel that my sister went to be with the Lord on February 17. The funeral home website posted her obituary and a video slideshow, and the following are the notes for the talk I gave at the funeral service.


My sister was a gifted crafter. As the many quilts displayed in the sanctuary demonstrate, she had a keen eye and deft touch to put her ideas into incarnated form. Before she was squaring quilts, she was knitting, inventing her own patterns for socks and sweaters and hats and turtles and costumes for pirate turtles such as Captain Knack Sparrow.

For as many projects as she finished, word is, even by her own testimony, that there were dozens more she’d begun. Miles of of yarn and square yards of fabric in her stockpile were waiting for their turn on her needles or craft table respectively. It seems that socks were her particular weakness. She often knit one, that couldn’t truly be called the first, because she never cast on the second.

In some ways it feels as if her life was only half finished, or as if she had started some elaborate quilt that is now sewn short and not so neatly. Switching analogies, not many authors would write a story like this. She gave her life to Christ less than a year ago, so how many more things we might have anticipated for her? How many things did she anticipate doing differently? I believe that God is sovereign, that He writes the story how He wants and that each individual sentence ends for our good and His glory. I’m not questioning His timing. I’m saying it’s different than we would do.

In some ways it’s surprising that she made it this long. That’s partly because one doctor forecast in the middle of August that she might have only three weeks to live, and she lived more than six months longer than that. It’s also surprising she made it this far because, among other things, I tried to teach her how to ride a bike by pushing her down a hill when she was I only four years old, or maybe she was only three. Apparently I forgot to tell her to go toward the side without the car at the bottom; she did ride down the hill…directly into the car.

We shared a variety of memories, including the times when dad and mom required us to put our noses on the windows in the back of the car when we were messing with each other’s stuff, or sneaking over past the halfway mark on the backseat. We often threatened each other in the heat of some sibling argument that when we grew up we wouldn’t give the other one a kidney.

One of our competitions also involved seeing how long we could get mom to respond to us saying goodnight. In one of the houses we lived in, mom would tuck us in and then head down the stairs. Brooke and I would try to see how many ways we could say “Goodnight” and “I love you” until Mom had had enough at the bottom and shut the door. One of our favorite techniques was, “I love you last number of times” because you can’t go any higher than that, right? Then our higher math developed and we loved her last number of times, times infinity, plus one.

As I said earlier she repented and put her faith in Jesus Christ less than a year ago, here at West Hill Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, 2016. She immediately found a church near her apartment in Cincinnati, Truth Community Church, and started worshipping there. I saw her a few weeks after she professed faith and she was so excited to be learning about Ephesians verse-by-verse. Her only disappointment was that Pastor Green was already in chapter 6. She asked me, “Do you think there is any way I could go back and study the first five chapters, too?”

She was already feeding on and being satisfied by the God’s Word. The Bible is like food. It is bread and wine that give joy and peace.

Eleven years ago when I talked at my dad’s funeral service I said he possessed an uncommon diligence and that I wished he had known more Christian joy. My sister had an uncommon ability to make others feel included. She was funny and smart, quick as anyone with witty wisecracks. And I still wish my sister had known more Christian peace. For a variety of reasons, and for many years, she didn’t have the security and stability that only comes from the blessing of the heavenly Father. She had some great friends, she accomplished some stunning projects, but until she submitted to Christ she did not start to have the peace or the firmness of being planted like a tree by living water as Psalm 1 describes.

She knew the gospel. She grew up going to church with the family, she graduated from a Christian college, she taught in a Christian school for a few years. Sadly not everyone in those places treated her well, and she didn’t see the gospel well-adorned by professing believers. Some of the “Christians” were real jerks (“jerk” being the only word dad taught us how to spell in sign-language). Yet if she could tell us something from heaven, I suspect one thing would be: don’t let any of that keep you from the peace of God the Father that comes through Jesus His Son.

The Lord has decided that it is best for her to get her heavenly dose of His peace sooner than later. Though she only began to know His peace on earth for a short time, He has blessed her in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and she’s there now. She has full redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of grace (Ephesians 1:7). She experiences the rich mercy of God, He has raised her in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). She knows the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). And at this point she knows way more about Ephesians than I do!

The gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) has brought her to her eternal peace, and all of us who believe will get there too.

So I love her last number of times, and I’m glad to get the final word, because I know that she has great peace with our Father.

The Cup in Our Hands

There is no way that Pharaoh’s cupbearer was unable to remember what Joseph had done. Nothing could have been worse than losing his royal position as confidant to the king and nothing else other than his restoration to that position would have occupied his mind more while in prison. His dream, and Joseph’s foretelling of his deliverance, consumed him for three days until the prophecy was fulfilled. Even if the cupbearer did not want to advocate on behalf of the Hebrew who served him and gave him hope, there is no way that Joseph simply slipped his mind…for two years. He didn’t draw a blank, he blocked it out.

Joseph asked the cupbearer to “Remember me.” He appealed that the cupbearer would “mention me to Pharaoh.” Though Joseph had cared for him every day and miraculously calmed his fears, the cupbearer refused to recognize him in thanks let alone lobby for his release.

Jesus also told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He gave them bread to represent His body, a body given to redeem them as the bread sustained them. He wanted them to keep in mind what He had done.

When Paul explained the Supper to the Corinthians he said that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Not before a Pharaoh, but before one another and before the world, our receiving and remembering is part of our witness.

Christ puts the cup in our hands so that we may drink it. He was lifted up on the tree and lifted up from the grave so that He might lift up our heads to share in His glory. We may not forget. We must not let it slip our minds or purpose to keep quiet. Around this Table we are aware and we appreciate and we announce that Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from all our offenses.

A Lot of Calvinistic Sun in the Sky

The third request of Jesus’ prayer takes a lot of faith. He taught us to ask our divine Father to set apart His name from every other name. Next we ask Him to establish His promised empire among us. Then we’re to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

I want to ask, how is this possible? And, what would it look like?

How many servants of Christ have prayed this prayer as sworn Arminians? Do we appreciate that when we make this petition—or any of them really—it assumes that the Father has both the prerogative and the power to make this happen? We pray that God will make God’s will prevail over man’s will. We’re not asking men to obey God’s will, we’re asking God to cause them to obey. That’s a lot of Calvinistic sun in the sky, even more than when we acknowledge that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (verse 8).

If God answered this prayer—and it is His will for us to pray for His will to be done, so we should expect Him to answer—how would we know? What signs would we see? Well, how are things happening in heaven? We’re not asking for something different here, but that it would be here like it is there.

In heaven His Word is heard, His name is hallowed, His commands are obeyed. That obedience is total—not partial, happy—not sullen, immediate—not delayed, and quick—not slow. The angels don’t question His will or rebel against it. They don’t try to ignore or tweak or replace it.

As we pray for heavenly obedience to come down, let us pray that He cause us to obey on earth first.

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.

Current Visibility

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray He started the pattern with requests that calibrate our perspective. The first thing we ask our Father in heaven to do is hallow His own name. May He create reverence for His holy glory deep in our hearts and wide among the nations.

The second and third requests are related to the hallowing of His name as well as to each other: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I want to focus for now on the kingdom appeal.

Sometimes we’re told by Bible people that our prayers should be “more spiritual.” I have mocked the request a young man made once for his grandmother’s neighbor’s printer before, not so much because I think it shouldn’t be prayed for but because that junior high student had to have needs closer to his heart. I recognize that later in Matthew 6, Jesus says “seek first the kingdom of God” and things like food and clothing “will be added to you.” I love Paul’s prayers for the saints that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

These are spiritual but they are not unearthly requests. They are not requests that we hope to see fulfilled in heaven at some future day in the eschaton. Praying for His kingdom to come isn’t only for postmillennialists. Seek first the kingdom of God as God sends it to earth.

He is our Father. He is our holy God. He is our King. We’re His family, we’re His worshipers, we’re His subjects. When we ask that His kingdom come, we’re asking for His final victory but also for current visibility. As His kingdom comes we will be less stressed about food and clothes at this moment, we will not be collecting a catalog of the transgressions against us, we will give up trying to set up our own mini-kingdoms. This means we’re praying for our own obedience as a means to hallow His name in the present. There are characteristics of His kingdom that we want to see established here on earth, now not later. May His kingdom come.

The Nuts and Bolts of Education

These are my notes for a talk I gave last week at our school Information Night.


One of the best things about the daily nuts and bolts at our school is that we have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. I don’t start this way to get a laugh or to cause a shock. Gender specific facilities are important for modesty—though that’s not my primary reason for mentioning it. They are important for morality—though sin doesn’t depend on any given door being closed.

I bring up the distinction between male and female because we cannot have true learning or lasting culture without it.

Of course we couldn’t have following generations without male and female because humanity requires sexes in order to reproduce. Efforts to deny observable biology are efforts that destroy not only individuals, but also the future where any individuals could exist.

But I bring up male and female because God created and identified us that way.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

This means that part of bearing God’s image is being social, a reflection of the “us” and “our” in verse 26. We are made in the likeness of the Triune God. This also means that both males and females are equally image-bearers. They are different, so they receive different names and different responsibilities, but neither man or woman is more like God than the other.

It also assumes that our image-bearing relations and image-bearing responsibilities require us to acknowledge what God has made and what God has said. Boys and girls share some things yet they do not share all things, nor are they interchangeable. To deny or even to confuse this truth is to deny or confuse any possible foundation for learning.

After the poetic, lyrical celebration of male and female in Genesis 1:27 (if our culture succeeds at obliterating the distinction, what kind of songs will we be left with?), God gave a mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

We must must receive the definitions and boundaries created by God. What are animals? What kinds are there? What are we supposed to do with them? What is dominion? What can we subdue? What are we going to eat (see verse 29)? These are necessary questions, but if we won’t accept the created realities of male and female, realities that are self-evident and Spirit-revealed, how can we be trusted with anything?

A classical Christian education begins with basic facts like these. It is called the Grammar stage of the Trivium (which means “three ways”), and it acknowledges that every subject of study has created realities or historical realities or revealed realities. We are not trying to rewrite or redefine. We’re receiving what God has made, what God has done, what God has said.

Birds and fish and bugs, planets, and plants are all different, as are the letters and phonograms of the alphabet. Numbers classify and quantify objects and ideas, narratives show truth in a different way. These are particulars to be acquired.

The school board is reading a book by Gresham Machen, Education Christianity and the State, and he lamented that so many school systems (in 1925!) want kids to be thinkers but the teachers don’t give them anything to think about. “It is impossible to think with an empty mind” (p 7). No facts and no figures because they aren’t fun. There is no est, only non est.

[Such a student can] not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. (p 4)

New things are collected all the time at every stage, but collection is the special focus of our Grammar School. The youngest students delight to soak in dates and names and conjugations by song and chant and sound-off and reading. They learn about the sun and moon, right and left, right and wrong–in math and morals. They are taught definitions about masculine and feminine, without which they cannot decline any Latin nouns.

The second stage is the Dialectic or Logic stage. The emphasis during these years, roughly corresponding to Junior High, is less on collection and more on categorizing, less on soaking in and more on sorting out. Students are taught formal logic, learning what constitutes an argument, what is valid, what is sound, and what is empty or false.

In her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers tipped her hand:

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.

During this time students are systematically exposed to various ideas and worldviews, especially through the classical works of ancient, medieval, and even some modern literature. They’re learning to see what fits and what is false. They are able not only to distinguish between male and female but also to develop convictions about it.

The third stage is known as the Rhetoric stage. While students are always answering or writing or performing, the emphasis of this stage happens in the last few years of high school. Students learn things to think, how to think things through, and then how to express their thoughts in speeches and papers.

This is a time not just to know the truth or to defend the truth but to adorn the truth. Even as male and female, men and women ought to be adorned differently. We not only recognize a difference between genders for sake of bathrooms and uniforms, but even in what we want them to become. Both our young women and our young men should be well educated, both bearing the glory of God’s image, and both expressing things that the other can’t and shouldn’t even try to do.

The classical model values the Trivium as scaffolding for the building. The blueprint itself comes from God’s Word. He has said, He has given, He has created, so we give thanks and receive and study and steward. The Trivium helps teachers cut with the grain as students are generally suited to soak in and sort out and speak up as they mature.

  • Grammar – learn the good; know and enjoy things (res) as they are. Collect and comprehend.
  • Logic – identify and distinguish the good from the bad; account for things, put things together. Consolidate and cultivate convictions.
  • Rhetoric – fight for and persuade others to love the good. Consecrate ourselves, our talents and knowledge for letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Google may be able to marshal facts, but it can’t train a student in logic or rhetoric. Without grammar logic falls and rhetoric is vacant. We’re educating our students with all three.

We start by acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, and then acknowledging our identity and created definitions by God. Otherwise learning collapses in a heap of inconsistent relativities and society ceases because no one even knows what male and female are, let alone which bathroom they should use.

More Suitable for Church People

How can Jesus stand to have Tamar (see Genesis 39) in His genealogy? From the standpoint of the eternal councils, did the Son ever want to suggest an alternative plan to the Father, maybe something a little less scandalous and gross, something more suitable for church people, and the kids?!

Tamar was a Canaanite, one of the strange women the Patriarchs were eager to avoid. She was not a one man woman; she had sex with two men so sinful that the LORD executed them, and then with another man, her father-in-law, that she deceived into it by playing a prostitute.

Yet there she is, the 47th word of the New Testament, in the third verse of the book intended to show how Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew wrote the Gospel of the King, and Tamar (along with Rahab and Ruth and the wife of Uriah) is an unmistakable link, one Jesus doesn’t try to veil.

Jesus isn’t trying to cover up His past filled with sinners, nor is He looking for sinners who can cover up their past of sin. He is looking to cover our sin with His blood. Do you have sin? He has blood. Do you have great sin? He has great blood. Do you have unspeakable sin? He has blood that covers for sake of our joy unspeakable and full of glory.

We don’t manage our sin and guilt. We don’t need a public relations team to spin how the formerly shady Mr. So-and-so got in here, or to deflect attention from the nasty past of Mrs. What’s-her-name. We are here because of God’s grace, not our editing. We eat the bread and drink the wine because His love overcomes our wickedness. God didn’t kill us, He killed His Son for us. That’s why He can stand to eat at the same Table with us.