Proverbial Nose Bleeds

How many ways can you have a bad day? I’m not sure, but I know for sure how to make one worse.

Maybe the “bad” is due to your body. It’s not traceable to anything foolish you did, it’s due to something in God’s sovereignty, and it causes you some amount of suffering. Maybe the bad is in your mailbox, or email inbox. Out of what seems like nowhere to you, God sent you a bill, or a criticism, or an “opportunity” that will take you a week just to decide what to do. People have had it worse than you, but this is bad.

I have come back from the land of attempted sanctification and can report a guaranteed way to multiply the problem. I’m going to tell it to you know, for free, it doesn’t take long to teach. If you want to make it worse, see what’s bad and then get mad. Anger will pour vinegar on the soda of your papier-mâché volcano. Eruption!

Solomon wrote a lot about anger, and about how fools get angry. It starts with too high a view of the man in the mirror.

If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.

For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,

and pressing anger produces strife.

(Proverbs 30:32-33)

Anger starts when you’ve decided that you are doing things God’s way, or rather that what you’ve decided is as good as God’s way. If God’s way isn’t happening, which by this point you’re seeing very clearly from your perspective on high, you get angry. Anger never dances alone for long. It wants a partner, or rather, a target, and so it “produces strife.”

Now your bad day, which may have been God’s plan to get glory (as in John 9), has you hot and your wife in fight or flight and your kids (or coworkers) questioning if you are as #blessed as your bumper sticker claims.

But, good news, Jesus already bled for the proverbial nose bleeds you’ve caused, and His grace is like cool milk to a heart on fire.

Uncomfortable Blessings

Photo thanks to Leila Bowers
When I give a talk I prefer to build up to a Big Reveal. This time I will tell it to you up front, then go back and explain what I mean and why it’s important and what you should do about it. Here goes: Since the start of ECS I believe that no one has learned more than me. I have reasons for this claim and, if it’s true, I also believe that no one has been more blessed than me either. Of course, I’m happy to share, the blessings and a bit of the story.

On a spring afternoon seven years ago my wife wanted to talk. She had just finished a marathon math lesson with our oldest daughter, who was in third grade at the time and whom we were homeschooling. Math was a sore spot in those days; things just weren’t adding up, if you know what I mean. But math was merely part of the problem, and there was no answer key. Both Mo and I were coming to realize how big an education we wanted for our kids and we were detecting a mismatch between that vision and our capacity to give it. I had attended public school, Mo had been homeschooled, and I was excited for her to homeschool our kids. I thought I was a pretty impressive husband for how supportive I was of her work.

But that discussion on that afternoon was less like realizing that we needed to upsize to a mini-van and more like realizing that we needed to get a 747, and that we were going to have to build one with instructions ordered from the back pages of a Popular Mechanics magazine. While we talked about a few options, she finally said, “Look, Sean, you are going to need to be exhausted educating our kids, so you better figure out the best way to do it.” That is a haunting, prophetic exhortation, and I wouldn’t be giving this talk without it.

One of the options we discussed was trying to convince some other crazy families to start a classical Christian school. But since all she and I had done at that point was read about those elusive creatures called classical schools, we decided it might be good to get some experience at one of them to see the theory running around in plaid skirts. We enrolled our kids at Providence Classical Christian School, located in Lynnwood at the time, a 40 minute drive one way without traffic. Maggie entered in 4th grade, Cal started Kindergarten, and we knew within a week that we found the good wine, like the kind Jesus made.

Around the same time we bought a three-ring binder from the Association of Classical and Christian Schools on how to start a school. Ha! Jonathan was excited about the possibility, as were a few other people that were at least willing to indulge the dream. We started reading, a lot. We talked, a lot, about truth and goodness and what is beauty and why bother. We wrote a vision document and statement of beliefs, chose a name, a mascot, and a motto. It took us another five years to get the mission chiseled into one sentence. It’s easy to blather and hard to summarize for that elusive elevator chat. It’s even harder to get off that elevator and do something.

While we loved homeschooling, and we loved PCCS, we wanted more people to have access to this worldview-ing in the Marysville area. One option we discussed, and I’m not joking, was to buy a bus and commute en masse to Lynnwood every morning and afternoon. Instead, we started with twelve students, K-10th, in a farmhouse basement in the fall of 2012.

Initially, I thought I was going to be exhausted telling students all the things I knew. I mean, I was an involved parent, pastor, board member, teacher of Latin, and reader of school-starter notebooks. Turns out, I was exhausted trying to figure out all the things I didn’t know. I had to learn what sort of scissors exercises help penmanship in the pre-polly stage and why cursive handwriting is better than printing. I needed a better answer for Why Latin? than that “it’s classical,” and hard. How old should someone be to start Kindergarten? Why are school desks actually a thing? What do you do when you don’t have lockers or desks or your own space to leave things so that 8 year-olds are carrying 30 pound backpacks around? What sorts of character do we want our graduates to have?

Sheesh. That doesn’t include trying to read and learn from the books and history that I didn’t pay attention to when I was a student. I’m part of a group of auditors that will finish the 6th and final year of Omnibus in a few weeks. We’ve done Hammurabi, Homer, Herodotus, Hitler, Hobbes, Hemingway, and Huxley, and that’s just one letter of the alphabet. I had a master’s degree with almost no mastery of economics and politics. Or fiction. We had to start a fiction festival just so I could do my penance to generations of librarians and literature teachers.

How do you know when it’s too much lazy complaining about homework, or that it’s actually too much homework? What is the maximum student load for a class? What if you have five more students than that number, but you don’t have that money to pay another teacher?

How do you encourage teachers who are exhausted and trying to figure out the best way to love and teach their students, but also enable them to have a life for serving their own spouse and kids?

These are all great questions. Weighty questions. Pressing questions. Exhausting questions. And, would we really want it any other way? This is our place, and it is the place where God grows us.

If you listen to professional educators, and especially education lobbyists, they’ll rant on repeat that the system needs more money. Let’s raise a levy. Get more government grants. But, many schools have gotten more money and not gotten more smart. Maybe some day God will give us such an overfunded budget that we don’t know what to do with it, but money never made a mental muscle. No check ever created hunger to learn. Gifts may be sweet, but they don’t increase strength.

The feast we’re enjoying is festive because of vision of something great and many sacrificial labors to deal with the difficulties of getting to that vision. It’s true of this barn, of this meal, and of our school. Those for whom it is the tastiest are those who have given themselves to the voluntary work of being uncomfortable.

We’ve hired full-time and part-time men and women who will and do give their lives for their students, not because they know it all, but because they hate that they don’t. They’re not education experts, they’re education desperates.

This is not a bug, it’s a feature. While we are giving our kids an education that we didn’t get, we are giving them an example of being exhausted toward something that’s worth it. This isn’t because these are the only people we could find, it’s because it’s the kind of people we want to graduate.

The best work doesn’t need to get stuck in the founders generation, the ones who walk from cup of coffee to cup of coffee. The goal isn’t getting established, with enough faculty and facility and funds. The goal is not getting settled, and having a faculty and facility and funds that get us into new uncomfortable positions. The fundraising feast is not about meeting our current needs. It’s to make it so that we have more needs and bigger needs.

The very first assembly message I gave was about how wise people change their mind, regularly. Either you know it all at the beginning, or you stay in your bunker, or you have to learn.

Little did I know how little I knew, or how costly and painful it would be to learn. I’ve learned more than anyone because I had more than anyone to learn. But thanks be to God who delivers us from sin and ignorance, who gives us freedom in Christ to learn about, and love, all that Christ claims as His. Thank God for kids who love it. Maggie told me this is one of her favorite nights of the year; I wouldn’t have imagined. Thank God for teachers who keep growing, for a school community that keeps singing more loudly and harmoniously.

Many of you feast on similar blessing already (even if mine is bigger!). Others of you could join. It is costly. It takes time, repentance, even money. But as Paul told the Philippians, he didn’t want their financial gift for himself, but “the fruit that increases to your credit.” To train a generation of those who will give (produce, create) rather than take (consume), we must show them what it looks like to have skin in the game, which means we’ve got to roll up our sleeves.

So thanks for enjoying some of the labored for fruit with us. Consider giving, not so that we can be more comfortable and get out of work, but rather so that we can get more people to enjoy the work of learning, and all its blessings.


These are the notes from my talk at last Friday’s Fundraising Feast.

Affections in Maternal Tones

Paul did not have questions about his gender, but he did speak of his affections in maternal tones a couple times. He told the Thessalonians, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). To the Galatians he was even more active:

my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)

He regularly talked about his labors for the elect, but this is the only place he likened himself to being in labor. (We can only imagine the complaints of gender appropriation he must have received).

The Galatians were being bewitched by those preaching salvation by law keeping, or at least true sanctification by law keeping. Paul’s entire letter to them corrects ideas and practices contrary to the gospel of free grace.

Like a mother with her children, Paul is in “anguish,” a word which could be translated “suffer birth pains.” While I haven’t given birth, I’ve been around. It looks like it hurts. Paul used the illustration to communicate that he cared, that he was closely connected, and that he longed for a healthy baby. He wanted Christ in them, for them to take on Christ’s shape.

That happens by faith. When Paul says that he suffers birth pains so that Christ is formed in them, it includes his desire that they would, like him, “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So come to the Lord’s Table of grace and remember His loving sacrifice. May your faith be fed by the bread and wine. And may Christ be formed in you.

So Not Okay

God hates divorce. God also hates division in the body. He loves unity. Jesus prayed that His people would be one, that they would be one even as He and the Father are one. That’s tight.

But history, which we believe God rules, is filled with conflict and splits between believers, between churches. While Paul climbed all over the Corinthian contentions to correct their petty party preferences, he also told them later that divisions were necessary and part of God’s purpose.

when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:18–19)

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul admonishes the church for failing to receive one another, for some who selfishly isolated themselves and satisfied themselves rather than loving one another. Is that okay? Not only is it not okay, God planned for it to be so not okay that it accomplishes His purpose of showing who’s not okay.

While we should examine ourselves when we come to the table and confess any resistance to fellowship, that is different than coming to the table and resenting other fellows who are messing up communion. It is possible that someone is doing it wrong, and praise God that it isn’t you, unless it is. Either way, we eat and drink in remembrance of what Jesus has done, and focusing on Him either fixes conflict or it puts the characters into context.

Knots and Nooses

Give a sinner a knife and he will find knots to cut. He doesn’t want things tied together, he wants things loose. Give a man a rope and he will make a noose. He claims he wants justice, punishment for those who deserve it. A knife is good, but in a culture of lynch mobs, a knife is good for cutting nooses. Rope is good, but in a culture of relativism and emotional goo, it’s good for tying knots that hold things together. Sin doesn’t need different tools, sin uses the good tools toward wrong ends.

Law and grace are misused gifts. The law is good for revealing the righteousness of God and our need for a Savior. Sinners use the law to accuse and condemn our neighbor. Grace is good for delivering us from the guilt and grasp of sin. Sinners use grace as a justification to plunge deeper into it.

What should we do? We should listen to God’s Word and not be choosy. We should hear all that He has to say, and learn what He loves and what He hates. But we overestimate our abilities and stop listening before He finishes speaking. God loves the perfect and hates perfectionism. He loves when His people walk in the Spirit and He hates when we try to walk in the Spirit apart from our feet.

Sinners are strict when they ought to forgive and compromise they ought to stand. We need to be ruthless with our sin, and never sin by being ruthless with our neighbor. We have many good gifts, let us use them as obedient sons.

Bitter Would Be a Start

When it comes to the ideal marital state, the point is contentment and satisfaction that matches your condition. Are you single and satisfied? Are you married and enjoying it? Such happiness is gift.

When it comes to the ideal spiritual state, the goal is peace and fellowship with Christ and His people. Not everyone has the same gift that builds up the body. Different persons serve in different ways, but we all enjoy communion. We don’t compare talents to say who is “better,” we come to the same table and share the same elements by faith.

This is where we get our identity. Here is where we learn to get along.

We live in a culture that is panicked that someone else might be getting more recognition. We are concerned about aggressions and micro-aggressions. Someone is upset that she is called “single.” The label implies something is missing. “Unmarried” is even worse. So what should we call her? “Bitter” would be a start.

Again, Christ’s calling is the difference, and, He doesn’t give everyone the Same. God is the one who gives gifts. None of us have anything that hasn’t been given to us. More than figuring out why we should have what someone else has, we should be figuring out all the things we have to give thanks for.

The bread and the cup are provided for us, and they orient us to the one who gave Himself for us.