Make It Perfect

There are two ways to make your Thanksgiving holiday family time together perfect this week. One way to make it perfect is to have your family not spend any time together. Really. Where two or three are gathered together, there is disagreement in their midst. This is merely “perfect” in the sense of free from strife, though that is probably an imperfect definition of perfect. When we as Christians think about perfect we usually think about what is as good as it could possibly be.

So if not getting together is not an option, and if getting together necessarily leads to some level of relational strife, how could there possibly be a way to make it “perfect”?

Paul wrote this:

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14)

There are no perfect holidays that are free from strife, from stress, from criticisms, from sin. But there can be perfect harmony, even when sin snaps at the kids, the kids keep needling each other, the in-laws complain about the one dish that isn’t on the table of seventeen other things you made. The harmony happens when Christians absorb the heat.

You have two ways to respond when the steaming gravy gets spilled on you. You can be like a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes, soaking up the gravy from making an even bigger mess, or you can be like a dried out piece of turkey with crisp skin because it was cooked five hours too long. You can blame everyone else and leave the mess for them, or you can absorb it, as God’s chosen ones.

Be the person for whom others eagerly give thanks.

The Odyssey

4 of 5 stars to The Odyssey by Homer

Read this again in 2018 with the Omnibus Tenebras group. I’m doubling my previous star rating, and adding that this time I grew in admiration for Odysseus and Penelope, for a story of glory in fighting for marriage and family rather than glory in circuitous fighting as in The Iliad. Good work, Homer.


2012: 2 of 5 stars. I’m glad that I read it. Finally. However, I can’t say that (I’ve grown so much that I’m at the point where) epic Greek poetry suits me. That said, it wasn’t as bad as having Polyphemus bash my brains out on the floor, so I have much to be thankful for.

Me First: The Deaths We Should Die for Our Students

More than a month ago I got to address a group of teachers at the first ACCS Regional Schools Training Day held at Providence Classical Christian School. Here are the notes for my talk.


TL;DR or Abstract: The gospel is good news that Jesus died so that we might live. As Christians the gospel is not only something we must believe and proclaim, it is also something we must embody. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, teachers have many and various opportunities to bring life to their students (and the students’ families) by dying. Such dying to bring life sets the course of the classroom and also shows the students how to live like Christ.

Introduction

Wow! What a privilege it is to be here, to be a part of this first evar ACCS Regional Teacher In-Service Day, to have the opportunity to address you all and hopefully to give you some gospel encouragement for your labor in the Lord this morning. I love classical and Christian education. I love the ACCS, I love PCCS (where our oldest two kids got to attend for a year), and I love our toddler school. I am thankful to God for all that He is obviously and abundantly doing among us.

As for why I get to talk, well, my headmaster volunteered me, and none of the other headmasters/principles knew better. I definitely have a curriculum vitae to talk to teachers about teachering, and that resume is full ofincompetencies rather than masteries. I suppose if all the books could be written of the ways I could be a better teacher, all the school libraries in the world could not contain them.

But I do care. I care as an image-bearer of the God who mandated that we take dominion of all this stuff He’s created for and given to us. I care as a Christian because Jesus is Lord over every thumb’s width in the world that man can grab. I care as a parent of four students, as a pastor of parents, as a board member at our school, and as a teacher. I do not think I’m particularly gifted for the classroom, yet in some ways maybe that makes me a great person to talk about it because I have to make premeditated decisions.

The first decision requires me to determine: what do I want to accomplish? There are a number of excellent ways to answer to that question, but I’ve been answering it the last few years in an outlandish way. I want to turn Marysville into a destination.1 Have you been to Marysville? I bet we have more auto parts stores than your city, at least per capita, and certainly more on the main drag. We do have a spectacular whale fountain in front of our casino and an outlet mall that draws international customers, though those are technically not Marysville, but they are at the Marysville exits. There are also three Walmarts we can count as ours, so it’s a start. But I would love to be a part of making our city a place that Christians love to live, work, and grow.

That starts with working to make my home a destination that my kids want to be in, and then by extension to make my classroom a destination that my students want to be in. I want them wanting to be there. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but rather than dimming the lights and unfolding blankets and burning some sweet smelling candles with plenty of therapy puppies to pet, I want my classroom to be filled with the aroma of my many deaths.

That might sound like an odd ambition, but it is a gospel objective, just applied in the context of a school.

Death Is at Work

You may or may not remember a pseudo-evangelical movement that was popularish a decade ago called the Emergent Church. It was easy to tell who was part of the movement because they hated being stereotyped. They also were really keen on relationships and life, so lots of the churches scrapped the name “church” (too constricting) for something like “community” (more authentic). Many threw out their pulpits and pews and sat in couches drinking coffee and had conversations. Okay. But one of their core propositions, ironic since they were suspicious of propositions, was that Christians needed to incarnate the gospel.

That way of talking made me nervous for a couple reasons. Jesus is the incarnate Word, God in flesh, yes. But God taking on flesh is not something for us to repeat. We are already fleshy/fleshly, and more critically, we’re not God. The incarnation of Jesus is totally other than our experience. Incarnating the gospel also seemed wrong because the gospel is a message for us to preach, not a model for us to practice. I argued emphatically, definitively, that we should not use this language.

And I was wrong, because this is how the apostle Paul spoke about his ministry in a couple places, including Colossians 1:24 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The “jars of clay” are “our bodies,” “our mortal flesh,” so the treasure of the gospel is contained not just in our brains or mouths. And what’s happening in the flesh? “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” can’t mean that we’re being martyred, like a sledgehammer to a ceramic pot, once and done. The ones who are “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,” they are also the ”we who live,” and it’s happening “always.” You can’t do it “always” if the dying here is body-buried-death. Somehow “death is at work” and, based on the first part of the paragraph, dying is related to being brought to our breaking points in the four “but nots.”

And what is the result of the exercise of dying? Two related things: 1) The life of Jesus is manifested and 2) life works in those for whom we’re dying. This is the gospel: death brings life. We announce the gospel, for sure. We are Christian schools. We’ve got to, and we get to, point our students to Christ as the only name under heaven by which we can be saved. But those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 4:5) are also practicing servants of the Lord (same verse), and we show God’s surpassing power as we are “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” This is incarnating the gospel, it is embodying the good news that death brings life.

This isn’t referring to a teacher taking a bullet for a student. That could be done as a final act of love, but it is a one-time death. The dying, the being given over to death, the always carrying the death of Jesus, refers, ironically, to a way of living that brings life to others. So here’s a stipulative definition of dying: giving up something considered vital, often causing pain, for the joy of another.

Death by a Thousand Papers to Grade

What does dying look like then? How does the abstract get concrete? This is the glory of it, I don’t even know all the ways. But here are some dying assumptions and some scenarios.

My Dying Teacher Assumptions

Three of these should be good enough to give you the idea.

First, I assume that students will not remember the homework assignment and that parents will not read the assignment either. Homework, assigning how much and the grading thereof, is its own thing, which I’ll bring up again under the scenarios. This also matters whether you have parrot, pert, or poetic students; the older they are, the more they should be responsible and the younger they are the more their parents will need to pay attention. But unless the assignment itself is to see if they can follow your Rube Goldberg assignment, then die to your expectation that all you need to do is say it once and you’re done. If you always respond to your headmaster’s first email requesting your response, then you can have a scratch-n-sniff sticker on your inbox in the teachers’ lounge, but you might be the only one.

Second, and related to the first, I assume that parents have other things to do than what I am now requiring of them, especially when it comes to grammar students. Some of your schools meet five days a week, some, like our school, have a day or more when teachers give work that should be done during “school at home.” But the assumption works for plain old “homework” too. We only get so many minutes a day in class, and there are a lot of Indispensable Lessons, but it’s not always apparent that teachers realize other things happen after school, or that parents are not sitting at home clicking the refresh button in their browser to check for new homework.

Yes, we are serving parents, and parents should know what is happening with their students. Yes, parents are ultimately responsible to God for their student’s education. Yes, sometimes you need for the student to do some extra work outside of class. But how many classes do they have, and how many teachers had extra work for outside of class that same day, and how much help is that student going to need for that assignment?

Third, I assume that, even if parents read the assignment, and even if parents sacrifice their other work for sake of helping their student, they still probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Ha! So I use complete sentences, albeit as short as possible. I also RTUA = refuse to use abbreviations. It could be the third quarter, and you’re using the same abbreviation you’ve used for the Saxon Time Fact Sheets all year long without a problem, but for some reason mom is out of town and dad needs to help and the fourth grader doesn’t know what “TFS” means. If you’re using an online homework application, put your Keystroke Saving Program to death. Maybe you’ll get RSI (repetitive stress injury), but it will be life to your people. If you’re a printer of assignments to paper, pluck up, there are plenty of trees.

My Dying Teacher Scenarios

It’s Monday morning, or Thursday evening, or whenever, and you get a text message from a parent asking if there’s Latin homework because there is nothing in Renweb, Sycamore, etc. You realize that you were interrupted right when you were going to post it, and you forgot, but you had told the students in class what you wanted them to do. Do you:

  • A) Do nothing because you gave a verbal assignment?
  • B) Quickly post the assignment and expect that all the families will look at it and complete it?
  • C) Post it and notify the parents via a special group email or text?
  • D) Take the curricular bullet and have the students complete the assignment the next day in class?

Of course there are other variables, including whatever agreements and expectations there are between the school and parents about how and when homework is to be communicated. But if your immediate reaction is, “They should have remembered the assignment.” Then if it’s so easy, why didn’t you remember to put it online?

There are other options than panic. Email or text the families and say that due to your error, the assignment will be graded for extra credit for those who remembered to do it, or it will be finished in class and won’t be graded. Die to your pride, and sometimes it’s okay to die to your plan.

Here’s another scenario. You only have so many classroom minutes, and you really want to talk about Augustine, and you really need to give a memory verse quiz and a test. Do you:

  • A) Scrap waxing eloquent about Augustine and just do the boring quiz and test?
  • B) Punt the tests to the parents to administer at home so you can talk about Augustine?
  • C) Something else?

You are the teacher! Teach! Augustine is educational, even if you (wrongly) call him Augustine. The bishop of Hippo is probably applicable somehow to your curriculum. So ask yourself some questions. Is sending the test home instead of other homework better? Or is sending the test home something you’ve never done in that class and would likely cause confusion? Could you hold off talking about Augustine until next week, and plan to tweak the lesson plans to include it? Or could you move the test to next week instead?

There are other common scenarios too. Do you have a fussy student? Die (to your impatience) for him. Do you have fussy parents? Die (to your irritation) for them. Are you overwhelmed, not sure how to do the next day? Die.

You have so many ways to die to give life:

  • Give everyone all the points, or make that assignment extra credit.
  • Use someone who takes a perfect quiz as a grade for all (like justification).
  • Scrap the assignment all together, or assign just the odd problems, or only one page instead of the two, etc.

Teachers are especially tempted to pass the pressure off to others when:

  • When they are unprepared.
  • When they are upset with someone else, their spouse, their own kid, another student from another class.
  • When they made a mistake.
  • When they failed to communicate (as expected).
  • When they mismanage and run out of time (in class).

What do you tolerate in you that you wouldn’t tolerate in a student?

Conclusion

Dying to bring life is simple, not simplistic. There are qualifications, sure. I’m not arguing for a Montessori pedagogy, or that teachers never hold their students responsible. But we ought to be holding them to the standard when it is more, or at least equally, costly for us.

The gospel affects more than our content, it affects our methods. The gods of men demand sacrifices from men, and the system is rigged. The God of men sacrificed Himself, in Christ, for men, and the salvation is by grace. In most cases you are bigger, stronger, and smarter than your students. That means you could bully them, but it also means that you are equipped to sacrifice for them in powerful ways, not that you are equipped to lord it over them. That is the way of the Gentiles. When it comes to dying, it should be me first. That is some lesson.

Death isn’t just okay, it is the way of authority and glory. If sacrifice is glory, which it was for Jesus, then we reflect glory in the timely sacrificing of our lesson plans, our homework plans, etc.

As Julius Campbell told Gerry Bertier in “Remember the Titans”:

Campbell: You been doing your job?
Bertier: I’ve been doing my job.
Campbell: Then why don’t you tell your white buddies to block for Rev better? Because they have not blocked for him worth a plug nickel, and you know it! Nobody plays. Yourself included. I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? Nah, nah what I’m gonna do is look out for myself and I’ma get mine.
Bertier: See man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard.
Campbell: Attitude reflects leadership, captain.

  1. I really hoped for a particular audience response at this point, and I totally got it. A lady in the front row let out a snort loud enough for the whole room to hear. I couldn’t have scripted it better.

Royal Blood

David wrote a song about how “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). He called that Lord the “King of glory.”

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
The LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
(Psalm 24:8-10)

We know this Lord, this King, by name. This is the Christian confession: “Jesus is Lord.” And the New Testament is not shy whatsoever about connecting Yahweh to Kurios and then naming the Kurios as Iēsous. Everything attributed to the LORD is attributable to Jesus.

And this Lord is the Lord who laid down His life for His people. Paul wrote that “the rulers of this age…crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). He also wrote that they wouldn’t have done it if they understood God’s glory, but that’s not because they would have bowed. It’s because they wouldn’t willingly give Him greater glory through sacrifice.

We are not ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, that His life was drained for sake of the common people, on behalf of His subjects. I was reading in The Magician’s Nephew as Queen Jadis explained to Digory and Polly that she had to take the life of her subjects so that she could live. Digory said this was beastly, and the Queen replied that he only thought as much because he didn’t have royal blood or understand what it meant to rule. And yet the King of kings, who rules over all, became the sacrifice. This does not make Him less of a Lord. In God’s wisdom it exalts Him as the Lord of lords and Lord of glory. Come to the table of the King and eat. It is His bread and wine for you.

The Biggest Display at the Ministry Fair

We’re headed into an extended look at spiritual gifts over the next few months in the Sunday morning sermons. There are a variety of ways, as usual, to mess up our blessings.

One way is to lift up whatever gift God has given to us as the best one, to act superior over our brothers, or to expect that what we’re called to do is what everyone should be doing. These Christians not only have the biggest display at the Ministry Fair, but they give you the most Pharisaical look of disapproval for even looking at the other tables.

Another is to look down on whatever gift God has given to us as an unimportant one, to act inferior to others. Here we wish that we were called to do what someone else is doing, because doing that looks way more rewarding.

A third is to limit ourselves to whatever gift (we think) God has given to us. Someone asks us to do something, but it doesn’t interest us, so we excuse ourselves for spiritual sounding reasons. One time when organizing gift baskets for small group leaders, we asked parents to participate, giving for the leader(s) of the groups their kids were in. Some moms said that they weren’t able to give because that wasn’t their gift; they were gifted to teach. Hmmm. What? To excuse ourselves from general loving behavior and serving each other because it’s not our “gift” is the wrong reason.

Remember that the Lord is Lord. The Lord gives gifts, that He gives with delightful variety, and that the Lord gives commands that must be obeyed regardless of our gifts. You are not better than him, she is not better than you, and we all better build up the body in love. Criticisms and complaints in this department go directly to the Master, and should result in our repentance, not His.

Comparatively Uppity

On earth, the Lord’s Table may be the pinnacle of places where people do not get what they deserve. If we first examine ourselves, rather than being exposed by the Lord, we know that we are guilty outside of Christ, and that even after we came to Christ we have not always appreciated what He’s done for us.

Yet somehow we can still get uppity when we compare ourselves to others who are coming to the Table. We get comfortable in our spot, bordering on complacent, and then condemn brothers around us. “I bet he is eating in an unworthy manner.” But other than those who are under church discipline, it is a bigger problem for our fellow members not to eat and drink than it is for them to do so. Would we keep them from what the Lord gives so until they really appreciate what the Lord gives?

It wasn’t in the context of the communion meal, but Paul told the Romans that we are “not to please ourselves. Let each us of please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2). Paul prayed that God would “grant you to live in harmony with one another” (15:5). And then Paul commanded them, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (verse 7).

To “welcome” means to be glad to see them, to receive them in, to invite them close, to have the attitude of a host. Let us not despise other grace-getters, but desire great blessings from the Lord for them.

Eye Opening

It is the work of God to open eyes.

The apostle John told the story of a man born blind in John 9:1-41. Initially the disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was a direct result of someone’s sin, either his own sin or his parents. Jesus didn’t deny that this could happen, but Jesus did deny that it happened here. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).

As the chapter continues, “the works of God” include more than the restoration of the man’s eyesight through saliva mud and a wash in a pool called Sent. The spiritual eyes of the man were also opened so that he saw Jesus for who He really was: the Son of Man (verse 35). The now-seeing man believed in Jesus, and worshipped him (verse 37).

In the process, the Pharisees showed that their eyes were shut tight, and even the man’s parents covered their eyes to avoid seeing. Then Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (verse 38).

Nearby some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus and asked, “Are we also blind?” They knew that Jesus had moved the discussion beyond the physical to the spiritual. And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (verse 41).

What’s the application? We want to be blind and admit it. Jesus restores sight to those who acknowledge their need. It is the ones who refuse to admit their problems who have the biggest problem, and they are blind in their guilt.

The Supper Is a Sermon

Or, You Are Always Preaching

Preachers are often asked how long it takes them to prepare a sermon. The question wants to know how many hours the preacher spent that week getting ready to preach. Did he translate the verses for himself? Did he brainstorm? Did he read any commentaries? Did he write out his notes? Did he pray specifically over the sermon? There are any number of steps.

But it’s actually a more difficult question than that. How many years of Greek class did he take (and did he actually learn anything) or is he constantly looking up basic words in the dictionary? How much of the rest of the Bible does he know? Does he have theological guardrails in place already to keep him on the road, or is he spending lots of time climbing up from the ditch of error? Beyond all of that, is he right with God? He will choke on Scripture’s “solid food” if he isn’t practiced in distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). These are intangible things that are hard to calculate when it comes to preparing his sermon.

But, if what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is true, that every time we eat and drink the bread and wine we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” then we all need to ask how we’ve prepared to preach. There is accountability that comes along with teaching God’s Word, so we refer to the authority of the pulpit. But there is accountability at the Lord’s Table, too. There is a sense in which all of us are behind the pulpit. What is our message? God’s people should be ready to preach, by which I mean ready to eat, by which I mean ready to give themselves for one another in love like Christ.

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

More Melody Than Misery

It is more than possible that at least some of the Corinthians had participated in the worship of Dionysius, also known to the Romans as Bacchus. Bacchus was the god of wine and festivity and fertility, a god well known and served for centuries before Christ came. In the name of Bacchus men and women became drunk and in many cases caused destruction through frenzy and ritual unrestraint. Some of the Corinthian Christians may have brought this baggage with them to their fellowship meals.

Paul went out of his way in Ephesians 5:18 to contrast being filled with the Spirit to being filled with, another way to say “controlled by,” wine: “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

But it is interesting to see the results of that Spirit-filling: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). This does not sound like the death of Bacchus, it sounds like his salvation and submission to Christ. The opposite of Dionysian madness and indulgence isn’t commiseration, but melody and thankfulness.

Worshipped as a god, everything brings damnation. Seen as a servant of God, all lawful things are good for God’s glory. So were the Corinthians behaving inconsistently at the Lord’s supper? Absolutely. What would have made it consistent? Consistent would not have been misery instead of revelry, consistent would have been loving God and others joyfully in remembrance of Christ.