Too Thankful for the Right Things

Names matter. Part of our image-bearing identity is to name things, and the names we give not only categorize and help us communicate, they also shape our expectations.

Every week we “have” communion, or we observe it, or we celebrate it. Communion reminds us that we are not isolated from the Lord or from one another. This is a meal that reminds us what we share in common. It is also the Lord’s Supper, served at the Lord’s Table. We meet on His terms and receive His provision.

I have mentioned it before, but Christians used to use an additional name, and some still do, but it has baggage that is too bad. It is called the Eucharist, which really is too good a name to let the non-Protestants have. It’s called the Eucharist because the Greek word eucharisto is used all over in connection with the eating and drinking. Eucharisto is the Greek word that means I give thanks.

“He took bread, and when he had given thanks” (eucharistesas)(Luke 22:19). “He took a cup, and when he had give thanks” (eucharistesas)(Matthew 26:27). Paul repeats what he received about giving thanks (eucharistesas) for the bread and “likewise” for the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Even in chapter 10 Paul said, “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (eucharisto)(1 Corinthians 10:30). He wasn’t referring to eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table specifically, but doesn’t it apply? “You’re not acting sufficiently sorrowful during communion but way too grateful.” Really?

We can be thankful for the wrong things, but we cannot be too thankful for the right things. The gospel is good news for our souls and communion is a meal of thanks for all we have in Christ.

All His Commandments

Every week we worship God by confessing our sins. We know that man’s nature is sinful because God reveals it: all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We also know our own hearts, not perfectly, but what we know is enough to know that this regular time for confession is rarely unnecessary.

And yet, while we understand that sinless perfection will only finally be attainable in our glorified state, the goal of a pastor’s preaching is not that you would be eager to confess, as relevant as that is. The goal is that you would have nothing to confess.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

God charges, that is, He entrusts, overseers in the church to command and teach the word of God so that Christians would be godly. “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Connecting it with the categories of Paul’s aim, godliness looks like unmixed love and unmixed motives and unmixed faith. Godliness looks like full affections and no regrets and profound trust. As we increase in godly character our conduct should also be more defined as godly, and that should give us less and less to repent from. A believer with pure love and a good conscience and a sincere faith has a longing for zero sin.

I went to the parent’s part of a driver’s ed. class last week with my oldest, and we watched a video about traffic deaths in Washington state. The video showed people answering questions about how many die each year in car crashes, and how many deaths are a realistic goal, and then how many deaths are the desired aim in their own family. Of course the answer to the last question is zero. It’s an easy answer. It’s obvious. And every disciple’s desire for zero sin should be as absolute.

If you have sinned this week, you are in the right place. While God’s Word gives us light to walk in, if we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Confess your sin, and trust Him to cleanse your conscience and to enable you to keep all His commandments.

Ante Lux, Tenebras

Auditing Omnibus for the last six years has done more to shape my worldview than almost all of the formal education I’ve received. If I could only choose between having gone through seminary or Omnibus, that would be a tough call. For realZ. What I’m saying is, Omnibus–the readings and discussions–is really good stuff.

For the first six years of the school a small group of adults audited Omnibus I through VI. Jonathan (who taught the class) provided the reading assignments, and then we auditors would join the class every Thursday morning during the school year. The reading was often tough to complete, but always beneficial, and the discussions were invaluable. It has been crucial for continuing to shape my world-and-life view. Jonathan would say the same thing, as would all the other auditors, along with the students who have taken it (though most of them haven’t known anything different).

In order to make this doable for more people, we decided to offer a three year-long, two evenings a month, class for adults. Jonathan, Leila (the other Omnibus instructor at the school), and I selected the best of Omnibus I and IV (Ancient history), then II and V (Medieval history), and then III and VI (Modern history).

And we start tonight!

Year one is called Omnibus Tenebras (Latin for “darkness”). As I mentioned above, it’s history from creation until the coming of Christ, and it’s full of reading about men who long for a savior but had only selfish and petty and pars-potent (partially powerful) gods to try to appease. We’ll be working through the Gilgamesh epic, the Hammurabi code, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the history of Herodotus, Virgil’s Aneid, and a few more. We’ll also read through all the Chronicles of Narnia, you know, for fun.

Next year will be Omnibus Lux (Latin for “light”), because God came in the flesh and the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection spread and overturned so many kingdoms of men, Caesars included. The third year, the modern period, will be Omnibus Modius, the Latin word for “basket” (in Matthew 5:15), since the apparent project of many men since the Reformation has been to cover up the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

At the moment we’ve got over forty adults on the roster, and it’s going to be another fabulous ride.

New Adventures in Letters

Or, Off to Sail in Aslan’s Country

These are my notes for our school’s convocation last week.


As the end of every school year draws closer, it often (for me it always) feels like a ship in a storm. The final weeks of the fourth quarter pound like wet, wild wind that threatens to break the ship apart unless it reaches the harbor of summer break. Such a violent storm hit the Dawn Treader once upon a time, destroying the mast and almost drowning the vessel. If you know the story, she did make it to land for repairs and rest.

Summer break is natural port for students and teachers. The break is a blessing and allows for a certain amount of renewal and refreshment. But just as ships are built to sail, so students are made to study. Here we are on the first day of another school year to launch our vessels off the dock toward new adventures in letters.

People used to speak about being “lettered.” To be a man of letters meant more (though not less) than knowing one’s alphabet. Phonograms are fantastic, but they are only the beginning. A man of letters was a man who was literate, a reader of letters and books, a learner of knowledge passed through pen and paper. The Respublica literaria enabled men to study across great distances, communicating through correspondence and becoming a community of curiosity and contemplation.

We launch into another voyage on a sea of letters. We launch as a special crew, and I want to call us together (hence, convocation) to remember our glorious calling.

Toward that end I would like to focus on three letters (of the alphabet sort), letters that identify us, letters you will use on a frequent basis, letters that abbreviate the name of our school. The letters are ECS. Let’s work from the end back to the beginning.

School

This sturdy noun anchors our name. The first two words describe what sort of school it is, but school has a meaning on its own.

Our word comes from the Latin scola referring to a group for learning or instruction. The teacher or teachers are the first learners, the guides for learning, and ideally provoking learning among their pupils. A school is only somewhat her facilities; our school is in its third building and, while we do associate school with a particular place, school has much more to do with the practice of the people.

School is not your family, though enduring camaraderie does develop. You may refer to your classmates as a kind of family, but teachers can only support your dad and mom. In fact, we do not want their job, though we work on their behalf.

School also isn’t your church, or your state government. Worship happens here, but it is not like that of an entire church body. Likewise we discuss politics, but we aren’t making or enforcing laws.

But a school has her own special accountability to God. Her sphere is to study and sharpen one another for the sake of using our God-given minds and exercising our dominion-taking mandate. These are your fellow scholars, and your uniform identifies you as part of this elite learning force.

Classical

Many schools exist; many of them started again today. Your family may drive by a dozen other schools on your way to ECS each morning. We do not claim to be better than all the other options in every way, but we are different, purposefully so, than most of our counterparts. We are a classical school.

“Classical” does not mean the same thing to everyone, even those who call their schooling classical. At ECS we think about the nature of classical schooling at a higher level than the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric), though those are tools we use. Maybe the mainsail of the classical ship is that we recognize, with thanks, that we are in a long river of those who have studied and spoken and loved the truth. We are not isolated, we are dependent. We are not better, we are blessed. We are not more capable, we are more accountable for the gifts we’ve inherited from generations before us.

We’ve come to receive definitions, not destroy them or deny them. We take the identity God appointed, and that many of our (dead) teachers knew better than our modern prophets who cry “Truth, truth,” when they have only lies and darkness.

The waters of history are also full of classical snobs (which we do not want you to be), when, in fact, there is no good reason for our pride. Abraham Kuyper observed that:

[T]o study any discipline at all takes such a huge effort that even if you make no higher demand than to be a half-decent participant, there is just no time left to feed the tiniest microbe of self-conceit. (Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life)

We have too much to do to be snooty.

Evangel

This is the most decisive of the letters, and the one we would choose if we could only have one. Evangel is English via Latin from Greek. It means good news, another name for gospel, which is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is of first importance.

Most schools in our day take a principled stand against religious exclusivity. They promote their version of tolerance by relegating faith as a private, personal matter. They want to multiply everything by zero, but this always equals zero. We, on the other hand, know that we cannot separate our beliefs about God, about mankind, and about the world. We know that our public work, our classroom work and our homework, whether in History or Science or Algebra or English, is the Lord’s work and He both demands and delights in our recognition of Him.

We study because we are forgiven in Christ, not to work for our forgiveness. We are free to learn, we do not learn in order to make us free. Saved students study, we do not say that students must study in order to be saved. This orients our attitude toward the labor of learning (all is gift) and toward our fellow learners (give with grace).

The center of the evangel is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ. He reigns as the first one resurrected from the dead. He also reigns as the Maker and Sustainer of all things. There is not one thumb’s width in the entire sphere of human existence over which Christ does not cry, “Mine!” So go on and learn His ways and study His stuff and organize the chaos for His name.

I referred to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader earlier. It is my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia. I especially enjoy Reepicheep’s euphoric rapture as he sails east into Aslan’s Country. We who trust the Lord and serve Him will go there someday ourselves, but isn’t it also the case that all of this is Aslan’s Country? “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). “All things are yours…whether the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

As the ship sets sail for our seventh year at ECS, may we all take up our stations with eagerness and a sense of belonging and stewardship and laughter. By God’s wisdom and sovereign will, He has elected you to this course of study. Remember: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). Bon voyage and Godspeed.

Substantive Sharing

There have been frequent arguments in church history about what exactly happens at the Lord’s Table. Most of these arguments have come from motivations to value Christ’s work on the cross and in communion, though not all of the arguments can be true.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul helps us see the nature of the Supper through his comparisons with two other types of worship meals.

Example one: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (verse 18) But where are the arguments about transubstantiation or consubstantiation when it came to the various offerings eaten by the Jews? Those arguments don’t exist. The sharing in the sacrifice did not happen because the molecules of the meat or the grain were changed or mixed.

Example two: “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (verse 20). The same sharing is happening and, again, the sharing happens without the substance of the elements being transformed.

So, when we participate in the blood of Christ by drinking the cup, and when we participate in the body of Christ when we eat the bread, there is a real and supernatural and substantive sharing in Christ’s sacrifice. But it not because the wine or the bread change substance, or even because the spiritual presence of Jesus shows up in the wine or the bread. By faith we partake of the Table, and we are associated with Christ and with all that His sacrifice accomplished in and among us.

What You Tolerate

In a book about leadership I read this principle: “When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate” (Extreme Ownership, 54). This applies across many domains, not just in leadership, but in personal sanctification.

Preaching is easy, at least in many contexts. Talk is cheap compared to conduct. Teachers may have the best classroom rules, laminated and taped to the wall in the front of the room, but if they don’t enforce them, they don’t matter. Parents often give the best lectures to their kids, but if they don’t follow through, if they don’t hold to the standard, the words fall to the ground.

The same applies in our discipleship to Christ. He does not call us to know His commands, He calls us to obey them. That begins with learning; we hear or read His word, and we can even repeat the standards to ourselves. But they will know that we are disciples not merely by what we preach, but by what we tolerate in our own attitudes and actions. Do we preach against lying while excusing our cheating? Do we preach against lust while taking the second, longer look? Do we preach against anger while tolerating heated annoyance? Do we preach against cowardice, just quietly in the comfort of our heads?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

We know the standards, do we tolerate our disobedience to them? The Lord our God is a jealous God. He knows the standards, He gave us the standards, and He does not tolerate our indulgence of self.

Lyrics and Harmony

One of the ways we know if we’ve been born again is our attitude toward those who sit around the Lord’s Table with us.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1)

This meal of communion is only for Christians, those who are born again, and Christians are those with a particular affirmation and with personal affection.

Those who are born of God believe “that Jesus is the Christ.” Any claim of new life apart from confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is a bogus claim. The lyrics sung by the born again are clear: Jesus is the Christ, the promised and anointed one, the substitutionary sacrifice who died on the cross for sins, was buried in a tomb for three days, and was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection.

The harmony of the born again song is loving other born-againers; this is not a solo act. We who are born of God confess Christ and care for one another. Diluted affections for, resistance to forgive, and reluctance to fellowship with other believers calls into question one’s spiritual life just as failing to breathe calls into question one’s physical life.

If you’re harboring resentment or anger toward a brother, whether the size of a cruise ship or kayak, you should repent and make that right before you celebrate the symbol of our uniting love. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we who are born again must love all the others who share our living hope.

Come, eat, drink, and celebrate your born again life in Jesus the Christ. Come, eat, drink, and commune with your born again family.

How Grain Gets Memorialized

When some Greeks came to see Jesus, Jesus said it was the hour of His glory. Then Jesus explained the truth of buried seed bearing abundant fruit.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)

The way of fruit is sacrifice and burial for sake of life. This is not only the way God made the world to work, this is the way He made men to receive glory. We remember battles. We remember sacrifices. We memorialize those who gave what they had, and in a thousand ways we don’t even recognize, we are the fruit of many men’s deaths.

Of course this is ultimately true in the gospel. Jesus took on flesh to spend it, He came low so that He could be lifted up on a cross, and He knew that such a death would be His glory.

We learn the path to glory and how we ought to imitate Him. In the communion meal we start by remembering His cross-work, and consider the results of His death and burial. It wasn’t just His resurrection, it is the many brothers who He has raised since. May we remember, may we rejoice, and may we not give up our place in the line.

Wise in His Own Worship

Perhaps one of the most response-provoking visits of our trip to the United Kingdom was an unscheduled stop for Sunday morning worship at a church in Coventry, England. Our coach driver had a friend who attends the church there and, though that friend ended up not being there, we enjoyed a different service than most of us are accustomed to.

Everything was different, and similar, all at the same time. Most of our students, however, saw more of the differences than the similarities. We sang a few of the seven-eleven songs—songs with seven lyrics repeated eleven times—and that is not an exaggeration. There was nothing heretical said, though it was comparatively light.

We had quite a conversation on the coach following the service that continued over the next day or so. Of course our church has been working to develop our liturgy, to deepen our understanding and practice of worship, and some of our youth had not really experienced Church Lite.

It was fantastic, in one way, to hear their critiques. Where was the sense of sin? Where was the repentance? Was the service attempting to manipulate emotionally? How did the preacher connect his points? Were his illustrations appropriate?

The Bible urges us to watch others and consider their conduct. The Proverbs are full of persons to observe, most of whom we should avoid. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul admonished believers to not be like the entire generation of disobedient.

But, the primary point of all this is to remind us to repent. Look at them, and think about what I am doing wrong, how I am sinning, how I need to grow up. It is the wrong way to appreciate our emphasis in worship on sin and repentance and be best at criticizing others who don’t do it like us.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
 There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)