Combing Hair at Thermopylae

On the first day Evangel Classical School met for classes I read the following quote from C. S. Lewis during my convocation address.

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

I had seen that quote in a few places, most applicably on the back cover of a book about classical Christian education. I quoted it to comfort those of us with more butterflies than boldness. It’s similar to the panic a rookie teacher might feel upon opening a fresh box of dry erase markers to find that none of them came with caps; would we open a school only to squeak out a faint mark? Our circumstances, while certainly not the worst they could have been, were not favorable. We were far from bouquets of newly sharpened pencils, or even from knowing which brand of pencil sharpener would survive for more than a week. We aspired to this noble task, though having more zeal than knowledge doesn’t always work out so well. We all know more than we did then—thank God—and that includes knowing that classical Christian education is an indispensable burden. We want it even more badly now.

Since that opening of opening days I have read Lewis’ quote in its native paragraph. He used those lines in an address titled “Learning in Wartime.” You can find it for free online or in a collection of Lewis’ articles called The Weight of Glory.

In his address Lewis raised and replied to a question about the legitimacy of study—especially study of the liberal arts—while in the middle of a war. It was October, 1939, and World War II was less than two months old. From the location of Lewis’ lectern in Oxford, England, his listeners were more than academically concerned.

[Every student] must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to hell to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything.

Lewis argued from the greater to the lesser. He showed that Christians believe that death is always only one step away and that Heaven or hell await. A war reminds us of our upcoming death but it does nothing to increase the chance of our death. We have always been going to die.

The vital question is not whether learning in wartime is defensible but whether learning during any of our time on earth is. If teachers can, if teachers should, sow seed in the scholastic field with eternal reward or eternal punishment on the other side of the fence, then teaching and learning is appropriate when nations fight over a portion of the field.

Lewis observed that God gave men an appetite for knowledge and beauty. Want of security has never stopped the search, otherwise “the search would never have begun.” Instead,

[Men] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.

God didn’t make tastes and give men tongues to make them feel guilty for not caring about eternity. He made tastes for tongues so that we would eat and drink what “God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” The apostle Paul figured that Christians would go to dinner parties, sometimes dinner parties thrown by pagans. He didn’t instruct the Christians what to say, he told them what to put on their plate. If there’s a way to hunger for barbecue “to the glory of God,” then certainly there’s a God-honoring way to hunger for knowledge.

Lewis concluded that, not only is the pursuit of knowledge before Heaven and hell permitted, it is mandatory. God doesn’t concede study to us, He commands it. God gifts some to study more deeply but He calls every image-bearer to study devotionally. That is, our reading of both of God’s books—the world and the Bible—should increase our devotion to God. English homework and ethical holiness don’t compete against each other, they inform and activate one another.

The Lord’s commission requires us to make more than converts who profess faith. We are to make disciples who practice faith, here and now, on earth. “Disciple” is not even a good English word. It is a Latin word sounded out for English. The Latin word is discipulus which means student, learner. It’s exactly what the Greek word mathetes means in Matthew 28.

Jesus said, “Teach [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded you.” God made us to be, then saved us to be, then train others to be certain kinds of persons. He created and redeemed us to live a certain way. It is to live—whether thinking, talking, reading, writing, painting, working, playing, buying, selling, mowing, weeding, cooking, cleaning—in such a way that acknowledges Jesus is Lord. This is our confession, something we say. It is also our obsession, something we embody.

Jesus created all things. “Without Him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” He delights to keep gravity pulling and goats skipping and planets spinning. All true science is the Lord’s; insects and volcanoes and circus animals. He rules over every nation, “having determined allowed periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” and presidents and trending political hashtags on Twitter. Languages? He is the Word. Numbers and physics and formulas, musical notes and Picardy thirds, logic and literature are all from Him and through Him and to Him.

Great are the works of the LORD,

studied by all who delight in them.
(Psalm 111:2)

We cannot imagine anything lawful that cannot be studied and appreciated and used for His lordship. Imagination itself ought to be sanctified and put to His service. So Lewis said,

[H]uman culture is [not] an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we.

Everything we do that is done “as to the Lord” is received by the Lord.

None of the above requires a school per se, but this life of discipleship is not different from classical Christian enculturation. We received a way of life under Christ’s lordship and we seek to pass that on. There is a way to talk to adults that pleases Christ, a way to dress, a way to respond when someone kicks a soccer ball in your face, a way to listen and match pitch with the person standing next to you. A school like ECS promotes such a culture.

But the circumstances are not favorable. It used to be that the government legislated the height of the drinking fountain outside the bathrooms, now the government claims authority over who can go into each bathroom. The government, though, is not the biggest problem. Fear and distraction within the church trump all that is outside. Christians have forgotten the cost of discipleship. Christians have dared anyone to make them think, or read, or pay, or die. Troubling things have happened in the shire, not while we were off fighting wizards and orcs and evil, but while we were watching Netflix.

Friends of ECS, you have given us your evening. A team of servants have worked to give you a feast of tastes and sounds and sights. And yet all of us must give up much more. We must give up our lives and “get down to our work.” Hannibal wanted to beat Rome so badly he took elephants over the Alps in winter. The cause of Christ is greater than that of Carthage, and more difficult.

We work “while the conditions are still unfavourable.” We play soccer during recess on a parking lot, but we are thankful that it’s not on a gravel driveway (like we used to). Our part time teachers do not teach for the money, which is good, because we only have baby carrots to dangle in front of them. Many families want this enculturation for their kids but cannot afford it. We have not turned anyone away for financial reasons yet, but we would like for that to always be true.

We have more things to be thankful for than to complain about. God has already grown great fruit in such a young and tiny orchard. Favorable conditions may never come, but we ask some of you to join us, some others to come further up and further in, and some to be encouraged that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.”

Eat, drink, laugh, learn, and give heartily as for the Lord and not for men even without favorable conditions.


These are the notes from my talk for the ECS Fundraising Feast at the beginning of May.

The Red-Blooded Trivium

I gave the following talk at the end of February for the Information Night at Evangel Classical School. If you’d prefer to watch the talk instead of read it, I won’t be offended.


Stop AnemiaHow would you describe most modern education? A lot of parents and professionals (and employers) agree that there is a crisis, but there is little agreement on the cause or the cure. So many students graduate from high school with pale interests, foggy thinking, and sickly convictions. If they could stand up, they wouldn’t know where to stand. They have educational anemia.

I recently had the opportunity to learn about anemia, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Due to a yet-to-be-identified source of internal bleeding, I hemorrhaged too much blood to sit up, let alone stand or walk around. Every time I tried to get vertical my blood pressure dropped and my heart rate doubled trying to compensate for the loss in volume and decrease in red blood cells.

That’s anemia: a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the body parts and, if the body doesn’t get oxygen, it shuts down. My body gave up, including my brain.

As I said, I couldn’t stay upright, I had almost no energy, I processed questions as quick as a cement truck, and, as my oldest daughter described, I was “as white as a new pair of tights.” Peaked, numb, and weak, like the typical college freshman.

To treat anemia, first you need to stop the bleeding. I’d say the biggest cause of educational bleeding is teachers telling, or acting like, none of it really matters. If everything in the universe came from nothing and moves with no personal purpose, then it doesn’t matter. At ECS we believe that Jesus is Lord, that by Him all things were created, that He’s invested and interested in it all. He gave it to us as a gift, to receive with thanks, to study, and to use for good as a reflection of Him. Nothing is neutral, nothing is useless. There’s a bigger reason to be at school than standardized testing.

Once the bleeding stops, though, there’s still more required to return to health. I’ve learned that in order to replenish red blood cells, the body needs iron. But the body doesn’t doesn’t provide it’s own, it must get it from the outside. There is a breathtaking variety of iron sources: beef, chicken, turkey, shellfish, broccoli, sweet peas, tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, green beans, leafy greens, beets, and cabbage. There’s no reason just to swallow a pill.

To make educational blood cells we need the iron facts. Think of iron like grammar, the building blocks of learning. Grammar is the first stage of the Trivium and takes place during the early grades. Students are taught math facts, English jingles, characters of history, scientific data, Latin chants, and Bible stories. It doesn’t have to be bland or stale. We feed it to them in songs and sound-offs, reenactments, toga days, and coloring pages.

Boredom is not neutral–it is the fertilizing principal of unloveliness. (Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb)

It takes a lot of work to take in all God has given us to enjoy and use. It’s work, it can be fun, but it certainly isn’t boring. We’re feeding students with the loveliness of God in His world and work.

Around the transition to Junior High comes the transition to the second stage, the Dialectic or Logic stage. We might say this is when the red blood cells are formed and readied to carry the load of oxygen. The Logic stage includes formal logic, how to mind one’s Ps and Qs, how to distinguish donkeys and elephants. (Imagine how helpful this would be to a voting populace.) We encourage them to investigate apparent contradictions and difficulties. We expose them to different opinions and train them to love the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, and the excellent.

Then the final stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage. They take the facts, fit them together, and present them with persuasion. Though they’ve already been writing by this time, now they are polishing papers as well as unscripted presentations. They are ready to stand, ready to take a stand, ready to run. But unlike the empty bombast of so many cultural talking heads, our students talk with lifeblood.

So we get students to soak up truth, sort out arguments, and speak with heart, stamina, and backbone. They stand upright in a bent culture. It takes a lot of work to treat educational anemia. They are not just ready for more learning, they are ready to bear God’s image in their generation. They’re not just surviving on Doritos and Mountain Dew, they have a life.

The Forgotten Planet

Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.


On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.

In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.

Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.

Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”

Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.

Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”

Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”

Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”

“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”

Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”

“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.

Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.

Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”

Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.

There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.

The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”

And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)

The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”

Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”

And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.

Making a Contribution

I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.

“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.

screenshot

Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.

However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.

As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.

You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:

[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.

ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.

Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.

Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.

It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.

But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.

One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.

The Lifeblood of Fiction

My mom really wanted me to read when I was a kid. She taught English before I was born, then she stayed home to care for me (and my sister who joined us two years later). Summers included weekly trips to the public library where, as I remember, my sister would return her borrowed stack and collect a new tower for the following week while I thought about whether or not I really wanted to read the next McGurk mystery.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that pitiful, but after Encyclopedia Brown and McGurk and The Mad Scientist’s Club I spent my time reading things such as road signs. I don’t remember any book from my elementary school classes. I do remember much better the books I was assigned in Junior High and High School that I didn’t read. Somehow I graduated, and Lord of the Flies left the greatest impression. That’s what happens when you only read one.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I became a Calvinist. That got me excited about studying and reading but only so far as it concerned “the Truth.” The novels assigned in my Humanities class were for the “less spiritual” in my book. Through college and seminary I devoured works full of propositions and despised those filled with plots and characters. When I met Mo, she told me it was wrong that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I read it, earned the respect points, and then quit somewhere in the first chapter of Prince Caspian.

More than a decade later, not only did I realize I was missing out, I realized I needed to repent. My disdain for fiction was dumb. Willful neglect truncated my imagination, my worldview, and my relationships. It also pruned my theology and worship. There is more to say about all this, and I’m excited to say it at the Raggant Fiction Festival.

Fiction Festival

Our keynote speaker for the festival is Douglas Bond. He’s an actual author (!) and I’ve enjoyed The Betrayal and am almost finished reading the first of three in the Crown and Covenant series to our kids. His talks will make the day worth the cost. Also speaking will be our school’s headmaster, Jonathan Sarr. Among other things he teaches our Omnibus class which includes many of the shapers and staples of Western culture. Andy Bowers was our first full-time teacher and has covered all kinds of literature with our older grammar students. New to our faculty this fall is Leila Bowers who will teach another Omnibus class. She’s been teaching at a community college for several years and will bring more narrative mettle to the pot than most of us.

But I get to lead off. I am the least qualified to talk about the merits of all the fiction books that should go on one’s shelf, but I am definitely excited to talk about the need for fiction to be on the shelf. Good fiction is a lifeblood for Christian faith and faithfulness. It cannot replace the Bible nor does it intend to. It does help us think about how to live out the Bible and, done right, moves us to want to.

If you are a fiction hater, or ignore fiction, and especially if you hate or ignore with fussy theological reasons, then this Festival is aimed to bless you. If you already love fiction, then you will probably enjoy it as well. Check out the event page and consider hanging with us in Marysville on Saturday, September 26.

Not That Far Apart

Over the last couple days I’ve argued that the start of our cultural problems is when man rejects God as God. The Supreme Court and the cover of “Vanity Fair” are fruit from an unsubmissive root. Then I gave three things that Christians could do. And we really must do something.

If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly. (Carl. F. H. Henry)

Of course we will be less effective if we are hypocrites. If we do not acknowledge God ourselves or adorn God’s saving doctrine, we set ourselves up as targets. Of course we will be less effective if we argue politics without tying our politics to God’s principles. There is no neutral way; everywhere is a God/god demanding service. And of course we will be less effective if we are unrighteous in how we address unrighteousness, if we are proud when we talk about grace, angry when we talk about mercy, unwilling to sacrifice when we talk about love.

I wish that I had done more in the fight before now. I don’t mostly regret a failure to teach, but more my failure to acknowledge the Trinity and the Trinitarian shape of life. I have sinned by limiting God’s interests only to the verses that talk about Christ and the cross instead of realizing how those verses require us to take our our crosses daily…in relationships and responsibilities on earth. I have not adorned doctrine; I have been angry and selfish. I need to pray more, love more, sacrifice more.

But now is a great time for growing. Doing the “normal” (right) things will shine more brightly as the darkness increases. Husbands, now is your chance! Mothers, do something! Today, on the 4th of July, “don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). I know Paul was talking about spiritual freedom not national freedom, but the two are not that far apart as it turns out.

The Supreme Court of Heaven and Earth has one Judge and He already revealed His ruling. We see the consequences of rejecting His categories and disobeying Him in the first few pages of the Bible. We also see God respond with both justice and mercy. May He have mercy on us.

Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms

Yesterday I wrote that the sins in our culture are not worse than the original sin in the Garden of Eden. That said, our sins are bad and getting worse, or they at least have better marketing. What can we do? Are we supposed to do anything? Who is the “we”? The church? Individual Christians? American citizens? Pastors? Parents?

Within the first twenty-four hours after the Supreme ruining on marriage, the most common response I saw among evangelical Christians went something such as, “We don’t care about politics, we still have the gospel.” Of course, if we really didn’t care about politics, why do we need to encourage ourselves that we don’t care? Is it because we lost? If the vote had been 5-4 the other way, would we care then? Would we have praised God for the (temporary) victory…inappropriately? Were we wrong to be praying for the decision before it was made? Are we not supposed to pray for our political representatives and judges, or are we just to pray that they would get saved? Even that requires care, though, because if God did save them, wouldn’t we expect them to leave their non-gospel jobs so that they could pray more…like us?

If Genesis 1-3 is true, then it is a false dilemma to say that we can only care about the gospel or we can care about our relationships and responsibilities on earth. We are not supposed to trust politics or politicians to save us, but neither do we trust gospel presentations to save us. We trust in Christ, presented to us in the gospel. And if a group of people trusted Christ, wouldn’t they want to interact with one another in a way that honors Christ? Isn’t that fundamental to government and law, that we will be rewarded or punished according to how we love one another?

Gospel and government are not an either/or. Christians put them in opposition because they don’t understand either of them. Gospel and government are a both/and, or better, a first then second, or better yet, a first and fifth (with family and work and church spheres in between). My investment in the gospel is an investment in government (though not always immediately visible, just as my investment in breakfast for my kids is an investment in my grandkids, though it’ll take some time for that to work out), and my investment in government is only worth what I’ve gotten from the gospel. I want a man to confess that Jesus is Lord. That has consequences that include his house, and his local court house, and the White House.

It isn’t the church’s job (or authority) to run everything. A pastor shouldn’t be the President or be the boss of the President. But it is the church’s job to worship God, and worship changes people. It is the church’s job to make disciples with dual citizenship who love their responsibilities to both countries. As those disciples are going, they should see all the world under the rule of Christ. Disciples should think and vote and tweet and talk with their neighbors. If a disciple made a disciple, and both of them were being transformed as they worshiped Christ, and then one of those disciples became a Senator or a Judge or a President, then that disciple should do his work under Christ and for Christ.

So we should do something. What should we do?

We should see fit to acknowledge God.

This is the first thing that the Bible teaches us to do in Genesis 1-3. This is the first problem Paul listed about a crumbling culture in Romans 1. We don’t work backwards from the fruit to the root, in our case, pouring all our energy into appealing to reverse the Supreme Court’s hauteur. When we see that the fruit is bad we need to get down to the root.

Christians have failed to acknowledge God everywhere. Unbelievers don’t, sure. But believers certainly should. We acknowledge God for a couple hours on Sunday morning, and maybe for a few devotional minutes during the week. But we tend to acknowledge Him as Lord of the Church, not the Lord of heaven and earth. We still tend to ignore the antithesis and accept neutral spaces. For example, the most subtle yet despicable part of my public schooling was the constantly unspoken lesson: who cares if God is there? But anyone who does not see fit to acknowledge God loses his mind (is given over to a “debased mind”). This can’t help but make a mess of business, family, education, and government. Believers must continue to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.

The root of homosexuality, and the root of our cultural loss of common sense, is unbelief. Unbelief doesn’t just affect personal morals, it affects public enforcement of morals. Christians are the first ones who need to believe that believing in God affects everything.

We should adorn the doctrine of God.

Paul wrote this phrase about adorning the doctrine of God our savior in Titus 2 to slaves.

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9–10)

The message of the chapter up to this exhortation to slaves has been about doctrine. Starting in verse 1, Paul exhorted Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Then in verse 10 he describes a life purpose to “adorn the doctrine.” Doctrine ought to be beautified by behavior. Decorate the doctrine by your deeds. The following paragraph reasons further about what the doctrine of grace does.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)

Grace trains us for living godly lives, grace purifies a people, grace makes us zealous for good works. In light of verses 1-10, those “good works” include older men having character, older women teaching younger women about being wives and mothers, younger men being self-controlled. It’s largely an in-house, among family work. Even slaves should slave in such a way to make the doctrine look good.

There was a time when more people in our country identified themselves as Christians. But, while many have been faithful, many others have not made the gospel look good. How many kids have grown up in “Christian” homes wanting to get away from, not be like, their parents? Instead of seeing that the problem is sin, they misdiagnose the problem to be “traditional” marriage.

If we do not want to be Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms, the conservative cranks who always rain on Rainbow Parades (there is irony there, right? And you saw the picture of the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow, not even realizing how the symbol they’ve chosen commemorates the fact that God promised not to flood the earth for such debauchery), then we must have something in addition to showing sinners that sinfulness is wrong. We must tell and show them how obedience to God is better. We are not saying No for No’s sake. We are saying No for Yes’s sake, but God gets to decide what is No for sake of Yes, something He started to do in the Garden. We ought to be able to give an account for our criticism beyond the fact that we are good at being critical Christians. Unless we give an account of God’s world from our joy in it, we are just condemning others for not following our course of unhappiness.

One of the observations about the dark lunacy of homosexual “marriage” is that it cannot reproduce itself. That’s obvious. Homosexual partners still want to be considered a family, and even do “family” things such as raise children. Where are those children going to come from? Heterosexual spouses, and some Christian spouses included, have made it so that it will be a long time before demand surpasses the supply of available kids. There will be plenty to adopt because we won’t live and love righteously as man and woman. Men have taken dominion to fight the physical pains of labor but not the spiritual judgment that keeps parents from caring about, or being able to care for, offspring. Homosexuals don’t care about where kids will come from because they know that we don’t care.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cynics. You are campaigning for the laws of the next generation, and you are more effective, one way or another, than any marketing guru could dream.

We should announce the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Were it not for grace, we would have more obvious sins than we do, whatever they might be. Grace opened our eyes to see sin, to seek forgiveness, to believe in Jesus as Savior, and to learn obedience to Him. All of it is by grace. None of it is deserved.

Grace is how we got all the good we have. Grace is the answer for everyone. Grace does not deny the need for grace; it calls sin, sin. It delivers from wrath, and it also straightens the perverse, brings dignity out of dishonor, restores what was being destroyed. Grace offers covering for guilt. And grace gives meaning to life, grace makes us free under God. Peter reminds us,

you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)

We who know Genesis 1-3 know the nature of man. We know better than men why they act self-destructively. We also know that every man will give an account to his Creator, and that his Creator offers salvation through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who repent and believe, who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This must be our message to men blinded and enslaved by sin.

Our Cultural Garden

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled last Friday that no State has the right to make it illegal for a man to “marry” a man and for a woman to “marry” a woman. This is on the heels of national news and controversy over a man changing himself into a woman (adding some female parts to his male parts). Some women are mad that this defines womanhood according to bodily features, and pink nail polish. There is also outrage over the Confederate flag presumed to represent motives behind the murder of nine people in Charleston even though no outrage is directed over the US flag which flies over thousands of murders day by day, all claimed it in the name of “liberty.” And, of course, our celebration of Independence Day is a couple days away. Do we, as those who worship the LORD God, Creator of heaven and earth, have a way to explain what we see? Do we have any message in the midst of this?

I took a (sort of) break from Genesis last Sunday to preach about these questions. In fact, I think the ancient chapters of the Bible reveal decisive answers for now.

Let’s start with an argument from greater to lesser. If man entertains the idea that he could be God, then it is less difficult for him to entertain the idea that he could be not a man. He could fancy himself to be a woman. He could figure he could do with another man what he could do with a woman. The step from heterosexuality to homosexuality is shorter than the step from humanity into divinity. Jumping between genders is easier than jumping into deity.

If a pot toys with trying to be the Potter, it is less surprising if a pot toys with trying to be a plate rather than a pot. A man who believes he could be God could believe he could be, or do, anything.

The greater sin is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. The woman believed the serpent when he told her that if she ate of the fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be like God (Genesis 3:5). She would be free from His throttle and restraints. Whatever it was exactly that motivated the man to eat, when he did, he claimed by his conduct that he knew better than God. He put himself in the position of judging God. He was all the god he needed.

Where does that end? Once a man decides that he doesn’t need to listen to God, why should he listen to “nature,” or science, or history, or court rulings, or neighbors? He trumps God; who can trump him?

Abortion and same-sex mirage (as Doug Wilson can’t help but continue to call it) under government license, or ESPN giving Bruce Jenner a “courage” award, each of these sins are found in seed form in Adam’s rebellion. The sins in our cultural garden are not worse than the sin in the first garden. All sins stem from denying the Creator’s authority.

Romans reveals this same chain of sin. A man who rejects God the Creator, who will not honor Him or give Him thanks, exchanges the glory of God for that of man. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). Men worship and serve the creature, including themselves, and

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27)

This is part of the reason why our attention to Genesis changes culture, even if that is only visible in the little cultures/communities of our life together. Genesis 2:24 is a great definition of marriage, but we first need a great understanding of God, the One who gives life and makes marriage. Seeing Him as the creative Giver of all our good, and seeing the serpent as a subtle deceiver, changes how we listen to our options.

Living together, fornication, easy (no-fault) divorce, adultery, are all forms of covenant breaking that disregard God’s word. Though there have always been some abnormally immoral, we are now in a time when that sort of immorality is claimed to be normal. In one sense we’ve worked up to the extreme cases, in another sense we still haven’t done anything as stupid as try to be God.

The original sin went contrary to nature. What should have been more obvious than that man was not God? Man’s defiance was perverse (deviating from what was right and good), dishonorable (shameful, not exalting), and destructive. So it is with every sin, and some are more obvious. Men and women act contrary to nature–as defined by nature’s Maker–and this is the inevitable consequence when men do not see fit to acknowledge God.

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

Baby Kittens Harnessed to a Bobsled

I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.


“Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” This is either a proverb for soldiers or smack talk between them. It’s probably both and that’s probably why I like it so much. It’s wisdom, it’s snark, both of which a man can use on the battlefield. We could also use more sages and smart-alecks in the sphere of education, so tonight I want to tell the story surrounding this salty sound bite and then see if there is any application for us.

In 1 Kings 20, the King of Syria, Ben-hadad–also known as “the son of Hadad” (since Ben means “son” in Hebrew), or we might call him, “Jr.”–gathered his troops together and formed a coalition with thirty-two other provincial kings. They all marched south to take over some new territory, and Ben-Hadad and this motley military clobbered Samaria. Feeling pretty good about himself, Hadad sent messengers into the city to inform the King of Israel, Ahab, that he was next in line. Hadad told Ahab the sticker price of peace up front: “your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children are also mine.” That’s quite a toll.

We should remember that Ahab was not a righteous king. According to chapter 16 Ahab did more evil than any previous king of Israel (verse 30). His wife’s name was Jezebel, that one and only Jezebel who cut off the prophets of the LORD, hunted Elijah after the fire showdown, and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Ahab himself abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals, including setting up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal in Samaria (verse 32). “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (verse 33). Ahab was, however, king over God’s people and that’s important later.

For now Ahab agreed to Hadad’s terms. “As you say, my lord, O King, I am yours, and all that I have.” He offered zero resistance to Jr.’s list of demands. But, as usual with spoiled tyrants, giving in didn’t appease him, and Hadad served notice that he was going to come the next day, look around, and “lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.” Hadad was just rubbing Ahab’s face in a puddle of mean.

That was too much for Ahab. He called an emergency session of Israel’s congress and all the officials agreed that Ahab should not give in. Ahab sent word, “All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.” He’s still trying to mostly capitulate, but Hadad smelled blood in the weakness.

So with his most bloviating bravado Hadad sent the message back, “The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” He meant that he would pulverize Israel like such fine flour that there wouldn’t be enough for each of his soldiers to have their own personal scoop. It’s smack-talk oath style, with 33 armies worth of muscle to back it up.

I’m not sure what got into Ahab at this point. Knowing what Hadad did in Samaria and the resources at his disposal, Ahab picked up his spine and said, “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as one who takes it off.” A Roman might have said, “Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum,” “Before victory don’t sing triumph.” An actor in an 80’s Naval aviator movie might have said, “Your mouth shouldn’t write checks that your body can’t cash.” Or, as country singer Kenny Rogers might have put it, “You never count your money while sitting at the table.”

Ahab’s confidence was about to thicken from there. A prophet told Ahab that the LORD promised to give the great multitude into his hands. Uncertain about how that could be, Ahab asked by whom? The prophet said not by soldiers but by the servants of the governors. Ahab asked who was going to fire first? The prophet said, “You.” They found 232 servants and backed them up with all the remaining men in Israel, only seven thousand.

Jr. Hadad was out having a pre-victory party with the other kings and they were drinking themselves drunk in the middle of the day. Even though Hadad escaped, the servants of Israel struck down the Syrians and Israel was delivered (for the time) just as the Lord promised. Hadad had indeed counted his chickens before they surrendered.

Does a war story like this have anything to do with a school story? On a feast night like tonight, should we be talking about a fight? And if the account does apply, at least by analogy, which side are we on? What are the unit objectives for us?

Since the Garden of Eden the seed of the dragon (or “serpent” if you prefer) and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), whom Paul identified as Jesus (Galatians 4:4), have been in conflict. Everyone on earth wears army boots for one side or the other. Neutrality does not exist on the Internet, in courtrooms, and certainly not in class rooms. There are more than two fighting styles but there are only two fighting sides. We’re with Jesus or we’re against Him.

If we’re with Jesus then we’re against an enemy that, from the world’s perspective, doesn’t just outnumber our resources, he makes us look like baby kittens harnessed to a bobsled right after a bath. We don’t appear to be able to pull much weight and our bite is not much of a threat.

We don’t have the facilities, the subsidies, the salaries, or the rules on our side. It may be lopsided but it’s still a fight that needs fighting. What God will be recognized by the school board or on the white board? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, line diagramming and poetry? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, man? Or the Lord Jesus Christ?

Wisdom about war absolutely has relevant wisdom for a Christian school. Issues such as supplies, costs, personnel, tactics, aims, all overlap. So can we learn from the interaction between Hadad and Ahab?

When I first thought of this proverb as applied to our almost three year-old school, I read our part in the story wrong. It may seem as if we’re the ones who are putting our armor on, the ones who need to gird our lips with non-boasting duct tape. After all, what can we do? What have we done?

But the more I read the story the more I changed my mind. We have less reason to be humbled like Hadad and more reason to be feisty like Ahab.

Like Ahab, Christians have been willing to make too many compromises when it comes to giving our kids over to a godless system. Thankfully more believers are realizing that the State has overstepped it’s proper shoe size. Barak Ben-Obama cannot bully us into giving him whatever he wants. Even Ahab wouldn’t have sent his kids to a school accredited by Ben-hadad’s education commission.

Like Ahab we initially cower when the world crows about their success. They are turning the tassels of their standardized test scores and drinking themselves drunk. They mock, threaten, and parade over Christian homeschool and private schools. But they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re doing, which is part of the reason for endlessly-new and improved teaching models, which is part of the reason they need more money. They won’t get the best laugh, let alone the last one.

Like Ahab we do not deserve deliverance. The Lord gave grace to His people and it’s only grace that does us any good, too. In the fight of education we are not perfect but we are on the side of the Lord. The Lord blesses His people even in spite of themselves at times so that we may know that the Lord is Lord.

We are also like Ahab in that the Lord often uses servants to do His fighting. The weak of the world defeat the strong, the foolish confound the wise. In fact, we are more like the unskilled servants than trained soldiers anyway.

Unlike Ahab, however, we look back at the biggest battle. Jesus said, “It is finished.” When we stand with the Lord, we stand on the winning side. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me.” He has taken off His armor, having defeated sin and death and risen to the fight hand of the Father. We are His messengers, and though we don’t know everything, we know that the victory is His. “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” I’d like to imagine that one of Ahab’s God-fearing messengers had a sparkle in his eye when he told that to Hadad. So should we.

When our students sing and we eat meat and drink wine it’s in joy because the great victory is won. Tonight the Marysville Grange is our temporary Mead Hall where we feast because Jesus lives and Grendel and his mom are dead. Grendel’s modern day cousins keep attacking, and we wisely, and feistily, call them amateurs.

We also believe that He supplies His warrior-servants with equipment and training. We’re here celebrating what the Lord has been doing at Evangel Classical School, and we believe that more of His people want to see this feisty worldview enculturated to the next generation.