Calvinist Excuses

If God is sovereign, should we confess our sin?

In other words, if God planned that we were going to sin, then isn’t our sin His responsibility? If He willed our sin to bring about His glory, and, in some cases, to bring about good for us, then what is really wrong with it? It is not a new question.

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:5–8)

This is a deep subject, one that requires more than a few hundred words to cover. But there are a few things that we can hold as securely as oil is slippery.

  1. God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. His will, decreed before the foundation of time, always takes place. God meant the sale of Joseph for good, to save many people alive. God meant the crucifixion of Jesus for good, to atone for many sinners. God meant the rejection of Jesus by the Jews for good, to spread the gospel to all the peoples.
  2. God calls sin, sin. Joseph’s brothers meant evil against Joseph when they sold him. The Jews and Romans meant evil against Jesus when they tortured and killed Him. The Jews who failed to submit to Jesus as the Messiah were evil in their unbelief.
  3. God holds men responsible. The same God who wills history is the same God who wills obedience for men. He has revealed laws, instructions, prohibitions, and warnings. He has also followed through with many warnings, providing us with examples that He’s serious.

He wills to condemn every man who will not confess, He wills to forgive every believer in Christ if we do confess. Shall we excuse our sin because God is sovereign? May it never be!

The Patriarch’s Prophetic Blessing

Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed with a vision of the future he could only see by faith. He prophesied that a ruler would come from Judah’s line (Genesis 49:9-10), and he probably would have been impressed if he’d seen David and Solomon in their day. We know, though, that another and greater King came from Judah.

The apostle John saw a vision around a throne in heaven, and an elder said there was no reason to weep because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah…has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion was something to “behold.” He was worthy to open the scroll, and all eyes were on Him.

But this Lion didn’t look like a lion. Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders John saw a “Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (verse 6). Jacob didn’t see this. He didn’t see how the tribute of the peoples would start flowing. It was because the Lamb purchased them. The saints were singing a new song:

“you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (verses 9-10)

Men from every tribe, not just Israel’s Twelve, are ransomed. The Lion-Lamb purchased their salvation, their freedom, their obedience, and their praise. We who believe in Christ are in that number. We are part of the patriarch’s prophetic blessing some 4,000 years ago. We are redeemed servants and saints of the slain and risen Lamb, glad servants of the ruling Lion from whom the scepter shall never depart.

We gather around the communion Table together in the name of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The Damp Bounty Paper Towel

One way we know that we’re growing up is by how much we can absorb. I don’t mean absorbing information, though the more mature we are the more we will increase (and be able to increase) in the knowledge of God. The absorbing I’m referring to is the ability and capacity to take up and reduce the intensity of someone else’s difficulty, to help them keep calm and obey on, to swallow up some of the freaking out rather than freak out in return. It’s catching their negative energy with a pillow, not returning it with a ping pong paddle.

There is an absorption spectrum that includes size and soak-ability. There is the dry, giant beach towel on one end, the damp Bounty paper towel in the middle, and the iron screwdriver on the other end. The screwdriver doesn’t absorb anything, will probably get rust on you after a while, and hurts if you hit it at the wrong angle.

Those who are spiritually mature absorb the immaturity and even some of the sinfulness of others. This ought to be our desire: to increase in absorption glory. We definitely don’t want to be dumpers, and there are certain roles that should never dump on others.

Parents ought not spill on their kids. Parents ought to be the ones who take it. Paul told the Corinthians with different imagery that “children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” so that “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Generally, husbands should absorb for their wives, teachers for their students, pastors for their sheep.

We do, of course, run out of absorption room at times. Mom was already running at full capacity when half the household started vomiting, at 2am. Dad is in the middle of a busy season at work, and gets into a car accident, has to deal with insurance, and start physical therapy, and the kids “choose” that week to go off the reservation. What do you do then? Pray for grace to find a dry patch of fabric and sew it onto the towel. Remember that we are in Christ. Trust that His soak-ability is made perfect in our wetness.

Locating Trust

In Psalm 20 David has us sing,

Some trust in chariots and some in horses
but we trust in the name of the LORD our GOD. (verse 7)

The verse before (6) and the verse after (8) connect this song to battle. Verse 1 talks about “the day of trouble” and verse 9 includes a shout out for the king. Men are always tempted under fire to trust their strengths, their strategies and supplies, to trust what they can see. This is true especially for those out front.

What wins, though, is the Lord. “He will answer from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

We also trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are saved as we believe in Him.

Even though kings used chariots and horses he shouldn’t swear by them. Likewise the believing leader doesn’t believe in the means. For us, we utilize weapons in the spiritual war, but we do not trust those weapons. We “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

One of the most effective tactics of our shepherding, one that helps us to present every man complete in Christ and build up the body in part and as a whole, is to eat and drink. We do it because we believe that the Lord works, that He nourishes our faith and knits us together around His Table. Bread and wine are never so powerful as when received together in thanks, in the name of the Lord.

On Not Wandering Like a Verbal Amoeba

God made limits for increased glory. The size of the canvas frames the image and shows off how much the artist can fit in a small space (for example, have you seen the pencil-tip sculptor? It is more impressive how much he can do with so little to work with). A poetic convention restricts the impression or feeling to a form rather than letting it meander like a verbal amoeba. And the glory of man includes not running 60 mph, not flying without mechanical aid, and not working without sleeping.

Many limits we take for granted, that’s how we’ve always known life on earth. But we ought to give thanks for only 24 hours a day—though we’re tempted to complain when we have a lot to do, we ought to give thanks for not having eyes in the back of our heads—do we really want to see that, and we ought to give thanks for only having two hands. These are gifts, chosen for us by our Father.

There are other personal limits for which we should be thankful, certainly not bitter or envious. These are also unchosen by us, but chosen by God specifically for us. You don’t get to be 7’ tall, you don’t get to make a billion dollars an hour, and half of you don’t get to avoid the way it is with women. Are you humble enough to delight in your constraints?

Some limits are universal for the glory of mankind, some are for the glory of kinds of men, and then some limits get changed for a particular man. New lines are drawn by aging, an accident, a diagnosis, a relative’s diagnosis, a financial gift, a job loss, et cetera. I’m talking about the things that God gives you now that maybe you didn’t have yesterday. The page turned and God is writing for your glory in a new genre, and run-on sentences aren’t allowed like they were yesterday.

If it is from God, then what is the grace to you in it? Are you ready for Him, not to change the rules per se, but to change your restrictions per diem? Are you ready to give thanks for the personally chosen limits? Or are you fighting the limited givens of glory?

The Great Gravity of Glad Sacrifices

I gave the address at our school’s Fundraising Feast last Friday night. Here are the notes for my talk.


Oxford defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.” Isaac Newton calculated the movements of planets based on their masses and the distance between their centers. Albert Einstein argued his theory of general relativity that the curvature of spacetime accounts for the direction and momentum of free-falling objects. Scientists have measured gravity’s grasp on objects toward the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. These all involve observations and formulas and theories, and maybe a stopwatch, but none of them demonstrate what gravity does better than dropping a bowling ball out of a three story window.

Evangel Classical School is not large but, by God’s grace, we have a little bit of gravitational attraction. This isn’t scientific or philosophical speculation, it is something that can be seen. It is also a reason to give thanks to God and something to ask God to bless even more.

The journal app I use recently showed me an “On This Day” entry from four days before our school’s first Information Night in April of 2012. I had written the following:

With just a few days to go before the announcement meeting for ECS, a fall start with our current plans seems less likely than ever. There are only a few families who seem excited about the idea, and even fewer who seem committed to the work it requires.

Five years later ECS has almost 60 students, a modest number, yet that is close to a 500% increase from the 12 we had day one, and it’s manifestly more than none. We have a headmaster, three full-time teachers, and a troop of part-timers. We have textbooks and literature books and hula-hoops and footballs and tables and chairs and whiteboards as well, but those things are only as weighty as the people who wield them. Our people give the school gravity, and the gravity is growing.

There are other words for it, too: energy, buzz, traction, momentum. But I prefer the image of gravity, where mass and energy become an attractive force.

You’ve seen it at work before. Some individuals have a personal gravity; they can’t help but draw a crowd. Organizations can have gravity. There is a kind of pull that not only works to increase the numbers, it also works to change the attitude of the group itself.

In one of my classes this year I noticed a crippling lack of interest and effort from most of the students. Teaching felt like sweeping water uphill with a broom without bristles. But more than a month ago one of the students started to work. Her parents had come alongside of her and encouraged her, and she took to it. In just a couple days of class, her eager participation and obvious effort turned the tone of the entire class around. She didn’t stand up on her chair and exhort the other students to get with it. As far as I know she didn’t track them down between classes and threaten them if they didn’t work harder. She changed the culture of the classroom by her happy diligence. That’s gravity.

The whole school has a type of gravity to it. Not everyone is won by the gravity, but many are.

We start every morning of school at school with Matins. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say the Apostles’ Creed, and we sing a song from the Cantus. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through the entire 5-7 minute mini-meeting and keep a good grip on my grumpiness. I’m reminded that I’m a part of a group of 70ish people—students and staff and some of the parents who are still around at that point—who are committed to loving our neighbors as we express our belief in and love for God. Mr. Sarr is always ready to lead us joyfully, and that joy of being together and getting ready to work for the Lord pulls us further up and further in. That’s gravity.

It is a question we ask when considering whether or not to accept a new student. If the student (and his family) are not quite aligned with us, but still interested, do we have enough gravity to pull them in, or will they knock us off track?

We’ve seen a phenomenon with our end of year evaluation tests. We give spelling tests that include words a grade level or two above where the students are to see if they can take their understanding of phonograms and other rules they’ve learned to make educated guesses. There are two types of students: those who get upset, if not break down in tears, because they don’t know, and those who know that they don’t know but are totally up for the challenge. The ones who are up for the challenge—which is different than knowing how to spell everything correctly—are consistently the students who’ve been at ECS for more than a year, who’ve seen others around them joyfully trying things they might not succeed at. That’s gravity.

What is it that causes this kind of cultural gravity to grow? What is happening at ECS that God is blessing?

Jesus told His disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), which was a reference to the kind of death he was going to die (verse 33). The cross was the purchase point of salvation, it is also the sun around which the eternal life of every believer revolves. And the author of Hebrews said about Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His life wasn’t taken, He spent it without resentment. I think we could summarize the principle as follows: by God’s grace there is great gravity around glad sacrifice.

Both the glad and the sacrifice are required. Gladness without sacrifice may still be gladness, but it will probably be light. Dandelion seeds are playful in the breeze, but not much of a draw. Sacrifice without gladness may still have an effect, but it’s demanding, or done with a heavy stink. This is the Thanksgiving hostess terrorist, holding her guests hostage until they see and acknowledge all the work she did. Who wants to be around that? Who can sustain sacrifices like that? None is attracted to this, no, not one.

Glad sacrifices are a product and picture of the gospel, this is the Evangel.

We pray for God’s Spirit to make us glad in giving up our lives and He has given great grace for this so far. Mr. Sarr sets the mead hall tone that makes Grendel’s mom mad, the Board is on board the joy train, the teachers embody the war of laughter day by day, especially those on the “Full Time Team.” Mr. Bowers makes science lovers in one hour a week because he loves biomes. Mrs. Hall never walks a lap around the parking lot—and she makes a lot of laps—alone. Mrs. Bowers collects kindergartners around her desk and contrarians around her discussion. Because we live in the world God made, the world God loved so much that He gave His Son for, those who make glad sacrifices can’t help but draw others in. It doesn’t draw everyone in, but it is picking up size and speed.

You can be part of it. You can gladly sacrifice with us and make the ECS gravity a pull to Marysville: from some who are already in it, for some to come to it. You can gladly sacrifice your words, telling others about the school. No Facebook boosted post can do what you can. You can gladly sacrifice your minutes, coming in to volunteer in a variety of ways, using your gifts to serve the students. You can gladly sacrifice your dollars.

We hope to add 18 students to our total number for next year. This would enable us to hire (and pay) another full-time teacher. Why not two more, or three? The people are the most important piece of the gravity, but how great would it also be to have a playground, a field, facilities that show off what we’re doing? We can’t do that yet, and that’s fine, but you could help us get to a spot where others want in. That’s gravity that comes from glad sacrifice.

If it seems too smug to talk about our not-quite-five-year old gravity status, as if we’re the Pluto of wanna-be planets, I’d say these things. First, we’re not too smug to quit working. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote,

[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

We know we must excel still more in laughing and laboring. Second, we’re not too smug to invite others such as yourselves to join us or to ask you to help. That’s part of why we’re here tonight.

And third, we’re not too smug to feast in thanks to God. That’s the other reason for this evening.

Great gravity sustained through generations won’t happen without God’s blessing, and it will be God’s blessing, proportional to our glad sacrifices.

Stamped with New Value

Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.

What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.

The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.

John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.

Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)

The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

Easter Had to Be Effective

It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.

What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.

Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?

It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.

But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?

We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.