As Thin as the Wifi Signal

The fruit of the Spirit are one. That is, Galatians 5:22 says “fruit” (singular) while seven pieces are listed. The first few are more often remembered because we say them more often (love, joy, peace); we trail off halfway through figuring that our friend knows that we know the rest.

It is the last piece that I want to call our attention to for now: self-control.

In the world we live in, there will be control. And as it has been observed, either we will control ourselves or others will control us. Wisdom knows that “the hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Proverbs 12:24). Be diligent on your own, or have a manager always watching over your shoulder while you flip burgers.

This isn’t only an employment issue, or even a political one, but includes our entertainment and our relationships.

If we cannot control our tastes we will eat junk. Eating junk too much junk for too long and we will become what we eat. If your favorite music is vapid, if you can’t wait for the weekend to binge watch movies, your soul will become as thin as the wifi signal that feeds your distractions.

In our relationships, if we cannot control emotions, we will be enslaved to bitterness, or to lust, or eventually to alimony payments. It is the Gentiles who live in the passion of lust (1 Thessalonians 4:5), they are enslaved to their passions. They are not free.

Spirit-filled self-control is not a law, but there is no law against it. In Christ our fleshly desires have died, and “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

Blessed New World

Here is the charge I gave to our graduates at yesterday’s commencement.

Good evening to our candidates for graduation, to their parents and families, to the Board and teachers at ECS, along with loved friends, supporters, and guests. How great is this?!

It is funny to think that when both Gabby and Kara were starting school in Kindergarten, ECS was still seven years away from becoming a school. The school was birthed when both of you entered your junior high years. Kara was one of the original twelve guinea raggants (if we can call them that), starting as a 7th grader, and Gabby during her freshman year. In some ways, both of you are more mature than the school.

It has been fun watching everyone grow up together, both of you as young women, along with your teachers, and even the book choices and curriculum offerings for secondary. Whether you know it or not, you have given us the great benefit of needing to figure more things out for you. Thank you for your patience, your work, and your endurance.

Last summer, after the school finished her fifth year, the Board decided on a mission statement.

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

This is a big deal, both in what it says and in what it does not say, and I’ll return to some of the ideas in a moment.

The year before that, when we came to commence our first graduating class, we decided that in order to graduate from ECS, a raggant must not only pass a certain number of classes but must also portray a certain set of character traits. These virtues are non-negotiable because they are, in many ways, eternally more important than your grades. In fact, grades are not mentioned in the mission statement at all, and we really mean that. Your grades in Algebra and Music and Omnibus and other classes do reflect parts of your character, so we’ve not done away with them, but our target for your education is too big for only five letters of the alphabet, plus or minus.

So we are interested in developing character, in doing our part to educate:

  1. Stout image-bearers
  2. Generous disciples of Christ
  3. Copious producers
  4. Prodigious learners
  5. Thankful stewards
  6. Jovial warriors

In other words, we are educating you toward Christian adulting. We—alongside your parents—hope and pray and work that you would be steady and giving makers who are grateful and laughing through it all so flagrantly as to make Grendel’s Mom mad. This is a large-hearted person ready for no end of callings, and I would like add a little bit more about what I hope your post-ECS raggant life looks like.

If I could be sure to have one prayer answered for you both, I pray that you would never be happy again. That could be taken the wrong way and so requires explanation, of course. In other words, I pray that you would both know two serious blessings that go together: that of being 1) discontent and 2) demanding.

It would be the worst for you to leave here and think that you are finished. I don’t believe that to be the case for either of you two, but this is a Charge after all. You are finished with this stage of learning, and now is not the time to retreat from learning.

Don’t be satisfied with what you’ve learned. And because of what you’ve learned, you also should have better taste for what you’re being served. How can you possibly be content with anything false? Many fake news prophets have gone out into the world; test them. Be discontent with lies, including the deceitfulness of excuse-making. Be discontent with laziness, with tyranny, with ignorance, and I mean this about your own failures first. These are things that do not belong in a Christ-honoring culture. Do not carry any water for the sin of self-justification. Do not shut your eyes, or even wink, while rationalizations for your selfishness or bitterness are at work.

Demand, then, truth, diligence, liberty, and more learning, especially your own.

You have tasted something better. You can’t go back. You musn’t go back.

Peter wrote something similar to his readers about their tastes: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” It is the good taste that makes one crave more of the truth. “Long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation,” into maturity. And though in context, the first set of sins must be put away first, it works in reverse as well. “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” You won’t have an room for these. They won’t fit. You will have a better appetite. His Word and ways will be like honey to your tongue.

Your education so far has only been a launching pad, a kick in the plaid skirt. Now you need to go learn more. It’s time to go off the rails, not off the road of of righteousness, but off the rails of expecting others to lay the course ahead of you. You know some of what you know, and there is a lot more that you’ll find out you don’t know, and you’ve been given a taste and many tools for getting more.

You are headed into a world that wants you to think it is brave, but it more like a sickly chicken running from its shadow. You are headed into a world that will try to buy you with cheap pleasures. It will try to distract you from your image-bearing purpose, and will try to keep you from rocking the boat. This is what you must resist. This is why you’ve been prepared to be free.

A liberal arts education is for those who love liberty. Liberty is not easy, as you’ve read hundreds of pages about wars to gain or protect independence. You will not always feel happy. Wounds earned in battle can’t be healed lightly; a pedicure won’t fix trench foot. But you will be a better generation if you do not get content with easy conveniences and comforts.

Since Aristotle, men in the west have believed that liberal arts education was for those with leisure. Training for a job was training for slaves. That is not completely Kuyperian, since we believe that every lawful labor in the Lord is not in vain. But these questions still test the success of your schooling; what will you do when you have a day off? How will you spend your free time? When your bills are paid, what will you purchase (or go into debt for)? Will your understanding of fun and pleasure be like the world’s, or will you demand true truth and beautiful beauty? This is the point of your education: how you will spend your time after class?

Because Christ Jesus died and rose again, because of the evangel, this is a blessed new world. His sacrifice for sin frees us from slavery to lies and blindness and into truth and sight. You know. You see. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (verse 6). You know the glory. How could you be happy with underhanded and ugly alternatives? Refuse refuse.

Since God has called you to believe in Christ He has also called you to obey Christ and grow up into the fulness of Christ. This means you are called to bless others. You are called to give yourselves rather than get for yourselves. You are called to lay down your life for His sake; it’s in the sacrifice of losing your life, Jesus says, that you will find your life. The world is going to offer you a thousand other ways. But He is the way, the truth, and the life.

To be clear, this discontented and demanding spirit must not be driven by fussiness, which is selfishness, which is pride. It will only be a blessing if it is driven by faith, which is God-centered, which brings humility. And God blesses the humble.

So may you never be happy again unless that happiness, that blessedness, is from God and through Him and to Him.

Congratulations to both of you, Gabby and Kara. We give thanks to God for His work in you. It is now your charge to commend the works of the Lord to another generation so that they will carry and advance Christ-honor culture. Don’t be content with less.

Board Lit

I love our school board. While so many books and articles about productivity lament the bane of meetings, I always look forward to our time together. (I have the same attitude about our church’s elder board meetings). We do have enough minutia to discuss, but since we’re still in the early institution stage we’re always happy to connect the details back to big ideas.

We also are always reading and discussing something together. Last night we finished The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. It is almost perfect reading for those connected to classical Christian education, and Mr. Sasse quotes Dorothy Sayers in his chapter on education. Really good stuff.

Then we talked through our options for a next book. There were a number of options, and all of them had appeal. But it was suggested that maybe we try another novel, having read That Hideous Strength previously, the only fiction book in a overall diet of non-fiction. We’ve decided; motioned, seconded, and approved (or something less formal than that).

We are going to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series together. We’ll tackle one book per monthly meeting, so we should finish seven months from now (unless we need to table our book discussion due to a high amount of other business any given night).

This is fabulous. Some of the guys have read all of the series, but a while ago, and others have read only a little bit or none at all. But this is not a waste of precious admin, decision-making time, this is exactly the sort of thing we want for our students to practice. I thank God for more opportunities to grow, and to do it on behalf of the next generation.

Do Justice

I am not a social justice warrior. I may not even know exactly what it means. I believe that many injustices are being done in the name of justice. I understand being skeptical of those who brandish the phrase like a two-edged sword in front of others’ necks, let alone of those who beat others over the head with it like a sledgehammer of guilt.

And. (Here’s just one example of there being more than only two colors). And the Bible describes justice as something to be done not just something to keep in our dictionaries. “Ah, yes, I have a great definition right here, let me show it to you the page.” Justice cannot be true justice if it only stays at the sentence level, even if the sentence is true.

When Solomon became King and the Lord offered him whatever he asked, Solomon’s well-known request was wisdom for governing. The Lord granted the request, and the immediate case that came before Solomon was that of the two prostitutes. It’s really a fantastic story, and the result was that the people knew they had a king who would do something.

And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. (1 Kings 3:28)

The LORD Himself “is king forever and ever,” and we stand in awe of Him because we know that He “will incline [His] ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed” (Psalm 10:16-18). The prophet Micah asks and answers “what is good” and what does the LORD requires for every man: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Doing justice surely includes investigation, deliberation, vindication, retribution, and many other verbal nouns ending in -ion. Doing justice means caring about things in society, about social things, about how our neighbors are being treated, the neighbors that God commands us to love. So for those who argue that such interests and energies are moving away from the simplicity of the gospel, does this mean that doing justice is no longer to be done? Or it should be done, just not by Christians? Why not Christians? And how will those who aren’t Christians even know what justice is?

More Than Two Colors

Why do those who acknowledge subtlety compromise? And why are those who have little capacity for nuance wrong?

This is a false dichotomy. Not everyone who sees a spectrum of options always slides to the negative side. Likewise, those who live in only big categories can choose correctly, though it is more obvious when they’re wrong.

Or, which is better, a framing carpenter or a finish carpenter? Doesn’t it depend on what you’re trying to accomplish? Two-by-fours have built and supported some amazing structures, but they can’t do it all.

Or, if you could only see in two colors, let’s say cyan and magenta, and you had a shelf for each kind of can, and a friend asked you to put a yellow can on a shelf, where would you put it?

Or, are truth, knowledge, and wisdom all referring to the same thing? And if they are different words for the same thing, must they all be either black or white? If the three words are related but not strict synonyms, and if truth is black/white but wisdom was on a spectrum, would you discourage the pursuit of wisdom since it could lead to compromise for those who think they have it but actually don’t, or at least not enough of it?

These questions come up in an attempt to figure out why those in the Truth-Lovers Camp (TLC)–mostly my kind of people–seem not only to be highly suspicious of, critical toward, and increasingly isolated from others, but also why they seem to be satisfied being wrong and saying untrue things when they lump everyone outside of their camp into the same category.

There are more than two colors.

Aiming Senior Arrows

One trend that has bugged me for more than a decade is parents, and pastors, encouraging their kids to move away. This is not the same as encouraging them to move out. Yes, raise kids who grow up and take more and more responsibility for themselves, and then commit to a spouse, and start a family, probably in their own house. All that is great. It is the post high school move-away-if-you-can that concerns me.

The end of May/beginning of June is graduation season. Our school will conduct its second evar commencement this coming Sunday evening. It gives occasion for me to look out the window again, stroke my beard, and ruminate in general, where should parents and teachers aim senior arrows?

I don’t think it is sin to go away to college. Other articles have been written, especially for Christian students, about priorities young people need to consider when choosing a college. Those are great. And of course not every high school graduate even needs to go to college, but that is another post.

But is it the best to send our kids away? Why pour into them for seventeen/eighteen years of life, including thirteen years of schooling, and then offer them nothing close to home after that?

We live in a fairly small town. It might be more exciting to move to a larger place and attend an established school. It would be an experience. I went to three different colleges, all of which were at least seven hours from my hometown. But we are raising our kids to love the place God planted our family, teaching them to love their city neighbors, and encouraging them to be salt and light here.

If they want to go away, and have good reasons for doing so, that will be fine. This isn’t about parental grabbiness. Everyone does not need to stay near home. But telling our kids that it is better to get out is counterproductive to generational change and maybe a sign of our own unthankfulness.

Where He Starts

We know that God’s ways are not our ways and that His thoughts are above and beyond our thoughts. We know, mostly because He told us, that we don’t know everything about how He works.

We have problems right from the start. I mean that not from the start of our creaturely condition with finite limitations, though those comparisons do explain part of our problem. What I mean is that we don’t even get where He starts.

For example, when God starts to judge, He starts with His people. Peter wrote, “For it is time for judgement to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). We think we want judgment on sinners, but then we’re like, “Hey, don’t they need judgement more than us?” Maybe they do in terms of need, but not apparently in terms of time.

Because Christ died and rose again on the first day of the week, I think it would also be right to say that God starts our weeks with food, the milk and meat of His Word and also the bread and wine of fellowship. We don’t work and then eat, we eat and then we work. It’s gospel. God starts us with His blessing. He starts with provision and then we go out from there. Communion isn’t a reward, it’s a catalyst. The Lord’s Supper is to our week like breakfast is to our day: an important beginning.

The Bottom Line

Money has become a god for many men. You can tell by how they praise it, love it, sacrifice for it. Money chokes out the seed of the gospel (Matthew 13:22). You can see the fruitlessness from those who claimed faith but no longer. Money is the root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).

But God also says that those who have money are not supposed to burn it, or even bury it. They are supposed to bless with it.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

There is a way to trap your thinking to the mold of this present age, but God through Paul says that there is another way of taking hold of the good life to come by how you use money in the present age.

God gives money/makes rich, so don’t be proud. God provides, so don’t be ungrateful. God provides, and with rich generosity, so then you enjoy and employ your money for good as well.

We are all rich, not with the same bottom line at the bank, but knowing the bottom line of God’s blessing. Eat, drink, work, invest, buy, give because tomorrow you may die and go to heaven, and you want your good foundation to be well supplied.

What of a Man’s Profit

I’m re-reading Joy for the World with the guys who come to our church’s men’s meeting, and we recently finished chapter 7 about work and money and the economy.

Does God care about these things? There was a day when I might have answered “Meh.” I didn’t have a category to say that God is interested in them, and certainly not to such a degree that we are wrong if we’re not.

Now I realize that His Word makes plain that He loves the things in the world, while not loving the ways of the worldly. He created the week in such a way that we’re to work for six of the seven days, and that means the majority of our time should be aimed to bless our neighbors through work. When a bunch of people work together or depend on one another’s work there is an inevitable economy. These are, therefore, things God made us to care about, because He requires that we love our neighbors.

A question that I keep mulling: is it possible for Christians to effect God-honoring changes in their economy without making profit?

The Code of the Coders

Or, A Glitch in the System
There is no neutrality. It’s not if there is a code, but which code will be written, and then followed.

Tracy Chou is an “entrepreneur, software engineer, and diversity advocate.” (I can get excited about at least two out of three of those.) Almost a year ago she wrote about why every tech worker needs a humanities education. The foundational questions she asks are crucial for anyone involved in creating, consuming, and educating others about either of the previous two.

Chou warns:

“As much as code and computation and data can feel as if they are mechanistically neutral, they are not. Technology products and services are built by humans who build their biases and flawed thinking right into those products and services—which in turn shapes human behavior and society, sometimes to a frightening degree.”

She was asking herself questions such as:

“what it was that I was working on, and to what end, and why.” … “what behaviors we wanted to incentivize amongst our users” … “We pondered the philosophical question—also very relevant to our product—of whether people were by default good or bad.” … and “the default views we pushed to users.”

So just the things about the nature of human beings and how to steer them. With code. And the order of pictures. (Is it a coincidence that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all mess with the chronological timeline? For whom is it a better experience?)

Here’s Chou’s conclusion (and again, you should read the whole thing):

“I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education….I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.”

This is part of the reason we love our classical, Christian school. Because we don’t assume, let alone seek, neutrality, we’re in a much better position to see biases, including the ones in ourselves, and to seek answers from our Creator who wrote the ultimate Code. Doctors, nurses, code jockeys, rocket scientists, accountants, and bridge builders all need to know the details of their work, but the greater what and why of their work require knowing the what and why of mankind first.