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The following notes are from my commencement address at the Evangel Classical School 2020 graduation held on May 31st.

Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidates for graduation. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you.

I suppose it is fitting that we are outside in a yard for this commencement ceremony, since the first convocation many of you attended, the first convocation ever at ECS, was also outside in a yard. How many things have changed in these last eight years, and how many things have become even more important.

You are under no obligation to remember the first quote I used that September Tuesday afternoon in 2012. I’ve given it voice numerous times, and each time I tend to think that I finally know what it means.

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.

From holding classes in a basement (four of you were the “big table buddies”), to a drought on the property requiring a port-a-potty for multiple weeks, then a flood in the same basement, soccer in a gravel driveway, and backpacks too big for Odysseus’ shoulders, these were just some of the challenges in the first six months. Ha. We thought last spring was challenging, as the Headmaster in particular spent months searching for a space that could hold our growing student body, trying to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars for a fire alarm, only a year later to have a non-functioning fire alarm in a building we can’t meet in according to the governor. Who knew what sort of damage declarations of emergency could accomplish? Mr. Lewis said it, “Favourable conditions never come.”

Of course ECS doesn’t exist to reach scholastic utopia, even less are we attempting to bunker down and ride out storms. We exist to sharpen arrows for shooting (that is, shooting with arrows, not at them). We exist because there are problems, not to get away from, but to be equipped for. You have been doing cultural work, plowing the field, and it is time for you to expand the field and plow with the tassel on the other side of your cap.

We have given you not just our first years, but our best years. And now it is time for you to do it even better. From the beginning we have never desired that you would be able to solve our problems. From the beginning, we have wanted you to learn a much bigger lesson. We have wanted you to have an example of wanting something so badly that you would go through walls to get it.

To that end, let me pass along two lessons, two exhortations I believe will help you carry and advance Christ honoring culture.

Change your mind, a lot.

By this I do not mean that you can never know anything. I mean that you do not know everything. This is not a call for ignorance or feigned humility. It is a call to acknowledge that God loves growth, that God cares about a lot of things, and that He cares about You learning about and loving more of His things.

Your classwork at ECS has exposed you to the stream of Western Civilization and in particular to the radical changes brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” And in fact, the gospel requires a change of mind, it requires repentance. When men and women (two categories about which you should not change your mind) realize that they are sinful, when they turn from self-righteousness to the gift of salvation by grace, reformations explode.

If you do not learn to change your mind, you will have less opportunities to be right. If you do not change your mind, your pride will make you brittle and fragile. If you do not change your mind, you will be left behind, fighting old wars that only exist in your head.

The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) thinks his mind is hot snot.

As just one example, I spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.

In his essay titled, “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot.

To the degree that we have succeeded at ECS, you realize that there is more to learn than ever. More than a head start, we hope you have a taste for what is good and want more of it. It isn’t just that we wanted you to learn Latin and Logic and literature, we want you to have a life. A well educated person knows how to spend her leisure time, not filling up on the vanity of life under the sun, but resting or sharpening their tools for advancing the work.

My wife has illustrated it as standing on the shoulders of parents, or teachers, and being able to see that if everyone moved down the wall 15 steps, it would would be more strategic. If the person on the ground complains that the one looking over the wall isn’t being thankful, “Don’t you know how hard this is?” it’s the person on the bottom who can’t see what they’re supposed to be doing. They demonstrate that what they wanted is credit, not climbing. You are the ones climbing, but it won’t be long before kids (or students) will be climbing on you.

The reason for changing your mind is because you submit to the unchanging Word of the unchanging God. Evolution is a illusive progress to who knows where. Repentance is growth toward eternal glory.

Count your blessings, a lot.

You are #blessed. That is an assumption that has warrant. There are things that are “your blessings,” and counting them is not futile. Our God blesses those who fear Him, and the blessings are like streams of water.

To always be counting your blessings is to live a life with the perfume, or cologne, of thankfulness. How fragrant are the grateful. How like a light in this perverse, dark, and grabby-souled world you will be. Any fathead-airhead-knucklehead-bonehead-blockhead-pudding-head can (be governor, I mean) grumble. Complaints are running over the gutters of our social sewage system.

If there is any difficulty in counting one’s blessings, it is that it’s exhausting. Who could keep up with every given heartbeat, let alone name all of the visible and invisible care and kindnesses you receive from the Lord.

But let me add that counting your blessings may, it will, require you to change your mind about what counts as a blessing. Your expectations should not only be higher, your expectations should be wiser. Very rarely will your blessings look, let alone feel, glamorous.

We know the resurrection of Jesus is a blessing, but do we also call His death, death which atoned for all our sins, blessing? And though we do not seek the pain, He sends it to us. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:28). It is granted, it is chosen and appointed. Don’t flinch in the dark.

Learn the shape of your blessings, work your way out from the cross. On one hand, it is disappointing, and unfavourable, to finish your final year in quarantine and to graduate like this. On the other hand, no graduating class from ECS will have this story. No other class has been blessed to embody risus est bellum like you. No other rumpus of raggant alumni has had to practice civil disobedience just to get their diploma. This ceremony itself is a lesson, it is a blessing, and there will be more where this came from.

The cheeky motto of the class of COVID-19 is Omnino cancellatum est, “everything is canceled.” But, because of the education you’ve received, a better motto might be: omne mirile est, “everything is awesome.” It’s true even when conditions are not favorable. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.

In many ways you are responsible for the depth of friendships between your parents, for the increase in breadth of vision and love for Marysville, for revealing our shortcomings, our need for grace, and how sweet that grace tastes. You are much to blame for my interest in Narnia, Middle Earth, coloring pages and more. I am tired, but I am changed, and thankful.

We don’t want you to want someone else to do it. We don’t want you to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We want you to be starters and singers. We want you to be just like us, only with merry impudence. Geronimo, yes, and also, Fix bayonets.

“What is vital and healthy does not necessarily survive. … We ask too often why cultures perish and too seldom why they survive; as though their conservation were the normal and obvious fact and their death the abnormality for which special causes must be found. It is not so. An art, a whole civilization, may at any time slip through men’s fingers in a very few years and be gone beyond recover.” (Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, 113)

“No art lives by nature only by acts of voluntary attention on the part of human individuals.” (124)

You are going to have harder days potentially than we have imagined. And if the Lord does not return, future students will study about your work. You are changing the world from a backyard, in Jesus’ name.

enculturation

There are at least three levels of crisis in the world currently: physical crisis, cultural crisis, and eternal crisis.

The first two levels are hand in glove, or like soap and water. The physical sicknesses and deaths of COVID-19 are real, though they have been made worse by the lathering of cultural selfishness. The coronavirus attacks blood and internal body parts, and coronapocrisy hoards toilet paper and tattles on non-social distancers in the name of neighbor-love. Thankfully, not every hospital bed has been filled so far like was predicted, but unfortunately most of the political seats are still full of greed.

We can pray that God’s providential shake-up is being used by God to wake-up sinners to the eternal crisis. Because of sin they are separated from God, and whether they die from a virus, or they die from hunger, or they die from violence, God’s vengeance is still on them for their own unbelief and ingratitude before Him.

In the COVID-19 world is sickness, selfishness, and separation. In Christ is healing, love, and fellowship.

By faith in Christ we overcome the world. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 4:4-5). We are a communion of conquerors, and our communion is conquering.

Though we are not under the same roof today, our faith is in the same resurrected Lord. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. Though we don’t see each other, be believe in the Son who gives us eternal life.

liturgy

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead does not exempt us from confessing our sins, the resurrection of Christ keeps our confessing of sins from being futile.

Without the truths of Easter maybe the most pitiable part of our Lord’s Day liturgy would be the assurance of pardon. A call to worship could still come from any bigger-than-man god. Such a god could also demand our prayers and our obedience to whatever instructions given. Gods like sacrifices, and if they can be pleased they may give support to the worshippers. But only one God gives forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without death, and there is no complete forgiveness without resurrection from death.

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

But by the resurrection of Jesus we know that He is God (Romans 1:4). Easter declared Him so. By the resurrection of Jesus we are born again into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). It is of first importance, not only that Christ died for our sins and that He was buried, but also that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

The cross by itself does not prove forgiveness, the cross shows the offensiveness and cost of our sins. The empty tomb proves that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that He accepts us in Christ.

liturgy

I watched a recent interview with a pastor I appreciate who gave some explanation for why he didn’t think it was appropriate for a church to partake of the Lord’s Supper during our digital, distance assembling. His primary concern was that people wouldn’t take the Table seriously enough, which he clarified to mean that people wouldn’t take their sin seriously enough.

It may border on uncharitable of me to restate his argument thus: only pastors can make the people feel bad enough in order to make them worthy enough to take communion. That is not much of an exaggeration, if any.

Are you worthy to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table? Do you know how dangerous it is to eat and drink unworthily? Paul did say that those who don’t discern eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29).

We don’t think we are worthy because we’ve done enough good. We also don’t think we’re worthy because we felt really, seriously bad about our sin. God does not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), but in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday there were many who took sin seriously who didn’t have anything like a broken heart.

What I miss most about having communion in the same room is not that I don’t have a sense of control over the wretched vibe, I miss trying to make eye contact with as many of you as possible while we eat and drink together in joy.

He gave His body for all who believe. He calls us to remember Him as we drink the cup. May His Spirit fill us with serious thanks and seriously unite us as one.

liturgy

Salvation in Christ is so free. It really is unlike any other transaction.

In our economic decrescendo the government is offering money buckets to bail out certain industries that are supposedly too big to sink. The government is printing money to make numbers look better on paper. The government is offering loans to some businesses to help them get through a rough season. Without saying much more than that for now (except that the majority of these decisions and offers are wrong-headed, counter-productive, and unjust), just think about how these stimulus packages compare to the gospel.

In God’s economy, no person (or family or nation) is too big to fail. God needs to preserve or protect no single individual in order to accomplish His purposes. A kid can be saved no matter his dad’s condition, a poor person, or a rich one, can be saved no matter what a king or president or Federal Reserve Chairman decides. Absolutely anyone can fail, can die in need of forgiveness without repentance, and God alone remains indispensable.

Yet in His sovereignty over the entire system and every sphere, He offers grace. Grace is unconditional. God’s grace is not based on any amount of merit or qualification; not gender, age, lineage, occupation, network, portfolio, health. He considers none of those factors in considering who to save.

And He saves entirely at His own expense. Salvation is not a loan. We do not pay Him back. If we use the language of debt, it is one of love, but that is not a debt to work off. He does not tax us next year, or tax our grandchildren, or anyone else.

Christ died for our moral bankruptcy. He atoned for our foolishness and selfishness and pride, for our lack of submission and faith and thanks. His forgiveness and gift of life is free, and He makes us free to serve Him.

liturgy

5 of 5 stars to The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

This was one of the books that God used in the last half of 2005 to convict me of my mostly head/truth-based Christian life. Rereading it in the last half of 2019 and beginning of 2020 edified me greatly, even as I noticed more of Edwards’ repetitiveness. He also borders on stimulating doubt more than faith, but still a good challenge to loving obedience. The book in one sentence: you always do what you most want to do.

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Hebrews 10:25 urges Christians not to neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some. I’ve seen various arguments that churches who are not meeting in their usual locations in their usual ways are disobeying this exhortation. But not meeting together is not our habit. And, as a church we are still considering how to stir one another up to love and good works, encouraging one another albeit through different channels.

The word “church” refers to a collection, a group of gatherers. A church, like some Christmas toys, means that some assembly is required. But we are not reinventing church, we are not trying to replace anything, we are in a season that causes us to remember why being the church is so important.

When Solomon dedicated the temple he had built, he prayed that even those who couldn’t be at the temple could turn toward it, wherever they may be, from however far away they may be, and trust that the LORD would hear their prayers (1 Kings 8:30 ,35, 38, 44, 48).

As Christians we do not have a temple, we are the temple. You do not turn toward a particular direction, but you do turn toward the rest of your people. That is our habit.

So we celebrate our communion again in an imperfect way, but we celebrate because we believe that He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. We celebrate because Christ will build His church; we are His body, and He is our head, wherever we may be.

liturgy

You are at home, but you are not home alone. We are at a distance, but we are not disconnected.

I am not trying to play loose with words, I’m trying to emphasize the spiritual, even if invisible, reality of our union in Christ.

You cannot do something that doesn’t affect the rest of us. You can do, and regularly do, a lot of things that we don’t know about. Perhaps most of the time we won’t notice any immediate consequences. But that doesn’t change what’s true.

The current “Stay home, save lives” context has changed how we contact each other, but it has not changed that we are connected.

This is true for our household units, but in reverse. Just because your kids can see you work from home now doesn’t mean that how you did your work at the office didn’t matter to them before, it just means that a lack of integrity takes more work to hide.

Some of you may be compromised; what would we see if you forgot to turn off your webcam? Rust on the bottom of the chair isn’t as obvious, but it is just as damaging.

So how are you helping the health of the church body? How are you making us stronger? You cannot use your spiritual gifts in all the same ways as before, but that doesn’t mean that we are any less dependent on you doing your part for our fellowship.

David’s “private” sin with Bathsheba didn’t stay private. He was Israel’s king, so he had a different level of responsibility as the governing head, and that’s why the Lord punished the nation not just the man. In a similar way, the body has many members, but it is still one body (1 Corinthians 12:20, 26).

We will be stronger or weaker the next time we come together in person, and it will be a result of how we killed sin or coddled sin while we’re not.

liturgy

To our City of Marysville officials,

I am writing this open letter to you, not to confront, or even to criticize you, but to offer thanks and an exhortation. These are unprecedented days not just for our city, but obviously for the world, and you have many decisions to make on our behalf. Thank you for all the hours you have already spent, and for the many more hours of labor to come.

Due in large measure to your leadership, Marysville is not only a great place to live and work and raise our families, it has become a place of fruitfulness and an example to our neighboring communities, even up and down the West Coast. I think in particular of your work regarding homelessness, and how that was newsworthy in Spokane, in Seattle, and even in Southern California. Your willingness to explain your decisions for city projects and budget spending is notable, and appreciated. The Mayor’s patience, and nerve, on display at Coffee Klatches and other public meetings, provokes confidence and trust.

So I am asking you to show that sort of leadership again, at least for the citizens of Marysville, and perhaps even as a voice of reason to our State.

For three weeks in a row our Governor has enacted new and tightening restrictions. After closing all public schools, he then announced that no groups larger than 250 could meet, then lowered that to 50, and then this past week said not to leave our houses except for essential business. But, and this is significant, these are the only specifics he’s providing. If there is data about an exponential increase of COVID-19 cases among us, where is it? If there is data about the decreasing availability of hospital beds, where is it? Why are the restrictions getting more specific, and the explanations for why getting more foggy?

Over the last few weeks new laws have been written based on data modeling, not on data reported. And even those models are now admitted, by the scientists themselves, to be drastically wrong. From the beginning certain “experts” have been inflaming panic with “point of no return” terminology, burying the “known limitations” of their estimates below the “flatten the curve” graphics. Your messages to the community have been calm, but if the message itself is incorrect, that introduces other risks.

Because we all live together, certainly you know, at least anecdotally, that our community had a serious flu season in the later part of 2019. A Seattle flu study was testing for, and finding, coronavirus in January. It matters when the coronavirus came to the US, because that changes, and lowers, the death rate percentage along with the percentage of how many cases require hospitalization.

Marysville is filled with hard working men and women. We do not want the government, Federal or State, to bail us out. We want to go to work, taking reasonable precautions, earn our paychecks, and then pay our own bills. Please do not help the Governor redistribute responsibilities, and then make us more dependent on him.

There are ways to fight COVID-19 that do not require “killing” our local economy and businesses. You have worked hard to invite more businesses into our area and have been promoting their companies (as with the Cascade Industrial Center). Sharing a map of Marysville-area restaurants providing takeout is great, and posting pictures of your lunches is fun, but the costs are much bigger. You can do more. Again, as you demonstrated in your approach to the homeless, you did not deny that it was a problem, but you did avoid multiplying the problem for others.

Here is one plan to get America back to work, with a pivot from “horizontal interdiction” where everyone is restricted, to a “surgical” or “vertical interdiction” where those most likely to be affected are cared for. This would protect those of us who are not as susceptible to coronavirus from other consequences, such as financial or social or emotional.

The “Stay home, save lives” motto is succinct, and who doesn’t want to save lives? But can you please provide more information along with the well-being sentiments? Acting fast in a genuine crisis is good, but not if it is running off a cliff.

So as a pastor who loves Marysville, as a private school board member and teacher who encourages students and their families to love Marysville, as a parent who wants my kids to love Marysville, and as a citizen who believes in his local officials, I am asking you to use your influence for our good, physical and financial and cultural. Continue to demonstrate that you do not need the Governor’s office to provide your talking points. Do not be pressured by silliness coming out of King County. Do not allow the goal posts of restrictions to continue to be narrowed. Do not keep us in the dark. If it is bad, tell us. If you see that it is not as bad as Olympia is trying to make it sound, tell them.

enculturation

4 of 5 stars to Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Other than The Wealth of Nations this is the first economics book I’ve read, certainly the first one I’ve read for fun. And it was GREAT. At first I wondered how Hazlitt could possibly spend 26 chapters on ONE lesson, but all that proved was how naive I was in imagining ways that men could ruin themselves by only asking narrow questions about short-term consequences. The only ways this book could have been better are if Hazlitt used the Oxford comma, and if he had said somewhere, “This lesson works because this is how Jesus made the world to work.” This is a must read for anyone who earns, spends, or invests money. And in light of our wannabe socialist overlords (on both sides of the Congressional aisle) and their campaign to give everything away, it would be very valuable to get this lesson learned sooner rather than later.

Goodreads