Do you know what is convenient? Always being right. It’s a heavy burden to always be right because there is always someone who is wrong. Christians are some of the best at being right unhelpfully.
In case you haven’t read the news recently, we may or may not be in a pandemic with a virus that may or may not have been man made, that may or may not have been intentionally mishandled or released, that may or may not have become a cover for governmental overreach, that may or may not lead to social upheaval, that may or may not cause unrecoverable economic catastrophe, that may or may not be in order to elect a man with dementia as the obvious choice for president.
Because we live in a country that allows, and promotes, idiocy, Americans are some of the best bull-heads in the world. Social media only amplifies noise, and it’s hard to find any signal.
In special seasons, like this one, there are more conspiracy theories in the air than pollen, and “thankfully” there are a bunch of Christians telling other Christians to stop slandering assumed conspirators. One argument I read for why Christians are so gullible to conspiracy theories is is that we are so proud, we like to feel that super smart and powerful people put a lot of energy into duping us. Aren’t we great?
But don’t be naive, or look at everything through tin-foil glasses. Where two or three are gathered together in this Genesis 3 world, watch your wallet. You’d think that Christians, who know the doctrine of the depravity of man, who know their own capacity for sin, would be better at seeing the systemic effects of sin where they really are…among all the liars in high places.
For that matter, our country’s Constitution was written in anticipation of government conspiracies against the citizens. The three branches of government exist to stand against the conspiracies of the other two. Checks and balances assume the high likelihood of conspirators across the table.
So remember to be wise. Proverbs 18 applies; don’t make decisions without evidence (verse 13), and don’t listen only to the first side, or the side you like (verse 18). And don’t be bullied by other people, even Christians, telling you not to ask questions. And above all, confess your sin. But for the grace of God, we would all be so stupid.
That God plans the end of a story, especially that He planned the eternal life of the sheep, does not mean that He did not plan to use means to get the sheep eternal life. As an author, just because He knows the last page, that does not require Him to write only the last page.
God did not only plan that the sheep would never perish, He planned that they would never perish by the death and resurrection of the Shepherd in place of the sheep. God did not only plan that the sheep would follow the Shepherd, He planned when and where He would call them and open their ears to believe and follow. God ordains the destination and the route, the vehicle, the weather conditions, and who will ride shotgun.
As He planned our eternal life He ordained our time at the Lord’s Table. Why this ordinance? It is a meal to the end. He does not plan for us to work without giving us food. He does not plan for us to be brave without increasing our confidence that we have peace with Him. He does not plan for our witness without giving us a platform: “as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
We shouldn’t play with communion because it is too powerful. God feeds us, unites us, and secures our steps as certainly as He knows our end.
Everywhere you look people are hungry. A big problem, though, is that the mob is not just looking for food in the wrong place, they are trying to get full by sticking their finger down their throat over the toilet (or, it’s not even that modest).
The mob, confessing the sins of their great-grandfathers and the sins of their corporate neighbors and the sins of stone statues, have hearts that are empty because they are full of hate and anger and envy. Their actual sins are devouring them, it is self-consumption, and as one of our cultural prophets said, they can’t get no satisfaction. Just look at the misery.
As Christians we see not only that their standards are wrong, but also that purging isn’t tasty. Our confession of sin isn’t the feast, it readies us for it.
Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Our repentance is not the food, our repentance turns us toward the food. Confession of sin is good, but it is good like washing the gunk off of day old dishes to receive the feast.
A couple weeks ago we took my mom back to the airport, which is about an hour from our house. I had finished almost an entire pot of coffee before we left, so I really needed to use a bathroom. On our way home we stopped in north Seattle at a gas station, and as I entered, I realized that someone was behind me. I turned around and there was a man four or five steps from the door, who seemed to be uncertain about where he was going. The door hadn’t closed entirely, so I stepped back to push it open, which is something I do on a regular basis.
I didn’t pay close attention to what he looked like, and his staggering made me wonder if he was all there, but he did eventually come up to the door, prop it open with his foot, and then he said, “It doesn’t matter.”
I took a few steps into the store, when I realized that this guy was not out of it, he was upset. I turned toward the aisle he was in and said, “So, did you mean it didn’t matter that I held the door for you because our skin is different?” And he said, “There’s nothing you can do to deal with your white guilt.” He was teaching me a lesson.
I tell that story to say a couple things. First, we ought to be grateful for God’s Word that tells us what to be guilty about. It’s not good that we sin against His standard, but at least we know what it is. Likewise, we know what is gift, which includes our ethnicity, gender, height, hair color, and more.
Second, we ought to be grateful, again, that salvation is by faith not works. How many doors would you have to hold open to deal with guilt? How many knees to you have to take, how many self-flagellating social media posts? How long would you need to stay at a white repentance ceremony? That is an horrific liturgy, that offers no grace, no security, no fellowship.
Instead, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), there is communion. Communion with God is a privilege only given to some, a special honor God grants entirely by His grace.
Kneeling is back in the news. I talked about it during a confession exhortation a few years ago when a NFL quarterback was taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in order to protest his concern of targeted violence against black people by the police, and the narrative identifies white police as the particular offenders.
Kneeling is back in the news in a couple ways at least. Another quarterback, who is white, was asked what he thought about his black teammates kneeling during the Anthem, he said he didn’t think that showed proper respect for those who’ve fought to give us freedom in our country, and some of his teammates, along with players on other teams and many in the sports media, piled this quarterback into social shame. Within 24 hours the white quarterback confessed his ignorance and his sorrow that he had hurt his teammates feelings.
Many of the protests over the last couple weeks, and I’m thinking of the peaceful moments, have included kneeling of black and white people in a supposed show of solidarity.
But in some places, the kneeling has turned into a show of craven servility. I’ve seen numerous video clips of white men and women kneeling down, not just with, but before black people, in order to “confess” their white privilege and show their remorse.
“The fear of man takes a knee, but whoever trusts the LORD is safe” (modified Proverbs 29:25).
Beloved, you need to know who to and when to kneel. Kneeling (or not) can be a powerful statement. But there is no sin of being red, brown, yellow, black, or white. There is no sin that your parents or your grandparents are a particular color. But there is sin. And there is a reason to bow before our Creator, our God, our Lord.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6 ESV)
When we confess our sin as a church, we invite believers to kneel. Don’t fear men, fear the Lord.
“at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10 ESV).
We do not come to the Lord’s Table to forget anything, we come in faith, for fellowship, in remembrance of Him.
Not everyone drinks to see more clearly, many drink because they see enough and want some kind of escape.
In his poem, “Misery,” George Hebert described this knowledgable forgetfulness.
Man is a foolish thing, a foolish thing, Folly and Sin play all his game. His house still burns, and yet he doth sing, Man is but grass, He knows it, fill the glass.
“Man is but grass” is inspired truth, it is “the word of the Lord.” So wrote Isaiah (40:6), which the Spirit moved Peter to quote (1 Peter 1:24). The man in Herbert’s focus knew his condition, but wanted the wine to make him forget it.
Depending on which media outlet you’re plugged into, you see that the house around us is on fire. We see it, we do not say that it is fine. And yet, we do sing. We even sing, and know, that “man is but grass.” But, we know more than that!
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not;say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9-11)
Drink this cup in remembrance of your good Shepherd, who laid down His life for you. Drink of this cup, not to forget the fact that all flesh is grass, but that your flesh will be resurrected just like Jesus’. Remember that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Remember all you have in Christ, and sing.
There are many sins, God hates them all, Jesus died to save men from them all, and if we got serious, we’d probably find more that we could confess. But even though confession is mostly like trying to hit the broad side of a barn with a rock from three feet away, meaning that you’d think we could try out confession a lot of sins before we missed the mark, some repentance requires repentance.
If you confess as sin something you have not done, you have sinned by lying. If you confess as sin something God hasn’t called sin, you lie about Him and His standard. If you confess as sin something someone else has done, you have sinned by not only lying, but by being a judge.
Men sin. The only reason God hasn’t destroyed our world with another flood is because He promised He wouldn’t. We are drowning in sin as a nation, and of course there is a lot to confess.
Even those who aren’t Christians have some pang of guilt they wish to be rid of. In these days, there is a sin that is popular to confess, and many who are guilty of almost anything else are grabbing fistfuls of rocks to throw, just not at the barn.
Consider these observations from C.S. Lewis in his article, “The Dangers of National Repentance”:
men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable.
And then the kicker:
The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing–but, first, of denouncing–the conduct of others.
Because we are connected, as families, as a church body, and even as citizens of this nation, we can confess corporate sins. But we must not confess the ones that indulge our passions rather than kill them.
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.
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.
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.