Trickle up from Our Knees

I read three national news items last week that I wish were fictional. First, I read that Planned Parenthood aborts a baby every 94 seconds. Second, I read that the White House has prohibited anyone who has ever said anything against homosexuality (who hasn’t repented) from praying at the upcoming inauguration. Third, I read that former President Bill Clinton has been chosen by The National Father’s Day Council as the 2013 Father of the Year.

How should we respond to these true stories? In order of the stories, we should defend the rights of the unborn (in application of Proverbs 31:9). We should pray; they can’t stop us in our churches or in our homes, not yet. And we should laugh. But there’s more. How did we get here? It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen against our national will.

We ought to repent from our sins. We can’t take responsibility for the sins of others in the same way. But abortion is murder and Jesus taught that the seed of murder is anger. When we blow up at our kids we plant the same seed that, when fully grown, brings the bitter fruit of killing the inconvenient. Homosexuality is lust gone wild. Jesus also taught that to look at some website URLs is to commit adultery in our hearts. To allow the weed to grow among us leads to the government choking our public prayers. And what of the plaques for absentee fathers? Do not many dads wish that they could be praised for their laziness? If we can give a guy like him an award, maybe our families will at least give us a break.

Our culture is an expression of our cultus, our worship. If we allow sin to go un-confessed, it will eventually grow up and be unhindered. Culture doesn’t only trickle down, it trickles up. May our culture trickle up from our knees as we confess our sins.

The Tyranny of Sensitivity

If this hurts your feelings then you should reread it.

One of the most extraordinary examples of adaptation to immaturity in contemporary American society is how the word abusive has replaced the words nasty and objectionable. The latter two words suggest that a person has done something distasteful, always a matter of judgment. But the use of the word abusive suggests, instead, that the person who heard or read the objectionable, nasty, or even offensive remark was somehow victimized by dint of the word entering their mind. This confusion of being “hurt” with being damaged makes it seem as though the feelings of the listener or reader were not their own responsibility, or as though they had been helplessly violated by another person’s opinion. If our bodies responded that way to “insults,” we would not make it very far past birth.

The use of abusive rather than objectionable has enabled those who do not want to take responsibility for their own efforts to tyrannize others, especially leaders, with their “sensitivity.”

—Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 70-71

The Food We Serve

We serve others by the food we serve. This is only said with the intention to raise the standard the right way. A modest meal prepared with lavish honor on the guests is good. A rich meal prepared to steal attention honors no one. But with full hearts and the usual resources we can bless those who sit down with us by what we offer them.

From the sitter-downers perspective, gratitude is always on order. When we’re invited to enjoy the preparations of another, that isn’t the time to grumble. Even if the meal is small but the hands giving it are large, our thanksgiving should be commensurate.

The things mentioned so far should be common-denominator. These are truths that I take as more self-evident than mysterious. If that’s the case, then why do we treat this the Lord’s Table so differently?

Do we honor the host who, at great cost to Himself, has provided food that endures to eternal life? Do we lift Him up by our sad little nibbles? Do we exalt His gift by fasting before the full spread? Do we make much of this loaf and cup of blessing when we grumble at the other guests?

Let us receive what He has given. Let us rejoice that He has paid it all. Let us lift up His deep love for us. Let us receive the treasure on the table before us.

Big Minds Make Big Changes

Wise people are willing to change their minds. A man who won’t ever change his mind, no matter what, will end up a fool.

Education is not confined to gathering information. Yes, we do learn by exploring unread pages and turning them upside down until a new (to us) truth falls out. We do learn by interrogating teachers until they open the doors of their knowledge store. In one sense, our brains are like baskets that can hold many apple facts. We should shake as many bushels of apples as we can from songs and sermons and science sound-offs. God created many things for us to know and enjoy. But collection is not the only path to education for students.

Part of the reason why hunting and gathering isn’t the only way to catch an education is because our minds are not straight arrows. We are image-bearers but, because we are in Adam’s family, we are bent. Even when we are aimed to hit the broad side of the truth barn, we often drift into the bushes. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that our minds are like open mouths and meant to close on something. Because of sin, we will swallow garbage as long as we have something to chew. We may throw up, but at least we’re not hungry.

To summarize: far too often, in pursuit of learning, we end up in the bushes chewing our own vomit. And we ask the band to start playing Pomp and Circumstance.

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) has a worship problem; he worships himself. He sets himself up as the standard. His knowledge is the end all. Solomon also said, “turn away from evil.” This is not simply a generic exhortation to righteousness. It’s saying wise men change course.

A fool is convinced that he knows where he is going and that he’s right. He never asks for directions. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). The wise student has his ears open so that he can change his way if necessary.

I recently read an observation that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, shared with another company.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. (at 37signals)

He wasn’t saying that we ought to change our minds about everything all the time. Mr. Bezos does not want Amazon customers changing their minds about what online business they shop. As Christians, we do not question bedrock “Thus says the Lord” truths. Jesus is God. Salvation is through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Evangel Classical School exists because the evangel, the good news, is true for eternal life. We are not allowed to change our minds about it.

At the same time, Evangel Classical School also exists because many of us have changed our minds about many things.

For example, I’ve 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.

I have also realized in the last few years that I was wrong about the worth of Christian schools. They seemed to me to be wastes of time, offering half-pint truth collection on gun-free campuses used by panicky parents trying to protect their kids from bad things “out there.” Students may not bring guns to school but they always bring their hearts. That means that they still bring enough bad things. I now believe that Christian schooling done faithfully is one of the best ways to equip battle-minded worshipers, which includes equipping them in Christ for killing sin in their souls.

Even in the last couple months I’ve changed my mind about whether students should learn printing or cursive first. I’ve done a 180 degree turn on the value of individual school desks. A maturing person not only recognizes how much he doesn’t know, but also how wrong he’s been. People who are right a lot don’t just fill their minds, they change their minds. A lot.

You may need to change your mind about comma placements and crayon color choices. Don’t question the addition answers, but don’t be a diva acting as if you know everything about how to go through your fact cards or the best system to store them. You will be tempted to act as if you know more than you do. That will not only be proud, it will make you a stupid student because you won’t be able to learn anything.

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. May ECS be a place of big minds, minds that change as often as necessary for growth in true education.


The above exhortation was given at the ECS assembly earlier today.

Not with Contempt

Imagine a close friend who one day sinned against you and broke fellowship. Imagine that you pursued him (or her) with no success. You communicated Your hurt, you expressed your desire to forgive and receive them back, and it all went south.

Now imagine that months pass. Perhaps the sting of the hurt has lifted a little but the pain still isn’t gone. Then your friend drops by. He (or she) has a different spirit. Without hesitation he asks for forgiveness, acknowledges his sin, knowing that there may be ongoing consequences but knowing that he was wrong. What you thought was impossible has come about.

How would you respond? More specifically, would you be irritated or glad? I’m not talking about glad gloating over the vindication of your right-ness. I mean, wouldn’t you rejoice that a lost friend returned, that a broken friendship was restored?

Then why do many Christians tend to believe that God looks on them with contempt? Our Father rejoices when we confess our sin against Him, when we seek His forgiveness. We may have wandered for years, or a week, or our account with Him may be measured by minutes. Jesus told the Pharisees and Scribes, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). If He rejoices when sinners repent, how much more His sons?

One of the most important moments in our Lord’s day liturgy, and probably my favorite part, is the declaration from differnet parts of Scripture that God gladly forgives. If He marked iniquities, none could stand. But He forgives that He might draw us closer in worship.

Honoring the Son of Man

Jesus asked the man born blind if he believed in the Son of Man (John 9:35). Previously in John’s Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). This is a reference to His death on the cross (John 12:32-33) and the outcome was “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). The Son of Man gives life.

The Son of Man also gives sight. This is the work of God in John 9. More than opening eyes to color and light, Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Himself as the Messiah, the Savior. He could see his need and the forgiveness offered by the Son of Man.

The Son of Man also gives food that never perishes. Jesus told the crowd on the other side of the sea, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Jesus satisfies the soul in a way that no bread can.

He gives life. He gives sight. He satisfies the soul. But only for those who believe in Him. Only to those who identify with His sacrifice for their sin. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

As we come to the communion table set with His body and blood, we come because there is no other Savior (Acts 4:12). We come because we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9). We come because we were blind but now can see (John 9:25). We come to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). In all of this the Son of Man will be lifted up in honor because He was lifted up on the cross.

Jolted

Spills are an insight into what is inside our souls.

Amy Carmichael has a note in her little book, If. “For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.” If it is full of sweet water and is jolted, what will come out of the cup? Sweet water. If you gave it a harder jolt, what’s going to happen? More sweet water. If someone is filled with sweet water and someone else gives him a jolt, what will come out? Sweet water. Jolts do not turn sweet water into bitter water.

—Jim Wilson, How to Be Free From Bitterness, 17

Another Sort of Sight

I recently heard someone say that there are two types of people in the world: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who get tired of the other group. I’m going to do it right now, but I’m also going to give a third option, so that will be different.

There are two types of people in the world: those who know that they sin and those who argue that they don’t. There are people who refuse to use the word sin or wannabe atheists who disagree in principle that sin is possible. Their blindness is more sad than ironic. Churchgoers, on the other hand, usually either confess their sin in humility or they confess the systematic truth that men are sinners, though that doesn’t apply to them at the moment. Religious blindness isn’t another sort of sight.

We should always keep in mind that Christ came to save men who sin. Whether you are considering resolutions for the New Year, whether you are in a spat with your spouse, or whether you’re waiting for a broken relationship to mend itself, the only savior is Jesus and He saves men who confess their sin. He doesn’t save those who confess the correct theology of sin. He doesn’t save those who make promises to do better. He doesn’t save those who shift the blame for their sin. He doesn’t save those who depend on time to pass. He saves those who depend on Him.

It is dangerous to argue that we do not sin. That argument is usually found in the mouths of blind men, deceived men, religious men. When we see the sin of those around us much clearer than our own, that may not be because their sin is so much more obvious, it may be because sin trains our eyes to look away. Christ came to do something about the log in our eyes first.

We Don’t Have It

In the middle of many exhortations, Paul told the Romans to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The beginning of the chapter swings on quite a hinge. The letter moves from the glorious gospel of righteousness by faith alone through the invincible love that won’t let us be separated from God in Christ Jesusto the powerful work of righteousness by grace. The orthodoxy–straight doctrine, leads to orthopraxy–straight practice. Generally, we are sacrifices that live worshipfully rather than those who are conformed to the world’s mold (Romans 12:1-2).

Part of that transformed life includes sympathy according to verse 15. We weep with those who weep. We do not blow off or mock the pain and hurt of others. We do not push away to protect our hearts from feeling the same sorrow in their suffering. Transformed Christians share a common cry.

In some ways, weeping with weepers may be easier because we do not have to go home with their problems. We can keep their troubles in an off-site compassion compartment. We can go home to our better situation and breath easier that we don’t have it like them.

But a good test of our transformation comes when we don’t have it like them and they have it better than us. Can we rejoice with those who rejoice? Can we share the joy of their win or their promotion or their profit? Can we enjoy the blessings that they’ve received, especially if they are the blessings we’ve been hoping or working for? Can we do it without being jealous or bitter?

It’s interesting that the next door neighbor exhortation in Romans 12:16 is to live in harmony with one another. We won’t if we are always being tightfisted with compassion and grabby for blessing.