2019: While I don’t know where exactly Dante got all his ideas on the celestial spheres, I do know that reading one man’s imaginative effort about it increases my desire to find out the truth of it in person. I need none of Dante’s exaltation of Mary (theologically or positionally in heaven) or merit, and I want much more face to face fellowship with God Himself (see 1 Corinthians 13:12-13; 1 John 3:2). But there is great glory, light, and munificence to celebrate in this final piece of the Comedy.
2017: I don’t know what I was expecting, but I should not have been surprised by the movement through heavenly planets having read Lewis’ The Discarded Image. That was great. Not great was the preeminence given to Mary. And as long as I could think of Beatrice as a representation of divine happiness things were fine, but reading Dante’s lines toward Beatrice as herself was…weird. I’m glad that in the final lines Dante enjoyed perfect affections, but then what? Still an enjoyable read.
My wife and I moved to Marysville, WA, in the summer of 2001 as I took a job as a youth pastor. I loved almost everything about that job: the church body, the elders, the youth staff, and the junior high and high schoolers themselves. In the youth ministry I had freedom to study and teach whatever book of the Bible or theological subject that interested me. I got to lead, and to grow alongside, the other leaders as well as plan and lead events with them. Most of the parents were very supportive, and most of the students were very responsive. I thank God for His grace to me during those years.
The one thing that became a growing frustration was the expectation that students who could, should get out of Marysville. If they had enough academic or financial ability, or just the gumption, they should find somewhere to go that wasn’t here. Maybe it would be temporary, or maybe we would just see them when they visited for the holidays. This expectation was sometimes spoken and always felt.
Marysville is a small-ish city, and, I’m not sure that it’s ever had a stellar reputation. Even our outlet mall is named “Seattle Premium Outlets,” though Seattle is 35 miles south. Before we moved from the Los Angeles area, Mo was talking to someone familiar with Marysville who called it “the hell of Washington.” I still recall being driven down the main drag in Marysville for the first time and wondering how there could possibly be the need for so many auto parts stores.
But God puts us, He plants us, in the place He wants. If that place is lovely, He wants us to give thanks and be good stewards. If that place is less lovely, He still wants us to give thanks and then love the unlovely to greater loveliness.
In the 18+ years that we’ve lived in Marysville a lot has happened, to our family, our people, and our city. By His grace we are even more tied to them than ever.
The soil of these loyalties has been worked up by the tiller of Kuyperianism, which has also weeded out a lot of dualism. I’ve posted about Kuyper numerous times here, and have also been working on a site promoting the odd (for now), theological mutt of Kuyperian Dispensationalism. All that applies here because in our growing love for our people and our place, including our desire to see our children’s children be faithful disciples until Christ returns, we are trying to educate them to do all that they do in His name.
We started a K-12 school in 2012, and even before those doors were opened (in the basement of a farmhouse) I’ve had questions about what we would expect (and provide) for those students next. Were we really going to pour ourselves into sacrificial labors for 13 years to hand them a diploma and say, “Good job. That’s all we’ve got for you. Buh-bye!”?
There are some colleges that we like, but none that meet all our criteria. A precious few are Kuyperian, but I know of none that are Kuyperian (and understand it) and Premillenial. The higher education institutions that lean Dispy also lean dualist, lauding theology over the work of one’s hands instead of having theology about the work of one’s hands. To the degree that they educate about history and literature and math and econmics, it is inconsistent with the undergirding belief that it’s all just going to burn. Plus, even if there was a KuyperDispy college somewhere in the world, we live in (and love) Marysville. We at least want to provide an option for our students to stay and learn more and serve the church and possibly plant their families here. We want to make Marysville a destination, a place people love to be.
To that end we aim to start a college in the fall of 2020. It’s a nice round number, easy to remember in years to come. It also happens to be the year my oldest graduates from high school, as part of the largest class of seniors (a whopping seven) in our school’s existence.
The name is Comeford College, which I’ll need to explain more about another time. We’ve established a Board and a President, we’re investigating the long path toward possible accreditation, and we’ve started working through the scope and sequence of our courses.
A Christian college with a liberal arts flavor driven by Kuyperian weltanschauung is only one piece of loving our families and our city. We also need more local business owners/employers and vocational opportunities for our young people to be able to raise their own KuyperDispies. For today we’ve got no less work to do than we can imagine, and we’re trusting the Lord to take our small offering and bless the socks off our city.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first of four Sundays prior to Christmas. In the last few years I haven’t preached Advent sermons, but I have taken either the confession exhortation or the communion meditation for a little series in preparation to celebrate Christ’s birth. Last year during our confession you may remember #NoDiscontentDecember as a theme for our family that I shared with you all.
This year I’ll have four Advent meditations for communion, and the first three will follow a familiar pattern: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Christmas is not your mother’s bundle of joy, or ball of stress. Christmas is the Father’s idea of a world-altering gift.
Our Father in heaven came up with the idea of anticipation. That is His narrative invention. With every son born into every family among mankind, hints were given. As far back as Eden, a son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A Son would laugh at foolish kinds (Psalm 2:7-12). A son would take the throne (Revelation 3:21). A son would be GIVEN.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
The incarnation of the Son was the Father’s plan. Jesus did His Father’s will. The promises and prophecies, the time for waiting and hoping and anticipating, all belong with Advent, both the first and the second.
So watch how your Father in heaven did it. See His love and joy in gift-giving. See what it cost Him, and see how the world is remade by Christmas.
Discipline hurts. Discipline is not entirely the same as punishment, though the pain part may overlap. God says in the book of Hebrews that discipline stings, at least in the moment (Hebrews 12:11). But He also says that the sting is not the point. Punishment aims at pain. Discipline aims at the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Throughout the Bible God reveals that His discipline is like that of a father (as in Proverbs 3:11-12). The starting assumption is that to discipline like a father means to discipline in love. A father knows what is right, he is honest when his son doesn’t do what is right, and he doesn’t wait around for everything to just work itself out. A loving father speaks up, decides consequences, provides training, and some of that may be painful.
What are the disciplined supposed to learn? As mentioned, they are supposed to learn what is right, and that doing right has a different pain than not doing right. God’s discipline leads to holiness, and that is good (Hebrews 12:10).
But isn’t it also true that discipline teaches a son that he is loved? Love cares about what is right and about the other person and about the other person learning to love what is right. Love isn’t hands off. Love trains to transform a son to grow up so that he can discipline his son in love. Discipline turns sons into kings (see Revelation 3:21).
Our Father has a fully stocked discipline arsenal. When He sees His children disobey, with discontented or tepid souls, He has limitless ways to get our attention. Is He disciplining you? It is because He loves you.
There is a similarity between our worship liturgy and the holiday liturgy many families will follow this week.
Each Lord’s Day our service drives toward the communion table. The call to worship, our confession of sin, and the Word’s work of consecration prepare us to share together in the communion of Christ. Unlike many services that prepare for and respond to the centerpiece of the sermon, we think the sermon centers our hearts for sake of the Lord’s Supper. The Savior brings us together, unites us, and we give thanks.
On big holidays, such as Thanksgiving, there is usually a lot of prep work, all of which points to a shared table. There is shopping and cooking, there is traveling and decorating, but it all aims to bring people together to share food, and especially this week, to express thanksgiving.
But both the Lord’s Supper and your holiday supper are subordinate ends. They are ends, we’re trying to get there, but we’re not trying to stay there.
Communion is a uniting in fellowship, to the end of the glory of God, and also as we continue to glorify God in our thankfulness for Christ and fellowship one another beyond Sunday. The Thanksgiving table isn’t intended to be a tall rug that covers all bitterness and hurts and offenses until the leftovers get put in the fridge when we can go back to being grumpy with one another. No, it is a time to renew thanks for sake of prolonging thanks.
Communion makes communion better. Thanksgiving makes thanksgiving longer, if we do it right. Even the marriage supper of the Lamb will be a feast that kicks off eternal feasting. So we drive to the point where we can really get going.
The wise Preacher once observed a heavy and hideous scene.
“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.”
Ecclesiastes 6:1–2, ESV
Here is an illustration I’ve always appreciated. “God is the One who gives things, and God is the one who gives the power to enjoy things. These are distinct gifts…just as a can of peaches and a can-opener are distinct gifts” (Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether). God could give a man a warehouse full of canned peaches, and get that man on the talk show circuit about his terrific warehouse management techniques, and it wouldn’t be enough.
Who knows how many things he has to be thankful for? Sounds, Scripture, salvation; food, family, friendship; life, liturgy, literature; ice cream, the Internet, ibuprofen; butter, bread, beauty; kids, congratulations, compassion; potatoes, promises, pies. These are all wondrous gifts, with whip cream on top, to mankind.
But there is one more gift that puts all of those gifts in place. One other gift that keeps us from serving the gifts as gods or from fearing that we will. The great gift is the power to give thanks. Gratitude itself is a grace. Not letting us think that we have gotten all these things by our own power (see Deuteronomy 8:17), but turning us to the God of generosity and abundant blessings is His own work in our hearts.
Give thanks to God who works and wills thankfulness in your hearts.
2019: I am still impressed by a couple things after my second trip through the poetic Purgatory. Penance is no fun, while also not being biblical, so, whew. That Dante mixes literature, history, and imagination into such an extended poetic form really does make one give thanks to God for His common grace in sub-creators.
2016: I’m sure I would have enjoyed this even more if I knew Italian history, and if I believed in Purgatory. As it is, I’m glad to be through it and heading into Paradise.
The New Testament is full of things to do because Jesus is coming. Building bunkers to stay low and stay out of the fray is not one of them.
“Establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). “The Lord is at and, do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:5-6). We ought to be people of holiness and godliness waiting for and hastening the day (2 Peter 3:11-12). With the end of all things at hand we should be self-controlled in order to pray, to love one another, to show hospitality, and to use our giftedness (1 Peter 4:7-11).
In short we ought to steward the minutes and talents He’s given us so that when he returns He we can given Him a return on His gifts to us (see Matthew 25:14-30). He is coming, so we just conquer.
Also, we commune. The regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper as His Body on the Lord’s Day is an act of eschatology. He will reign forever and we will reign with Him, because He rose from the dead. Our sharing of communion now is a witness to our sharing of the kingdom them.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
Believer, fellowship with your people at this table, eat and drink in witness to His death, His resurrection, and His return.