tohu va bohu Posts

Here’s the diagram for Revelation 6:1-8, as the Lamb breaks the first four seals and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are called to ride on earth in judgment.

diagrams

Not long after Pentecost Peter and John were annoying the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem as they preached the gospel. The chief priests and elders charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), but still released both men because of the crowds.

When Peter and John went to their friends to report what happened, their friends thought of Psalm 2.

When they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the people plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers were gathered together,
Against the Lord and against his Anointed’ —
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever you hand and plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:24-28)

The believers saw Christ’s death as an initial fulfillment of Psalm 2. But they did not see it as the end, because Christ’s resurrection guaranteed the remaining part of the psalm as well. So they prayed for boldness to keep speaking the word of God (verses 29, 31).

When we eat the Lord’s Supper we are remembering how His death at the hands of those who raged against Him purchased our salvation, and how His return will put a final end to those who continue rage against Him. Let us eat and drink in His name with faith and unity and boldness.

The Word of God will come, and He will end the rage.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:15–16)

liturgy

It is not cute when a two year-old tells his mom, No! Whether the theater is around the dinner table with only family to watch, or in Walmart with all the other customers in the frozen food aisle, resistance to his mom is wrong.

It is also not cute when a parent won’t say, No! I don’t necessarily mean when a mom won’t say no to her toddler, or teenager, but when mom won’t say no to herself, her bitterness or her gossip. I don’t necessarily mean when a husband won’t say no to his wife, though all these things are connected. I am mainly referring to when the man of the house barely controls himself, his lusts or his anger, let alone his dependents.

Though it comes at the end of the list, self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Self-control is required to run in order to receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Without self-denial there is no way to follow Christ.

We are talking on this Lord’s day about our Christian responsibilities when it comes to our civil neighbors (with a sermon from Psalm 2 and a seminar on politics in the afternoon). We need maturity and wisdom, for sure. There are large problems that challenge simplistic solutions. But we will not be capable of policy decisions and laws until we can say No to our own flesh. We must say no to our lusts, no to our envy, no to our greed, no to our discontent.

[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

In 1798 John Adams said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Those morals include knowing when to say yes and when, and to whom, to say no. Only those kind of people know when to make a law, when to laugh at one and get rid of it.

liturgy

I used these notes for my most recent Information Night address at ECS.

Maybe Robert Frost’s most popularly known poem is “The Road Less Taken,” but the title of my talk plays off a line from the poem, “Mending Wall.” A stone wall separating two farms in New England needs mending, and while they work one of the farmers questions if the work is really necessary. Twice the neighbor farmer says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Among other layers of meaning, we’re reminded that boundaries are a blessing. I know where myself and where my stuff belong, and so do you. A good wall, rather than create tension, enables neighborly trust, and trust enables fellowship.

When it comes to so much that poses as education today, the primary passion seems to be to break down every wall, to tear down all the fences, to demolish every boundary line, especially if it looks like someone is hiding their privilege. Modern education is a bulldozer in Prius clothing, driven by suspicion and doubt and envy.

Just last week WA State Democrats introduced House Bill 2184 to provide “comprehensive sexual health education” starting in 2022, which includes compulsory sex education for Kindergartners. A Comprehensive Sexual Health Education work group (CSHE) argues for starting so soon because the “social emotional needs of our youngest students must be addressed for prevention of future challenges.” On one hand there have always been sex assumptions for Kindergartners; Bill was a boy and Jill was a girl. Bill had the pocketknife, Jill had the butcher knife. No one had to teach students that there were two sexes, and it certainly wasn’t controversial. That was education with good fences, with the God-given (and naturally observed) distinctions: male and female. This is a truth, one of many truths in God’s creation, that are a blessing to those who leave the fence alone, or at least have two separate bathrooms.

The denials of male and female by many modern “educators” causes the opposite of education. That kind of curriculum isn’t transferring a body of knowledge, it questions knowledge about the body. It causes confusion, it raises doubts, and it grows fruitlessness. It is built on tearing down walls. The unwillingness to distinguish and celebrate and train toward strengths of the differences between male and female is just one example, but it is the sort that has other faces. How many politicians have recently said that “Abortion equals healthcare.” That is like saying “War is peace,” which George Orwell wrote in 1984. It’s how the Ministry of Truth trashed truth and rewrote history.

The only way for there to be liberty and justice is by acknowledging the fences of objective and fixed truth. For Christians, we have these walls because God made the world, and He made it knowable (not exhaustively but dependably), and He blesses those who receive His gifts, including the boundaries. What God has joined together let no man separate, and what God has separated (light from dark, day from night, male from female) let no man muddle up.

At ECS we see His gifts and we utilize the tools of classical education to help our students appreciate the fences and enjoy the gifts.

In the earlier stages, K-elementary school, we teach the facts about the alphabet and phonograms, about how letters make words (with proper spelling), about how words make sentences (with proper syntax). We still teach that 2 + 2 = 4, that triangles have three sides, that addition and multiplication share the associative property, that long division can be checked because it is not a guessing game. In classical education jargon this part of the Trivium is referred to as the Grammar stage, with grammar referring to the ABCs of each subject. Each piece of truth is like a brick in the wall. Gravity only works one way on earth, and that’s helpful to know and changes what you expect when you walk out the front door.

We aren’t creating robots, though there is a lot of repetition and reminders through songs and chants and catechisms and sound-offs. They may sound like parrots, but it’s fun, and it’s not filling their minds with the false.

As students mature, as they begin to see even more things for themselves than what their parents and teachers put in front of them, they start asking questions about how? things work together, or don’t. They start asking a lot of why? things are the way they are or aren’t, should or shouldn’t be. Our emphasis around the time of Junior High is in Logic, the second part of the Trivium, which includes training in formal logic and validity of argumentation. It also includes putting questions of worldview to Homer and Plato, to Beowulf and The Divine Comedy, and many other great books.

There are two problems with teaching students logic. One is that they can get critical of those who are sloppy or those who cheat when they argue; ideally, though, they are learning to sort out their own faulty thinking first. The biggest actual problem is that so many people today, including the talking heads on television and YouTube and Instagram, only care about how something makes them feel. Our students should be able to say that’s the Snowflake Fallacy. Or, narcissism.

Already at the Logic stage, but encouraged even more as they near the latter years of High School, we emphasize Rhetoric, presentation, beauty in art and artful writing and speaking and singing. It is possible to adorn a pig, but the truth can be adorned, too. Persuading others is not pummeling them, nor is it propaganda. It is the art of showing that the walls we live by are attractive.

We want to help make Marysville great again (#MMGA). We want to play a part in making Marysville a destination for Christians to worship and work and raise the next generation to carry and advance Christ honoring culture. That means that we need walls, and teachers, working beside parents, who maintain those walls. Good fences make good students.

I love this illustration by G.K. Chesterton near the end of his book, Orthodoxy:

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. (p. 143)

It’s no wonder that so many students are having no fun; they have no safe place to play.

We live in a wild world, but not an imaginary one, and the walls of truth enable us to laugh and to learn; if you visit on a school day, you will hear how loud it is; our song has not ceased. Ironically, in our context, living with such walls makes our school offensive, not just as an annoyance but on the assault. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord over it all, we are outrageous. More than outrageous, we want you to consider ECS as a place that helps your students become outcourageous.

enculturation

One of the reasons that our worship runs against hellish fortresses on earth (think 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) is because God Himself has torn down the hellish ways of our own hearts. God saves sinners. God delivers us from the clutching, defensive power of sin.

The Father elected us for eternal life. The Son took on a body to be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. His Spirit He caused us to be born again to a living hope.

Think of the contrasts of His work in us. We who were far off He has brought near. We who were dead He has raised to walk in newness of life. We were rebels that He adopted as sons. We were at enmity with us and He reconciled us. We did not believe and He granted repentance in order that we might have a knowledge of the truth. We were not humble, we deserved to be opposed by Him, but now He promises to exalt us with Himself in glory.

He broke down the wall. He softened the hard. He illuminated the dark.

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

What a day for rejoicing.

liturgy

I said last Sunday that one of my aims as a minister of the Word is to make the assembly more jealous-able. That is, I want for our flock to have the sort of lives that make others a certain sort of jealous. More should be said about this, because it is possible to get it wrong.

My desire is informed by Romans 11 where Paul told the Romans that he magnified his ministry in order to make his brother Israelites jealous (verses 13-14). In the grace and wisdom of God, some of Paul’s kinsmen had rejected salvation in Jesus so that others would receive salvation so that some in the first group would be made jealous and return to receive Jesus themselves. When God blesses some, even in surprising and unexpected ways, those blessings may be part of His means to provoke others to want the God of blessings.

But this is a competition that provokes one another to blessing, not bitterness. Be jealous-able in such a way that includes others rather than excludes them. The jealous-ability I’m referring to is not a zero-sum economics game; it is not more for me means neener-neener for you. Blessed jealous-ability has room and wants others to join and have joy and be jealous-able, too.

So here are two reminders/exhortations. First, if you are trying to win the prize (think 1 Corinthians 9:24) in a way that a spiritual person cannot give thanks for, you may just be trying to be better, not blessed. That is standard issue rivalry, available in any store. Second, if you are unable to give thanks for the blessings given by God to another spiritual person, you may just be standard issue resentful, not even name brand, just the generic.

We are not all given an equal amount (of height, of paycheck, of hair, of gifts at the baby shower, of et cetera), but we are given equal commands to give thanks and to rejoice when others rejoice.

liturgy

Every Christian has been chosen by God to commune with Him. Because of the Third Person of the Trinity, no third person among men can get in the way of that. A minister can attempt to position himself in between, and a minister can muddle up his representative service, but a minister can’t stop the Father from feeding His elect.

Jesus taught about His flesh as bread and His blood as wine in John 6. Though Jesus wasn’t teaching about or instituting the Lord’s Supper at that point in His ministry, certainly the Holy Spirit connected the realities of feeding on Him with communion to the disciples later.

The people were hungry in John 6, and followed Jesus around the sea for more loaves. He identified Himself as “the bread of life,” and promised that “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (verse 36). But it wasn’t for everyone.

All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes I will never cast out. (verse 37)
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (verse 44)
No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father. (verse 64)

Some said that His teaching was hard (verse 60). Some who had been following him turned back and no longer walked with Him (verse 66).

But the reality is,

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (verse 56)

If you’ve been given by the Father to the Son, no man can stop you from feeding on Jesus. If the Father has drawn you, no man can interrupt Jesus abiding in you. Our liturgy celebrates that fact of our communion with God through Jesus, but our liturgy does not create it. He is yours, you are His. He gives you eternal life, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:28).

liturgy

In the ongoing effort of growing and reforming as a church, we’ve decided that we should change the confession part of our liturgy. It turns out, that with all of you praying silently, we don’t know what all your problems are, which means that we can’t tell you how to fix your problems, or fix how you talk to God about your sins, since He is very demanding. It obviously will take a little longer, but if we set up four chairs up front, one for each pastor, we should be able to get through everyone’s confession in a timely fashion.

Now, I am being quite serious, and I needed to make the description long enough to increase your appropriate response of revulsion to such a proposal. Of course we are not going to do confession that way. That would be deformation, not reformation. It would be wrong. James speaks of confessing our sins to one another, but that’s when we’ve sinned against one another. We do not confess our sins through another person to God, priest or pastor. Through Christ each one of us, whatever gender or age or occupation or level of doctrinal learning, come directly to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Isn’t this amazing? Who are we, in our lack of certification, our lack of seriousness, our lack of holiness, to address Him without a mediator? We do have a Mediator, an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:2). But He is the only Mediator we need.

Isn’t this humbling? If you had to confess to a priest, he might presume you weren’t lying, but he couldn’t prove your intentions. It’s true that a pastor can’t help what he doesn’t know is wrong, but God doesn’t demand the information of your confession, just your honesty.

And so, what are you waiting for? He’s here, you’re here. He is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). With Him there is forgiveness. Pray to Him.

liturgy

What would you say to someone who says that a Reformed church worship setting feels more like a funeral, with depressing music, and no real excitement?

I saw this question asked online, and I saw immediate answers such as feeling more like a funeral is good based on the blessed mourners in Matthew 5:4. Other answers were that church is not for entertainment, that music ought to be most concerned with lyrical accuracy, that excitement isn’t a valid gauge of what’s truly worshipful.

And, okay. The church meets to worship the holy God, through the Son who was slain for our sin, by the Spirit that convicts the world of unrighteousness. Even as God’s people we still sin and it is right to lament our sin. We lament the irreverence/unbelief/idolatry of our neighbors. We also lament the errors and unfaithfulness of the church.

But, if someone asked me if the worship services of those who claim to believe the gospel and to love the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are often more like a funeral, with depressing music and no real excitement, I would tell them that they are too often right on. They’ve nailed it. It’s true. What is wrong is not the observation, though they may be wrongly critical.

A physical therapist doesn’t criticize the broken for failing to really think about why he’s broken. A teacher is not successful when getting the student to realize how ignorant he is, and that’s it. And worship, while requiring honesty and humility, should not be preachers urging the worshippers to attain higher levels of misery.

Worship is about exalting the Lamb who was slain, and celebrating that we are made to share His honor as we proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. We needed mercy, and how we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10). That is just not depressing.

liturgy

I am still thinking about some of the implications of what I’m about to say, and I understand that two things can correlate without meaning that one causes the other, but is there a connection between pastors devouring their own flocks and mothers aborting their own children?

Last week, on January 22, was 46 years since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. There have been almost 62 million abortions and counting in the United States since then. How could this be in a nation with more Christian values than pagan ones? Don’t Christian problems start with Christian leaders?

I do not mean mostly that preachers have been quiet about abortion or soft and weak if they do speak about it, though those are failures. I’m mostly asking if society has learned how to treat others by watching how shepherds walk their fields.

Certainly some of the motives are the same. It is selfishness, pride, and especially insecurity that cause pastors to preach against the sheep, that cause pastors to demean and demand sacrifice from their sheep rather than give and sacrifice for them.

Husbands and fathers ought to find examples for sacrificial and leading love in their elders. Wives and mothers ought to do likewise, in addition to watching how their own husbands nurture them. We should learn from our parents, and the wise will learn from good and bad examples, wherever the examples come from.

But pastors/preachers/elders/overseers have been guilty of direct abuse of kids, direct neglect of the abortion issue, and too much ego. Preachers lie for their own benefit, and little wonder that our politicians can claim with a straight face that “Abortion is health care.”

God judges us with His abandoning wrath in the legal murder of 62 million babies, and in His judgment of unloving shepherds for His sheep. Who will fight off the wolves when we are they? Even if disobedient Christian leaders are not the cause of a cultural mindset that accepts abortion, it is a reason for confessing our sin.

liturgy