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Notes from my address at the inaugural convocation of Comeford College on September 6

Good evening, Mr. President, Founding Members, First Teaching Fellows, Beginning Students, and Guests. It is not a surprise that I have the opportunity to speak to you, but it is no less of a privilege.


Ten years from now the Comeford College convocation will be different, Deo volente. If the Lord blesses this work, we will know then so many more things that we don’t know now. But it will be a glorious decade if we pay attention.

There are some things that are good upon first encounter, that you find out more about later, that make it all even better. Part of what makes them better is that you had a bite, so your appetite was engaged, but then you get the full spread on the table.

On the back cover of the first book I ever read about classical education is the quote by C.S. Lewis, “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.” You don’t need to start a school to appreciate that reality, but it is possible for one’s respect for that wisdom to multiply.

How much more did my appreciation grow when years later I came across that quote in its native habitat, an essay titled “Learning in Wartime.” Lewis addressed the Oxford undergraduates only 51 days after Germany invaded Poland marking the start of WWII. His sermon was originally called, “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time,” in which he attempted to answer the question, “What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing?” He argued that not only will mankind search out music and meaning in the middle of great conflict, Christians must do it for God’s sake. I have assigned my Greek students to read that essay in its entirety before our first class on Tuesday night; they will not have to wait as long as I did to appreciate the full spread of unfavourable conditions.

A similar thing happened with another quote that has only grown richer and more costly, that has come to focus our energies while expanding our work. In a way, I suppose it was the seed that grew into tonight, sown in my mind in 2004.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

The quote is, of course, from Abraham Kuyper. I heard the quote used by another preacher, and used it numerous times in sermons myself, starting with a message on Solus Christus, long before I began to care about Latin as a language whatsoever. As they say in hermeneutics class: That’ll preach!

I came across the quote again early in 2011 while reading a book about liturgy. The book is titled Our Worship, written by Abraham Kuyper, the first full book I read by him. In footnote number one in the Introduction, I learned that “square inch” is the Dutch phrase een duimbreed (pronounced “uhn dime-brrate”) which refers to the small distance between the sides of the thumb: a thumb’s-width. Everything thing we touch or frame, even what we thumb our noses at, Christ claims as His.

For the real goosebump part, do you know the context in which Kuyper said it? He said it in October 1880 in his inaugural charge to the Free University of Amsterdam. Kuyper talked about all Christ’s creation and sphere sovereignty and the Christian’s obligation to be interested in every sphere Christ is interested in when he launched a college.

In that address he said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Yes!

There is a great crisis, a current and global crisis, that concerns not a virus or politicians, it is not a crisis of economics or higher education. It is a crisis that involves a living Person. The crux of our concern is the recognition of a King, who came and was crucified, who rose again, ascended into heaven, after promising to come again. “That King of the Jews is either the saving truth to which all peoples say Amen or the principal lie which all peoples should oppose.”

Will men and women confess that Jesus is Lord? Will they obey Him as Lord? Or will they say that man, and man’s mind, his technology, his methods, and his laws are lord? We will either confess that the “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), or contest that claim as delusional and harmful. These two approaches are “the only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

Think of all the things God has created, visible and invisible, the things He has put in front of the class, so to speak, and those He’s hidden, the Logos and the order and the beauty, the harmonies and tastes and healing medicines. Think of man’s call to take dominion (Genesis 1:28), and yet also of how the unbelieving world can’t help but miss and misrepresent God’s greatness and wisdom. Here is where we need Christian thinkers, a Christian consciousness that finds and defends the sciences and arts of Christ. Those who won’t fear the Lord can have no true wisdom or wonder.

We must buckle down and build up our understanding of Christ’s sovereignty over and in every sphere, from the center to the circumference. We must learn how each cogwheel fits with the others and functions in the great machine of the cosmos. We must see that the world and life and death and the present and the future, all are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

This is not your father’s Bible college, which is true in a very real sense. How I wish I could have taken this program. But we learn more as we go on, and now it’s time to start. We have learning to do for living and for influencing those around us. That influence won’t happen by floating in feelings and fancy. The college is our effort to reify Kuyperianism, to knead the idea into bread. We have a memory of what we’ve been given, and we have stewardship of a godward, intellectual life. The disruption of the world is no good excuse to stop loving the Lord our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37).

As Kuyper acknowledged through his address, it would be easy to laugh at not just the project, but at the persons committed to it. The Free University began with a mere eight students and five professors. Who do they think they are? Isn’t this pretentious? Isn’t it presumptuous? Isn’t it preposterous? I can say, it may be contrary to common sense, and that is fine, because most of what we see that’s common in education makes no sense. It may also fail to observe our limits, it is audacious, but it is by faith. So we aren’t striking a pose, we are desperate to be faithful.

I have two aimed charges to give, and one final defense.

My first charge, which may be unsuspected, is to everyone here who is not a teacher or student at the college. In years to come convocations charges will no doubt be different. But actually, there won’t be college years to come without you.

These few students need very little explanation of their responsibilities, because by choosing Comeford College they have already counted a great cost. Each one of them could do other things, go almost anywhere else. The world is small, they are capable, and the options are virtually endless.

In their Cost/Benefit Analysis, they will pay less tuition than at most other schools, but the cost to their reputations will at least be on loan. They, not their parents, have chosen to deal with more questions resulting in quizzical looks. “Where do you go to college?” Answering Comeford College will get the follow ups, “Where is that? Why did you choose that?”

We don’t have departments. We don’t have a Student Life Center. We don’t yet offer a degree or diploma. We don’t even have our own coffee pot.

Which means that these students have chosen what they cannot get at any other school: you. They have chosen their people, they have chosen their community. They are putting themselves on the line, risks and possible rewards, for more than themselves. They could have invested their talents in another field, they certainly could have done something easier. While I sometimes talk about loving Marysville into a destination, they have turned Marysville into a stay-stination.

As worship requires an assembly, so a college requires a community. Not everyone in the community needs to attend, but everyone one in the community should be blessed by college students who live for more than college. Your charge is to support them. Maybe it’s your job to give them a job; be a modern day patron. Maybe it’s your job to open a place where they could hang out and study and drink coffee, or beer when they are finally old enough in a few years. At the least pray for them. You are to help make them jealous-able.

Students, your only charge for today is: remember that Jesus, who is Sovereign over all, looks at you and says, “Mine!” Your class hours, your books, your late nights, your leisure time, and you yourself are His. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.

So have I been talking too excitedly about this? Perhaps. But this convocation is like pushing an old manual car that won’t start down a hill: it needs enough speed before letting the clutch out. We can see the mountain on the other side, so we need as much launch momentum as we can get.

“As surely as we loved [Christ] with our souls, we must build again in His name. And when it seemed of no avail, when we looked upon our meager power, the strength of the opposition, the preposterousness of so bold an undertaking, the fire still kept burning in our bones.” (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper died exactly 100 years ago in 1920; we consider the outcome of his way of life and imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7). As future generations look back with hindsight at the start of Comeford College in 2020, may they sit under the shade of a great tree and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for the seed planted today.

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The contrasts between the ancient serpent and the Ancient of Days continues to be edifying. So also the demands of the beast to be worshipped and the ministry of the false prophet are nothing like what the Son deserves or how the Spirit points us to the glory of Christ.

The earth-beast deceives people into doing the work to make an idol of the sea-beast to worship. He convinces them to spend and sacrifice and then threatens that any who refuse to worship the idol (which they just made) will be killed.

Jesus, on the other hand, spent Himself as the sacrifice. Rather than threatening death, He accepted His death, on a cross, in order to purchase worshippers. The Spirit gives life in the Son. He does not make a new set of burdens.

The Beast coerces and enforces; the Son is the Head in whom the whole body is united and grows. The Beast subjects and seizes; the Son is the Vine in whom every branch abides and produces fruit and knows His joy. The Beast intimidates and threatens; the Son is the Bridegroom who washes His Bride into splendor by His love. There is no comparison.

Both the Beast and the Son will be worshipped, but only one in truth, only one forever, only one who is worthy. The Lamb’s Table is a real feast, no strings attached. We come not because our lives depend on it, it’s because we depend on Him for our lives.

liturgy

The evangel is life changing. The gospel is God’s truth that raises men from the dead and gives them new and eternal life. It is also a call to be generous with our lives unto death.

We have been working our way through the parts of the name of our church, partly for those who are newer to the flock and partly because some reminders never outgrow their usefulness. That the gospel calls us to a life of dying to bring life is as useful as a heartbeat.

Last Lord’s Day I emphasized that those who are forgiven in the evangel must forgive. We are not saved because we forgive, but we forgive because we are saved. We forgive because of God’s grace to us; grace from above doesn’t turn into works-based forgivers below.

One realization requiring my repentance a number of years ago—repentance because I needed a change of mind—related to talk about incarnating or embodying the gospel. The gospel is news, how can you “do” a message? More strictly, the gospel is about the divine Logos taking on a body and spending it to death as a sacrifice for sinners. But I’m a sinner, so my death can’t redeem anyone. All of that is true.

And it is also true that God’s Word calls us to live out the gospel.

2 Corinthians 4:10-12, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (in carne nostra mortali). So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

These are death brings life statements. We incarnate, we put flesh on, the story. It’s not redemptive, but reflective.

This explains another comment by Paul in Colossians 1:24, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Perhaps better than any apostle, Paul knew and taught the exclusivity and effectiveness of Christ’s work on the cross. And because of that there is a life of dying that belongs to believers.

It means, among other things, that husbands sacrifice for their wives first (Ephesians 5). It means that parents don’t have kids in order to be served but to serve. It means shepherds go out front, they don’t demand commitment and sacrifice so that they don’t have to.

The evangel begets a cycle of giving with the mind of Christ, where good news leads us to do new goods for one another.

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I have asked the question before, but “the book of life of the Lamb” brings it up again. If you were the lover par excellence, if you were the being in the universe who knew and expressed love above everyone else, how would you go about communicating that love to others? As a lover, the impulse to share your love and invite others in would be as natural as water runs downhill.

God is love (1 John 4:16). God sent His Son because He loved (John 3:16). Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). The Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). These are things that give us hope, that enable our endurance.

John wrote about the “outsiders” in Revelation 13 who will not worship the beast. They are those whose names have been “written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). The saints take courage to believe and to bear up under the attack of the beast with this knowledge.

What do they know? Was it that their names were written in The Book before the world began, or was it that the Lamb was slain before the world began? Are we encouraged by our election to salvation, or are we encouraged that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23)?

Beloved, it is both. We are “elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and Christ, the lamb, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 18-19). You who believe were chosen to know the God of love, whose love dies for sinners. He reveals His love not by loving those who already love Him, but by loving enemies out of their enmity. You were chosen to be loved, and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lamb.

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No true church exists without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sin destroys our fellowship with the Triune God and ruins relationships between one another. Death is separation, and spiritual death is not only separation from God but disregard for His Word and enmity toward His person.

No man can work his way to God. The wise of the world can’t philosophize their way to Him. There are no quests, no treasures, no mutilations that earn salvation from God. Dead men are, by definition, incapable of making themselves alive. The gospel, the good news, is that Jesus died, was buried, and on the third day rose again so that any who believe in Him might be forgiven of their sin, cleansed of their guilt, and reconciled to the Father.

The Latin word for gospel is evangel, from the Greek word * εὐαγγέλιον* (euaggelion). It is the message of divine, free forgiveness in Christ.

Christians, by definition, are those who believe this gospel. Christians are the forgiven. Christians, sadly, often sin by refusing to forgive others.

The Evangel in Trinity Evangel Church was largely chosen because of seeing this sort of failure to forgive from professing Christians, and committing ourselves to obedience on this front. Paul told the Colossians, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). It’s a big as. Jesus told a parable about the servant who was forgiven much who refused to forgive one who owed him little (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We thought about being “Evangelical,” but that is too mushy a category anymore. Evangel takes just a little more effort to say, and so to think about. Forgiving just as we’ve been forgiven is supernatural, it is beyond the ability of the flesh, and it absolutely must be proclaimed and practiced by us because our sins are forgiven for His name’s sake (1 John 2:12). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive your spouse, your children, your brother, your mother, your neighbor. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

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Other than the simple fact that they are not the same, the greatest difference between the mortal wound of the Lamb and the mortal wound of the beast (Revelation 13:3) is that the beast’s wound enabled him to deceive the nations into worshiping him for a limited time while the Lamb’s wounds purchased the salvation of a great number from all the nations into eternal life.

The beast was wounded in imitation, the Lamb was wounded for our transgressions. The beast took a hit so that he could be exalted, the Lamb was slain so that we who believe would be resurrected with Him. One is a poser, the Lamb is given the name above every name. One will deceive many into worshiping him for a time, the Lord will be acknowledged by every mouth and every knee as the truly glorious one. The beast’s authority—the dragon, killed the Lamb, but the Lamb’s authority—the Father, knew that the killing would be the dragon’s defeat. The beast copies the Lamb to his own undoing.

As people of the Lamb, we also lay down our lives in imitation. We follow in His steps. We do it not to replace Him, but as conscious reflections of Him. We make loving sacrifices to serve others, not to be served. We learn the way to true glory is not by exalting ourselves, but by exalting Him, who raises us up.

This is one of the reasons why communion is a political act. Every week when we declare our peace with God we’re saying that we don’t depend on the State to give us life. We have all that we need in Christ, and that is a threat to every earthly wannabe poser lusting for power. This Table is where the glory is, this Table feeds our faith and our obedience, this Table is where we remember the death of the Lamb, who ransomed us for God (Revelation 5:9-10).

liturgy

I mentioned last week that since we’ve been seeing a number of new families, not just over the last few months, but even over the last year, we want to communicate some of the core things we care about. Even for those who’ve been here many years, well-placed reminders can be edifying.

The name of our local church has reminders built in. The Trinity reminds us that God is the God of love and fellowship. While the realities of Father, Son, and Spirit, co-equal and co-eternal, can be hard to wrap our minds around, it does explain what God wants with us and for us. He wants our fellowship, not just our collection of facts.

At first I planned to spend one week on each of the three parts of our name, but there really is more about the Trinity that is important to apply.

The doctrine of the Trinity is an antidote to idolatry (we learn to exalt the true God), and to the Pharisaism of religious correctness (we learn that the true God wants our love that comes from knowing the truth). It is also the place to start to pull down the errors of identity politics, bigotry, intolerance, and envy.

Identity politics is a new name for an old sin: hating our brother, hating our neighbor, and justifying ourselves by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). We need to be “woke” as much as we need a rusty nail to pierce the arch of our left foot, except the nail might be better. Our job is not to find the most oppressed people group, even less to make our case that we are the most oppressed people group. We ought not look for the most superficial things about us and divide up into respective tribes. Our need is to worship the Triune God.

Each Person of the Trinity has a different role, and they don’t compete or complain about it. The Spirit doesn’t envy the Son’s incarnation, the Son doesn’t chaff against the Father’s authority to delegate, the Father neither wishes that He could be another person or that He’s better than the Son and the Spirit.

Because the world was made and is sustained by the Trinity, male and female don’t need to complete, they complement one another. Because of Him, the eyes and the hands have crucial jobs for sake of the body. Because of Him, we know that “different” isn’t an enemy by default, whether the person has more money or darker skin. Because of Him we know that unity does not require conformity. Because of Him, we know that none of it works if we don’t start by submitting ourselves to what He’s elected.

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Why do we have communion every week?

The majority of us do not come from churches where communion was every Lord’s Day, and the majority of us came from churches where you probably wouldn’t want to partake in communion on an hebdomadal schedule. The Lord’s Table was set once a month, or once a quarter, and it usually involved a serious talking-to, about the dangers of unworthy eating and drinking, and how you probably could take it, but only after major effort to jackhammer your heart and take a backhoe to your sin.

Of course, and yes, it is possible to partake unworthily, so said God through Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27. But the Corinthians were in danger of selfish feasting as fellow brothers went hungry. Their “communion” was a lie.

But the selfish party attitude is not the only way to lie about communion. It is also a lie to act like joy is sin.

Jesus did not institute this Supper on the night He was betrayed, so that we could remember Him and what He did, and then go digging the depths for sake of bringing up as sad feels as we can find. He died for us and rose on the third day so that we would have a reason not to be so sad.

He gave His body for our food, and His blood for our drink, so that we might be nourished. This is not a fast. This is not where Jesus asks you to starve your soul. This is a place where He feeds your faith, as He fed the Israelites in the wilderness (John 6:31-33). It is a supernatural meal, a thanksgiving meal, a meal of peace.

Rejoicing is as much a necessary condition for communion as repentance. Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice!

liturgy

We recently had our annual church leaders’ retreat, and in addition to giving thanks for signs of God’s grace among us, we usually spend at least a session discussing any existing or expected challenges. One crossover item, a reason for thanks and for planning, relates to the increase in the number of persons that have been joining us for our corporate worship.

Where to seat everyone is not the biggest question (though those watching in the basement would probably rather not be). How to transmit the heartbeat of this church body, and the lifeblood of our liturgy, these are more important “building” concerns (1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Our church is almost 10 years old. All of the men who decided to start it are still attending, and I think more excited about how God has grown us. Because we started it, we gave it a name: Trinity Evangel Church. We named it on purpose.

Every Christian must agree to the doctrine of the Trinity. We are baptized into “the name,” singular, “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), one God in three Persons. Each Person of the Trinity is fully, simultaneously, and eternally God, united in one purpose. God has never been alone. That is key. There has never been a moment of existence with only one person. This is why we can say that God has power and wisdom but that He is love.

When God made Adam, He assigned Adam to name all the animals before pointing out to Adam that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Male and female are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which means that human beings are made for relationship.

This holds true between God and men as well. This is the problem with sin. Sin separates our fellowship. God sent His Son to die on the cross not primarily so that we could be correct, but so that we could share communion with the Trinity. Our worship on Sundays requires the truth, but the end of our worship is not knowledge, it is love and identity and reconciliation, being made one in Him (John 17:3, 20-21).

liturgy

In the summer of 2016 the four elders at our church had a public discussion about the presidential election. I was an unswerving #NeverTrumper. This was not because I found Mrs. Clinton more appealing; both were appalling. I planned to (and did) write in my vote that November.

Nothing tempted me to appreciate Mr. Trump. I believe that good leadership requires good character, and, at that time, there were as many reasons to trust Trump as there were reasons to keep watching The Apprentice, meaning, none. His brash, 3rd grade playground vocabulary, his boasting in immorality and adulteries, combined with his lack of understanding of various policies shown in the Republican debates and his willingness to mock and berate his competition gave me quite enough evidence to commit to not give him any support.

Now, four years later, I have been very surprised by, and grateful for, God’s use of President Trump. While I think Trump has promoted noxious patterns of political discourse (and tweeting) that are likely to be tolerated for generations, he has also turned out to be the most pro-life president we’ve had, in public and by policy. He appears to have rolled back more government regulations with his power and provided a little more breathing room for free-ish capitalism. He’s come out in favor of school choices, and even talked about churches as essential.

He has also survived, if not thrived, through virtually every accusation thrown at him. It is not because he’s teflon.

A teflon coating makes it harder for the egg-guts to stick. A leader with integrity may be likened to a teflon pan; slander doesn’t cling, at least not as easily. Some accusations against some men are just hard to believe. Charges against them slide off into the draining dishwater. Vice President Mike Pence seems to be more like this.

But, if Mr. Pence was trying to accomplish something, would he be able to survive the relentless rotten scum that our modern media is committed to pitch? The Kavanaugh hearing gave a picture of the skeletons that reporters and politicians are diligent to invent. These stories/lies cause damage because they gain traction, they gain traction because they are interesting, and they are interesting because men who care about not being canceled have to fight.

Trump is much more like a cast-iron skillet: the more grease the better. He seems to like the grease. He almost begs for it.

Who cares any more about his personal scandals? It’s not because there aren’t any, Trump just doesn’t seem bothered, and where’s the fun in that? Fake news has upped their fiction levels to international intrigue, but Trump just thanks them for providing another reason for him to talk into the microphone.

Here is a serious question for my Christian friends: what person in a “high position” (1 Timothy 2:2) has been used by God to bring about this many common grace blessings for a “Christian” nation, while appearing to turn more conservative amidst the accusations? Who do we know that could handle not just the scrutiny, but the slander of the liberal media, and still keep cooking the bacon?

Maybe, and I mean maybe, Kanye? Ha.

This is very humbling for Christians. God is protecting the remnants of our liberties through a man that is happy to lie and cheat, or at least BS, his way to whatever he wants, and we keep being blessed.

et cetera