Bring Them Up

The Souls of the School

I enjoy the opportunity to talk about things I love in different ways. It’s a good challenge to take up a known thing and try to see it from a different angle. This is our 11th ECS Information Night, and in all the fundamentals the information is still the same as it was at the first. 

I’m adding to my challenge tonight, though, because I want to remind us about two valuable things, though one is more valuable than the other and must be prioritized as such. It is easier to pit two things against each other (even if they really shouldn’t be). It’s easier to cheer for one side and hammer, or at least nitpick, the other than it is to hold a careful tension.

Mr. Sarr regularly reminds us, parents and teachers, that ECS is not a church (here’s one example). The best school day can’t replace corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. The longer the school operates, the more obvious are the school’s limits and the more obvious the benefits a family gets from their membership in a church body.

One can’t replace the other, though there is a resemblance between both church and school. Both are institutions, organizations founded for a common purpose. And even more than similarity, in key ways a school such as ECS supports a part of the church’s mission (and I don’t just mean TEC). A church glorifies God in worship and in making disciples—that is, learners, students—who love Christ and obey His commandments and care about what He cares about. Since Christ created all things, we teach our students to love algebra, volcanoes, poems, letters and languages, and more because Christ loves those things.

As institutions, a church and a school compare because what matters most is the soul, every soul, all souls. When we rightly say that the church is not a building but the people, we can also say that a school is more than a place, it is a living community of souls.

There is a fantastic book you probably don’t need to read if you meditate on the title, The Trellis and the Vine. This analogy frames our priority.

A gardener who spends his time researching trellis, always repositioning or repainting trellis, to the neglect of the vine is a bad gardener. He may be so bad that he becomes a carpenter or a painter after the vine shrivels up from lack of attention. The point of the trellis is to serve and support the living plant, to give it space and direction to grow and climb, and, depending on what kind of plant, to enable it to produce more fruit. The living thing is the point, the priority, the purpose of the gardener’s work.

This isn’t because trellis is bad. A tomato plant not staked will fall all over itself. It won’t get the sun or water as it needs, and so the fruit may be small and spoiled as soon as it sprouts. In a school there are stakes, the right books and age-appropriate desks and Ticonderoga #2s, as well as different rules and procedures intended to give the plant a place to bloom.

But it is easy for trellis maintenance to get more attention, and it’s easier to give attention to the trellis. Things that don’t squirm, fuss, or fail take less work, and the work still looks like there’s real progress. But the soul of a school are its souls. What makes ECS special are the souls of the Board, the Headmaster, the full-time team, the part-time teachers, the volunteer helpers, the parents, and the students. 

We are in an “exciting” time, in WA and at ECS. We are out of step with the State and we keep running out of space. We’ve been looking for a few years for a place we could really plant ourselves, a place where we could spread out the trellis, to have more rooms and more room to play than on pavement. At the same time, the most pressing concern is always the souls. 

Souls over Sycamore (though what an amazing app of common grace that allows communication about homework between teachers and parents directly), souls over standardized tests, souls over seating arrangements, souls over musical scales, souls over swing-sets and soccer balls. Grades may help to reveal what’s happening in a given class, yes, but most of the time our teachers spend at the end of a Quarter is concerned with identifying character. Maybe we could call them “Soul cards.”

One of my favorite gifs of all time is from an Old El Paso taco commercial. The family is struggling to decide whether to have hard shell or soft shell tacos for dinner. A young girl shrugs and says, “Why not both?” and then they lift her up onto their shoulders in celebration.

Going back to the previous metaphor, good trellis makes for healthy vines. It’s both, and we pray for both. Yet we always need to keep in mind that as we commend the works of the Lord to the next generation, it’s because that generation will live forever. They are, along with us, eternal souls. This reality provides us with reason to provide them with the best we can in the here and now, while also holding somewhat loosely the seen things because they are fading away (2 Corinthians 4:18).

So as you process all the information, as you think about the future of the school as well as your investment, remember that there is no profit for a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (Matthew 16:26).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Blind Spots Are Rarely Lovely

How do you avoid blind spots? Blind spots are things you can’t see, of course, and sometimes you know they’re there anyway. Other times you don’t know that you don’t know.

This question applies to all sorts of decisions, but I’m thinking of its application for your obedience and fruitfulness and loving your neighbor and building up the body.

First, you look in the mirrors, move them around to get as good of view as you can. This isn’t just for backing up or switching lanes while driving a car, this is for looking into the Bible as a mirror (James 1:22-25). The Word, read with faith and humility, reveals the standards and shows how we don’t match. This is true propositionally, but also with the example of Christ. If we are to be presented complete in Christ, then in what ways do we need to follow in His steps better?

Second, you pray that your Father in heaven would do whatever it takes to show you and grow you. This comes with a blessed warning: things in mirror are probably worse than they appear. Wouldn’t it be great if our blind spots were lovely? At best, people who really love us may think our blind spots are charming. Most of the time they are ugly, or unhelpful, or even harmful. Ask God to refine you.

Third, get connected to other God-loving, truth-speaking, spiritually-growing people, and pay attention. Maybe even ask. Feedback doesn’t always come from those who love you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to love better.

If your blind spot is a sin, repent as soon as you see it. If it is an immaturity or weakness, seek wisdom to make progress (think Philippians 1:25; 1 Timothy 4:15).

The foundation for all of this is God’s grace to us in Christ, and the goal of it is God’s purpose to conform us to the image of Christ, with its fruit of uniting the body and increasing our glory as reflections of Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

We Are Regulars Here

The unbelieving world has no definite standard, no supreme source, no consistent method, no reliable mirror for determining identity. Some lies sound more plausible, some uniforms look more popular, some complaints feel more cathartic, at least temporarily. The world has a mold (Romans 12:2), and the father of lies has offspring (John 8:44), but the template of hell is confusion, exile, and discontent.

Our Father gives us comfort, peace, and rejoicing. He tells us who we are, shows us in Christ what we will be (1 John 3:2), and seals us with His own Spirit as a guarantee of our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

As a church we affirm identity in the waters of baptism, around the table of communion, and through the process of membership. Baptism is the initial ordinance of identify professed and affirmed, communion is an ongoing ordinance of identity by obedience, and membership takes over the responsibility of affirming identity from another local church.

When it comes to membership, a local church must remember that she is part of the universal church. A local church must also affirm those into membership who call on the Lord’s name and are part of the kingdom of Christ and God. A local church must affirm the identity of her members through shepherding and discipling and discipline. The church also comes together to the Supper; we are regulars here.

As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim that you are the people waiting for and hastening the day of the Lord’s return (1 Corinthians 11:26; 2 Peter 3:12).

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Pointy Side of the Anvil

Loneliness is not a sin per se. It is often a tormenting temptation to sin. Sinning and then having a guilty conscience while being lonely is a punishing emotional cocktail.

Not everyone who is alone feels lonely. Not everyone who is in a group doesn’t feel lonely. Talking to others might actually confirm your suspicion that you’re not that close and/or that you are not understood. Sometimes loneliness results from others trying to keep you on the outs, other times it comes from your fears about being in.

Lonely doesn’t feel good, and you can make it less good. In a fallen world it doesn’t take two to make a thing go wrong.

Loneliness exists, it can be heavy and acute, more like having the pointy side of the anvil pushing into your chest. Maybe you lost a longtime spouse, maybe you are looking for one for a long time. Maybe your dad never paid attention to you. Maybe you had friends but they started doing other things. Maybe you had friends you expected would keep doing all the work you weren’t. Maybe you are awkward. Maybe God has put you among a group of people you can’t leave but with whom you also can’t fully participate.

I bring up loneliness because the sermon is about gender confusions and sexual corruptions. God made us male or female (Genesis 1:27), and He made us for relationship, which typically manifests in marriage responsibilities between one man and one women. He also unites us in one body of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). Our Creator formed every human heart for connection, but fallen humans are too easily satisfied.

It is not godly to grumble, and it’s not attractive either. Don’t nurse your loneliness with lust, or lies, whether to those around you or to yourself. Don’t isolate yourself (Proverbs 18:1). Cry out to the Lord; Jesus is a friend for sinners.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Standing with Our Christian Brothers in Canada on What God Says about Sexuality

At the beginning of every calendar year I take a few Sundays to preach through some reminders about our liturgy of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. I’ve got one more message to give in the 2022 mini-series, and it will be about worship and sexuality.

I preached on this connection in 2017, under the heading of worship for spouses which included some male/female, leading/following observations. I also had a lot to say about Kuyperian sexuality about a year ago.

That said, you may know that there’s a pretty big hubbub about the C-4 bill that recently became law in Canada. Apparently any “conversion therapy” for gender and sexual sins is now criminal. So a number of Canadian pastors plan to preach about it this coming Sunday, against the law, on purpose.

John MacArthur sent an email to all the Shepherds’ Conference list calling pastors in the US to consider joining in the stand. You can read more about it and watch a 3-minute video from him here. Jared Longshore also has a 8-minute video here.

I asked our elders what they thought, and we all agreed for me to go for it. As I wrote above, it won’t be the first time that we’ve dealt with the subject, but we think it’s appropriate, not just to support our Christian brothers, but to exalt the glory of God in the gospel that calls sinful men and women to repentance that they might be truly glorious and fruitful reflections of their Creator.

Of course there’s more to say, which, Lord willing, I’ll do this Sunday. In the meantime, pray, and feel free to ask any questions.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Cup Overflows

There are two types of good jealousy in the Bible.

The first good jealousy is between the covenanted. God is jealous over His people; He is, in fact, a jealous God, angry if His people worship and glorify another god. “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24). Similarly, a husband is jealous over his wife (Numbers 5:14); he is lovingly but fiercely protective if she gives her spousal attention and affection toward another.

The second good jealousy is like a gravity to the blessed. Paul wrote that he magnified his ministry to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous (Romans 11:13-14). The blessings given by God through the gospel were obvious and made the God of blessings desirable.

Jesus connected the wine in the Lord’s Supper to the covenant: the “cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). We who participate do so by faith, in exclusive relationship with the Father and He is jealous for our communion. He desires it. He purchased it. He ordained it. He is here for it.

And when we come, we are getting something that not everyone else gets. It is good to be near to God (Psalm 73:28), and He’s given us grace that opened the way and draws us near in joy (Romans 5:2).

We have been sharing communion as a church now for 11 years, and how much thanks we have for the Lord’s faithfulness to us and the fruit He’s grown among us. He has prepared a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and our cup of blessing overflows.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Puddleglum Is Not an Epithet

Don’t spend time regretting your sin, repent from it right away. There is more to say.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), and this sorrow is over sin. There is a type of good conviction, a “godly grief” that is appropriate. But grief feelings are not the goal.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

If/when confronted, don’t try to pacify the other person with your coat of many bad feelings. Not only is this wishy-washy, it’s also not confession. It is also not gospel. This is like lowering your head and waiting for someone to hang a millstone around your neck.

Regret and sorrow and humiliation isn’t where we’re trying to get to. We hope to get out of all that by confessing our sin, to be comforted (Matthew 5:4), and then to turn away from it. Don’t just say that you regret something, resolve to stop doing it. You regret to be sitting in the mud puddle. No, brothers, get out of the puddle, or your britches will still be sopping and soiled. Puddleglum is an entertaining, even edifying, fictional character, but not a worthy epithet for Christians. You who believe are forgiven because Jesus died, and you can rejoice and obey because Jesus lives.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Weekly Fellowship

One day we will know without a doubt what God’s favorite part of our worship is. One day we will worship Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), and some of the things we do now in these mortal bodies by faith will no longer be necessary. Perhaps that gives us an angle to evaluate our current liturgy, the means and the end.

In the resurrection a call to worship will be as unnecessary as the sun is to define the day (Revelation 22:5). Not only will the cycle of eternal life be different, but the divisions and distractions of our purpose will be removed.

In the resurrection we will be glorified, we will be finally conformed to the image of Christ, and so there will be no new sins to confess. We will not forget that we’ve been forgiven, but neither individually or corporately will we need Him to wash our feet (cf. John 13:10).

In the resurrection we will know the Word, and preachers will be given some other occupation. The Word is eternal, but we will not need teachers in eternity (consider Jeremiah 31:34). We will have The Teacher, but even then, celebrating truth will be different than sermonizing it.

And in the resurrection we will be in our eternal rest (Hebrews 4:9-10), not that we won’t have employment, but there will be no more charge for the battle even if there is more to build.

So, what we look forward to is unhindered, undiluted, undistracted communion with God. It is why He sent His Son, that Christ would bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). This fellowship is what we remember and rejoice in during the Lord’s Supper in our weekly liturgy. The work of Christ is for our communion with God, and all our work comes from that communion. Our time together around the Table is just a taste of how good He is.

Lord's Day Liturgy

See, Hate, and Leave

Repentance is a gift of God. Peter rejoiced that God gave repentance to Israel (Acts 5:31) and later the apostles rejoiced that God granted repentance to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). God sovereignly lets us see sin in its ugliness and gives us a heart to hate it and leave it. That is a gift.

Repentance is a discipline. You can get better at it, and the more mature you are, the less the time you’ll need between sinning and then acknowledging and turning from that sin.

Repentance is a blessing. If sin is what separates us from God–and it is, if sin is what spoils our consciences–and it is, if sin is what stops up the flow of joy–and it is, then repenting from sin belongs with reconciliation, cleansing, and a renewed spirit.

Every Lord’s Day we are brought to reckon with our need for repentance. The battle to mortify our sin is not finished, even though Christ’s sacrifice to atone for our sin is. As part of our worship we acknowledge that we, in our flesh, are powerless against sin, but that when we call on the Lord we will be saved.

It may be hard to rank the most important or necessary part of our liturgy. But our confession of sin belongs as part of our worship, and ought to be part of our walk.

Martin Luther captured this in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

To the Laodiceans, the Amen, said:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)