Radiance or Resentations
There is a Greek word used only twice in the New Testament that I want to share with you for your edification, and as an exhortation to confession.
In Revelation 21:11, John saw the Bride of the Lamb, and she had a radiance shining as crystal. The Greek word for “radiance” is φωστήρ. It seems to be a compound word made in combination of fos - light and astar - star, perhaps even starlight. That is bright.
The only other use of the word is in Philippians 2:15, which continues a command beginning in verse 14.
Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that (you) may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom (you) shine as lights in the world (KJV)
The phrase “shine as lights” includes a verb for appear and a comparative conjunction and then φωστήρ, “lights” or “stars” (NIV) or a note in the NASB: “luminaries.”
Christian, you are the light of the cosmos. You are the radiance of the glory of God in the world. And according to the apostle Paul, being luminaries means more than just being smart, and being the best at shining a light on all that is wrong (with grumbling and questioning). The sort of divine luminaries Paul describes are brilliant at not complaining and their thanks is un-eclipsed.
The glory of God in man (includes) gratefulness. This makes it clear why ungodliness and unrighteousness include unthankfulness (Romans 1:18, 21).
I accidentally misread a whiteboard in one of my classes last week. It was supposed to be Presentations, but I didn’t notice the first lette. I read it as Resentations, and that is too fitting for the twisted generation we live in. But remember, as there is no honor among thieves, there is no glory among ingrates.
May 31, 2021
Better Than a Thousand Elsewhere
The sons of Korah wrote eleven songs that were recognized and included in the canon of Israel’s worship including Psalm 84.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
The song celebrates God’s “dwelling place,” His “courts.” The Psalm expresses delight over God welcoming His people into His presence. For Israel, God’s house was the temple in Jerusalem. So this song exalts how great it is to be with God, to meet the “living God” as “heart and flesh sing for joy” to Him.
Later in the song, the sons of Korah put their desires into perspective.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
This is extreme by both chronological and occupational standards. There is no better way to spend time than appearing before God. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how lowly a position one takes as long as he can be in the presence of God.
We sing a simple version of this Psalm today and it applies in a brand new way. In His Son, Jesus Christ, we are invited into the place His glory dwells. We are satisfied and our souls are made wet by the Spirit as we see and taste His beauty. And around the Lord’s table, He invites His people for a meal of communion, a meal of blessing, and He holds nothing back.
O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!
This promise is certain because He has already given us His Son. One meal of peace with the King is better than a thousand elsewhere.
May 26, 2021
The Greater Scandal
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, acting as if he wished his dad was dead, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.
We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.
We don’t relate as well to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his compassionate reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.
The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.
How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re found, reconciled to Him, brought back home.
May 25, 2021
Don’t Make Them Pay
One of the reasons we can share the bread and the cup with one another around the Lord’s Table in joy is because He is the Lord; we are not the lords and lordesses of one another. This is not to say that we don’t make judgments or have issues to work out between us, but it is to say that we all only have one ultimate, final Judge. Christ is Lord. This is His Table.
This reality enables us to hold things of great value to us, even our very lives, loosely because we cling to Christ tightly. We’re with Him, He who is “Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18). Have you been sinned against? Of course you have, and often it is very painful. And remember, every sin that has ever been (or will be committed) either has been paid for (Christ’s saving work) or it will be paid for (Christ’s judging work). It is also true that none of the payments are to us, though for Christians, one of the payments was for us.
Either Christ satisfied the Father’s demand for righteousness when He suffered in the place of transgressors or Christ will judge in righteousness those transgressors with great and eternal suffering. There is no mixing, there is no missing. Jesus paid it all for every sinner who believes, or, every sinner who won’t believe will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Fellowship does get broken and needs to be restored. We sin against each other, and we’re given instructions for how to handle that, but it’s not by denying that our brother’s name is written in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Jesus paid for them, it’s wrong for us to make them pay. As for those outside the church, we still don’t make them pay, though we warn them that apart from Christ they will, because He is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).
May 18, 2021
A Place for Our Shelter
I recently read the following assessment (made in the fall of 1970): “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mystifying as the obvious” (Irving Kristol). We are surrounded by those who not only lack the will to see reality, they willfully won’t, and so we are basically living in an Alfred Hitchcock mystery, and no one knows when this twilight zone will end. (And yes, I understand that Hitchcock did not write The Twilight Zone, but that’s how mixed up things are these days.)
What an island of normal ECS has been this past school year. What a refuge our campus has been for those with the will to see things as they really are, who are otherwise confronted at every doorway by masked faces and unmasked fearfulness and/or fatigue. King David taught Israel to sing, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7), and we may be tempted to scream, Where shall I flee from Dr. Fauci’s press releases? At what level of news can you escape COVID stupidity, the covidity? Not internationally across our northern border where Canadian pastors are being arrested for holding worship services, not regionally coming from our state capital or our state’s largest city, not even locally from our county health district which continues to communicate favortism for those ignoring the obvious. (Now that I think about it, our city’s Mayor, Council, and PD have shown much right-mindedness, and for that we can be very thankful.)
Where can you go to buy groceries without needing to mentally prep yourself for possible run-ins with door police and scolding from fellow shoppers? Perhaps some of you are still faced with distancing and masking requirements when you go to worship on the Lord’s Day. The panicked, angry, self-righteous virtue signaling on social media cycles virtually on repeat, and the only thing worse than scrolling through it on a screen is walking through it in person.
And here our little school has been, by God’s grace, without a single a Zoom class this past year. We’re meeting, we’re singing, every day, multiple times throughout the day, inside, and not just in our hearts. We share the same basketballs playing bump at recess. We sit next to each other in class without plexiglass in between. Our problems are things such as getting homework finished and finding the playground equipment left out overnight. We’ve had some boy-girl drama, we’ve had water left running in some bathroom sinks. What we’ve had are problems that are normal.
Other problems are growing, such as having a hundred more students enrolled for next fall than we started with renting at Reclamation (around 60 students in 2015 and already over 170 for 2021). The other significant problem, one which is a blessing for a school like ours, is that it’s increasingly frustrating to enjoy a place where so so much is so great and then realizing you can’t stay at school 24 hours a day.
That said, calling ECS an “island” of normal isn’t really right; the metaphor isn’t sufficient. We’re not trying to get away or hide away.
I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about a Christian or conservative “bubble.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard “bubble” used in a positive sense, always as a pejorative. It suggests that people are afraid, and even more that they are trying to bunker down, to barricade themselves as an escape. It’s as if they can’t handle the heat, as if they don’t even want to deal with the fact that the outside exists.
We are not hiding in a bubble, but rather building a shelter. C.R. Wiley (our guest speaker at the recent Fiction Festival) wrote (before 2020) about living in a world that’s falling apart, that “people build institutions for shelter” (Man of the House, Loc. 1346). Building a shelter is different from being sheltered. A shelter is for sake of protection from the elements, being sheltered is to avoid any engagement at all.
It is almost laughably easy to find reasons to build a shelter reactively. We are a local school, and in our State, even though a couple hundred-thousand petitioners made it so that a mandatory sex-education bill our legislators invented made it onto the ballot, enough of our neighbors voted their approval anyway. Just last week our Governor signed a bill to make Critical Race Theory teaching mandatory in government schools ([source]), a set of ideas based on externals and sure to increase suspicion and discrimination.
I mean, there is not really a reason to be surprised at this because government schools gave up appeal to God and even to transcendence (and therefore dignity and morality) decades ago. The tale of evolution is being played out, even if scientists don’t argue for it any more. Men are, wait, I mean humans are, I mean, what are we allowed to call ourselves? Whatever. We are “progressing” and there is no objective standard that we are progressing to. It’s like if a jigsaw puzzle factory exploded, all the pieces were mixed up, and all the box covers destroyed. What are we even trying to make?
Some of you have heard of (or even reading) the book Live Not by Lies. The book recounts testimonies of many Russians who lived through the totalitarian rule of Communism. We are staring down the barrel of a soft totalitarianism, wherein we are not being beaten (yet) but we are being bought.
Tyranny is oppressive rule. Totalitarianism is worse. Totalitarianism pushes someone else’s ideas and priorities into our space to displace our loves and traditions and values and institutions. They want us to live as if their illusions are obvious. It is part of our job to know the truth and to oppose the falsehood and propaganda. This isn’t about turning everything into political debate, but we are acknowledging that every thumb’s-width is claimed by Jesus. What bonds us together is not that we are victims, it is not that our contempt is more virtuous, but that we love God and His world and our image-bearing responsibilities to commend His works to another generation.
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” —G.K. Chesterton
We need to preserve memory, including historical memory (unlike the Ministry of Truth and its “memory hole” in 1984) of what has actually happened. We preserve and pass on cultural memory, remembering all the good that God has given us through the stories of people who built what we’re standing on. We need to see the obvious, and we need the imaginative capacity to fight back. We need to know how to endure pain, and to know which pleasures are false. There is false comfort, false peace. There is also true feasting, in true shelter and with true thanks.
God doesn’t promise to build any school like He promises to build His church. God doesn’t give promises to schools like He gives to fathers and mothers raising their children in Christian homes. But as a school puts feet onto the mission of our churches to make disciples, and as a school multiplies the efforts of parents to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, it is an institution that protects and promotes and pushes forward.
If ECS has been a little island of normal, it’s like a war-island. So, teasing that out a bit, we are much more like an aircraft carrier (though we started out kayak size). We are like a little city of our own, a small community distinguished from others, living together and working together and fighting for the same things.
An aircraft carrier is a shelter and a refuge and a training ground and a carrier of weapons and a weapon itself. It makes a statement. It’s more than a monastery to preserve what is important and obvious. ECS is an advance of Christ-honoring culture.
And this is our ship. This is our shelter, for the education of our children and our great-grandchildren. This is our culture, for the part of your life in which learning about all the thumb’s-widths in the universe happens. This is our normal because Jesus is our Lord.
We are not trying to shelter-in-place, but we’d love to put our shelter in a place. We are looking for a metaphorical port for our metaphorical shelter-warship. We are creating valuable shelter where it didn’t previously exist, and now we need more space (and more workers). Our mission is not yet accomplished, so we will continue to commend the works of the Lord to another generation and trust Him for the next stage of our advance. As a modern day poet wrote, we are “Like a small boat, on the ocean, sending big waves into motion….”
May 17, 2021
A Desire for His Approval
God created us with abilities and appetites and affections. One of the abilities He gave us is to be able to consider our abilities and appetites and affections. Even though we do not always act rationally, we can, and should, grow in applying our understanding to our wanting. God enables this sort of higher attention when He gives us new spiritual life, and He increases it as He sanctifies us.
Certain of our appetites seem to be not only short-term, but urgent. That’s not necessarily or always bad, but it’s usually better to have a bigger context than whatever our body is telling us at the moment. This is, as just one example, a reason that people “sleep on” a big decision. They may see the possibility of an immediate good, but something in them wants to pull back and survey the bigger picture.
We are wired for context. Everyone has a framework through which they measure and prioritize what they choose and how they respond to the choices of others. Not only in our consciences but in the story part of our minds we know that a final reckoning will occur.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
There is an angle of this that applies to evangelism. Everyone has done evil, and no one can do enough good to outdo the consequences of the evil;. So God’s law shows that we need salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 3:23-24).
For those who already believe, we should make sure to keep our frameworks updated that because we believe we obey, and we obey with a desire for His approval. While there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), there is also no good reason to hold back from doing good (Romans 8:4). We are created, and we are saved, for good works (Ephesians 2:10). What glory it will be when, after doing those good works, we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Our motivation is more than avoiding brute force punishment, but pleasing our heavenly Father. Our appetite for that can’t be too strong.
May 17, 2021
To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)