More Like Inflammation
Though we live in the “Information Age” it is hard to know what to believe. Much of the so-called information is more like inflammation, bait to hook our attention, not actually a benefit for our understanding. I’ve been picking away at a book called Trust Me, I’m Lying, and it exposes how efficiently lies spread through every level of media.
What a treasure we have in God’s Word. Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words” he had heard from Paul (2 Timothy 1:13), and we have our own copies to carry around with us to read so that the Word would richly dwell in us (Colossians 3:16).
At the beginning of another summer here is a reminder to meditate on God’s Word day and night. Let it be like a seed in your heart, that you might be like a tree planted by streams of water. Choose a reading plan, choose a time and place, and read and think and pray. Though we’re one week in to the #SamePageSummer plan, which many of you have joined, jump in now.
For the future, God’s Word is building us up so that we are ready for the promised inheritance (Acts 20:32).
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 ESV)
For now, His Word reminds us that He is present. His Word is part of His presence. Hold it fast.
June 9, 2021
A Mathematical Baby Step
John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote many books, including The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It has also been published recently under the title, All Loves Excelling. The entire book is a forrest fire of goodness sparked by Ephesians 3:18-19.
[May he grant you] strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
In Greek, one article (precedes and) welds all four dimensions together in verse 18. Paul wasn’t thinking about four things, but the immensity, the vastness, the incalculability of one thing. But what is that something? I believe the one thing is Christ’s love, explicitly named in verse 19..
Breadth refers to area. Christ’s love covers the widest span. Length refers to distance, how far things are apart. Christ’s love reaches the farthest intervals. Depth refers to the bottom. Christ’s love descends to the lowest levels. It is unfathomable. Height refers to the top. Christ’s love soars at the summit.
His love is too large to frame, and even if it were, there isn’t a wall large enough to hold the frame. Imagine the most oversized, mega-gargantuan container you have at home; now double-it; now multiply by the next number higher than you can conceive. You’ve just taken a mathematical baby step toward comprehending Christ’s incalculable love.
I love Bunyan’s question:
Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)
In other words, if someone asked you to describe the kind of love you hoped for, could you have imagined it this good? His love fills us, and the bread and cup remind us of His body spent in loving sacrifice for us.
June 1, 2021
Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidate for graduation. I know the work required to get to this point, and it is an honor to push this celebration toward its crescendo.
Our fifth graduating class turns out to be our smallest. There is a song that says one is the loneliest number, but one senior allows for a more singular charge, even as others listen along.
ECS is a not a music school, but music is certainly both an instrument and expression of our learning. Bonnie is a musical young lady. Music isn’t the only thing we teach, and music isn’t the only thing Bonnie makes, but there has been a harmonious relationship between she and the school.
It would be irresponsible to say that ECS caused Bonnie’s love of music, and certainly we didn’t create her appetite and aptitude for singing or her abilities with instruments. As she said during her capstone presentation, her family is a musical family, dad and mom and also older siblings. They have been taking songs and packing instruments with them all over the world, sort of the traveling Netherlander von Trapps. On our school’s trip to the UK in 2018, one of her sisters pulled out packets of worship song lyrics from previous youth retreats; apparently carrying such papers was an international priority. The Bour sisters’ mantra might be: “Let’s sing!” How many Raggants Got Talent entries has Bonnie been in singing or strumming (or sashaying)? It won’t shock you that she took quite seriously the job of ukulele arrangement for “Let It Go.” Musica eius erat, est, et erit (Her music was, is, and will be).
ECS also has a history with music, and Lord willing, we will repeat that chorus many times. One school story from before there was a school seems appropriate to remember tonight. On Friday evening, October 14th, 2011, we had our very first Committee meeting. A Committee was formed before a Board, because a Board decides what the school will do, a Committee decides if there should even be a school. Mr. Sarr, Mr. Weinberg, Mr. Martin, Mr. Light, Mr. Bowers, Mrs. Higgins and myself got together, and after we prayed, the first thing we did was watch a TED Talk on YouTube, just like they did at Plato’s Academy.
It was a talk about how everyone can, and should, come to enjoy classical music, given by the conductor/composer, Benjamin Zander. I rewatched those twenty minutes again a few days ago, and it resonated just as loudly. He played a few pieces on the piano, he pointed out some connections between notes (“the job of the C is to make B sad” and the B wants to “get home to E” in Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus Number 28: No. 4 in E Minor), and also commented on how leaders see great opportunities and do not doubt that they can encourage and empower others to get where they’re dreaming.
If I remember correctly, we hadn’t started singing any Psalms yet as a church. We certainly hadn’t had a Matins because we didn’t have any students, so no Cantus, no choir, no Bible songs, no school-endorsed egg shakers. What we did have that night was a drum beat of conviction that we could come to love a lot more things, that it would be good for us, that we could grow, and that a bunch of others would also get a taste and be drawn into the gravity of the project.
This is about music, sure, and music is a metaphor for a bunch of things that make up the tones and rhythms of our school culture. And this, as it turns out, shouldn’t be too surprising, because there is a sort of music that plays in the universe.
You may hear it referred to as the “music of the spheres,” or the “harmony of the spheres.” These spheres are not the various spheres of life, as Kuyperians regularly refer to them, but the heavenly, celestial orbits. Not only poets, but scientists watched and measured and calculated the movements of the planets, and they noticed and celebrated the ratios and harmonies.
Joahannes Kepler was a German mathematician and astronomer, born 25 years after Martin Luther died, who worked before the word gravity was applied to stellar phenomenon, who labored to describe the motions and laws of the planets, and he spoke about it as music. One of his books is called Harmonices Mundi, or Harmonies of the World, in which he presented his case that the speed of the planets at two various points in their ellipse around the sun have a proportion equal to a musical interval. This heavenly choir had a tenor (Mars), two bass (Saturn and Jupiter), a soprano (Mercury), and two altos (Venus and Earth). Though earlier philosophers like Pythagorus and astronomers such as Ptolemy considered songs of the cosmos, Kepler commended them as God’s works.
It is no mistake that Lewis has Aslan sing Narnia into creation in The Magician’s Nephew, or that Tolkien has Eru teach the Ainur to sing reality into existence in The Silmarillion. Whether or not Yahweh sang in Genesis 1, God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). Certainly our future is one of singing, and we will join the angels singing the Lord’s praises for creation and redemption.
Music is not mere “filler,” not just background noise, though those are fine uses. There are many different lawful and beautiful types of music, occasions where certain styles are fitting and good. Music was not only one of the seven liberal arts, in many ways music is the rhetoric of math, perhaps even the crown of classical education. The Quadrivium are arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. If arithmetic is numbers, geometry is numbers in shape, astronomy is numbers in movement, and music is numbers in time. Music is the adorning of time.
One of your responsibilities, Bonnie, is to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture by beautifying time, and by blessing others as you help them develop and ears to hear. This includes all of your interests, not just your instruments.
You are well known for taking a long time to do your homework, breaking homework surveys in the process. You are also well known not just for taking a long time to eat your food, but for taking a long time to decide if you even like what you’re eating or not. It was a frequent conversation on the UK trip: Do you like it? Do you like it now? Do you think you’ll ever know if you liked it?
This is a funny quirk, and perhaps your non-committal relationship to food will go with you for a long time. But, I want to charge you not to settle for this with your calling to make mellifluous music.
You have a desire to please others, and this is generally a good desire. But you also need to learn what really pleases you, and in doing so, make it and play it and perform it and it will be a delight to others. Benjamin Zander called it “one-buttock playing,” where the music pushes you over. Keep learning, and then honor your teachers by multiplying their investment.
Mellifluous is an adjective that applies to a voice or words meaning sweet or musical; pleasant to hear (New Oxford American Dictionary). It comes from the Latin mellifluus a combination of mel ‘honey’ + fluere ‘to flow’. So, put some honey on a minute. Make mellifluous minutes.
Do this with every thumb’s-plunk on the piano, every thumb’s-pluck on the ukulele, every thumb’s-strum on the guitar, every thumb’s-swipe to the next sheet of a song you’ve written.
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
(Psalm 92:1–4 ESV)
In submission to the Lord of math and ratios and decibels, with thanks for majors and minors, white keys and black keys, uks and kazoos and synthetic cat gut violin strings, with a Steinway and with a Stradivarius, honor Him as a steward who beautifies time. Let’s sing!
May 31, 2021
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