Sturdy Parents

I think it’s safe to say that all of the families of Evangel Classical School want to raise up sturdy children. A great evidence of this is that they’ve chosen a school that also is trying to raise up sturdy children. That’s much of what it means to be a Raggant.

But since review is always in order, I’ll try to explain what I mean. We’re trying to be used by God to help grow stout image bearers who will be like oak trees with deep roots. Not many oak trees tremble with fear when a rainstorm is brewing on the horizon. They may even welcome it with relish. We want for trials that actually beset our Raggants to be about as common as lighting bolts that reduce an oak to charcoal. (That is, rare.)

An oak can be rained on, have its branches bent or crusted with ice, its bark carved with initials inside of hearts, and its acorns harvested and it just laughs at the days ahead like the Proverbs 31 woman.

We want that for our kids, but those sorts of kids come from certain sorts of parents. Is it reasonable to expect for our kids to be sturdy if we aren’t? And what does this look like? I’ll offer a few thoughts.

Sturdy parents are intentional. They work hard to be the sorts of people that they want their children to become. They know that discipleship is God’s chosen method for bringing the full number of His sheep into the fold, and that their children will probably become like them, for good or ill.

Sturdy parents are patient. They know that oaks don’t mature overnight. Lasting change tends to take time, and oak trees are to be preferred over blades of grass, even if maturity takes a longer time. We also can go about our work with optimism and joy since we serve a sovereign and good God.

Sturdy parents have their eyes on the horizon. A tall oak with his eyes in the upper branches is not concerned about trifling skirmishes about his knees if he can see an approaching horde of lumberjacks. We know that there are great challenges that await our children in the years ahead; the Latin chants and a reading drills and Omnibus discussions are the sparring sessions that will build the muscles that will protect their joints and render them effective in battle. Their homework assignments now are not themselves the point.

I’m praying for the parents of ECS to comprise a small cadre of likeminded, affectionate, jolly, and sturdy farmers who will lock arms with the teachers to help turn their children from supple saplings into sturdy oaks. Who knows? Perhaps one of our sturdy oaks will meet his glorified end as the next battering ram against the gates of hell.

This perspective will inform how we respond when our students are not faithful in their homework assignments, when there’s relational drama on the playground, or when a teacher sins against us. It’ll also inform how we respond when our children repent on their own, when they look for ways to bless their siblings, and when they spur one another on to love and good deeds. There’s no doubt that a growing oak enjoys sun, snow, rain, wind, and climbing ruffians dangling from his creaking limbs. So too with this parenting business. This is a long road, and may God make us intention, patient, thankful, and sturdy along the way.

Risus est bellum.


An Essential Ingredient

Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for the Christian life.

We have written about this before, but we’ll probably continue to do so until we either (A) we get it right and no longer need to hear it ourselves, or (B) it becomes untrue. Since neither of those will probably ever happen, it bears repeating now.

Of all people Christians ought to be most thankful, as we have the most to be thankful for.

This is the substance of the opening of Peter’s first letter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

We have been given an inheritance as sons of God, and the inheritance is beyond compare or explanation. We receive this inheritance not as begotten sons, but as those who have been adopted. Adopted children don’t earn their parents’ favor; it’s simply given. And ours has been given to us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Wow. Let’s review:

  • Jesus has procured our salvation; we have not.
  • God has brought us (undeserving sinners) into His family; He has not begotten us.
  • We are now co-inheritors with Christ of the cosmos, recipients of an inheritance that is glorious and defies imagination.

Our inheritance is also guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), and our current status (right now!) is that of inheritors, although we cannot yet fathom what we’ve been given.

But what about now? I’ve got a messy house, coughing children, a stack of bills and late tuition for my kids’ school.

That may be true, but it’s also not hard to see profound and undeserved blessings in each of those complaints, if we would adopt an attitude of thankfulness. Houses, children, a school for them…they’re all gifts from God! And how dare we receive these things with a grumbling sense of entitlement? After all, we’re not even begotten children of our heavenly Father!

We must remember in this season of Thanksgiving that what sets us apart from the world is that we enjoy not only the gifts we have, but also the Giver of the gifts. Our thanksgiving can be full, where the thanksgiving of the natural man can only be partial. He may be thankful for the turkey, but he cannot know or love Who it ultimately came from unless that too is granted to Him from the Father.

I’ll finish by zooming in to thankfulness when it comes to our kids’ education. Thankfulness is a great weapon in the war on discouragement and despair. It aligns our perspective and keeps us from grumbling. It infuses grace into our own speech. Perhaps you’re frustrated because…

  • Your children have left their completed homework on the counter again, or…
  • That teacher doesn’t seem to understand how busy your ministry calendar is, or he obviously would lighten up on the reading load, or…
  • You just can’t seem to lead by example with joy in your home, since your kids have a better attitude about their work load than you do.
  • You just don’t understand why cursive and phonics and math facts are so vital for kindergarteners.

Well, if that’s you, you’re not alone. But remember too that…

  • All these things are being used by God to shape us and our kids into the fully-sanctified bride of Christ.
  • We have been given all of these things – from children to raise up and sonship by adoption – by grace.
  • Thankfulness kills pride. When we realize that God has given us all we enjoy, we also realize that we don’t deserve any of it. This will come out in our speech.
  • We are always teaching our children how to love God and how to handle life.

Just think of what sorts of mountains they’ll be able to topple if we can equip them, by God’s grace, to handle all of these challenges with deep belly laughter and an attitude of thankfulness.

May God bless your family richly this Thanksgiving, and drive thankfulness right down to the marrow of your bones.

Risus est bellum!


Letter from a Hopeful Dad

For a moment I’m going to remove my U.H. hat and replace it with a H.D. hat. Oh, and H.D. stands for “Hopeful Dad.”

As you’re probably aware, I’m the father of three Raggants. I have a vested interest in seeing our school thrive and our students’ success, and it goes beyond my role as headmaster. If your family is like ours, you have moments when schooling is especially hard. Some books are really hard to read. Some math concepts are really hard to grasp. From Logic to Latin to Literature, faithfulness in the trenches can be challenging. We’ve had plenty of 10:00pm Latin caputs and revisions of math problems after evening church functions. I get it. It’s hard.

But recent homework marathons (perhaps a bit of an overstatement, I grant) have reminded me of a few points that I preach to others in my more lucid moments. These are things that I know:

I know I don’t want preferential treatment for my kids. Though he’s getting better, my son has a tendency to be sloppy in his homework assignments, and I praise God that Miss Bour doesn’t give out neatness points cheaply. If he gets full neatness points for subpar work, he’ll learn that mediocrity is the standard, and putting forth 70% effort is good enough. It makes the points cheap. Someday soon he’ll get full neatness points and it’ll be a big deal when he does.

If Mr. Bowers makes exceptions for Abbie because she’s my daughter, he’s depriving her of a good education. So as a dad I want him to know that he has my full support and I value his faithfulness.

I know that my kids are being enculturated, and a report card can’t fully capture that. If Ellie is faithful and earns straight C’s, she’ll come away from ECS with an appetite for knowledge, broad interests, deep loves, vibrant relationships, and having beheld Christ for 11 years (she was in 2nd grade when the school opened). She’ll appreciate Latin and history, even if she’s mastered neither. And she’ll have the work capacity of a locomotive. This is because of the cultural water she’s swimming in. We (and her teachers) are using a bunch of tools like good books and math lessons to train her in character. And I want her to be faithful.

I know I’m always teaching. How I respond to adversity and frustrations and joys and opportunities are effective tools for training my kids about how to handle life. My (hopefully-humble) readiness to laugh as a taunt to our enemy while remembering God’s sovereign goodness is instructive for my kids. My eagerness (or hesitation) to seek forgiveness when I wrong my children is showing them how I expect them to treat each other.

All together, this motivates me to be intentional in my living and grateful for the education that my children are receiving. And by God’s grace I see plenty of reasons to remain one H.D.

Letter from the Headmaster (U.H.)

Some of you might want to know what a “U.H.” is. I’m here to help.

“U.H.” stands for “Unruly Headmaster.” That’s me. And the ones who have dubbed me the “U.H.” are the ECS gnomes. It’s true.

Though they wouldn’t fancy much being called the “ECS gnomes,” since they hold ECS in derision.

Now that I’ve introduced still more confusion, I’ll try to clarify.

Many of you know that our mascot is the Raggant, from ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series. In the series, the protagonist, Henry York, disturbs peace enjoyed by some grumpy gnomes who live on the other side of his bedroom wall, which is actually a collection of doors to other worlds.

Henry is surprised and confused when he receives some grumpy notes from the gnomes, in which they dub him “W.C” for “Whimpering Child.” He gains this title because of his routinely crying in his nightmares. So Henry is the W.C. But what about the U.H.?

Well, last school year we learned that there are gnomes somewhere in the vicinity of ECS when I began receiving notes similar to those the gnomes gave Henry York. Apparently there are portals someplace in the church building similar to those found in Henry’s bedroom, and the Gnomes of District 93 have little appreciation for the sorts of sounds coming from ECS and disturbing their otherwise peaceful (and quiet) existence.

I’m told (again, by letter) that this includes laughter, singing, and chanting…and that it must stop. I’ve even been accused of contributing to this disturbance, earning me the title “Unruly Headmaster.”

Along with the Raggants, I’m “unruly” according to of a bunch of stodgy gnomes, and that’s alright with me.

I imagine the gnomes would be happy hanging out in Grendel’s cave, where they’re insulated from merrymaking and songs about the Measurer of the world. But being in close proximity to our students must be especially troublesome…where Raggants sing for fun as well as for facts, where they recite the Apostle’s Creed with confidence, and where they engage in cheerful conversation on a daily basis.

It’ll be a sad day if the gnomes stop slipping grumpy notes under the door of the U.H. By God’s grace, may it never come!

Risus est bellum!


A Generation with No Last Name

This note from Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr was included in the Raggant Standard from June 7, 2017.

When a child is born, we give him a name. A first name. A Christian name. There’s usually a story behind this naming, and it tells a little bit about what he’ll be born into. But unlike his surname, his last name tells where he came from. There are generations of stories in a last name. Crane. Walker. Marlatt. Higgins. Harsh. Stories.

How tragic would it be to divest children of their last names? To do so would be a step toward making them placeless, sons of nobody. Or at least acting like it.

How can we know who we really are if we don’t know where we’ve come from? How can we know why we think as we do without knowing who has influenced our thinking? And who influenced them? And what did they write? Modern American children are becoming less and less capable of answering these questions, and their teachers and parents are only a little better off. I embody this bitter indictment, but I’ve repented, and I’m trying to learn…that I may have something to pass on to my children.

Culture is a baton, and the point of education should be to pass that baton to the next generation. We ought to be training our kids to receive that baton in full stride and run faster and farther than we have. The operating assumption of classical educators has been that the culture-carrying tools are the liberal arts, including the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry and Music). If students have these tools, they are not only becoming competent culture carriers, they’re equipped to learn just about anything they want.

Additionally, classical educators believe that passing on culture is impossible without the inculcation of virtue in the pupil. With the advent of the Scripture we have an objective and consistent authority when it comes to virtue training. We can trace the influence of the gospel from Jerusalem to our doorstep as our forebears have carried the baton to us.

Meanwhile, our culture not only pretends there is no baton, we cut off the feet of the next set of runners. So even if we do hand them something glorious like Paradise Lost or Tchaikovksy’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (a personal favorite of mine), they have no idea what to do with it. They think it’s not worth the effort it takes to appreciate it, so they opt for choose-your-own-adventure novels and Taylor Swift.

There are a number of strategies that our culture is using to divest our children of their heritage. Some are more subtle than others:

  • Keep them from good books. The right books teach us why we think the way we do, and they train children to think in biblical categories, as they learn what evil and good look like. Sometimes fiction is clear where reality is fuzzy. Additionally, many of the right books are primary resources that teach us our history (while many of the wrong books are secondary resources that spin our history).
  • Keep them from character training. If truth is relative, as our culture insists, there’s no point in telling a child he’s wrong about anything, whether it’s the sum of 2 and 2, or poking his classmate in the eye with a pencil. This is bound to end badly. But it’s alright if we’re all just soulless protoplasm.
  • Make them believe we’re all the same. At the heart of multiculturalism is parity.
  • Make them hate where they’ve come from. This is the telos to all of our multicultural talk and training. If we can get them to believe we’re in a bad place now, they’ll soon want to be someplace else.

Conversely, at ECS we want our students to know and love their heritage…not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a gift, and it’s ours. We didn’t ask for it, but it has produced us, and that’s worth learning about. Like having a last name.

Many of you are trying to make educational decisions for your children for next year and beyond. And when you do, it’s important to ask a number of big questions (since this is a big decision). Look your child’s teacher (or principal) in the eye and ask these sort of things:

  • What is the ultimate point of education?
  • Why are we learning this stuff?
  • How do you decide what to teach?
  • What standards do you (or your decision-makers) use?
  • Why do YOU do this? Is it to reproduce yourself in the lives of your pupils or to get the summers off?
  • What do you think of old books? Are they obsolete or foundational?
  • Is there an objective standard of morality?
  • How do you determine your classroom rules?

There is a wealth of presuppositions behind the answer to each of these questions, and conscientious parents should care about all of them. May God grant us wisdom as we prepare to pass the baton.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan Sarr

A Festal Curriculum

This note about the Fundraising Feast from the U.H. (that is, the Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr) was included in the Raggant Standard from April 19, 2017.

Some disciplines are more fun to train than others.

Getting up early? Hard.
Going to bed early? Harder.
Laughing when things look bleak? Super-hard.
Feasting? Hard. And easy. And requires clean-up. All of it.

Allow me to offer some context for my observation.

As Christians, we do a lot of asking. We ask God to save us, to sustain us, and to meet our needs, both small and great. This is right and good, and–when done in faith–it brings God great honor. He loves to work through the prayers of His saints. When He answers our prayers, then, it is right to give Him thanks. Feasting presents such an opportunity.

When we feast, we discipline our hearts. We consciously make merry, enjoying gifts that come from the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). These gifts often include good food and drink as well as other merrymaking souls around us. When we enjoy God’s good gifts with gratefulness, we honor Him.

Feasting also disciplines our minds. We consciously give God thanks with our words and our grateful actions. John Calvin suggested that fasting is effective for subduing the flesh while demonstrating contrition. In a similar fashion, feasting is good for us, too. When we feast, we respond deliberately to God’s blessing, and we do so with thankfulness, singing, fellowship and enjoyment. It takes “Thank You” to the next level.

I’m convinced that this needs to be a part of our curriculum. With the Raggants, we celebrate the start and end of school and Reformation Day with feasting. We throw in a Christmas party for good measure. And for the adults, we also have our Fundraising Feast. In this, we schedule a night for the adults in our immediate and extended school community to gather and enjoy some of God’s blessings to the school with full-throated (and full-bellied) gladness. Fittingly, we express additional needs as a school and invite the guests to be used of God to meet those needs.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work. From planning to putting up decorations to childcare to food service to cleanup, it’s hard work. And even for the guests, it’s our job to make sure our hearts are in a position to receive as well as to give. Fasting is a lot less mess. But this discipline of feasting is worth the effort it takes.

But I want the Raggants to be able to both ask well, and to receive well. Let’s show them how.

May God help us to receive well on May 5.

–Jonathan Sarr

Why Latin?

The following article was written by the Unruly Headmaster, Mr. Sarr, and is included in the Raggant Standard from February 7, 2017.

Lately I’ve had a couple of curious parents ask me respectfully and sincerely why we study Latin. A lot has been written about this subject, and much of it is very helpful.

Let me commend to you a couple of very accessible resources:

  • An article from Memoria Press entitled “Why Latin is Not an Option.” One snippet: “[It] is the ability of Latin to teach students how to think that is the most underrated of its benefits. A grammar-based Latin study is not simply a grammatical study, but an exercise in what modern educators like to call ‘critical thinking skills.'”

  • Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you’ve never read this, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, and you’re still wondering why or what it is we do, it’s worth revisiting. One taste: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.”

And there are lots and lots more, but those two are a good start.

Now that I’ve done that, let me offer a few (quite unoriginal) thoughts of my own…many of which have been inspired by the above (and other) resources.

  • Latin is the most important language of Western Civilization. (And yes, I realize the New Testament was written in Greek.) We’re Westerners, we love the West, and our love for the West helps us to better love other cultures. And if the whole story of the West had to be told in one language, it would be Latin. When we look at the great books of Western Civilization, almost all the writings are either Latin, contribute to Latin, or were written by Latin speakers.

  • Latin grammar aids in English language mastery. Generally speaking, students who can make sense of Latin parts of speech and who can capably translate a Latin sentence are well- equipped to make sense of English. Additionally, most polysyllabic English words come from Latin. As an added bonus, learning (Latin-based) romance languages (i.e., Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian) after mastering Latin is far easier than without a prior study of Latin.

  • Latin requires precision. As an inflected language, Latin is far more precise than English. Depending on its endings, a Latin noun can be identified as a subject, direct object or indirect object. And in order to apply the proper ending, the Latin student must first know what an indirect object actually is. But this also frees up the speaker or writer to switch around word order for particular emphases.

  • Latin is a classical language. And classical education requires the studying of a classical language. Otherwise, it’s the studying of new and old stuff in an old way. The study of Latin has only fallen out of vogue in the last few generations; it served our fathers very well, and has contributed in no small way to our Protestant and Western heritage. When we study Latin, we study the language of Virgil and Calvin. And when our students are fluid readers of Latin (as is our ultimate aim), they will not be at the mercy of translators when engaging with many of the most influential works of our culture.

I wish I would have studied Latin when I was in school. It would have made my English studies (my college major) more interesting and easier. It would have made learning Spanish (my college minor) simpler, as well. But I’m thrilled that my kids are getting something that I did not. And they’re well on their way to surpassing their father in this way, too.

We still have some wrinkles in our Latin program and offerings that we continue to work out, but we’re convinced that, as G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” until we can get good at it. Latin is worth working for, and our children will be better off for it.

Risus est bellum! (That’s Latin.)
Mr. Sarr

Is Classical Education Obsolete?

aristotleAristotle has been “old” for two thousand years.

People will sometimes dismiss classical education as being old fashioned and out of date. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (an influential character in classical education circles) helped to establish the disciplines of logic and rhetoric…in the fourth century before Christ. By the time Jonathan Edwards was studying Aristotle in school, Aristotle had been dead for two thousand years. Now Aristotle’s been dead 2338 years. One might wonder what’s happened in the last three hundred years to strip Aristotle of his ability to teach us.

Aristotle hasn’t changed since the 18th century; we have. We are not committed to the same emphasis on the communication of values that Aristotle teaches in Nichomachean Ethics. We don’t appreciate the ancient languages that Aristotle used (and Edwards mastered), and our culture shows it. We have (evidently) abandoned the disciplines of logic and rhetoric, and we act like it.

But being an old idea doesn’t make classical education great. It’s great for a host of reasons. For instance, studying the writings of godless men like Aristotle helps to show us how God prepared the world for the first advent of His Son, politically, philosophically, religiously and otherwise. Additionally, the nature of men has not changed since Aristotle’s day, so his reasoning devices are as handy now as they were then…and they’re more novel because they’re so rarely utilized. Still more, the harmonization of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric with the stages of children’s natural development (which Dorothy Sayers nicknamed the Poll Parrot, Pert, and Poetic stages, respectively) is also quite helpful.

But Christians today are able to read Aristotle and take his thinking still further. Aristotle believed that education was about the development of certain virtues in the pupil, but he had no authority for the articulation of those virtues, or their definitions. The best he could come up with were reasonable (and well-reasoned) speculations…from the mind of a natural man.

Enter classical Christian education.

We want for our children to identify and love the true, the good and the beautiful. And we point cheerfully to God as the Source of this classical trifecta. Aristotle could only do this theoretically with a conception about the idea of God, but we can point to Christ and His Word. And we do.

Our fathers seemed to understand some things we don’t yet, as a culture. They found great help and value in the work of Aristotle and others of the ancients. And it’s a good thing they did, or we wouldn’t be where we are. And while the world is working hard to divest our culture of its culture, we point cheerfully to Greece and Rome and Philadelphia (1776) and say, “These are our people.” They weren’t perfect, and neither are we, but God has used them and continues to do so…for His purposes.

Let’s make them proud, equipping our little ones to advance culture for Christ…in all spheres of life.

Heroes of the Faith, and Naming the Secondary Houses

Last Friday I had opportunity to address the Raggants in our October assembly, and the theme was the naming of the secondary houses. What follows is an edited version of what I shared with them. Enjoy

The wise person will learn from the example of those who have gone before him. This is not unique to the Christian faith, although it’s especially important to us. We give assent to sacred Scripture, and it’s full of history and stories and examples for our instruction.

You may recall Hebrews chapter 11, where the writer of Hebrews catalogues example after example of faithful people from the Old Testament, and they were far from perfect. Indeed, many of those listed were guilty of grievous sins in their times, just like you and me. But God would still have us to learn from them, and they’re cheering us on as we now run the race of the faith. They’ve passed the baton to us, and we must run and finish our race well. And we may not be the ones to actually cross the finish line, but we must run our leg well and then hand the baton to the next generation of Christians who will come after us, and then they can work to transform our culture just like we are. That’s all very exciting, but it means that right now, we keep running.

Here at Evangel Classical School, we are not ashamed to tell you that you have a heritage (i.e., your history, your background, your culture and all of the different things the have influenced it). And it’s a great heritage! And we want you to love it! And that doesn’t mean that you have to hate everyone else’s heritage. Our world doesn’t seem to understand this. The world – and many false teachers today – are telling you that we’re basically all the same, that the brotherhood of man is universal, our forefathers were dangerous and narrow-minded bigots, and we’d do well to not be stuck in the past, to grow beyond their teachings and into this new and inclusive world. And, they say, if you don’t agree with this, then you’re just one of them – narrow-minded, dangerous and hateful bigots.

I would say that there are two big things that have contributed to this situation:

  • Our culture’s acceptance of other sources of authority besides God’s Word.
  • Our culture’s failure to learn from history.

And in this sense, and many others, we wish to be counter-cultural.

We Love Scripture

And we know it is God’s objective, clear, unchanging and universally-applicable word. And what’s more…

We Love to Study and Learn from History

God is always at work, and history shows us how He has been at work in the world since it began. And although there is a lot of sin and hurt and suffering throughout history, we also cannot mistake God’s evident work in the details of every single event and life in human history. It’s so painfully clear! And it’s beautiful. And we know this, because we study Scripture!

We’re not the only ones who have faced these sorts of cultural and religious challenges. And we can learn from others who have done it well.

In this spirit, we’ve decided to name our secondary houses after four Protestant Reformers from four different European nations.

These Reformers all had hard lives.

Every one of them can teach us great lessons about changing culture. They lived and gave themselves to transform cultures with the gospel. Reforming the monolithic Church of the Middle Ages was a great undertaking, and these men did their part in that, and we stand on their shoulders.

They can teach us about faithfulness while facing adversity. They were all met with stiff resistance along the way, and they were loved by some, and hated by far more. They all four had political influence because of their faithfulness, and they can teach us lesson about what hills to die on. I would have loved to witness John Knox’s several conversations with Mary Queen of Scots, as these conversations usually involved her crying angry tears.

They can teach us what hills are worth dying on. Many in our culture today think big deal issues involve nail polish colors and which of the Jonas brothers is the cutest. These men were putting their very lives on the line for matters like justification by faith alone, and the translation the Bible into a language for common men.

Make no mistake: one major reason that we have the freedom today to fuss over nail polish and the Jonas brothers is because these men took a faithful stand on important matters.

Western Culture as we know it was profoundly impacted and changed by the work of these men, and as those who stand on their shoulders and who wish to transform culture ourselves, we must learn from them.

John Calvin

(1509-1564, died age 55)

What did he do?

French Reformer John Calvin was a pastor and a theologian in Geneva, Switzerland for about a decade, and he ministered in Strasburg with fellow Reformer Martin Bucer.

He first published Institutes of the Christian Religion when he was in his late twenties and many other works over the course of his life. He preached the Bible faithfully in Geneva and used his influence and the influence of the church to help shape the culture of Geneva, making it a destination and refuge for Protestants who were hungry for God’s Word.

Calvin is still regarded by many as the greatest mind of the Reformation, and he played an instrumental role in the English and Scottish Reformations as well, because it was not uncommon for Reformers to write to Calvin to get his council on difficult Reformation matters, theologically, politically and otherwise.

Why was it hard?

Calvin was met with stiff opposition his whole life. He had a few years of reprieve in Strasburg, but for the most part, he was hated by the community of Geneva although his influence was strong, and his intentions were good. People named their dogs after him, and he was never a voting citizen of Geneva, so his opportunities were somewhat curbed.

Beyond this, Calvin had a hard life. He dealt with the death of children (none survived infancy), and various health issues over the course of his life and ministry.

He died at the age of 55.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Calvin House will be identified with the greatest mind of the Reformation, and one under whose leadership helped shape Geneva. Although Geneva is largely godless today, there are still profound echoes of his influence in the city, and his name still makes unbelievers grumpy. Laughter is war.

What is the Calvin House color? RED
Who will be the Calvin House advisor? MR. BOWERS

John Knox

(1513-1572, died age 59)

What did he do?

Scottish Reformer John Knox is regarded as the most influential leader in the Scottish Reformation. He was a fiery and passionate preacher, and a mobilizer of men. Knox was – perhaps even more than these other Reformers – a great leader. He was willing to lead others even at a very high cost.

Why was it hard?

In Knox’s lifetime, the autonomy of Scotland and its political leadership changed quite a bit. He met with great political opposition in his efforts to change Scotland. I’m not a Presbyterian, but under his leadership Scottish Presbyterianism was better established, and some of the work of Knox and other Scottish Reformers had a profound influence on the founding fathers of the United States. The documents they wrote, the way that they appealed to political leaders, and even their understanding of the relationship between the political and religious spheres all have echoes among us as Americans today.

Knox can teach us that there is a time for speaking up, even if it’s costly. He spent a lot of his life in exile on the mainland, even hanging out with his buddy John Calvin. He wrote an important and famous document which sounds even worse today than it did then: “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.”

One of the things I love most about Knox was that he was not afraid to speak the truth, even when it was hard and could cost him his life.

Why should you want to be in this House?

You should want to be in Knox House because of Knox’s courage and boldness, and because he was an excellent leader.

What is the Knox House color? YELLOW (From the traditional Scottish flag, not the color of cowardice).
Who will be the Knox House advisor? MR. SARR

Martin Luther

(1483-1546, died age 63)

What did he do?

German Reformer Martin Luther is credited with unofficially starting the Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther recognized that what the Catholic church was doing was wrong, and he posted 95 statements against this particular practice in a spot where everyone could see it. This was dangerous, and it didn’t sit well with the Catholic leaders.

Luther went on to write and speak publicly against the abuses in the Catholic church, calling for reform of the Church. And when he wrote, he wrote in German so everyone could understand it!

He also translated the New Testament into German, which was a capital offense; previously in Germany it was only available for students of Latin to read when they could get their hands on it.

He also married an ex-nun (sticking it to the church), had a bunch of kids, brewed beer, and wrote great hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

His was the battle cry of the Reformation: Sola Fide! Faith Alone!

Why was it hard?

Just about everything Luther did was illegal or at least ill-advised. His speaking out about the abuses in the Catholic church could have cost him his job or even his life.

But behind Luther’s leadership, the princes and other political leaders in Germany took a stand against the forced worship in the Roman tradition. They respectfully faced political leaders and readied themselves for execution. Instead, they were allowed to read the Augsburg confession and Germany was never the same.

What can he teach us?

Martin Luther can teach us that some things are more important than life, including the truth of God’s Word, and the completed, satisfying work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Luther helped remind the Church of what it had officially forgotten centuries before: Christians stand justified before God by our faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ; we are not justified by works that we can do to impress God.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Those in Luther’s house will be identified with the Reformer who knew how to defy authorities who needed to be defied. Also took a famous and courageous stand at the Diet of Worms, which is a great story for another day.

We want Luther’s enjoyment of life, readiness to laugh, and those in Luther House will have good reason for doing so.

What is the Luther House color? BLACK
Who will be the Luther House advisor? MRS. HALL

William Tyndale

(1494-1536, died age 42)

What did he do?

English Reformer William Tyndale was the first to translate (much of) the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. He did all the New Testament and a lot of the Old Testament. Like John Wycliffe before him, Tyndale believed firmly that if the Bible is the Word of God, then people need to be able to read it for themselves. And Tyndale himself did a lot to make this happen, and it was a very good translation. Tyndale’s own words comprise 84% of the King James Version of the New Testament, 75 years after Tyndale’s death.

Why was it hard?

Have you ever tried translating anything at all? Maybe you’ve done a Latin caput. You might be able to get the words down, but then giving an English rendering that makes sense or is good to read is a real challenge.

But for Tyndale, who was a scholar of the ancient languages, this was probably the easy part! What he was doing was illegal, and it was a capital offense (meaning it could earn you the death penalty) if you were caught with any of Tyndale’s English Scripture.

So the Catholic church firmly resisted Tyndale, because they believed that there would be a social backlash if the people were able to read the Bible for themselves.

What Tyndale and Luther believed was, in fact, correct. When people were able to read the word of God for themselves, quite simply, the Protestant Reformation was the outcome.

William Tyndale was the only one of our four house fathers who was finally betrayed and then strangled and burned at the stake by order of King Henry VIII. His last cry while tied to the stake was “Open the King of England’s eyes!” He was not only willing to die for the sake of Christ, he actually did.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Tyndale House will bear the name of a man who faithfully labored to bring God’s word to English speakers in a translation as true to the original languages as possible. He faced a ton of adversity, even once losing much of his work in a shipwreck, but he kept going, believing his call to be from God. You Raggants need to be faithful to your task, too.

What is the Tyndale House color? NAVY BLUE
Who will be the Tyndale House advisor? MRS. BOWERS

A Final Word:

Heroes are still humans. As others have said, “The best of men are but men at best.” Just because we think these guys are awesome does not mean we think they were perfect. They all had plenty of errors, and so do we all. Wisdom requires that we learn from and follow their example, and they would hope that we would learn too from their errors and not make the same ones. They’re not perfect, but they are commendable, and may we enjoy a rich legacy as we work to reform our culture.

Raising Arrows

Principles are universal, and we can apply them in a host of circumstances, variables notwithstanding.  I’m constantly (no exaggeration) thinking about maintaining the long view and helping others to do the same.  An excellent academic education is not our chief aim. (GASP!) Frankly, that’s too small.  That excellent academic training is a part of the package as we are intentional about the enculturation of our Raggants.  Our chief aim is to assist parents in turning cute little kids into weapons, mighty warriors for Christ who will be very well-equipped to stand shoulder to shoulder with their parents, addressing real adversaries.  And we use laughter and worship and rigorous academic training as tools in this process.

In a recent service at Trinity Evangel Church, I addressed these matters from Psalm 127, and we wanted to make that available to you all.

HERE is a link to the audio, and I’ve pasted the text of the message below.  I hope you find it helpful.

Tonight I get to speak on one of my favorite passages in Scripture, and it’s Psalm 127. I’ve selected this passage for a few reasons. For one, I’m a father who wants for my children to be full-blown weapons of spiritual warfare when they’re trained. As an elder, I want that for all of our people. As a school administrator, I want that for all of our school families. And if we can keep the long view in mind – to remember our long-term goals – it helps to provide a healthy and helpful perspective when things are hard now. “Where are we going and why?”

Another reason this Psalm fires me up is because of Solomon’s presupposition that dads are warriors with enemies and that their children are weapons to be wielded in a war of cultures. The Seed of the Serpent is at work, and so is the Seed of the Woman, and we’re on the winning side as the outcome is being played out. I never get tired of talking about spiritual warfare and how our worship is our most potent weapon in that warfare, as there’s no shield that can deflect the arrow of worship. Our enemy will try to get us to stop it, or to get us to offer it poorly, but he can’t stop it or answer it in kind himself.

And it’s a beautiful thing now, to imagine whole families speaking with these enemies together, armed with worship and a grin. Keeping this long view in mind will lend calming clarity when life is hard now. Thinking about my daughter as a young wife and mom with three kids helps me both to not freak out when she gets a 10% on a Latin quiz, knowing that she’s going to take a lot of Latin quizzes before she’s fully-trained. But it also motivates my helping her study well and wisely so she gets a 100% on the next one. It is a matter of stewardship and training more than academics. I need to be concerned with whom she is becoming more than her getting impressive test scores right now. And doing all of this with a smile helps communicate that my delight in her is not tied to her test performance, but rather who she is as my daughter. Sometimes I do this well; oftentimes I don’t. But it’s critical to have principles that drive my thoughts and behavior when the circumstances constantly change.

To be sure, parenting is hard. Raising children who are well-equipped to be used by Christ involves a lot of training, but that training must be saturated with love lest we exasperate our children. That’s hard.

As with my example with my daughter above, as a parent, I want all sorts of impossibilities for my children.

  • I want for my kids to be stretched and grown…and I want them to love it.
  • I want for them to learn to work hard, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from getting all of you homework done beautifully and excellently…and I want them to have a vibrant, active life outside of school.
  • I want for their education to help shape their worldview…and I want them to have time to put that worldview into practice.
  • I want them to be aware of the dangers and evils of this world…and I want them to laugh at the days to come.
  • I want them to work like all the outcomes and success depend on them…and I want them to rest confidently in the sovereignty of God.
  • I want them to love the Church…and I want them to lovingly engage the culture.

Some of this will bear fruit (either ripe or rotten) right now, some of the fruit won’t bud for twenty years. But why do I call those things “impossibilities?” Because I can’t do it. No human actually can. Left to ourselves we would ruin our children.

My own upbringing is a testament to this truth, and it’s bearing out in the lives of my children as well. I’m quite happy with my childhood and my upbringing, and there are things I learned from my parents that I want to characterize my life, and other things that I don’t want to emulate. I trust the same will be true when my children are grown and gone. But when children turn out well, it is quite often in spite of us parents rather than because of us. Rather, they turn out well because the Lord is building the house.

How many times have you messed up with your children? How many times have you spanked in anger, or drawn too hard a line on chores, or been too soft on chores? How many times has your example communicated to your children the the way to handle life’s challenges is with anger, anxiety, or despair?

Did it ruin them? Probably not. Why is this? Is it because of you? No, it’s because parenting is dripping with grace.

Now along with Paul, I might ask the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may increase?” Shall we go right on being oafs as parents so God gets greater glory in overcoming our parenting weaknesses? God forbid! Only do that if you really do want to ruin your children.

Now King Solomon was a guy who was aware of his inadequacies. When he could have asked the Lord for wealth or fame, he asked for wisdom instead. God was so pleased with this that He granted Solomon not only the wisdom he requested, but wealth fame and peace as well. And Solomon’s legacy includes Proverbs and Psalms that include help for parents who would rightly understand God’s view of parenting.

Solomon seemed to understand this well…as did most of the ancients. Regardless of what men would like, we are at the Lord’s mercy…constantly. And the enculturation of our children is a clear example. Solomon, who lived in the 10th century before Christ, recorded for us a brief and helpful meditation in Psalm 127.

Now, while speaking with enemies in Solomon’s day looked different from how it does now, it is no less certain. His language was figurative then (i.e., children aren’t literally arrows) and it is now. But the principles he brings up are timeless. I’d like to spend a bit of time discussing this psalm this evening.

Psalm 127 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children[a] of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

We’re going to just plod through the psalm one verse at a time. Look with me at verse 1.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (v. 1).

As I mentioned before, Solomon penned this psalm, and some people think that the inspiration for it might have been the Temple in Jerusalem…the Lord’s house. Can you imagine that task? Building a house for God? I can see how it’d be potentially overwhelming.

Now, if I’m building walls for a house, nailing boards together, who is actually swinging the hammer? Me, or the Lord? (Yes!)

Many times, we operate in the flesh, working hard to do what we do from our own strength, forgetting that we only have strength at all if God gives it. We must work hard to worship well; we must work hard to feast well; we must work hard to engage our culture winsomely and effectively. Yet we must be constantly mindful that we can’t do anything at all – let alone successfully – unless God is at work in and through us. The alternative is to find ourselves working against the Lord.

But here’s the thing: for whom is the Lord likely to build the house? For those who are faithful. It’s not as though parents, for instance, can throw their hands up, absolving ourselves of any responsibility, insisting that God is going to do it all. If that were so, then parents would not be accountable for their stewardship of their children.

And this ought to be a source of encouragement for you; you’re never alone! You don’t have to have the strength to succeed, so long as the Lord does.

Solomon rewords his point in verse two:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (v. 2).

Working days are long. We work late and rise early, but doing so without the work of the Lord with us, on our behalf, we work in vain.

Even the bread we eat may be the product of our anxious, fretful work in the flesh. “He gives to his beloved sleep.” Let me ask you a question: when is your sleep sweeter? When you’re anxious or when you’re satisfied? And who is granted that blessed, satisfied sleep? Those who have been faithful and who have worked hard! But the sweet rest is not a product itself of our work, but rather it is a gift from the Lord. “He gives to his beloved sleep.”

If you want to rest well, then work hard, plead with God to work for you, and then rest in him. That rest will be sweet.

In verse three, then, Solomon switches gears. And while it might seem like an interesting decision, I think he’s offering an example. Could there possibly be a better example of how someone could be working as hard as possible, only to ultimately fail because the Lord is not at work?

Raising children is a perfect example of the sort of thing that parents can attempt to do in their own strength, and fail miserably. And when kids turn out well, it’s a testament to the Lord’s having built the house.

There is tremendous grace built into child-rearing, but that doesn’t mean that parents stop paying tuition or feeding their children, because, hey, it’s God’s job to build the house or not. Of course not! They’re trying to fashion weapons out of you!

This is how God works. He ordains means as well as ends. He ordains outcomes, and the ways that those outcomes come about.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening in this process.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3).

The Bible never speaks of children as a curse, or a problem to be fixed. They are a huge responsibility, but then so was building the Lord’s temple. It’s an overwhelming task, but a blessing!

While we may take this for granted, many in our culture have this backward. While lots of people really want children, lots of people in our nation kill their babies before they’re born. These are people who evidently do not want a heritage from the Lord. They’re not concerned about having kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, and they certainly don’t think of kids as a prize.

When we make sacrifices for our children, we regard them as a blessing. When we grumble at dirty diapers or are irritated by their childishness, we regard them improperly as but a problem.

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children[a] of one’s youth” (v. 4).

There’s no denying it: little kids are cute. They’re cute when they show up on Sunday mornings in their church clothes, or when they march off to school in their uniforms or school clothes. They’re cute when they own the end of the song “Children of God” with full-throated glory (We are the saints. We are the children….). And part of the reason they’re cute is because God wants parents to find delight in their children. So it’s right and good, and it’s not close to enough. Nobody thinks it’s cute when a 30-year-old living in his mom’s basement still requests that mom trim the crust from his PB&J sandwiches.

We want our children to progress from cute to beautiful, and I don’t mean flowing golden hair or a broad shoulders and a iron jawline. I’m talking about arrows that are straight and true; weapons that are fit for God’s use.

Back in Solomon’s day, they didn’t have guns, or else he probably would have called children “bullets.” Their weapons for fighting from any distance were the bow and the arrow. They didn’t use crossbows anywhere for at least 300 years after Solomon wrote this. They did use spears, but you needed to be within throwing distance to use them. So arrows were pretty important!

What do we know about arrows?

Arrows are the finished product, wood is the raw material. Children are the wood; a father’s job is to turn them into arrows. How does this happen? There are all sorts of steps. There are lots of different approaches, but here’s how I do it. Ideally, you go to a place where there’s high shade and hardwood undergrowth, where the shafts grow tall and straight, making a beeline for the sunlight above. Yes, the ideal arrow shoots start in a sheltered environment. So, a shaft is selected and cut about four inches longer than you need the finished arrow to be. The bark is then peeled. The shafts are dried slowly so they don’t crack. To do this, they’re bundled together so they dry straight. Once they’re dry, they’re straightened out, using tools (from stones to teeth) and heat. Next, they’re smoothed out and then trimmed to length. My favorite way to do this is by scraping the shaft with a piece of broken glass or volcanic rock. It removes teeny peels of wood at a time, and works at least as well as sandpaper, and it’s easier to come by out in the woods. You can also accomplish the smoothing out by taking a handful of sand or even gravel and running the shaft through your hand a bunch of times until it’s smooth. Finally, the bowyer (that’s a person who makes bows and arrows) may put an arrowhead and feathers (called fletching) to help the arrow to fly straight and to penetrate the target. And the arrowhead will differ based on the target.

I’ll draw some parallels later, but I must point out a few things before we move on to verse 5:

The process of refining is not comfortable for the arrows. From scraping, to trimming, to heating up to be bent and straightened, it’s not necessarily a fun process, but in the end, it’s worth it. While a green hardwood shoot may be cute at best, a well-crafted arrow is both beautiful and useful. This is a slow process. Arrows made too hastily are of poor quality and will not last. They may be fine for short-term use or for a survival situation, but not for long-term use.

So, Solomon wraps up the psalm with verse 5.

“Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (v. 5).

Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s a lot to these arrows, and having a lot of them is handy for the warrior who is staring down his enemies. You can do damage with one arrow. But two is better. Twelve is better still…especially when speaking with many enemies in the city gates. And one dad’s quiver may hold more arrows than another man’s quiver.

A poorly-crafted arrow can result in the death of the warrior. And one made quickly, that is crooked, split and dull is not as dependable or as useful as one made carefully, that is straight, smooth and sharp?

As parents, there ought to be purpose and intention to all we do. And we wish to accomplish in our children a humanly-impossible task, like all of the things I mentioned at the start. But it’s absolutely possible if God is building the house (or “arrows”), and granting us the sweet rest of the faithful and beloved.

To accomplish this task, we must be faithful to do what we’re supposed to do as parents and as Christians. In the school contexts, we will never be satisfied by good test scores, even if it looks impressive for a moment. That’s like being satisfied with an arrow that’s slapped together in a few hours. No, our work is not complete until our children are complete in Christ.

So there is a very real sense in which for our children, making their bed is peeling the bark from the green shoots. Coming to church every Sunday is like the slow drying of the arrow shaft; the mind is slowly curing around these simple truths.

Older children are being heated and bent into straight shafts. The prepared but still raw material is being shaped and trimmed. Confession and communion and watching their little siblings…they’re being straightened and smoothed out.

Still older children, of young adult age, are being finished, replete with the barbed broad-heads of love that will pierce and fix into the liver of our enemies, fletched with the truth that will enable them to be straight and true.

So the next time you’re doing you’re having your children clear the dishes from the table, think about the sort of arrow that they’re becoming…a weapon in the quiver of their earthly father, but also a weapon to be wielded by Christ our Master.

And last, remember that attitude is everything! This is a really great thing that’s happening to you arrows-in-the-making! The process is hard, but the outcome is both determined already and really, really great. And God is in control, so let’s laugh with joy at the days to come.

When you look at your children, let me encourage you to envision them ten twenty years from now, standing with you, as you speak with your enemies.