Platonic Hammers

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from January 11, 2017.

I grew up watching This Old House with my Dad. I actually couldn’t care less (then and now) about nuances of carpentry or dovetailed joints, but I loved spending time with my Dad, and the information proved invaluable when working at Home Depot and smugly telling a pretentious lumber associate that OSB stood for Oriented Strand Board.

The other valuable thing I learned while watching carpentry shows with my Father was the need for the right tools – and the many uses for those tools. I learned about the basics like socket wrenches. I was amazed at the power of a radial arm saw, or the beautiful application of a lathe.

Recently during a Sunday morning sermon, Mr. Higgins asked parents, “What do you want your children to be?” In light of your child’s education, as you round the final proverbial lap with your eighteen- year-old shaking Mr. Sarr’s hand and clutching an ECS diploma, what type of soul do you want to see?

As parents and educators for both young women and men alike, we need to establish – perhaps simply daily remind ourselves – of the foundational goal of classical education. It is not to get a good job, get good grades, make good money, or even change the world. It is not geared to boys more than girls; the intellectually gifted nor the intellectually different. The end construction project all these tools are aiming at – what we want our students to be – are worshippers who glorify God. We desire to aid young people in their love, devotion, adoration, service, and delight in the triune, magnificent Almighty. Every algebra equation should be a small peg upon which to hang their wonder of fractals and bodily chemical equations and reactions – every diagrammed sentence a tiny glimpse of the Word that spins spider webs every day and the intricacy of language and relationships – every music class a mini-study of Three-in-One, diversity in unity, the necessity for major and minor chords in all things. The main point of classical education for parents, educators, and administrators is the carpenter him or herself: a full-bodied, fully-equipped, fully individualized sub-creator.

But this formative process is hard, and really, you have to believe that Latin actually does influence you as a worshipper of God – otherwise, why are you here? Why are you panting along the marathon? The 5K is just around the corner, and it’s free. As your son or daughter stands with their metaphorical tool bag before you, see the future carpenter first. See how education shapes and strengthens the hands, heart, mind, and soul. See that education is about virtue and character.

Then, look to the tools themselves. At ECS, we are trying to give your student a huge variety of tools; each young man or woman will use those tools differently. You have to trust that reading Plato equips a student for engineering and for mothering equally. The application will vary wildly, but as your student reads hard books from Kindergarten to 12th grade, educators are placing a powerful tool in the child’s bag. Let’s say it’s a hammer. Basic. Essential. Wildly useful. Your 12th grade son graduates and goes on to an Ivy League university where he seeks to become a biologist. He encounters Evolution in his survey class, and all of a sudden he pulls out the hammer and uses it for an application he hasn’t before: when the professor states Darwin introduced Evolutionary Theory, the student asks about the influence of Socrates on Darwin. Bang.

Your daughter graduates from a great school, gets a job, and then marries at twenty. Though she and her husband weren’t planning to have children right away, just nine months later, at the age of twenty-one, they are blessed with a glorious little soul. This soul begins growing, and one day in the wake of the child’s uncle dying, late at bedtime (when children become profound philosophers), he asks about heaven. He is scared of death, and Heaven is just some nebulous cloud in the sky. The young mother, rocking her child, begins to tell him of a Real World, where everything is solid, where there are un-fallen Forms of strawberries and grass so real it would hurt your feet now to step on it. She asks, “Will you help me pick real Strawberries and make Real pie in Heaven? All this, dear son, is but Shadows – Heaven is the Reality.” Bang.

So thank you for trusting us to help teach your child the difference between a phillips-head and a slotted screwdriver; thank you for helping bind up paper cuts and nurse weary muscles; thank you for dealing with the sawdust of intellectual fallout and the splinters of irritating math equations. Thank you for seeing that the carpenter and the carpentry is worth it, because we are part of the far bigger Building of an infinitely good Builder.

Mrs. Bowers

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.

Making a Contribution

I gave the following address at our Convocation on the first day of school.

I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.

“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.


Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.

However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.

As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.

You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:

[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.

ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.

Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.

Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.

It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.

But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.

One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.

If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

A Political Act

1984A happy marriage is a political act. (Note: the adjective is key in the previous sentence.) George Orwell meant as much in his dystopian novel, 1984, which the Omnibus class has been reading the last couple weeks. The totalitarian State prohibited–to the degree that they could–passionate marriages and sexual pleasure. Orwell’s main characters couldn’t vote for change but they could defy Big Brother by their adultery.

Their motivation, however, was strictly rebellion. Just do what you’re not allowed do to to stick it to the Man. Then you’re truly free. But in opposing bondage to the State Winston and Julia chose another bondage, the bondage of sin. They could not liberate themselves by their defiance, let alone anyone else, less because the government was so powerful and more because they chose to believe a different set of entangling lies.

Their misunderstanding, and Orwell’s himself, doesn’t change that the committed life of one man with one woman and their honoring the marriage bed is indeed a political act. It makes a statement to both neighbors and the nation. Such union is an embodied claim that says the president and politicians and police do not have the authority to make or break marriage however they desire. A male and female in covenant one-fleshedness are enfleshing theology. Husband and wife, then father and mother, are God-instituted relationships for the glory of the human race. This is a political act in that it declares that God is God, not the state. God is the lawgiver and not the people themselves or the lobby groups or big donors or liberal judges sitting on courtroom benches.

God instituted marriage as an incarnational reflection of His own Trinitarian, eternal relations as well as an illustration of the union between His Son and His Son’s Bride, the Church. How we love our wives, respect our husbands, raise our children, none of these are invisible, let alone hopeless acts. Through them we pledge our allegiance to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

What Does it Mean to be Great?

On Good Friday, we had an assembly, and I (Jonathan) had opportunity to address the students.  I’ve decided to post here my notes from that message, and I hope you enjoy them.

Risus est bellum!

I want to start by reading Matthew 20:20-28 from the ESV.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Every year it seems like Easter sneaks up on us. Spring rolls around and surprise! it’s Easter time.

For most Protestants like us, there is not the buildup for Easter that there is for Christmas, and often before we know it, it’s Good Friday (like today).

But it is Good Friday now, and this presents us with a great opportunity to examine what it means to be not just good, but great.

The passage we just read takes place as Jesus and His disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem for what would be their last time together. So it even has almost a holy week setting itself. And in it, Christ juxtaposes (that is, He compares side by side) what the world calls greatness with real greatness.

I’d like to consider Jesus’ words along with a character from literature who is familiar to many of you as we try to wrap our minds around this concept of greatness.

In my Omnibus class the last couple of weeks we’ve been reading a story called The Great Gatsby. And in it,the title character, Jay Gatsby, finds his identity and very reason for living in a relationship he had with a woman named Daisy five years before the story takes place. He has now built his whole life around the possibility of returning to this ideal. He’s made a name for himself and collected mountains of money in an effort to repeat the past. He has become what the world would call a “great” man.

He has money, friends, influence (to some degree), and people talk about him a lot with admiration and curiosity. And it’s all pathetically empty and sad.

“Sad?” you say? Yes. His happiness castle is built on a Jell-o foundation. There is no mention of God or God’s honor in all of Gatsby’s plans. And all of his “greatness” doesn’t bring home the happiness he desires. He’s shopping for groceries at Home Depot, and he’s surprised at the checkout to find his cart is still empty. Looking for happiness in self-fulfillment apart from the One who can actually give it is, indeed, a very sad experience.

He grasps desperately for happiness in a place where there is neither happiness or hope. But he gives it a good try. And I think that’s why unbelieving English critics love this book: they can relate! The world does the same thing as Gatsby. The book is tragic, and it reflects a godless life as it actually is: sad and hopeless, however many smiles you might see.

And although this book is an accurate portrayal of the hopelessness of life without Christ (which was not necessarily the author’s intent), it also demonstrates a lesson in futility. No matter how hard Gatsby tries to be happy, he’s using the wrong methods…and he’s using people.

Gatsby is using others for his happiness and trying to recreate the past. Obedient Christians serve others for their joy and learn from the past.

You’ll pardon my spending so much time talking about The Great Gatsby, but it presents a powerful illustration of what it’s like to be great as the world sees greatness, and how it really isn’t that great after all. Money and fame can’t buy you happiness and joy, and in then end, even the world is not impressed by these things if there’s no real substance behind them. We see that in this book.

Now, unlike the worldview of Jay Gatsby, Christians exist for others. Others don’t exist for us. And nobody has made this more clear than Jesus did on Good Friday.

Now let’s return to our passage from Matthew 20. As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, just before the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, he had a teachable moment with His disciples. Let me read the passage for you again.

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As He does in a lot of places, Jesus has once again taken the teaching of the world and turned it on its head. The world says that greatness is power, influence and authority over other people. Jesus taught that greatness is found in service to others, and in death to bring life to others.

And Jesus said this as He was walking to Jerusalem to demonstrate precisely what He meant.

Let’s look together at a few examples of true greatness as demonstrated by Jesus.

On the heels of asking for a drink, He offers to give water that truly satisfies. Let’s read John 4:7-14.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

So Jesus gives when most men would be inclined to receive. He does the same thing when performing miracles. He was probably hungry when He fed the 5,000 in Matthew 14:13-21.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

As Lord, He would have been right in demanding that someone fetch Him a meal, but rather he multiplies the loves and fishes of the boy and the leftovers alone fill a dozen baskets!

So note, rather than demanding the honor and service of men, the Lord who kept their hearts beating was always giving of Himself. Let’s look at one more, and it’s a good one. It’s found in John 13:1-20, and it’s the account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

People flocked to Gatsby to be filled with amusement and champagne. People flee to Jesus to be filled with living water that truly satisfies.

Gatsby received men’s esteem and admiration; as for Jesus, we esteemed Him not (Isaiah 53:3).

Gatsby’s life was taken from him as a consequence of his sins; Christ laid down His life willingly to pay for the sins of others (John 10:11-18).

Gatsby had no interest in anyone’s will but his own and that of his idolatrous love. Jesus only said or did what the Father commanded.

The great Jay Gatsby’s influence lasted as long as the influence of the alcohol he served (during Prohibition, I might add). Jesus influence is still increasing and is eternal.

Now tell me, which of these men was great?

Of course I get that that Gatsby is a fictional character, but in a lot of ways he represents what our world wants to be! And I want for you all to see the folly of this desire.

This all proves even further that the Gospel is not the product of the mind of God; men don’t think like this! Men don’t dream up religions where the deity figure comes in humility to serve, where He comes to redeem us. Men dream up religions where we conquer by strength and capitalize on people as servants to us, resources to be used up. This is a hallmark of most world religions today, but it’s antithetical to Christianity.

Students, if you wish to be great, you must start with what Jesus has said. Only by obedience to what He has said can you ever achieve real happiness, let alone greatness in His kingdom.

Thankfulness and the Trivium

The following remarks were presented at our recent Information Night for prospective families.

What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.