Get Rich

The following are Mr. Higgins’ notes from the Fundraising Feast.


There’s a story about my relationship to the school that I’ve never told in public before. It took place within a month or two of starting ECS.

Another family invited our family over for dinner, I think it was a Sunday evening, and it seemed like it would be a relaxing time of food and fellowship. Mo and I loaded up all four kids, at the time Maggie was in 5th grade, Calvin was in 1st grade, and while Hallie and Keelah weren’t old enough for school just yet they tagged along with Mo every day for the few classes she had to teach.

We arrived at the host’s home, shared some greeting pleasantries, and began eating after a short while. Not too far into the meal we found out the real agenda for the night. For the next couple hours Mo and I learned a variety of things that we were doing wrong, previously unknown to us. The criticisms were unpleasant enough, and showing no signs of slowing down, that Mo texted her mom to come and pick up our kids, which the hosts didn’t even realize until Mo and I were leaving.

The chief accusation, which also functioned as main heading that included a full magazine of bullets under it, was when they said, ”You just started a school to get rich.”

It wasn’t just the Higgins, but also the Sarrs. Both families were partners in greed. Since everyone knows if you want to get rich just start a private Christian school, how could we justify following the well-worn, almost-certain path to financial success?

I am here tonight to tell you, that after almost a dozen full years of ECS, I have never been more rich in my life.

If I had known heading into dinner that night what I know now at this dinner tonight, I would have tried a completely different defense. I would still start with laughter, of the head-thrown-back guffawing kind, and not just because risus est bellum. But I don’t think I’d try to make any arguments from the tiring histories of private school budget strains, let alone the many painful, even brutal experiences of school closures due to budget collapses. I wouldn’t try to draw any capital from my character account as a leader, asking what about my person made it seem like I was money hungry. If I could go back to that table again, instead of saying “Get real,” I’d say, “You’re absolutely right.”

Now in Logic terms I’d be playing with verbal equivocation, a possible informal fallacy, but I’d play it hard. I’d be using the key word in their premise in a different way in my conclusion. But part of my argument would be that my definition is not just another option, not just a better option, but the right definition. Did we start a school to get rich? Not in any way to increase our personal collection of dollars. But starting a school has absolutely increased our wealth.

What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be wealthy? What does it mean to you?

I am not trying to spiritualize the discussion in a way that sneers at money. We call this event our Fundraising Feast. We are trying to raise funds. We have bills, we write paychecks, we want to provide financial scholarships for families that need aid, and we’d love to improve the only non-asphalt play-place on our campus with turf, especially for the 13 months a year that it rains.

But we are laboring to build and to enjoy that which doesn’t rust. Our treasure is not just in what we can see, where thieves break in and steal. And that does not mean that God only makes His people rich in heaven. I said, I have never been more rich in my life. That’s right here, right now.

Stuff as riches is a simple metric, but it’s a superficial one, and not a certain source of joy. For those whose life is lived only under the sun, they are busy wearing themselves out to gather and collect; cash comes and cash goes, but the monthly subscriptions remain forever. If that’s all there is, it’s a burden, it’s striving after wind, it’s vanity. How many “rich” people have accounts full of emptiness?

When God makes wealthy He adds no guilt. “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Again, this includes what we eat and what we wear and the shelter our Heavenly Father provides. But He gives so much more.

Maybe you’ve read (or wanted to say you’ve read) the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Taleb makes his money as a financial investor, but he also plays the part of a know-it-all-philosopher. The principle of anti-fragility is being in a position to benefit when things get shaken. He is certainly aiming his advice toward making money, but even he knows that wealth is more. His list of “true wealth” include:

  • worry-less sleeping
  • a clear conscience
  • a good appetite
  • no meals alone
  • good bowel movements
  • absence of envy
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • frequent laughs
  • periodic surprises

Being “rich” is having an abundance, but it’s abundance of more than just possessions (or power).

I’m rich with an expanding while tightening network of likeminded Christian families; we love being with our kids and homeschooling is mostly awesome and yet for us it does not compare to the riches of this community. I’m rich with seeing the joy of teachers who call ECS their “dream job” not because of how the economics work out but because of the environment they work in, and then being in the educational trenches with them. I’m more rich because of personal learning and need-to-grow accountability as a parent, a teacher, and as a divine-image bearer in the great stream of Western Civilization. I’m rich with kids who aren’t just suffering through assignments, but who have their dumb ideas laughed at and their great ideas sharpened; they want IN and want MORE. I’m rich not just with kids who know the standard, but with kids who love the standard and the vision of helping others love and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’m rich with a clear conscience and with consciousness of God’s abundant blessings on this big project.

A few months ago, the day that re-enrollment paperwork was due, I was out of town, and Mo started working through some of the online questions to apply for financial aid. One of them was, “What would you be willing to give up for sake of a private education?” Mo has trouble with these sorts of questions, because she’s curious and can get lost in the clouds at the 50-thousand foot level pretty fast. But this one was easy. What would we give up? Everything. And that’s because of what have we gained: Everything.

What’s amazing about this kind of wealth is that it’s not zero-sum. It’s not like a bigger piece of pie for me means burnt crust crumbs for you. We are creating new value, win-win wealth, generational wealth, non-linear wealth. Through cooperation and mutual exchanges and sweat equity, multiple families get multiple blessings. You do have to invest, but it’s hard to calculate the compounding interest. You do have to get skin in the game, but you get back more than you could give away.

“One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing” (Proverbs 13:7). But we are not LARPers: Live Action Rich Pretenders. We have the world and life and death and the present and the future. All are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

Friends, may you eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God is blessing us. And, may you aim for so much more than cash and comfort. Get rich, really.

What Are They Going to Remember?

To nobody’s surprise, the Sarr household is far from perfect.  A few nights ago, I lost my cool with one of my kids.  I didn’t appreciate her line of questions, and I blew up.  The moment was precipitated (and followed) by some laughter and fun moments, but – strangely enough – nobody remembers them.  What do they remember? What did everyone want to talk about the next morning?  Dad getting mad.  Though I apologized within minutes and fellowship was restored, the teachable moment was immortalized, and with it, a memory…and not a good one.

The next morning, I took the opportunity to debrief about it with one of the witnesses to the situation to this effect: Nobody cares about what happened to provoke me.  They care a lot about how I responded in the moment.  The same will be true of you. If you want to have influence, you cannot lose your temper, and you cannot lose control…whether it’s in your living room…or your classroom.  This principle applies across a host of contexts.  

As for us parents, a fair question to ask of ourselves is this: What will our children remember from their time with us?

The regular is important and formational; the irregular is memorable. When I ask my kids about highlights from the last year, they never say “meals around the table,” or “car rides home from church.” Instead, they say, “the time we went hiking with the _______ family,” or “the time when we went to the zoo and had a picnic in the back of the van,” or “when we went to ______.” 

Of course this does not mean that the meals together or the routine of corporate worship are unimportant; of course they are! It’s just to say that they’re going to remember the out-of-the-ordinary events just as much as they will the mundane…for good or for ill.

Perform a test.  Ask your children what stands out from the last year for them, and the odds are high that it will not be the mundane, but rather the uncommon moments that they mention.

This is perhaps an unfair standard, and perhaps even unrealistic.  Nobody can be perfect all the time, and as soon as we blow it, we can be sure that the kids will remember it (unless, of course, your blowing it is regular, which is a different problem, and a big one).  But as regards the irregular and memorable loss of patience or control, I would say three things:

  1. Repent quickly. Blowing it affords the opportunity to build trust and credibility by quick repentance.  Pretending you didn’t blow it only confuses and insults the intelligence of everyone who saw you do it.  Owning it with humility and without excuse and seeking forgiveness will restore fellowship and build trust and credibility.  A man who repents before he’s caught or confronted is a man who can be trusted.  
  2. Receive grace.  Blowing it introduces the opportunity for grace to cover your parenting (or teaching, or working, or neighboring…). Of course we don’t fail on purpose so as to bring about an opportunity for grace (Paul anticipated this notion.)  Where grace exists, grace is abused.  But in order for grace to be abused, it has to be present in the first place. Ideally, your home will be filled with grace, and you will have opportunity to give it and receive it. But when you receive it, give thanks in return while extending grace to others.  This is a fragrant aroma that draws others in. 
  3. Repeat.  Move on and do better next time, leaning on the Spirit to direct your work.  Strive to ensure that even the standout moments are good ones.  Work to grow and eliminate those standout bad moments.  While we may not realize it in this life, if there are no lapses to stand out, the pleasant memories will crowd out the bad ones!

In the end, we want for our young people to want to be around our homes and classrooms.  We cannot expect these places to be devoid of sin, but we can expect them to be devoid of hypocrisy and full of grace.  

What will they remember from their time with you?

—The U.H.

A First-rate Feast for Scholarships and Playground

We bring you the first Raggant Standard of the spring.  Wild as it seems, we are on the homestretch of the school year.  Once spring break is behind us, the school year is over in a blink.  

At present, we are in the throes of enrollment, budget planning, staffing, and summer planning ahead of next year.  Spring sports are in full swing, the spring concert will be here before we know it, and the seniors are looking to finish well their time with us.

One highlight of the spring is our annual Fundraising Feast.  If you’ve ever been before, you’re aware that we are more concerned with feasting than we are with fundraising.  Although there is an obvious and important business side to running a school (making the dollars rather important), making our needs known in the context of a feast is fitting.  I’ve written about this before, and – even if only to remind myself – I do so again now.

We ask a lot of the Lord, and it’s fitting for us to pause and give Him thanks and praise for His grace.  The Feast affords us such an opportunity. The Feast orients us, reminding us that our blessings are from Him. 

How we feast says a lot about us.  The world apes our festal celebrations with vapid determinations to be happy.  Examples abound from secular “Thanksgivings” to pride celebrations where the celebrants glory in folly.  Our Fundraising Feast is not like that.  It’s a substantive and Christ-centered party that features good food, good music, good conversation, and merry people.  We work hard to put on a first-rate party, then show up, ready to receive.  

And receive we do!  Every year I am blessed by the concentration of God’s blessing in one place for three hours.  When I see the sorts of people God continues to bring to our circle, when I am blessed by the students (many of whom number the Feast among their favorite nights of the year), I am reminded that God is at work at Evangel Classical School.  At that time we invite people to help us keep it going, even if the most important element is glorifying God in our feasting whether or not we give a penny to the cause of ECS.  

This year, our first $100,000 will go to our Scholarship Fund.  We have so far awarded just over $70,000 in financial aid ahead of next year with a host of pending requests, and we wish to continue assisting families who cannot afford the full tuition.  These dollars enable us to do so.  

The next $40,000 will be matched dollar-for-dollar by some generous friends of the school (for a possible total of $80,00) to go toward our playground project!  $80,000 can go a long way toward finishing the turf and installing some equipment for the students. This campaign will continue for the rest of 2024.  This sort of a gift is unfamiliar to us, so it will be fun to see how God multiples and stretches these dollars.

I put this out for your prayerful consideration and anticipation ahead of our Feast.  Here are some details:

When: Friday, May 10, 2024, 5:30pm.

WhereSwans Trail Farms

Cost: Free!

RSVP: Aisha Bone (abone@evangelcs.org) or 360-502-6950 by Friday, May 3. 

Seating is limited, so securing your seat early is recommended…and then be sure to come!

I hope to see you there!

Risus est bellum!
Jonathan

Fellowship is Freshly-Baked Cookies

(and) Grumbling is Sewage

The ECS grapevine is small and thriving. I hear things that “people” say, whether I want to or not. Likewise, other people hear reports of stuff that I’ve said. Some of it is even stuff I actually have said. Ha. And I hear that not everyone is happy about everything that’s happening at the school. Shocker, I know.

That they would be displeased with some things is unsurprising. So am I! That they would find a degree of enjoyment or catharsis in commiserating with others who cannot be a part of the solution is variously sad and frustrating and also unsurprising.

On one hand the abuse of grace presupposes its existence! Like all people, Christians who become accustomed to a gracious culture tend to take it for granted. They forget that the blessings surrounding them are gifts. This forgetting is very easy to do, and it usually gives way to some sort of grumbling.

Grumbling is immature. It comes from a disregard for what we deserve. It not only presumes that we deserve good things, but it also presumes that we should get to decide what those good things are. We think we should get to determine how others are going to bless us. This is a wrongheaded, and not a characteristic of a mature person.

Grumbling is also unproductive. When a discontented John Doe tells me that “lots of people agree with me” or “I’m not the only one who feels this way,” my options are limited. The other people typically remain nameless, so I can’t follow up with them…if they actually exist. I can choose to listen to Mr. Doe, and A) I’ve rewarded him, and B) I may have rewarded only him. Alternatively, I could do nothing, and further alienate Mr. Doe, giving fuel to the rumor that I don’t listen to people. That leaves me with a third option that I’d prefer every time: Listen to the feedback, and move forward on principle whether John Doe likes it or not. (And I really hope he likes it!)

Grumbling is also toxic. Toxic things are poisonous, and they infect organisms from the inside or the outside. They spread and they do their nasty business with inexorable effect unless they’re arrested. In the Christian life, confession and repentance are the antidote to the toxicity of grumbling. Reaching that point on your own is a lot more fun than being escorted there by someone else. But as we’ve seen, grumblers are immature, and they often need that escort.

We all have responsibility in this. In your travels, if you hear grumbling on the part of administrators, teachers, students, parents, one another, or out of your own mouth, your marching orders are clear: in Christian love, kill it! Ha ha ha!

We needn’t pretend that we have everything sorted out. Quite the contrary! But for sake of the collective joy and blessing of our community, as well as for any real hope of actually getting better, be a drama stopper. And there’s no quicker way to kill drama than to adhere to Matthew 18 in conflict resolution while encouraging others to do the same.

We learn rather quickly how rare a “big deal” is when we are faced with the hard work of loving confrontation. It’s easier to grumble than it is to go to your brother when he has sinned against you. But don’t grumble. If you can, let love cover the sin. If you can’t, have the conversation with the offending party. Don’t let yourself give way (or audience!) to toxic grumbling.

We want for Matthew 18 to be a warm blanket smothering the flames of discontent and warming chilled relationships.

We want for Matthew 18 to be our ninja skill when it comes to maintaining fellowship. After all, fellowship is what we are made for.

In fact, when it comes to spiritual aromas, fellowship is like freshly-baked cookies and grumbling is like sewage. What sort of fragrant gravity could a community of Matthew 18 practitioners produce? Let’s find out!

Risus est bellum.
Jonathan

Do So More and More

Francis Bacon once quipped that “Religion brought forth riches, and the daughter devoured the mother.” Cotton Mather said something similar: “Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.”

Long before these men articulated the notion, it was pictured in antiquity. Among countless examples, God delivered the Hebrews from slavery, and soon they were grumbling at not having enough meat to accompany their freedom.  

To be sure, it’s as old as humanity, and there are plenty of humans at ECS exemplifying the notion.

Do we have to choose between…

  • a robust culture and rigorous academics?
  • academic rigor and joy?
  • accessibility to the right families and economic solvency?
  • safety and comfort?
  • law and gospel?

It sure feels like it. It’s not easy to have an offering that features both ends of these spectrums. Yet that’s what we must do if we would advance our mission.

Giving students the right worldview but no tools to advance it is akin to quitting at the marathon’s thirteenth mile marker.

Asking our teachers to subsidize the education of their students (in the form of lower wages) and expecting them to remain with us is at best a gamble.

Aiming chiefly for students’ comfort will thwart their growth.  

Giving students as much grace as God gives us guarantees they’ll abuse it just like we do.  

Having eyes in our heads and having those heads out of the sand means we’re likely to see things we wish were not there.  But it also enables us to see geysers of blessings bursting all around.

God is blessing ECS in all sorts of intangible, supernatural, and otherwise-inexplicable ways. I don’t have space here to enumerate them all, but the list is long. It’s disturbing in only good ways. And yet, we still have a ton of work to do!

  • Our culture needs godly, wise, principled citizens, and since we cannot depend on our expensive and monolithic educational machine to produce them, we’re trying to do it here.  
  • Our students need rough handling from the hands of those who love them so they will be able to withstand the treatment of their enemies. So we explore the pitfalls of wicked ideologies versus the life-giving gospel.  
  • If our aim is generational, we must take measures now to ensure we’ll actually be around in five years (let alone a generation from now), so we make hard economic choices and invite the scrutiny of a team of other school administrators in the context of accreditation.
  • If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we work on cultivating the right loves, which is far easier said than done.  

We are not satisfied with how well we are doing in any of these areas, so we ask God for wisdom and act in faith.  

As ECS works to identify the chinks in our armor and sharpen our various cultural weapons, we thank God for your part, thank you for your patience, and request that you pray for us.  

Risus est bellum!

U.H.

Disturbing the Lives of Others

The following are the notes from Mr. Higgins’ talk at the 2024 Information Night.


As we’ve been preparing for this evening, our thirteenth Information Night, Mr. Sarr has tongue-in-cheek penciled me in to speak something “mind-blowing.” I’m not prepared to deliver that, but I am prepared to tell you something disturbing. In fact have no reluctance in trying to disturb you.

ECS has been disturbing my life since before the school even had a name. My schedule, my wife’s schedule, my kids’ schedules, my reading plans, my comfort zone, my understanding of what matters, my vision for the next twenty years, my bank account, my summer breaks, my sleeping, my coffee consumption, my level of laughter have all been disturbed. ECS has been, and keeps on, messing with how I previously had arranged all my stuff. And I love it.

Not only that, I keep trying to disturb the lives of people I care about. Some of the people I love the most are more tired than they’ve ever been, feel more overwhelmed now than before, have had a bunch of their stuff interrupted or interfered with, and I think they would say that they absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I say disturbing, I mean disturbing like we are living in a barn with a metal roof and the BLESSINGS keep falling like jumbo, Honeycrisp apples; bang, bang, bang! Imagine blessings falling not like our typical lazy Western Washington sprinkles, but a Midwest sky-dump. We can’t walk outside comfortably in all the raining blessings; we need kevlar umbrellas.

Blessings are good, but often disrupting. If you got an unanticipated ten-million dollar inheritance (after taxes), it would disturb your week. God gives first time parents nine-months of low-level disruption before the major blessing of the kid’s birth, and BANG. Then we eventually get to the point where we realize we’ve got to educate this little blessing. That’s going to require rearranging whatever you had on the calendar.

And without trying to be dramatic, a good education will barge in on anyone trying to make sure their blessings never spill over their easy-to-carry mini-basket. There are a LOT of things to learn. If Jesus cares about it, we can care about it.

  • If He created it, He cares. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV).
  • If He controls it, He cares. “[H]e upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
  • If He commands it, duh. Among the commands, we can go all the way back to the mandate for divine image-bearers: with His blessing, men are to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion on it (Genesis 1:28).

Christ’s interests are comprehensive, which more than permits our increase of interests, it ought to provoke our increase (incrementally even though finitely) as we pursue Christlikeness. Our mission as a school is to commend all the works of the Lord to the next generation, educating them and laughing and laboring in order to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

And we are most certainly not living in broader culture that has any interest in honoring Christ. At best they are willfully negligent about honoring Jesus as Lord, and more so these days they express open rebellion against His exclusive preeminence and righteous standards. The nations rage and rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His anointed. As much as it’s ever been in our lifetimes, the division between two ways of life glares at us. It’s not a Red and Blue thing, but a God is God or men are wannabe-God thing.

Humanism has gotten us to the point where we think being a human being is a harmful-privilege that requires self-condemnation for how all us people are The Problem™️ on the planet. Humanism has gotten us to the point where we sacrifice the most vulnerable, unborn humans by redefining what it means to be a human; “Sorry, you must be on a different side of that muscle wall.” Humanism has gotten us to the point where our doctors won’t dare to identify male or female, our politicians create days and fly flags to celebrate perversity, and our government school (so-called) “teachers” teach students fictions as feasible (changing genders would just be one example).

Friends, that’s not only crazy, it’s disturbing. And that really points out that we’re in a battle for disturbing. Either Jesus is Lord and living for Him is worth having our lives disrupted by His blessings, or Jesus is not Lord and we can go about fiddling with distractions and trying to survive the insanity.

One of my favorite talks of all time was given by Abraham Kuyper in 1880 at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam, “Sphere Sovereignty.” There will be Sovereignty, either of God or of man. If we recognize that God is sovereign, then our life is built on truth, our convictions resonate with truth. If we act like men are sovereign, whether represented by intellectuals or bureaucrats, then our lives are built on a “denial of the facts of life.”

“[T]he only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root [are God’s sovereignty or man’s sovereignty]. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

This is it. Our faith is in the living God or in fake news. And note that those living in their fantasy will risk their lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. What energy and endurance and dollars they devote to their cause! But those who live by faith in the Messiah, who are surrendered to Christ the King, will most certainly risk their own lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. Only one can be, only one is, the place of disruptive blessings.

Blessings are in the basics — phonograms and reading drills and math facts and Bible history — emphasized in the GRAMMAR stage. Blessings are in categories and distinguishing — practiced in the LOGIC stage. Blessings are in adornment — speeches and singing — embodied in the RHETORIC stage. The Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) are some of the tools of classical education. Blessings at ECS also come in laughter, especially when we laugh while trying to fix things rather than only laugh when the project/challenge is finished. Blessings most certainly come in sacrifices, offered out of love, for the life of others.

With Kuyper we say:

“To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” (“Sphere Sovereignty”, 463)

The blessings are better at ECS, and they are too big for a reluctant person to pick up. The blessings here are disturbing like walking over a dune in the desert to find an orchard of fruit trees, planted by a stream of water, where leaves don’t wither, and blessings prosper. These blessings are worth your life, and lives of those you love, being disturbed.

How Would Your Grandkids Vote?

“I’m not doing this for you; I’m doing this for your grandkids.”  

When he’s speaking with his school’s parents, this remark commonly issues from the mouth of Brent Harken, headmaster at Spokane Classical Christian School.  It is intended to offer more perspective than defense.

I appreciate this perspective.  As it turns out, doing our work for the benefit of our students’ children is very orienting.

It keeps us from compromise or the allure of temporary success.  In a school context, there are quick-fixes everywhere. Do you constantly repair a printer, or do you invest in a new one?  Do you make the splashy hire of the teacher with impressive credentials but the questionable testimony, or do you hire the sort of person you want your students to become?  Do you tweak the curriculum to pursue the impressive standardized test scores, or do you use the curriculum as a tool to shape souls, knowing that real education is more than (though not less than) academics?  Most of these questions answer themselves if we are thinking long-term.  

I coach the students to consider the input their grandkids would offer if they got to chime on on weighty decisions.  “What will your grandkids wish you would have done?”  The chances are high that they will wish you’d done the right/hard/obvious thing instead of taking the easy path. 

Further, working for the benefit of the next generation’s next generation requires us to pursue sustainability.  We want to make decisions that we can live with thirty years from now, whether fiscal, personnel, curricular, facilities, or something else.  Bandaids are fine, but sometimes a new diet or even surgery are in order.  Deciding what to do is made easier by considering our children’s children.

Evangel Classical School is working to shape a generation that will effect cultural change and the good of the world as it lives under the lordship of Christ.  The idea is this: Fully-trained Raggants will go into their spheres of responsibility and live out their worldview and utilize their education. It will be compelling to the world and bring them blessing (whether they finally trust Christ or not).  They may even ask us to explain our hope.  But that is not something that happens overnight. 

This long view keeps us going.  We know that God blesses acts of obedience carried out in faith by fallen people.   

Thinking generationally is really healthy, and working for the benefit of future generations is the best way to serve the current one. 

—The U.H. 

Substance Worth Singing About

Christmastime comes with its own soundtrack.  Take a song, give it some sleigh bells and you’ve got a Christmas tune.  Add in a crackling yule log and some spiced cider and you have the right sort of sentiment.  

But substance trumps sentiment, which is why the Incarnation is a big deal.  

At Christmas we celebrate the actual, literal, substantive advent of Jesus.  We are not aiming for a certain sentiment unless is accompanies that substance.  The Christmas “spirit” is sentiment that is devoid of any substantive meaning if not for the actual, flesh-and-blood appearing of Jesus.

This is why secular Christmas celebrations don’t make sense.  Who cares about presents and sleigh bells and Christmas lights and warm fuzzies as ends in themselves? Not me! Feelings deceive.  But if those things accompany something of substance, that’s different. 

Presents remind us of the gift that God gave at Christmas.  We give in imitation of our giving God.

Sleigh bells alert us of good things coming our way.  Actual good things, not empty sentiments.  

Christmas lights are an echo the Light of the World coming at Christmas.  

We could go on, but signs are great, so long as they point to something real.  Signs that direct you to nowhere are unhelpful.  

The world was turned on its head when God became man.  Platonists were offended when the Logos took on corruptible flesh.  No man would have come up with this idea.  It was staggering, and it is glorious.  

My encouragement to you this Christmastime is this: be amazed.  

Be amazed by the mind-blowing reality that God would lower Himself to serve His creatures, enabling their eternal fellowship with Him.  

Be amazed that Jesus held together His own physical substance…and still does.  

Be amazed at the glories of the Incarnation, then sing about them: 

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, Begotten not created.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

At Christmas, we reject materialism while embracing the real.  The Incarnation is worth celebrating and singing about.  

Merry Christmas!

U.H.

Image-Bearers Require Maskless Education

The last few years have blessed us with many reasons to sharpen our thinking. Not only have we learned more, we’ve clarified more of our convictions, and the following is just one example. The ECS Board has drafted this position on the theological basis for maskless education that we plan to adopt into our by-laws at our next meeting. As usual, your feedback is welcome.


Human beings—male and female—are made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Men/boys and women/girls are divine image-bearers. Adam was the first man to reflect his Creator, and every other generation after Adam and Eve have the same privilege, to live together and work together. Throughout church history Man has been celebrated as imago Dei, “the image of God.”

This recognition of human identity is fundamental to “Our Vision” for why our school exists:  

“We aim to educate in the classical model and from the Christian worldview so that, by God’s grace, every student may mature as a faithful bearer of God’s image and a living sacrifice of worship”

“We believe that God purposed for men to bear His image in every relationship and in all their responsibilities….”

Because of our particular worldview, we educate students so that they would be “seeing every subject as the Lord’s and studying in order to be more faithful image-bearers and worshippers of Him.” Our first non-academic requirement for students to graduate from our school is that they be “stout image-bearers.” 

That “image of God” means more than having opposable thumbs. On a broad level it means having the capacity for relationships (hence why it was not good for Adam to be alone and why God made Eve as a helper-companion, Genesis 2:18, 20) as well as the capacity for responsibility (so the original mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, Genesis 1:28). One of the inherent implications of these capacities is the faculty of communication and language (which was demonstrated on Adam’s first day when he named all the animals and then gave a name to his wife, Genesis 2:19-20). It was the abuse of the gift of communication that resulted in God confusing mankind’s language when they sought to make a name for themselves rather than work as reflections of the Lord (Genesis 11:4, 7).

As we all know, communication comes not only from our mouths, but from the faces that our mouths are on, as well as from our bodily movements and postures. Facial expressions are crucial non-verbal means of conveying social information between people, including nose-twitches and dropped-jaws and raised-eyebrows. Masks inhibit these normal signals, and increase unnatural messages (see the following paragraph). Masks muffle the clarity of phonics coming from the hard work done by tongue and teeth and throat, and prohibit extra helps the listener gets from looking at the lips. This is the opposite of a positive/supportive learning environment for image-bearers. 

Worse than the practical problem is the relational problem of suspicion toward, and fear of, one’s fellow image-bearer. Masks increase anxiety in the group, not acceptance among the group. When the wearer thinks about herself, she thinks of herself as a threat to others, as if her latent germs can’t help but harm another. And if she does feel better about herself for covering up, it’s a false virtue, and false virtues have destroyed more societies than respiratory viruses. Then when we look at our neighbors (or classmates), masking practices teach us to think of our neighbor as a problem. If he’s not wearing a mask: problem. If he is wearing a mask: well at least he knows he’s a problem. Masks teach a false and damaging lesson (as do face shields and social distancing).

Our school’s internal governance requires obedience to God’s Word, especially in the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). But isn’t it unloving to start with assumptions about my neighbor that are so hesitant, if not resentful and scared?  

God gave us faces. Face to face communication is a gift. Facetime is a more advanced technology than voice transmission by itself. Our faces are part of our identity, they reflect our hearts (Proverbs 14:13), as God intended it to be.

Of course, soldiers facing chemical warfare should wear gas masks, and masks worn by surgeons in the operating room are appropriately on purpose. So masks may serve a role in specific and limited situations. But we are against the wearing of masks in normal, day to day school settings. This position is strengthened by the scientific studies on the uselessness of masks to stop coronaviruses. But our position is based on the central vision of our school to educate image-bearers, and that requires conduct and communication that is maskless. 

Thanksgiving As A Defense Weapon

Surprising as it may seem, it’s November, and soon Thanksgiving will be upon us. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday.  When I was growing up (and considerably less thankful than I am now), I thought it was fine.  I liked food and football, I tolerated my family, and I liked that once Thanksgiving was out of the way we could move on to the real fun: Christmas.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked to cultivate a mindset of thankfulness, and one method I’ve employed is the routine consideration of the blessings I enjoy (i.e., lots of them) and the blessings I deserve (i.e., none of them). 

Strictly speaking, can there be a thankless Christian?  I suppose it’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine.  How can a person be mindful of his sinfulness, the holiness of God, and the atoning work of Jesus and be glib or act entitled?  I don’t think he can.  

Further, thankfulness is a potent weapon because the grateful man cannot be shaken.  He may be battered and physically beaten, he may even be discouraged, but again, he will be mindful of what he deserves as contrasted with what he has been given.  When he receives something close to what he deserves (e.g., adversity, affliction, chastisement), he cannot cry “foul!” He responds with (you guessed it!) thankfulness.  The enemy has no counter-weapon for thankfulness; the best he can do is work to take it away. From accusation to affliction, Satan can be rather creative in his efforts, but he really wants us to be thankless.

Thankless people are defeated already.  They’re entitled, they grumble, and they infect a culture like a juicy bit of gossip.  Thanklessness deserves no place in Christian community.  

This Thanksgiving season, rehearse your blessings often.  Combat affliction and accusations with thankfulness. 

—The U.H. (Mr. Sarr)