Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Commencement Address to the Class of 2005

To the first class ever to graduate from The River Academy, June 4, 2005:

The great statesman Daniel Webster wrote nearly two centuries ago:

"If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if we work upon immortal minds, if we imbue them with principles, with just fear of God and love of our fellowmen, we engrave on those tablets something which will brighten all eternity."

And so we have worked here at the school over these last seven years to pour into your minds, and to fill your hearts and hands with that which will enable and enliven you to “brighten all eternity.”

And as we who labor at The River Academy know, this process, while ultimately a joyful one, has not been without its trials and temptations, ups and downs, late nights and long weekends, tears and tribulations. As the apostle Paul once wrote, you were “…troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair;  Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…” And yet here you are today, looking, I might say, none the worse for the wear.

Admittedly, our efforts to educate you were far from perfect, but they were nonetheless done in love, offered up as so many acts of worship in Jesus’ name, and made effectual by the Lord God who delights to answer the prayers of His people for the sake of His Son, by the power of His Holy Spirit.

And so we many-membered faculty and staff, working together as one, have striven over the years to engrave on your tablets that which would make you useful in the King’s service, a blessing to your neighbors, and a joy to all. So over the course of your short "swim" in The River your minds were filled with the grand stories of Western history and culture, and the sublime stories, and especially The Story, of the Old and New Testaments. Along the way, you fell in love with the likes of Robert E. Lee and Booker T. Washington, and learned to critique the writers, historians, playwrights and filmmakers who hate God and refuse to acknowledge His sovereign rule over all. You learned the rudiments of language and logic, and later on the art of persuasive writing and speech. You were introduced to the world of divine order and harmony as you began your study of Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and recently some of you have even begun to master the trinitarian complexities and intricacies of analytical math and calculus. You learned the joys of reading Homer and Herodotus, Shakespeare and Sayers, London and Lewis, Archer and Austen. You were intoxicated by the strong drink of metaphor, poetry and verse and even distilled a few good bottles yourselves. You learned the subtle nuances of line, color and shading, which fork to use first, proper evening wear, how to make a toast and polite conversation, and how not to make a fool of yourself at the table, in summary: How to Display Love in the Trifles. And lastly, you learned the serious joy of singing the Psalms in four part harmony, and I for one will not soon forget the angelic sounds of your voices blending together in harmonious praise and joyful thanksgiving as you so beautifully declared the present rule and loving reign of King Jesus.

The River Academy has discharged its duties towards you reasonably well. The Board of the River Academy is reasonably satisfied that your hearts and heads have been adequately filled with the impulses, inclinations and information necessary for you to graduate from our hollowed, although not yet ivy-covered halls.

But, as Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “One thing thou lackest.” And if you look carefully right now, with the eye of faith, you might be able to see it down on the floor, next to your feet. Actually its been there quite a long time, even though you may not have always noticed it. But it is now time for you to pick it up, and to use it as it has been used on you. It’s not much to look at, in fact it’s rather dirty. But it’s supposed to be. Because it’s a servant’s towel, the towel that has been loving laid beside your dirty feet a thousand, thousand times, and carefully applied to remove the dirt and grime, and to refresh you.

That towel was picked up and used for your benefit by your parents and grandparents who made numerous and significant sacrifices to send you to this school. Who purchased your uniforms, proofread your papers, packed your lunches, praised your achievements and, failing that, your efforts. And when necessary, protected you from your own perfectionism. (It really was just an art-project for Pete's sake!!!)

That towel was lovingly used by our support staff, whose service to you was so ubiquitous and pervasive that you often took it for granted (though you would have surely noticed had they but stopped their services for a day.) Copies, calendars and curricula appeared in a timely fashion, as if by magic, when it was in fact, the fruit of much foresight, sagacious planning and self-sacrificial sweat.

That towel was picked up and applied by the likes of Mr. Appel who taught you all day long, and then ate his lunch with you; pleased, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, to share with you not only his message, but his very life!. Or by the likes of Mrs. Helsel who routinely spent 4 hours of preparation to teach you a 40 minute lesson. Or Mr. Welch who labored to address your souls as much or more than your minds. Or the upper level math and science teachers who surely could have secured a more lucrative teaching position elsewhere in the Valley, but preferred instead to spend themselves in your service. Or the foolhardy cadre of teachers who, without sufficient training or support, recklessly agreed to “stand in the gap” and teach whatever needed to be taught, just so there would be no gaps in your education.

That towel was picked up and used for your benefit by teachers at the school who never had you as a student in their classroom, but were eager nonetheless to bear your names before the throne of grace in our weekly staff meetings. O, that you could have heard for yourselves the fervor, the love and the longing for God’s blessing to be poured out into your lives, in the prayers that were faithfully prayed for you each week.

That towel was picked up and used for your edification as Mr. Tracy, our beloved Headmaster, stayed at the school long after you had gone home…to perform some menial but neglected task, such as washing tables in the classrooms or recruiting a recess monitor; or to perform some Herculean task such as preparing the impeccable college transcript that opened the doors of higher education for some of you.

Look again. Now do see it? Two millennia ago, our Savior Jesus Christ met with his disciples in the upper room to prepare them for his departure, and to ready them for fruitful service in his kingdom. In the course of that evening he wrapped himself in a servant’s towel and carefully washed the feet of his followers, charging them to do likewise.

It is the combined desire and prayer of your parents and the Board and Staff of The River Academy, that you begin to take your places of leadership in this world. So that in time, you might lead the Church to increasing holiness, love and joyful obedience; and to lead the unbelieving world to true faith in Jesus Christ. But the Lord is quite clear in his teachings: Those who would lead, must first serve. Humility precedes exaltation, and lowliness goes before greatness.

Without true humility, lowliness of mind and a penchant to serve, your training here at The River Academy will only have served to make you great, arrogant, obnoxious boors, who know most everything, can win arguments even when they are wrong, and cannot understand why no one enjoys talking about them as much as they do. Well who cares about that!

But if you seek and find grace to serve others faithfully and cheerfully wherever you are… the knowledge and skills that have been etched upon your tablets here, will find great usefulness in the service of King Jesus, and great effectiveness in the advancement of his kingdom and glory. Your TRA training and education employed in the selfless service of others will indeed, as Webster noted, brighten eternity.

Class of 2005. You will always have a special place in my heart. You have been my students, and my teachers. And I praise God for the sweetness of our fellowship and the richness of our times together, especially as we studied God’s Word. It is now time, by faith, for you to take the towel and to wash the feet of others.

Blessings, and Godspeed.

Exhortation to Prayer (part 3)

(Philippians 4:4-6) Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

As we noted in past weeks, our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. But, just like everything else, our prayers need to be informed, enthused and regulated by the Word of God. We are not to pray according to our own lights, but rather according to the instructions of the One to whom our prayers are directed.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he reminded them of the manner and mindset of prayer that that is truly pleasing to God. From his pithy instructions we gather that prayer is never to be regarded as a cosmic Coke machine, where one simply puts in the correct amount of change, punches a few buttons and out comes the desired product. Granted, prayer is one of God’s means for accomplishing His purposes here on earth, but often His purposes have more to do with fully forming Christ in us than in answering the specifics of our supplications.

And so we are commanded to come into God’s presence rejoicing, and then again rejoicing some more. Did I mention that we are to rejoice? But note that we are to rejoice, not in our pain or affliction, but rather in the Lord, who has Himself promised “never to leave us, nor forsake us” and to work all things together for our good.

Nextly we are commanded to “let our moderation” be evident to all those around us. The meaning of the original Greek word for “moderation” connotes a “forbearing spirit.” In other words, we are commanded to display a cheerful resignation to the providences of God, whatever they may be, and a cheerful acknowledgment that He is close enough at hand to deal with whatever danger, difficulty or distress He has marked out for us.

If we, by faith, are doing these things, then of course anxiousness is out of the question, and the only thing left is to do is to present our prayers, supplications and requests mingled together with heartfelt thanksgiving, and seasoned with joyful gratitude for mercies already received, and even for the ones yet to be given.

Joyless prayers deny the very Gospel upon which they depend to make it into the ears of the Almighty. Anxious prayers impugn God’s wisdom, goodness and power. Thankless prayers are void of the faith requisite to make them (or anything for that matter) pleasing to God.
The call to worship is, at its core, a call to prayer. But unless we care not whether our prayers are heard and answered, then we must learn to pray in the manner and with the mindset prescribed by our Lord. And that means with gladness, and with faith….So, come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 2)

(1 Peter 3:7-8) Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to [her], as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;

As I noted last week, our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. Having ascended before His throne by faith and encouraged by the “blood of sprinkling” all around us, we present our confessions, our praises, our thanksgivings and our supplications to the Lord Most High. And He, because He is so perfectly filled with love and mercy, is pleased to hear the lisping mutterings of His people, and to receive our simple supplications. And we are glad that it is so.

But here, Peter, like the psalmist in last week’s meditation, warns us of something that stops the ears of Almighty God; something that causes Him to grow deaf to our pleadings and insensible to our cries: neglect of husbandly duties.

As Paul taught elsewhere in scripture, in the covenant of marriage the husband is a picture of Christ. And therefore he must relate to his wife as Christ relates to his bride, the Church. When husbands fail in this seminal duty, their prayers are, as Peter warned, “hindered.”

Not to overstate it, women are complicated beings. And this is precisely why Peter requires husbands to dwell with their wives “with understanding.” The Word of God does not permit a man to throw up in hands in exasperation and say “Women, who can understand them!” Men must study their wives according to what God has revealed about them in scripture, but they must also study the particular wife that God has given them, until they understand her unique complexities, proclivities and idiosyncrasies.

Ironically, men who do this well are immediately confronted with a companion temptation: To despise this creature that is so very different than himself; whose feelings and fears, thought processes and priorities are so radically dissimilar to his own. And therefore does Peter follow the command to understand, with a command to honor the wife. Husbands are to speak honor to their wives (especially in front of the children) and about their wives to others. Husbands are to guard and promote the reputation of their wives, delighting in the dissimilarities that make her the true helper-completer that God intends for her to be.

Finally, Peter commands husbands to be courteous to their wives. But note here that Peter does not command husbands to have courteous thoughts about their wives in the deep recesses of their hearts. Rather he commanded a husband to display courtesy for his wife; to demonstrate with his deference towards her (including, but not limited to, opening doors and such) that he regards her as a “fellow heir together of the grace of life”, one for whom Christ was pleased to die, and to receive as part of his bride.

When husbands neglect these duties towards their wives, their prayers are hindered because they are telling gross lies about the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, husbands take care to understand and honor your wives and to display genuine courtesy towards them, lest your prayers and consequently the prayers of this assembly be hindered. Speak the truth about our husband, the Lord Jesus Christ so that we may worship Jehovah-God together in spirit and in truth…

Exhortation to Prayer (part 1)

(Psalm 66:16-20) Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.

Our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. Having ascended before His throne by faith and encouraged by the “blood of sprinkling” all around us, we present our confessions, our praises, our thanksgivings and our supplications to the Lord Most High. And He, because He is so perfectly filled with love and mercy, is pleased to hear the lisping mutterings of His people, and to receive our simple supplications. And we are glad that it is so.

But the psalmist reminds us, or should I say warns us of something that stops the ears of Almighty God; something that causes Him to grow deaf to our pleadings and insensible to our cries: the regarding of sin in our hearts.

But what is it to “regard sin” in one’s heart?

They regard sin in their hearts who practice it secretly, fearing the reproach of men, but having little care for the omniscient gaze and stern reproof of Him who knows all, and has promised to chasten all disobedience.

They regard sin who entertain, fantasize about, and indulge the desire of sin, even though God in His merciful providence may have restrained them from the actual commission of it.

They regard iniquity in their heart who reflect upon past sins not with contrition, remorse and humiliation, but rather with relish, enjoyment and even delight.

They regard iniquity in their heart who look upon the sins of others with favor, approbation and approval. Although not personally guilty of the sin, they nevertheless countenance the rebellion and lawlessness of others without grief or reproof.

They regard iniquity in their heart who will not diligently apply themselves to God’s grace, and to His several appointed means of grace until the sin in question be properly mortified and put away.

Dear Christian, if you, while standing here in the presence of God this afternoon feel distant from Him. If you, while standing in the midst of Christ’s body, feel disconnected from him, consider the possibility that you may be “regarding” some sin in your heart, and seek grace even now to put it away by faith, and to enter joyfully into unhindered communion with the Father, through the death and merits of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Come, let us worship the Lord together in spirit and in truth…