Every Thumb's Width

An Open Letter to Mayor Nehring and the Marysville City Council

To our City of Marysville officials,

I am writing this open letter to you, not to confront, or even to criticize you, but to offer thanks and an exhortation. These are unprecedented days not just for our city, but obviously for the world, and you have many decisions to make on our behalf. Thank you for all the hours you have already spent, and for the many more hours of labor to come.

Due in large measure to your leadership, Marysville is not only a great place to live and work and raise our families, it has become a place of fruitfulness and an example to our neighboring communities, even up and down the West Coast. I think in particular of your work regarding homelessness, and how that was newsworthy in Spokane, in Seattle, and even in Southern California. Your willingness to explain your decisions for city projects and budget spending is notable, and appreciated. The Mayor’s patience, and nerve, on display at Coffee Klatches and other public meetings, provokes confidence and trust.

So I am asking you to show that sort of leadership again, at least for the citizens of Marysville, and perhaps even as a voice of reason to our State.

For three weeks in a row our Governor has enacted new and tightening restrictions. After closing all public schools, he then announced that no groups larger than 250 could meet, then lowered that to 50, and then this past week said not to leave our houses except for essential business. But, and this is significant, these are the only specifics he’s providing. If there is data about an exponential increase of COVID-19 cases among us, where is it? If there is data about the decreasing availability of hospital beds, where is it? Why are the restrictions getting more specific, and the explanations for why getting more foggy?

Over the last few weeks new laws have been written based on data modeling, not on data reported. And even those models are now admitted, by the scientists themselves, to be drastically wrong. From the beginning certain “experts” have been inflaming panic with “point of no return” terminology, burying the “known limitations” of their estimates below the “flatten the curve” graphics. Your messages to the community have been calm, but if the message itself is incorrect, that introduces other risks.

Because we all live together, certainly you know, at least anecdotally, that our community had a serious flu season in the later part of 2019. A Seattle flu study was testing for, and finding, coronavirus in January. It matters when the coronavirus came to the US, because that changes, and lowers, the death rate percentage along with the percentage of how many cases require hospitalization.

Marysville is filled with hard working men and women. We do not want the government, Federal or State, to bail us out. We want to go to work, taking reasonable precautions, earn our paychecks, and then pay our own bills. Please do not help the Governor redistribute responsibilities, and then make us more dependent on him.

There are ways to fight COVID-19 that do not require “killing” our local economy and businesses. You have worked hard to invite more businesses into our area and have been promoting their companies (as with the Cascade Industrial Center). Sharing a map of Marysville-area restaurants providing takeout is great, and posting pictures of your lunches is fun, but the costs are much bigger. You can do more. Again, as you demonstrated in your approach to the homeless, you did not deny that it was a problem, but you did avoid multiplying the problem for others.

Here is one plan to get America back to work, with a pivot from “horizontal interdiction” where everyone is restricted, to a “surgical” or “vertical interdiction” where those most likely to be affected are cared for. This would protect those of us who are not as susceptible to coronavirus from other consequences, such as financial or social or emotional.

The “Stay home, save lives” motto is succinct, and who doesn’t want to save lives? But can you please provide more information along with the well-being sentiments? Acting fast in a genuine crisis is good, but not if it is running off a cliff.

So as a pastor who loves Marysville, as a private school board member and teacher who encourages students and their families to love Marysville, as a parent who wants my kids to love Marysville, and as a citizen who believes in his local officials, I am asking you to use your influence for our good, physical and financial and cultural. Continue to demonstrate that you do not need the Governor’s office to provide your talking points. Do not be pressured by silliness coming out of King County. Do not allow the goal posts of restrictions to continue to be narrowed. Do not keep us in the dark. If it is bad, tell us. If you see that it is not as bad as Olympia is trying to make it sound, tell them.

The End of Many Books

Economics in One Lesson

by Henry Hazlitt

Other than The Wealth of Nations this is the first economics book I’ve read, certainly the first one I’ve read for fun. And it was GREAT. At first I wondered how Hazlitt could possibly spend 26 chapters on ONE lesson, but all that proved was how naive I was in imagining ways that men could ruin themselves by only asking narrow questions about short-term consequences. The only ways this book could have been better are if Hazlitt used the Oxford comma, and if he had said somewhere, “This lesson works because this is how Jesus made the world to work.” This is a must read for anyone who earns, spends, or invests money. And in light of our wannabe socialist overlords (on both sides of the Congressional aisle) and their campaign to give everything away, it would be very valuable to get this lesson learned sooner rather than later.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

Post-Party Depression

I had no idea just a few weeks ago that the coronavirus would give me such a great angle on baby showers. But here we are.

What I have been trying to do is get us to consider some of the principles and priorities of living together and rejoicing with others who rejoice. Baby showers are a good case study, and they are an actual thing that many of the ladies at our church are working through, but the application is not limited to new-little-life parties, or even just to moms and future moms.

So far I have tried to point out that while every new life is special, the celebrations for special things do not have to be the same, and the guts of celebration are pulled out if we look at how someone else got celebrated with envy. “She had a three cake party, I only got one cake.”

I’ve also pointed out that trying to make something “perfect,” or worse, expecting to be made much of perfectly, is a set up for post-party depression; it’s like post-partum, but after all the labor all you have to cuddle with is your bundle of complaints.

Last in this series, for now, is a question that the coronavirus puts into relief: is there a bad time to have a baby? Jesus said yes. “Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days” (Matthew 24:19). The Great Tribulation will be rough on motherhood.

Otherwise, are there bad times? It depends on how much honor you require, right? It’s tougher to party when an unanticipated global pandemic causes governments to shut down meetings of more than 10 people. It is also tougher when 10 (or more) women are due within a month of each other. Is less party-blessing per mother better or worse for the blessing of the church and community?

These questions remind us to be careful in what we pray for. I pray that Marysville will become a destination, and I have to remember that while I’m sitting in traffic that didn’t used to be. Will I regret having my #blessed bumper sticker not yelling at the other drivers, or will I realize that what I really want doesn’t always look like how I thought I wanted it, and it’s even better?

Lord's Day Liturgy

Distance Communion

I said last Lord’s Day that I have enjoyed thinking about how to lead and serve our flock in these days. I have continued to do a lot of different reading, the elders have continued to have a lot of different discussions and make a variety of decisions in uncharted waters. We don’t want to put any of the flock in unnecessary harm, though we don’t have complete data, both about the virus and about the government’s handling of the virus.

Last Sunday we fit under the WA State restriction of 250 people. The following day that number was lowered to 50, and the CDC’s recommendation is currently for no groups larger than 10. We have asked ourselves, as churches all over the world have asked, “What should we do?”

We are not unique as a local church, but we are in a unique context. Never have so many nations, through such ubiquitous (and unrelenting) media coverage, given so much focus to one thing. Likewise, no generation of believers has had such technology for sake of recording, and even livestreaming, their services.

As if the previous parts of today’s service haven’t been awkward, gathering around the Lord’s Table has been a specific question. If we thought this ordinance was better remembered once a quarter, during an evening service, well, it’d be easy to wait. Even some of the churches who celebrate weekly communion have chosen against including that part of the liturgy until the church can be together again (here’s one example, here’s another).

I get that. Perhaps some of you who are listening believe that a non-geographically gathered gathering isn’t an official gathering, and so a non-communing communion is false.

If we had a larger congregation, and if consequently the shepherds had less of an idea of the spiritual condition, or if we were a church that regularly had a lot of visitors, or if we had a church that seemed to take for granted gathering together, these would be arguments against.

But the elders have called the assembly to assemble, during exceptional circumstances in an exceptional way. This is not normal. If you are participating at this moment, then we are participating together in a less than ideal way, but it is not a fictional way either. I can’t see all of you, but I am thinking about you.

Apart from additional arguments, we believe that it is a better service to the flock to celebrate “distance” communion, but this is not the same as “private” communion. You are not doing it on your own, though you are doing it in your home. If you enjoy it better this way, then that would be bad.

Let us pray that this is a short season. Let us pray for Christ to unify His people. Let us pray for Him to bring us together in every way.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Perfect as the Enemy of Celebratory

There is a surprising amount to say about baby showers. Today I’m going to connect them with the coronavirus, and baptism. Just watch.

Previously I illustrated the principle that special things do not necessarily require a certain amount of time or expense to celebrate. Think of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper; it’s meaningfulness isn’t measured in minutes. Likewise, special celebrations do not need to be the same in every way. Think of family traditions for holidays and birthdays. Such diversity in the world created by our Triune God is glorious, not injustice.

It is also true that seeking a “perfect” celebration is almost certain to spoil it as a “joyful” celebration. God expects us to obey perfectly, but we don’t, which is why we need His grace. He also sets us up to be not perfect in a thousand non-sinful ways. We all must learn, grow, mature, physically and mentally.

Take a believer’s testimony in baptism as an example. Being baptizied is commanded by God through Christ and His Spirit. An obedient disciple is a baptized disciple. But baptism is one and (most of the time) done. You get one shot. And based on the commands to believe and be baptized, infering that a long duration between the two is not expected, one’s profession will never be as perfect as it could have been. You will not give God the most knowledgable, most theological, most mature expression of glory. If you wait for those things, you’ve not been perfect because you’ve delayed in disobedience. God is pleased with humble faith, publicly professed, in various circumstances.

Is your baby shower, or that of your closest friend, or that of the lady on the fringe that you care about, required to be more “perfect” than the ordinance of baptism?

This does not argue for carelessness. It argues for not freaking out. If 20 people wanted to be baptized, we would, for practicality, encourage them not to give 20 minute testimonies each. And if there comes a time when we have 20 pregnant moms due in a short window, let’s say, around nine months from our current in-home quarantine, each mom may not get two exclusive hours in the spotlight. Is it because we have too many baptism candidates? Ha, no! Is it a problem pressing a standard of “perfection” that makes it easier to judge than rejoice? That is a different infectious disease.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Relational, Not Just Liturgical

Note: this post was for our church’s communion mediation two Sunday’s ago when we were still able to meet.

I cannot say that this last week has been fun. That would be the wrong word, for sure. But I would say that I have enjoyed the opportunity to consider how to best serve you all and proclaim that Jesus is Lord through our conduct.

As elders, when we get together, we spend the majority of our time talking about shepherding work as opposed to administrative things. Admittedly, much of those reports are due to sin among the sheep and, while the conversations are good, they are not a delight. This past week has been somewhat hectic, but it has been a pleasure to give ourselves toward you in a unique situation.

You all have demonstrated that, as a church, we have communion. I mean that we have communion relationally, not just liturgically. We will be modifying our corporate practice around the Lord’s Table in a couple ways, but our coming together in communion has been successful in preventing the spread of bitterness and division between one another.

You all have made it a joy for us as overseers to make decisions. The Hebrews 13:17 passage is often used to require submission. Let me use it to give affirmation. By the grace of God, not one person has complained or criticized. Every question asked has been constructive, and many prayers and explicit encouragements given.

I am thankful to the Lord that I have no symptoms of sickness, not because I am nervous about contracting COVID-19, but because I’d be disappointed to miss today’s communion with the body.

As you may have read, we’re going to have Dave and Jim handle the elements, and they will hand you what you prefer, with or without gluten and alcohol, hopefully all without germs. Let them put it into your hand, and then less touching of their gloves will take place. Perhaps it will take a bit longer, but shepherds serving the flock will be worth it.

Whether or not this becomes standard practice, or “winter season” rules, remains to be decided. But for now, we enjoy our fellowship with each other in Christ.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Getting Away from His Face

Though understandable that men want to hide from the face of Him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, it is ultimately impossible to get away from His face. Let us also not forget that apart from His sovereign grace, we would all be in that position.

There is a veil that covers men from being able to know the good news that a way has been made both to fear and love God. This is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” as Paul put it. He also wrote that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” So the good news is obscured to them. They are perishing and so they can’t see, and they can’t see that they are perishing. When it comes time for the end, they will understand who they’ve hated, but too late.

How did we get out of our blindness? Why do we pray for the end to come and for the wrath of the Lamb to come without fear that His wrath will fall on us? It is not because we weren’t blind, it is because God chose to show us His glory.

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The Father, the Son, and the Spirit elected to reveal God’s glory to us. It is a comfort to us, it is good news, it is a message of life and freedom. Those who cannot commune with God because they are outside of Christ still have a veil, and will wish they could keep that veil when the Lamb comes to judge. For us, we know He took our judgment, and so we do not lose heart.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Better Than Fingernail Clippings

As I mentioned last week, I have more to say about our hearts through a case study of new-little-life parties, a.k.a., baby showers.

The plethora of new life among us is nothing but blessing to Marysville, to TEC, to our families. There is no way that all this fruit is a judgment, though we can fail to handle the fruit in a Christian way, both in our parenting and even in our partying.

We are potentially on the cusp of having even more newborns expected and arriving. In the future, when there are 30 babies born among us in a year, which ones are special? Ha. They are all special, as in they are all gifts from God.

Let me switch the subject just for a moment. What is the most special part of our corporate worship? Jesus is the most special, yes, but what piece of the liturgy recognizes Him the most? While we don’t have Jesus apart from His Word, it is the Word that both enables and leads us to fellowship with Jesus in communion. Communion is both what Christ accomplished for us and the eternal aim of our salvation. It is special.

But in our liturgy, the celebration of communion does not take up very much time. We have small pieces of unadorned, though slightly sweetened, bread, (which is better than the typical fingernail clipping sized cardboard crackers), with cups for the wine that aren’t even kiddie size. Can we make a big deal out of our glorious eternal life, through the atoning blood of Jesus, in a few minutes with miniature elements?

We do.

The principle applies to family traditions, too, say for birthday celebrations. How the Joneses do birthdays is not how the Jeffersons do them, and either family would be foolish to say that theirs is the only way to make it special. “How dare you not serve your child chocolate sheet cake! What do you mean that you didn’t celebrate on their actual birthdate? What kind of a heartless monster-mother are you?!”

The principle is to show honor, and that can be done in a variety of ways. Those ways do not necessarily need to be in a particular order, or at a high expense, or done exactly like everyone else.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Just Generalizations

The Lord keeps books of various kinds. He is a numbers God, Three in One. He does not go with partial percentages. His eye test matches specific totals in His mind.

He told Abram that Abram’s descendants would come back to the land of promise when “the iniquity of the Amorites is … complete” (Genesis 15:16). The Amorites would be judged according to a full list of sins.

He has statistics on the number of hairs on every head (Matthew 10:30), and the days of our lives (Job 14:5, see also Psalm 90:12).

There is a complete roll of nations, as the Lord counts people groups, and the gospel will be preached to all of them before the end (Matthew 24:14).

There is a full of amount of Gentiles who not only will hear the good news, but who will come to Christ. Then the Lord will re-graft all Israel back in (Romans 11:25-26).

There is a total number of martyrs to be killed for the Word of God and the testimony borne for Christ. I believe this is true for all the martyrs of all time (A-Z, Matthew 23:35), but especially said of those under the fifth seal (Revelation 6:9-11).

The Lord is in the heavens and He does all that He pleases. He does all the fulness of His pleasure. It is not just generalizations, it is not guesswork or good enough for government work.

Be encouraged that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He knew how many sins He was paying for, including how many you would commit. They are all accounted for. This does not give you permission to choose sin, it gives you a reason to reckon yourself dead to sin and completely forgiven. Jesus paid it all. Your advocate with the Father knows His case.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Knitted Onsies and Latte Punch

Once upon a time in a small town of orchard farmers there was a great plague. The plague did not affect the fruit. In fact, there had never been such an abundant harvest in living memory. Fruit just kept coming, and grew so much that people started to wonder what was in the water.

The fruit kept coming, but because of the bounty, some methods of picking it and carrying it and storing it became more pronounced. Whether because the people were so much more busy that they lost time for patience, or because they were that much more proud of their produce, conflicts started to grow like invisible weeds. Rather than a cause for rejoicing, the plenty turned into a crop of resentment and suspicion and hurt feelings.

Laws were considered, along with possible enforcements, but none of those would deal with the heart plague. When the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are many, it is a time to give thanks, not to complain about laborers laboring a different way.

This short anecdote has many applications, but in this particular season of our church, I’m squeezing the juice to talk about the fruit of babies, and especially baby showers.

Over the last few months I have heard some surprising, and terrible reports about the preferences of some, and pettiness of others, when it comes to the “proper” procedures for new-little-life parties. So I’m going to take a few exhortations to talk about it, with an eye both to the particular and broad applications of how we love one another in a community full of blessings.

Husbands, this is just as much an area for you to be involved in, even if you are not asked to knit a onesie or to pull shots for the latte punch.

Loving life, and loving the fruit of the womb, is terrifically counter-cultural. Envy and pettiness in how we celebrate is not counter-cultural, and when we find sin, we need to pluck it up from the roots.