Lord's Day Liturgy

Behind the Wall

It directly applies to Timothy as one with spiritual responsibility for others, but it has spiritual encouragement for all.

I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV)

We are being guarded and we are entrusted with guarding, the truth itself but also our purchase of the truth. We’ve been committed to the teaching and we’re to follow that pattern. We’ve been given the gifts of faith and love and we’re to continue believing and loving. We’ve been chosen by the Father, brought to the Son, and sealed with the Spirit. He is guarding us and will guard us to the end.

He guards us by supernatural means.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan paints the picture like oil in the lamp from behind the wall.

Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and let him into a place where was a fire, burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it to quench it, yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil: that in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that: so he had him about to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast (but secretly) into the fire.

Then said Christian, what means this?

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.

Here in communion we are reminded of the teaching (Romans 6:17). Here in communion we are renewed in our minds and bodies. Here in communion the oil of God’s grace is poured on the fire of our faith.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Wherever You Go

Certain events in life require a lot of planning and preparation, and some of them trigger a desire for personal change. The wedding of one of your kids takes months to organize, and realizing that you’ll be in a bunch of pictures might motivate you to get a bit more fit.

Less often, it seems, does something such as buying a new house and moving trigger the need for individual change, let alone heart work. You might think that seeing (and packing up and picking up) your whole collection of stuff would provoke some personal reflection, but it’s not automatic. And that’s okay.

We are about to move locations after assembling for worship in the same place for over eleven years. A lot of things will be different; the parking and the chairs and lighting and the layout. The external alterations are very unlikely to provoke your own internal examination. Again, that’s fine, but I’ll remind you that whatever your problems are here will still be your problems there (including temptations to be impatient with and annoyed by others). If you aren’t repenting and learning to obey all that Jesus commanded now, don’t think that a different building will fix it.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:23–25, ESV)

Ancient wisdom teaches that wherever you go, there you are. Wherever you are looking into God’s Word and obeying, there you are blessed.

Bring Them Up

Stupidity Down

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It is inspired both by fiction and non-fiction.

“Where am I even supposed to put this? I can’t hold onto it much longer!” Ivan turned around and said to Helen, “It’s okay. Just set it down right there and we’ll get someone else to take it the rest of the way.” Sophie yelled from across the room, “I don’t know why you all didn’t just listen to me in the first place.”

This was part of a conversation that took place between three rabbits who lived in a nearby hill with a large tree on the top. The name of their burrow was Stupidity Down.

Our story actually tracks four rabbits as they helped the burrow move to a new home. These rabbits were a good representation of their classmates, all with long ears and fluffy tails and a different perspective on how to get along. Their names were Helen, Robert, Ivan, and Sophie.

Helen was the most beautiful doe in all the colony, but she also wasn’t very bright. Sometimes the young bucks would fight for her attention, and one of them named Troy actually lost everything he was growing for her when he accidentally left the garden gate open and a horse trampled the lettuce. That is a whole other story.

Robert was the sneaky one of the bunch. He would ask the other rabbits what they liked, and then he would snatch away as much of it as he could and then act sad with his friends when they couldn’t find their favorite things. In class he would also copy others’ work and then take credit as if it were his own idea.

Ivan, as you can probably tell from his name, was a Russian rabbit. Ivan had a lot of ideas, and most of them weren’t actually that terrible. He was always trying to organize others to do things with him so that they could get more done more quickly, and then they would all get to have more fun. He wasn’t necessarily the smartest rabbit you’ve ever met, but all his friends knew that he cared about them.

Then there was Sophie. She never had an opinion she could keep behind her two front bunny teeth. Sophie’s older siblings had really multiplied, and she had so many nieces and nephews that she was better known in the colony as Aunti-Sophie. Sophie stuck her nose through the fence into everyone else’s business, and the only thing she was really good at was making more work for everyone, including herself.

The burrow had been getting cozier and cozier and some of the bunnies’ fur had been getting rubbed the wrong way. The Council had found a place for them to move but they only had a few months to do it. When the fall came it would be time for harvest and the days would get filled up with gathering food for the long winter months. So summer was it.

One evening the four rabbits met to talk about their plan. Ivan said, “What if we divide up the rooms and each of us can take responsibility for a part?”

Robert replied, “Sure! But could I borrow your iPad, Helen? I want to make a really good list and it would be easier to type it out.” (These were Gen Z rabbits, after all.)

Helen said, “That’s fine with me, but my parents only give me an hour a day for screen time, so I’ll have to ask, then you can use it.”

Helen got permission and handed her iPad to Robert. All four of them put their heads down and started to work on which items needed to be moved. But Robert only appeared to be working. He used Helen’s screen time to play games.

Sophie kept asking Ivan a lot of questions. “How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind? Am I going to have to carry all of this? Why don’t we just hire moving rabbits?” No matter how Ivan answered, Sophie just argued. “Try to identify the things that you know you’ll need or that you know you really like.” But Sophie said, “If I knew that already why would I be asking you? Which, now that I think about, why am I asking you?” It turns out that there are such things as “Sophie questions,” and all the talking kept all of them from getting very much done.

Later that week it was finally moving day. Ivan had collected all their lists and, after completing Helen’s for her and fixing Sophie’s, he color coded the rooms and the boxes each rabbit was responsible for. He had also hopped through all the tunnels to find the shortest path for each of the others to follow. He clapped his paws and said, “This is going to be a great day! Just follow the signs I put up for you.”

Helen kept having a hard time. She could only carry boxes that were very light, and even then, you could tell where she’d been because of the trail of things that had fallen out. Sophie kept telling Helen what to do. “You’re doing it wrong. Put your paws underneath the edge like this.” Helen tried to think of something to say back to Sophie but just collapsed into a a sad little puddle of hare.

The only thing Sophie herself was better at than Helen was complaining. For all the instructions she gave to the other rabbits, Sophie dropped a box that broke a few bottles of her own perfume. She also put more than a few boxes in the wrong rooms, and complained later that she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

While Sophie was criticizing Helen and Ivan was trying to help, Robert was helping himself by taking things he liked from others’ rooms. He’d grab little toys, or snacks and sweets he saw, and take them to a little hole he’d made in the bank of a nearby stream.

None of the other rabbits saw him. He avoided getting run over by cars as he went back and forth across a small street, but he didn’t avoid being seen by a local farmer. The farmer laid out a trail of baby carrots and caught Robert in a net and locked him in a hutch. Be sure your sneak will find you out.

Ivan wondered where Robert had gone, but he was worn out and glad that the burrow got moved; after a good night of sleep he was ready for more work. Sophie sat alone, but she blamed it on everyone else.

You may not be a rabbit, but you do have a summer, and it will be more blessed and more of a blessing if you learn from what happened in Stupidity Down.

Lord's Day Liturgy

At His Disposal

The body has many members. We are to present our individual members to God as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13), our whole bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). This is every Christian’s call, and this is the entire assembly’s call.

Clearly in Romans 6:13 Paul refers to “members” as body parts, but if we connect that with the church as Christ’s body and church members as different body parts (1 Corinthians 12:12), we could relate that to our corporate (from the Latin corpus meaning “body,” so corporate is “body-formed“) worship, especially in communion.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine we are “proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes.” This is a corporate statement, all the parts combined into one voice.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV)

This belongs with the church’s statement to the spiritual forces about God’s wisdom.

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10, ESV)

Together, the many parts, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” bear with one another, forgive each other, love each other, are ruled by the peace of Christ “to which indeed you were called in one body,” are thankful, are richly indwelt by the word of Christ in order to be thankful in communion (Colossians 3:12-17).

Because we are under grace we are one with our Head, one as His Body, and the whole church is at Christ’s disposal.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Will of God and Buyer’s Remorse

As we get closer to our likely move into our own facility, these exhortations are hopefully setting us up to be ready.

I’ve exhorted us to consider how to make our move jealousable, I’ve exhorted us to make sure we stay focused on the living parts, and I’ve exhorted us to think about how we come to the same space for work and worship. This morning I want to exhort us regarding how to know the will of God.

Knowing the will of God will keep us from having buyer’s remorse.

I do not mean that God spoke to any of us to say that purchasing the Reclamation property is His will. We have prayed, we have counted the cost, we have pursued other options with obvious closed doors, we have opened up the discussion to hear from many voices, we have not been grabby but we have been dependent on the Lord. None of these are guarantees.

If and when the permits are approved and the sale is final and the seats are already full, will we be tempted toward buyer’s remorse? Not if we obey God’s will. Of all the things we know, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV)

Is it the circumstances or how to respond to circumstances that is God’s will? Either of these two things have the same result.

What we know for sure is that God wants us to be thankful. It’s not just a reaction, it is the plan.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Liturgical Scandals

We are in a liturgical battle. There have been so-called worship wars between professing Christians about what songs and styles to sing, but the greater worship war is more clearly between two liturgical scandals: either parades of drag queens down main street or a stream of disciples down the center aisle for communion in flesh and blood.

Our neighbor city of Arlington had their first Pride parade last Saturday, with religious blessing by a woman episcopal deacon who is married to another woman. There was a presentation from Planned Parenthood, drag story time and dances. It is gross, and is a sign of God’s judgment.

What we as Christians offer in return is not “nice,” not traditional, not conservative. What we offer as alternative is gross: we eat Jesus flesh and drink His blood.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56, ESV)

Many who heard Jesus use this language walked away from Him. The disciples who stayed called it “hard saying” (John 6:60). Paul referred to the central doctrine of our beliefs, the crucifixion of Christ, as a scandal and offense (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Ironically, what we know to be natural (Romans 1:26-27) is rejected by natural men (so called in 1 Corinthians 2:14); it takes the power and presence of God’s Spirit to rejoice at the Lord’s Supper. The bread and the wine are signs of God’s judgment, but for our salvation.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Anywhere We Meet

One great blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that acceptable worship isn’t limited to one location. We are not required to worship in Jerusalem or on one mount instead of another. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and this can be anywhere.

If I’m counting correctly, our church has assembled for corporate worship in five different locations (our house, the Reclamation property in Lakewood, the previous Weinberg basketball court, the Pakinas yard, and here at the MSDA). We are of a size that allows for more mobility, and our focus hasn’t really ever been on the space.

If the Lord wills, we will soon have our “own” place, and it will be as permanent as anything ever is on earth. It will also be, for many in the body, a place where they might spend 4o or more hours during the week. Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone, but as usual, the blessing of a dependable place will bring its own temptations. For the teachers and students especially, will their place of business/work distract them from their time of worship?

Perhaps you will have to do some preparation, some recalibration on Sunday mornings. But there are always distractions, difficulties, and most of them come from within, not from without. The call to worship signals that it’s time, but that there will be a call to worship shouldn’t be surprising. You can get ready to present your body to Him as a living sacrifice, and that should be anywhere we meet.

Bring Them Up

Too Blessed to Be Stupid

Hailey and Autumn, euge, bravo and well done! We praise the Lord for you, and we praise the Lord with you that He has blessed you with strength and endurance to finish this phase of your education. My graduation message to you tonight is simple. I believe it will be helpful and hopefully memorable. The message is this: you are too blessed to be stupid.

There is a categorical cornucopia of those who are dumb, fat, and happy, but I want to argue that your blessedness, your beatus, your happiness, won’t allow you to be stupid.

Stupid is a word your mom probably doesn’t want you to use. Stupid isn’t usually polite, and it’s regularly used to describe someone else’s actions/decisions that we just don’t like. But I have something more specific in mind.

I recently read a 46 year-old book titled, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by an Italian economist named Carlo Cipolla. It’s short, a little over 80 printed pages, and ought to be on everyone’s summer reading list, including those who have just finished high school. I am going to share the best of the book, but I knew the gist before I read it and lost none of the value.

Cipolla points out that humans are relational creatures. To my knowledge he didn’t claim to be a Christian, but as Christians we know that we are made in the image of one God who has revealed Himself in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that we were created with the capacity for work and connection, even for cooperation. For some this interaction is a painful necessity, other individuals will put up with other persons they don’t really like so they don’t have to be alone.

Think in economic terms what each person brings, what each person aims for. “From each action or inaction we derive a gain or a loss and at the same time we cause a gain or a loss to someone else.” (Cipolla, Location 202) Those benefits and losses can be plotted on a matrix.

He observes that there are always four types of persons in their interactions: 1) the Helpless, 2) Bandits, 3) the Intelligent, and 4) the Stupid.

The helpless person may contribute a minimal amount to society but is often taken advantage of. It’s not that the helpless person is ignorant per se, it’s that in his interactions he is more impoverished than enriched. The helpless are drained even when they aren’t the worst drain on others.

The bandit likewise is not a dunce, but exerts more energy in causing another’s loss in order to gain for himself. Thieves can be quite creative but they concentrate on what they can get. It’s a win-lose relationship, a bigger piece of the pie for bandit means he’s taking it from someone else’s piece.

The intelligent uses his brains for win-win. He benefits, not just parallel to, but together with, the benefit of others. The pie gets bigger for everyone. Intelligence in Cipolla’s definition is not just mental horsepower or IQ, not just quantitative reasoning on the CLT. It’s applied logic in love, a relational intelligence. Having read Proverbs we’d label it wisdom.

The fourth character in the last quadrant is the stupid, and he is the worst. Cipolla defines it in the third and “golden” basic law of stupidity: “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” (Location 245)

“Our daily life is mostly made up of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness, and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm.” (Location 255)

And it’s not just an individual concern.

“This [stupid] group is much more powerful than the Mafia, or the military industrial complex, or international communism—it is an unorganized, unchartered group which has no chief, no president, no by-laws and yet manages to operate in perfect unison, as if guided by an invisible hand, in such a way that the activity of each member powerfully contributes to strengthen and amplify the effectiveness of the activity of all other members.” (Location 101)

It might seem that bandits would be worse: purposefully benefitting themselves at the losses of others. But bandit types can be reasoned with to some degree, or at least we can use reason to understand their decisions. The helpless are also not helpful for a community, but their biggest problem is that they can’t stand up against the stupid.

The stupid person is committed to doing things that benefit no one. They take the perfectly good pie and throw the whole thing in the trash, probably while congratulating themselves since sugar is a drug that causes diabetes. No one wins, and there’s no logic that can move them. They will work hard to make it so that they don’t have to work hard, and that hinders others from working hard. The stupid are “the most powerful dark forces that hinder the growth of human welfare and happiness.” (Location 107)

Cipolla’s categories get close to Solomon’s characters. The helpless is as the naive or the simple. The bandits compare to the scoffers, the sinners whose feet run to evil (Proverbs 1:16). The intelligent are the wise. And the stupid is the fool. It’s more than failing grades and a low Lexile reading level, it’s resistance to knowledge that does good.

  • “a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16)
  • “a babbling fool will come to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8)
  • “the mouth of a fool brings ruin near” (Proverbs 10:14)
  • “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Proverbs 10:23)

“Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12).

Bertrand Russell once said (ironically): “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Solomon said it a long time ago.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.
(Proverbs 12:15, ESV)

Cipolla asserts that the percentage of stupid = σ is a constant, and “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.” (Location 121). No matter what group or demographic, there are always those who make decisions detrimental to themselves and others. If Cipolla is right, you can see that now, not just when you “go out into the world.”

Examples in a school context: Students who defend not doing their work and make it hard for others to do theirs, whether mouthing off with each other or blowing off their assignments. Teachers who habitually over-assign work that then we also have to grade. Or broadening the view: Politicians who mandate untested or unnecessary restrictions to the harm of everyone.

Raggant-about-to-be-alumni, you are too blessed to be stupid. The blessings God has given you are abundant and extraordinary. Your parents have blessed you, your teachers have sacrificed to do the same. You’ve read books and had conversations about things that maybe most students, most human beings, never will. These are not blessings that just happen anywhere.

Blessings include but are not limited to: learning how to partner for projects (with others who don’t care as much as you), learning how to keep reading good things when your eyes hurt, learning how to learn when the subject is difficult, learning how to sing in harmony, learning how to laugh when it’s hard, learning how to make and defend your case, learning how to change your mind.

You both have finished this part of your course and are more equipped than the majority of your peers who are hurting themselves and others by not taking advantage of the assignments in front of them. You have been blessed, and I charge you to bring blessings to others, for their joy and your own.

Hailey and Autumn, we are glad to celebrate with you as you cross the ECS finish line. Fear the Lord, be wise, get wisdom, remember that you are too blessed to be stupid.

The End of Many Books


by Nir Eyal

“Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.” That’s a good, stipulative definition.

What’s good about this book is that it urges personal responsibility rather than whining. Eyal reminds the reader that most of our distractions are chosen by us as a way to “relieve discomfort.” That may hurt, but it helps to get to the root. Eyal also works from a position of opportunity instead of fear. Email, tech, the Internet, etc., are tools, and don’t need to be treated as monsters. As he says, “Techno-panics are nothing new,” and I’m thankful he is not one of them.

Much of the book follows more expected productivity presentation, and I’d recommend Atomic Habits instead.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Elements of Journalism

by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel

I’ve been plodding through this book since the middle of last November when a friend recommended it to me after I made noise about having an interest in starting a local newspaper. It’s the only book about journalism I can remember reading, and I’m satisfied with my time spent in it. I can’t imagine ever rereading it, and it would take a special case for me to recommend it.

Some of the observations were edifying, such as the goal of journalism to “create a public square with common facts.” Later, “Community creation has always been at the heart of the news.” And, “Journalism is our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate society.” I do see news as “more of a service–a means for providing social connection and knowledge–then a fixed product.” The news is “the literature of civic life.”

But when it comes to recommended journalistic elements such as “disinterested pursuit of truth,” “loyalty” to citizens, and a journalist’s “conscience,” those sound good, sure, but what are the first principles for right and wrong, for faithfulness, and where do they come from? They can’t come from within the sphere of journalism, nor can they come from the citizens themselves. There must be a higher standard or there can be no ultimate answers.

Anyway, I’m thankful to have had the challenge to think through some of these issues.

3 of 5 stars