Lord's Day Liturgy

Glad That We’re Back

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.

We endorse the son’s remorse; he should feel bad. We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.

We have more trouble relating to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.

The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.

How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re feasting at His table. He’s glad to have us back.

Note: I used this communion mediation in 2012. Also, this parable is even more about Israel than individuals, but application spills over.

Lord's Day Liturgy

As Easy as Confession

Looking at our corporate service from an unbeliever’s point of view, how ridiculous must it seem for us to confess our sins as part of our worship? What idiots would assemble in order to acknowledge their failures? From an outsider’s perspective, why would anyone go to get worked over like this?

If you were an unbeliever, and if you were forced to acknowledge that God exists, you wouldn’t want Him to be authoritative. If forced to acknowledge that He is authoritative, you wouldn’t want Him to holy. If forced to acknowledge that He is holy, you wouldn’t want Him to made His standards known. If He did make His law known, you wouldn’t want Him to offer forgiveness as easy as asking for it. To an outsider, confessing sins is ridiculous all the way down the line.

Turn it around though. From a believer’s perspective, how advantageous is it for us to confess our sins like this? Think about how many things we proclaim without even using words. In our confession of sin we confirm the existence of God; we confess to someone. Without words we affirm God’s authority over us. We acknowledge His holiness, that He has a standard. We recognize that He has revealed His standard; we can’t claim ignorance. We affirm that He cares, that He hears us. We admit that we are guilty, that what He said about us is true. We assert that we can’t buy or work our way out of guilt. We declare our belief in the free forgiveness of the gospel, in the sacrifice of God’s Son.

How advantageous for us! How economical! In one element of worship we honor His existence, His authority, His holiness, His revelation, His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness. If only all of our worship was as easy as confessing our sins.

Note: I also gave this exhortation in 2012.

The End of Many Books

After Humanity

by Michael Ward

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis is a worldview game-changer. Rather, it’s a book about how certain attempted changes to the game are bringing an end to humanity, and in the name of humanity. That’s bad.

Ward’s book is a commentary on Lewis’s book, with background material and line by line explanations of references and persons that Lewis assumed his 1943 academic audience would know.

As with many commentaries, After Humanity is three times the length of Abolition‘s original text. Yet Ward knows his stuff (Ward’s Planet Narnia is one of my all-time favorite books), and the extra pages will repay the effort of reading. Maybe read Lewis three or ten times, then read Ward, then go back to Lewis yet again.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

Feasting for Strength

Feasting is inevitable. There will be feasting. It’s not whether or not there will be a feast, but when and why.

Solomon observed that a nation’s attitude is correlated to her leaders’ feasting.

Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
and your princes feast in the morning!
Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
and your princes feast at the proper time,
for strength and not for drunkenness.
(Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 ESV)

It is misery to a people when the party starts rather than work. This sort of feasting guts a people of motivation, which guts them, sooner or later, of justice and joy.

It is a joy to a people when the party starts in celebration of the day’s work. This sort of feasting gives gravity, a feasting fly-wheel, that pulls a people into gratitude and diligence.

So for us, we can eat and drink for tomorrow we might die in our sins, or we can eat and drink because Jesus has died for our sins and was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The bread and wine can be used for distraction from the truth, or the bread and wine can be received as gifts of truth, the elements of good news.

Let us not be those who are too weak to feast at the right time. Such feasting by faith is a participation in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Scoffers Don’t Care

One of the main characters in Proverbs is the scoffer. The scoffer is a species of fool, and what seems to define him is that he’s hypercritical, a “haughty man” (Proverbs 21:24) who “sets a city aflame” (Proverbs 29:8). That’s not untrue, but perhaps the scoffer is extra complacent.

Mo pointed this out to me. As we watch more shows with closed-captioning turned on, a frequent label is “[scoffs].” It shows when a character hears something and is unimpressed. It could be visible in a minimal energy head shake, it could be some version of audible “pshaw,” “pfft,” a sound that means “whatever, that’s stupid.”

In that sense scoffing isn’t caring too much about the wrong thing, it’s not caring at all.

In that light listen to Proverbs 1:32:

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them.

“Complacency” is a smugness, a “careless ease” (NET). It is “repose gained by ignoring or neglecting the serious responsibilities of life” (C. H. Toy).

A great temptation is the worldliness of not caring, not just about what but how much. It’s one thing to care about the wrong things, it’s another not to care about the right things in a way that corresponds to the value of those things themselves.

Our roots don’t go deep, no wonder we are blown around by slight breezes.

There is truth. Know it. There is truth’s way of knowing the truth. Treasure it up. Complacency, a lack of attentive eyes and affectionate hearts, kills.

He Gives and Takes Away

Mary Kay Duerden, RIP

As with her husband Ralph (whose memorial we had on March 30, just 182 days ago), I think I only knew Mary Kay after she had turned 70. It is certainly profitable for us to meet someone in their winter, but also obviously different than seeing someone in their spring. I don’t think Mary Kay would say that most of us knew her in her heyday. We knew her when problems and pains were a big part of her life, when doctor appointments and meds and surgeries consumed a lot of her days.

I am thankful to the Lord for enabling her to endure, and to do so confessing the glory of His name to the end. I am also thankful for her concerns for me, and also for Mo. With her own life so marked with pain, she was sensitive to others who had problems

She would regularly catch me after church on the way to her car, not just to get her Sunday hug, but to see how I was feeling. If she wasn’t well enough to attend on a given week, she’d often send an email to check in. Maybe it wasn’t everyone’s experience, but she seemed more concerned about the status of my most recent ailment instead of needy to tell me her updates. She’d frequently say that she was praying for me, for us. Sometimes she’d give me a kind of mother’s disappointing look as if she thought we were doing too much.

Those who are hurt and broken do not always respond well when difficulty lingers. But the broken are in a good spot, when God shows His grace, to see their need to depend on the Lord for help.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). If we are tempted to lose hold of our confession, if we are tempted toward anger or bitterness, we have a sympathetic high priest who was tempted but who did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me” (Psalm 77:1). He gives strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:31). He strengthens us with power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience (Colossians 1:11). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

In his book about chronic illness called The Deep Places, Ross Douthat quotes a French writer named Alphonse Daudet:

Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.

But, be encouraged, the Lord does not grow weary.

The Lord not only kept Mary Kay through her physical aches, but saved her for eternal life and soon a resurrected body. The body’s breakdown is never our biggest problem, but our distance from God. God gave Mary Kay eternal life by grace through faith. He has received her into His presence. Her death is precious to Him (Psalm 116:15). She will be given a glorified body and be able to do more than she could have imagined here.

we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1–5 ESV)

While we miss Ralph and Mary Kay, we are thankful to the Lord for His gift of them to our church body. Praise the Lord she has finished her race, kept the faith. May she rest in peace.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Part of Our Protection

What is it God wants with us? It is the goal of creation, of salvation, of our worship service. Yes, the end for which God created the world is His glory. How does He get glory? How do we give it? What does the Lord’s Table have to do with it?

The glory of God includes His sovereign, holy, gracious, and loving overflow of Himself to His creatures. He made us to know Him, to enjoy Him, and to fellowship with Him. He made us to delight in Him, and as we do so, fruit comes out.

Fellowship with God is a supernatural gift. It is a supernatural purchase. It is a supernatural protection.

When the church, under the authority Jesus described in John 20:23, declares forgiveness and withholds forgiveness, she is declaring fellowship and denying fellowship. When the church removes her affirmation of an unrepentant member, handing him over to Satan as described in 1 Corinthians 5:5, that member is cut off from fellowship and from its gladness and guardianship.

It is not something we see without eyes of faith, but that doesn’t make it an illusion. Our communion is not just something we’re called to protect, our communion is part of our protection. Glory to God that He has called us to Himself in fellowship that we may bear fruit for Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Sin as Fire

Perhaps this is too on the nose, but sin is like fire. Sins of speech are likened to fire; the “tongue is a fire…setting on fire the entire course of life” (James 2:6; Proverbs 26:20-21). Sexual indulgence can cause someone to “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

Sin destroys things, beautiful things. It destroys things people have been building for years. It destroys precious things that can’t be replaced. Sin destroys lives.

When sin flames up to a certain level it’s impossible to ignore. Sin will set acres and counties on fire. It changes the color of the whole sky. Ash and debris touch down on everything. Smoke makes it hard to breath.

Maybe your sin isn’t a 4th stage church disciple wildfire. Maybe it’s contained, for now, in your home. Maybe you’re playing with fire just on your phone, or in your heart (see Proverbs 6:27). Christian, stamp out your sin.

Is it a spark of bitterness, a match of envy, a flare of lust, unattended anger? Dampen down your pride. Pour buckets of truth on falsehood and deceit.

Jude says to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Don’t let sin burn out of control; otherwise, it may be like fire that never says “Enough.”

Lord's Day Liturgy

Discipline or Destruction

Jesus, as the Amen, told the Church of the Lukewarm that the ones He loves, He reproves and disciplines (Revelation 3:19). In Hebrews 12 we learn not only about laying aside sin that slows down our run (verse 1), but also about God’s discipline. 

He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)

As sons, when we are subject to the “Father of spirits” we live (Hebrews 12:9). 

In Romans 6 we’ll be reminded that Christians are sons and slaves. God is our Father and our Master. He is righteous, He frees us to be righteous, He instructs and strengthens and disciplines us that we might see the fruit of righteousness. 

There are two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline or the pain of destruction. According to the word of the Lord, the pain of discipline leads to peace. The pain of destruction leads to more pain. 

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline  
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
(Proverbs 3:11–12 ESV, quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6)

Be wise, receive His corrections that bring about the blessings of obedience. 

Bring Them Up

A Cultural Cathedral

The following are my notes from the 2022-23 ECS Convocation assembly.

I read three books this summer. Hopefully you read even more. These are three that I won’t easily forget and that I think, perhaps strangely enough, easily relate to each other.

The first I’ll mention is a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. It’s not a long book, but it is a book about projects that take a long time. It’s written for 10-11 year-olds, and we have a copy in our 4th grade library. Here is my book report and rally to begin another year.

The book is called Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It was published the year before I was born (1973), but it’s a story about the citizens of a small town in France who decided to build the biggest and most beautiful cathedral in their country in the year 1252. It’s actually a fictional story about the people of Chutreaux; there is no city with that name, so there are no remains of this particular project. But the imaginary cathedral takes details from in-real-life construction of Gothic cathedrals built in the 12-14th centuries.

The bishop of the city when they started died before they finished. The master builder of the cathedral himself died more than halfway through and had to be replaced. In the non-fiction preface, the author only gives one qualification about what makes his story less real: the workers didn’t take any long breaks in construction. And still, it took 86 years from the first decision to the final detail.

To build something so grand took a lot of money, obviously a lot of time, and it also took a lot of different people doing their work expertly. There were teams of people, those who cut down trees in a nearby forrest and prepared the wood, those who cut out stones from a quarry and moved them to the site, those who dug deep footers and blacksmiths who made nails and hooks and hinges. There were master craftsmen and apprentices and assistants, masons and mortar makers, carpenters and climbers and cooks. No one person could have done it.

In one way your life as a student is like this. Even though your years in school are a jumpstart, your education is a lifetime project. It will take much time, much care, much effort, and a multitude of people. As the Lord adds to your knowledge and understanding and wisdom, as He knits you together with love for truth and goodness and beauty, your life is a cathedral.

In another way, ECS is a great project. For the first time, after ten years of school, now we even have our own building! Thanks be to the Lord. The classrooms are our classrooms, they have our desks and our chairs. Many of the rooms have been painted, they’ve gotten new lights, the things on the walls are decorative and educational and ours. Though they wouldn’t identify as Michelangelos, the teachers, many of the students, and some friends of the school have painted and furnished and adorned and loved this place into a more lovely place.

This facility is probably not ever going to be cathedral-level beautiful, and that’s fine. We’re actually trying to build something much more difficult than walls, something that will outlast us. We are like so many medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to this generational project. Lord willing, the best years of ECS may be seen our grandchildren.

Another book I read this summer is Battle for the American Mind. It was published just this year. It’s about schools and education, about the trajectory of troubles for many government schools over the last century. The problems that are all around us are worse than new math and unscientific science and willful ignorance of history. The root problem is that people don’t have any real vision of the “good life.” They wouldn’t know beauty if it poked them in the eye-balls. They think the state has more power to make things better than the power of self-control. They have no center, no real reference point other than their feelings. They’re not practicing or pursuing virtues.

What we’re building here at ECS is more than just students who get high scores on tests. We’re not just trying to get you to graduate early so that you can get through college quicker so that you can get a high paying job. Those things are fine, but they are like a cathedral constructed of Popsicle sticks.

We want you to be great-souled. The word magnanimous is just that: manga = great and animus = mind or heart or soul. It’s related to those who are animated, full of life. We want a culture of families, students, and teachers who know and love, who know what is lovely and why they should love the lovely and be abounding in love. Previous generations referred to it as ordo amoris, ordered loves. This is where intellectual and moral virtue comes from. We want you to learn the stock responses of God-fearers, to be unimpressed by what the world says is cool, which never lasts long anyway.

This includes the alphabet and phonograms, this includes reading your assignments, but it also means paying more attention to what’s in your heart than how long a classmate has been talking. It means committing to work hard, and then actually working when it is hard. It means listening to those who know better, it means looking to take responsibilities that make the whole thing better.

We are in a battle for minds and our minds are necessary for the battle. We are trying to battle by building a culture, a paideia, that forms what you like and that you’re like and what you pursue as good.

Which leads me to the third book I read, Good to Great (a book published in between the first two, 2001). The definition of good is a little different; good in this case is about commercial success rather than cultural blessings. It’s a business book, but there’s some valuable overlap.

Want to be great? Be fanatically consistent in the right things. Those things aren’t always big things. One of the greatest dangers is thinking that the right things are other things rather than the ones right in front of you. Do what must be done; do it faithfully. That makes great people, and a bunch of people working together makes a great culture.

We care about raggant virtues. Be generous, be a producer, be a learner, be thankful, be joyful. As we work toward being great, let us be staff and students known for: High discipline, low drama.

I read something else good just yesterday, and I’m thinking maybe I should tape it to mirrors around me. It said: stop whining. An alternative, since we’re on the first day of school: don’t start whining.

Your education is like a cathedral, ECS itself is a different sort of generational project, an educational cathedral, and may the Lord bless this next year of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that we will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.