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Lord's Day Liturgy

What Other Table?

Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is obvious to others that we recognize it or not, God is really among us. In our liturgy we acknowledge the call into His presence together from the start of our service, and our aim is to share communion with Him in the Lord’s Supper. The cup of blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread is a participation on the body of Christ. If we offered ourselves to any other presence we would be provoking the Lord to jealousy.

So how should we act around His Table? How about hungry, thankful, filled, and thankful.

We are hungry for righteousness, and we couldn’t bake or buy our own. God’s Spirit disclosed the secrets of our hearts, and it wasn’t pretty. We hunger and thirst for salvation, for Him to deal with our guilt and to be His sons. When we see the bread and the cup we are reminded that Christ gave Himself for our salvation. He made this meal, and we come to eat and drink by faith with thanks. Amen? To what other table could we go?

When we eat and drink we are enacting our amen. We are convinced that Christ alone is our Savior and say amen from our mouths, and we consume His flesh and blood as another sort of amen with our mouths. He died and rose again, we with Him, let us eat. Amen? It is food and drink for our souls, thank You, Lord.

We are not imagining that God is really among us, we are imaging the reality by bringing our hunger to Him, by rejoicing in His provision, and by communing with Him together as His body, amen.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not The Stages of Outrages

You’ve probably seen the comic of a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer and his wife asks him when he’s coming to bed. He says he can’t come to bed yet because “someone is wrong on the Internet.” 

More than someone is wrong on the Internet. And what’s even more problematic, everyone you know is wrong about something they think, let alone how they act. You might not be talking about their wrong thing, you might not even know what their wrong thing is, but you can be sure that if you talked long enough, their wrong would pop up like sponsored ads on Facebook. 

What should you do about this serious problem? After all, God is perfect, His way is perfect (Psalm 18:3), and demands that His creatures be perfect (Matthew 5:48). 

We are living in an increasingly outraged culture. Passionate outbursts of so-called righteousness abound around the clock, and believers must not be conformed to this world. So, Christian, when you encounter certain problems your duty to the Lord may be to relax

This is not ostrich orthodoxy, burying your head in the sands of your own pure thoughts. It is a call to be people of the Spirit. After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote this:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Things to note: others can actually be wrong, even sinning. If it’s not sin, then you should probably unbutton the top button on your righteousness collar. Take a deep breath, and take care of your own responsibilities. But if it is transgression and you see it, you should say something, if you 1) are spiritual about it, 2) want their restoration not their humiliation, 3) talk to them in a kind way, and 4) don’t act like you could never have the same problem. Those are not the stages of outrages. 

Because we see a bunch of people confronting wrongs wrongly does not mean that it shouldn’t be done. Confront those who are wrong rightly. And also, consider that you might be the one who is wrong.

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Bring Them Up

“Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?”

Or, (Students + The Trivium) × Teachers

The following notes are for a talk I gave at our school’s Information Night.

Our school board recently finished reading through and discussing the Chronicles of Narnia together. I’m also part of another group of adults, many of whom are parents of current school students, working through the Chronicles as secondary reading for something we call Omnibus Tenebras. Then we have our annual Fiction Festival coming in March and the theme is going to be all things Narnian and Lewisian. So I reentered Aslan’s orbit seven months ago and have been spinning since.

Reading through the series again I noticed a question asked by Professor Kirke near the start of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which he asks in a similar form two more times in The Lion) and which he asks again near the end of The Last Battle. Sort of aloof, as he is, and exasperated, he wonders out loud, “Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” The first time he was lamenting Peter and Susan’s lack of logic. The last time, when his beard was golden, he was wondering why they hadn’t read Plato. Well, in our school, we teach Logic, and Plato. And we teach the Chronicles of Narnia!

One of Lewis’ literary contemporaries and friends was Dorothy Sayers. You may have heard her name before associated with classical education due to a paper she read at Oxford in 1947, that she then published as a journal article, titled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Along with Lewis, she was concerned about what was and what wasn’t being taught to students. If Sayers or Lewis or both of them could see what’s happening in our government education system some seventy years later, I can’t imagine what narrative tirade might have been unleashed (though That Hideous Strength would cover a lot). Although Edmond didn’t want to recognize that the White Witch was no good, at least he could recognize that the White Witch was a girl. The fight between good and evil didn’t get all the way down to gender pronouns. “Bless ze, what do they teach at these schools?”

Not ze best teacher

It was Sayers who reintroduced the Trivium, the three ways of education, which are 1) Grammar, 2) Logic (or Dialectic), and 3) Rhetoric. These are the first three of the seven liberal arts, liberal in reference to men who are free, and she in particular had the insight to connect each method of learning to each phase of a student’s development.

The youngest students are like parrots. Play them a catchy song and they will sing it until parents quickly pass from the stage of thinking it’s cute to the stage of being amazed at what their student is capable of memorizing and into the stage of being annoyed that their student doesn’t get tired of it. There is a grammar to every subject, facts that are ripe for harvest in very field of study. Nouns and verbs are language grammar, addition and subtraction are math grammar, colors are for art and notes are for music grammar, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is history grammar.

As students mature toward junior high they hit a stage that is harder to call cute, and it’s also hard to call mature. They’re in the process of figuring out where all the things go. They are building mental shelves to sort and categorize all the grammar they’ve collected. They start start asking more questions and seeing more connections. They also start their arguing engines, and, as Sayers acknowledged their extremely high “nuisance value,” why not at least show them how to argue logically?

The third stage is not just gravy on the cake or icing on the meat. There is really cake and meat; icing on cotton balls offers no nutrition, and gravy on cardboard might trick you for a moment, but there’s no satisfaction. So truth cake and good meat are necessary underneath and then rhetoric tops them off. Rhetoric skills enable a young man or woman in mid to late high school to take substance and polish it. The polish might come via poem or prose, painting or presentation, but it’s taking what’s already valuable and making it shine.

ECS teaches all the subjects, be it Bible/theology, Music, Math, Science, English, Logic, Latin, Literature, Writing, Rhetoric, and History with the Trivium methods in mind, and we do it in Jesus’ name because He holds all the ends together.

I’ve been struck in recent months by what makes the Trivium so fruitful. I’ve been reading about and trying to share a vision of the Trivium since before we had a school, since my wife informed me that my participation in homeschooling our 2nd grader at the time was not optional. I’ve believed that students plus the Trivium adds up to great things for over a decade now. But it is multiplied by teachers.

If you want to know why you should register your kids for ECS before you leave the building tonight, what you really need to do is get to know the teachers. They are the multiplying function. We’re not making them present their resumes as part of the program, but that wouldn’t do any of them justice anyway.

Jesus said: every disciple, that is, every learner, every student, will be just like his teacher.

When my wife and I were trying to homeschool, we realized that we wanted our daughter and her younger siblings to be more than us. This wasn’t a cop out, as if we could merely sit back and trust our kids’ enculturation to others. It meant we had even more to do, which included trying to convince some other parents to join us in this crazy hard, crazy great, crazy blessed work.

The Trivium is not better than I thought; the Trivium is fantastic. But when the Trivium methods are practiced by those who care, the outcomes are way better than I thought. This is a mathematical operation, a factor function. Take a number, add another number, get a higher total. But take a number and put a multiplier between it and another number, and watch out.

ECS is more than the sum of its parts. I was reminded of it again while reading the following in a book titled, Anitfragile:

Collaboration has explosive upside, what is mathematically called a superadditive function, i.e., one plus one equals more than two, and one plus one plus one equals much, much more than three….since you cannot forecast collaborations and cannot direct them, you cannot see where the world is going. All you can do is create an environment that facilitates these collaborations, and lay the foundation for prosperity.

John Milton Gregory wrote in The Seven Laws of a Teacher that the ideal teacher is “an incarnate assemblage of impossible excellencies.” We have an excellent assemblage for collaboration.

We have teachers who have lived in tents while remodeling their houses, who muck horse stalls before sunrise, who knit hats and dolls and sew scaled down ECS uniforms for American Girl Dolls, who scrounge through the woods for sticks to make bows and read multi-volume bower bibles about how to do it. Our teachers exercise, slow cook and crock pot, read for pleasure, write for pleasure, and most importantly, they worship faithfully on the Lord’s Day. They invest in more than the students in their classes, and that’s why they have something for their students. They aren’t finished, but they are learning to learn, and that’s exactly what we want for our students.

Christian and classical education has some great ideas behind it and before it, but the ideas themselves could not make ECS great. The Trivium plus students multiple by teachers make it great in ways that couldn’t be scripted.

Our school mission starts by saying that “We commend the works of the Lord to another generation….” And I am commending the works of the Lord to you now. At ECS we are looking at and learning the grammar of His works, and the logic of how His works fit together, and how to adorn His works at image bearers through rhetoric. And I am also blessed to say, ECS is is itself a work of the Lord, and our teachers are a multiplying factor in making Marysville great again. #mmga

We want to bless you, both by what we teach at this school, and by those who teach at it.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

No Lesser Bread

One of the things Paul valued about clarity was how it brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). When the Spirit gives words to His people for the good of the body it brings comfort.

Communion is also a consolation, a comfort. The Lord’s Supper is not a consolation prize, mostly because it isn’t a prize, and also because we aren’t competing to get it. Communion is a grace from God. He gives communion and comfort to those who need it but not to those who deserve it or try to earn it. There isn’t bread for the winner, but lesser bread for the runner-ups.

But God does alleviate our pain by reminding us that Jesus endured anguish and affliction on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4, 7, 11), by reminding us that pain can only last so long (this life)(2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:6), and by reminding us that pain can only take so much (not our salvation)(Matthew 10:28). Communion also comforts us with gospel truths that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Because of Christ the cornerstone “in him…[we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verse 21).

Are you feeling isolated? Afflicted? Perplexed? Do you see a lot of problems? Do have a lot of problems? Don’t lose heart! We are being renewed day by day. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Communion at His Table is a no small consolation.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessing-ficiaries

I can’t remember if I’ve asked this question before during an exhortation to confession. We’re now over 400 times of corporate confession on the Lord’s Day, and while there are a lot of things that require repentance, some of them need more repetition.

Who do you confess your sin for? Who benefits when you “say the same thing” (homologeo) as God? You are certainly one who profits. Sin separates us from fellowship, forgiveness granted restores fellowship, so if you want fellowship you need forgiveness which comes through confession.

You are not the only blessing-ficiary, though. God receives glory when we repent. It’s not that we should sin that grace may abound, though grace does reign over sin. God’s patience and mercy and atonement are exalted when we depend on Him. He doesn’t need us to confess in order to get honor for Himself, but He is honored by our honesty and our humility and our hope in Him.

That still isn’t the end of it. The scope of benefits and blessings should be broadened. When we confess our sins we are restored to fellowship, and God’s holy standard and perfect sacrifice are praised, and also the entire church body is built up.

Your sin may be private in that only you and God know about it, for now, but your sin is never isolated as if only you are affected by it. We are one body, we are God’s building. We might not be able to see the disintegration of some studs in the wall, but when you deal with rot the right way it strengthens the whole structure.

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Every Thumb's Width

The Punchline

I do not really like hockey. I do not really like podcasts. (I also really do not like a couple of the words used in this episode.) But FOR REAL IF YOU LIKE SPORTS AND STORIES AT ALL YOU SHOULD REALLY LISTEN TO THIS!

The Punchline

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Enjoying the Process

bahookie

Added to my commonplace book today: 

BAHOOKIE

n. Scottish informal, “a person’s buttocks

also, “an ass

Example usage: “try that again I’ll be kicking your fury, brown bahookie” —McSquizzy’s Army Scene, in “Open Season”

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Enjoying the Process

Fellowship: A Mess Worth Making

Our church has another seminar scheduled a few Sundays from now. This will be our fifth seminar, the first two were about parenting and the last two were about marriage. We asked for feedback and ideas after last year’s seminar and one of the suggestions was to talk about fellowship

Fellowship is an easily misunderstood and often misused word. For many folks it means food, probably in a basement with a tiled floor (or industrial carpet) with all sorts of casseroles and bitter coffee. Our seminar does include food, and dinner is in a basement, but the food is not potlucked. As for the basement, well, it is actually fellowship hallish, but we do what we can. 

All four of the pastors at our church will speak for one session, then we’ll have a group Q&A as the final session. Our four elders are very different in personality, but united in theology and vision. It should make for a fantastic day together. 

I’m planning to talk about tough cases, how to set expectations and how to behave in order to do our part to reach those expectations. 

If you live in the area and have February 17th free, the seminar is also free, but we’d love to know you’re coming for sake of snacks, childcare, and dinner. Take a look at the Facebook event page, or if you’re a FB hater, leave a comment here and I’ll forward your interest to the appropriate planners.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Father Who Judges

When we come to our time of confession as part of our worship we come to confess our sins to our Father. God is holy, God is righteous, God is just, God is the judge of the world. But to all who believe in His name, “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We confess our sins to God, but He is our “God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Peter gave more explanation about what we should do because of the Father we have.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:17-19)

There are a couple things to notice about this imperative and this information. We are to pay attention to what our Father says to do. He has given instruction, and He intends for us to walk in His ways.

We are also to remember what our Father has done for us. He sent His Son to pay the price for our deliverance. He set us free from ignorance and unholiness. There were a lot of false gods and a lot of nasty behavior and a lot of gloomy moral blindness like the darkest cave, and the Lamb covers and cleanses us.

Leave the empty ways behind and call on the Father through His Son.