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In the ongoing effort of growing and reforming as a church, we’ve decided that we should change the confession part of our liturgy. It turns out, that with all of you praying silently, we don’t know what all your problems are, which means that we can’t tell you how to fix your problems, or fix how you talk to God about your sins, since He is very demanding. It obviously will take a little longer, but if we set up four chairs up front, one for each pastor, we should be able to get through everyone’s confession in a timely fashion.

Now, I am being quite serious, and I needed to make the description long enough to increase your appropriate response of revulsion to such a proposal. Of course we are not going to do confession that way. That would be deformation, not reformation. It would be wrong. James speaks of confessing our sins to one another, but that’s when we’ve sinned against one another. We do not confess our sins through another person to God, priest or pastor. Through Christ each one of us, whatever gender or age or occupation or level of doctrinal learning, come directly to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Isn’t this amazing? Who are we, in our lack of certification, our lack of seriousness, our lack of holiness, to address Him without a mediator? We do have a Mediator, an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:2). But He is the only Mediator we need.

Isn’t this humbling? If you had to confess to a priest, he might presume you weren’t lying, but he couldn’t prove your intentions. It’s true that a pastor can’t help what he doesn’t know is wrong, but God doesn’t demand the information of your confession, just your honesty.

And so, what are you waiting for? He’s here, you’re here. He is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). With Him there is forgiveness. Pray to Him.

liturgy

What would you say to someone who says that a Reformed church worship setting feels more like a funeral, with depressing music, and no real excitement?

I saw this question asked online, and I saw immediate answers such as feeling more like a funeral is good based on the blessed mourners in Matthew 5:4. Other answers were that church is not for entertainment, that music ought to be most concerned with lyrical accuracy, that excitement isn’t a valid gauge of what’s truly worshipful.

And, okay. The church meets to worship the holy God, through the Son who was slain for our sin, by the Spirit that convicts the world of unrighteousness. Even as God’s people we still sin and it is right to lament our sin. We lament the irreverence/unbelief/idolatry of our neighbors. We also lament the errors and unfaithfulness of the church.

But, if someone asked me if the worship services of those who claim to believe the gospel and to love the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are often more like a funeral, with depressing music and no real excitement, I would tell them that they are too often right on. They’ve nailed it. It’s true. What is wrong is not the observation, though they may be wrongly critical.

A physical therapist doesn’t criticize the broken for failing to really think about why he’s broken. A teacher is not successful when getting the student to realize how ignorant he is, and that’s it. And worship, while requiring honesty and humility, should not be preachers urging the worshippers to attain higher levels of misery.

Worship is about exalting the Lamb who was slain, and celebrating that we are made to share His honor as we proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. We needed mercy, and how we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10). That is just not depressing.

liturgy

I am still thinking about some of the implications of what I’m about to say, and I understand that two things can correlate without meaning that one causes the other, but is there a connection between pastors devouring their own flocks and mothers aborting their own children?

Last week, on January 22, was 46 years since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. There have been almost 62 million abortions and counting in the United States since then. How could this be in a nation with more Christian values than pagan ones? Don’t Christian problems start with Christian leaders?

I do not mean mostly that preachers have been quiet about abortion or soft and weak if they do speak about it, though those are failures. I’m mostly asking if society has learned how to treat others by watching how shepherds walk their fields.

Certainly some of the motives are the same. It is selfishness, pride, and especially insecurity that cause pastors to preach against the sheep, that cause pastors to demean and demand sacrifice from their sheep rather than give and sacrifice for them.

Husbands and fathers ought to find examples for sacrificial and leading love in their elders. Wives and mothers ought to do likewise, in addition to watching how their own husbands nurture them. We should learn from our parents, and the wise will learn from good and bad examples, wherever the examples come from.

But pastors/preachers/elders/overseers have been guilty of direct abuse of kids, direct neglect of the abortion issue, and too much ego. Preachers lie for their own benefit, and little wonder that our politicians can claim with a straight face that “Abortion is health care.”

God judges us with His abandoning wrath in the legal murder of 62 million babies, and in His judgment of unloving shepherds for His sheep. Who will fight off the wolves when we are they? Even if disobedient Christian leaders are not the cause of a cultural mindset that accepts abortion, it is a reason for confessing our sin.

liturgy

Here’s the diagram for Revelation 5:11-14, as worship of the One who sits on the throne and of the Lamb widens to include all creatures.

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Traditionally, we believe that Lucifer was an angel among the highest and most beautiful of the heavenly beings. Based on passages such as Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 that seem to describe a creature greater than merely the king of Babylon (or the king of Tyre), we associate such proud behavior with Satan. He was puffed up in his glory. He knew he was great and rebelled against His maker, taking with him other angels who apparently also thought they could get glory a better way than by submitting to Yahweh (Revelation 12:9).

But, of course, there is no one greater than Yahweh, and Yahweh incarnate in the Son. The Son will rule per the Father’s plan. The Son will have the name above every other name (Philippians 2:9-11). The Son will be glorified, but remember how it happened.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

Glory and honor follow sacrifice. There is not just correlation, there is cause and effect. Jesus deserves worship because of His suffering of death. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and it was His humiliation, even taking on flesh and being “lower than the angels” for a while, that results in His universal lauding by the angels and all creation (Revelation 5:9-10).

liturgy

Worship is not therapy, at least not as moderns define therapy. Worship includes treatment to relieve or heal a disorder, the dictionary definition of therapy, but worship heals us so that we can die.

I don’t remember the last time I heard someone talk about it, but I’ve read about what some preachers lament as our modern religious predilection for “therapeutic moralistic deism.” Deism means that people believe in a God, moralistic means that there is some sense of right and wrong, and therapeutic means that there is some sort of topical remedy or way to deal with the bad feelings that we have because we probably haven’t done everything right according to this God.

The weekly exhortation to confession, and prayer of confession, and reminder of forgiveness from a different Scripture text, is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain in order to pay for our sins, in order that we might come and die with Him as living sacrifices.

God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God and Lord. Sin is personal. God is holy, holy, holy. He has given His Word, His law, and every mouth is shut before it (Romans 3:19). We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. And again, He heals us, by His wounds. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

And this makes us sacrifices of worship. Remember the work of His living and active Word, sharper than any two-edged sort, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We are “naked and exposed” before Him, we are “laid bear,” which is from the Greek word trachelizo, to twist and expose the neck of a sacrifice.

Being cut by the Word so that we can offer ourselves before the throne of grace is a kind of therapy, and it starts with confessing our sins.

liturgy

When John turned to see the Lion, instead he saw a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain. He was worthy to take the scroll. Here’s the diagram for the central paragraph in the chapter, Revelation 5:6-10.

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The Lord’s Table will be sweeter the last time we taste it than it was the first time.

We have celebrated communion 468 times as a church. We’ve finished nine years (so 52 x 9), minus the first day and two snow cancellations, but three years had 53 Sundays. It all works out.

Each week we discover fresh reasons to love. Each day brings hundreds of new graces to us, undeserved gifts. Counted among our little flock, or considered in the universal church, how could we calculate the new mercies of every morning for every Christian?

A thousand years ago in Britain they made a scarlet dye from whelks (small mollusks or sea snails), said not only not to fade as it aged in the sun and rain, but the dye became bolder and more beautiful in color. The gospel works the same. As we eat and drink today our rejoicing is more colorful than last week.

Think of how much fruit has grown since the first supper the night that Christ was betrayed. Think of how many haters/enemies have been won by His conquering love. Think of how much sin in your own heart He has loved out of you. It is more now than ever.

The (only?) problem with eternity is that it still won’t be long enough to develop every deep hue of Christ’s loving sacrifice. But weep no more, the Lion, who is the Lamb, has conquered.

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Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He works on a much smaller scale as well.

In John 13, Jesus began to wash the disciples feet as a demonstration of His love for them. When He came to Peter’s side of the table, Peter objected and, in a sense, we understand his objection because Jesus was the Master and the Master should be the one having his feet washed; He should not be the one washing. Jesus, of course, overcame Peter’s initial refusal, and then Peter bounced to the opposite side and told Jesus to give him a full-body bath. Jesus again corrected Peter’s misunderstanding by explaining that dirty feet didn’t necessarily mean his face was filthy.

The first lesson of John 13 is about service and Jesus taught His disciples to follow His pattern of humility. But there is another issue as well, the issue of cleanliness.

We are Christians, and one of the things that means is that we are clean; our sins have been forgiven. Our body of sin has been washed in Christ. But our belief of this and our having confessed our sins for sake of salvation does not mean that it was one confession and done. We, as Christians, get our feet dirty with sin. John teaches Christians in 1 John 1 that, for the sake of our ongoing fellowship with God and with each other, we must keep on confessing our sins.

We ought to confess our sins each time we sin. And as a congregation, when we gather for sake of fellowship with God and each other, we do well to wipe our dirty feet at the door rather than track mud all over the place.

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John’s vision of the heavenly throneroom moves to a focus on the one who is worthy to open the scroll in Revelation 5:1-5.

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