Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Particular Sins

We thank God that the hour has already come where we don’t concern ourselves with worshipping on Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion (see John 4:16-26); neither location would be convenient for us. Fellowship with God is not limited to one particular place. Worship, though, still has particulars. He is a particular God, not a pluralistic God. We come to the Father only through His Son, the Messiah.

In particular, the Messiah has come and we have fewer reasons than ever to wonder about God’s promises. The Messiah has come and we who believe are no longer outside the covenant blessings. The Messiah has come, obeying the Father in perfect righteousness and offering Himself as a sacrifice for our unrighteousness so that we are no longer in our sins. We worship the Father because of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son. We don’t worship what we don’t know.

So we remember, we celebrate, and we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes as we eat and drink at this particular table. None of us deserve it. We may not have had five divorces, but we were all spiritual adulterers, quenching our soul thirst some other place than the fountain of living water. By His wounds our failed and faulty lives have been healed. Now we eat the bread and drink the cup, having been exposed as broken sinners and having been saved by Him who bore our particular sins.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Informing the Trinity

Who do we confess for? I don’t mean, do we confess for someone else’s sin or for our own. Instead I mean, do we confess for our sake or for God’s sake? Who needs the confession?

God already knows all our sin. He is omniscient, yes. Jesus knew the sin of the woman in John 4 before He met her at the well. But also, if the Father poured out judgment on His Son for the sins of all who would ever believe, then He had to know all of the sins that Jesus needed to pay for. The Father knows every transgression committed by us, including the ones we’ll commit after church, and the Son died for them all. Also, the Spirit isn’t waiting for us to tell Him. The Spirit’s convicting work brings sin to our attention.

We do not confess in order to inform the Trinity of anything. Rather, we confess to acknowledge that we now understand what was keeping us from fellowship with Him and we acknowledge His graciousness to forgive us. He doesn’t call us to confession because He’s spiteful or because He’s trying to embarrass us. He’s saving us out of sin’s crippling effects. He’s inviting us to life, offering us the living water, and we won’t drink unless we sense our dryness.

“Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29). We start by confessing.

Lord's Day Liturgy

53 Times a Year

Every Lord’s day when our church celebrates communion, I pray twice. We normally don’t do that at home, praying once before the meal and then again in the middle of it. In this practice we are following Jesus’ pattern with two prayers of thanks.

Paul wrote, “on the night he was betrayed, [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; see also Luke 22:19-20). I understand “in the same way also” to refer to giving thanks. The account in Matthew makes it clear. After giving His disciples bread and eating together, “He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them” (Matthew 26:26-27; see also Mark 14:23).

Giving thanks happens in two places, before eating and before drinking. This is why the Lord’s supper is sometimes called the Eucharist.

In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by the name of Eucharist. That’s too bad we have to carry so much vocabulary baggage around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in all four passages above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.”

We have a thanksgiving feast 53 times a year, with only one of those scheduled for a Thursday. Our family meals this week should be different because we’ve been practicing eating with sinners, eating with those who aren’t like us, eating with those who annoy us, eating with those who don’t deserve love, because we don’t either. What brings us together is the grace of Christ, and He invites all who believe to eat at His table. That’s a reason to give thanks.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bullet Points Like Them

Thanksgiving is this week and it seems almost obligatory to address our weak attitudes of gratitude as an area for confession. It is true, we are probably not as thankful as we should be. I often feel as if I’m still sitting at the kids’ card table when it comes to thankful feasting for the Lord. But our personal half-hearts of thanksgiving are only half of the problem. Thanksgiving should be a weapon.[1]

Many of us will sit down around a table on Thursday and think we’ve done our duty if we muster a few things that we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is basically a list; some lists are shorter and others longer (from the godly people, who probably have verses, too). We share our lists and call it a holiday. A list is fine, but a list doesn’t fool our kids who watch us stressing out as we prepare the abundance of menu items. A list doesn’t make our cranky family members say, “Hmmm, I wish I believed in Jesus so that I could have bullet points like them.”

We will sit down with others who are not thankful. How should we combat that? How do we overcome the passive aggressive thanker, or the relative that can’t wait to complain as soon as she comes in the front door? As Christians we’re to be thankful to God in our hearts,[2] yes, and thankful to Him obviously in front of others. Being thankful to God in front of our kids trains them for the war against sinful selfishness. Living in thankfulness overcomes the hopelessness of unbelief.

Others will learn and imitate what they see. Gratitude should incarnate our faith, not itemize it. We are happy if we’re thankful but we keep that thankfulness internalized like we keep a sword in the scabbard. Our sin isn’t only ingratitude, our sin is not fighting with gratitude.

  1. For an excellent extended article on this point, read Deep Peril, Deep Thanksgiving.
  2. Colossians 3:16.
A Shot of Encouragement

Organizing Answers

A couple nights ago someone asked me if I thought that believers are lazy in sharing their faith. I answered, without a doubt, yes. I don’t think, however, that believers are lazy in terms of learning the way to evangelize like the Master, giving directions down the road in Romans, or carrying tracts to leave with the tip after dinner at Denny’s. I think believers are lazy mostly by failing to cultivate their faith, hallow Christ as Lord, and grow in hope that would make others ask what’s going on (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, in our evangelical camp, most of us work harder collecting verses and arranging our apologetics outlines than we work at living with hope. I suspect that’s because organizing answers requires less effort than being Christians.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Emblems of Both

All the ones believing in the Son see life. All the ones not obeying the Son remain under God’s wrath. When Christians come to the Lord’s supper we see the emblems of both life and wrath.

The bread and the cup symbolize the body and blood of the Lord. He took on flesh and lived among us. More than that, He took on our sin and bore God’s wrath in the flesh. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was the will of the Father that the Son pour out His soul to death and be numbered with the sinners, with us, the objects of God’s righteous judgment.

The table reminds us of the wrath deserved by us. The table also reminds us that Christ took our wrath and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace. With His stripes we are healed. This is why He came from heaven, died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. By His knowledge we are counted righteous. We are His offspring, His children. Out of the anguish of His soul He sees and is satisfied.

So we who receive His testimony see and are satisfied. By the Spirit’s work, we have life. By faith, we see life. By grace, we eat and drink life. Christ, the Righteous, has brought us to God and we commune with Him. If we believe, our iniquities, our guilt, our sorrows have been taken away. God didn’t rewrite history. God gave us life, forgiving us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us, nailing it to the cross. Come, take, and eat this meal of remembrance because wrath has been satisfied and we see life.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Negotiating Submission

No one can negotiate the past. A person may not like the past. They may wish it was different than it was. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from it. But they can’t do anything about it. What has happened can’t be changed. History is the record of reality before now, and we can’t bargain to modify a different past for ourselves.

Revisionism, rewriting reality gone by, is a show of unbelief. Unbelief also gets pushy as it incites us to negotiate present realities just as unchangeable as the past. Some things are true just because that’s how they are. The dark unbelief doesn’t care.

One of unbelief’s favorite whipping posts is the truth that Christ is Lord. A person may not like that He is Lord. They may wish it was different. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from His reign. But they can’t do anything about it. Who is Lord can’t be changed. The world exists under His lordship, past, present, future, east, west, north, south, up, down. We can’t negotiate our submission to Him.

What has happened can’t be changed and a man who refuses to believe the facts is a fool. Who is Lord can’t be changed either, and a man who refuses to believe and obey is out of touch with reality.

A Shot of Encouragement

Right up the Middle

The apostle John wrote:

Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

So, as Christians, we should go and overcome. If we have faith like a grain of mustard seed, we will say to a mountain, “move from here to there” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for us. Our Lord is the Son of God. He is Lord of lords and King of kings, the beginning and the end. All things have been given into His hand. As we break the huddle on Sundays, we should follow His lead right up the middle.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Toppling by Table

One theme we keep repeating during our communion is the depth of the ditch of self-examination; we’re never quite sure when to stop digging, when we’ve hit the bottom. Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner warrant’s God’s discipline, so we ought not to come to this Table casually, let alone under the impression that God invites us due to our credentials. Nevertheless, we fall into the ditch when we can only think about ourselves. Our attention here, and our affections, belong on someone else.

This is the problem of any idol. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warned against the example of idolatry that Israel set. The people served the idol of indifference, sitting down to eat and drink and rose up to play. They served the idol of sensuality, indulging in sexual immorality. They served the idol of self, grumbling and complaining about their circumstances. They were tempted in ways we all are, ways that are common to man. But He won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability, He will also provide a way of escape.

Paul then exhorts believers away from idolatry and explains how to do it. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” In other words, we topple idols by communing with Christ and with each other at this Table.

Week by week, as we commune with Him, we decrease and He increases. We become what we eat, though, of course, in His world, that doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen, as sure as night becomes day every morning. He is conforming us into the image of His Son. He is building up the whole body, uniting us and purifying us for our wedding day, for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We look to Him as we eat His flesh. We wait for His return as we drink His blood. He gets all our attention here and, as that happens corporately, we are made like Him and united in Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

He Gets What He Wants

John Calvin wrote that the heart of man produces idols like a factory, like Detroit produces cars: many makes and models that require more work than their worth. You and I were made to worship, and we will supply something or someone to meet that demand.

One of the gods of men that comes off the product line is the god named Attention. He has other names, too: Fame, Recognition, Approval, Popularity. Attention talks about sharing, assuring everyone that there’s enough to go around, but he never seems to actually know when his turn is done.

He’s a fantastic contextualizer. He wears different clothes among junior high girls than professional academics, he works differently at ladies’ Bible studies than in Hollywood. It’s surprising how well he gets around. He sneaks into car leases, prayer requests, hair styles, social media statuses, diets, good grades, bad grades, employment titles, political campaigns, military campaigns, even Bible reading programs.

It’s also surprising how much damage he can cause. From backstabbing whispers to international battles, he starts wars. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” “You covet and cannot obtain” (James 4:1-3). Of course, Attention has siblings, such as his older brother Materialism. But Attention wants more than the thing, he wants people to know that he has the thing, or that he doesn’t. He can get what he wants either way.

Interestingly, James follows up by saying that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:3). Why wouldn’t we ask? Because that gives someone else the attention.

Attention is a mean and expensive idol, with heavy taxes and high repair costs. He steals joy and peace. He splits churches and spouses and friends. He must be toppled, and Christians should fight him by confessing and then by turning from him to serve the living and true God in Christ.