Lord's Day Liturgy

Only Perfect People Allowed

The signs were legion a half dozen years ago. There was a campaign to hook people into church by pledging that at First Such-and-such Church: “No purfect people allowed.” Such signs usually included an obvious misspelled word just to punctuate the point.

A few comments are in order. First, duh. There is no church under the sun that only opens the doors for perfect people. How would they know? For that matter, I don’t believe that the signs are meant to be as sympathetic as they’re meant to be sarcastic. It’s less of a lure to imperfect people and more of a throat-jab at the self-righteous. It’s a jab at people like us.

What can we do about it? Even if it isn’t our fault, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Since they perceive that our attitude is out of line, the first thing that we can do is confess our sin and repent. We ought to confess our sins on Sundays, we ought to confess our sins when we pray each day, and we ought to confess our sin when we sin against another person. Turns out that it’s easier to mock the immaturity of the signs–and the signage is immature–than to ask another person for forgiveness.

We can also stop stiff-arming and holding grudges against other believers in our own body. We know that only fatheads say “No perfect people allowed.” We know we’re not perfect. Yet we tend to sanction our standoff-in-the-corner-ishness based on imperfections we perceive in someone else. I thought we knew that people weren’t perfect. Turns out it’s easier to know the principle than to embrace an imperfect person.

The last thing that we can do is to tell our friends that, while the church on earth is full of imperfect people, only perfect people are allowed in heaven, and none of us can get there on our own. The good news is that Jesus came for the sick, He came to call sinners to repentance. All who do repent and believe are declared perfectly righteous in Christ. As Christians, we remember that He’s also in the process of transforming us. We don’t belong in church because we’re perfect, but we’re here because this is one of places He perfects us. That starts with confessing our sin.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not in Their Right Mind

We can take comfort as we observe the communion ordinance that we are probably either doing exactly what God wants us to do or we are absolutely crazy. There is no way that men could come up with this in their right mind.

What marketing group would build their team around an approach like Jesus? Who would erect a cross at the center of a global advertising platform? Who would pretend to eat another man’s flesh and drink his blood and call it spiritual worship? Not Jews. Not anyone else.

The apostle Paul wrote that the “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom” (1:22). No worldly wise man could figure it out. No religious scribe could research his way to it. No classically trained debater could discern it.

But, “to us who are being saved (the word of the cross) is the power of God” (1:18). That’s why “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:23-24).

Always remember, “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom” (1:21). He doesn’t need our counsel or advice. “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1:21). He doesn’t do it like we would do it. Christ took the road less pronounced and, in doing so, became the way to eternal life. He is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption for us who are in Christ Jesus. So we boast in Him, not in ourselves (1:30-31). It’s not crazy, it’s the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Chosen for Humility

Even Calvinists need to be humble. I preached all the way through John chapter 6 without using the word Calvinism once, though I most assuredly taught the truths from John 6 that Calvinism seeks to summarize. The Father chose a group of people to give to His Son. The Son gave His life, His flesh, for that group. The Spirit brings that group to life, giving them the desire to come to the Son. Each person in the group is guaranteed to be raised on the last day.

Not a one of them deserved it. They were hungry and Christ fed them. They could only behold Christ through unbelief until the Spirit opened their eyes. They were prone to walk away, and all of them would have except that Christ keeps them.

Peter’s affirmation of truth (in verses 68 and 69) was met by Jesus with another affirmation: Peter (and the staying disciples) believed because they were chosen (verse 70). There was no place for presumption, no place for uppityness, no reason to pat themselves on the back for theology well spoken. But for the grace of God they would have walked away with “many of His disciples” (verse 66).

Our time at the Lord’s table is similarly humbling. We affirm our belief that His sacrifice for sins is our only hope. We confess our personal trust in Christ when we eat and drink. We share a meal of peace with God and with God’s people. And the fact that we can do so says more about God than about us. But for the grace of God, we would walk away from the Table, not towards it.

We have every reason to be humbly thankful. We have every reason to boast in Christ. We have every reason to come to Him. He chose us for Himself.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Strength to Repent

The benediction in Romans 15:5-6 is one way of stating God’s aim for His people.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)

Not only do we see God’s goal for us, but we also see how difficult it is for us to get there. In order to “live in harmony with one another,” in order to glorify God “with one voice,” God must grant it. We cannot do it in our own strength. We don’t have the endurance for Project One Voice, so the “God of endurance” must help. We’re likely to be discouraged by a gangly body part that rubs us the wrong way, so the “God of encouragement” must help. In fact, we won’t even want to be in this community choir unless God saves us by the gospel. He has to overcome our pride and selfishness all along the way in order to teach us to sing together.

We can’t do it on our own, and yet we must do it.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7, ESV)

We must “welcome,” we must seek “not to please ourselves,” but “let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (verses 1 and 2). This is God’s goal for us in the gospel and our failure to do it is sin. You know who makes it hard? Me! I’m still in process of considering myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! So are you. But that’s no problem. That’s why we love the gospel.

We work against God when we will not endure the “failings of the weak.” We image some other Christ when we reject rather than receive one another. We’re not supposed to embrace others because they deserve it, but because we’ve been welcomed by Christ.

What God is after is what we fail at. What we fail at is what we should repent from. And what we repent from is what God helps us get after. The God of endurance and encouragement grants us strength, and that may start with granting us the strength to repent.

Every Thumb's Width

In the Flesh

My fork is in the (small) piece of the evangelical pie that cares about words. I mean we really care. We care about the truth and we work to understand the Bible accurately so that we can explain it faithfully. Words are powerful, yay, vital for eternal salvation and sanctification, so phrases and sentences are, you know, important and stuff.

A couple days ago Tim Challies shared a YouTube clip calling attention to “theological understanding and the theological precision in the way we speak.” The “video” (really, an audio-over-still-picture) is titled “You Cannot Live the Gospel” excerpted from a message by Voddie Baucham. He left no doubt about his position.

The gospel is news….We do not live the gospel. We cannot live the gospel. That’s foolishness. You don’t live news.

[The gospel] is news that happened yesterday. You can’t live it out.

Baucham either anticipated or figured from the response of the audience that not everyone liked what he was saying. He commented that it was probably because we hear the phrase “live out the gospel” so often that we’ve adopted the language. He was urging his hearers to be more precise.

You can live in light of the gospel. You can live because of the gospel. But you cannot live the gospel.

You have to use words to preach the gospel. Whether they are written words or spoken words, you have to use words. Why? Because the gospel is news!

I appreciate his point and agree. The gospel is the good news that Jesus suffered and died so that sinners who believe in Him could have eternal life. More precisely, believers are united with Christ in His death and also raised with Him in His resurrection. He is risen as He said! He lives! That means we who believe live too! This is really good news that we ought to proclaim.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t practice it as well. The apostle Paul lived it and I think he means for us to follow his example. He wrote to the Corinthians that he and his fellow ministers were:

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

The gospel is news that Jesus died and rose again, giving His life for others. Paul lived it out day by day. The gospel ought to be stated with our mouths and demonstrated in our bodies: “in my body,” “manifested in our bodies,” “in our mortal flesh.” The living and dying we do isn’t just part of our personal discipleship to Jesus, it is also for the benefit of others: “death is at work in us, but life in you.” Paul wasn’t being sarcastic, he was saying that the life of dying to bring life to others is effective. That’s how the gospel works because that’s how God made the world to work.

Baucham objects to the idea of “living the gospel” because he believes that someone who claims to do so is offering a substitute gospel.

For me to think that I can live the gospel is to put myself in the place of Christ. That is blasphemy. “You don’t need the news about Jesus, just watch me.” (emphasis his)

That would be blasphemous to die in order to bring life to someone with no reference to Christ. But “we who live are always being given over to death,” in other words, we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) so show off Jesus, “so that the death of Jesus” and “the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (4:10). We don’t die and live in place of Jesus but as a picture of Jesus and “for Jesus’ sake” (4:11). This “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” is what shows “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (4:7).

Paul says a similarly disturbing thing in his letter to the Colossians.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, (Colossians 1:24)

The apostle’s work “for the sake of [Christ’s] body, that is, the church” included suffering “in [the] flesh.” Paul was not arguing that his suffering–his life of dying–was redemptive. It was, however, illustrative. He wasn’t a replacement for the gospel, he was a living representation of the gospel.

Baucham mocked the idea that someone could

turn on the television and there’s a bunch of people out there just sort of living their lives and you look at it and somehow you’re supposed to determine what the news is.

Yet doesn’t dying for someone else beg the question Why? “Why would you die like that?” Answer: because we’re imitating our Lord who died for us. We do indeed reenact the news on a daily basis.

Paul’s didn’t separate the practice of dying to bring life from his preaching about Christ’s death to bring life. He had a stewardship “to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25), he did a lot of proclaiming and warning and teaching (Colossians 1:28). He didn’t “tamper with God’s word” (2 Corinthians 4:2), he proclaimed “Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5), and he spoke because he believed (4:13).

But “this treasure” (verse 7), held in “jars of clay,” was a gospel ministry and not just a message. The only “speaking” in the the paragraph about the treasure (verses 7-12) was his life of suffering and living and dying.

If we want to have “theological precision in the way we speak,” and we should, then we need to read, and obey, all the words. After all, we are the “Word” people. We should also pay closer attention to the life of dying that the gospel requires and not only to crafting our sentences about the gospel. Propositions and persons, preaching and practicing the gospel are not contradictory or competing. They compliment each other. The gospel is news, yesterday’s news and today’s news, and it is a way of life.

I like Baucham. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve listened to some messages he’s preached, read a couple books he’s written, and watched a few interviews he’s given. I disagree with this limited three-minutes of talking because of 2Co4 and because Baucham does live out the gospel. He clearly is a man who takes responsibility for others, who gives his life to serve and suffer for them, and he does it all in Jesus’ name, following Jesus’ example. His dying brings life to many by God’s grace. That’s living the gospel.

Maybe part of the reason that our proclaiming isn’t used by God to shine “in…hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6) is because we think that our platform for proclaiming has nothing to do with the news. Does God need our lives as platforms for the good news? Of course not. Does God use our lives as illustrations of the good news? Of course so. I’d say, per the apostle Paul, we better live the good news that we say is so good.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Giving a Rip

It may be hard to remember all the things that other people did that enable us to enjoy our time of communion. A team of people arrived early this morning and put the bread into these plates, filled the cups, and carried them upstairs to this table. Before that, someone woke up early, then made, baked, cut, and packed the bread. Before that, the same someone bought all the necessary ingredients and paid the electric bill so she they could turn on the oven. Before that, someone figured out how to beat flour and bake it into something chewy and tasty.

A moment’s reflection should help us be thankful for all the parts of the process I mentioned, let alone the thousands of other steps I didn’t. Yet in the back of our minds, we may be thinking, “Yeah, but I could do all that for myself if I needed to.” Maybe we could.

However, we could not give the Son like the Father did. We could not give our flesh for the life of others like the Son did. We could not give life to ourselves, or to anyone else, like the Spirit did. We could not give a rip about any of it without the Trinity.

We are far too easily presumptuous, giving ourselves far too much credit. We need to give thanks for what we’ve been given. We need to give God glory for His gracious gifts. We won’t even do that unless He gives us help to do so.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Waiting Power Outlet

Weekly worship on the Lord’s day isn’t only hard, it’s impossible for those who aren’t spiritual. In order to worship the true God who is spirit, we must worship in truth and in spirit. We too often assume that we can worship Him in truth and in flesh.

Take confession of sin for an example. We absolutely must acknowledge and confess our sin, as well as seek forgiveness and cleansing from our sin if we would draw near to the holy God. We need to confess and we need to want to confess, otherwise we’d merely be going through the motions. But we can’t comprehend our sin, let alone want to confess our sin without God’s help, namely without God’s Spirit.

We assume that we have the ability to repent whenever we want. We assume that we have access to forgiveness whenever we want. We act as if we can decide to flip a worship switch on Sunday and make it happen. We act as if we can do spiritual activities without the Spirit.

The assuming mindset is an unbelieving mindset. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the deceiving and enslaving power of our flesh. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the illuminating and delivering power of the Spirit. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the personhood of the Spirit, that He is a person that blows where He wishes, not a power outlet passively waiting for us to plug in whenever we wish.

We assume we get can ready and do this worship thing on our own. We need to confess our fleshly, unbelieving independence from Him who is our life and from the Spirit who gave it to us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Copy and Paste Communion

Those who gather around the Lord’s Table every week as we do face different temptations than those who do it once a year. A plain temptation that we face is that we would get used to it, take it for granted, fail to see it as special. Carrying out communion by copy and paste is a real danger for us.

The really real danger is that our believing might become copy and paste, that our faith might be nothing more than words copied from our Bibles to our notebooks. This is a daily temptation, not just a weekly one. So we really need to fight the temptation.

One weapon in the fight is to remember how much God wants us to have life. How eager is God for us to share life with Himself? The living Father is so eager that He sent His Son to give His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink so that those who eat and drink would live (John 6:57).

We are more in danger by not eating and drinking than by eating and drinking too often. We die if we do not believe. This weekly meal reminds us that we must keep on chewing, we must keep on believing if we want to keep on living. Consuming His flesh and blood is communing with the living God, and this meal won’t become copy and paste as long as we keep coming in living faith.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Bricklayer’s Trowel

Are you someone who is easy to edify or someone who is easy to offend? Do you respond like newly mixed mortar to the bricklayer’s trowel or like a bucket of gasoline to a lit match?

Too many church people are too easily offended. It only takes a spark to get a fire going and soon all those around run for cover. It’s almost impossible for an easily offended man to learn anything. The legitimacy of his irritation rests on his certainty of already being right. The offended lady makes herself the reference point, the higher standard that the lesser ladies apparently aren’t appreciating. Those who are easily offended are also easily isolated; they miss out on a lot of fellowship. They are easily anxious, since anyone and everyone might be the next possible offender.

This character is unteachable, detached, and frequently bothered. In other words, those who are easily offended are proud. But no matter how many Bible verses they write on the throne, the throne isn’t theirs to occupy.

On the other hand, it’s easy to edify the humble. It’s easy to build up a mature person. It’s easy to cheer and help a healthy person. And which one has more life? We want to be easily edified, and that starts with being humble before the Lord.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Meal of Triumph

The sacrifice of Christ was voluntary and compulsory. It was voluntary in that no law required it of Him, no external source coerced Him into it. And yet His sacrifice was motivated by love and He could not not love. God is love. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. The Son loved the world and laid down His life so that we could have life. Love compelled Him to give up His life so that His people could live.

The good news is that God, in Jesus, took on flesh, fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, died in place of sinners, and rose again to prove His triumph over sin and death. All of who believe share in that triumph.

What does that mean? What does participating in His triumph get us? We get life from and in His love. It’s what we did not have. It’s what we could not earn. We were dead, not to mention unlovely. Life is a gift of love received, a gift to be rejoiced over.

We may mourn our sin that brought the need for this Table. But even more we rejoice by faith that Christ has triumphed. We rejoice as we eat a meal in this triumph of life and love. Let’s do it together.