Lord's Day Liturgy

Four Unworthy Ways at the Lord’s Supper

Where two or three are gathered in His name there are bound to be problems. The Corinthians had problems. In 1 Corinthians 11, the chapter where Paul wrote most about communion, there were problems, factions among the people. The Corinthians were having such obvious problems at the Table that Paul said it couldn’t really be called the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:20).

There is a legendary phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:27 about eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord “in an unworthy manner.” The unworthy participant “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (verse 29), which could result in weakness, illness, and death (verse 30). Some pastors have turned “unworthy manner” into the focus and driven humble believers away from communion, which is also a problem.

Generally in our weekly liturgy we come to the Table in the attitude of the feast that it is. The Lord died so that we don’t face death. We come in thanks for salvation, not fear of judgment.

But obviously the instruction and warning needs to be given. “Unworthy” participation means that it doesn’t fit, it’s not a match with what’s happening. In brief, here are four unworthy ways.

  1. Unbelieving. The Lord Jesus Christ instituted the meal as a reminder of His body and blood, of His death for the sin of His sheep. It is a meal for those who actually believe what they are remembering.
  2. Unrepentant. It doesn’t fit to be in an ongoing pattern of doing what the Lord had to die to forgive. Communion isn’t for perfect people, but it is not for those who refuse to acknowledge their sin. That applies to non-Christians, to Christians out of fellowship, and in the extreme case for every person in 4th stage church discipline.
  3. Unbaptized. Believe/repent and be baptized, that’s the proper order (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; also examples in Acts 8:12-13, 18:8). Baptism is the first commandment for a disciple. While often reversed in ignorance, the right order is first, public identification with Christ in the water of baptism and then second, public sharing of the feast around the Lord’s table.
  4. Unwelcoming. I thought about mentioning this first, because it’s actually the problem in 1 Corinthians 11. There were divisions among the church, and some were humiliating others. The practicals of our practice make that harder, but you can still “despise the church” who drink wine, or eat gluten, or walk too slowly in front of you. This is a particular version of being unrepentant, but worth singling out as the actual opposite of communion.

Examine yourselves. Parents, teach your kids about this. If you’ve got family or friends visiting, talk to them beforehand.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Impatient over Misery

Paul told the Romans that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4). “Former days” in this case refer to Old Testament stories. We don’t have to think that the church has replaced Israel to learn from Israel.

In Judges 10 the “people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” They served the gods of their neighbors and not the Lord. The Lord’s anger was kindled against them and “He sold them into the hand” of their enemies, who “crushed and oppressed” the people for eighteen years so that Israel was “severely distressed” (Judges 10:6-9).

At the end of the paragraph, not only was the Lord’s anger no longer hot, the ESV translates that the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel” (10:16). “He could bear the misery of Israel no longer” (NASB), “His soul was short with the misery” (NASB note). He “grew tired of seeing Israel suffer so much” (NET).

The Lord went from being provoked by their behavior to being provoked by behavior toward them. Don’t you want that? Don’t we long for Him to be more tired of how we’re being treated than we are?

What changed? It’s not hard to find. By the Lord’s mercy the people started seeing their sin as the problem. They turned to the Lord. “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you.” They put way their gods and served the Lord; there was fruit of repentance. God does not despise a broken and contrite heart, He sends deliverance.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Hands Out

When Isaiah said that the Lord had His hands held out all day long to a disobedient and contrary people (Isaiah 65:2) he was speaking anthropomorphically. It’s a figure of speech, taking something a man would do and attributing that visible, understandable gesture to God’s attitude. A man with his hands out communicates a tender invite, shows an openness to welcome and a readiness to receive.

Isaiah must rejoice that his prophecy did not remain on the anthropological level but descended to the incarnational level. The Lord took on flesh, He took on His own hands, and His hands are proof of His readiness to receive the redeemed.

When Jesus showed up among His disciples in the locked room on the Sunday of His resurrection, He showed them His hands. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my had into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later Jesus came again among them and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands.” (John 20:20, 25, 27).

The scars proved it was Himself risen from the dead, the marks are reminders of His sacrifice. His love is not only a gesture. The body language communicates more than a sentiment, it accomplished our salvation.

Every Lord’s Day we come to the Lord’s Table at the Lord’s invitation. He welcomes His people with open, and scarred, hands.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Pastoral Attention

We’re at the time of year again when our elders/pastors (and our deacons) review their qualifications as overseers. We must answer if we think we are still meeting the character requirements (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9), if we still hold to or have developed new hesitations regarding “What We Believe,” if we are making progress in our spiritual lives that others can see, and if we can see fruit of God’s grace through our ministry work.

That’s just the first part of our annual affirmation process; it’s not biblical in that there is no explicit verse that provides a standard operating procedure for pastoral affirmation, but it is part of our attempt to apply the exhortation Paul gave to Timothy:

Keep a close watch (take heed – KJV, pay close attention – NASB) on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16 ESV)

It is hard to be honest, not because you want to put on a show, but because “close attention” always shows shortcomings, weaknesses, sins remaining to be killed, Christlike attributes needing to be pursued. It is a cause for humble rejoicing when someone says, “You’ve really grown in that area!” It is a cause for humble learning when someone says, “You really need to grow in that area.”

I bring this up for three reasons. First, Dave and Jim and Jonathan and Ryan and I are not satisfied, we do not think we’ve arrived, we press on (see Philippians 3:12-14). Second, please pray for Dave and Jim and Jonathan and Ryan and I as we seek to shepherd you for your progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25). And third, shepherds are to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3), and though your “teaching” may look different, you can still pay attention to yourselves. All believes ought to be able to answer similar questions as they pursue greater Christlikeness by faith.

The End of Many Books

Deeper Heaven

by Christiana Hale

If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would love fiction, I would have so non-fiction laughed in your face. If you would have told me that my favorite novel would be in the sci-fi genre, I might have encouraged you to book a flight on a SpaceX rocket. Yet here we are.

Deeper Heaven is more than a commentary, it’s a sort of celebration of C. S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. We focused on this trifecta at our most recent Fiction Festival, and I thought I’d read Hale’s book as part of my preparation. Well worth it.

She references Michael Ward’s book, Planet Narnia, and especially the medieval cosmology/astronomy Lewis so clearly loved and threaded into Narnia and these earlier planetary books. I enjoyed Ward a lot, and I think anyone can read his stuff. But if you’re just getting started you might find Hale’s orbit a bit more inviting.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Contagious Culture

by Anese Cavenaugh

Glad presence. That’s the standard for a good culture (home, school, business), and it’s the standard for the leader who wants to set—or elevate—the tone of a good culture.

This is my second time reading the book. I picked it up again because I recommended it to a guy who’s part of a team that needed some cultural heart-replacement. And while I still think some of it is repetitive rah-rah, it does put the responsibility in the right place: the one you see in the mirror.

I find the principle easier to envision than to embody. The grumblers and malcontents can get to me, and it’s also been a challenge to compensate for low energy and internal meh. That said, not blaming others or letting ourselves off the hook are evergreen reminders. Try a “presence reboot” and be the person you want the group to be full of.

3 of 5 stars

Related, and for fun, this talk about one buttock playing shows how it’s done.

The End of Many Books

The Gap and the Gain

by Dan Sullivan and (actually written) by Benjamin Hardy

If you have great ambitions you likely have great discouragements. The higher your ideals, the lower the chance you reach them. While it’s good to have good wants, it’s also crucial to have good perspective. This book encourages those who pursue big goals to practice even better gratitude.

The gap is the measurement between where you are and where you wish you were. The gain is the measurement between where you were and how far you’ve come. A focus on the gap likely leads to discouragement and frustration. A grasp of the gain promotes a positive frame and makes further progress desirable; you work out of good feelings rather than out of anxiety and pressure.

Here is the diagram:

The gap and the gain is a sticky idea, one that I won’t soon forget. And I’m only giving the book itself 3 out of 5 stars. A friend of mine recommended it, I’m glad I read it, and again, the concept has legs. But you see the whole track after a couple laps, and after a certain amount of repetition you just get tired, not better trained. It could also use a bit more warning: it’s not for the non-ambitious. Couch potatoes might be better being a little more frustrated.

If you are big-visioned and if you are big-struggling with how far away you seem to be from reaching the vision, this might edify you. You could also just try being more thankful, which never hurts.

3 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Lamp of the Lamb

In his vision the apostle John “saw a Lamb standing, as thought it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).

Those whose names have been “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8) have been redeemed by the Lamb, they will dwell forever with the Lamb, they are called “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9). And in the heavenly Jerusalem John saw the lighting situation:

the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, (Revelation 21:23–24 ESV)

The lamp of the Lamb will be so bright and consistent that “There will be no night there” (Revelation 21:25). “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

The Lord’s Table is a reminder of the work of the Lamb, and of our future with Him. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:12)

The bite and the sip are but tastes of the eternal feast, our communion here just a spark of the eternal light and fellowship we will share. Our Lord, the Lamb, come!

Lord's Day Liturgy

Buried Grudges

Easter is the day (though it’s true every seven days, and for that matter all 365 days) that we remember that God accepted the sacrifice of His Son for all our sin. Jesus died for our anger, lust, adultery, unfaithfulness, and retaliation (think the categories Jesus referenced in the Sermon on the Mount). He died for our grumbling and our envy. He died for our pride, our worries, our self-preciousness. He died for our willful failure to remember and rejoice in what is true.

We have hewn out broken cisterns of bitterness thinking that drinking the bitter cup might at least numb the pain, but of course it makes us more sick. Jesus drank the bitter cup so that we do not need to be sour. We have tried to hide in the darkness of lies and deceit thinking that we could escape trouble, but of course it increases the burden of guilt. Jesus exposed the real nature of lies and bore the wrath of deceivers. We have withheld forgiveness thinking that it would make us feel like we had the upper hand, only to find ourselves locked up in grudges. Jesus died that our grudges might be buried, that we might be forgiven and free from resistance to forgive others.

In Him we have been raised to walk in newness of life. We do not love the darkness, but we come to the light that it might be seen that any patience, humility, faithfulness, joy, love, courage, self-denial, and goodness in us are fruits of Christ’s work, fruits of union with Christ, fruit of Christ’s Spirit in us. Let us walk in the light as He is in the light for sake of fellowship with one another, and remember that the blood Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Suffering Week

Last Sunday began our remembrance of Passion Week. The “Passion” part isn’t referring to a strong emotion, it comes from the Latin word passio meaning suffering. Isaiah foretold that He would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). This is the Suffering (Servant’s) Week.

On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and many hailed Him as the Messiah. On Monday Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed His Father’s house for the second time. On Tuesday He taught on Mt. Olivet and Judas agreed on a price for betrayal. On Wednesday we don’t know exactly what Jesus did. On Thursday Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and ate the Passover Meal with them, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas, and tried. On Friday Jesus was tried again and again, beaten over and over, crucified, and buried. There is no record of events on the Sabbath, but by early the following Sunday the tomb was empty.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to pageantry and praise. On the day we call Palm Sunday, the crowd was eager to crown their King (according to the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9). They cried out, “Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray!” They laid their clothes and palm branches on the road in front of Him.

He was their Messiah, but not the One they wanted. He offered them life, but not the kind they wanted. He came to defeat their greatest enemy, their death-deserving sin, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. They just wanted Him to defeat the Romans.

And Jesus did, all that and more, though not as the people had imagined. Through His suffering we are free. Through His sacrifice we are forgiven. Through His wounds we are healed. He bore the sins of many, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand (Isiah 53:10-12).