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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Good Old News

I heard something like this recently: there is freedom that comes from reading and remembering old things. Forgetting (the good things) makes us cultists of the new.

The news is a blessing in that it informs us about recent and (possibly) important events. That information isn’t always encouraging (or true), but making informed decisions is preferable to ignorant decisions.

Of course there is a liturgy to the “breaking” news, a bias we learn to put on what is up to the minute. But there should be a balance, holding what is recent in context with what we remember.

The liturgy of the Lord’s Table helps. When Paul remembered what he had received from the Lord, and reminded the Corinthians about it, he repeats that the Lord Jesus Himself repeated the act of remembering.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed 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, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25 ESV)

“In remembrance” is fine, it could also be understood as do this for or unto remembrance. We eat and drink not only because of what’s in mind, but the bread and wine get it into our mind. We have all we need because the Lord Jesus died and rose again for our salvation. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Killing Without Contact

I’ve been urging you to put off anger for four exhortations, and there will be a few more, Lord willing.

When we read God’s Word we try to pay attention to order and proportion. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus started with the Beatitudes, moved to how the blessed are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and then He taught about how He fulfilled the law. The ones who thought they were the law-informed, the law-instructors, the law-keepers were not. Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Then under the longest heading in His sermon Jesus gives six examples of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” He addresses lust, divorce, covenant-breaking, retaliation, and low-level love. But do you remember His first correction?

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder: and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here are three surprises to the “righteous” guys:

  • anger is a heart issue
  • anger is like killing
  • anger is enough to make a man guilty

Anger is the first one on the list, the worst one. Anger is like murder. Anger KILLS without a weapon. Anger will keep a man out of the kingdom of heaven. And unlike murder, you don’t necessarily even have to come in contact with the other person. In that case the victim is one’s self, one’s own soul. Give anger no place in your heart.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessings with Taste

Is communion a spiritual thing/blessing, or a material/bodily thing/blessing?

Part of the point is that it’s material; this ordinance requires the use of our mouths as much as our minds. But Sacramentalists assert that grace in the sacraments (baptism and communion) is inherently efficacious and necessary for salvation. They locate power to be present in the bread and wine regardless of whether faith is present in the eater. That’s not right.

Our kind of Spirit-and-truth Christians have been tempted to run the other way, as if blessings have no taste. If it’s not spiritual, we better make it spiritual, and what better way to do that than to ignore the material? That’s also not right.

The Word became flesh (John 1:14). His flesh and blood were given for eternal life (John 6:54). His resurrection was physical (1 Corinthians 15:4), not mystical. So also among the blessings of our salvation by faith we anticipate better bodies, immortal but not immaterial (1 Corinthians 15:53).

I think we would classify communion as a material meal of blessing that only spiritual men are truly blessed by. Our koinonia is a sharing of Christ who we do not currently see, but we share Him as part of His body, the church, who we do see. We are blessed.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Anger by Another Name

It’s an urban legend that Eskimos have fifty words for different types of snow. Even so, that’s nothing compared to how many different words a man will use to claim he’s not angry.

Can you be annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, upset, and not be mad/angry? Can you be any of those and not be sinning? Maybe. It’s not impossible, it is highly improbable.

Rather than parse feelings and draw thin lines between nuanced definitions, let’s ask some questions.

Is your increasing fellowship with your people? If your vibe is creating distance, doing damage, does it matter how you’re defining it?

Is your accomplishing the righteousness of God? The anger of man does not according to James 1:20, and while you can not be righteous of lot of ways other than being angry, is your response setting the room right?

Is your a good work? In Ephesians 2:8-10 we know we’re saved by grace through faith as God’s workmanship for good works that He’s prepared beforehand for us to walk in. So is your a beauty spot in God’s painting of your life? Can you honestly say, “This was written by God for me to perform as a glory for His gracious salvation”?

We want to save face by making sure that the person we’ve sinned against knows what we only sinned at Anger Level One instead of Nine, like it could have been, and maybe they should be a bit more appreciative. We weren’t angry, just frustrated. Well, yeah, good, but ones add up, and joy breaks down, no matter what you call it. Beloved, stop pleading the dictionary. Put away anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Mission Communion

Not everyone is called to be a teacher, but those who are richly indwelt by the word of Christ do teach and admonish one another. Not everyone is called to be a missionary to unreached tribes, to be an Evangelist, but we are to make disciples as we’re going, wherever it is God has us going.

We need wisdom, and maturity, and love, and the right sort of burden here. If we do not love God’s name and desire God’s worship among all the peoples we do not really grasp God’s authority, or glory, or grace. And yet most Christians in the body of Christ are not called/gifted by God to be vocational missionaries, regardless of the “guilt” that has been easy for furloughing missionaries to heap on at missions conferences.

More burden for the lost to hear the good news, and more blessing for our lives because of the good news. More light and salt in our good works before men, and more encouragement of those who are given gifts and desire to GO.

Our communion at the Lord’s Table is part of this process. This meal ought not give us an excuse to be lazy, it is food for our joy in the good news. And this meal, while only celebrated by believers, is a declaration of good news to those who don’t believe.

The Supper isn’t capital E Evangelism, and yet “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Supper belongs with God’s own mission to make a people for Himself.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What It Really Means to Be Right

Put off anger. That’s a command (Colossians 3:8). The imperative follows a perspective adjustment, seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1), and those “things above” certainly include fellowship. Want true fellowship. Like reverse and forward, so anger and fellowship work in opposite directions.

Desire true communion more than a quiet room. Among other anger “hacks,” desire the better control. Raise your standard of what it means to be right.

We get mad when something happens that we don’t like. We get irritated when someone doesn’t do what we wanted them to do. It helps to see how our responses of anger, wrath, and malice reveal that we want to be in control.

Such a desire would be silly if it weren’t so destructive. And also, it is a foolish want because it’s lesser.

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
(Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

One of my favorite illustrations EVAR is from Doug Wilson on this passage.

“self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall.”

What’s the standard? What is truly glorious? My self-control. My acting right. My repentance. My example. Self-control is not selfish; self-control is true and better control.

How many rounds can you go with your spouse, your kid, your boss, before you blow up? That is the measure of thickness of your “wall.” Is it stronger than the butcher paper held up by the cheerleaders that the team runs right through?

Identify your triggers, and ask yourself not only what response would strengthen the relationship, but also what response would make me really right?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What Is Like Our Communion?

Who is like our God? This repeated, rhetorical question expects obvious honor for only One. And, as an implication of His glorious work, who are like the people that God is making for Himself?

God does whatever He pleases. He pleases to fulfill His Word to His covenant people, and He pleases to fulfill His Word showing mercy to those who knew no mercy so that even the Gentiles might glorify God for His great mercy (Romans 15:9). As Isaiah said, the Lord has shown Himself to those who did not ask for Him (Romans 10:20). How gracious!

We who confess that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead are part of the offering created by the gospel of God, a sanctified offering to be acceptable to God.

And as a local church, we affirm the work of the gospel in our members. We receive their confession of faith in Christ, their profession of faith in baptism, and their participation with us around the Lord’s Table. We commit to care for them and to urge them to use their gifts, given to them by God’s grace, for the building up of the body (Romans 12:6).

What a great privilege to be the Lord’s. What is like our communion with Him and each other?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Burning Desire

Why is anger so hard to put off? It’s as if someone mistook us for an escape artist like David Copperfield, knotted us up in a straight-jacket of irritation, locked heavy chains of hostility around us, nailed us shut into a box of exasperation, and then dumped us into class 5 rapids of rage, stood back and said, “Get out of that!” We feel trapped (see also Proverbs 22:24-25).

As Christians we know anger is a sin. We know it’s foolish. We know it’s destructive. We know we shouldn’t.

But “brute force” attempts to stop anger usually only succeed temporarily. Any time “off” is better than always on, and also, “I’m not going to get angry (this time)” needs more support.

As usual in the Christian life, an imperative (Colossians 3:8) depends on the indicative. We really need to remember that we’ve died with Christ (Colossians 2:20) and we’ve been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). We have a new identity, a new life in Christ. Then we’re to “put to death what is earthly” (Colossians 3:5), and we “put off” more of the earthly (Colossians 3:8), starting with anger, wrath, and malice.

I bring this up to say that what is “earthly” here is not steak, but sexual immorality. What is earthly is not art, but anger.

With that in mind, by contrast we’re supposed to seek “things that are above,” we’re to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The “things that are above” are what? It’s not angels. It’s not pearly gates or wispy clouds, not big harps or wings on our backs. What characterizes things above? What’s above includes presence not isolation or division, joyful peace not distress and conflict, harmony not tension and cacophony.

And this is the vital paradigm shift. Putting off anger is a habit, a discipline, an obedience, all of that, yes. But men will struggle to put off anger without a burning desire for fellowship on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, give up wanting to make others pay for what you don’t like, and even more cultivate your great liking for the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). More to say.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion-telic

Perhaps one way to think about our Lord’s Day worship is that our liturgy is Communion-telic but not Communion-centric. It is not all Communion all service, but the service points to the sacrament of Communion and blesses us by it.

The call to worship is a call to communion, not the ordinance proper, but still to divine fellowship. Our emphasis on the assembly means we are not isolated individuals, separated like markings on a ruler—close but never touching. Instead we’re pieces of a puzzle, meant to fit together and to make a bigger picture.

The confession of sin is a step toward communion, though again, not yet a physically step toward the Lord’s Table. What disrupts fellowship? Sin. When we confess our sin, it’s so we can walk in the light with Him, and with each other. Forgiveness includes deliverance from isolation and division.

All the various parts of the consecration move us closer to communion, in spirit and in truth, and in time. There’s back and forth, giving and receiving. God speaks to us in His Word, we speak to Him in our supplications. He provides food and light and comfort to us in His Word, we express our gratitude to Him in the offering.

Then we have our Communion meal. We all remember the Lord’s death (as He said to do, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25) and we all proclaim it (as Paul said we do, 1 Corinthians 11:26) as we eat and drink together.

The shared peace with God and joy of the Lord is the telos, the acme of goodness. Our communion is the worship made complete. Communion is our eternal life, and until we have communion with no more need of faith, weekly communion by faith it strengthens our hearts to depart for our work in the peace that Christ has purchased.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Put Off Anger

There is a wicked triplet introduced in Colossians 3:8. It begins the “put off” part of the paragraph; put these things away, don’t leave these clothes on or pick them up. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice.” The list continues, but these are like the three-headed dog, Cerberus (sərbərəs), who prevents men from leaving the underworld. There’s probably an analogy here, as in anger keeps men from really living.

I didn’t know how prophetic my favorite book as a kid would be for when I became a man: Boy, Was I Mad. And while I still enjoy the story, it took me decades to learn the lesson. If I had one sin in my vice wardrobe that I seemed to be wearing all the time, it would be anger.

Those of you who’ve known me longest have had opportunity to see much God-given progress; by grace I wear kindness, patience, and love more often. No one has been more burned by the brunt of my anger than my wife, kids next of course. Even when others outside our house couldn’t see it, it was affecting them. We’re all one body, and if one member is blowing up all the time, the body’s health is broken.

I’ve been trying to think about what helped me most grow in this sanctification. I had serious paradigm remodeling to do, and over the next couple exhortations I plan to share some of those truths.

But for now, know that anger often has the nuance of feeling like others should pay for something you don’t like. Wrath is anger intensified with feelings into rage and fury, and malice grows with feelings of hatred that even lead to plans to dish out your anger, not mere responses. None of those are righteous. Brothers, put away your anger.