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Lord's Day Liturgy

Power Communion

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). Paul said it was in power. As those loved by God and called to be saints, we not only declare that Jesus was resurrected in power, we share in the power of His resurrection.

It’s a supernatural thing, and requires God’s help to see it.

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead (Ephesians 1:18-20b)

The “immeasurable / surpassing (NASB) / incomparable (NET) greatness of his power” is a lot; it’s not measured in units of horsepower or joules or watts. It is demonstrated in the resurrection from the dead.

It’s something we are gifted, it’s also something that apparently we can desire, and even desire more and more.

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:9-10b)

The God who promised to send His Son had power to raise His Son from the dead; He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). This same God promises that “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). We are a communion of resurrection power.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Shortage of Little Popes

I came across a snarky joke made by a psychologist and, since it wasn’t aimed at me, I could laugh rather than be defensive. Someone wrote to Carl Jung, who created a whole approach to counseling others, asking Jung for life advice. Jung replied, “Your questions are unanswerable, because you want to know how to live. One lives as one can. There is no single, definite way….If that’s what you want, you had best join the Catholic Church, where they tell you what’s what.”

Before the Pope, there were the Pharisees. They invented elaborate extras to make sure a man had a rule for every decision. “This is how you make God happy, we’re just sure of it. Of course, it’s not exactly what the Lord said.”

In some ways, this is better than what the legit pagans had. As Tom Holland points out in his book Dominion, even the Greeks knew that if a law wasn’t transcendent, men would make laws to the hurt of others. The problem was, there wasn’t agreement on what the gods required. And “unlike those of mortal origin, were not written down: it was precisely their lack of an author which distinguished them as divine.” This would be perpetual confusion.

Man-made and human-determined standards of virtue and righteousness become weapons of manipulation and condemnation. The followers of such standards become mobs, and those who dislike the standards can mob-back. There is no shortage of little popes.

As Christians we know that God has given His Word, and He’s put His law on the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). Paul depended on this transcendent truth with immanent application, and then looked forward to the day when, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).

The standard is found in the gospel; there we learn about the living God and about His requirements for living. The gospel calls out our actual sins, and it calls us to only Savior. Submit to no substitutes, no matter how white and pointy the hat (or lab coat).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Remaining Charge

The gospel is the power of God to get us to stop looking at ourselves. In ourselves, we see not a thing worth celebrating, and that’s if God helps us (without His help we might see something good, but it would be because we’re deceiving ourselves). We see the desire to do what’s right, but lack of ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Other times we do what some other part of us didn’t want to do (Romans 7:19). God’s Word cuts down to the covetousness in our hearts that others might not even see (Romans 7:8), and what seems worse, our sin even misuses God’s Word to stoke our desire for what we aren’t supposed to want (Romans 7:9).

So, then, can you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table in a “worthy” manner? You can’t if you’re looking at you. You can, and you must, if you are looking at Christ.

One of the great crescendos is in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The judgment coming down on us as sinners, the true sentence and just punishment we deserved, have been taken by Christ for all those who are in Him. We have been weighed and measured, and we have been found without remaining charge in Jesus.

By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3b-4)

The ordinance of communion is not when we look at what we’ve done in our flesh, but when we look at what Jesus accomplished in His flesh. Only one is gospel.

The bread and wine are gift. Receive them as symbols of your freedom from condemnation in Christ.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Nuh-uh

The word “repent” doesn’t appear once in Romans. The word “repentance” occurs just once (Romans 2:4). In a similar and surprisingly empty vein, the word “confess” (or “confesses”) only occurs three times, but none of the three are about confessing sin but rather refer to confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9, 10; 14:11).

Repent and confess are vital words in biblical soteriology; both are revealed in other Scripture as conditions of forgiveness (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9). It could be argued that the idea of both are found in Paul’s longest letter, but there is as much explanation of it as there is exhortation to it. If the Spirit gives understanding of the Word, the Spirit will also help us know what to do.

The fact is, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, which is actually a quotation of Psalm 14:1-3). Those are the revealed facts. What are we supposed to do with them?

We are supposed to stop arguing otherwise; no more “Nuh-uh!” The law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). But God is after more than our silence. He calls us to turn to the One the Law and the Prophets bear witness to: Jesus Christ. We are to receive Jesus by faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24).

Let us not be ashamed to keep confessing that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), and presenting ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Gospel Salvo

For our Sunday evening series this upcoming year, we’re going to have the elders preach through First Peter. We’ve never rotated through paragraphs of the same book before, and this will cover the letter from different angles. It seems like an especially timely study, full of teaching on true submission and costly, righteous suffering.

One of my favorite verses in 1 Peter is one I have to hold off using too frequently as a reminder of forgiveness.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that me might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

That is not actually the entire verse, let alone the entire sentence, which extends to the end of verse 20. It introduces what is probably the most difficult and debated paragraph in 1 Peter, and I volunteered to preach that passage when we get to it. But this gospel salvo is worth celebrating.

It is also what we’re doing here at the Lord’s Table. We are thinking about Christ, the promised and perfect offering. We remember His righteousness, His unjust suffering, His payment for our sins, and we remember what we get from it. Yes, we are saved, but saved for what? Saved as in brought to the Father.

We are forgiven for forgiveness’ sake, because in our guilt we needed it. We are forgiven for justice’s sake, so that God might be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). But we are also forgiven for fellowship’s sake, because we were far away. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Against a Painted Happiness

We’ve chosen the next book for our Men to Men meetings, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson. Watson was a Puritan, and a non-conformist, meaning that he refused to “conform” to the Church of England’s requirements. When the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662, Watson was take off the list of “approved” pastors. He continued to preach anyway—in homes, barns, and backwoods. As a group of men we’ve not read one of these Puritan paperbacks before, and our first discussion will be at the October meeting.

Not far into his subject, Watson points out the problems with “painted on” godliness. Though the title of his work is about a “picture,” the descriptions he gives are three-dimensional, of spiritual substance, not surface.

Watson laments beauty that is only paint-deep. “Will painted gold enrich a man? Will painted wine refresh him who is thirsty?” (17).

He who has only a painted holiness shall have a painted happiness. (17)

This is what we cannot be, as men, as Christians. If we are to be those who rejoice in their trials (James 1:2), if we are to be those who rejoice in their toil (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 5:19), then we must be those whose rejoicing wells from the heart-deeps. This also means that our confession of sin must do more than scratch and scrub at the surface. Strip off the layers and let godliness be like stain in the grain, not a veneer, a coat of gloss.

If we are to be godly, and have a godly gladness about us, then we must get all the way down to it, even from our knees.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Blanket of Porcupine Quills

Anxiety rages around us like a drunk two year-old, like a pounding hurricane parked right offshore. Cultural fretting is as fast and furious as our President is slow and confused. There are fights without and fears within. What we see in Afghanistan is horrific, and that is just the current focus of the camers. We have friends who are in pain, friends who are under threats and facing uncertain futures. Marriages are struggling, important projects are unfinished, big decisions need making. Anxiety is like being wrapped in a blanket of porcupine quills, as uncomfortable as it is unhelpful.

But Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). He said, “In “the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The “rule” is like that of an umpire. Take a look at the situation and then make a judgment: be at peace.

Jesus died and rose again so that you might have peace with God (Romans 5:1). The Father and Son sent their Spirit that you might know the fruit of love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22). This peace is a gift, and it is potent, like a deep river (Isaiah 48:18; 66:12). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Those Who Call on the Lord

Paul told one of his disciples to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). The virtues listed here are religious meat and potatoes, but it is the company around the table that I’d like to consider: “those who call on the Lord.”

That’s not typical terminology for us, but it may be the first proactive descriptor of worshippers in the Bible. It’s in Genesis 4 that men “began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)

To “call on” means not only to depend on, but to depend on consciously, verbally. It’s especially applicable when men are in trouble and distress (Psalm 118:5; 120:1); they call on the one who can guide and protect. It’s applicable for our greatest trouble, sin, with its guilt and our awareness of just judgment against us, and we call on the one who can forgive and restore. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, cited from Joel 2:32).

And this is a group that can be distinguished. Paul knew a lot of other labels, including those called by God, but these are those who call on God.

What an encouragement that we are not alone, that our life as disciples is connected to our life in the assembly. When we are having a hard time, we are with others who are calling on the Lord. when others are having a hard time, we know what to do: call on the Lord.

The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
(Psalm 145:18)

Let us be those who call on the Lord from a pure heart, and that reminds us to confess our sins.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Something to Miss

If there was a man who took it as a great punishment to be invited to a well-prepared table with family and friends, we would say something was wrong with that man. His feeling of burden or horror might be due to the bruised trauma of a previous experience, or maybe a failure to regulate hyper-introversion, or maybe straight-up selfishness. Under normal circumstances, it should be more of a punishment to not be included.

The Lord’s Supper is a well-prepared table for the sons and daughters of the Lord, for brothers and sisters, for all those adopted by the Father, for those transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, for each individual member of the same body. Rightly received by faith, the bread reminds us of Christ’s body given for our forgiveness, and where sin abounded grace abounded much more. Rightly received by faith, the wine reminds us of Christ’s blood shed for us, and where sin disrupted our relations His blood covers and reconciles. It is a cup of blessing (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Gathering here is no burden, no punishment, no cause for anxiety. By grace, our communion as a church has been the opposite. Some of our best singing, at least in loudest volume and joyful noises, is done during this part of our liturgy. Some of the best facial expressions, at least most awake and biggest smiling, is during the walking and waiting in line. That is how it ought to be.

May God use it to give you such a taste that the Lord is good that you would never turn away from Him. May God disciple your loves that you would feel the pain of discipline if you had to miss it.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not in the Now

One thing we’ve really been seeking to do better as a church is consider the relationship between sacred and secular. Often the two are distinguished as church and not church, but if that’s the line, then we are headed for problems, as church history has shown. Others want to see the everything in the world as sacred, but that could make it harder to avoid the sin of worldliness, as if there was no such thing.

The word secular comes from the Latin saeculum which meant “age,” an amount of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population, a generation. It’s a measured way of referring to the now, the current. A secular man is identified as a man of this age. He’s a chronological sectarian. His context is narrow because his context only has room for what’s on the calendar on his desk.

A Christian man lives in the present, but his faith connects him to higher realities in heaven, invisible realities in the present, inescapable realities in history, and inevitable realities to come. It’s not only the immediate things that are relevant, it’s God who determines what is relevant, the God who was and is and is to come.

The things that are seen are secular, they are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We have been given amazing things, we live during the most blessed time in history, and yet our identity is not in the now, but in Christ. We have died with Him, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, we will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4). For now, we see the world and do our work in His light (John 8:12).