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Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Strings to Tune

Liturgy is an effective teacher. The way we do things and the order in which we do them shapes us and shows others about the worship of God. Because we are souls with bodies, the outward parts of our worship matter.

Likewise, because we are whole persons, because our thinking and our acting are necessarily connected, it is dishonest to conceal heart problems with religious ceremony.

God gave Israel instructions for how to draw near to Him. The sequence of sacrifices cleansed and consecrated the worshipper for sake of communion with God. But Israel often followed the directions and failed to bring their heart along. So, for example, David wrote:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16–17)

We are not obedient no matter how carefully we follow certain liturgy if we do not deal with our hearts before the Lord. Then our conduct must match. In David’s case, the song followed and finished with (often ignored verses):

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51:18–19)

A two-stringed guitar has two ways to be out of tune. Our souls and our service are His, both must be tuned for harmony. The inside must be right. And if the inside is right, it must come out right.

God loves our worship when we offer our sacrifices as humble, whole-hearted, open-handed people. He made blood and tongues and knees and hearts for worship. He is pleased with broken hearts and then delights in the offerings we are. True worship begins in the heart, but it doesn’t end there.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Too Close for Some

The Lord’s supper is a meal of peace and provision. Not only do we commune by eating His food, we must eat His flesh to live. Jesus said,

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51)

This connection is so close that it’s disagreeable.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52–53)

But,

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57–58)

The imagery is God’s miraculous supply of manna to the Israelites. Of course, the imagery also fits with the peace offering. The sacrifice was killed, cut, cooked, then consumed. Jesus Himself prophecies that He would be killed and that He must be consumed. Without identifying with Him by consuming Him we have no life.

That’s how serious God is about being with us. He sent His own Son to take on flesh so that we could live forever with the living Father, with the Son who lives (6:57), and with the Spirit who gives life (6:63). God wants fellowship with us, so we must eat Christ’s body and drink His blood. That’s true life and true communion.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Glad to Forgive and Fellowship

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.

We affirm his repentance. We endorse the son’s remorse. We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.

We don’t relate to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his compassionate reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.

The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.

How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re found, because He loves His children. He’s glad to have us back.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

In a Dining Hall

The Trinity intends to share their life with men. Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), it is sharing loving fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. At the center of this life-giving work is the cross. The one sacrifice of Christ satisfies the death penalty our sin deserved, His sacrifice purifies us, and it enables us to share a meal with God. His offering brings peace.

The end of the sacrifice is not forgiveness, the goal is fellowship. The cross brings peace, participation, communion. It can’t happen without rebellion being defeated, without righteousness being declared. But the cross, and our remembrance of it, does not end on the battlefield or in a courtroom, but in a dining hall.

We would not know how to handle the Old Testament peace offering. “What? We get to eat as worship? We get to enjoy a meal together with God?” We’re more comfortable with a theological dictionary then a loaf of bread. So, alright, let’s look at that dictionary and select a big word.

What does “atonement” mean? It is an early 16th century word that describes repair work done for a damaged relationship, in particular, the reconciliation of God and men through the death of Jesus. Atonement brings us together, we have at-one-ment (-ment as the resulting state of being at one).

In many ways, communion is the pinnacle of our worship. It is the final offering, a fellowship feast of peace with God. Those who are forgiven in Christ, who are devoted to serve Him, are invited to eat with Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

We Call It Choice

Every culture can be identified by its worship and all worship can be identified by its sacrifices. Some of the most grotesque, almost unimaginable sacrifices were offered by Israel’s pagan neighbors in the Old Testament. In order to please Molech, the Ammonites slaughtered their own children. We are horrified that any society could condone this sort of religion. What kind of god accepts child sacrifices as worship?

Our society doesn’t call it religion or worship, we call it choice. We call it reproductive freedom. We call it surgical procedures. And most Christians appear only mildly disturbed that our culture murders unborn children at the rate of over 3000 per day for the last 39 years.

These sacrificial killings are performed at the altar of the god of self, the god of pleasure, the god of convenience. Our culture’s god isn’t Molech, the god is almighty Me, and the people love her, or him.

What should we Christians do about abortion? We should start with worship, the foundation of our anti-idolatry campaign. People will not stop serving sin apart from repentance and belief in gospel of Jesus Christ. We who proclaim the gospel must believe it and worship Him as Lord.

The first thing we should do in our worship is confess our sins. We also are tempted to serve the gods of self, pleasure, and convenience. We ought to confess our own abominations, including our apathy for the Triune God and life in Him. Judgment is already on our country and the household of God should get right first.


For more on our culture of death, read Abortion Is as American as Apple Pie by Al Mohler.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Like a Segregation

In his first letter to them, Paul admonished the Corinthian church about their failure to commune at communion. They were eating and drinking, they were in the same place as one another, but they were still disconnected from each other.

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20–22)

Their Lord’s table liturgy also involved a meal of fellowship, which was fine, except that there was no fellowship. Honoring the sacrifice of Christ requires relationship, it requires us to consider one another, serve one another, love one another, because Christ did. Their worship looked more like a segregation than a congregation.

Together we eat and drink symbols of Christ’s sacrifice and this cannot be done rightly without sacrificing ourselves to God and for one another. Small sacrifices may include waiting patiently for someone else in front of you. It may look like getting the elements for someone else. It may look like watching another’s kids while they’re up front. It may look like singing your guts out in a song you don’t particularly care for.

It includes being thankful even when your last week was brutal and the upcoming week looks no better. It includes not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, but realizing that each one of us is just a stone in the temple wall. When we eat the Lord’s supper, we fellowship with the other living stones as God builds us as a spiritual house.

So here we go, all together now.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Matter What They Were

Every once in a while someone at our church throws around the word liturgy. Because most of us don’t come from traditions that talked about liturgy at all or we’re from backgrounds that badmouthed it if they did, it’s easy to misunderstand.

Liturgy refers to a predetermined or prescribed set of practices in corporate worship. Every church, every one, has liturgy, whether or not they talk about it or whether it is obvious. A church that says, for example, “We don’t want to follow any liturgy, we want the Spirit to lead,” is at that moment, of course, making plans beforehand. To say, “We don’t want to focus on liturgy” is basically saying, “We don’t want to give thought to how we worship.”

Our liturgy is more obvious, though not too sophisticated. We don’t follow our order of service for sake of tradition, but for sake of the points it makes. Let me illustrate a point for those who still wonder about the point.

One part of our plan includes confessing our sins every Lord’s day. I usually offer a brief exhortation each week about a specific area that might need confession. But, do all of us remember what sins we confessed a year ago today? Do we remember what sins we confessed last Sunday?

Most of us probably don’t remember the details we confessed but we do remember that we did confess. If we forgot because we didn’t actually confess, then that’s no good. But if we confessed and can’t remember the specific sins, is there a point?

The liturgy of confession makes the point that, as long as we’re on earth, we still have sin. It makes the point that sin keeps us from fellowship with God and must be dealt with first. It makes the point that the gospel of Jesus has an answer for sin. It makes the point that if we confess our unfaithfulness, He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us. The liturgy of confession does us good because grace is greater than all our sin, no matter what our sins were that week.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

All the Way Down the Line

Looking at our corporate service from an unbeliever’s point of view, how ridiculous must it seem for us to confess our sins as part of our worship? What idiots would assemble in order to acknowledge their failures? From an outsider’s perspective, why would anyone go to get worked over like this? If you were an unbeliever, and if you were forced to acknowledge that God exists, you wouldn’t want Him to be authoritative. If forced to acknowledge that He is authoritative, you wouldn’t want Him to holy. If forced to acknowledge that He is holy, you wouldn’t want Him to made His standards known. If He did make His law known, you wouldn’t want Him to offer forgiveness as easy as asking for it. To an outsider, confessing sins is ridiculous all the way down the line.

Turn it around though. From a believer’s perspective, how advantageous is it for us to confess our sins like this? Think about how many things we proclaim without even using words. In our confession of sin we confirm the existence of God; we confess to someone. Without words we affirm God’s authority over us. We acknowledge His holiness, that He has a standard. We recognize that He has revealed His standard; we can’t claim ignorance. We affirm that He cares, that He hears us. We admit that we are guilty, that what He said about us is true. We assert that we can’t buy or work our way out of guilt. We declare our belief in the free forgiveness of the gospel, in the sacrifice of God’s Son.

How advantageous for us! How economical! In one element of worship we honor His existence, His authority, His holiness, His revelation, His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness. If only all of our worship was as easy as confessing our sins.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Meat of the Meal

When you sit down to dinner, when does the nutrition start to work? When do you feel most connected to those around the table? When is the best part of the meal; what part do you enjoy the most?

Some of the benefits come after the meal. The body digests the food, turning it into energy and (depending on what you’ve eaten) muscle. We look back and remember the conversation and the laughs shared. There are benefits, but we wouldn’t say that the best part is after.

Other positives come prior to the meal. We anticipate the food and the fellowship. We stir up eagerness as we prepare. But while getting ready is good–in fact, without any preparation things may go badly–we wouldn’t say that the best part is before.

The before and after have what in common? Neither is central. The meat of the meal, so to speak, is the meal. The meal is the end of the preparation and the start of nourishment. The eating and drinking, the chewing and swallowing, the talking and eye-contacting, are the climax, what we looked forward to and the taste we take with us.

The best part, the central part, is the meal. Something happens during that time. Not everything, but things necessary for everything else. The common turns into communion, just like for us around the Lord’s table.

Our communion is both an end of preparation and also a different sort of preparation, but all focused on our participation. We get ready for communion. We go out with the taste of communion. But this IS communion. God is, right here right now, uniting us in one body, in Christ, by grace through faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Too Much Life

For 51 weeks our church has communed together at the Lord’s table. We’ve taken a distinct approach, or at least one that is different than most of us are used to, by practicing communion as a time for joy, not misery. Excessive, let alone morbid, introspection misses the point of the table. None of us are worthy for communion, not even the most mournful among us. The table reminds us that Jesus is worthy and that He invites sinners who believe in Him to share His life. We should confess sin, including the sin of acting like this is a funeral.

There was a death. Death by itself is not good news. There was a death and then a resurrection that defeated death! We get the forgiveness His atonement authorizes and we get the life that His life enables.

Perhaps our weekly meal could become an empty, external, motions-only observance. But I know very few people who complain about the emptiness of true feasts, of genuine fellowship, of eternal life. “Oh, we have too much life. We should have less life in order to reminds us how important life is.”

We are 51 weeks stronger in faith, 51 weeks more nourished in soul, 51 weeks more united in Christ, 51 weeks more knit together as a body. Christ changes us by the bread and the cup as we believe in Him. May we look forward to more rejoicing as we eat and drink together, proclaiming the Lord’s salvation until He comes.