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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not The Stages of Outrages

You’ve probably seen the comic of a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer and his wife asks him when he’s coming to bed. He says he can’t come to bed yet because “someone is wrong on the Internet.” 

More than someone is wrong on the Internet. And what’s even more problematic, everyone you know is wrong about something they think, let alone how they act. You might not be talking about their wrong thing, you might not even know what their wrong thing is, but you can be sure that if you talked long enough, their wrong would pop up like sponsored ads on Facebook. 

What should you do about this serious problem? After all, God is perfect, His way is perfect (Psalm 18:3), and demands that His creatures be perfect (Matthew 5:48). 

We are living in an increasingly outraged culture. Passionate outbursts of so-called righteousness abound around the clock, and believers must not be conformed to this world. So, Christian, when you encounter certain problems your duty to the Lord may be to relax

This is not ostrich orthodoxy, burying your head in the sands of your own pure thoughts. It is a call to be people of the Spirit. After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote this:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Things to note: others can actually be wrong, even sinning. If it’s not sin, then you should probably unbutton the top button on your righteousness collar. Take a deep breath, and take care of your own responsibilities. But if it is transgression and you see it, you should say something, if you 1) are spiritual about it, 2) want their restoration not their humiliation, 3) talk to them in a kind way, and 4) don’t act like you could never have the same problem. Those are not the stages of outrages. 

Because we see a bunch of people confronting wrongs wrongly does not mean that it shouldn’t be done. Confront those who are wrong rightly. And also, consider that you might be the one who is wrong.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Lesser Bread

One of the things Paul valued about clarity was how it brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). When the Spirit gives words to His people for the good of the body it brings comfort.

Communion is also a consolation, a comfort. The Lord’s Supper is not a consolation prize, mostly because it isn’t a prize, and also because we aren’t competing to get it. Communion is a grace from God. He gives communion and comfort to those who need it but not to those who deserve it or try to earn it. There isn’t bread for the winner, but lesser bread for the runner-ups.

But God does alleviate our pain by reminding us that Jesus endured anguish and affliction on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4, 7, 11), by reminding us that pain can only last so long (this life)(2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:6), and by reminding us that pain can only take so much (not our salvation)(Matthew 10:28). Communion also comforts us with gospel truths that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Because of Christ the cornerstone “in him…[we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verse 21).

Are you feeling isolated? Afflicted? Perplexed? Do you see a lot of problems? Do have a lot of problems? Don’t lose heart! We are being renewed day by day. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Communion at His Table is a no small consolation.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessing-ficiaries

I can’t remember if I’ve asked this question before during an exhortation to confession. We’re now over 400 times of corporate confession on the Lord’s Day, and while there are a lot of things that require repentance, some of them need more repetition.

Who do you confess your sin for? Who benefits when you “say the same thing” (homologeo) as God? You are certainly one who profits. Sin separates us from fellowship, forgiveness granted restores fellowship, so if you want fellowship you need forgiveness which comes through confession.

You are not the only blessing-ficiary, though. God receives glory when we repent. It’s not that we should sin that grace may abound, though grace does reign over sin. God’s patience and mercy and atonement are exalted when we depend on Him. He doesn’t need us to confess in order to get honor for Himself, but He is honored by our honesty and our humility and our hope in Him.

That still isn’t the end of it. The scope of benefits and blessings should be broadened. When we confess our sins we are restored to fellowship, and God’s holy standard and perfect sacrifice are praised, and also the entire church body is built up.

Your sin may be private in that only you and God know about it, for now, but your sin is never isolated as if only you are affected by it. We are one body, we are God’s building. We might not be able to see the disintegration of some studs in the wall, but when you deal with rot the right way it strengthens the whole structure.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Father Who Judges

When we come to our time of confession as part of our worship we come to confess our sins to our Father. God is holy, God is righteous, God is just, God is the judge of the world. But to all who believe in His name, “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We confess our sins to God, but He is our “God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Peter gave more explanation about what we should do because of the Father we have.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:17-19)

There are a couple things to notice about this imperative and this information. We are to pay attention to what our Father says to do. He has given instruction, and He intends for us to walk in His ways.

We are also to remember what our Father has done for us. He sent His Son to pay the price for our deliverance. He set us free from ignorance and unholiness. There were a lot of false gods and a lot of nasty behavior and a lot of gloomy moral blindness like the darkest cave, and the Lamb covers and cleanses us.

Leave the empty ways behind and call on the Father through His Son.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

All a Pitter-pattering

Is love more science or more story? Is love an historical fact or a philosophical idea? Is love a Platonic ideal, an abstract quality existing Up There, or is love an Aristotelian reality, expressed Down Here in hands and lips and bodies? Where do you learn about love best? Reading the dictionary? Reading the Bible? Hearing a story? Getting a timely hug from your dad?

As much as I love a good dictionary, dictionaries don’t inspire. Definitions are helpful and even necessary, but statements of meaning distinguish between things more than they activate affection for things.

The Greek word agape means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “intense feeling of affection and attachment.” I’m sure your heart is just all a pitter-pattering now.

Again, I like a good proposition and I think a well crafted sentence of explanation is like truth gold set in syntax silver. But what informs and impels our affections are not notions of love as much as narratives of love.

The gospel is the ultimate story. In our last Omnibus Tenebras class we talked about stories and “myths” and tales and legends. Whatever word you’re comfortable with, “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

This is an eternal and true story that tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is the ultimate, overarching story with chapters still being written by the Author of our salvation. We are not just fed our lines, we are fed bread and wine for living and participating in the saga together by God’s grace.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Perpetual Shortfall

There are a couple sure-fire ways to get almost any Christian to feel guilty. One way is to ask a believer about his prayer life. A recurring response is that, “It could be better.” Well of course it could. You don’t really need to sleep, right? Jesus spent whole nights in prayer…what is your excuse?

That’s an easy one, but the one exhortation to rule them all is not about Bible reading or prayer, it’s not about church attendance, it’s not about how many dates you’ve taken your wife on in the last year, it’s not if you’ve ever spoken to your kids in impatience or anger.

There is one law that none of us obey, not even one. If we had a week of only telling the truth, of only sacrificing for the good of others, of only faithful working and stewarding as image-bearers, of only being in a good mood and always giving thanks in every circumstance, we still can be tagged with not loving God with all our hearts.

It’s good to have goals that are measurable. The Great Commandment is absolutely measurable, and the measurement is repeated three times by Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5) and all three times when Jesus quoted Moses. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

What should we do about our perpetual shortfall to this command? How can we accept it without being buried in paralyzing shame? What we most certainly cannot do is ignore or even lower the law. What we can and most certainly must do is come to the Father who commands us to love, not because He needs it, but because He knows that we need it. Love Him, and love that He faithfully loves us in Christ even when our love is halfhearted.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion That Smells

As we spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere,” God says that we are an aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spreading the fragrance happens by preaching (see verse 17), it happens by practice, and it happens when we partake at the Lord’s Table.

When we eat and drink we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So when we gather around this table, it’s not only a left-over scent of break baked earlier in the morning, it’s not only the lingering whiff of a bottle of wine uncorked before the service, it is an aroma of life and death. Our communion has a smell to it, for some that fills them with more life from the fullness of God’s life, and for others it fills them with more death as they detest our joy in a meal of flesh and blood.

“Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:17) Who is “adequate” (NASB)? Who is worthy? It’s a humbling question with an obvious answer. None of us are worthy, no not one. But the good news is for the unworthy. Jesus died for the insufficient. Jesus rose again to bring us with Him to the Father. The bread is His body and the wine His blood given for us, and it is grace that is an aroma from life to life.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Calvinist Knees

How does a Calvinist confess his sins? That’s not the start of a joke.

We are a Calvinistic church, meaning that we believe that God is God, God rules over all, and that includes His sovereignty in the salvation of men. We believe that He elects spiritually dead men to be brought to Him as worshippers for eternity. He has their names already written in a book. They are a love gift from the Father to the Son as a Bride.

Whether you like the nickname or not, it’s convenient theological shorthand. The least you could do is hope to be a Calvinist that isn’t weird.

So how does a Calvinist confess his sins? Some don’t. They confess that total depravity is a true doctrine, but they reason that God saves His chosen ones regardless of any specific repentance, so individual confession doesn’t matter. I’d call this a form of hyper-Calvinism, and more than that, I’d call it wrong.

There are some other Calvinists who don’t confess their sins because the truths of the doctrines of grace have caused them to see everyone else’s errors but their own. A certain kind of knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). I’d call this hypocritical-Calvinism, and it is worse than wrong.

Those who realize that they were corrupt and contemptible to God, rebels without a cause, dead in sin apart from God’s free choice and God’s perfect blood and God’s initiated heart-transplant, should not be proud. A Calvinist should confess his sins in humility. A Calvinist should confess his sins on his knees. We could call him a Calvikneest.

As part of our liturgy we’ve been inviting those who are able and willing to kneel in humble confession for many years. It’s not a convenient position for many, and a physical impossibility for a few. But for those who are able, wouldn’t it be a great testimony if others knew we were Calvinists by our knees?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Gaining Weight

I pray that we all gain weight this year.

In a day and age like ours, in a country like ours, the exceptions are the few who need to put on more pounds of body weight. When we think about our daily bread we’re thinking about which kind of carbs we crave, not the minimum portion we need to survive. The abundance of food is a blessing, and of course blessings can be abused, and belt sizes bulge.

The kind of weight I’m talking about instead is the weight of glory. I’m talking about finishing this upcoming calendar year more full of God than now (see Ephesians 3:19). Don’t be light, be heavy. Put on some gravity. Get dense, not like a fool, but thick in faith and love.

This is God’s plan for us. When we know more of His love we are made more full of Him. Sometimes that includes suffering so that our bucket can be made bigger to hold more.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)

In various ways we’re being prepared for weight that can’t be compared. Our weekly communion together is part of that process; it both a fills and an expands. The Table is set with the bread and cup of His love, by faith we eat and drink and are filled. At the same time this is only a mouthful of the eternal feast. We are made more hungry and thirsty, and our capacity is enlarged for more.