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Lord's Day Liturgy

Honoring the Son of Man

Jesus asked the man born blind if he believed in the Son of Man (John 9:35). Previously in John’s Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). This is a reference to His death on the cross (John 12:32-33) and the outcome was “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). The Son of Man gives life.

The Son of Man also gives sight. This is the work of God in John 9. More than opening eyes to color and light, Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Himself as the Messiah, the Savior. He could see his need and the forgiveness offered by the Son of Man.

The Son of Man also gives food that never perishes. Jesus told the crowd on the other side of the sea, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Jesus satisfies the soul in a way that no bread can.

He gives life. He gives sight. He satisfies the soul. But only for those who believe in Him. Only to those who identify with His sacrifice for their sin. “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 6:53).

As we come to the communion table set with His body and blood, we come because there is no other Savior (Acts 4:12). We come because we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9). We come because we were blind but now can see (John 9:25). We come to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). In all of this the Son of Man will be lifted up in honor because He was lifted up on the cross.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Another Sort of Sight

I recently heard someone say that there are two types of people in the world: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who get tired of the other group. I’m going to do it right now, but I’m also going to give a third option, so that will be different.

There are two types of people in the world: those who know that they sin and those who argue that they don’t. There are people who refuse to use the word sin or wannabe atheists who disagree in principle that sin is possible. Their blindness is more sad than ironic. Churchgoers, on the other hand, usually either confess their sin in humility or they confess the systematic truth that men are sinners, though that doesn’t apply to them at the moment. Religious blindness isn’t another sort of sight.

We should always keep in mind that Christ came to save men who sin. Whether you are considering resolutions for the New Year, whether you are in a spat with your spouse, or whether you’re waiting for a broken relationship to mend itself, the only savior is Jesus and He saves men who confess their sin. He doesn’t save those who confess the correct theology of sin. He doesn’t save those who make promises to do better. He doesn’t save those who shift the blame for their sin. He doesn’t save those who depend on time to pass. He saves those who depend on Him.

It is dangerous to argue that we do not sin. That argument is usually found in the mouths of blind men, deceived men, religious men. When we see the sin of those around us much clearer than our own, that may not be because their sin is so much more obvious, it may be because sin trains our eyes to look away. Christ came to do something about the log in our eyes first.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Say Who He Is

Every Lord’s day we are called to say who we think Jesus is. We are given opportunity to confess our need for Him or to distance ourselves from Him. We are being watched and our story is being written.

Has Jesus opened your eyes as He did the man in John 9? Then what do you say about Him? How you answer will make a difference in what other people say about you, now and for generations. If you side with the One who saved you, if you identify with His bodily death, then you are admitting that you were blind and deserved death. This will get you called a fool and it will get you eternal fellowship with God. If you drink His cup, then you are saying that you could not save yourself. This will get you called weak and it will keep you from being put to shame. If you eat this meal out here in public, then you are proclaiming that life comes from death, a statement of stumbling to some and of foolishness to others, but the power of God to salvation for you who believe.

You will be called names but you will have the name of Christ. You will be rejected by men, but so was your Master. You will be questioned, and it will not be your undoing, it will be your opening to testify. Jesus promises that those who lose their lives for His sake and for the gospel save their lives.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

We Don’t Have It

In the middle of many exhortations, Paul told the Romans to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The beginning of the chapter swings on quite a hinge. The letter moves from the glorious gospel of righteousness by faith alone through the invincible love that won’t let us be separated from God in Christ Jesusto the powerful work of righteousness by grace. The orthodoxy–straight doctrine, leads to orthopraxy–straight practice. Generally, we are sacrifices that live worshipfully rather than those who are conformed to the world’s mold (Romans 12:1-2).

Part of that transformed life includes sympathy according to verse 15. We weep with those who weep. We do not blow off or mock the pain and hurt of others. We do not push away to protect our hearts from feeling the same sorrow in their suffering. Transformed Christians share a common cry.

In some ways, weeping with weepers may be easier because we do not have to go home with their problems. We can keep their troubles in an off-site compassion compartment. We can go home to our better situation and breath easier that we don’t have it like them.

But a good test of our transformation comes when we don’t have it like them and they have it better than us. Can we rejoice with those who rejoice? Can we share the joy of their win or their promotion or their profit? Can we enjoy the blessings that they’ve received, especially if they are the blessings we’ve been hoping or working for? Can we do it without being jealous or bitter?

It’s interesting that the next door neighbor exhortation in Romans 12:16 is to live in harmony with one another. We won’t if we are always being tightfisted with compassion and grabby for blessing.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Hardest Part

The hardest part about Christmas is not shaking off the lingering effects of tryptophan at 2 AM while shopping on Black Friday. The hardest part is not squeezing SUVs into compact parking spaces at the mall or outjoying cranky checkout clerks. The hardest part is not choosing the perfect (and budget fitting) gift for the picky person in your life. The hardest part is not securing the tree straight in the stand. The hardest part is not troubleshooting strands of dead lights or even dealing with deadbeats around the dinner table. The hardest part is not paying off all the credit card bills by May. The hardest part about Christmas is caring.

No sentiment from a Hallmark holiday movie or lick from a thick peppermint stick can guarantee to get your heart in the mood. No matter how much the thirsty needles on your tree smell like they might burst into flame, no decorated indoor fir can catch your heart on fire. Celebrating the first coming of Christ and letting that party push us to wait even more eagerly for His next coming is hard heart work.

The liturgy of the season is an advantage to us if we repent and believe. As is true of our worship every Lord’s day, confessing and communing, offering and singing, praying and receiving the Word challenge us to be renewed in love for Christ. So setting up trees and giving gifts, baking ham and greeting family, all provide cover for cold hearts or provide discipline to melt them.

Is your preparation for the 25th increasing your anticipation of the great day? Are you pursuing holiness more these days, not only so that you’ll be ready for righteous rejoicing on Christmas, but also so that you’ll be ready for Christ’s return? If not, now is a great time to confess the sin that strangles sanctification and hope so that we can enjoy more of both on Tuesday.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

THIQ Obedience

Most Christians probably don’t need another acronym for our spiritual walk, and yet a well-applied acronym can slow down unraveling strings when we’re in the fray. YMMV but, at our house, we’ve written a certain acronym on our “heinie remindie” tool (AKA, “the rod”) to remind us all about obedience.

What is obedience? Oftentimes a child who asks the question knows the definition, he’s filibustering to save his fanny. In order to avoid the need for a word study in the heat of a disobedience, we talk about obedience that is THIQ: total, happy, immediate, and quick. Admittedly, that may not be the best logical order but IQTH doesn’t quite roll of the tongue.

THIQ obedience is total, doing everything that was assigned. It is happy, cheerful, without anger or tormented countenance. It is immediate, not traded for an obedience to be named later. And it is quick, not poky, dawdling, or meandering.

I mentioned THIQ obedience that we describe to our kids during corporate worship because worship is one of the best times for parents to model THIQ obedience for our kids. Where should they learn how to obey? They learn as we correct and train them, yes, and they learn by watching us. Our obedience and our worship should be THIQ. Our confession before God should acknowledge when it isn’t.

Are we worshipping totally, whole-hearted and fully engaged? Are we worshipping happily, gladly and without burden? Are we worshipping immediately, that is readily, when He calls, or when we’re ready to get around to it? And are we worshipping quickly, running with our hands on the worship battering ram, or are we just out for a Sunday stroll? If we’re not THIQ, let’s show our kids how we want them to respond when they disobey: humbly confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness promised in the gospel.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Training for Hypocrisy

Words matter. When there are no words, there is no clarity. When words come from an empty heart, there is no integrity. When words are inconsistent with behavior, this is hypocrisy.

As Christians, we must sing and speak words. Our faith, our worship depends on words. We cannot be clear about the gospel, about Christ, about salvation, about His glory without words. Even if we have to borrow it, we need language to thank Him.

Words also must not be empty. We cannot speak reality into existence as God can. When we speak and sing our faith and worship, the words won’t land unless there is a heft of trust and adoration already in our hearts.

Our words must also match our behavior. We are sensitive to misleading words, to the inconsistency and hypocrisy of those who do not do what they say.

So, here are three questions for us. Are our words clear in worship? Are our hearts driving those words? Are our actions consistent with the words that came from our hearts?

We often sing about standing and lifting our hands, about bowing down in worship. Many psalms call us to clap our hands and shout with loud songs. Those are words of thanks to God, humility before God, and joy in God. Are we clear? Yes, so far so good.

Do these words express the reality of our hearts before God? He looks at our hearts, which is comforting or terrifying. Does He actually find hands-high honor, clapping thanks, bowing humility, and vociferous joy? He should.

And do these words match the reality of our behavior. “Well,” we say, “God only cares about our hearts.” Does it bother Him if the words that come out of our hearts don’t fit what we do? Isn’t that hypocrisy?

We are learning in worship that clarity matters, that hearts matter, that behavior matters. In a recent message I mentioned that believers ought to consider kneeling in prayer. Kneeling is a clear word and it pictures a necessary reality. Since that sermon much has been said about God’s concern for the heart. So then, are we kneeling in heart before His holy majesty? That’s actually harder anyway. We say it, we believe it, but we wonder if we ought to do it. As a congregation we’re still “praying about it,” and that’s good for now, so long as we realize the danger of training ourselves to say something different than we do.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

They Belong Together

When we come to confession before the Lord, should we think more about our sin or His holiness? Should we think more about our sin or the sacrifice of His Son? Should we think more about our sin or His grace? The answer is obviously both but, I would argue that even when we confess our sin, our focus is on God and not ourselves.

Apart from His holiness, we would have no standard by which to examine ourselves. Apart from His grace we would not even have the revelation of His standard, let alone the revelation of His invitation to confess. Apart from His righteousness, in particular Christ’s perfect life and the Father’s righteous judgment poured out on the Son, any offer of forgiveness to those who confess would be judicial fiction. And apart from His Spirit, we wouldn’t be sensitive enough to notice or care about our sin.

Our confession is part of our worship because in confession we receive and submit to His holy standard. In confession we also take hold of His Son’s sacrifice by the Spirit’s work.

So, who does the work in confession? God does. God serves us through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit. He serves us by graciously inviting us into His presence, by graciously making a way for us to come near, and by graciously cleansing our consciences so that we can worship motivated by joyful freedom, not slavish guilt. True confession is worship because we can’t take any credit for the conviction or the comfort.

When it comes to confession, deeply mourning our sin does not prohibit God’s rich blessing of comfort (think Matthew 5:4). They belong together.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Dust Sure Does Have Problems

God is compassionate and He knows our frame. He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14) and yet, dust sure does have a lot of problems. Even as His children we are easily discouraged, hungry, tired, and fearful. That is why He invites us to share a meal of communion with Him and it is why sharing this meal as an assembly every week is so valuable.

Many of us have trouble. We are not under the threat of torture or death, but we have affliction nonetheless. Our plans didn’t work out, we’re not sure if we’ll be able to pay the grocery bill next week, the alarm clock rings early and our heads hit the pillow late, and we doubt that we’ll be able to make it through.

God has not promised to make His people comfortable, to give us more than daily bread, to fill our physical sails with fitness, or to reveal how it will all work out in the short term. But He has promised that there is always an overabundance of grace. He hasn’t promised that we won’t have need, He has promised to help in those times.

Only by the death and resurrection of Jesus can we come for grace with confidence. Our High Priest sympathizes with our weaknesses, especially when we are tempted to doubt and fear. He was tempted, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So we draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We eat around the table of grace. We find grace to help, and there is more than enough.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Better Than a Thousand Elsewhere

The sons of Korah wrote eleven songs that were recognized into the canon of Israel’s worship including Psalm 84.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
(Psalm 84:1–2)

The song celebrates God’s “dwelling place,” His “courts.” In other words, the Psalm expresses delight over God welcoming His people into His presence. For Israel, God’s house was the temple in Jerusalem. So this song exalts how great it is to be with God, to meet the “living God” as “heart and flesh sing for joy” to Him.

Later in the song, the sons of Korah put their desires into perspective.

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
(Psalm 84:10)

This is extreme by both chronological and occupational standards. There is no better way to spend time than appearing before God. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how lowly a position one takes as long as he can be in the presence of God.

We sing a popular version of this Psalm today and it applies in a brand new way. In His Son, Jesus Christ, we are invited into the place His glory dwells. We are satisfied and our souls are made wet by the Spirit as we see and taste His beauty. And around the Lord’s table, He invites His people for a meal of communion, a meal of blessing, and He holds nothing back.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
(Psalm 84:11)

This promise is certain because He has already given us His Son. One meal of peace with the King is better than a thousand elsewhere.