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Lord's Day Liturgy

Finishing What He Finished

What happened when Jesus was lifted up on the cross? We don’t have enough courses in the communion meal to give us the time to drink in all the fullness. We’ll have to keep coming back Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and talk some more. We can say, in light of John 12:31-32, that we know that His death fixed the judgment of the world, the defeat of the evil one, and the salvation of every son of light. We also know that God the Father and God the Son were glorified. We know that Christ made a substitutionary and exemplary sacrifice.

The list of accomplishments is long and yet the accomplishments are only seen by faith. We do not see the final fulfillment of all things but that doesn’t mean a man is right who can’t see around the corner. We believe Jesus. We believe His Word. We believe what He told us. He will finish (in the cosmos) what He’s finished (on the cross).

What happens when believers eat and drink at the Lord’s Table? Again, more things than we have time to chew. But we believe that God does things here, things He tells us He is and will do whether or not we see effects immediately or obviously. So we eat and He strengthens our souls. We eat and He knit us together. We eat and proclaim Christ’s death until He returns. We are being changed, we are making war against the dragon, we are breaking down division among us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Half as Well

We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like; and we like less than half of mercy half as well as it deserves. If that seems unexpected or difficult to understand, I’ll try to work it out for us. We don’t appreciate judgment or mercy very well.

We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like. It would benefit us to know more clearly and more fully the judgment due to sin, our sin and the sin around us. Sin is terrible. It mocks our Maker. It offends His goodness and righteousness and earns His wrath. We should like to know the law better to learn our condition better, to know God’s character better. If we only knew half of judgment half as well as we should, we would be quicker to confess. We would also be more urgent in call others to escape it.

We like less than half of mercy half as much as it deserves. Mercy is even greater than judgment. Actually, our gratitude for mercy will grow as our grasp of judgment grows. The more sin abounds, mercy abounds much more. Mercy should be magnified. How could any of us sinners get out of judgment? We all deserve all we have coming to us. Yes, but God is merciful! His mercy should be known and exalted! We should like it much more than we do, certainly it deserves the fullness of our affections.

The cross helps us know and like both better. The wickedness judged and the mercy offered as Jesus bore the punishment in His body teach us about both. We don’t need forgiveness because nothing is wrong in our hearts. He will judge us. But the fact that our hearts are so wrong doesn’t mean He won’t forgive. He offers us mercy.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

We Can Die It

Dying to serve others is difficult. It may be so difficult that, when faced with the implacable long hand on the clock, you say to yourself, “I can’t do this!” You could rephrase it, “I can’t make this many sacrifices. I don’t have the time or the strength or the energy or the patience to die as many times as I know I’ll need to.” You may say this quietly inside your head or loudly out your mouth. Either way, God hears it and He disagrees.

When we say that we can’t die, God reminds us that we already have. This isn’t to say that the mom has already changed the diaper, but rather that the believing mother has already been freed from the self-pity that tempts her to leave a stinking bottom. The teacher hasn’t already answered the same stupid question for the seventh time, but he has died to the impatient spirit that wants to blow up at the entire class.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Each day we live out the death we have already died in Christ. He gave Himself for us and that includes all we need to give ourselves for others.

At the communion table we enjoy the fruits of Christ’s death for us. By faith we acknowledge that we’ve died with Him. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we enjoy fellowship with God, we experience fellowship with each other, and we are being fed to go and die likewise for others. After eating the Lord’s Supper, we can die it.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Trickle up from Our Knees

I read three national news items last week that I wish were fictional. First, I read that Planned Parenthood aborts a baby every 94 seconds. Second, I read that the White House has prohibited anyone who has ever said anything against homosexuality (who hasn’t repented) from praying at the upcoming inauguration. Third, I read that former President Bill Clinton has been chosen by The National Father’s Day Council as the 2013 Father of the Year.

How should we respond to these true stories? In order of the stories, we should defend the rights of the unborn (in application of Proverbs 31:9). We should pray; they can’t stop us in our churches or in our homes, not yet. And we should laugh. But there’s more. How did we get here? It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen against our national will.

We ought to repent from our sins. We can’t take responsibility for the sins of others in the same way. But abortion is murder and Jesus taught that the seed of murder is anger. When we blow up at our kids we plant the same seed that, when fully grown, brings the bitter fruit of killing the inconvenient. Homosexuality is lust gone wild. Jesus also taught that to look at some website URLs is to commit adultery in our hearts. To allow the weed to grow among us leads to the government choking our public prayers. And what of the plaques for absentee fathers? Do not many dads wish that they could be praised for their laziness? If we can give a guy like him an award, maybe our families will at least give us a break.

Our culture is an expression of our cultus, our worship. If we allow sin to go un-confessed, it will eventually grow up and be unhindered. Culture doesn’t only trickle down, it trickles up. May our culture trickle up from our knees as we confess our sins.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Food We Serve

We serve others by the food we serve. This is only said with the intention to raise the standard the right way. A modest meal prepared with lavish honor on the guests is good. A rich meal prepared to steal attention honors no one. But with full hearts and the usual resources we can bless those who sit down with us by what we offer them.

From the sitter-downers perspective, gratitude is always on order. When we’re invited to enjoy the preparations of another, that isn’t the time to grumble. Even if the meal is small but the hands giving it are large, our thanksgiving should be commensurate.

The things mentioned so far should be common-denominator. These are truths that I take as more self-evident than mysterious. If that’s the case, then why do we treat this the Lord’s Table so differently?

Do we honor the host who, at great cost to Himself, has provided food that endures to eternal life? Do we lift Him up by our sad little nibbles? Do we exalt His gift by fasting before the full spread? Do we make much of this loaf and cup of blessing when we grumble at the other guests?

Let us receive what He has given. Let us rejoice that He has paid it all. Let us lift up His deep love for us. Let us receive the treasure on the table before us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not with Contempt

Imagine a close friend who one day sinned against you and broke fellowship. Imagine that you pursued him (or her) with no success. You communicated Your hurt, you expressed your desire to forgive and receive them back, and it all went south.

Now imagine that months pass. Perhaps the sting of the hurt has lifted a little but the pain still isn’t gone. Then your friend drops by. He (or she) has a different spirit. Without hesitation he asks for forgiveness, acknowledges his sin, knowing that there may be ongoing consequences but knowing that he was wrong. What you thought was impossible has come about.

How would you respond? More specifically, would you be irritated or glad? I’m not talking about glad gloating over the vindication of your right-ness. I mean, wouldn’t you rejoice that a lost friend returned, that a broken friendship was restored?

Then why do many Christians tend to believe that God looks on them with contempt? Our Father rejoices when we confess our sin against Him, when we seek His forgiveness. We may have wandered for years, or a week, or our account with Him may be measured by minutes. Jesus told the Pharisees and Scribes, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). If He rejoices when sinners repent, how much more His sons?

One of the most important moments in our Lord’s day liturgy, and probably my favorite part, is the declaration from different parts of Scripture that God gladly forgives. If He marked iniquities, none could stand. But He forgives that He might draw us closer in worship.

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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.