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Lord's Day Liturgy

Address the Issue

In Mark 7 the Pharisees and scribes came to interrogate Jesus about His disciples’ failure to follow the proper eating liturgy. They asked, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (v.5) Jesus answered their question with a quotation (Isaiah 29:13).

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This nation honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Jesus summarized the problem in verse 8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” In other words, “You all are following the wrong liturgy, not My disciples.”

There are at least two Pharisaical failures. First, men don’t set the standard, God does. Second, men set low standards; God’s standards always aim high, at the heart. The standards of men fail to address the issue.

After the rebuke, Jesus called the people to Him again and said,

Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. (vv.14-15)

Our problem isn’t simply that we want to replace God’s standard, it’s that we don’t like the conviction of dealing with what comes out of us, what is in our hearts. It’s easier to wash our hands or tell someone else to wash their hands. It’s easier to look good by donating money to missions than to be good by supporting our parents (vv.9-13).

Lust, coveting, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness come from within (vv.21-23). If we want to honor God, not only with our lips but also with our hearts, we must start by addressing the issue in our own hearts and confessing our sins.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Forgiving Others

Not everyone knows the gospel. Even fewer actually live the gospel.

The gospel, the good news, is that we who rebelled against God–and that was every one of us–can be reconciled to God through Christ. We who disobeyed God’s law can be forgiven in Christ who bore our punishment on the cross. We who stand before Him in blatant guilt of unrighteousness, incapable of providing the righteousness He requires, can be declared righteous in Christ who imputes His own righteousness into our account. We who are dead can have life, eternal life, God-life, in Christ, by confessing our sins and trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the gospel.

A certain kind of life, a gospel life, a life of gospel fruit necessarily grows from this faith. We who have been forgiven for sinning much must now also forgive those who have sinned against us little by comparison. Jesus told a parable to this end (Matthew 18:23-34), and the merciful master said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

We gospel-knowers should take heed lest that’s all we are. We are to forgive “just as” Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) and this is an unattainable standard apart from the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Sin in us makes any sin against us seem worse than any sin by us against God. We are usually unwilling to forgive when our perspective is so perverted.

But we must forgive like Christ if we’ve been forgiven by Christ. This is gospel life. By our slowness to enact the gospel we commit sin that makes us greater debtors to the gospel ourselves. Bitterness and grudge-holding and stand-offishness do not belong in a gospel life. We must confess our sins of not forgiving others their sin. We must seek the forgiveness of the gospel for not giving the forgiveness of the gospel.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Better Than a Dead One

Before the ages began, God promised eternal life (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:9). He did so out of love for His Son, and note that the gift is eternal life, because a living gift is much better than a dead one. In order for the living God to give and receive a living gift, the Son had to die for the dead. Through the death of the one, the sins of the many were justly punished. Likewise, through the resurrection of the one, many were made alive. “We were buried…with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

When we gather around the Lord’s table to remember His death, and ours in His, we are doing so as those who now live in His life. We were spiritually dead and facing eternal death. But we are no more dead than He is dead and eternal condemnation is off the table. “If Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile and [we] are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). That would be bad.

The angel told the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). That’s good news. That also means, by faith, we need not act like the dead. We ought not. If we spend all our time reminiscing on our deadness during this supper, we miss the point of His death, and may, even if unintentionally, act as if our death deserves more attention in the story. Not only that, but we may forget that God the Father does not intend to present a gift of miserable, melancholy, “we are only unworthy worms” dead people.

Because He lives we live. Because He lives we can face tomorrow. Because He lives, we eat His body and drink His blood as nourishment for New Covenant life.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Closet Full of Clothes

Unthankful people dominate our culture. We are skilled at identifying all the existing or potential problems rather than identifying all the things that enabled us to see the problems. We are better at thinking about all the things that are missing or undone than about all the work already finished. It bothers us when a light bulb burns out; it does not bother us that many people don’t even have electricity. We don’t like many of the clothes in our closets, not putting the idea of having a closet full of clothes into perspective. We keep mental spreadsheets of how many people have not thanked us and let ourselves off the hook because we were busy dealing with the abundance of “problems” that we we’ve been blessed with.

Giving thanks is a command, an expectation found everywhere in God’s Word. Christians must “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Is Paul saying that all circumstances are God’s will so give thanks? Or is it God’s will to give thanks no matter what’s happening? Yes. Both. All of the above. He’s in control so give thanks, and in every situation He’s given us something to be thankful for.

Unthankfulness characterizes those who deserve God’s judgment (Romans 1:21). Even though unbelievers know God and perceive His power and good nature, they don’t honor Him or give thanks. The consequences, in addition to judgment, include futility of mind. They claim that all their fault-finding is wisdom, and all they are is foolish.

Unthankfulness is unhelpful–as it rarely persuades others, unlawful–as it disobeys God’s command, and it is dangerous–as it traps men in foolishness. Thankfulness, on the other hand, is not only right, it is powerful. A thankful husband is like 220 volt electricity running energy into the home. A thankful momma is like a warm blanket that wraps her children in protection. A thankful church declares (the right sort of) war on pride–thinking I deserve better than that, and pettiness–thinking that person doesn’t deserve that. A thankful Christians is free from egotism and nitpicking, free from negativity and unfulfilled expectations; we are free to be thankful.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Party Ditch

There is more to the Lord’s table than confession of sin. While we ought not harbor sin, if we are keeping short accounts, confessing and repenting and believing, then there is every reason for our remembrance of Him to be a serious celebration. We take His sacrifice seriously and we take our joyous participation in His sacrifice seriously.

Consider the context of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians regarding communion in his first letter. Why did he correct them in this way (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)? Because they were coming to the table selfishly, focused on themselves and not on the entire body. They were also treating the table more like a party.

We are not in, or anywhere near, the “communion as a party” ditch. That said, we may not be in the middle of the road either. We are still focused on the wrong thing: ourselves, just as the Corinthians were. We just feel better about it because at least we’re taking our sin seriously.

When the angels watch us take the bread and the cup, what impresses them? Does anything about it make them nervous? Are they confronted with the manifold wisdom of God] (Ephesians 3:10) as they see us sitting in our isolated conviction over sin? Or are they taken back with the manifold wisdom of God as they see us–sinners against God and against each other–singing together over the forgiveness and fellowship we have with God and with each other through the gospel of grace?

The Church—Jew and Gentile, slave and freeman, male and female, hands and feet, unlovely and unlikeable—together make a point to the universe. Christ Himself “is our peace, who has made us both one” (Ephesians 2:14). He has reconciled us “to God in one body through the cross” (2:16) and in Him, “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him [we] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:21-22).

The Lord’s table is a purifying and unifying ordinance. We should get out of the ditch, whichever one we’re in, and participate accordingly.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Dirt in the Carpet

We are not our own. We are God’s. God chose us, created us, died for us, called us, and keeps us. He made each human being in His image, and He is conforming every Christian into the image of His Son.

We are not our own. No part of our selves, from tongue to toes, with spouse or with children, among co-workers or community, in the voting booth or at the coffee shop, no part of our lives is ours to do with whatever we want.

We are not our own. John Calvin put it this way in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. (Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1)

We are not our own. The apostle Paul put it this way in his first letter to the believers in Corinth:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

In context, Paul explains that our sexual conduct and physical purity is a type of worship. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit so our conduct is more clear than a neon sign about what type of worship we offer.

Sin dims the light of truth in the worship center. Disobedience rubs dirt into and tears up the carpet of our hearts. But we are not our own. The owner of the building (that is, our bodies) calls us to come to the light, to confess rather than conceal sin, and to be cleansed by faith in Christ. Then the temple is open for business and filled with singing to Him who raises us up by His power.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Favorite Wool Sweater

In any given story, one character to watch out for is the guy who is always being told what to do and always doing whatever he wants anyway. We’ve all seen this guy before. If he’s five, he keeps playing with his Legos until mom says it three more times. If he’s fifteen, he says, “Huh?” If he’s twenty-five, he begins a debate over the nature of authority and its appropriate application. If he’s fifty-five, he’s much more mature, so he nods and says, “That sounds like a great idea” before he goes back to his own business. There is one heart, although many faces, among those who avoid first time obedience.

Jesus told a story about a son who acted as if he was going to obey at first, but it was only that, an act. That son not only disobeyed the will of his father, but also missed out on the kingdom (Matthew 21:28-32). In a different context, James explained that those who only hear the word rather than hear and do deceive themselves (James 1:22-24). Their final condition is worse than their first because now they think themselves to be examples. They are examples.

John wrote in his gospel about the good Shepherd and His sheep. The refrain throughout chapter 10 is that Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and, when He calls them, they follow Him. The Shepherd’s voice is familiar. They have a relationship. They have history together. The true Shepherd knows His sheep, and we know the true sheep as those who follow the Shepherd.

The point is that we ought not make Him say it again, whatever “it” is. We shouldn’t act as if His will is an interruption. It’s unnecessary to negotiate about the extent of His authority. It’s inappropriate to appear as if we’re going to follow and then wander off our own way when He turns around. For Christ’s sheep, first time obedience is like our favorite wool sweater we always want to wear.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Gloomy Ordinance

I am increasingly concerned with a perspective that many Christians seem to be taking toward what has become the gloomy ordinance. One post about the Lord’s Supper will not be sufficient to blow away the clouds that have covered us. There needs be much said, but it doesn’t all need to be said today.

Another name for the Lord’s Supper is communion. Note that the ordinance the Lord gave us was about communion, not confession.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

Yes, according to the apostle Paul, many have fallen asleep because they ate and drank unworthily. “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). If we are worshipping other gods or the true God with half-hearts, Paul gives grave warning.

But if we are beholding the glory of the Lord, worshipping by grace through faith in Christ, then when we partake of the bread and the cup in communion, we share in His body and blood and we share that with each other. When we give thanks for each element, we aren’t giving thanks because we saw and confessed every last sin. We give thanks because by His body and blood He overcame all the obstacles blocking communion. This table doesn’t require us to remember every last sin we’ve committed, it requires us to remember Him who is our Savior.

Communion is not an ordinance of dismal mourning, it is an ordinance of thoughtful rejoicing. We remember the death of Christ, and in so doing we remember that it was our sin that causes His death. But He is no longer dead and we are no longer in our sins. We rejoice in our participation with Him and with each other.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

How Collected We Are

We are not usually good team players. We put the “-ism” in individualism. We’re big on personal freedom and individual rights, personal investment strategies and personal preferences, personal development and self-reliance.

As a nation, our bumper-stickers say “Be all that you can be,” and “Look out for #1.” There have been days of cosmetic unity in our history, usually during the Olympics or when we’re in a clear war. Then we come together and raise our common flag. Then we’re glad to be identified by something bigger than our driver’s license or Facebook profile.

Even in the church we’re usually more mindful of the person sitting in our seat (me) than the rest of the pew. But one leg can’t hold up a table; one finger can’t claim to be the whole hand, let alone the entire body.

As Christians we are many individual members. Each believer is saved and sanctified, personally responsible for sin and for spiritual warfare. But each believer is also part of the church–the Body–and should not think of himself otherwise. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

There are things that the church does that a Christian cannot do by himself. God’s point to the universe is “through the church” (Ephesians 3:10), through the collected mess we are. The heavenly beings don’t learn anything by watching how messy we are, they know that. They’re watching how collected we are.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Compass Points North

God takes His position as God seriously. He is not insecure or defensive, but He is jealous and promises to punish any who bow before knockoff gods. Commandment number one of ten made clear: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Worship of the LORD is to be exclusive; serve only Him. And worship of Him is to be done rightly: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image….” Worship of the LORD was to be unabridged, not limited by any distorted or dwarfish representation.

Why? The easy answer is that our Creator and Deliverer is infinitely worthy and deserves all our reverence. But that isn’t the only answer. Right worship is also important because men become like what they worship. Men were made from the beginning as image-bearers of God and true worship provides us with our bearings like a compass points north. Idolatry offends God, yes, and it also aims men in the wrong direction. The needle doesn’t need to be off by much before we’re soon headed off the cliff.

Failure to worship, or worship of another god, or off target worship of the true God, makes men miserable, not only because their God-given conscience is violated, but also because their God-given image is distorted. They cannot know truly who they are or what direction they should go because they believe and worship what is false. Even as Christians we can get lost a thousand different ways each week, so we confess our sin and get back to worship that keeps us oriented.