Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Familiar Celebrations

We often say that familiarity breeds contempt. Our contempt starts with that statement itself; it’s contemptible to hear about how easily we’re made contemptuous. But our condition is one in which we get dirty and forget about it, we develop callouses and live with them, we fall down and it’s easier to stay there. We need to be washed, we need to have the hard parts cut off or filed down, and we need to get back on our feet.

We’re familiar with Christmas. Jesus is the reason for this season, we know, so how does He fit in our familiar celebrations? It’s hopefully more, though not less, than reading the story of His birth on Christmas morning. For sake of scrubbing our holiday grime, let’s start with our Christmas trees.

Consider our pine tree configurations. We stand our trees in a location for maximum visibility. We place our presents under the tree for others. We hang lights and garland and other ornaments on the branches. We typically perch a star at the top most point. Which part is for Jesus? Which part is meant to honor Him?

Isn’t He pictured and honored every where? He is the visible center. He is the Father’s gift to sinful men. He is the light of the world, the creator who decorated the universe. Not only did a star mark His birthplace for travelers, He Himself is the guiding star. We can’t limit where we honor Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, worthy to be honored from top to bottom. He ought to be so in our Christmas celebrations.

We cannot be overly familiar with Christ, only wrongly familiar in a way that doesn’t honor Him everywhere at all times. If we don’t honor Him with every part of our Christmas trees, are we honoring Him everywhere else?

Lord's Day Liturgy

Hard to Take

It’s hard to take responsibility. It is much easier to push, not only blame, but to push work onto others. That’s no good. When we’re lazy, when we wait to see who else will serve first, we remove ourselves from the channel of joy.

God didn’t make us to be idle or to find others to do our work for us. He created us to labor. He often uses an agricultural metaphor to encourage us when He says that we will reap what we sow. He’s established the world the way He wanted and in Him this principle holds together. We ought to believe it and work accordingly.

A farmer who plants corn seed should expect corn to grow, not wheat. But the point is not necessarily about produce genus, the point is that everyone reaps. “From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him” (Proverbs 12:14), which also means that a lazy man’s hand will receive another sort of fruit. A farmer who plants nothing reaps something, he reaps starvation. He may blame it on the weather. He may complain to his buddies down at the co-op. “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4). If he doesn’t plant any seed, his field is just empty.

We have many areas of application. We will not reap sanctification if we’re not sowing God’s Word into our schedules. We’ll not raise our kids to maturity if we’re not diligent to love them with discipline (see Proverbs 13:24). We won’t reap godliness unless we worship Him in spirit and in truth and see more clearly what we’re to become.

This may sound like a lot of doing. Don’t Christians live by faith, not works? Yes. But faith trusts God. So we trust what He says when He says that our shelves will be full of whatever we put on them, or don’t.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Days with Jesus

How did the town of Sychar change after two days with Jesus (Johh 4:39-42)? Many of the townspeople believed in Him and knew that He was the Savior of the world. What type of transformations took place? In a small community, when a good number of people get their worship fixed, how could that not radically altar their day to day interactions?

We don’t know everything that Jesus explained to them. We don’t know how much He told them about His own future. Based on the fact that He didn’t tell His own disciples all the details about His death until later on, and that they didn’t understand it anyway, it seems unlikely that He went into too many particulars about being nailed to a cross.

So I wonder, after having their lives changed forever by the Savior, how did they react almost three years later when the news arrived in Sychar that Jesus was dead? Certainly they’d been following His ministry from afar, but to learn that He was crucified as a criminal, what sorrow must have overtaken them?

But then, can you imagine the response later on Sunday when reports trickled in that some women saw Jesus alive? Would it have been even more joyful than those days when He was among them?

Jesus changes persons and peoples. He offers living water to the broken outcasts. He sows and reaps eternal life, and in that is great rejoicing. He did the will of Him who sent Him, accomplishing His work. He died to atone for our sins. He rose again to resurrect us to eternal life. He is the Savior of the world and we proclaim Him as such when we eat and drink at His table. As we do, we’ll never be the same.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Gluten Free Option

Jesus told the woman at the well that true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth. He didn’t say anything about hymns and Christmas carols. He didn’t collect an offering or read Scripture. He prepared no prayers, no liturgy, no Lord’s day service plans. And He mentioned nothing about table fellowship.

Perhaps, then, we have missed the mark and corrupted the simplicity of “spirit and truth” worship. Maybe all our liturgical efforts are heavy trappings, vain repetitions no better than the gnat-straining Pharisees and white hat-wearing Popes. But, hey, at least we have a gluten free option.

Let’s not let acquit ourselves too quickly. It is possible to attend services every week, sing Psalms and hear sermons straight out of Scripture, give sacrificially, even chew and drink these religious symbols and yet still be dead in spirit and without knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Yet worship “in spirit and truth” tells us the nature of true worship, the realm of worship, not the activities of it. The How? we should do it doesn’t answer the What? we do.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the sacrifices that He called sometimes called abominable. His problem was first with the how of the heart and then the He wanted the what of worship obeyed as well. For that matter, Jesus Himself instituted the supper (Matthew 26:26-28). Paul received from the Lord the instructions he delivered (1 Corinthians 11:23).

We come in obedience to this ordinance, this divine order, to celebrate and proclaim salvation in the Lord’s death and resurrection. By faith, we come with living spirits, “in spirit.” We eat and drink because He made us alive and this meal nourishes our souls. Likewise, we come “in truth.” The substitutionary sacrifice of the Lamb is good news, the imperishable seed of truth. Jesus is the truth, the revelation of God in bodily form. Believers eat and drink at this spirit and truth table and, when they do, it is true worship.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Side of the Pendulum

Is it more important that God is light or that God is love? Is it more necessary for us to know Him truly or for us to love Him deeply? These are tough questions, impossible questions. What God has joined together let no man tear asunder (separate).

Some men are quite sincere, authentic even. They believe and feel and experience. They look alive. They appear to really care. Heat radiates from them. We might even say that they have real zeal for God. Of course, Paul said his brothers, his kinsmen, had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). Their ignorance kept them from the righteousness of Christ and, therefore, kept them from salvation. Heat without light is disobedient heat.

Light without heat is no less disobedient and equally damning. The great commandment requires, it commands love, affection, heart strings, movement out of the brain and into the bowels. The demons have better theological libraries than we do. It doesn’t matter because books and brains by themselves only make men more guilty, not better worshippers.

God’s own people have many sins to confess, including criticizing all the people who aren’t hanging on our side of the pendulum. We must also confess as sin, some of us more than others, a disregard for true knowledge, proper theology proper, and an absence Scripture study. Likewise, we must confess as sin, a different some of us more than others, lightweight loves and lazy spiritual tastes and frozen affections. The Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. We should confess that we don’t do both too well.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Particular Sins

We thank God that the hour has already come where we don’t concern ourselves with worshipping on Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion (see John 4:16-26); neither location would be convenient for us. Fellowship with God is not limited to one particular place. Worship, though, still has particulars. He is a particular God, not a pluralistic God. We come to the Father only through His Son, the Messiah.

In particular, the Messiah has come and we have fewer reasons than ever to wonder about God’s promises. The Messiah has come and we who believe are no longer outside the covenant blessings. The Messiah has come, obeying the Father in perfect righteousness and offering Himself as a sacrifice for our unrighteousness so that we are no longer in our sins. We worship the Father because of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son. We don’t worship what we don’t know.

So we remember, we celebrate, and we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes as we eat and drink at this particular table. None of us deserve it. We may not have had five divorces, but we were all spiritual adulterers, quenching our soul thirst some other place than the fountain of living water. By His wounds our failed and faulty lives have been healed. Now we eat the bread and drink the cup, having been exposed as broken sinners and having been saved by Him who bore our particular sins.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Informing the Trinity

Who do we confess for? I don’t mean, do we confess for someone else’s sin or for our own. Instead I mean, do we confess for our sake or for God’s sake? Who needs the confession?

God already knows all our sin. He is omniscient, yes. Jesus knew the sin of the woman in John 4 before He met her at the well. But also, if the Father poured out judgment on His Son for the sins of all who would ever believe, then He had to know all of the sins that Jesus needed to pay for. The Father knows every transgression committed by us, including the ones we’ll commit after church, and the Son died for them all. Also, the Spirit isn’t waiting for us to tell Him. The Spirit’s convicting work brings sin to our attention.

We do not confess in order to inform the Trinity of anything. Rather, we confess to acknowledge that we now understand what was keeping us from fellowship with Him and we acknowledge His graciousness to forgive us. He doesn’t call us to confession because He’s spiteful or because He’s trying to embarrass us. He’s saving us out of sin’s crippling effects. He’s inviting us to life, offering us the living water, and we won’t drink unless we sense our dryness.

“Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29). We start by confessing.

Lord's Day Liturgy

53 Times a Year

Every Lord’s day when our church celebrates communion, I pray twice. We normally don’t do that at home, praying once before the meal and then again in the middle of it. In this practice we are following Jesus’ pattern with two prayers of thanks.

Paul wrote, “on the night he was betrayed, [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; see also Luke 22:19-20). I understand “in the same way also” to refer to giving thanks. The account in Matthew makes it clear. After giving His disciples bread and eating together, “He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them” (Matthew 26:26-27; see also Mark 14:23).

Giving thanks happens in two places, before eating and before drinking. This is why the Lord’s supper is sometimes called the Eucharist.

In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by the name of Eucharist. That’s too bad we have to carry so much vocabulary baggage around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in all four passages above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.”

We have a thanksgiving feast 53 times a year, with only one of those scheduled for a Thursday. Our family meals this week should be different because we’ve been practicing eating with sinners, eating with those who aren’t like us, eating with those who annoy us, eating with those who don’t deserve love, because we don’t either. What brings us together is the grace of Christ, and He invites all who believe to eat at His table. That’s a reason to give thanks.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bullet Points Like Them

Thanksgiving is this week and it seems almost obligatory to address our weak attitudes of gratitude as an area for confession. It is true, we are probably not as thankful as we should be. I often feel as if I’m still sitting at the kids’ card table when it comes to thankful feasting for the Lord. But our personal half-hearts of thanksgiving are only half of the problem. Thanksgiving should be a weapon.[1]

Many of us will sit down around a table on Thursday and think we’ve done our duty if we muster a few things that we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is basically a list; some lists are shorter and others longer (from the godly people, who probably have verses, too). We share our lists and call it a holiday. A list is fine, but a list doesn’t fool our kids who watch us stressing out as we prepare the abundance of menu items. A list doesn’t make our cranky family members say, “Hmmm, I wish I believed in Jesus so that I could have bullet points like them.”

We will sit down with others who are not thankful. How should we combat that? How do we overcome the passive aggressive thanker, or the relative that can’t wait to complain as soon as she comes in the front door? As Christians we’re to be thankful to God in our hearts,[2] yes, and thankful to Him obviously in front of others. Being thankful to God in front of our kids trains them for the war against sinful selfishness. Living in thankfulness overcomes the hopelessness of unbelief.

Others will learn and imitate what they see. Gratitude should incarnate our faith, not itemize it. We are happy if we’re thankful but we keep that thankfulness internalized like we keep a sword in the scabbard. Our sin isn’t only ingratitude, our sin is not fighting with gratitude.

  1. For an excellent extended article on this point, read Deep Peril, Deep Thanksgiving.
  2. Colossians 3:16.
Lord's Day Liturgy

Emblems of Both

All the ones believing in the Son see life. All the ones not obeying the Son remain under God’s wrath. When Christians come to the Lord’s supper we see the emblems of both life and wrath.

The bread and the cup symbolize the body and blood of the Lord. He took on flesh and lived among us. More than that, He took on our sin and bore God’s wrath in the flesh. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was the will of the Father that the Son pour out His soul to death and be numbered with the sinners, with us, the objects of God’s righteous judgment.

The table reminds us of the wrath deserved by us. The table also reminds us that Christ took our wrath and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace. With His stripes we are healed. This is why He came from heaven, died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. By His knowledge we are counted righteous. We are His offspring, His children. Out of the anguish of His soul He sees and is satisfied.

So we who receive His testimony see and are satisfied. By the Spirit’s work, we have life. By faith, we see life. By grace, we eat and drink life. Christ, the Righteous, has brought us to God and we commune with Him. If we believe, our iniquities, our guilt, our sorrows have been taken away. God didn’t rewrite history. God gave us life, forgiving us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us, nailing it to the cross. Come, take, and eat this meal of remembrance because wrath has been satisfied and we see life.