Lord's Day Liturgy

As Easy as Confession

Looking at our corporate service from an unbeliever’s point of view, how ridiculous must it seem for us to confess our sins as part of our worship? What idiots would assemble in order to acknowledge their failures? From an outsider’s perspective, why would anyone go to get worked over like this?

If you were an unbeliever, and if you were forced to acknowledge that God exists, you wouldn’t want Him to be authoritative. If forced to acknowledge that He is authoritative, you wouldn’t want Him to holy. If forced to acknowledge that He is holy, you wouldn’t want Him to made His standards known. If He did make His law known, you wouldn’t want Him to offer forgiveness as easy as asking for it. To an outsider, confessing sins is ridiculous all the way down the line.

Turn it around though. From a believer’s perspective, how advantageous is it for us to confess our sins like this? Think about how many things we proclaim without even using words. In our confession of sin we confirm the existence of God; we confess to someone. Without words we affirm God’s authority over us. We acknowledge His holiness, that He has a standard. We recognize that He has revealed His standard; we can’t claim ignorance. We affirm that He cares, that He hears us. We admit that we are guilty, that what He said about us is true. We assert that we can’t buy or work our way out of guilt. We declare our belief in the free forgiveness of the gospel, in the sacrifice of God’s Son.

How advantageous for us! How economical! In one element of worship we honor His existence, His authority, His holiness, His revelation, His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness. If only all of our worship was as easy as confessing our sins.

Note: I also gave this exhortation in 2012.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Scoffers Don’t Care

One of the main characters in Proverbs is the scoffer. The scoffer is a species of fool, and what seems to define him is that he’s hypercritical, a “haughty man” (Proverbs 21:24) who “sets a city aflame” (Proverbs 29:8). That’s not untrue, but perhaps the scoffer is extra complacent.

Mo pointed this out to me. As we watch more shows with closed-captioning turned on, a frequent label is “[scoffs].” It shows when a character hears something and is unimpressed. It could be visible in a minimal energy head shake, it could be some version of audible “pshaw,” “pfft,” a sound that means “whatever, that’s stupid.”

In that sense scoffing isn’t caring too much about the wrong thing, it’s not caring at all.

In that light listen to Proverbs 1:32:

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them.

“Complacency” is a smugness, a “careless ease” (NET). It is “repose gained by ignoring or neglecting the serious responsibilities of life” (C. H. Toy).

A great temptation is the worldliness of not caring, not just about what but how much. It’s one thing to care about the wrong things, it’s another not to care about the right things in a way that corresponds to the value of those things themselves.

Our roots don’t go deep, no wonder we are blown around by slight breezes.

There is truth. Know it. There is truth’s way of knowing the truth. Treasure it up. Complacency, a lack of attentive eyes and affectionate hearts, kills.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Sin as Fire

Perhaps this is too on the nose, but sin is like fire. Sins of speech are likened to fire; the “tongue is a fire…setting on fire the entire course of life” (James 2:6; Proverbs 26:20-21). Sexual indulgence can cause someone to “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

Sin destroys things, beautiful things. It destroys things people have been building for years. It destroys precious things that can’t be replaced. Sin destroys lives.

When sin flames up to a certain level it’s impossible to ignore. Sin will set acres and counties on fire. It changes the color of the whole sky. Ash and debris touch down on everything. Smoke makes it hard to breath.

Maybe your sin isn’t a 4th stage church disciple wildfire. Maybe it’s contained, for now, in your home. Maybe you’re playing with fire just on your phone, or in your heart (see Proverbs 6:27). Christian, stamp out your sin.

Is it a spark of bitterness, a match of envy, a flare of lust, unattended anger? Dampen down your pride. Pour buckets of truth on falsehood and deceit.

Jude says to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Don’t let sin burn out of control; otherwise, it may be like fire that never says “Enough.”

Lord's Day Liturgy

Discipline or Destruction

Jesus, as the Amen, told the Church of the Lukewarm that the ones He loves, He reproves and disciplines (Revelation 3:19). In Hebrews 12 we learn not only about laying aside sin that slows down our run (verse 1), but also about God’s discipline. 

He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)

As sons, when we are subject to the “Father of spirits” we live (Hebrews 12:9). 

In Romans 6 we’ll be reminded that Christians are sons and slaves. God is our Father and our Master. He is righteous, He frees us to be righteous, He instructs and strengthens and disciplines us that we might see the fruit of righteousness. 

There are two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline or the pain of destruction. According to the word of the Lord, the pain of discipline leads to peace. The pain of destruction leads to more pain. 

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline  
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
(Proverbs 3:11–12 ESV, quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6)

Be wise, receive His corrections that bring about the blessings of obedience. 

Lord's Day Liturgy

Sundays as the Start for Strength

During our church family meeting last Sunday evening I mentioned some of the new colors we’re planning for our trellis. By trellis I’m referring to our ministry programs, the scheduled and organized ways to serve the body, and by colors I mean the fresh plans for teachings and readings and discussions in the meetings we already have.

Lord willing, we’ll continue studying through Romans during our Lord’s Day worship. On Sunday evenings the pastors plan to preach through particular subjects in Proverbs. To complement that, the men will read Proverbs for our Men to Men discussions. The ladies for Titus 2 will start the year reading That Hideous Strength and follow that in the new year with How to Be Free from Bitterness. We’ll plan another parenting seminar in February.

One thread between all those is strength. Romans builds strength of faith, Proverbs teaches strength in wisdom, Lewis’ book is a riff off the wrong strength, a hideous strength, which is a poetic reproof over the Tower of Babel project which was intended to be a sign of man’s strength without the Lord (Genesis 11:4).

This is one of the reasons we assemble on the Lord’s Day. The first day of the week is Sunday, and the first thing we do is confess our glad dependence on the Lord. We fear Him, that is wisdom. We trust Him, that is faith. We look to His joy, that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

The truth is that He is Lord. Here is our opportunity to be reminded of it, to rejoice in it, and to get ourselves in line.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Jumping on the Drums

Our Life to Life group had an edifying discussion about the different kinds of Psalms and the different blessings that they bring. There are Psalms for taunting enemies and Psalms for confessing sin. There are Psalms that remind us that God is near even when He feels far off, there are Psalms that remind us that He is for all those who fear Him. There are many human experiences, there are many works of the Lord, there are many songs in our arsenal for all those situations.

We ought to be able to sing any of the lyrics when appropriate. We can sing how blessed is the one who dashes the enemies little ones against the rock (Psalm 137:9), we can sing of our heart’s desperation for the Lord’s presence (Psalm 42:1-2). There is a way that both of them can be acceptable to the Lord, and also a way that both of those angles can be ruined. What makes either like playing the cymbals with swords is self-righteousness.

Singing triumphant lyrics with a smug heart is like jumping on the drums; the words may be right but the heart is out of rhythm. Singing lyrics of sadness with self-pity, with an attitude that isolates, with a “no one understands or feels my pain” perspective doesn’t fit. For that matter, listening to others praise the Lord for victory or pray to the Lord for help in trouble with the filter of self-righteousness is no better.

What would be of greatest dissonance is confessing our sins (like Psalm 51:1-2) with self-righteousness, as if we thought we were better than others because we thought we were more honest to God about our transgressions than others. May it never be.

Lord's Day Liturgy

More Holy Glory

One of the things that stands out in the psalm we studied last Sunday morning (Psalm 21) is how nothing peculiar stands out. It’s not for lack of looking. There is a general context with some typical truths. God deserves praise for salvation. God’s enemies should beware His certain judgment. God is God and His people praise Him. While there are some meaty phrases worth meditating on, we don’t get anything exceptional.

The same might be said at the end of the day about any given Lord’s Day. We are not a people given to chasing novelty and extraordinary feelings anyway. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know enough to know what to do.

The liturgy of steadfastness is its own lesson. In these mortal bodies we will not grow out of the need to eat, nor will we mature past the point of praying to God for help and praising Him after He helps. Nor will the discipline of confessing our sins be useless, futile, superfluous.

Christian, the Lord requires your obedience, not because obedience earns salvation, but salvation effects obedience. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus “our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

Confess your sins to Him. He is not bored of hearing us nor bored in cleansing and iterating us into sharing more of His holy glory week by week. He is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). He is the one for whom we do what we do.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Ordered Affections

Knowing which mental shelf something belongs on is more than mere convenience. Groupings and hierarchies work for our good.

Two categories of affections are life-shapers. Affections can be aimed toward good or bad, they can be weak or strong, but they can also be comparative or integrated. The comparative and integrated categories are something I first read about in The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney. In order to please God we must have both and they must be in the right order.

By comparative affections we mean that we love nothing more than God by comparison. We love Him with all our heart (Matthew 22:37). We love Him more than mother or son or daughter (Matthew 10:37). We desire Him more than anything on earth (Psalm 73:25). Nothing compares. Even though He is unseen, the things of earth seem dim in His light (2 Corinthians 4:18).

As necessary and orienting as they are, they are regularly used to guilt others into sacrifices, and guilt is greater if they’re treated like the only category of affections. We could be made to feel bad that we’re hungry at all since, I mean, isn’t man supposed to live by the Word of God (Matthew 4:4)?

Of course bodies and bread, and hunger and baking, are all God’s ideas, ideas which are explained in that Word we live by. He is Lord of the seen things, even if they are temporary, and He requires that we receive them with thanks, that we steward and invest and share with others following His generous example. We are commanded to love our neighbors, our wives, our enemies.

These affections are integrated affections. Because we love God we don’t try to make every day Sunday. Because we love God most we know how to keep money as a servant not an idol. In order to love God, some of our minutes are spent examining if He is the preeminent love, and most of our minutes are spent putting that into practice.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Even the Boring

I got to bat clean up at our youth retreat last week and my assignment was to give the “So what?” I worked through this sentence:

That every one of you would walk worthy of the Lord in wisdom by the Word for your work and witness in the world.

It took a whole sermon to address each of the Ws, but for this exhortation, let me drill down on walking worthy of the Lord.

Walking is a metaphor used a few times in Colossians. Paul prays that the believers would walk worthy of the Lord (1:10), exhorts them to walk in Christ (2:6), and reminds them again to walk in wisdom toward outsiders (4:5).

Walking is the most mundane yet intentional thing we do each day. We breath, but we do that even without conscious decision. We eat and drink, which is daily, but that satisfies an internal hunger mechanism. Walking is the most feet on the ground, attention-requiring, all-embracing analogy for our deliberate conduct.

The walking metaphor isn’t just about behavior, but about even the boring behavior.

We are to walk worthy of the Lord. This sort of worthy is not about deserving to represent Him, but about sharing a similar weightiness to Him. The word for “worthy” applied to measurement by scales where balance was required between the weights and the object. The Lord is on one side, our walk is to match His. This is pleasing to Him (Colossians 1:10).

we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:12, ESV)

As necessary, repent and turn around from walking in the wrong direction, as well as from any false equivalence; do not be moldy oranges to Christ’s golden apples.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Affection Deficit

I finished reading 2 Chronicles again, and this time through the number of references to a man doing things with “all his heart” stood out to me. Jehoshaphat “sought the LORD with all his heart” (22:9), every work Hezekiah undertook he did “with all his heart” (31:21), Josiah committed to walk after the LORD “with all his heart” (34:31).

This got me thinking about the Great Commandment, of course, to love God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37). And it also got me curious about whether the phrase “all his heart” relates to what modern men often call focus or being present and not distracted. So I searched for “all heart” in Scripture.

There is definitely a connection between attention deficit and affection deficit. So, for example, social media manipulation works on weak loves; the algorithms don’t have divine power.

Which brings me to the surprise I found in my searching.

I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41)

That is not the high priest or a king speaking, it is the LORD Himself. God reveals His commitment in whole-hearted terms. In context the LORD is speaking to Israel about post-captivity. But His intention is to gather again and make a people and be their God. Divine power is at work changing our hearts.

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. I will put the fear of me in their hearts that they may not turn from me. (verses 39-40)

Again the promise is directly to Israel, and by extension we receive application of the LORD’s intent. He is committed, with all His heart, to overcoming our affection deficit, and giving us proper fear of Him, faithful obedience to Him, and full affections for Him.