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Lord's Day Liturgy

An Important Idea-Shelf

As with the first and middle names of our church, so with the last name there will be two parts to consider. We are Trinity Evangel Church. God has elected, and through the gospel of His Son He creates, a people for His own possession.

I used to be more difficult when others said that they were “going to church,” and, as you probably know, the Bible doesn’t refer to the church as a place but as the persons. That is a good reminder, but also there are enough other language battles in our day (like, “man” and “woman”) to spend our energy on.

The English word “church” is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, so things that are “ecclesiastical” are church things. It does not so much refer to a location for gathering as it does to the group who are gathered. William Tyndale got himself in a grave trouble because in his English translation of the NT he used the word “congregation” rather than church, and that made the institutional authorities of the Roman Catholic Church quite peeved.

One of the most important idea-shelves that we’ve tried to build is that we do not gather on Sundays in two categories but in one. We do not gather as performers and audience, we gather as an assembly. The assembly worships God, even though many look toward the west and only some look east. There are leaders in the liturgy and followers, but our liturgy calls you to attend to your part, which is more than to listen.

We are an assembly, of worshipping, maturing disciples who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all. We are the church of God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Good News and New Goods

The evangel is life changing. The gospel is God’s truth that raises men from the dead and gives them new and eternal life. It is also a call to be generous with our lives unto death.

We have been working our way through the parts of the name of our church, partly for those who are newer to the flock and partly because some reminders never outgrow their usefulness. That the gospel calls us to a life of dying to bring life is as useful as a heartbeat.

Last Lord’s Day I emphasized that those who are forgiven in the evangel must forgive. We are not saved because we forgive, but we forgive because we are saved. We forgive because of God’s grace to us; grace from above doesn’t turn into works-based forgivers below.

One realization requiring my repentance a number of years ago—repentance because I needed a change of mind—related to talk about incarnating or embodying the gospel. The gospel is news, how can you “do” a message? More strictly, the gospel is about the divine Logos taking on a body and spending it to death as a sacrifice for sinners. But I’m a sinner, so my death can’t redeem anyone. All of that is true.

And it is also true that God’s Word calls us to live out the gospel.

“always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (in carne nostra mortali). So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

These are death brings life statements. We incarnate, we put flesh on, the story. It’s not redemptive, but reflective.

This explains another comment by Paul in Colossians 1:24, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Perhaps better than any apostle, Paul knew and taught the exclusivity and effectiveness of Christ’s work on the cross. And because of that there is a life of dying that belongs to believers.

It means, among other things, that husbands sacrifice for their wives first (Ephesians 5). It means that parents don’t have kids in order to be served but to serve. It means shepherds go out front, they don’t demand commitment and sacrifice so that they don’t have to.

The evangel begets a cycle of giving with the mind of Christ, where good news leads us to do new goods for one another.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Rusty Nail in the Foot Would Be Better

I mentioned last week that since we’ve been seeing a number of new families, not just over the last few months, but even over the last year, we want to communicate some of the core things we care about. Even for those who’ve been here many years, well-placed reminders can be edifying.

The name of our local church has reminders built in. The Trinity reminds us that God is the God of love and fellowship. While the realities of Father, Son, and Spirit, co-equal and co-eternal, can be hard to wrap our minds around, it does explain what God wants with us and for us. He wants our fellowship, not just our collection of facts.

At first I planned to spend one week on each of the three parts of our name, but there really is more about the Trinity that is important to apply.

The doctrine of the Trinity is an antidote to idolatry (we learn to exalt the true God), and to the Pharisaism of religious correctness (we learn that the true God wants our love that comes from knowing the truth). It is also the place to start to pull down the errors of identity politics, bigotry, intolerance, and envy.

Identity politics is a new name for an old sin: hating our brother, hating our neighbor, and justifying ourselves by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). We need to be “woke” as much as we need a rusty nail to pierce the arch of our left foot, except the nail might be better. Our job is not to find the most oppressed people group, even less to make our case that we are the most oppressed people group. We ought not look for the most superficial things about us and divide up into respective tribes. Our need is to worship the Triune God.

Each Person of the Trinity has a different role, and they don’t compete or complain about it. The Spirit doesn’t envy the Son’s incarnation, the Son doesn’t chaff against the Father’s authority to delegate, the Father neither wishes that He could be another person or that He’s better than the Son and the Spirit.

Because the world was made and is sustained by the Trinity, male and female don’t need to complete, they complement one another. Because of Him, the eyes and the hands have crucial jobs for sake of the body. Because of Him, we know that “different” isn’t an enemy by default, whether the person has more money or darker skin. Because of Him we know that unity does not require conformity. Because of Him, we know that none of it works if we don’t start by submitting ourselves to what He’s elected.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Building Concerns

We recently had our annual church leaders’ retreat, and in addition to giving thanks for signs of God’s grace among us, we usually spend at least a session discussing any existing or expected challenges. One crossover item, a reason for thanks and for planning, relates to the increase in the number of persons that have been joining us for our corporate worship.

Where to seat everyone is not the biggest question (though those watching in the basement would probably rather not be). How to transmit the heartbeat of this church body, and the lifeblood of our liturgy, these are more important “building” concerns (1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Our church is almost 10 years old. All of the men who decided to start it are still attending, and I think more excited about how God has grown us. Because we started it, we gave it a name: Trinity Evangel Church. We named it on purpose.

Every Christian must agree to the doctrine of the Trinity. We are baptized into “the name,” singular, “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), one God in three Persons. Each Person of the Trinity is fully, simultaneously, and eternally God, united in one purpose. God has never been alone. That is key. There has never been a moment of existence with only one person. This is why we can say that God has power and wisdom but that He is love.

When God made Adam, He assigned Adam to name all the animals before pointing out to Adam that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Male and female are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which means that human beings are made for relationship.

This holds true between God and men as well. This is the problem with sin. Sin separates our fellowship. God sent His Son to die on the cross not primarily so that we could be correct, but so that we could share communion with the Trinity. Our worship on Sundays requires the truth, but the end of our worship is not knowledge, it is love and identity and reconciliation, being made one in Him (John 17:3, 20-21).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Accusing the Brothers

In Revelation 12 we learn that the dragon is an accuser, that he criticizes and condemns the brothers day and night before God (Revelation 12:10).

On one hand, it seems brash. Imagine the chutzpah it takes to come into God’s presence and start charging God’s chosen people with fault before God.

On the other hand, Satan accuses based on God’s own standards. Satan is a liar, but his accusations have an appearance of legitimacy based on God’s law. The “brothers” aren’t guilty of disobeying the devil, they are guilty of disobeying the holy One, and the devil knows it.

Satan doesn’t have to make up things about us. Since he isn’t omniscient, we probably know more than he does about our guilt. Since God is omniscient, He certainly does. What can we do?

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)

None is righteous, no, not one. (Romans 3:10)

But no accusation is more powerful than Christ’s atonement. Every so often I talk with someone who thinks that his or her sin is too much for Christ to forgive. They believe their sin is too wicked or that they’ve sinned too repeatedly. Whether or not the devil himself is at work directly, or working through his spirit in the world, or even working through someone else taking on that spirit, it’s easy to listen to the accusations.

The good news is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The law convicts us, the Spirit points out our disobedience, but the gospel announces justification and reconciliation. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses again them…. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Get Blessed and Bold

We are always under threat of being devoured. Peter told his readers that the devil prowls around looking for prey (1 Peter 5:8). He is our ancient foe who seeks to work us woe (Martin Luther). In this spiritual battle, remember that being devoured can happen in small bites, and it always starts in the soul.

Being conformed to this world is a way of being devoured (Romans 12:1-2). Taking on the feelings and the envy in the name of “good” will eat a woman to death. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Fill your head with truth.

Learning to scoff is also a way of being devoured (Psalm 1:1). You don’t have have to leave the comforts of your own house for these classes anymore. You can tune in, subscribe, follow, and hit like on a steady stream of wicked counsel, including fearful panic. It’s not CHAZ, it’s CHAFF (Psalm 1:4). Men are consumed by their own complaints which they call “wisdom.”

Fight back, in and from your heart. This is why we should meditate day and night on God’s law (Psalm 1:2). Those who prosper are not the ones who are caught up on their social media feeds, but those who drink from the fountain of God’s Word. Let it wash you. Let it satisfy your thirst. Let it work you you green leaves and fruit in season (Psalm 1:3). Let it work in you courage.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8–9)

We’re 2/3rds through the #SamePageSummer Bible reading plan, and almost 2/3rds through the calendar year. But who knows how far along we are in the spiritual battle. Fasten on the belt of truth by reading Scripture (Ephesians 6:14). Get blessed and bold by getting the Bible into you.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Get Wiser

I assume that if you are a Christian, then you want to be wise, and that if you could, you want to be more wise at the end of this year than you are now. This wouldn’t become a competition because wisdom is not a zero-sum pursuit; everyone could get wiser.

You should pray for wisdom. Paul regularly asked God to give wisdom (e.g., Colossians 1:9), and that shouldn’t surprise us because Solomon, who had more wisdom than any other human-only man, explicitly said that God gives wisdom.

For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
(Proverbs 2:6)

But that was at the end of a lot of effort. “Receive my words,” “treasure up my commandments,” “[make] your ear attentive,” “[incline] your heart,” “call out for insight,” “raise your voice for understanding,” “if you seek it like silver,” “search for it as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:1-4), then you will be in position to receive it from the LORD.

I hadn’t noticed the following until a few days ago. After all those verbs of effort and focus, Solomon says, “then you will understand the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 2:5). And, of course, the fear of the LORD is where wisdom starts (Proverbs 1:7).

The fear of the LORD is a response that we have to Him, but that awe, that reverence, that lens through which we see what is wise, comes from the fear of the LORD that is His revelation. That’s part of the reasion that Scripture is called “the fear of the LORD” in Psalm 19:9.

So in order to be more wise you must read the fear of the LORD and worship in the fear of the LORD. Get wiser.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Sin of Seasonal Humbug

I hate Christmas for a different reason than I used to. I used to hate Christmas when I thought I was more of a saint. Now I hate it because I know how much more I am a sinner.

Christmas used to provide a great platform for my self-righteousness. My strong seasonal humbug spiced up my holiness. Obviously, I was so serious about Jesus that I couldn’t be dragged down into the fray of shopping and sweaters and wassail. I worshipped Jesus better by not getting involved.

I realize now that my “worship” was mostly defined by how I wasn’t like “those” people. Yet many of those people went down from the outlet mall more sanctified than me. Not all of them. An idolator will use any reason to worship his idol, even if that reason is named Jesus. I hated Christmas because people abused it. But I threw the Baby out with the busted LED lights.

I hate Christmas now because it exposes the atrophy of my celebration muscles. I can’t lift much true cheer even though the burden is light. I realize, of course, that this means I don’t really hate Christmas, but Christmas does cause me to hate my sin more. I am not like Christ. I do not naturally give myself away, serve from love, or laugh when it’s hard. I prefer to stay away from mess rather than take it on.

That said, Christmas is JOYFUL because Jesus did come. He took on our weaknesses so that He could fill us with His joy. As we remember that He came we remember why we need Him. We also remember what He gives us: peace, hope, and joy.

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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.