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Lord's Day Liturgy

Remove the Rust

Yesterday our church held a seminar about fellowship. When we have fellowship it means we have a close association with those who share mutual interests. Christians share in Christ. He is our central and essential interest. All of the parts of the body get signal from the Head of the Body. Each living stone is built on and leans on the Cornerstone. Every spiritual planet revolves around the Son.

We will share a fellowship in heaven for eternity that realizes the unity of God in three Persons. Jesus prayed that we would be one even as He and His Father are one (John 17:11). In the meantime, those who are being sanctified in the truth (John 17:17) find that more sanctification is necessary if we’re going to get along. Jesus gave us His Word so that His joy would be fulfilled in us (John 17:13), but there’s quite a mess while we’re still in the world.

You will not be surprised to hear that the cause of distance between us is sin. Like a weed through concrete, sin can crack apart the thickest communion. Sin is like rust on the bolt; forget about getting the nut on tight until the rust is removed. Fellowship requires cleansing that keeps the heart threads clear.

As Christians we believe that blessed fellowship only comes by the blood of Christ. It requires us to be honest about our sin and to walk obediently before God.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

Confessing our sin is where fellowship starts.

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Enjoying the Process

Fellowship: A Mess Worth Making

Our church has another seminar scheduled a few Sundays from now. This will be our fifth seminar, the first two were about parenting and the last two were about marriage. We asked for feedback and ideas after last year’s seminar and one of the suggestions was to talk about fellowship

Fellowship is an easily misunderstood and often misused word. For many folks it means food, probably in a basement with a tiled floor (or industrial carpet) with all sorts of casseroles and bitter coffee. Our seminar does include food, and dinner is in a basement, but the food is not potlucked. As for the basement, well, it is actually fellowship hallish, but we do what we can. 

All four of the pastors at our church will speak for one session, then we’ll have a group Q&A as the final session. Our four elders are very different in personality, but united in theology and vision. It should make for a fantastic day together. 

I’m planning to talk about tough cases, how to set expectations and how to behave in order to do our part to reach those expectations. 

If you live in the area and have February 17th free, the seminar is also free, but we’d love to know you’re coming for sake of snacks, childcare, and dinner. Take a look at the Facebook event page, or if you’re a FB hater, leave a comment here and I’ll forward your interest to the appropriate planners.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Disconnect of Discontent

Because we are learning to be content in whatever condition we’re in, we are also making great progress out of the condition we’re in. The two conditions are not the same, otherwise the statement would contradict itself. One condition is our station, the other condition is our fellowship.

If we allow false standards to rule our thinking about “higher” callings (think 1 Corinthians 7:17-24) then we will not have true communion. False standards create guilt which inhibits connection between people because guilt is an isolating energy. False standards also create envy of those who we presume to be better than us, or they produce pride over those we presume to be better than. If we are discontent with our earthly calling, be it our family or gender or occupation or gifts, we will be disconnected from our people.

On the other hand, if we receive our earthly calling from the Lord with humility and gratitude, we will be able to give Him thanks for those around us who have also received their assignment from the Lord. Our contentment with what we have will help us be glad for what others have and we won’t compete with them but instead enjoy communion with them.

So as we stop longing for something else we get something else. As we stop seeking some other, better condition, we will know better communion. As we’re changed to be satisfied right where we are, we find ourselves to be in a better position after all.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Suburbs of Fellowship

We have a natural tendency to think about relationships in spacial terms. Some are close, some are far. It makes sense when we think about Aunt Jane who lives two-thousand miles away. We don’t see her very often; we’re not that close.

Of course actual distance between people doesn’t actually determine their unity, their fellowship, their closeness. Your spouse might be in New Zealand and yet she is in your bosom. Or your spouse might be sitting in bed next to you eighteen inches away and yet a world apart.

Some of us have been reading Dante’s Inferno and there is a sense of spiraling distance from God the deeper into hell the pilgrim descends. Sinners get the punishment they deserve. That’s why, for example, gluttons who were never satisfied on earth, will gulp handfuls of mud. That’s also why those who rejected God are judged to stay away from the goodness of God’s presence.

As Christians we might feel that we are close to God, or further from Him at times. We do grow in our fellowship as we know Him better and relate to Him in love and obedience.

But He does not choose some for His favorites and push others in the suburbs of fellowship. We are in the center circle, not out on the periphery. He is no Jacob. Through the true Israel, Jesus, we are all sons of His right hand, not just those who write psalms. Through the true vine, we are all branches grafted in; you don’t have to graduate from seminary. None of us deserve it, but “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a).

Emmanuel – “God with us.” Hallelujah – “Praise the Lord,” us with Him. The bread and the wine is for all His children, no hierarchies to climb, no great distance to cover. We have communion with Him, seated at His Table.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Delighting in the Saints

Peter preached on the day of Pentecost about the resurrection of Jesus. He said, “God raised him [His Son] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to held by it” (Acts 2:24). Then Peter proved his point by quoting Psalm 16:8-11 and made the following application.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:29–32)

David had the hope of eternal pleasures not just for one of his descendants, but in his descendent. This is also the hope that every believers has in Jesus.

As it says in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” These blessings were purchased for us by Christ.

Jesus is the first-fruits of those raised from the dead. When we pause around the Lord’s Table, we remember the path of life. To get on that path we believe in Him who descended from the Father, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. When we believe, we are identified with Him in life and death, with His people, and with His path. We thank Him in joy and follow His way of loving sacrifice for others.

The communion meal provides a practice place for us to rejoice in our life, in our future resurrection, and to delight the communion of saints who are on the same path.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Bread Has Never Sinned

When believers gather at the Lord’s Table, the body of Christ is represented in two loafs, the loaf of bread and the loaf of people (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). To ask which representation is more important would be to frame the question unhelpfully, as if we could do away with whichever one we deemed less important. Yet many Christians in our circles would, practically, do away with the people as long as they could have a personal ordinance experience.

Christ instituted communion. He told His disciples to keep on eating and drinking in remembrance of Him until He comes. To turn over the obvious a little bit, though, Christ did not die in order to redeem bread and wine. Bread has never sinned, neither has wine. They will be in heaven on their own merits. Christ died in order to redeem men. They too will be in heaven but only because of the merit of Christ.

Grain and grapes are gifts. We are commanded to receive them as reminders. But the reminders should make us look around at the spiritual fruit, the family of brothers and sisters with whom we share the meal.

We don’t acknowledge a common ancestry from impersonal and random elements that eventually grew legs and started to talk. We receive the truth of the Triune God who made us to share fellowship like He does and who forgave us through Christ’s sacrifice so that we could. The bread and the cup on the Table remind us what God is doing around the Table.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Hunt You Down

If you have sinned against someone, you do not need to wait for them to hunt you down. If a brother comes to talk to you, tells you your fault, and if you have sinned, then you ought to acknowledge it, seek his forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship. But confession of sin is not only a reaction when caught or confronted.

Jesus preached in Matthew 5 that a man shouldn’t even give money if he remembers that he’s sinned against someone else.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24)

I read an article about winnowing the givers recently, and it’s certainly not the typical approach of many ministries, or of persons who think that they can deal with guilt by giving money. Neither cash or check can cover a sinful heart. God doesn’t want even an offering unless we’ve done what we can to make it right.

Our God is a God who deals with sin and enables reconciliation. He desires worship from those who deal with sin and pursue reconciliation.

What sorts of offenses might our brother have against us? The preceding verse talks about being angry, about insulting, and ridiculing (verse 22). The list isn’t exhaustive, but it does represent hateful heart attitudes that separate us. Sin separates, and we are to pursue reconciliation with other persons before we worship, including our offering.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

It Can’t Be Privatized

Paul blessed the Corinthians at the end of his second letter when he wrote, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Believers enjoy effectual favor from the Second Person of the Trinity, eternal affection from the First Person, and koinonia–fellowship–from the Third Person. God gave Himself for us, shares Himself with us, and brings us to Himself.

At the risk of oversimplification, all of these require relationship. Favor is given from the one to another, love lands on someone else, fellowship is shared between persons. We have communion by grace from love for fellowship, and it can’t be privatized.

The gospel drives us to do more than know about fellowship, it drives us into fellowship. Our liturgy each Sunday morning drives the same point. The call to worship is a call to delight in God’s presence. Our confession of sin deals with the hindrance to fellowship: sin. Christ was separated so that we could be reconciled. Our consecration includes asking Him for help because we know Him. We attend His Word because it helps us know Him better and makes us more like Him. Now we come to communion at the Lord’s Table where we have koinonia in the body of Christ and koinonia in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

As He invites us together to share His life, so we learn to invite one another to share life. He doesn’t do it because He is morally obligated. He does it because He loves us. We don’t share our lives because it is ethically necessary. We do it because He increases our love and it results in our unity.

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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

MVPs at Confessing

One of the reasons that confession of sin seems so odd, even distasteful, is that we have little to no sense of togetherness.

Sin creates space between persons, whether to opposite sides of the bed, the room, the city, or the country. Adam and Eve died when they disobeyed in the garden of Eden just as God warned them. Their immediate death was a spiritual death, and that death was a loss of fellowship. Not only was the relationship damaged between them, more importantly, their relationship with God was severed. Sin causes divorce.

The apostle John wrote that when we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). That’s not all, indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son (1:3). What blocks us from Trinitarian fellowship and joy? Sin. And we all sin, so we all stumble out of the light.

What can we do?

We can confess because we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1). He will forgive us and cleanse us (1:9). But that’s not all He does. He repairs the broken relationship. Sin separates but the Savior restores and unites.

Because we sin so much, because we splinter our relationships so often, you’d think that we’d be quicker to our knees and that we’d be MVPs at confessing. But we don’t. We don’t because we’re more cozy in the dark. We’re too often content at a distance from God and from one another.

Our Lord’s day worship is important because we have opportunity to clean the palate by confessing our sins. Worship is also important because it gives us a strong taste of fellowship with God as well as the intoxicating joy of harmony as an assembly. As we learn to love togetherness like the Trinity, our eternal lives won’t be the same.