Our Worship

7: The Blessing of Liturgy

February 14, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #7 # Introduction There is a great phrase that occurs a couple times in the Old Testament related to God's intentions to regrow His people (2 Kings 19:30; Isaiah 37:31). He promises that they will "take root downward and bear fruit upward." The Lord says He will provide them with stability, as with deep roots, and with productivity, as they see extending branches of fruits. Another way to say this is that God intends to *bless* them. Blessing is a one of those religious words that is frequently used and regularly undefined, like a cloud, visible in the sky but far away and with vague edges. To be blessed has the idea of to be given something good, to be blessed has the idea of receiving someone's favor, to be blessed has the idea of being made happy, or joyful, as some Christians like having a distinction. I think we can make a case for an agricultural analogy that blessing is roots and fruit, and I make that connection from Psalm 1. The first word in the inspired songbook of Israel is "blessed." The one who is blessed doesn't listen to the liberal media and propaganda machine trying to tear everything down in their misery. The blessed man instead loves the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. The psalmist then explains that that man will be "like a tree *planted*," with roots deep and fed by "streams of water," such that he is unlike the wicked man who is blown around like chaff. The blessed man with is also like a tree "that yields it fruit in its season," "in all that he does, he prospers." To be blessed by the Lord is to take root downward and bear fruit upward. This life of Word-delight and Word-deliberation leading to blessing obviously isn't limited to a church service on Sunday; the meditation is "day and night," all day and all the days. But there is something about God's *assembly* re-membering, with all the parts back together, rejecting the counsel of the wicked and the cynicism of the scoffers, rejoicing in the fear of the Lord that makes wise and makes *fixed* and steadfast and anchored as well as *fruitful* and productive and prosperous. This is a living and active process, a three-dimensional process. It is also a cooperative process, and ”sinners (will not stand) in the *congregation* of the righteous" (Psalm 1:5). This morning as we finish this round of refreshed consideration of our Lord's Day corporate liturgy I want to remind you that as we bless (declare our praise to) God He blesses (shows His favor to) us. Here is the end of the series, with an emphasis on the end of our service. There are a few clarifications to make about things I have said in this series, and a few considerations about things I haven't really touched on yet, and then we’ll get to the final blessing of liturgy. A couple weeks ago we considered our worship in song, and while I don't really expect that you will hear every qualification, some of the qualifications are actually important. I think it is surprising how much modern effort is put into defining worship as singing, and how much time and budget is spent toward the music ministry, while there is no *New Testament* command to sing. There is no command to the *church* to sing. But, there are numerous commands in the Old Testament to sing, and it is a necessary consequence of our Word-filled, Spirit-filled hearts. > Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalm 30:4) > Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (Psalm 47:6-7) As an assembled church we sing, as a good and necessary way to bless God, and to bless one another. Last week I reminded us about the generational perspective, and generational patience we should have as we train up the noisy little worshippers in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We want the Lord's *blessing* on our children, and blessing comes to those who fear Him, who call on His name, who learn the obedience of faith to all He's commanded. As the Father shows generous kindness and long-suffering toward us, so parents ought not to teach their kids that worshiping God is about silent glares and second sermons on the car-ride-home about how displeasing the kids were. But, to be clear, we are after not just attention, but affections for the Lord. This is not delight-directed Montessori liturgy, it is liturgy that we pray God will use to direct our delights. I am not arguing for a child-centered approach to worship, I am saying children should see that they are welcome, and even obligated, to participate in God-centered worship. It should also be said again that this series has been about the liturgy we follow during our corporate worship, which is not the same thing as saying that the only thing that matters in your Christian life is corporate worship. God is glad to bless His people as they worship Him while fulfilling their callings at home and at work and among their neighbors. What we've been talking about could be called worship *proper*, but this is only *part* of your life of worship as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). Sunday is not the only time we worship, but this series has tried to emphasize that corporate worship is not just a group personal quiet time. I have addressed the five Cs in a number of ways, the main headings of the pattern, but there are some particulars that warrant a few comments. After the announcements (which is strategic in it's own way, not just for utilitarian information giving purposes, but for showing that we have a lot of opportunities for living life together), there is what is called the *votum*, a sort of verbal contract that it is time to begin our worship together. We take ours from Psalm 124:8. As it says on the bulletin, the minister says the first half, “Our help is in the name of the LORD,” and the assembly responds: "who made heaven and earth." I suppose that visitors, even those who look at the bulletin/order of service before we start, are regularly surprised. Is this *necessary* to start? No, but neither is swearing to tell the truth before giving testimony in the witness chair, nor playing the national anthem before a baseball game. Does it bring an opportunity for blessing? I believe it does, just as there are other solemn ways of beginning various meetings or events. The call and response is the signal that it's time to grab your handle on the battering ram. Another unprinted but weekly practice is *kneeling* during the prayer of confession. Do you know that people feel strongly about this? Do you know that there are physical limitations, both in terms of old knees and in terms of narrow space between the pews? Do you know that there is no New Testament command to kneel with the church? Do you know that you can go full-prostrate and still be proud in your heart? I mean, if you didn't know, you certainly could have surmised the answers to all of those questions without much effort. But our posture before God is a real thing as He looks at our hearts. Our kids can't see our hearts directly, that can see that we bend our knees in humility before the One who is worthy and holy. Also, one day every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10), and it won't just be an invitation. The *offering* is something I talk about briefly each week, though I've never preached an entire sermon on giving. Because of how many of you give, as well as the generous nature of your giving, now would be the perfect time for a sermon on it. Grabby sermons from greedy pastors are always a put off. We did just recently enable online giving in the church app, but that's because it saved us money not because we were trying to get more money. Even during the almost two-months of lockdown, when we didn't have the online giving available, you all found ways. The offering is positioned as the final piece of our consecration. As you've seen if you've been here for a while, we bring up one bucket, we present that to the Lord, and it represents not just our thanks but our corporate thanks. And we have *wine* for communion, along with day-of-baked bread. Some may wonder about the propriety of having alcohol when so many sin with alcohol. We live in hyper-sexualized society, where sinners abuse God's gift of sex around the clock. We live in a drunken society, not where everyone is drunk, but where sinners abuse God's gift of wine, or know sinners who do. But God Himself said that *He* Himself gives "wine to gladden the heart of man" (Psalm 104:15). Jesus made “*good* wine” for a wedding (John 2:10), and gave thanks to His Father for wine when He instituted the meal. I’ve said more about this before, but Dr. Welch popularized his grape-juice for Christians out of *fear* not out of thanks. That is exactly how many Christians have been coming to the Lord's Table as well, anxious about messing up rather than rejoicing that Jesus is risen from the dead and so that they can drink their wine in joy new life. We understand that some have made commitments to abstain, and we offer juice to tender consciences. What we want is for the assembly to taste and see that the Lord is *good*. Which leads me to the final emphasis, the end of our liturgy. I have tried to say it various ways, but, beloved, we assemble to bless God and be blessed by God. God gets to decide what all those blessings look like, and it does take the eyes of faith to see some of them. He has shown His blessings to us over the last year of global trials as He has caused us to take root downward and bear fruit upward. He blesses His people who worship Him. This is why the last part of our service is a reminder, even more, it is a conduit of God's blessing to us through the *benediction*. “Benediction” means the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, the formal invocation of blessedness, and it comes from the Latin words *bene* meaning “well” and *dicere* “to say.” There are a number of benedictions in Scripture, and they are representatives who declare God’s blessing to God’s people. Perhaps the most well known is in Numbers 6. > The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, > > The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you > and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you > and give you peace. > > “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22–27 ESV) The LORD commissions the priests to speak on His behalf. To **bless** is to fill with strength, to make full. To **keep** is to watch and protect. In the next two phrases both involve His **face** or **countenance**. His *attention* is toward us, and it is a favorable and generous attention. The blessing is grace and peace, help and *shalom*, wellness of soul and lack of anxiousness. In Leviticus 9—and you may remember when we looked at Leviticus 9 as the passage with the sin, the burnt, and the peace offering—the final part was a blessing. > Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. (Leviticus 9:22) > Aaron **lifted up his hands toward the people**, a physical symbol of corporate connection and covering. The laying on of hands is a personal connection, but limited to how many hands a man has. The lifting of hands represents here a larger aegis (think of the aegis or shield in the _Iliad_) or umbrella, like a cloud of shade on a hot day or a cloud of rain to thirsty ground. That is one example of the ordained priests blessing the people, but there is another. It was Jesus’ last act before ascending into heaven. > And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, (Luke 24:50–52) Jesus **lifting up his hands he blessed them**. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years, and it seems to fit with our move away from worship as mostly good thoughts. I love to speak the good words of God’s favor, stimulating your faith. Our service drives not toward a gauntlet of introspective examination but toward a Table of peace and word of strength. If I use spontaneous gestures during the sermon to help make a point, why not use a symbolic gesture on purpose to embody and express God’s giving us what we need to take root downward and bear fruit upward. # Conclusion Our service is one of blessing God, and being blessed by Him. *Call to worship*: “**Blessed** is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!” (Psalm 65:4) *Confession and forgiveness*: “**Blessed** is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. **Blessed** is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2) *Consecration*: “**Blessed** is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and **blessed** are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3) And “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be **blessed** in his doing.” (James 1:25) *Communion*: “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?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) *Commission*: “May God be gracious to us and **bless** us and make his face to shine upon us, *Selah* that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1–2) ---------- ## Charge Beloved, the Lord knows the plans He has for you, for those who fear Him, who trust Him, who love Him, who worship Him. ## Benediction: > The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you > and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you > and give you peace. > (Numbers 6:24–26, ESV)

6: Worshipping for Generations

February 7, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #6 # Introduction The philosopher-critic Friedrich Nietzsche used to use the Latin pun, *aut liberi, aut libri*. When thinking about what mark one leaves behind, what one can produce that matters in the long term, the pun offers the alternative: either children or books. Nietzsche was not a family man, nor a man of faith. For him the choice was not that difficult. The pun is not merely another man's Latin playfulness; we can commiserate. The labor of a (decent) father and the labor of a (decent) author are similarly involved. Some men, and I would count myself in their number, have trouble with quick context-switching so as to do both well. I don’t even listen to music while I write, let alone find it easy to keep my thoughts together while my kids are listening to music in their earbuds while loudly singing their version of harmony to that music walking around the house. This can be mitigated with the help of noise canceling headphones, and I praise the Lord for Kuyperian technology that covers every square inch of my ears, but that can't help me when I'm in the middle of a sentence and a couple kids are in the middle of an argument. There is labor to ask questions to get the full story, and then labor to get back into the flow of whatever other thoughts I was trying to wrangle into something I was sure was a very important point. But my kids have been used by God to humble me, and bless me. They have caused me to seek wisdom from the Lord and He has given me some wisdom, or at least perspective, to share. Whatever pages I think I could have written would be much more boring without their questions and sins and meandering stories and love and laughing. In my calling as a preacher I do have to do what is necessary to put the words together, but also in my calling as an elder if my kids aren't together then my words mean diddly (1 Timothy 3:4-5). When it comes to kids and books (or in my case, sermons or talks), it's not either/or. How about when it comes to corporate worship? *Aut liturgy aut liberi?* Is it either liturgy or children? (Also, I do understand that "liturgy" is not Latin, which would be *lītūrgia*; it's supposed to be a play on words.) I would like to think that, at least by now, most of you know the answer. But I know that the answer doesn't always feel like it's the answer, nor does it help you help your kids feel like it’s the answer, nor does the answer give you an exhaustive checklist to know exactly what to do any given moment. Of course the answer is *both* liturgy *and* children. Of course the answer is worshiping for generations. But the only thing harder than getting all your kids lined up and in order and participating in, or at least not distracting from, corporate worship is getting your *heart* in order and participating and not distracted from worship. This is a supernatural thing we're doing; does it seem like it should be easy? Including children in the service with us, and not providing Sunday School or Children's Church, or even at this point a nursery with volunteer workers, is a purposeful choice the elders have made, not an oversight or a problem we're hoping to fix in the future. This is not to say that there are no problems, ha. But if we are doing both liturgy and liberi well, we are always going to have issues, because part of parenting is learning how to be a parent, even while worshiping. Let me also add that we are always going to have issues because part of parenting is fathers learning what it means to be a father, which includes leading his family in worship and not leaving his wife to carry the burden. For different reasons not every mother has a husband who comes; more is on her, yes. But by far the more common problem is dads who are satisfied that they've done their duty by driving the family to church. By God's grace we have more men at TEC who are attentive to their responsibilities rather than totally aloof, or worse, regularly angry, angry that their kid isn't quiet or that their wife isn't fixing the non-quiet kid. His tone-setting might even start earlier, mad that everyone isn't in the car on time, when he couldn't even put his dirty coffee cup in the dishwasher let alone help his young kids get dressed or breakfasted and buckled-in. Our sanctification as disciples, and as an assembly, is a process of maturing. We talked last week about the maturing of our singing. We can also keep maturing in our understanding of kids and worship. As we become like who or what we behold, how does our liturgy help us grow as parents, how does our liturgy help us parent kids for their growth, and how does the liturgy allow for children without the whole service becoming a children's liturgy? **We worship God the Father who knows our frame.** > As a father shows compassion to his children, > so the LORD shows compassion to those > who fear him. > For he knows our frame; > he remembers that we are dust. > (Psalm 103:13-14) God knows. God invented babies; they are quite amazing. They become toddlers and pre-teens only by God's work. God invented sleep opportunities, He invented Sunday mornings and liturgical opportunities. And He calls them *good*. Even before the Fall there would have been fatigue, presumably just without the fussy. God invented the wiggles. God invented repeated milk-craving. God invented a way for babies, now born with selfish sin, to get their parents' attention. None of those things surprise Him when we assemble for worship. He knows our frame, and the frame of our little, lumpy, noisy, needy dust sacks. Do you know your kids' frame? Do you prepare them? Do you prepare yourself? Do you keep being surprised that the same thing happens? How does the Father receive *you*? **We seek the blessing of our Father as we worship Him in thankful helplessness.** We bring Him what we have. We bring Him our dependence. We bring Him our reverence. We bring Him our weakness. We bring Him our needs. > “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, > for the world and its fullness are mine. > Do I eat the flesh of bulls > or drink the blood of goats? > Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, > and perform your vows to the Most High, > and call upon me in the day of trouble; > I will deliver you, and you shall > glorify me.” > (Psalm 50:12–15) Offer Him all you have, and let Him figure out how He's going to use it. It's not: offer Him all Your perfectly arranged and styled, and only quiet, kids. Offer Him the ones with dried egg on their dresses. Offer Him the ones who are slobber-teething. Offer Him the ones who have stinky attitudes, and I don't just mean you. While we know that He knows our capabilities, He doesn't turn everything into adult-sized sippy cups. He is growing us, consecrating our affections, and so help your kids grow up and learn to love Him, too. **We believe, we ask for help with our unbelief, which includes *about* our kids.** This is an area where our Baptistic background betrays disobedience to the Bible. We think that a person needs to be at a certain point before he can worship. And, sure. An idolator must first repent from idolatry and then turn to worship the true God. But young kids, the ones in a house with Christian parents, would only know idolatry if their parents taught it to them. Our kids do not believe out of the womb, but that doesn’t mean that we raise them by keeping our spiritual hands off until they reach an adult crisis point where they can finally decide for themselves. That’s disobedient to Ephesians 6:4. We raise our children to believe, and that means that their conversion will look different than those growing up in an unbelieving home, praise God. Many ostensibly Christian parents say things like, "I don't want my kid to have *my* faith, I want my kid to have his *own* faith." This practically looks like leaving Christian food out on the table, but not really pushing it. But no man gets to God by figuring it out on his own (1 Corinthians 1:21). > Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 ESV) > Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21) It’s interesting that he said what not to do in order that something else not happen. Don’t provoke discouragement. To be discouraged is to have the heart (with the Latin word cor as “heart” in the middle of our English word) drained, to reverse heart. What is the opposite? This what I pray for as a father: that God would enable me to stir up my kids to hope. I want my kids to have large and full hearts. I want them to be encouraged, at least in the end if not a lot in the process along the way. And isn’t this what our heavenly Father does when we meet with Him here? He fills our hearts with who we are. We are the crown of His creation, given dominion and called to bear His image on earth (Call). Though we failed and continue to fail to do that, He fills our hearts with peace as He declares us free from sin, from the law, from death in Christ (Confession). Then He continues to fill our hearts with wisdom, renewing our minds by His words so that we can live well (Consecration). Then He fills our hearts with food at the Table (Communion). Then He filled our hearts with strength and vision and purpose: to work in His name (Commissioning). I want my kids to have my faith. I want them not to be discouraged. I want them to *delight in the Lord and His Word* (Psalm 1:2; 37:4) > Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, > and his greatness is unsearchable. > One generation shall commend your works to another, > and shall declare your mighty acts. > On the glorious splendor of your majesty, > and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. > (Psalm 145:3–5) **We follow the Lord and show our kids how to follow.** They are little worshipers. They can participate. They can sing, and it is not pretend. They can give, and it is not futile. They can kneel. They can *watch*. We are imitative creatures, and imitating faith (Hebrews 13:7), obedience (Philippians 3:17), and even worship are part of the plan. Every family has their own Lord's Day liturgy, which is their pattern of preparing for and participating in the assembly's liturgy. You can undermine any element. You can resist God's call to worship. You can excuse your sin as someone else's fault. You can make truth something to collet rather than to obey. You can make the Lord's Table a ritual rather than a rejoicing. You can wait for the final amen to go live like you want rather than for the name of the Lord and with His blessing. And as your kids watch you week after week, they will get the message. You are showing your kids what God wants. And if God's goal for His people is fellowship, if this is what Christ's work accomplished, if this is what the Spirit supernaturally enables, then why would God want the assembly's worship to compete with your fellowship with your wife and kids? # Conclusion Some still might say, “Kids distract me from worship. I can’t focus.” These might be your own kids, or someone else’s kids in the row behind you. My first recommendation is: put your phone away, then you’ll only have 2/3rds the distractions. If your phone is 1/3rd, and your fatigue/bills/Super Bowl party plans are another 1/3rd, and kids are 1/3rd, then deal first with the one that you can control to sit quietly in your pocket. That still leaves some distraction caused by kids. But kids also distract me from eating, or talking to my wife or our guests at dinner. So I have to ask myself, What do I want? I want my kids to eat and enjoy, which means I’ve got to learn how to do it better. It also means that there are times when I tell them to hold their comments for later. Others might say, “Kids can’t understand everything that’s happening or being said and sung.” So, do you understand everything that’s happening here? God is the only one who can claim that, and He calls all the rest of us to praise Him anyway. Kids can do that at their level, like you do at yours. If it’s okay that we need to keep growing, then it’s okay that our kids do, too, just 20 steps behind us. And if you recognize something they should really get, you tell them. You be the shepherd. You be the Bible Answer Man. You be the spiritual hero. “Dad, what did the bearded guy mean?” “Oh dad, you’re the best. I wish you could be the preacher.” Give them liturgy, give them love, give them yourself. > See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2) What do you get out of worshiping God? What do you get when you're taking care of your kid(s) while worshiping God? *Blessing*. If we want this liturgical blessing to last, if we want to see worshiping for generations, it starts now by not despising generations. It's more than seeing ourselves as replaceable, because, *duh*. It's more like seeing ourselves as reproducing. ---------- ## Charge You are not raising children, you are raising parents. You are not training children, you are training reinforcements, you are training your replacements. They are not keeping you from your work, they are your work. They are not keeping you from worship, they belong with you in worship. Don’t be frustrated by how far you think they have to go, live by faith, and pray that by God’s grace and your example, they will live by faith, too. ## Benediction: > May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11–12, ESV)

5: Our Worship in Song

January 31, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #5 # Introduction I get the impression that most professing Christians in the United States make their decision about which church they prefer based on the style of songs sung during corporate services. The number of things we could pick at in such a practice would be like picking a long road rash scab; where do you want to start? We probably ought to sympathize a bit more with our Christian brothers, and sisters, in such a mindset. Remember that most worship services offer very few ways for Christians to participate, and *feel* like or be convinced that it's true, other than singing. Even in those churches where worship isn't defined as the singing compared to any other part of the service, singing still bears most of the burden for an attendees active contribution. So it makes sense that in light of the longing to worship, if worship means singing, then the singing parts are the more crucial parts for a Christian deciding where to worship. This certainly can include a more consumer-like attitude more than intent for consecration. There is also a heavy performance, concert-like mentality which in some ways makes style even more significant. This also may allow an attendee to hide a bit, and not just because the lights are low, but because the volume through the speakers is so high. His neighbor in the pew might have a hard time knowing whether his heart is engaged or not. There are also churches with minimal liturgy for the assembly that emphasize preaching so much that, even without explicitly saying so, the Really Mature (RM) in the congregation know that singing is just for the weak who can't get their minds into fifth-learning gear without at least some strumming on a guitar. As usual, there are about as many ways to mess up worship in song as there are chorus repeats in a Chris Tomlin song, which means, a lot. What is really a reason to praise the Lord at TEC is that you need very little rebuke. In fact, by God's grace, you are to be commended for your interest and eagerness and understanding and skillfulness in our worship in song. As a church we have matured in our grasp of the battering ram of corporate singing, and we have strengthened our affections for singing and by singing together. Nine years ago I preached a message titled "Sing and Shout" to a different group of people. Some of the people have the same names and faces, but not the same hearts and minds, and ears. At that time we had begun to expand our arsenal of songs by trying to recover some of the older volumes in the library, and I mean older than early 90's music from the Maranatha catalog. I mean psalms and hymns, as in actual and full Psalms from the inspired 150 as well as various hymns produced in church history, especially during and since the 16th century Reformation. We moved, on purpose, away from the more sentimental, away from the more folksy, away from the more effeminate, away from only unison, toward more of the militantly celebratory, masculine, melody with harmony. We maintained an interest lyrical orthodoxy, but we attempted to develop an interest in lyrical history and musicality. Nine years ago we lost a few families who were not impressed with the direction. Here we are nine years later and, if we listened to the loudest minority today, we might hear that we've still not made it far enough down the road since we've not yet decided to sing *nothing but* Psalms. Still and overall, we have much thanks to give to God. And because our songs are part of a Christ-honoring liturgy that belongs with a Christ-honoring culture, it's worth reminding ourselves of what we're aiming for when it comes to our worship in song. You know, right, that there is *no command to sing* in the New Testament. There is no command to sing as a disciple, there is no command to sing as an assembly. The music 'lovahs' usually get sharp about this assertion, but their actual arguments from the NT text fall flat. There *are*, though, examples of singing, and there is a condition that, if met, should be followed by singing, and we certainly see singing as an inescapable consequence of obedience to two commands. So, in terms of the NT, failure to sing is a failure to obey, but not because singing itself is an explicit command. As for **examples**, Jesus and His disciples sang (Matthew 26:30). The apostles, especially when imprisoned, sang (Acts 16:25). The angels in heaven never cease their singing (Revelation 4:8). These are descriptive realities that demonstrate singing as typical behavior of those who believe that God is worthy to be trusted and praised. The one **condition** is found in a group of three conditions in James 5. > Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him. (James 5:13-14) "Pray" and "sing praise" and "call" the elders are all imperatives, but they are third person imperatives, unlike our typical second person commands: "(You) pray." These instructions from James are a sequence: if this then that. The command "let him sing praise" is one Greek word, *psalleto*, which while connected to the word "psalm" is used enough times that it can't be limited to one from the one-hundred fifty. But, are you in good spirits? Then sing. The singing **consequences** of obedience to other commands are most interesting, and the context of each does really set an expected tone. The passages are both written by the apostle Paul, and they are clearly parallel in his mind, coming at a similar point in his letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. > Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20) > Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17) There is **singing** in both, and the *-ing* ending is important. The command in Ephesians is **be (being filled) with the Spirit**. That is the *only* grammatical command in these verses, the remaining verbs are participles, and the participles show what will be the inevitable result of obeying the command, here, being Spirit-filled. When the Spirit controls a person, it isn't banal barroom songs (from a drunkard), but it's still singing. The command in Colossians is **let the word of Christ dwell richly**, and likewise, it is the *only* grammatical command in the two verses. The ESV translation for verse 17 seems like "do everything" is a command, but that is a translation decision because the "do" is not in the Greek; it could better be understood (though more clunky) as "and everything which any should do, doing in the name of the Lord Jesus." Regardless, verse 16 has one imperative and three participles of consequence, including singing. In both passages the individual's obedience, to be filled and indwelt, results in *one-another* edification, and that is a *lyrical* edification. Of course this could be in a text message, or a private conversation, but there is a corporate context. The part about singing in Colossians comes in a paragraph full of assembled behavior. Bear with one another, forgive each other, put on love which brings harmony, let peace be the sovereign of the one body. We're talking about the body's behavior, not merely a believer’s. And especially note the tone of *thankfulness*. Verse 15 ends with the command: "Be thankful." Verse 16 says that our singing should be "with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Verse 17 has "giving thanks to God the Father through [Christ]." From my perspective as a churchman, and as one of many under-shepherds, there is bitter irony in how often Christian singing is the most individually considered, externally concerned, creator of complaint and judgment and division, among all the liturgical elements. Our singing, which belongs with edifying our fellow members, becomes a self-fulfilling, strife-causing fracas. Our singing, which ought to express a melody of heart gladness (Ephesians 5:19), becomes a source of heart grumpiness. Our singing, which ought to unite an assembly with one voice to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 15:5), becomes a measuring stick of strong and weak against one another and a platform for the “spiritual” to refuse to participate. If we are called, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, to bear with one another and forgive those who are sinning against us, shouldn't we also bear with others who are singing differently than us? Let there be *thanks* in the content of our songs and let there be thankfulness in our hearts and in our singing. > Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; > make melody to our God on the lyre! > (Psalm 147:7) Thankfulness overflows into singing. Being Spirit-filled overflows into singing. Being Word-indwelt overflows into singing. No singing, or weak singing, is a sign of hard or half hearts. So if we've got all this singing to do, what sorts of weapons do we have to choose from? **Different types of songs**. In both Ephesians and Colossians Paul lists three sorts: "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." There is apparently an argument that these three categories of songs are actually three categories of Psalms proper. As in, you can find all three of these kinds of songs in the OT book of Psalms, and usually those who embrace that understanding say that a church should *only* sing Psalms. That has going for it that the Psalms are inspired, as in, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). It also has going for it that many are explicitly identified for Israel's choirmaster to arrange and lead for *group* singing. What that position does *not* have going for it is that, if binding, then no Christian could ever sing a song on the Lord's Day about Jesus, by name, or about His incarnation, or about His death on a cross, or about His resurrection from the grave. Christians could get *close*, but not explicit. This means Christians could always and only sing about the shadows that pointed toward the gospel, even if they read back into the shadows what they’ve come to learn from the NT. Such a position still requires more effort to argue for the right translation, and the right arrangement, since we don't know Hebrew or how quickly the tambourine should be shaken or what dance moves went with it (see Psalm 150:4), I mean, if we're being "biblical." This position also doesn't seem to acknowledge the fact that when John heard the angels singing in heaven, none of them were singing Psalms. It also really begs the question about why the word "psalms" is used in Psalms, but the words "hymns and spiritual songs" are *not*, and it seems like an awful lot liturgical pressure without exegetical proof. Did Paul have "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in mind when he wrote? Of course he did, sort of. And someday, when you're in prison for Christ’s name, you're not *not* going to get a crown because you sang "In Christ Alone." **Different persons of songs**. In too much contemporary Christian music there is a sense of "Jesus is my boyfriend" misty-eyed sentimentality, the kind of song where you can't really tell if it's a vertical or horizontal love song. There is a lot of focus on the first person singular, "I," the "me," the "my." "I love you Lord, and I lift my voice." And that is a real concern. But it's more than the grammatical person. "Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord" is all about Him, except for how it isn't. Also, it takes all the way until Psalm 3 for the "my" and the "I" and the "me" to be used. Be careful to not be more mature than the Psalms. I remember thinking a Chris Tomlin song started with the wrong reference point. "Not to us, but to Your name, give glory." I mean, was giving glory to us really an option? And then one day I read Psalm 115:1, > Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name, give glory. Or others: > Whom have I in heaven but you? > And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. > My flesh and my heart may fail, > but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. > (Psalm 73:25–26) > Bless the LORD, O my soul, > and all that is within me, > bless his holy name! > (Psalm 103:1) **Different instruments for songs**. I mentioned the tambourine earlier from Psalm 150. It was preceded by the trumpet, lute, and harp, and followed with "sounding cymbals." Then, "praise him with loud clashing symbols!" (verse 5). If you can't imagine someone walking away after that saying "The drummer was way too loud today," then you probably are someone who leaves too fast after the service. There are numerous things we learn in the Psalms that seem to allow for a measure of freedom and opportunity to praise the Lord with thankful hearts. # Conclusion One of the main problems that moved Paul to write 1 Corinthians was the division among them, especially as they divided over their preferred preacher of the scandalous word of the cross. Paul basically responded in three ways. One, he said it was wrong. Two, he said what really matters is how powerful God is in the word of the cross that isn't about exalting the wisdom of men. Three, he said "all are yours." The only qualifiers he gave were the opposite of limitations. "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). Paul was not promoting unity by abandonment of standard. He did not include false teachers or woman teachers; he had a context. But still he promoted unity by broadening of thankfulness. Our appetites for singing have increased and have matured. It is a great temptation of the mature to be cynical, to be picky, to be proud. What our singing should promote is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and His triumph over all His enemies, it should promote a peace that seeks the building up of one another in the body, and it should promote a fire of heart-thanks that cannot keep quiet but overflows in the assembly's worship in song. ---------- ## Charge Drunkenness has tells. Some of you know the tells from experience, seeing a relative or friend under its control from close up. Solomon wrote, "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine" (Proverbs 23:29-30). Just as there are tells of being consumed by alcohol, there are tells of being quickened by and controlled by God’s Spirit. Go out with song, go out with thanks. ## Benediction: > And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV)

4: Against Sinful Distancing

January 24, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #4 # Introduction It's possible to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to gather with the church for worship on Sundays, and to miss, or at least to misunderstand, the goal of the gospel. I say that it's possible because of my own testimony as a Christian, including years of my sanctification and in my understanding of preaching and pastoral ministry. Last Lord's Day we considered the pattern of sacrifices in the Old Testament, sacrifices that pointed toward the Christ, sacrifices for which Jesus took on a body and spent that body to fulfill. God forgives our sin, God separates us from sin for lives devoted to Him, and God communicates His peace to us. The sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering, as represented in our liturgy by confession, consecration, and communion, are a recognizable pattern in which God draws His people near. Not everyone has the same understanding of what happens when you draw near. When you draw near to the judge's bench in the courtroom, there is a sense of nervous anticipation; being closer to the judge may increase your stress rather than relieve it. When you draw near to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there is a sense of gravity and appreciation, but not really personal affection. When you draw near to your dad, it depends. If your dad is regularly angry, there is a sense of fear, panic, wondering what he might be mad about this time. When we draw near to God in corporate worship, what does He want from us? I believe that there is *one* answer to that question, even if there are a variety of things that are necessary to enable that one thing. When we draw near to God we are *humbled*, by our unworthiness and by His glory and holiness and greatness (see James 4:10). When we draw near to God we are better *informed*; we hear His Word and we behold His image and things become clearer, things about His character and His commands (see 1 Peter 3:18). But it is possible to be humble from a distance. It is possible to be learned without any connection. I think many Christians feel bad about themselves and know a lot about Scripture, or at least they are willing to be taught more, and can even be in a room with a lot of other professing Christians in the same condition, and still not get that what God wants with them is *fellowship*. They still don't believe or expect that God is *present* and that God is *generous* and that God is *glad* with them. Self-exaltation prohibits a man from fellowship with God, as a branch off by itself branding itself as fruit-maker. Ignorance likewise leads to no communion, but rather to fantasy; intimacy depends on knowledge even if knowledge doesn't always deepen intimacy. But when the branch abides, the sweet *sap* of His life flows into our lives. We not only don’t wither, He shares His joy in us that our joy may be full (John 15:11). When we grasp truth, our minds can *love* the Lord and own His love for us (Matthew 22:37; Ephesians 3:17-19). Consider the following six truths, and take delight in their connection; may they stir up your sincere mind by way of reminder (per 2 Peter 3:1). They do not map onto the five Cs, they they do inform some of the Cs more than others. ## The Trinity as Reality This may be *the* perfect example of a Scriptural truth mis-applied, because the doctrine of the Trinity is often received as having no application. Most Christians, myself included, accept the teaching of “one God in three Persons” so that we won't be idolators. This is who God is, we don't get to make up some other god. It didn't dawn in my dim mind that God's love between the Persons, that the relationship of Father and Son and Spirit, was more than a chapter in a systematic theology book until I was teaching through Genesis 1 and got to the "let *us* make man in *our* image" conversation (Genesis 1:26-27). I understand that the revelation of the Trinity is not complete in Genesis 1, but that’s where the door is opened. God is love (1 John 4:16). God has never been alone, which means that at no time in the eternal ages before Genesis 1:1 has there existed such a thing as complete isolation. Unlike Allah, Yahweh doesn't use His universal power and sovereignty to keep competitors pushed down, Yahweh lifts up His creatures and draws them near. At our baptism we are brought into the life of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Our identity is anti-isolation. The name of our local church, and the ingredients of our liturgy, reminds us of Trinitarian fellowship. ## Image Bearers as Reflections The nature of God, in love and unity and in relationship, even that of a Father with a Son, obviously affects those who are made in His image as much as, and as easily forgotten as, oxygen in the air. After the divine conversation, God made man in His image, "male and female" (Genesis 1:27). While this is revelation about sexuality, which I plan to bring up in a couple weeks, it is a revelation about relationship. In Genesis 2:18, as I usually point out at weddings, God Himself points out that it is not good for man to be alone. Even without sin, God was training Adam to see what was important, which was fellowship. The fellowship between a husband and wife is so close that God says that husband and wife “shall become one flesh” (2:24). Image-bearers are reflections of their Creator, and of all the things that the *imago Dei* includes, it is the capacity for relationship that is part of our human DNA. ## Sin as Ruiner We only read two chapters before we meet the ruiner of fellowship, which is *not* the serpent (Genesis 3). Battling the serpent was necessary, and would have potentially gone on for some time more successfully, without *sin*. There are good definitions for sin, most simply summarized as doing what is prohibited, or not doing what is commanded. Sin is disobedience. And the result of that disobedience is separation. Death is separation: soul from body. Spiritual death is separation: soul from God. Adam and Eve, who had been walking with God, hid from Him. By experience we know this, either when a friend sins against us, or a child lies to us, or even when we feel that we must affirm whatever someone else says she's feeling in order not to ruffle her feathers, there's still no agreement and so the connection is tenuous at best. Our divisions are not driven by differences in gender or personality or ethnicity, our problems are not driven by differences in interests or skills, our problems are not driven by differences in income or bank account. Our divisions come from sin (see James 4:1-2). ## The Gospel as Reconciliation There are a lot of ways to proclaim, and exult in, the gospel. It is good news that those who were blind can now see (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is good news that those who were guilty are now declared righteous (Romans 3:21-24). It is good news that Christ purchased us out of slavery to sin, and paid the price of our sin so that we do not need to suffer eternal punishment. But our salvation is legal *and familial*. We are justified, and we are *adopted* (Galatians 4:5). Through the blood of Christ our consciences are cleansed and our *access to God restored* (Hebrews 9:14). The incarnation of God's Son is a scandal to the world's wise-guys. It is a truth to believe, a confessional shibboleth (2 John 7). But Jesus took on flesh so that we might have *fellowship* with Him (1 John 1:1-3). The crucifixion of God's Son is also a scandal; an all-powerful Messiah murdered by common men. It is a message we believe, Jesus' death for us is the only hope of forgiveness. But it is His atonement that brings an at-one-ment. He *brings us to God* (1 Peter 3:18). The sending of God's Spirit is a great gift, and is the seal of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Post-Pentecost the supernatural world isn't the same. But the Spirit *indwells* and fills every saint. Yes the Spirit illumines the Word, but He also *unites* us to the Father and the Son. ## Word and Prayer as Revelation and Access So when we read and hear from God in His Word, when we pray back to Him, and when we sing the glories we've learned in His Word and/or sing lyrics of prayer, we are not in a lecture hall, we are not in a concert hall, we are in the King's court, we are in the Father's house. We are telling Him how thankful we are for His kindness and gifts to us. We are hearing Him give us comfort and marching orders. God's Word is living and active, and yet it's possible to treat it as a two-dimensional, static set of markings on a page rather than God-breathed, personal access. ## Communion as Remembrance In light of all the above, it should be more obvious why our *communion* around the Lord's Table is not an add-on. It is not icing. It is the embodied point of our worship. God has made a way for us to commune, and He actually communes with those who believe. Our fellowship at this Supper includes the vertical and the horizontal planes. Communion is the incorporated point of our worship. While we do this in remembrance of Jesus, as we at and drink we re-membered, the parts are united, and in that re-membering we are proclaiming, not waiting to proclaim later, that He is our Shepherd-Savior and we are His sheep, those for whom He laid down His life (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). # Conclusion So the DNA of corporate worship, the defining characteristic and direction giver is *fellowship*. Sin disrupts the fellowship. Ritual by itself, no matter how good the bones of liturgy, apart from living hearts of faith and love, usually leads to self-righteousness which is a religious form of sin that disrupts fellowship. Even bossy truth-tellers telling partial truths can obstruct fellowship by acting as if that's not what worship is about. I've heard, from another pulpit, that fellowship simply means that you "share the same spiritual DNA" with another Christian, but that Christian could be someone you've never met living on the opposite side of the world. It’s true, we are in the "fellowship of believers," in which fellowship refers to a specific group. We do share the same Spirit with those who believe (Ephesians 4:3-6), even if we have no direct contact with them. But when the early church devoted themselves to the apostles doctrine and the *koinonia*, Acts 2:42, it was not a devotion to definitions held at a distance. Their fellowship was in mutual interest and care. Their fellowship was in generosity toward others and received from others. It is counterproductive to believe that God wants fellowship with us and among us, and then tell people that they must be silent when they arrive and prepare their hearts for worship. We should prepare our hearts, and that includes greetings and reunions and story-sharing and questions about the health of other parts of the body. That such fellowship continues after the benediction is also no surprise; it would be a surprise if the joys of fellowship were immediately turned off like a faucet. Perhaps you can see that just as the liturgy shapes our expectation for what God wants with us, it also shapes our understanding of how God wants us to reflect Him. It has become typical to find fellowshipless marriages because husbands and wives have learned fellowshipless worship. If the Bride of Christ gathers simply to be told what to do by her Husband, there may be true words exchanged, but no love shared or joy lingering in the other's presence. The ladies at Titus 2 will be discussing parenting in fellowship a couple Mondays from now. We learn our parts as parents from watching our heavenly Father, and how He disciplines us as His own children. He corrects us not simply to prove that He knows the law better, nor to prove that He is bigger and has more power. He corrects and disciplines us so that we may share His nature (Hebrews 12:10), that we may be restored to joy. Social distancing, as it is typically explained and as it has become an expected way of life, is actually a way of killing society. I am not saying that in order to be godly we must all become close-talkers, or close-coughers, and recognize no zones of personal space. There are some viral contagions that warrant quarantine for the sick. But our God, while transcendent, is not distant. Our nature as humans, while fallen, longs for fellowship. The gospel itself, in which we are saved and by which we are made an assembly, is a message of love and unity and Trinitarian joy. Our corporate liturgy is a weekly reconciliation check, and it is for our good. ---------- ## Charge God is faithful, and He has called you into the fellowship of His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). This is your identity, this is your capacity to withstand great pressure, even pain. We can appreciate the LORD’s encouragement to Joshua after the death of Moses, “I will not leave you or forsake 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 1:5-6, 9). ## Benediction: > Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)

3: Let Us Draw Near

January 17, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #3 # Introduction We are studying and hopefully stimulating our own corporate worship. Things happen when the *corpus*, the body, gathers in His presence that do not happen in isolation. We are His people, His temple, His dwelling place. We are a priesthood, enjoying direct access to Him. We are His sacrifices, offering our lives to Him in Christ. Through the church, God batters down unbelief and rebellion and death. The church is His propaganda, His point to heavenly rulers (Ephesians 3:10) and His battering ram against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). As I emphasized last Lord's day, worship is the work of the assembly. Some men may lead the assembly, but the *corpus*, the united members, meets with God. When we assemble, what are we to do for worship? Are there particular components that are required? Elements that are allowable? Practices that are prohibited? Once we know the components, do they follow a particular pattern? A few qualifications before I answer some of these questions. *First, God has not revealed His one-and-only order of service anywhere in Scripture*. We won't find the ultimate inspired bulletin for Israel's worship at the temple, let alone for a local church's Lord's day gatherings. There is, therefore, a measure of freedom in what we do and in what order we do it. *Second, God has revealed some explicit priorities for corporate meetings*, not only in the example of the early church but also in His instructions to church leaders such as Timothy and Titus. In particular, there is a heavy emphasis on the Word. Timothy was to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). Timothy was to "preach the Word, in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul required attention on the “sacred writings” (2 Timothy 3:15) but he did not say it all had to be a sermon. *Third, we always say something by what we do and how we do it*. This is the liturgical opportunity. It's *not whether but which*. It's not whether there will be a form and format, but which format it will be. Most of us have learned that learning is the point of corporate gatherings, not only because that's what we've been told, but also because that's what we've sat through. Singing prepares our hearts in order to learn. Praying asks God to make our hearts ready to learn. The Scripture reading is often what we're going to learn about that day. And then the sermon takes center stage as the main lesson. Preachers work overtime to say that sermon listening is worship because we devote so much time to it. The message is the bus that takes us to the learning destination, and everything else is just trying to get everyone on the bus. Without doubt, elders should be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and always ready to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). The pastors and teachers equip the saints just as they themselves are fully equipped by the inspired Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:17). But more happens when we assemble than information transfer. As we examine its place in corporate worship, we'll see why the Word is so important and that it's more active than a data dump. So, because we have liturgical freedom and priorities and opportunities, this is more of a "get to" than a "have to" discussion. We don't "have to" eat steak, but wouldn’t you if you could? Having considered some of the effects of our corporate worship and emphasized the people as worshippers, we're going to consider the patterns of worship. This morning we'll consider the pattern of Israel's worship as a pattern for the assembly’s blessing. In the Old Testament, under the Old (and in particular Mosaic) Covenant, the Lord gave His people specific instructions for their corporate worship. He provided an order for their sacrifices intended to draw them near to Him in fellowship. We have little appreciation for their sacrifices, except as a reason to be thankful that we don't need to go through all that anymore. Leviticus is a killer, not of animals as much as of our Bible reading motivation. Who can keep track of all the sacrifices, all the blood, all the mess? We thank God for Christ. Of course, the reason we give thanks for Christ is because He fulfilled what the OT sacrifices symbolized. That doesn't make them unimportant, that makes them *paradigmatic*. They are the pattern that Christ's offering fit perfectly. Though we read about many different types of sacrifices under the Old Covenant, the regular offerings can be summarized under three main categories: 1. Sin (or Guilt, or Purification) Offerings 2. Burnt (or Ascension) Offerings 3. Peace (or Fellowship) Offerings What also stands out is that when these sacrifices were performed together they usually follow the same sequence. In other words, there is a predictable order of offerings as His assembled people draw near. All three categories are found in Leviticus 9. Aaron, his sons, and the elders inaugurated worship at the tabernacle, starting with these sacrifices. Moses instructed Aaron to offer sacrifices for his own sin first, and then for the people. > On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel, and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.’” (Leviticus 9:1–4) Notice the sin offering, burnt offering, and peace offering (the grain offering is mentioned, but connected). Aaron offered the sin and burnt offerings for himself and his sons (verses 8-14) and then "he presented the people's offering" (verses 15-24). # The Sin (Guilt) Offering The point of worship was to "draw near" to God (verse 7), to "meet" with (verse 23) Him. The point was so that "the glory of the Lord may appear to you" (verse 6). Before men can approach God their sin must be addressed (see verses 8-11, 15). God's offer of forgiveness always required a die-er, and sacrifices were substitutes. Priests slaughtered animals and spread blood on the altar to show that death had occurred. This was part of the covenant. God expected confession and repentance from sinners as well as a substitute sacrifice represented in the guilt offering. The sin offering was crucial so that men could draw near to God. "Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the of the sin offering, which was for himself" (verse 8) and then "he presented the people's offering and took the goat of the sin offering that was for the people and killed it and offered it as a sin offering, like the first one" (verse 15). One reason Christ's offering is so significant is that He did not need to offer for Himself before the people because He was perfect. He had no sin that needed forgiveness, we have all sinned. # The Burnt Offering Once atonement was made for sin, another sacrifice was cut up, placed on top of the altar by the priest and then burned in its entirety as a sign of total consecration. > Then he killed the burnt offering, and Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. And they handed the burnt offering to him, piece by piece, and the head, and he burned them on the altar. And he washed the entrails and the legs and burned them with the burnt offering on the altar. (Leviticus 9:12–14) The fire burned the entire sacrifice and represented the complete consummation of the worshipper. The symbol was total consecration, whole devotion to the Lord. The smoke from the fire drifted up into the Lord's presence and this is why we read about aromas from the burnt offering pleasing the Lord (for example, Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9). The meat was being cooked and consumed by the fire. Just as the animal represented the guilty worshipper in the sin offering, so the animal represented the consecrated worshipper in the burnt offering. Connected with the burnt offering was the grain (or Tribute) offering. > And he presented the burnt offering and offered it according to the rule. And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning. (Leviticus 9:15–17) The grain offering was a consecration of the fruit of one's work, a recognition of the Lord's provision. It was placed on top of the burning animal and connected with the consecration of the worshipper. # The Peace Offering The third main sacrifice in the liturgical sequence was the peace offering. Another animal was killed and then cooked on top of the altar, on top of the burnt offering. > Then he killed the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings for the people. And Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. But the fat pieces of the ox and of the ram, the fat tail and that which covers the entrails and the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver— they put the fat pieces on the breasts, and he burned the fat pieces on the altar, but the breasts and the right thigh Aaron waved for a wave offering before the LORD, as Moses commanded. (Leviticus 9:18–21) The difference between the burnt offering and the peace offering was the the burnt offering was consumed in flame, the peace offering was consumed as food. The burnt offering represented the worshipper's entire *surrender to God*, the peace offering represented the worshipper's *communion with God*. It was a shared meal, a feast, between parties now at peace. Verse 22 summarizes the whole service and the three categories of offerings. > Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. (Leviticus 9:22) Then observe what happened. > And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23–24) The worship brought God and His people together in meeting. The meeting brought God's *blessing* and they saw His glory revealed. --- The offerings in Leviticus 9 were for Israel's worship *before* Christ came. Christ has come and He fulfilled the whole sacrificial system. We don't have to do all that anymore, and that is completely true. But knowing more about the OT sacrifices helps us know what Christ fulfilled. "The law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities" (Hebrews 10:1a). The "shadow" still outlines the shape, right? The shadows showed what was necessary for forgiveness, what it looked like to be wholly devoted to God, and gave a taste of how to share communion with God. The realities are about drawing near to meet God *in Christ*. > [the law system] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1b) Christ makes all those things reality for those who worship God through Him. > For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. > Consequently, when Christ came into the world, > he said, > “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, > but a body have you prepared for me; > in burnt offerings and sin offerings > you have taken no pleasure. > Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, > O God, > as it is written of me in the scroll > of the book.’” > (Hebrews 10:4–7 ESV) * In His sacrifice, we are **forgiven**, our sins are taken away (Hebrews 10:4, 18). * In His sacrifice, we are **sanctified**, our lives are consecrated for His service (verse 14). * In His sacrifice, we are **drawn near** to share fellowship with Him. > Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, **let us draw near** with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22) In our liturgy, after the call to worship, we confess our sins and remember His covenant to forgive those who confess because of Christ's sacrifice. Christ was crucified once, but each week we take hold of His sin offering. After our confession, most of our time is spent in consecration. We sing to Him. We hear His Word. We offer our supplications because we depend on Him completely. We come before His Word. We give our offerings in recognition of His provision. Addressing the sermon part specifically, look back at Hebrews 4. > For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13) The word "exposed" (ESV) (verse 13), "laid bare" (NAS), "opened" (KJV) comes from the verb τραχηλίζω (*trachelizo*), "to lay bare (the throat)" for slicing as a sacrifice. God's Word is a "two-edged sword" (verse 12) that cuts us up and rearranges us so that we would be acceptable offerings to God. A sermon instructs, yes. It equips, no doubt. But the reading and preaching of God's Word lets it out of the sheath and we come "under the knife," made into acceptable sacrifices like the burnt offering that was consumed before God. That’s why the sermon is an essential component of corporate worship and how the entire corpus worships through this offering. The next part of our liturgy is a meal of peace. We commune with God through the peace offering of Christ. We are forgiven by Him, devoted to Him, so now we fellowship with Him. This is a sacrifice of worship. Maybe it seems like that takes it too far, but that's exactly the step Paul took. > 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. Consider the people of Israel:are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:16–18) Paul connects the shared meal of bread and wine with the peace offering shared by the Israelites around the altar. # Conclusion God established different sacrifices and He set them in a specific sequence as He drew His people near to Him in their meetings. The grain and the animal offerings represented the worshippers. The grain and animals were also shadows of Christ and His once and done sacrifice. In Him we draw near to God. Our liturgy doesn't repeat Israel's sacrificial system. We aren't going back to shadows. We are living in the realities won by Christ for us. Not surprisingly, those realities have a similar shape to the shadows. In our liturgy we draw near as: * God calls us to worship, to meet with Him. * God **cleanses** us for worship. He forgives us in Christ as we confess our sins. (sin offering) * God **consecrates** us by worship. He transforms us in Christ by the Word and prayer. (burnt offering) * God **communes** with us in worship. He fellowships with us in Christ at the Table. (peace offering) * God commissions and blesses us to go and live as lights in the world. As I said at the beginning, this is a "get to" pattern of worship, and it results in divinely given blessings on the assembly. ---------- ## Charge You have gone under the knife of God’s Word. He has reminded you that He is the one with whom you have to do, and He has reminded you that you may draw near to the throne of grace in the time of need *with confidence*. He has reminded you of the peace from which which you work. So praise Him, and do good, which pleases Him. ## Benediction: > Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)

2: Remembering the Assembly

January 10, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #2 # Introduction The feedback after last Sunday's sermon about liturgical feedback was encouraging, as in, many of you were encouraged. There is more to say today, and there will be more to say after today. My observations about what the liturgy has been working into us over the last decade or so are what they are, but those observations don't say much about our objectives for following such a liturgy. While we can and should be thankful for the fruit, the liturgical seeds we're sowing were not chosen just because we thought they would prepare us for something. They were chosen because we thought they would help our worship. We always say something, not just by our words, but by what we choose to do and how we choose to do it, even when it becomes routine. Most of the time we just eat dinner and talk about the day. Sometimes the dinner is special and we talk about how tasty it was. But most nights we don't all talk about the recipes used and the methods followed and the food presented. It’s all important, even strategic at different levels, but not explicit. We eat, we're strengthened, we get back to work. Our liturgy is like a recipe. It's there, and those who lead the Lord's Day liturgical charge consider it as they prepare, but we only talk about the recipe explicitly a few times a year. While there are many aspects to body life, our corporate worship on Sunday mornings is unique, and it works on and in us (and even through us) in ways that are worth knowing about. As should become more apparent as this message continues, the ingredients are not something only a few should know. When I asked the elders about this round of liturgy reminders, they all agreed that it was worth setting a full table. We have been joined by a good number of worshippers who may like the taste, but may not have heard why we make it like this. We also have some among us who've been among us all along, but they are now twelve years-old instead of two, or they are saved instead of not, or they are different than they were and at a new stage of appreciating the meal. Then there are the rest of us who need regular reminders because we haven't memorized the recipe. (Every once in while, someone who has otherwise enjoyed the taste freaks out when they hear what’s in it, but that’s not the norm.) I’m making the same meal of messages once more, but so far fresh. We will consider the five Cs, why we chose to cook with those ingredients, what flavor we're going for. But before that, there is an assumption that is only an assumption if you stop thinking about it. Our liturgy (the recipe and ingredients and pattern) is for the worship of *the assembly*. It should not be surprising that one's understanding of *who* worship is for affects how worship is conducted. Our gathering together on the Lord's Day is for corporate worship not for large-group evangelism. We meet as a church, we meet as those belonging to the Church, as those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. Of course not everyone who comes is a Christian, and there are congregations, in different contexts of history and cultures, where one might expect a higher number of spiritually dead men to attend. But we are a group of worshippers, and the liturgy should help Christians to worship, not constantly question whether we are Christians. That "church" (as a verb) is for the church (as a noun) is not assumed by many churches/pastors. But I've observed that of the churches that do think church is for the church, many still treat it like the worship of the church is for *Christians*, and treat them much more as individuals than as an assembly. It is a bitter cocktail of cultural individualism mixed with ecclesiastical conversionism, topped off with pastoral neuroticism. It was just 10 years ago, *after* having grown up going to church, after attending three different Bible colleges, after finishing seminary, after serving for ten years in pastoral ministry, that I was floored by this reality. It is not whether or not we're an assembly. We are the assembly, whether we know it and act like it or don't. We are God's people and together we meet with Him and praise His name. This identity is game changing, liturgy changing, and world changing. Abraham Kuyper wrote in his book, _Our Worship_: > "The goal of all worship services must be to let the assembled congregation taste that fellowship with their God. Otherwise there may be learnedness, there may be profundity, there may be deep earnestness, but there is no religion and therefore no divine worship." This is *our* worship. The "our" refers to believers, the "our" also means you are not mere individuals nor are you a mere audience. The liturgy is for the entire body. I started reading a book on bio-ethics this past week (ha! yes, but still true). The author used a word I am very familiar with in a way I had never considered. I had never thought of this usage because it's not really what the word means, but it could just as easily. The word is *remember*. It comes from *re-* meaning "again" and *memorari* meaning “to be mindful of." Remember means to bring to mind again. But what about the word *dismember*? *Dis* means "take away," but to dismember doesn't mean to remove mindfulness. The *member* part in dismember comes from *membrum* meaning "limb" of the body. So if dismember means to take away a limb from the body, why can't remember mean to bring the limb back to the body? Take that meaning out for a mental spin. We are members of one body, in the 1 Corinthians 12 use of members as parts. > 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…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27) There are many of us, so it is possible to consider each one of us individually. But we are more than individuals. We are more than truth-collection tubes stacked near to one another. We are a living organism. Think of the body you belong to. Think about how our assembling on the Lord's Day is a rejoining the rest of you. Yes, we are still Christ's body on Thursday when we're at our posts. We are still Christ's body when we're sick. We are Christ's body with all believers all over the world, and throughout the generations. But there is also something special about re-integrating, re-membering the assembly for corporate worship. This fits with Peter's identification of those who are built on the cornerstone who is Christ. > As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5) There is a plurality of stones making one house. And more corporate identity: > you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; (1 Peter 2:9-10) It's why we pray "*Our* Father" (Matthew 6:9). It's why "we *all*, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are God's *people* not just godly persons. Of course not all priests are godly; see the Old Testament. But follow 1 Peter 2:1-3, get rid of sin, crave the word, grow up in salvation, and *worship*. When we remember our identity, we all, as the priesthood of believers, offer spiritual sacrifices to God. We all are a holy (1 Peter 2:5), royal (1 Peter 2:9) priesthood. So we all worship and proclaim God's excellencies. It is definitely possible for Christians to forget their corporate connection. It is par for our culture that individualism runs amok, that sinners isolate themselves and think too highly of themselves. But another reason the flavor of individualism is so strong is because of churches and their liturgies, and in particular those who have responsibility to lead the liturgy. What I mean is that those in the pulpit are the first to do damage to the identity of the assembly rather than those in the pews. There is a dominate pastoral mindset today that seeks to *test* the attendees rather than to build the assembly. I am speaking of orthodox churches, God-centered churches, Reformed-ish churches, not smooth-talking, ear-tickling Jesus TV audiences. Elders are required to identify and refute error (Titus 1:9), yet too many seem to think that their chief role is that of testing professions of faith. But Paul told the Ephesians that pastors and shepherds were given by God for *training* the saints. The goal is not testing, the goal is "*building* up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Church isn't mostly for evangelism, nor is it mostly for examination, it is for exalting God and edifying His people. The shepherds and teachers have distanced themselves from the sheep and are constantly badgering and pushing the sheep rather than patiently equipping and caring for them. This has had disastrous consequences for husbands and fathers, and down the line also for employers and our representatives/rulers in government. We are an imitative people, and shepherds are explicitly called to be “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Men who should be leading without a controlling, demanding spirit have provided the wrong pattern. I blame the pretension of the pulpit. Among many who would call themselves sons of the Reformers, the furniture of the pulpit has replaced the Pope's chair; the misplaced authority and over-realized importance is just as strong. It is a subdued but still harmful division between sacred and secular, but among Protestants it is between pulpit and pew. Shepherds approach the lectern as a launching point against the sheep. They treat the sheep like the enemy. They question the faith of the sheep Jesus obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The answer is not to install plexiglass music stands, or to sit on a stool in a sweater. I like a good pulpit, and it is good for the pulpit to be front and center. But, ironically for those who talk so earnestly about being “biblical,” there are no pulpits in the Bible. At best there is a platform for those reading God's Word to be seen and heard (Nehemiah 8:4), but no "sacred desk." Similarly, and also ironically, the Bible says, “Not many of you should become teachers” (James 3:1). But it doesn't say that then the people can't be godly, holy, consecrated, and mature in Christ. It is preachers who have defined their ministry as more important rather than stewarding their particular giftedness for the building up of the body (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is preachers who have forgotten the priesthood of believers, and have become like Gentiles domineering over those they are supposed to be leading by example (1 Peter 5:2-3), not by fiat/diktat. A man's ordination to ministry does not have more value than a believer's election to salvation. In other words, being recognized by a group of men for sake of being an elder doesn't make one more important than being chosen by God, atoned for by God's Son, and indwelt by God's Spirit. By the grace of God we are being built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. What we build with will become manifest when the day of the Lord discloses it, whether with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). But Paul's point is that *you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you. God's temple is holy, you are that temple, so don't let anyone destroy it* (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). # Conclusion Paul referred to those he served as his joy, his crown. “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). He was not only *not* threatened by them, he was seeking to present them as complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). This is because he represented God to them. He was showing what God is like. And God is more than the big test-giver in the sky. God is our Father, God fellowships with His people, He feeds His people, He strengthens them, and He glorifies them. God *loves* His own. > "What king surrounds himself with warped, dwarfish, worthless creatures? The more glorious the king, the more glorious are the titles and honors he bestows. The plumes, cockades, coronets, diadems, mantles, and rosettes that deck his retinue testify to one thing alone, his own majesty and munificence. He is a very great king to have figures of such immense dignity in his train, or even better, to have raised them to such dignity. These great lords and ladies, mantled and crowned with the highest possible honor and rank are, precisely, his vassals. This glittering array is his court! All glory to him, and in him, glory and honor to these others." —Thomas Howard, _Evangelical Is Not Enough_, 87) See Ephesians 2:4–7, and Colossians 1:27, and God’s aim to show us His immeasurable riches of kindness and glory in Christ. You will not be the same after re-membering like this week after week. This is where making Marysville a destination succeeds or fails. You will have great difficulty trying to explain it not just to unbelievers, but to friends and brothers in Christ who have been told that the Lord is good but by men who have not tasted it. There will be a degree of distance between you for now, and it is because you have been being transformed from one degree of glory to another differently than they have. May it be so more and more. ---------- ## Charge Charles Spurgeon said in 1887, "Children of God, whatever you have got, you have a God in whom you may greatly glory. Having God you have more than all things, for all things come of Him; and if all things were blotted out, He could restore all things simply by His will. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast. Blessed is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his trust....Let the times roll on, they cannot affect our God." So trust God, keep loving one another, and use the grace He gives. ## Benediction: > As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11, ESV)

1: Liturgical Feedback

January 3, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Our Worship #1 # Introduction Years ago I read an observation that by the time you get meaningful feedback, the real work is already done. It’s a general principle, even if modern men are more assuming about immediate replies and reports. The farmer works and works, and waits, to see how much will come up in his field, and he is not the only one whose fruit takes a while to taste. We at TEC, by God’s grace, have tasted some blessed fruit. It’s not perfect. We haven’t arrived. But the feedback we’re getting (especially over the last year or so) shows what sort of work we’ve been doing. I do not mean feedback such as, “Oh, those people at TEC are nice,” nor am I referring to the work done by the elders or leaders. What I mean is the feedback of our corporate joy and maturing and our unified irritation over the governor’s restrictions on worship. That feedback comes from the work we’ve been doing, and the work that has been done *on* us, through our Lord’s Day liturgy. TEC is a week shy of ten years old. Many of the relationships among us are twice that long, and our total number these days is a little more than half from one other church. When TEC started we started by considering our worship. The first Sunday I preached from Revelation 5, getting our focus onto the worthy Lamb. The motivation was to keep us from becoming the F.O.G., the Fellowship of Grievances. It is easy to gather a group around shared complaints, until the complainers “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). Contemplating Christ, praising His glory, hearing His call for us to obey as His disciples, was not new to any of us. What was different were some of the unspoken parts of our service. Most of us were familiar with singing songs to prepare our hearts to hear the Word preached in the sermon. Perhaps there was a Scripture reading, even a corporate prayer, then maybe another song or two after the sermon, either for an altar call, or a pew call, where you could think a little longer about the message. That is an order of service, a liturgy. Every church has a liturgy, whether it is simple or sophisticated, whether it is meandering or direct, whether it is admitted or contradicted. I myself, as a mostly Baptist, had never belonged to a church which practiced much more than the Sing, Read, Pray, Preach, Sing pattern. Especially in the churches who cared about truth, theology, Bible, it made sense for the pulpit and the preaching to be in the center. It may be facile to describe it this way, but that sort of worship service is more like a melodic classroom where you pay every week instead of once a semester. Some of you may remember me talking about *truth-tubes*. I imagine a science lab with rows of skinny beakers ready to be filled with whatever truth they can collect. It’s as if the goal of the Christian life, and the church’s worship, is to accumulate more accurate sentences and good thinks. That is wrong on a number of levels, and it is one reason why even conservative, orthodox, Bible-preaching churches have struggled so much over the last nine months. Their liturgy has not prepared them, and they are getting the feedback. Like the tubes, believers may not be empty, but they are disconnected from the other tubes, even if they are next to one another. Like the tubes, most Christians are an audience, waiting for someone to fill them up (which can, it turns out, mostly be accomplished through screens). They are collecting truth, and trying to avoid cracking, these seem to be the goals. This is not much of a defense against the world’s efforts to conform us. Even if it isn’t new, the world made clear this last year what it wanted and wants with us. Here is my list of what our rulers and our experts want with us. ## The world wants us to be **complaint**. Sometimes the instructions are patronizing mantras for five year-olds, which should offend five year-olds (“[Stay Home, Stay Healthy](https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/stay-home-stay-healthy)”). Other times we’re given scary models and predictions (millions dead!), even horror story advertisements (attending Thanksgiving will kill grandma). Still yet, there are threats of dubious legal authority and arbitrarily applied by the executive branch. At least in many places, if the signs don’t passively aggressively thank you for your adherence, fellow citizens will shame you for your ignorant selfishness. Please be manageable, or you will be managed. The shelter-in-place, lockdown/shut-downs are for plebeians who can’t possibly know better and must do what they’re told by every petty official. ## The world wants us to be **guilty**. The death of George Floyd near the end of May and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement would not be connected to a respiratory virus other than happening in the same year. But the world, and our rulers, connected them. You must stay home *unless* you were protesting racism. That you thought riots were bad proves how racist you are. You are not demonstrating enough pain and sorrow for your privilege, of being white, or for acting like it’s okay for someone to be white (or a man, or a married heterosexual), and not an anti-racist. Add to this the guilt you should feel for your selfish question asking about the cost of lockdowns, and how to buy a gun. ## The world wants us to be **pacified**. Our rulers could not have gotten away with such measures 30 years ago because the Internet wasn’t good enough. It’s not just a couple generations of public school education making it so that people don’t know better, it’s the availability, the *ubiquity*, of Netflix and YouTube, while shopping in your browser with Amazon delivering the next day, plus the government cutting checks to people for more money whey they aren’t working, even though that math won’t work out. Be *fed*, for being fat, not for strength. ## The world wants us to be **distant**. The world wants us to treat distance as a savior. Follow the dots on the ground at the store, keep your dining table free from guests, for 15 days, another 30, through the second wave, etc. We are being taught about virtuous contemplation: think good thoughts about your neighbor but don’t get close to them. ## The world wants us to be **unsettled**. We are being told that we will never go back to normal, that we must adjust to the new normal, though part of that is always being told something new, or contradictory. Recently [Dr. Fauci said out loud and on purpose that he didn’t tell everyone the truth about herd immunity](https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/health/herd-immunity-covid-coronavirus.html) at the beginning, and that he kept changing what he was saying, because the people couldn’t handle it. He needed to help us adjust by constantly adjusting us. Masks are also unsettling. They have not been stopping new cases, they have been stopping normal thought whether you’re wearing one or trying to not to. They are at the top of our minds even if they are not in front of our mouths. Too many *churches* are governed by men following these worldly ways. Those that aren’t so demanding about the sheep submitting, or reminding the sheep that they’ve never done enough, or pushing books and sermons for sentence collecting, or satisfied with virtuous contemplation, or even being unsettled, still may not be equipping their people as they could. If those are things the world wants from us in these days, **what does God want?** ## God wants us to be **free** under Him. Abraham Kuyper observed that the only way we can be free from petty tyrants of all shapes and legislations is by recognizing God’s sovereignty, and that when we are under God, we are truly free. This is a freedom from sin, yes, but a freedom of conscience and from political (or religious) little lord-it-over-yous. As God’s people, do you not feel free as we assemble for worship of the Lord who made heaven and earth? ## God wants us to be **forgiven** by Him. He is sovereign and He is holy. He has revealed His righteous law, the Standard. This is burdensome because we’ve all sinned; “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). But it is not burdensome because it is arbitrary, or because it is inconsistent, or subject to the mob. Unlike Marx, SJWs, Karens, and Democrats and Republicans, we know the standard. This is not an effort to interpret a Biden press conference. Also, Jesus came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The gospel is justification by faith, full pardon for our sin. No penance, no purgatory no pacifying the woke. ## God wants us to be **filled** by Him. He is not pacifying us. He feeds us that we might grow up into salvation, as we crave and consume His Word (1 Peter 2:1-3). He does intend for us to watch something, but He opens our eyes to see the light of the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). As we behold the glory of the Lord we are not diminished, we are being transformed into the same image (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is fitting us for good works, keeping us from being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2). He fills us. That includes with truth, but it *strengthens* us rather than softening us. > For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14–19) We are set apart from the world, we are less hollow-chested than the world, we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” ## God wants us to **fellowship** with Him. Freedom is for fellowship, forgiveness is for reconciliation, filling us with the one who loves us. Sin separates. Lies and hate and suspicion cause war. Envy and fear ruin any attempts at closeness. Jesus came to establish *peace*. He came to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He came so that we might be one with He and the Father through the Spirit and be one body, not tossed to and fro (John 17:20-21; Ephesians 4:3-6). Fellowship with Him brings joy, unity, maturity. We are, actually, *together* in this. He came because we were distant, not to make distance the new normal. ## God wants us to have **faith** in Him. Worship is not quarantine. Worship is not to unsettle the faith of believers. When God reminds us of His worth, His mercy, His supply, His joy, is the point to get you to ask again and again if that is for you? *If* you are conflicted by or resistant to His call to worship, *if* you refuse to confess your sins, *if* you prefer the glory that comes from men, and *if* you go through religious motions like communion, *then*: > Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5) But if you grasp your freedom as His servant, if you embrace His forgiveness, if you long to be filled by Him and fellowship with Him, then why comply to a liturgy that runs you through a gauntlet every week? It’s like planting faith every Monday to Saturday, coming to church to have it ripped up and analyzed every Sunday to see if it is legit, and wondering why it never seems to grow very big. Faith is not futile. Our liturgy drives to stimulate the faith of God’s people and to send you out to be faithful. Our liturgy leads to charging you to be fruitful by faith, not to always wonder if you have it. # Conclusion Notice how the pattern of our liturgy deals with all of these: Call, Confession, Consecration, Communion, Commission. And our commitment to fellowship by faith is much of the liturgical feedback we’ve seen after 10 years. It is liturgy that is messing with the gates of hell. Hell loves compliance, guilt, pacification, distance, and chronic anxiousness. Hell has built her gates with these kinds of pillars that cast shadows of darkness and fear. Our worship, our liturgy, the assembly, attacks those gates. > “Every Lord’s Day God gives us the privilege of coming together, gathering outside the citadels and fortresses of unbelief, and God gives us a big battering ram. The battering ram is called ‘Worship of the True God.’ Every week we get to pick it up and take another swing. … After a little bit, the unbelievers are every week going to hear this little distant: *Boom!*” ([Doug Wilson]([https://vimeo.com/31403376])) So, yes, we do know a new normal, but not as the world wants. What we care about is different, who we fight against is different, how we sing is different, why we meet as a church is different. The liturgy has been doing a work on us, and we can see the feedback. We are an assembly of worshippers, each member with a handle on the battering ram. As we worship, there is a new normal created in us, as we are a people of freedom, forgiveness, filled with the fullness of God into fellowship and faith. ---------- ## Charge I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, obey all that He has commanded. Behold the glory of the Lord, in season and out of season. You have faith, He is the author and finisher of Your faith. According to the riches of His glory may He grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being. May you see the feedback of our worship in great fruitfulness. Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice. ## Benediction: > Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)