Stop Explaining the Liturgy!​

Most of you know that liturgy is a favorite topic of mine. Over the past few years, I’ve read numerous books, engaged in hundreds of conversations, and worked hard to craft Christ-centered liturgies for the church I pastor, Lake Wylie Baptist.

It may come as a shock, then, to see a blog post exhorting you to stop explaining the liturgy, but let me explain. By the title, I do not imply that ministers ought not to talk with one another about liturgy. Here’s what I mean:

Stop explaining what’s happening while the liturgy is happening. Stop acting as the narrator or expositor of the liturgy when it’s in progress. Stop MC’ing the service every single week. Nothing bores a congregation more than to be treated like toddlers and have a minister give a comprehensive explanation of every element of the worship service.

  • Instead of saying, “Now we will sing…” just sing.
  • Stop saying, “We will now observe the public reading of Scripture,” and just read the passage in power.

I know what you’re thinking. “But I want the congregation to understand what we’re doing!” Yes, yes. I do too. This is why I do the hard work of making sure the liturgy is Christ-centered, thoughtful, and sincere (to the best of my ability) so that they can come in and simply put their feet on the pedals and ride.

In his philosophy of worship for Bethlehem, John Piper placed the highest priority on the vertical focus of Lord’s Day worship. In describing that priority, Dr. Piper sought to remove horizontal intrusions between vertical acts.”

Piper encourages pastors to cut out anything that disrupts the “flow [of the people] in a sustained godwardness and vertical attentiveness.”

Worship is about movement. God > Man > Christ > Response. Move. Move. Move. Every time you interject exposition of an element of the service movement stops. When Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord on the throne, the seraphim didn’t stop their antiphonal chant to exposit the meaning of “holy” for Isaiah. That would have broken his gaze upon the Lord. He was in the temple. He could see it. There’s a time and place to explain holiness. Do it in a sermon. But be very selective of when to interrupt the vertical gaze of the congregation

Imagine having your best friends over for a meal. You prep the meal with intensity, care, and an eye towards the beauty of the presentation. The friends gather around the table, grab a fork, but before they take the first bite of salad, you stop and begin explaining why you arranged the tomatoes next to the peppers. Then, as the fork moves to the chicken, you give them a small lecture on why the chicken is the centerpiece of the salad.  Do you see where this is going? None of us want meals explained. We just want to eat them. We just want to taste and see.

This is not to say that you should never explain the liturgy to the church. You should. I’m simply advocating that you don’t do it every Sunday between every element. Work for sustained vertical attention.

This post is being filed under “If I Were a Pastor.” I intend these posts to speak to brother pastors who are seeking to reform their church. Whether it’s liturgy, ecclesiological practices, preaching or some other topic, these posts will be fairly unfiltered comments about how we’ve done things at LWBC. Feel free to dialogue with me, I’d love to share my foolishness and maybe even some wisdom.

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Exhortation: Disruptive Silence

EXHORTATION

Psalm 62:5 says:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, 

for my hope is from him. 

As Christians in America, our faith runs the risk of being colored and shaded by the values of the culture we inhabit. If culture loves excess, the unconscious church will value self-indulgence. If culture worships success, a blind church will begin promoting growth and numbers more than holiness and true proclamation.

Our culture is obsessed with noise and busyness. The apps on our phones constantly ding, flash notifications, and vibrate. The watch on our wrist begs to show us texts, our heart rate, and the current state of the Dow Jones. We scroll down the social media rabbit hole flicking from a political article to pictures of our cousins, to a viral video about why Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza. It doesn’t, by the way. Yesterday was National Ice Cream Sunday day, today is National Mac N Cheese Day and tomorrow will be National Tapioca Pudding day.

Our culture has gladly given up the ability and responsibility to sit in silence and deeply reflect on what matters most. Everything in our culture seeks to distract us. It seeks to prevent us from giving our full attention to what matters most.

And into this distracted world, Psalm 62 commands: For God alone, O my soul, wait… in… silence.

Christians, and the churches they belong to combat distraction through cultivating disruptive silence. We bring our phones under the mastery of Jesus Christ and his gospel. We submit our smartwatches and surrender our social media addictions to the Creator King.

In our gathered worship we limit the use of our screens and videos. We obey Psalm 62 several times through scheduled silence. We force our hearts, which are so terrified of the emptiness silence might reveal to come to grips with who we really are so that God can remake us in the gospel of Jesus.

In this age of noise, one of the greatest ways you can take a stand is by cultivating moments of silence before your God.

This reminds us of our need to confess our sin, so let’s bow in prayer now.

CONFESSION

Our Father,

You are great, and your throne is exalted. In your hands are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks are yours as well. You made the sea and you formed the dry land with your hand. In response to your majesty, we come and worship. We bow down. We kneel before the Lord, our God, our maker. 

We know that your majesty demands silence, yet we live in a world of noise. Your beauty commands our gaze, but our eyes wander. Father, we live in a distracted world. We rarely break away from our digital routines to enjoy silence before you. We impulsively open our phones, but we neglect your Word. We fill up our days with busyness and crowd out prayer. Indeed, Father, we suppress the truth in unrighteous distractions.

Lord God, we are sinners. And you know all of our sin. Nothing is hidden from you. We know that you are the forgiving God and so we ask that you would bring to mind anything we have not yet made right with you so that we might do so. 

We confess our individual sin to you now. Hear our prayers.

We ask all this in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The Lord is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:8-12

If you have placed your faith in Christ, then in Christ your transgressions have been removed from you, and your sin is forgiven.

EXHORTATION: Don’t Grow Weary

Galatians 6:9 says, And let us not grow weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

When you’re trying to grow a vegetable garden you have to sow a lot of seed, you have to protect those seeds until they can germinate, then you have to constantly pull weeds, and water (but not too much). Your hands have to ache. Your face has to sweat. And then you have to wait, and wait, and then wait some more.

 There’s no other way to grow a garden— but make no mistake— ripe tomatoes don’t hang on vines because of anything the gardener does.

You can only sow. You can’t make the plant bear fruit. The field is tilled and left to grace.

The same is true in our relationships, our jobs, and our church. We are to sow the Word of God daily. We pull weeds as we confess our sin. We have to water relationships with works of love and kindness. And, more than anything, we have to wait. We have to till the field, and then trust the fruitful harvest to God alone.

And Paul tells us, don’t grow weary. Don’t give up. Even though you can’t make fruit grow, you shouldn’t stop sowing seed. Don’t stop reading the Word. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop treating others as Christ has treated you. When you feel like you can’t wait any longer, wait some more.

And there’s a promise— not that the harvest will be plentiful— but that there will be a harvest. You don’t know what kind, or how large— but you will reap if you don’t faint. You will see the fruit of your toil in the Lord.

So church, let’s keep pulling weeds. Let’s daily sow the Word into our lives. Let’s till the field, and then leave it to the grace of God.

Let’s go to God now and confess our sins.

CONFESSION

Almighty Father,

We come to you now and confess our weakness. We are beset with human weaknesses like the need for sleep and the ache of hunger. But we are also beset by the weaknesses of our sin.

Apart from your grace, our hearts do not desire to read your Word daily. We get tired of confessing sin and wish that our sinful temptations would just give up. We’ve grown weary in our fight with the world, the flesh, and Satan. 

Our eyes have grown heavy as we vigilantly watch over our children. Our patience has grown short as we’ve tried to follow Jesus at work. Our hearts are heavy as we continually offer up prayers that we fear go answered.

O patient Father, forgive our weariness. Remember us in your mercy. In your grace, renew our hearts, lift up our drooping hands. Help us to wait on the harvest of peace and righteousness that only you and your grace in Christ can bring.

Father, we come to you now to confess our individual sins. Receive our prayers.

We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, who died in our place, and was raised for our justification, Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

The good news of the gospel is that those who confess their sin and come to Jesus by faith are forgiven of their sin and given eternal life. Therefore, if you are connected to Jesus by faith, then in Christ, your sin is forgiven. 

COMMUNION MEDITATION: The Wall Breaker

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

Sin divides man from God, and man from man. But, when Christ died for sin, he broke down the walls that divide us from God and one another. From the moment Jesus was crucified, Jews and Gentiles began worshipping in the same temple, and eating from the same table. But, if you go rummaging through the debris of that broken wall picking up pieces to rebuild it in places that suit your tastes and prejudices it’s an awful sin.

This table, where we encounter the broken flesh of Christ is a reminder that Christ has delivered us out of the foolishness of racism, from the idolatry of identity politics, and the darkness of only befriending those in our own income brackets.

When you were born into this world you didn’t choose who your siblings would be. And when you are born into God’s family you don’t get to choose your siblings there either. God has chosen your family members. Therefore, if a woman has repented of her sins and put her faith in Christ, she isn’t like a sister—she is sister. He isn’t like a brother, he is a brother. 

If God, through the shed blood of Christ has declared a brother “clean” then we cannot turn around and declare him “unclean.” 

If Jesus has preached “peace” to a sister and brought her near, then the rest of the family can’t preach “hostility” and drive her away.

If you have not trusted in Christ, then the only wall that stands between you and this table is your own sin, which you are called to place on Jesus as you trust his sacrifice.

So, as those who have been brought near take their seat at the table, look around the room. Notice who is here. Notice what has brought us together when so many things would otherwise drive us apart. Look at what broke down the wall of hostility. A piece of bread, and a mouthful of juice. Finite symbols that signify infinite grace and mercy. The broken body of Jesus, and his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sin.

So, come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Believe All Things

EXHORTATION

1 Corinthians 13:7 says…

Love… believes all things

This means that Christians who are growing in love choose to believe the best in others. The word for believe is the same word we translate as “faith.” So, literally, love has all faith.

Believing all things means we give others the benefit of the doubt. We take one another’s word at face value. It means we open ourselves up fully to one another. We believe that even when someone hurts us it was an oversight, not a pre-meditated attack. 

Struggling to “believe all things” is marked by suspicion. You are quick to assume others will fail. You read deeper meaning into every conversation. You review the last interaction in your head, like instant replay of a football game… reinterpreting it from every possible angle. And you anticipate being hurt and you prepare your defenses in advance.

Every sin has consequences, and the choosing not to believe all things is costly. When we choose doubt over trust, we close ourselves off from others. We shut them out, and this, in turn, only feeds our false belief that they have rejected us.

More than anything, failing to “believe all things” is a failure to believe God. It fails to trust that God can actually sanctify people; that his grace and his love can make people trustworthy. When we doubt God’s people, we doubt God’s power to conform us to the image of Christ. 

Make no mistake, this kind of believing requires that we make a sacrificial choice. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy to any of us. We have all been hurt, and we know what it’s like to be hated. But we can’t allow the sin of one person to shade the way we treat all people. Obeying the commands of God always comes with risk and sacrifice. So, let us forget what lies behind and put away past betrayals. Let’s press on to what lies ahead, to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

So, let’s confess our sin now.

CONFESSION

Father,

• We confess to you that we are suspicious people. 

• You have called us to believe all things, and yet we doubt most things. 

• We want people to believe the best about us, but we don’t do the same for them, and we’ve held our hearts back because we don’t trust anyone else. 

• We’ve given the appearance of interest in a conversation while we inwardly question motives. 

• We have wasted precious hours nursing false wounds because we allow our minds to swirl in fear and anxiety.

• We justify our suspicions by telling ourselves we’re just being cautious, but in honesty, we’re being faithless. 

• We’ve closed our hearts to those you’ve commanded us to love, and we’ve held onto past hurts as if they are our friends.

• We confess that when we in the church hold onto fear and suspicion we have taught the world that they can do the same.

Father, for all these sins and more, forgive us. Teach us to let go of fear and to believe all things. Give us the courage to be vulnerable with one another. Preserve us, in your grace, from drifting in fear. Help us to open up to one another, not fearing rejection, and being prepared to endure small offense for the sake of deeper community.

We know that if we say amen to these words, and yet we keep our individual sin hidden this prayer will be displeasing to you, and so we confess our individual sins now. Receive our prayers. We ask all this in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

22  I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud 

and your sins like mist; 

return to me, for I have redeemed you. 

Isaiah 44:22

Therefore, if you are connected to Jesus Christ by faith alone—then in Christ, your transgressions are blotted out, and your sins are forgiven.

Sin Hardens Us

EXHORTATION

Hebrews 3:13 says

13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

As Christians, we aren’t called to love one another in theory—we’re called to actually love one another. It has to be lived out. And, among many things, this means that we are always dealing with one another’s temptations and sin. If you can’t name a few sins a brother or sister in Christ struggles with, then you probably don’t know them very well.

So, how do we deal well with one another’s sin? We are called to exhort one another. An exhortation is what I’m doing right now. My goal is not to put your conscience on a spit and turn it over a bed of coals until you sizzle. Instead, I hope these exhortations give you the opportunity and the courage to face your sin.

We are to exhort one another so that we might not be hardened. Sin hardens us. Exhortations soften us. And that’s how deceitful sin is. Sin makes us blame exhortations for hardening people. But, the Word of God constantly challenges our natural way of thinking. We tend to think that speaking strongly about sin in church is a surefire way to make people hard to God.

Now, there are churches that are legalistic—and there are ways to exhort one another that pulverize hurting people. And that’s why all of our exhortations are followed by an assurance of pardon. We do this because, and this is crucial, you are not accepted based on your obedience. You are not embraced by God because you respond well to exhortations. You are not received because you are a rule keeper.

You are welcomed by God because Jesus was cast out in your place, and you have come to him by faith alone. So, let’s go to him now and confess our sins, as we exhort one another daily.

CONFESSION

Father Almighty,

You have called us together as a church family for the purpose of making us like you. You have chosen these people by hand. No one is here by accident. And you mean for us to share our lives together in this community. You don’t mean for us to sin, but you do intend to use the sins we commit in front of one another and against one another as a way of leading us to maturity. You intend for us to confront sin. You intend for us to exhort one another. You purpose to soften our hard hearts by those exhortations.

  • Father, if we’re honest, we struggle to fully commit to this community.
  • Our flesh doesn’t want to exhort a brother in Christ.
  • In our foolishness we fear the exhortation of a sister in the Lord.
  • Others of us still struggle with legalism. We’re constantly pointing our the minor flaws we see in everyone else, while we are blind to our own failures.

Father, don’t let us abandon one another to sin and call it love, and don’t let us crush one another in condemnation and call it truth. As we seek to root out sin, help us to do it as people full of your grace and mercy. And as we obey your laws help us to do it full of love and courage.

Father we also know that if we say amen to this prayer while we intend to go on singing this prayer will be ineffectual, and so we confess our sins to you now individually.  Receive our prayers… 

We offer this confession in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Acts 13:38-39

Therefore, if you are connected to Jesus Christ by faith alone—then in Christ, your sins are forgiven, and you are made clean.

Spiritual Work

EXHORTATION

One of the most spiritual things a Christian can do in life is work a job. The first command God gave Adam included the divine commission to work. This means that getting up early on Monday to put in an honest day’s work is itself an act of worship.

Christians are called to consider their work holy. To do their work as unto the Lord. To see their work as a way to bring blessing, joy, and justice to their fellow man. And they are, to some degree, called to derive joy from their work as well.

But too often, we think of our work, if we are not working for the church, as being secular, or second class, or having no spiritual significance.

Too often the church has given the impression that the only way to honor God though our work is to become mini-missionaries sharing our faith with our co-workers. And, while we should ask God for those opportunities, our work has value and significance simply because God has told us to do it. 

So, don’t your flesh convince you that work is secular when God has called it holy. Reclaim your work for the glory of the Father.

A Christian salesman does his duty to God, not by printing a cross on his business card, but by selling his product at an honest price, because God loves honesty.

A Mom glorifies God in her work, not just by singing a hymn to her child, but by changing diapers because Jesus loves it when little children are cared for.

As Christian workers, we understand that everything we do, is done in the sight of God, and therefore, everything we do is spiritual.

So, whether your work takes you out of the country, or your work is in the home with little kids, God has declared your work sacred. He has established work. And when you work, you are obeying him. And he’s pleased. So, let’s confess our sins to him now.

CONFESSION

Lord God,

You are the great worker, and everywhere we look we see you working. You laid the foundations of the earth, and you set the boundaries of the oceans. You send springs down mountain cliffs to water herds, and you direct rain clouds to newly planted fields.

You cause grass to grow for cattle, and you cause fruit to blossom for men. You give wine that makes glad the heart of man, and bread which strengthens his heart. You schedule the phases of the moon, and you keep the Sun on a time clock. 

And into this rhythm of Spring Time and Harvest, Day and Night, Morning and Evening, you call us to come along side of you and to work. Truly, O Lord, you have made us, in your image.

So, Lord, when we see how great you are in all of your work, we look at our own working lives and realize that something is amiss. We do not work as we ought. We haven’t put work in its proper place.

• We confess that when it comes to our work, we are sinners.

• We sometimes put in only what is required and nothing more.

• We haven’t passionately and lovingly served our clients.

• We confess the sin of thinking that the purpose of our work is to pay for our leisure.

• Lord God, some of us have seen our work as a way to elevate ourselves above others.

• We work our heads off for all the wrong reasons—for our own glory and reward.

• We ignore your command to rest for fear that someone might get ahead of us.

• We think that more money will compensate for having an imbalanced life.

• We haven’t given our spouse or our children the attention they need because our mind is always on work.

Lord, our sins are many. We love you, and therefore we are ashamed of anything that siphons off your glory and beauty. We long to be both Christians of the heart, and Christians in deed. 

So, Father, we ask that you forgive us for the sake of Jesus. Let his precious blood cover our sin and make us new. Let his obedient and perfect life be our life. And we are bold to ask for all of this and we believe you will do it simply because you have promised to do it. Father we also know that if we in the church regard sin in our lives lightly this prayer will have no effect, and we confess our sins to you now individually.  Receive our prayers… 

We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ, who lived and died and who ever lives now to mediate for his people, Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:25-26

Church, it is your Father’s good pleasure to hear your honest confession and to declare you completely clean. Therefore, if you are connected to Jesus Christ by faith alone—then in Christ, your sins are forgiven, and you are made clean.