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: 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.

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.

 

7 Quotes from Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke

What do you get when you cross a book on preaching methodology with a historical survey of Reformed preachers from Calvin to D. Lloyd-Jones? You get a book like Joel Beeke’s Reformed Preaching. I found the book helpful to distinguish the common denominators in Reformed preaching across the centuries, and certainly was encouraged by his thoughtful application of these defining features. This is a book that will commend itself well to any preacher who values the Reformed tradition. I wouldn’t expect many outside of the pulpit to want to buy or read it. Nonetheless, it’s a superb book and I leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

Buy it Here

  • Reformed experiential preaching uses the truth of Scripture to shine the glory of God into the depths of the soul to call people to live solely and wholly for God.
  • Of Edwards: All of his doctrine was application and all of his application was doctrine.
  • Spurgeon says, “Where the application begins, the sermon beings.”
  • Both internally in a preachers own conscience, as well as in the consciences of his people, a fearless application of God’s truth will exact a price.
  • E. M. Bounds, “The sermon is forceful because the man is forceful.”
  • Calvin taught that the preached Word and the inner testimony of the Spirit should be distinguished but cannot be separated. Word and Spirit are joined together organically; without the Spirit, hearing the preached Word only adds to the condemnation of unbelievers. On the other hand, Calvin admonished those who emphasized the Spirit apart from or at least at the expense of the Word, saying that only the spirit of Satan separates itself from the Word.
  • Increase Mather on his father, Richard, “His way of preaching was plain, aiming to shoot his arrows not over his people’s heads, but into their hearts and consciences.”