Bread and wine, these elements of creation, become the symbols of re-creation. For his body broken for us and his blood spilt for us are the signs of renewal and restoration.
We always think of the story of Peter denying Jesus as involving a random cock crowing. However, it is more prophetic of Jesus if he not only predicts Peter’s betrayal, but also the time it happens. It’s more likely that the “cock crowing” was a Roman trumpet played every morning before dawn to signal the changing of the guard…and it all happened in Jerusalem.
I recorded this prayer experience in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. I know it’s a Catholic church and we have some theological differences, but it is a beautiful space and one that has engaging pictures and sculptures. For example, the sheaf of wheat carved into the alter table that points to Jesus being our “first fruits”.
So as the season of Lent is a time to confess our sins and become more aware of our own mortality, here is a prayer experience based on Psalm 130. For more on this prayer model, click here.
Worship forms me spiritually. Worship not only presents Christ, it causes Christ to be formed in my life. The structure of worship is itself the structure of life—words and deeds. When I am thoroughly involved in worship I not only hear and see, but I become…To be formed by worship is to take on the characteristics of Christ, to be shaped by his presence within.
[The end of the service] is more than a signal that the time of worship is over. It is the beginning of service in the world. . . . [We] need to give careful thought to the words and actions that send God’s people into the world.
This past weekend, we had a tech crisis. But in the middle of a crisis, our bigger problem was loving one another. All of life is worship and that includes the way we love another another.
[In Holy Communion] There is a symbolic communication involved in our very taking of bread and wine, our eating and drinking. . . . Bread and wine are to be consumed. They are to be taken into the hand, put into the mouth, and digested in our stomach. This is the human side of the Table, the response that the signs of bread and wine call for. When we receive that bread into our mouth, bite and chew it, we are claiming God’s work. We are saying,
“You paid the price; you did the work; you achieved my salvation; I accept it.”
There has been some controversy about the song, “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. It’s gotten a lot of radio play and churches all over the country are singing it, but as one blogger wrote, “God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What you Might Sing.” Like I said, there is some controversy. The blogger in question claims that God is not reckless in his plan of salvation, but was intentional from the beginning. And, he has a literal, theological point. God does have a plan to bring salvation to his people and he has been working out that plan since the Fall. What the blogger misses, is that scripture talks about the gospel being “foolishness”. So I think we can all agree that God’s love is not reckless in the sense of being “irresponsible”, but I think we can also agree that God’s love is perceived to be foolish by the outside world! As 1 Cor 1:18 & 25 says,
“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”…and…”the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Paul is taking the negative word “foolishness” and using it as a positive for God. I find it interesting that the song writer, Cory Asbury, is famous for using the same kind of dramatic language that turns the meanings of negative words on their heads. And he isn’t the only one! Back in the ’90s, Rich Mullins sang about the “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.” So when we sing about the “reckless love of God” we are singing that to an outsider, God’s love seems foolish and brash, but in fact “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.” Let’s jump into verse one…
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. -Psalm 32
Psalm 13:6 (NLT) I will sing to the LORD because He is good to me.
I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. -Ezekiel 37:6
As I look at the song, I’m not sure if the songwriter is talking about speaking and breathing in terms of being born as a baby or in terms of our rebirth in Christ. In light of the gospel message in the song, I like to think of it in terms of our salvation. Psalm 32 is written to believers and Ezekiel also seems to indicate that the breath, or Spirit of God, comes into us at salvation and then we have true life. That is God’s kindness…
Psalms 117:2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. –Romans 5:7-8
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -1 Corinthians 1:18
This is the heart of the song. The gospel message. Jesus left heaven to find us even though we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn salvation on our own. Jesus said in Luke 15:3-5
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders…”
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. -Romans 3:23
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:10
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45
“…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” –Luke 19:10
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…-Psalm 23:6a
I have a confession.
I grew up thinking that worship was only for believers. Now, I think you can make a case that only a believer can worship God in spirit and in truth, but how should we arrange our services with the third audience, the outside world, in mind?
A number of years ago, I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. It’s not a very exciting title, I know, but the class changed my whole perspective on worship. Every week we had a different speaker who helped us understand what God has been doing in the world to build his Kingdom starting in the OLD TESTAMENT! Did you know that God’s heart has ALWAYS been to have the nations hear the good news? I hadn’t realized that this was God’s message to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to David and on and on…to Jesus and then the early church. God has always wanted his people to be a light and welcome anyone who comes. As God says in the Psalms (46:10, 47:1, 18:49, 22:27)
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him…
And as author and pastor, Tim Keller, writes,
It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the unchurched feel or think about our worship…God wants the world to overhear us worshipping him. God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises “before the nations.” We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.*
Did you know that this happens at ECC? We have people to walk up to our pastors after service and say, “I’m not a believer, but I’m thinking about what you said…” We have people who are sitting in the seats who come to church, but aren’t following Jesus Monday through Saturday.
This is why I think Keller’s emphasis on the gospel is so important. Not just because unbelievers need to hear it (and they do!), but that the gospel is what all three groups need to hear! God wants us to tell him about what he has done for us in Jesus. Believers need to be reminded and shaped by the gospel. Un-believers need to be saved by the gospel.
We can focus only on seekers instead of encouraging believers and get lost in making Jesus “relevant”.
We can focus only on building up believers and make things incomprehensible and outdated for seekers.
We need to make sure that our services are fresh, conversational and understandable while always focusing on the gospel.
By focusing on the gospel, we bring all three audiences together in worship.
*Tim Keller quote from “Evangelistic Worship” as used in Rhythms of Grace. Thanks to Mike Cosper for the concept of the three audiences in worship. His book is an excellent read. I highly recommend it!