What I Love About My Church And Why ~ Liturgy

I love my church. We’ve been here for almost ten years and I honestly cannot imagine being anywhere else.

It’s where we’ve been raising our family, and what He has used to grow and stretch our hearts and minds to know Him more. I’ve been pushed gently and not so gently out of my comfort zone.

It’s not a perfect place and it’s full of imperfect people who love God wholeheartedly but sometimes screw it up. There are lots of reasons that I love this place and these people and a single post would be waaaay to long so I’ll probably share some things in a series of posts. I hope it will get you to thinking about your church and what you love about it.

One of the top things for me that I love about our church is our liturgy. Every church has a liturgy (an order of service) whether it is formalized or not. Our liturgy happens to be what most would consider “formal.”  It’s actually known as a covenant renewal service. The layout and progression of the service is designed to reflect the Gospel.

We begin with a call to worship. A call to leave our earthly concerns and thoughts behind and turn our hearts and minds to the One who is worthy. This generally includes a hymn, a short word of exhortation, a call and response greeting between pastor and congregation, and a Scripture reading that calls us to worship. It concludes with a brief prayer that God would cleanse the thoughts of His people so that we’re prepared to worship Him rightly.

Of course our sin prohibits true worship so secondly, we are called to confess our sin. There is a tremendous blessing in corporate confession that is missed in a typical “alter call” at the end of a service. Another aspect that is shared during this time, is the minister declaring God’s forgiveness. Not that he is granting the forgiveness, but he is declaring the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promise to forgive those who have confessed their sin.

The third element of our liturgy is considered a time of consecration. Together, as one body we typically confess either the Nicene or Apostles creed. There is something so very unifying about declaring what we all believe without hesitation and with assurance. It connects us to the Saints that have gone before us and anchors us. During a certain time of the church calendar we actually sing one of them and it is one of my most favorite things in the world.  Because we believe that the Bible is one story with Old and New Testament connected, we have a Scripture passage read from both which relates to the theme of the sermon. The pastor also reads a passage from the Gospels. The first two readings are done from the pulpit but as the Gospel is read my husband moves among the congregation…a beautiful symbol of the way Christ, the Gospel in flesh, moved among us. After the preaching we have a pastoral prayer during which our prayers and petitions as a church are brought before God. This is also a time during which we pray for a specific congregation in our community. Again, I love this because I’ve never been in a church that was willing to pray on a regular basis for other area churches, including ones of a different denomination. We are also given a few moments to pray in silence before standing together and singing the Lord’s Prayer. Then, in response to God’s faithfulness, we offer our tithes and offerings.

Because we have been called to worship, and because we have confessed our sin and He has changed us through the reading and teaching of His Word, we are invited to come and eat at His table. Every. Single. Week. Oddly enough, this fourth component of our service causes people the most angst. Generally argued against as being too catholic as if that somehow explains something. But just about every church I know of sings every week, prays every week, and takes an offering every week. We don’t reject those based on possible bad teaching and misunderstanding…why would we reject Christ’s table?

Because our service has already led us to a place of confession we do not look at this as a time of morbid introspection. We are already prepared and ready so it’s a time when we remember His death and celebrate the life we now have together in Him. Not only do we enjoy this meal together each week, but we talk during it. Speaking freely with one another, as well as participating in the passing of the peace.  As we pass the bread we say to each other, “The Lord be with you” and upon receiving the bread we respond with, “The Lord bless you.” With the passing of the wine/juice we say, “The peace of Christ be with you” and upon receipt we say, “And also with you”. I’ll be honest, this part of our service was very awkward at first. But it quickly became something that added depth add richness to our communion with each other. It takes a very hard and bitter heart to hold aught against husband or wife, child or sibling or friend and at the same time bless them in the Lord and declare that the peace of Christ be with them.

Singing is a major part of our service and is threaded through the whole day. (There will be a separate blog post about singing and music.) At this point in our service we stand, and hands raised sing the doxology, praising God who is the source of all blessings. We recite a prayer of thanksgiving together and sing a hymn of response for the renewal of God’s covenant with His people.

Numbers 6:24-26 blessing benediction

The final characteristic of our service is the reading of the Great Commission as a charge for us to go out and be faithful in carrying out its command to declare Christ’s authority over all the earth. A closing prayer is shared and we once again lift our hands, this time to receive the benediction “…the Lord bless you and keep you…”

Now we turn our hands outward, and with voices lifted we sing,

Glory be to the Father, 
And to the Son, 
And to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be,
World without end.

Rob will then offers one last word of benediction as we conclude, “Go in peace, the Lord be with you” and as one the congregation responds, “And also with you.”

In our area this type of service is not common, especially in a Baptist church. But true worship should reflect the gospel interaction between God and His people, not a specific denomination. Each aspect should highlight the relationship between the believer with God and each other.

Not every church service must look and sound like this. But the components…the call to worship, the call to confess our sin, the consecration of God’s people though His Word, the communion with Christ at His table and with each other, and the commissioning of His people to go and declare His authority as LORD and King to all the earth…these are the foundations of worship that is rightly focused.

May you look for, and find them, in your church as you worship.


Fifteen Years

Fifteen years.

Can you believe that, love?

In that time we’ve been blessed with five children and made eight moves.

We’ve known several church families but have called Christ Church home for almost ten years now. Those years in and of themselves have been a wild ride and I am thankful to not only have been by your side through everything but also to call you my pastor.

I love your brain and how you seek knowledge. Not just for the sake of knowing but so you can better serve your King and His people.

I love the way you look at me…seeing who I am and loving me anyways and seeing who I can be.

I love the way you perch your glasses on your nose and give me “the look” over the top of your glasses. Oh, that makes me laugh.

I love your kisses (all eleven of them 😉 and I love the words of your mouth. You encourage and strengthen me with your council and wisdom. I know without a doubt that you will tell me Truth even when it is painful. In this you are a faithful friend.

I love the shoulders that accept the wait of your responsibilities to our family and to our people. You don’t shirk back or look for ways to abandon that which you’ve been given to do.

I love your heart that is steadfast and honorable.

I love the way your hands comfort and guide our family and the way you reach over and rub my back right before we fall asleep.

I love the feet that stand strong and sure in the truth of who God is, and who we are to be in Him.

In short, I love everything about you. All the good I mentioned above but I also love your shortcomings and faults. I love being with you in your struggles because even as you battle your own sin I learn ways to fight might own.

I love the last fifteen perfectly imperfect years of our life. We joke about your boxes, the way you keep things all compartmentalized, and I hope that they are full to overflowing with the same joy that I have found in us.

Even your nothing box.

Because in you and the life that He has given us, God has done abundantly more than I could have ever dared dream of or ask for.

Equal Need

There is a great leveler in our worship service. When we kneel during our confession time we are all on equal footing. I am there beside my children as their sister, equal in need for grace, equal in standing as a child myself. In one sense this truth is always…well, true. I’m never not their sister. Even as I mother, I am their sister.

I can see the back of my husband’s head as he too turns and faces the cross. As he steps apart from his role as Pastor, as Shepherd, and kneels just like me, like our kids, like our congregation, he is there as a brother, equal in his need for grace, equal in standing as a child.

Friends take part in this glorious exchange. No older or younger, in some ways no wiser or more foolish, all equal before a Holy God. All equal in our need for grace, in our standing as children.

No one is better off than another.

No one has more need than another.

In that moment we all need.

We need grace.

We need mercy.

We don’t sin a little or a lot so there isn’t a sliding grace scale. He doesn’t evaluate our whispered “Please forgive me for _________” and parcel out forgiveness in an appropriate and equal measure.

It’s not a waterfall of grace in row three, fourth seat from the left, and a thimble passed on to the person in the sixth seat on the second from the front row.

Because we are all there, side by side kneeling in our need, we lift our faces to the shower that pours down with overflowing grace. Its abundance splashes out into our dry and sin cracked places. It floods our hearts and hydrates our minds and washes our souls clean.

And, like little children dancing in the rain, we find joy.

The Twelve Days of Christmas ~ How We Celebrate

Seems like a weird time to do a blog post about Christmas, doesn’t it? For many Christmas came and went almost two weeks ago but for some of us we just celebrated the last day of Christmas this past Sunday.
Last year I shared this blog post that described a little bit how our family celebrates the holidays. It’s short and to the point about why we do Christmas the way that we do but I still got some questions this year about a change that we made so I thought an end of the season follow up review might would be helpful. If nothing else I’ll have a written record of the first time we started this tradition 🙂

In a nutshell, our children receive a gift from us on Christmas morning. Usually this is the biggie, the main thing that they have been asking for. Then they will receive a gift of some sort each day for the next eleven days. Not anything major and sometimes it may be as simple as a family trip to the local frozen yogurt shop. One year there was a shoe day and everyone got a pair of shoes. Another favorite is a trip to Barnes and Noble where everybody is able to choose a book. Last year a dear friend of mine crocheted all the kids hats and scarves. (We did an exchange of services…her work for family pictures. Bartering is the best!) The final gift is always their Christmas stocking.

The last several years have been fun and the twelve days combined with the Advent season has, I think, made our celebration of the birth of our King much more meaningful. But last year we still felt like there was something missing that we wanted to include.

Being a good gift giver doesn’t always come naturally. And by good gift giver I mean more than just being generous in the giving department. God didn’t just send any old gift to us. He sent the Perfect gift…the One that would suit us, be what we needed, that would bring lasting joy. Obviously there is no way we can equal God in the gift giving department. But we can train up and teach our children to mimic His way in giving.

We want our children to be good gift givers. To give gifts for the sake of the one receiving the gift and not for the sake of giving just to be giving if that makes any sense at all. The point to God giving us Christ wasn’t just to give something that would fix the mess we had made of the world. He gave Christ for us, for our good and our joy. Now, like I said, there is no way we can match God in gift giving but we can learn to give the way He did (and does). We want our children to give generously and thoughtfully and…here is the biggie…deliberately.

To that end we took five of the twelve days, one for each child, and called it their giving day. They didn’t receive any gifts that day. Their gift was to delight in the joy of choosing and giving a gift to each of their siblings. They also got to choose one meal that day and cook it and serve the family.

For our first time doing this, I’d say it went very well. I do think we will budget differently next year for it and also incorporate jobs to earn some money for their purchases so that they can be a little more generous and creative in the gifts they choose. But all told, it went very well and it is definitely a part of our Christmas tradition now.

For the record, we sprinkled the five giving days throughout the twelve days and Samuel may or may not have given two of his sisters bags of coal as a joke before giving them their real presents.

On a different note, our church celebrated the final day of Christmas, Epiphany, this past Sunday with a feast after our worship service. We roasted a whole pig and everyone brought  tons of sides and desserts and we played games and generally enjoyed each others company all afternoon. It was a fantastical end to a wonderful Christmas season.

Union With Christ

In the liturgy, our words and actions are not merely those of individuals, but of the body. We speak together, sing together, pray together, listen together, and eat together as a body. At first it seems weird to us to worship like this – and this is, I think, for two reasons. 

First, because of the fall we are inclined to think primarily of ourselves. We are self-interested, self-focused, self-absorbed. 

Secondly, it is because this way of being has been sewn into the fabric of our culture. We are conditioned by our culture to be opposed to anything that causes us to conform to others. 

Liturgy, like union with Christ, forces us to realize that it isn’t about us, 
and that being a part of the body is where we find our true identity.
As we do all of these things together, we are pushed outside of ourselves, 
and we become more truly who our Lord wants us to be.