Archive for July, 2012

Synod CDs Now Available!

WEST SAYVILLE, NY and POMPTON PLAINS, NJ—July 31, 2012—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…

Why the pompous fanfare?  Today, I’m excited to announce to you that after more than a month of preparation and collaboration, Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church (URCNA) has begun production of audio CD recordings of the singing at Synod 2012!

The setting of this year’s synod, Nyack College’s location overlooking the Hudson River, was majestic.  The scenery was splendid.  The fellowship was glorious.  But ask any delegate who attended the URCNA’s federation-wide meeting this June, and you’ll probably be told one thing: The most beautiful part of Synod 2012 was the singing.  Moving many to tears, the music of the week left lasting impressions on each and every attendee.

But there’s another significant aspect of the music at Synod 2012: For the first time in the history of the URCNA (to my knowledge), the sound of 250 men lifting their voices in praise to God has been professionally recorded—and this recording is now available to one and all.

Over the past several weeks I’ve shared links to YouTube videos of the singing at synod.  These are the same recordings, but the CD version is both better quality and much more versatile.  Visit the ordering page here on URC Psalmody for more information on how you can obtain your own copy.

Feel free to share this information with any of your friends, family, or fellow church members.  Simply send them the following link (via email, Facebook, or any other means at your disposal):

https://urcpsalmody.wordpress.com/synod-music/

Spread the word!

–MRK

Psalm 120

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.

–Psalm 120:1, 2 (ESV)

Immediately following Psalm 119’s repeated praises for God’s truth, Psalm 120 states the case of a righteous man surrounded by wickedness and deceit.  Although the psalmist’s trust in the Lord remains unbroken (v. 1), he mourns that he is surrounded by the belligerent heathen (vv. 5-7), and prays that God would deliver him “from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.”  The situation of the psalmist in Psalm 120 is not unlike that of Lot in Sodom—nor, for that matter, is it far removed from our experiences today.  Indeed, every Christian can in some way echo the earnest lament of Psalm 120.

Psalm 120 begins the Psalter’s collection of fifteen “Songs of Ascents”—psalms whose exact purpose is unknown, but which were probably intended for use during the Israelites’ numerous ascents to the city of Jerusalem.  And today, as is our custom, we’ll take a moment to examine the Psalter Hymnal’s single versification of this poignant lament.

258, “I Cried to God in My Distress”

As a blanket statement, the text of number 258 is solid and scripturally accurate.  That said, I’m going to parse this setting with a fine-toothed comb and list a few possible areas for improvement:

  • Stz. 1, “And by the Lord my prayer was heard”: Hearing and answering prayer are two distinct ideas, and this wording muddies the distinction.  Consider instead, “And I was answered by the Lord.”
  • Stz. 2, “The tongue whose speech consumes like fire”: The literal psalm says only, “A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree” (v. 4); it does not specify whether this describes the tongue or the punishment to be inflicted on it.  I’d rather leave the text of the psalm more open for interpretation here.
  • Stz. 4: In this last stanza the text of Psalm 120:7 has been expanded to fill four lines.  This is by no means unbiblical—just slightly redundant.

Mention of a “moderately slow” tune in a minor key from the seventeenth century may raise the hairs on the back of an organist’s neck, but there’s nothing to be afraid of in BABYLON’S STREAMS.  Though unfamiliar, the melody line of this tune is simple enough to be picked up by any congregation almost immediately.  Further, the doleful mode is perfectly suited for the accompanying text.  In summary, I don’t think you can go wrong with this text and tune combination.

How does Psalm 120 relate to the Christian life?  To answer this question, we must merely consider how often believers endure fraud, falsehood, and deceit from unbelieving family, friends, and co-workers.  Surely we’ve been cheated or slandered at some point in our walk with Christ.  In these cases and in many more, Psalm 120 expresses the Christian’s situation perfectly.  Although we may rightfully lament at these evils around us, with the psalmist we can also declare that the Lord will answer our cries.  His everlasting truth and righteousness will prevail; God will certainly deliver us from lying lips and a deceitful tongue.

I cried to God in my distress,
And by the Lord my prayer was heard;
O save me, Lord, from lying lips
And from the false, deceitful word.

–MRK

Psalm 119: The Music (part 6)

This evening we come to the end of Psalm 119 week at URC Psalmody.  Here’s what we’ve done:

From there, we’ve proceeded to examine each of the Psalter Hymnal‘s selections based on Psalm 119.  Along the way, we’ve been linking to our friend Glenda Mathes’ blog (Ascribelog) for a more in-depth meditation on each of Psalm 119’s stanzas.

And now, with Part 6, we come to the last three stanzas of Psalm 119 and the end of Psalm 119 Week:

255, “Regard My Grief and Rescue Me”

Psalm 119:153-160 is a prayer for deliverance from faithless and wicked men.  The psalmist asks God to vindicate him, to “plead [his] cause and redeem [him],” for he knows that God will act on his behalf because of the truth of God’s Word (verse 160).  Read more about this stanza HERE.

Selection #255 is remarkably faithful to the scriptural text, even maintaining the language of “swerving” from God’s Law in verse 157/stanza 3.  Because of its focus on facing enemies and its plea for vindication, this would be a good psalm to sing when remembering Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate.  It could also be sung as a prayer on behalf of any who are suffering oppression at the hands of wicked men, particularly the persecuted church.

The tune, PRESTON, is unfamiliar.  To maintain the somber mood, I suggest using HAMBURG (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).

256, “Though Mighty Foes Assail Me, Lord”

The penultimate stanza of Psalm 119 is really remarkable.  It starts off as a continuation of the previous stanza, speaking of the persecution by princes (verse 161), but goes on to describe the overwhelming peace and hope that the believer can find in God’s Word. The psalmist compares God’s Law to spoil and treasures that one may find after a hard-fought battle.  He declares that “seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules” (verse 164).  Not only is this verse the basis of the monastic practice of having seven services every day, but it is also – more importantly – a call for us to be constantly thanking God for the peace we have in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).  Check out a meditation on this stanza HERE on Ascribelog.

Selection #256 captures this bombastic hope and confidence.  Although it distills the “seven times a day” to “throughout the day,” it is still a faithful reflection of the text and its moods and language.  Particularly poignant is the opening line, “Though mighty foes assail me, Lord/I fear not them, but Thee.”

The tune, ERSKINE, might take a bit of learning, for it is generally unfamiliar.  To increase this song’s “air time,” perhaps a more familiar tune is needed.  Common Meter Double is a pretty standard meter, so there are many to choose from.  SERAPH (“How Vast the Benefits Divine”) strikes me as a good choice, reflecting both the confidence in danger and the hope for peace of this stanza.

257, “O Let My Supplicating Cry”

The last stanza of Psalm 119 is a prayer containing desperation, longing, and repentance, as well as confidence and joy in salvation.  Thus, it fitly summarizes the entire psalm as well as directing the entire prayer-psalm heavenward.  Read what our friend Glenda Mathes has to say about this stanza HERE.

#257 is a passionate prayer for God to hear our prayer, teach us His Law, and forgive our sins.  In this way, it is a fitting summary of Psalm 119:169-176 and a beautiful song for the Christian to sing.  The content of this song makes it an excellent prayer of confession.  Throughout this series, I’ve commented that several of these selections would be apt to sing after the traditional reading of the Ten Commandments.  Selection #257, with its earnest and repeated pleas for God’s help to obey and mercy to forgive, strikes me as tremendously appropriate for this use as well, perhaps the best choice of all.

The tune, ERNAN, is a simple and prayerful Lowell Mason offering.  Like many of his other tunes, the harmonies and rhythms are easy and accessible, yet possessing a thoughtful beauty.  This tune-word match is quite good and adds to the overall prayer quality of this selection.  If you are accompanying this tune, keep that tone in mind and try to choose stops that add to the prayerful mood.

Instructed in Thy holy law,
to praise Thy Word I lift my voice;
O Lord, be Thou my present help,
for Thy commandments are my choice.

Conclusion

A slow walk-through – Psalter Hymnal in hand – of Psalm 119 can be a great blessing.  To me, it seems so often that Psalm 119 just runs together in my mind as one big chunk of repetitive, Torah-celebrating stanzas.  Taking the time to read and experience each stanza, seeing the individual thrusts as well as the big picture, can greatly enrich our love for God’s Word and our delight in obeying His Torah.  Using the Psalter Hymnal to take these words on our lips in our homes and in our corporate worship can unite us in our longing for and delight in God’s Law.

To finish Psalm 119 week, I include this prayer, based on Psalm 119, taken from the Scottish Psalter of 1595:

“Most merciful God, Author of all good things, Who hast given Thy holy commandments unto us, whereby we should direct our life, imprint them in our hearts by Thy Holy Spirit; and grant that we may so renounce all our fleshly desires, and all the vanities of this world, that our whole pleasure and delight may be in Thy law; that we, being always governed by Thy holy Word, may in the end attain to that eternal salvation which Thou hast promised, through Christ Jesus, Thy Son.  Amen.”

-JDO

Psalm 119: The Music (part 5)

We continue our look through the blue Psalter Hymnal‘s treatment of Psalm 119 by looking at selections #250-254:

250, “Deceit and Falsehood I Abhor

The fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, consisting of verses 113-120, is a prayer of righteous anger.  I’m sure we’ve all heard sermons about the differences between sinful anger and godly anger – the type of anger that caused Jesus to drive the money-changers from the Temple in the Gospels and Paul to reprimand Peter publicly for his fear of man.  This is the prayer of a zealous follower of God, ready to drive sin out of the Temple, out of his friends, and out of his life.  For more on this stanza, read THIS meditation at Ascribelog.

Selection #250 makes a few interesting choices.  First of all, they change the tone of this stanza from being directed personally at “the double-minded” (verse 113) and “you evil-doers” (verse 115) to being directed at “deceit and falsehood” in general.  Stanza three returns some vague statements about “froward” and “wicked” men, but for the most part, the direction of the psalmist’s anger is changed.

This seems drastic at first, but I am willing to stand behind the Psalter Hymnal‘s decision.  Even though this is an interpretive spin, it does make the selection more accessible for modern Christians in North America.  After all, how often do you come directly into opposition with wicked men in such a way as to sing an angry song at them?  But how often do you come into contact with “deceit and falsehood” in your own life and generally in the world around you?  Changing the focus of the psalm is an application, not a versification, but one that is biblically sanctioned (Ephesians 6:10-20) and profoundly applicable.  Of course, one could wish for two selections for Psalm 119:113-120 – one that remained strictly faithful to the text and then this one, but as it is, we have a selection that is applicable to battling sin in our lives and the culture around us.

The other interesting choice this selection makes is the tune, STELLA.  It’s a very lovely tune, as most old English tunes are, but its flowing, almost pastoral melody seems like a strange fit for what is an angry section of the psalm (it seems better suited to Psalm 23).  Part of me would like to suggest an alternate, but part of me is sad that this is the only place in the Psalter Hymnal that this tune appears.  However, the tune does add an interesting spin to the words, especially if you focus on stanza 2.  The tune makies it more a heartfelt prayer for sanctification, rather than a battle-song against sin.

These interesting choices leave us with a song that is well-suited for confession of sin and desire for holiness, perhaps another good selection to sing after the reading of the Law or as a prayer of repentance and renewal.

251, “I Have Followed Truth and Justice”

Psalm 119:121-128 is another prayer for deliverance from oppression, a companion piece to verses 113-120.  Read more about this section HERE.

Selection #251 does an excellent job of versifying this section of the psalm with its short and simple two stanzas.  The tune, ROBINSON, is elegant and expresses this prayer for vindication with dignity unmixed with pride.  I remember as a boy being intrigued by the chromatic slide in the bass at the end of the first line.  I still don’t quite know what to make of it, but it is certainly memorable and doesn’t hurt the tune.  Also, I’ve always had somewhat of a difficult time finding the right tempo at which to play this song.  You want to find that happy medium – dignified, but not dragging; flowing, but not rushing.

This is a good song to sing on behalf of the persecuted church, to accompany meditation on the antithesis present in our world, or to sing simply to increase your love for God’s Law and your hatred of sin.

252, “Thy Wondrous Testimonies, Lord”

The closer we grow to Christ, the longer we walk with Him, the more we come to cherish His Word and commandments (John 14:15).  Psalm 119:129-136 is a passionate song celebrating the Christian’s love of God’s Word.  As our friend Glenda Mathes points out in her comments on verse 131 (read it HERE), God’s Word should “steal our breath away.”

Both in tune and in text, selection #252 reflects that longing well.  Throughout this week, we’ve noticed how some of the Psalter Hymnal‘s Psalm 119 selections do not reflect the rich metaphors and images found within the psalm text, making the songs somewhat repetitive and less colorful than they could be.  Thankfully, selection #252 maintains the “thirst” and “steady steps” imagery from verses 131 and 133, making this a more memorable and faithful selection than some others we’ve seen.

The reflection of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:23-27) in verse 135 might make this selection an excellent song to sing as we leave our worship services, reflecting on the wonders of God’s Word and our desire to be taught “all Thy ways to keep.”  Although not what could properly be used as a doxology, selection #252 could be a nice postlude or somehow added before or after the benediction.

Abraham Kuyper suggested reading the 10 Commandments in the evening service, after the sermon, as one of the last elements of worship before leaving the Sabbath rest and entering back into the worldly week.  This practice, he thought, would encourage the congregation to respond in gratitude to the gospel they just heard by meditating and following God’s Torah.  Selection #252 has that sort of ring to it – a continuing meditation on the wonders of God’s Word throughout the week.  So it’s a song well-suited to worship, but also to daily singing, or to sing at prayer meetings and Bible studies during the week to keep our hearts and minds focused on God’s Word and His blessing.

253, “O Lord, Thy Perfect Righteousness”

At the beginning of this Psalm 119 endeavor, I made the comment that one of the major themes of Psalm 119 was the I-Thou relationship we have with God.  Here ins Psalm 119:137-144, that is made explicit.  The focus is somewhat changed.  Instead of praising God’s Torah, the psalmist turns and directly worships God for His attributes, the attributes that are shown in His Torah.  Read a meditation on this stanza HERE.

LAMBETH is a very simple tune.  It’s singable and learnable, as long as we accompanists remember that it is in cut time (once again, I could share some frightening stories of this song being played in some 6/4 alternate universe, making the middle line a veritable slough of despond).  The simplicity of the tune reflects the humility expressed by the psalmist in verse 141.

Personally, though, I might suggest changing the tune.  The gist of this song is that we’re praising our righteous God for condescending to reveal Himself to us in His Word, and because of it, “my zeal consumes me” (verse 139).  We’re meditating on God’s special revelation and then praying to the same God to condescend again to save us.  The text gets that idea across well, but the tune is perhaps too simple (and unfamiliar to most congregations).  What we need is a great tune.  I might suggest ST. ANNE (“Oh God our Help in Ages Past”), which is familiar, majestic, and befits these words nicely.

This is a great song to sing while meditating on God’s act of special revelation and inspiration.  Both the psalm and the text of this song make it clear that God’s very nature is reflected in His revelation.  The righteousness and glory that He has so clearly shown us in His Word is the reason for our song.

254, “O Lord, My Earnest Cry”

I once read an interesting debate between Eastern Orthodox monks and Roman Catholic monks concerning whether to sing selections like Psalm 119:145-152 at their daily morning worship at dawn or at their nightly worship, for this stanza references praying “before dawn” (verse 147) and during “the watches of the night” (verse 148).  I’d say that no matter when you sing it, this stanza models something beautiful about our relationship with God – we can (and should) pray at all hours of the day, for He will hear us.  That’s one thing that the monks got right – they established a pattern of praying at all hours of the day and night.  Read more about the text of Psalm 119:145-152 in a heartfelt meditation HERE.

Selection #254 reflects the earnest prayer of the psalmist.  This is a song we can sing when we are troubled, when we can’t sleep, when we are desperate in our need of God.  It reflects all of this and grounds it in the confidence that God’s Word gives us – “Thou, Lord, art near to me/and true are Thy commands/of old Thy testimonies show/Thy truth eternal stands.”

The end result is really an excellent lyric that reflects the psalm text faithfully with much beauty – both poetically and doctrinally.  It’s really an excellent selection.

The tune, WELCOME VOICE, is the tune of an old revival hymn, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice,” which the compilers of the Psalter Hymnal took over for this selection.  So it has that feeling of 1850’s sentimentality, but joins it with solid words.  The tune is emotional and old-fashioned, so it depends on how you feel about this sort of tune.  Personally, I think it works.  The excellent text makes sure the emotion of the tune is grounded in truth, and the tune definitely reflects the emotional mood of this prayer.

Perhaps a reboot that reflects a more timeless style is needed, but for now, I think WELCOME VOICES is a good fit.  The 1850’s haven’t completely died out in our churches (in many cases, that’s a bad thing), so the tune is still accessible.  And not all sentimentality is necessarily a bad thing – as long as it’s grounded in solid truth, as this song clearly is.

Delight amid distress and pain
do Thy commandments give;
Thy Word is righteous evermore,
teach me that I may live.

-JDO

Psalm 119: The Music (part 4)

In danger oft and nigh to death,
Thy law remembered is mine aid;
The wicked seek my overthrow,
yet from Thy truth I have not strayed.

So, it’s Psalm 119 week here at URC Psalmody.  To review, we’ve been looking at ALL of the Psalm 119 song selections in the blue 1959/1976 Psalter Hymnal used in most URCNA churches.

Part 1 covered selections 235-237.

Part 2 covered selections 238-240.

Part 3 covered selections 241-246.

In part 4, we’ll be looking at selections 247-249, which take us through Psalm 119:89-112.

247, “Forever Settled in the Heavens”

Psalm 119:89-96 moves from the broad to the personal, from a meditation on the importance of God’s revelation and providence in Creation to the importance of God’s revelation and providence to the life of one individual.  It ends with the world-wise and world-weary phrase, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.”  Read more on this section HERE, courtesy of our friend Glenda Mathes.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I think the reason that this selection does not receive as much attention as it should in our singing is the tune, ARCADIA.  It’s actually not that bad of a tune, but the chromatic surprise halfway through might throw some congregations for a loop.  The content of this portion of Psalm 119 is so excellent that I would rather get this song sung more often than let it gather dust in the hymnal because of an unfamiliar tune, so I will recommend using the alternate tune, DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”).

With that tune, this song becomes quite serviceable, addressing doctrines such as creation, general and special revelation, providence, salvation, covenant and perseverance.  It simultaneously glories in God’s creation and shows the vanity of this earth without the lens of God’s Word.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord”

The next two sections, “Mem” and “Nun,” begin with some of the best-known verses in Psalm 119.  Psalm 119:97-104 opens up with “Oh how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day,” and proceeds to meditate on the benefits of loving God’s commandments.  For more on this section, check out Ascibelog, HERE.

For dealing with such an important and familiar section of Psalm 119, selection #248 plays fast and loose with the text.  The first stanza is barely recognizable as verses 97-100 unless you look closely, for it changes grammatical moods and senses all over the place.  It almost entirely skips the beautiful taste imagery from verse 103, changing “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” to the much less vivid “Sweeter are Thy words to me than all other good can be.”  Am I nit-picking?  Perhaps.  But I have sung multiple versions of this text that maintain the metaphors and moods of the original much better than #248.

So on the one hand, #248 leaves us wishing for a more faithful versification of Psalm 119:97-104, perhaps the old “O How Love I Thy Law” (an old tune by Dwight Armstrong, listen to it HERE), which although it plays with the ordering a bit, covers the psalm text much more completely and faithfully.

On the other hand, #248 is still a good song in its own right.  It still expresses the main gist – a deep and abiding love for God’s Word, which is definitely something for us to sing about.  And it does it with an intriguing tune, GRANDVILLE.  We can long for better, but for now #248 is a solid placeholder.

249, “Thy Word Sheds Light upon My Path”

Here’s the portion of Psalm 119 that almost every Christian knows – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105-112 is a song of dedication in the midst of danger, a renewal of vows before and during the battle.  For more on this section, read HERE.

If #248 did a poor job versifying the previous section, #249 makes up for it by versifying Psalm 119:105-112 with both simple and beautiful poetry and solid and faithful paraphrasing.  Both the words and the tune (LOUVAN) are accessible and excellent.

This song does a heartfelt job of expressing the Christian’s courageous dedication in the midst of distress and danger.  It creates a poignant picture that should be treasured by God’s Church and sung often.

O grant us light, that we may know
the wisdom Thou alone canst give;
that truth may guide where’er we go,
and virtue bless where’er we live.

O grant us light, that we may see

where error lurks in human lore,
and turn our seeking minds to Thee,
and love Thy holy Word the more.

-Lawrence Tuttiett, “O Grant Us Light”

-JDO


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