Archive for June, 2014

Growing Up into Christ: Synod 2014

IMG_0173e

On the evening of Sunday, June 1, I was landing in San Francisco on the way home from a three-week choir tour in southeast Asia.  Less than a day later and only a few hundred miles away, pastors and elders from each congregation in the United Reformed Churches in North America would be gathering at Trinity URC in Visalia, CA, for the federation’s ninth synod meeting.

If it weren’t for the jetlag and the pressing need to spend some quality time with my family after a year away at college, I would have loved to hitch a ride down to Visalia and be a fly on the wall at the meeting.  Although Synod 2014 adjourned a day ahead of schedule, it included many significant—even historic—decisions by our federation of churches.  Under the adage “Better late than never,” I’ll attempt to summarize here some of the synod’s most important decisions.

Our first Director of Missions

The URCNA entered a new stage in its growth with the hiring of Rev. Richard Bout as the federation’s Director of Missions on June 5.  Not only is this a huge step in solidifying our mission efforts, but Rev. Bout will be the first full-time employee of our federation.  A former missionary to Mexico, Rev. Bout will probably carry out his new job from his home in southern Ontario.

Looking ahead to retirement

Synod 2014 moved forward in ensuring that retiring ministers are adequately provided for by the churches that hold their credentials.  Action was taken to remind the congregations of the URCNA of their duty to provide for the needs of retired pastors who have spent a lifetime in Christ’s service.  This, too, shows that the URCNA’s long-term outlook is broadening.

Careful steps toward unity

Talks about the United Reformed Churches in North America merging with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC) have been going on since 2001, and although prospects still remain promising, Synod 2014 tabled (postponed indefinitely) a motion for the merger process to begin in 2016.  Most URCNA members seem to favor taking at least a little more time to work out remaining kinks in doctrine and practice between the two groups of churches.

On another front, the URCNA’s fellowship with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is growing ever closer.  The OPC is one of only five denominations with which the URCNA maintains “Phase Two” ecumenical relations, signifying that we consider them a true and faithful branch of Christ’s church and desire to pursue further unity with them.  In fact, Synod 2014 extended an invitation to the OPC to hold our next synod in 2016 concurrently with their General Assembly.  This serves many purposes, but one of the main reasons for a joint ecclesiastical assembly brings us to the topic most closely connected to this blog . . .

The new Psalter Hymnal

At Synod 2014 the URCNA unanimously (and the OPC later overwhelmingly) approved the psalm section of the proposed Psalter Hymnal on which our two denominations are collaborating.  The vote to move forward shows a recognition of the quantity and the quality of the work that has already been done on the new Psalter Hymnal, and perhaps too a realization that the time has come to finish this project.  The committees report that they expect to have a new and revised Hymn Proposal ready for the churches’ review in the spring of 2015, and that the finished collection will be presented to the joint Synod and General Assembly in 2016.  Lord willing, the new Psalter Hymnal of the URCNA and OPC could be in our hands by as early as 2017!

Another remarkable feature of Synod 2014: The devotions at the beginning of each session included singing from the Psalm Proposal by all the delegates.  Here is a video taken by Rev. Zac Wyse of Westside Reformed Church in Cincinnati of the delegates singing Psalm 1 as it appears in the proposal:

[youtube http://youtu.be/EpzJRj7HWHk]

More resources for news and information on Synod 2014:

  • Press releases summarizing each day’s decisions and deliberations (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) are available at URCNA.org.
  • Christian Renewal’s June 25 issue contains a wealth of reports and commentary on this synod meeting.  Their Facebook page also includes some pictures of the gathering.
  • The collection of songs approved to form the URCNA/OPC Psalm Proposal is available at PsalterHymnal.org.

May God continue to bless the United Reformed Churches in North America as we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV).

–MRK

Lord’s Day 52: This Is Sure to Be

Catechism and Psalter

Well, we’ve finally reached it: the last installment in URC Psalmody’s Heidelberg Catechism series.  After its opening question, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” we’ve progressed with the Catechism through the Bible’s clear teaching regarding man’s sin and God’s work of salvation, concluding with a large section on the redeemed Christian’s grateful life of service.  Lord’s Day 52 completes the Catechism’s treatment of prayer by considering the sixth request and conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, finishing with an explanation of that final word: “Amen.”

127 Q.  What does the sixth request mean?

A.  And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil means,

By ourselves we are too weak
to hold our own even for a moment.

And our sworn enemies—
the devil, the world, and our own flesh—
never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord,
uphold us and make us strong
with the strength of your Holy Spirit,
so that we may not go down to defeat
in this spiritual struggle,
but may firmly resist our enemies
until we finally win the complete victory.

128 Q.  What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?

A.  For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, forever means,

We have made all these requests of you
because, as our all-powerful king,
you not only want to,
but are able to give us all that is good;
and because your holy name,
and not we ourselves,
should receive all the praise, forever.

129 Q.  What does that little word “Amen” express?

A.  Amen means,

This is sure to be!

It is even more sure
that God listens to my prayer,
than that I really desire
what I pray for.

Suggested Songs

69, “With Firm Resolve I Held My Peace” (Psalm 39)

“By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.”  As Jesus said to his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).  Realizing the frailty of his fleeting life, David cries out in Psalm 39, “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!  Surely a man goes about as a shadow!” (vv. 5, 6 ESV).  Apart from God’s provision, not one of us has the strength to sustain his own life for a single minute.  With this understanding, it becomes clear that David’s response to his own feebleness is the only viable answer: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you” (v. 7).  The blue Psalter Hymnal includes a beautifully poetic setting of this psalm:

Make me, O Lord, to know my end,
Teach me the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am
And turn from pride and sinful ways.

My time is nothing in Thy sight,
Behold, my days are but a span;
Yea, truly, at his best estate,
A breath, a fleeting breath, is man.

Man’s life is passed in vain desire
If troubled years be spent for gain;
He knows not whose his wealth shall be,
And all his toil is but in vain.

And now, O Lord, what wait I for?
I have no hope except in Thee;
Let not ungodly men reproach,
From all transgression set me free.

105, “O God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 57)

“And our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us.”  Not only do we face spiritual threats from Satan and the hostile plans of a world that take counsel together “against the LORD and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2 ESV), but our own sinful flesh wars against our redeemed natures (cf. Romans 7).  In such straits we can only cry out for God’s help, as David does in Psalm 57:

O God, be merciful to me,
My soul for refuge comes to Thee;
Beneath Thy wings I safe will stay
Until these troubles pass away.
To God Most High shall rise my prayer,
To God who makes my wants His care;
From heaven He will salvation send,
And me from every foe defend.

Great foes and fierce my soul alarm,
Inflamed with rage and strong to harm,
But God, from heaven His dwelling-place,
Will rescue me with truth and grace.
Be Thou, O God, exalted high,
Yea, far above the starry sky,
And let Thy glory be displayed
O’er all the earth Thy hands have made.

26, “Since with My God with Perfect Heart” (Psalm 18)

“And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.”  Talk about comfort!  No matter how fiercely the battle may rage around us, our ultimate victory is sure, because Christ our Savior has already won it.  Psalm 18 gives exuberant voice to this confidence.  “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness,” says David in v. 20.  Although we are no more righteous than David was, we have been granted the righteousness of Chrirst, and the final triumph along with it.  “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (v. 30).

From God the victory I receive;
Most perfect is His holy way;
His Word is tried, they who believe
Will find the Lord their shield and stay.

For who is God, and strong to save,
Beside the Lord, our God of might?
‘Tis He that makes me strong and brave,
The Lord who guides my steps aright.

Thy free salvation is my shield,
My sure defense in every strait;
Thy hand upholds me, lest I yield;
Thy gentleness has made me great.

121, “O God, to Us Show Mercy” (Psalm 67)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and on YouTube)

“We have made all these requests of you because, as our all-powerful king, you not only want to, but are able to give us all that is good…”  In confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers, we eagerly await the day when his saving power will be known among all nations (Psalm 67:2).

O God, let people praise Thee,
Let all the nations sing,
For earth in rich abundance
To us her fruit shall bring.
The Lord our God shall bless us,
Our God shall blessing send,
And all the earth shall fear Him
To its remotest end.

310, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150)

“…and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.”  Not only does this beautiful statement capture the essence of the Lord’s Prayer, it also serves as the capstone of the entire Heidelberg Catechism.  “In reckless disobedience” (Lord’s Day 4, Q&A 9) we rebelled against the good commands of God.  Yet in his great mercy, God provided “our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God” (Lord’s Day 6, Q&A 18), enabling each of his elect to say, “By faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing” (Lord’s Day 12, Q&A 32).  While we “confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in [our] place before God” (Lord’s Day 19, Q&A 52), we are comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, who produces in us “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Lord’s Day 33, Q&A 90).  Indeed, “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3)—and therefore his holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise forever.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Magnify Jehovah’s Name;
Praise the living God, your Maker,
All that breathe, His praise proclaim.

488, “Now Blessed Be Jehovah God” (Psalm 72)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“This is sure to be!”  With that one little word, “Amen,” we express our unshakable confidence in God’s promises to us.  Even when our faith falters and our comfort wanes, it is sure—as sure as we really desire what we pray for—that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  Because we belong to him Christ, by his Spirit, assures us of eternal life and makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.  To that one triune God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen!

Now blessed be Jehovah God,
The God of Israel,
Who only doeth wondrous works
In glory that excel;
Who only doeth wondrous works
In glory that excel.

And blessed be His glorious Name
To all eternity;
The whole earth let His glory fill;
Amen! so let it be;
The whole earth let His glory fill;
Amen! so let it be.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 51: Because of Christ’s Blood

Catechism and Psalter

“And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors,” reads the second-to-last request of the Lord’s Prayer.  This request forces us to ask: Have we forgiven our debtors?  For that matter, do we truly understand what it means to be forgiven?  And if we are forgiven, why must we still pray for forgiveness?  Lord’s Day 51 of the Heidelberg Catechism, today’s topic on URC Psalmody, offers the outline of an answer.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A.  And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors means,

Because of Christ’s blood,
do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are,
any of the sins we do
or the evil that constantly clings to us.

Forgive us just as we are fully determined,
as evidence of your grace in us,
to forgive our neighbors.

Suggested Songs

46, “Lord, to Me Thy Ways Make Known” (Psalm 25)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.”  This request reminds us of the words of Lord’s Day 44, that “in this life even the holiest have only a small beginning” of the obedience God’s Word requires.  Although we are weak and helpless, prone to stumble at the slightest obstacle, Question and Answer 126 gives us confidence that because of Christ’s blood, our heavenly Father will not hold our sins against us.  This is the humility and reliance spoken of in Psalm 25, where David acknowledges, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” (v. 8 ESV).  In the blue Psalter Hymnal’s words:

Lord, remember in Thy love
All Thy mercies manifold,
Tender mercies from above,
Changeless from the days of old.

Sins of youth remember not,
Nor my trespasses record;
Let not mercy be forgot,
For Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Just and good the Lord abides,
He His way will sinners show,
He the meek in justice guides,
Making them His way to know.

163, “Lord, Thou Hast Greatly Blessed Our Land” (Psalm 85)

While the Christian’s need for forgiveness is deeply personal, we must not think of God’s redemption as merely an individual matter.  After all, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  As forgiven sinners we compose a Church—a redeemed people, “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith” (Lord’s Day 21, Q&A 54), the very body of Christ.  Thus, as we seek continuing forgiveness for “the evil that constantly clings to us,” we are to do so in the corporate context of the Church as well as individually.  Psalm 85 brings out this distinction in a powerful prayer for God’s forgiveness on his entire people:

Lord, Thou hast greatly blessed our land,
Thou hast brought back our captive band,
Thy pardoning grace has made us free
And covered our iniquity.

O Thou, who in a former day
Didst turn Thy dreadful wrath away,
In grace Thy people, Lord, return,
And let Thy wrath no longer burn.

O will Thine anger never cease,
Forever shall Thy wrath increase?
Revive and quicken us once more,
And Thy salvation’s joy restore.

229, “I Love the Lord, for My Request” (Psalm 116)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.”  In gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance, the author of Psalm 116 declares, “I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (v. 9).  If we sincerely desire to walk in God’s ways, we must begin by forgiving our own neighbors.  At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ himself issues this warning: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14,15).  Should anything less be expected of those who have been forgiven so much?

Most kind and righteous is the Lord,
Our God is merciful indeed,
Delighting ever to afford
His help to me in time of need.

Return unto thy rest, my soul,
The Lord has richly dealt with thee,
Delivered thee from death’s control,
From sin and sorrow set thee free.

Since He has freed mine eyes from tears
And kept my feet from evil ways,
Redeemed from life’s distressing fears,
With Him I walk, and Him I praise.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 50: The Only Source of Everything Good

Catechism and Psalter

Today’s installment in this URC Psalmody series brings us to Lord’s Day 50 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which considers the fourth request of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

125 Q.  What does the fourth request mean?

A.  Give us this day our daily bread means,

Do take care of all our physical needs
so that we come to know
that you are the only source of everything good,
and that neither our work and worry
nor your gifts
can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures
and to put trust in you alone.

Suggested Songs

259, “Unto the Hills I Lift Mine Eyes” (Psalm 121)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good.”  Contrary to our human instincts, the motivation for praying “Give us this day our daily bread” has nothing to do with worry.  Only a few verses after setting forth the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus directly tells his disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25 ESV).  The point is not whether we will have “our daily bread”—we will—but that our eyes are turned in the right direction; that we understand that our heavenly Father is indeed “the only source of everything good.”

One of the most poignant passages of Scripture regarding God’s provision and protection is Psalm 121.  Below are selected stanzas from the Genevan setting in the blue Psalter Hymnal.

Unto the hills I lift mine eyes
Whence cometh all my aid
When troubled or afraid.
Jehovah to my help shall rise,
He made the earth and heaven,
His aid is freely given.

Thy Keeper slumbereth not, nor shall
He cause thy foot to fail,
When danger doth assail.
Lo, He that keepeth Israel
Doth neither sleep nor slumber,
Naught shall thy soul encumber.

Jehovah will preserve thee when
The waves of trouble roll;
He will preserve thy soul.
When going out or coming in,
The Lord will thee deliver
From henceforth and forever.

6, “O Hear Me, Thou Most Righteous God” (Psalm 4)

“[N]either our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.”  Psalm 4 describes the lingering anxiety of those whose material needs are met, but who have themselves not met with God’s favor.  “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!’”  In contrast, the psalmist prays in complete composure, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”  Because his heart is right before the Lord he is able to “both lie down and sleep” (vv. 6-8), resting in the One who alone makes him dwell in safety.

O who will show us any good?
The anxious many say.
Then lift on us, O gracious God,
Thy loving face alway.

My joy in Thy good favor, Lord,
Exceeds their harvest glee;
I rest in confidence, for Thou
Art my security.

219, “My Heart Is Fixed, O God” (Psalm 108)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.”  When we sincerely pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge that God alone can supply our deepest physical and spiritual needs.  As we fight our daily battles against sin, the world, and the devil, trusting in anything apart from God will cause us to stumble.  “Oh grant us help against the foe,” cries David in Psalm 108, “for vain is the salvation of man!  With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (vv. 12, 13).

Above the heavens, O God,
And over all the earth,
Let men exalt Thy glorious Name
And tell Thy matchless worth.

O who will lead our hosts
To triumph o’er the foe,
If Thou shalt cast us off, O God,
Nor with our armies go?

The help of man is vain,
Be Thou our Helper, Lord;
Through Thee we shall do valiantly
If Thou Thine aid afford.

301, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psalm 146)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and at Synod 2012)

We close our study of Lord’s Day 50 with a rousing setting of Psalm 146, which is itself an entire commentary on this request, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,
Nor for help on man depend;
He shall die, to dust returning,
And his purposes shall end.

Happy is the man that chooses
Israel’s God to be his aid;
He is blest whose hope of blessing
On the Lord his God is stayed.
Heaven and earth the Lord created,
Seas and all that they contain;
He delivers from oppression,
Righteousness He will maintain.

Food He daily gives the hungry,
Sets the mourning prisoner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish,
Makes the sightless eyes to see.
Well Jehovah loves the righteous,
And the stranger He befriends,
Helps the fatherless and widow,
Judgment on the wicked sends.

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.
Over all God reigns forever,
Through all ages He is King;
Unto Him, thy God, O Zion,
Joyful hallelujahs sing.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 49: Your Will Alone Is Good

Catechism and Psalter

“God’s will” is one of those trite phrases often flippantly thrown around in 21st-century Christian jargon.  However, as the Heidelberg Catechism shows in Lord’s Day 49, seeking God’s will is a deep and crucial aspect of the believer’s walk.  Today we turn to this brief question and answer in our continuing URC Psalmody series.

124 Q.  What does the third request mean?

A.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven means,

Help us and all men
to reject our own wills
and to obey your will without any back talk.
Your will alone is good.

Help everyone carry out the work he is called to
as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.

Suggested Songs

253, “O Lord, Thy Perfect Righteousness” (Psalm 119)

“Help us and all men to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk.”  Ever since the Fall, man’s will has led him astray.  If we confess the truth of Lord’s Day 3 that we are naturally “inclined toward all evil” (Question 8), the necessity of this portion of the Lord’s Prayer should be obvious.  For the Christian, rejecting our own will is interwoven with “the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new” which Lord’s Day 33 describes.  In the words of the familiar hymn, “Have Thine own way, Lord!  Have Thine own way!  Thou art the potter, I am the clay.”  Or, in the words of Psalm 119:137-144 in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O Lord, Thy perfect righteousness
Is in Thy judgments shown;
In Thy unchanging faithfulness
Thy truth Thou hast made known.

Because Thy foes forget Thy law,
My soul is greatly stirred;
Thy servant loves the purity
Of Thy most holy Word.

Though I am humble and despised,
I strive Thy will to do;
Eternal is Thy righteousness,
And all Thy law is true.

247, “Forever Settled in the Heavens” (Psalm 119)

“Your will alone is good.”  This is a simple statement, and yet we cannot plumb its depth.  We serve a God whose ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8,9); “how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).  The psalmist expresses it well in another beautiful, yet often overlooked, portion of Psalm 119:

Forever settled in the heavens,
Thy Word, O Lord, shall firmly stand;
Thy faithfulness shall never fail;
The earth abides at Thy command.

Thy Word and works unmoved remain,
Thine every purpose to fulfil;
All things are Thine and Thee obey,
And all as servants wait Thy will.

I should have perished in my woe
Had not I loved Thy law divine;
That law I never can forget;
O save me, Lord, for I am Thine.

The wicked would destroy my soul,
But on Thy truth I muse with awe;
Imperfect have I found all else,
But boundless is Thy wondrous law.

305, “Praise the Lord in Heavenly Places” (Psalm 148)

“Help everyone carry out the work he is called to as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.”  This last part of question and answer 124 relates the request “Thy will be done” to contentment and joyful service.  Is it possible to do God’s will even in the simple, mundane activities of life?  The Catechism would seem to utter a resounding “Yes!” Possessing “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Lord’s Day 33, Q&A 90), the Christian can glorify his Redeemer in all aspects of his earthly labor.  Psalm 148 draws this same connection between the service of the angels and the service of redeemed sinners—in this case, in worship:

Praise the Lord in heavenly places,
Ye His hosts and angels bright;
Sun and moon, declare His glory,
Praise Him, all ye stars of light.

Kings and princes, bow before Him,
Earthly judges, give Him praise,
All ye people, tell His glory,
Old and young, your voices raise.

Praise His Name with praise unending,
For His Name alone is great;
Over heaven and earth exalted,
Reigns the Lord in kingly state.

He has greatly blessed His people,
Therefore, all ye saints, give praise;
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Thankful hallelujahs raise.

–MRK


Welcome to URC Psalmody

We hope you'll join us as we discuss music, worship, the psalms, the church, and much more here on URC Psalmody. You can learn about the purpose of this blog here. We look forward to to seeing you in the discussions!

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 209 other followers

Categories