Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category



Psalm 25: The College of Grace

IMG_2431

To you, O LORD, I lift my soul.
O my God, in you I trust.

–Psalm 25:1,2 (ESV)

The new school year brings with it a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Students of all ages worry whether they will make new friends in a new school, whether their coursework will be manageable, or whether their teachers or professors will be gentle or tyrannical. College freshmen wonder how they will survive living away from the comforts of home and school. Eagerness and dread blend together in a classic combination so unique to this time of year.

Poised to enter my senior year of college, I sympathize with all students who have an intimidating course of study to return to next month, but I think particularly of the incoming college freshmen. Three short years ago I was in their shoes, losing sleep over hundreds of questions (both important and totally unimportant) about what my life would look like. If I could travel back those three years, I often wonder what words of wisdom I might have for my freshman self. I think it would be a relatively short list: avoid the fish tacos, take more communication classes, and don’t expect hot water on the third floor of the dorm at 6 a.m. But above all these practical tips, there would certainly be one piece of advice in bold print: Study Psalm 25.

In Hebrew Psalm 25 is an acrostic. In other words, each verse begins with the successive letters of the alphabet. As it turns out, Psalm 25 presents not just a literal alphabet but also a spiritual alphabet, a set of principles for wise living in a foolish world. The more of college I experience, the more I recognize the stores of wisdom this psalm offers to all of us who are students in the lifelong course of the Christian walk.

“Let me not be put to shame.” I can definitely recall times in my college experience when I felt ashamed: maybe it was the disappointing grade I got on a paper, or the conflict I handled poorly, or the times when I failed to meet my own expectations. “Let not my enemies exult over me.” There are enemies in college too—perhaps not actual bullies, most of the time, but the triple evils that attack Christians in their walk: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Whether or not you attend a Christian school, you will feel these pressures at some point, and there will be times when you feel that they have triumphed over you.

The world tries to paper over the shame and disappointment we experience with pep talks about success and self-definition. Be your own person! Rise above your circumstances! Take control of your destiny! Surprisingly, this is the very opposite of the psalmist’s solution. His answer sounds passive, even paralyzing: “None who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Far from blazing his own trail, the psalmist seeks directions to a pre-existing path: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” He describes waiting on God “all the day long,” a discipline that seems thankless and fruitless. Yet it is here, according to this psalm, that the believer will find true success.

In The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon pictures Psalm 25 as the request of a little child: “Father, first tell me which is the way, and then teach my little trembling feet to walk in it.” If there is one thing college has taught me, it is that I often do not know the way. As a freshman, I loved to picture myself excelling in all my classes, surrounded by groups of great friends, and pressing forward to exciting prospects after graduation. God has provided many of these blessings, and they are blessings indeed. But it is impossible to really enjoy such gifts without a kind of wisdom that no college can impart, a wisdom gained from the humbling experience of waiting upon God through times of doubt and hardship as well as ease and assurance.

While the path may often seem steep or overgrown, Psalm 25 promises that those who wait upon the Lord will receive this heavenly wisdom. “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” If you can take one verse with you through your college education—and through the rest of life’s difficult decisions as well—let this be it. Do you need to confess nagging sin? Do you doubt your strength to follow Jesus all the way to the end? Do you feel lonely and homesick? Psalm 25 offers you a spiritual alphabet to remind you of the wisdom that comes from above. It is a syllabus that will guide you successfully through all the halls and corridors of what Spurgeon called “the college of grace.”

–MRK

The Safest Place in the World

tsb2010_cropped

Times Square Ball

Sixty miles from my house is a flagpole with a giant illuminated ball suspended at its top. It looks kind of gaudy, and no one is really sure why it’s there. But we do know that at 11:59 pm it will slowly descend 70 feet until it reaches the ground at the stroke of midnight, ringing in the start of 2016.

Oh, and right now a crowd of about a million people is packed on the streets waiting for this climactic event. That’s a small number compared to the estimated billion people who will watch the event from their TV’s, laptops, and smartphones.

This is one New Year’s tradition, and it’s the one we New Yorkers typically think of first. But there’s a much older January 1 custom: the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” This beloved Scottish ballad is a call to remembrance, asking, “Should auld [old] acquaintance be forgot,/and never brought to mind?”

Ironically, few people remember “Auld Lang Syne” itself nowadays. In fact, earlier tonight NPR published a blurb lamenting the song’s decline in recent years. Ruth Perry, a professor from MIT, is quoted as saying:

People have to learn to sing together again. I think it’s important. I really do. Because it’s bonding. Because it’s community-making. Because we don’t have enough such glue in our culture. It would be good to revive that which there is. It’s very good for people to feel that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

I can’t help but mourn the fact that our New Year’s celebrations, as raucous as they may be, seem to be missing this “cultural glue.” We still “celebrate,” but don’t always remember for what—just like we’re “thankful,” but not sure to whom. And celebration is hard in an age of terror; the same news report I referenced earlier also mentioned that security forces in Times Square are in the thousands. Only in the presence of a massive corps of heavily armed policemen can NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio assert that the city tonight is “the safest place in the world.”

DeBlasio may be good at denial, but judging by the international news headlines in the past few days, we’re scared. We’ve been scared for a long time. And scared people don’t sing.

Or do they?

What put the plaintive tones of “Auld Lang Syne” back in my ear was a blog post I read earlier today over at GentleReformation.org. There Reformed Presbyterian minister Nathan Eshelman called my attention to another set of words sung to the same tune: the words of Psalm 77.

Forever will the Lord cast off, show favor never more?
His steadfast love forever cease? His promise come no more?
Has God forgotten all His grace? Has his compassion gone?
Or can it be His mercies all, He has in wrath withdrawn?

If you ask me, I’d say the singer of these words sounds scared, to say the least. He sees terror all around him, and worst of all, he feels God’s absence. Perhaps, he fears, God has forgotten.

That’s a thought that should make us flee Manhattan, turn off the TV, cancel the ball drop—because if God has forgotten, why should we welcome another year? Another year of disease, shootings, famines, earthquakes, fires, terror? Is the “something bigger than ourselves” just one absurd catastrophe? It would be far more fitting to watch the midnight countdown in slack-jawed horror.

But that’s not where the psalmist leaves us. The setting goes on (sing along, if you know the tune):

Then I replied, Such questions show my own infirmity.
The firm right hand of Him Most High through years must changeless be.
The LORD’s deeds I remember will, your works of old recall.
I’ll ponder all which you have done and weigh your wonders all.

God has not forgotten, says the psalmist. And neither should we. God’s right hand—and he who sits at his right hand, Jesus Christ—continue to rule the world unhindered. His promises to his people will be fulfilled. This is guaranteed for the future because it is demonstrated throughout the past. And the hinge point of this divine plan for history is revealed in redemption:

O God most holy is your way; what god is like our God?
O God of miracles, your strength, you have made known abroad.
You have redeemed your people all, the power of your arm shown.
Your people sons of Jacob are, and Joseph is your own.

–from The Book of Psalms for Singing, Psalm 77

For the Christian, then, New Year’s Eve should be an opportunity neither to celebrate in absurdity nor to quail in fear at the terror that surrounds us. For us it should be a milestone, a rest stop at which to check whether our trust and comfort are secure in the Rock that followed them through the wilderness, and that Rock was Christ.

Have you taken refuge in that Savior’s shelter? If so, you are in the safest place in the world. And you can sing.

Happy New Year.

–MRK

By Times_Square_Ball_2010.jpg: Susan Serra, CKD from Long Island, USA derivative work: Sealle [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

December’s Psalm of the Month: 150D

The twelfth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Sc_003

Let everything that now has breath
Sing praise unto the Lord, sing praise.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

What better way to round out a year of psalm-singing than with the exultant words of the last entry in the Book of Psalms? In addition to some older settings of Psalm 150 from existing psalters, the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal ends with this new versification by URCNA minister Rev. Daniel Hyde.

Psalms 146-150 all begin and end with the command to “Praise the Lord!” (in Hebrew, “Hallelujah!”). But in Psalm 150 the pace accelerates to a climax, with the expressions “Praise the Lord!” or “Praise him!” repeated thirteen times in only six verses. To bring out this facet of the psalm, Rev. Hyde chose the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN (commonly associated with the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King”), which includes a refrain of Hallelujahs at the end of each stanza.

Rev. Hyde writes, “The tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN brings out the text’s mood of joy and praise, including the Hallelujah refrain. I’ve also chosen not to artificially rhyme the text so as to aid families and congregations in using this text as a ‘memory verse’ for the entire psalm.”

As you sing Psalm 150D, reflect on God’s “mighty deeds” throughout history, including what he has done in your own life this past year. Think about how you can praise God in all kinds of circumstances, like the variety of instruments mentioned in this psalm. Use your utmost breath for his praise!

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: New setting by Rev. Daniel Hyde, 2001

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 115, 289, 733

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 150

  • Where to praise the Lord (v. 1)
  • Why to praise the Lord (v. 2)
  • How to praise the Lord (vv. 3-5)
  • Who should praise the Lord (v. 6)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 150

The connection between Christ and Psalm 150 is self-explanatory. Indeed, the salvation we enjoy through Jesus Christ is the most glorious of the “mighty deeds” (v. 2) God has wrought. Moreover, as Charles Spurgeon notes, Psalm 150 should be interpreted in light of “the coming of our Lord in his second advent and the raising of the dead.” In fact, words reminiscent of Psalm 150 are used in Revelation 19:5: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” This is not a song for Old Testament believers only; it is a song for God’s redeemed people of all time, as they look forward to the new Jerusalem itself!

Applying Psalm 150

  • What “mighty deeds” of God might have inspired the psalmist to pen this psalm (v. 2)? What “mighty deeds” of God inspire you to sing today?
  • Why does the psalm mention so many different musical instruments (vv. 3-5)? How might these commands apply to you even if you can’t play a musical instrument?
  • What does the command for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord mean (v. 6)?

Join all ye living things in the eternal song. Be ye least or greatest, withhold not your praises. What a day will it be when all things in all places unite to glorify the one only living and true God! This will be the final triumph of the church of God.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 150:6

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

November’s Psalm of the Month: 33

The eleventh installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

IMG_2498

The Lord by His word has created the heavens;
By breath of His mouth made the stars come to be.
The depths of the ocean He heaps up together,
And puts in a storehouse the waves of the sea.

Amidst a season of thanksgiving, this rousing new setting of Psalm 33, which the Psalter Hymnal Committees hybridized from the Scottish psalter Sing Psalms and The Book of Psalms for Worship, will reinvigorate you to give thanks for the abundant manifestations of the Lord’s steadfast love.

Even though the tune ASH GROVE does not appear in the blue Psalter Hymnal, it is well-known in connection with the Thanksgiving-time hymn “Let All Things Now Living” (#453 in the gray Psalter Hymnal). Frequent running lines throughout the vocal parts (especially the bass) impart this tune with an extraordinary sense of energy. Sing Psalm 33 at a rousing tempo fitting for its lively expressions of praise.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 11/1: stanzas 1,2
  • 11/8: stanzas 2,3
  • 11/15: stanzas 4,5
  • 11/22: all
  • 11/29: all

Source: stz. 1 adapted from Psalm 33 in Sing Psalms; stz. 2-5 from Psalm 33C in The Book of Psalms for Worship

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 125

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 33

  • Why praise is fitting for the upright (vv. 1-3), namely:
  • The Lord’s character (vv. 4-5)
  • The Lord’s creation (vv. 6-9)
  • The Lord’s providence (vv. 10-12)
  • The Lord’s omniscience (vv. 13-15)
  • The Lord’s omnipotence (vv. 16-19)
  • The Lord’s steadfast love (vv. 20-22)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 33

As the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ shares all the attributes of God that are praised in this psalm. He is upright, faithful, and just; the Creator of the universe (“All things were made through him,” John 1:3); the King of the nations; and the Savior of his people. He is the ultimate manifestation of the “steadfast love” of the Lord (v. 5), and it is he who delivers our souls from death (v. 19). Even as we currently enjoy the blessings of the salvation Jesus has provided, we also look forward to the day when the desire of v. 8 is fulfilled, when “at the name of Jesus every knee [bows], in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). It is superlatively fitting (v. 1) to praise God for the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Applying Psalm 33

  • Who are the righteous (v. 1)? How are they righteous (cf. Heidelberg Catechism LD 23, Q&A 60)?
  • In today’s context, who are the members of the “blessed nation” (v. 12)?
  • Have you ever looked to a “false hope” for salvation, as the psalmist mentions (v. 17)?
  • How does trusting in the Lord make your heart glad (v. 21)?

When the Psalmist says that all our blessedness rests in the fact that the Lord is our God, he points us to the fountain of divine love as the only source that could be desired to make life happy. For God to stoop down to accomplish our salvation, protect us under his wings, provide for our necessities, and help us in all our dangers, hinges entirely on his adoption of us. But lest we should think that these blessings arise from our own efforts and work, David directly teaches us this: only from the fountain of God’s gracious electing love are we counted as the people of God.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 33:12

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

October’s Psalm of the Month: 67B

The tenth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

IMG_1915e

O God, show mercy to us,
And bless us with Your grace;
And cause to shine upon us
The brightness of Your face.

Classical music aficionados may quickly recognize the tune of Psalm 67B (THAXTED) as a famous melody from “Jupiter” in Gustav Holst’s 1919 symphonic suite The Planets. But you don’t have to be a lover of classical music to enjoy singing Psalm 67B. Indeed, since its first appearance in the Book of Psalms for Worship in 2009, this reverent setting has become a favorite in its own denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and beyond.

The choice of tune for Psalm 67B is notable not just historically but also theologically. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was worshiped as the king of the gods and the bringer of jollity. However, as a false god made in man’s image, Jupiter also acted selfishly and capriciously, causing consternation and chaos on the earth. In contrast to pathetic idols, Yahweh, the one true God, is just and true in all his ways (Revelation 15:3). The Lord alone can bring justice and peace through his righteous rule. As you sing Psalm 67, rejoice in God’s unchanging character along with the psalmist: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67:4).

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 67C in The Book of Psalms for Worship (text similar to blue Psalter Hymnal #121)

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 660

Listen to a recording:

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 67

  • Proclaiming God’s gracious salvation (vv. 1,2)
  • Proclaiming God’s guiding justice (v. 4)
  • Proclaiming God’s great provision (vv. 6,7)
  • A missionary refrain (vv. 3, 5, 7)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 67

Psalm 67 brings to mind God’s covenantal promise to Abraham, “[I]n you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Clearly Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Genesis prophecy and this psalm. The Son of God, who was also “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1), has brought salvation to his people and a source of hope to the whole world. This is reason enough for the nations to rejoice—but Psalm 67 still looks forward, too, to the day when every knee in heaven and on earth bows at the name of Jesus and every tongue confesses that he is Lord (Philippians 2:10,11). In Andrew Bonar’s summary, Psalm 67 is “the Prayer of Israel for the blessing which Messiah is to bestow on them, for the sake of earth at large.”

Applying Psalm 67

  • How does God’s way become known on earth (v. 2)?
  • Does God “guide the nations upon earth” today (v. 4)? If so, why do they not rejoice under his rule (cf. Ps. 2)?
  • How can the people of God be sure that he will bless them (v. 6)?

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)


URC Psalmody on YouTube

Geneva College Benefit Concert

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

Join 234 other followers

Categories