Posts Tagged 'God'

Psalm 25: The College of Grace

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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

December’s Psalm of the Month: 150D

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

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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.)

October’s Psalm of the Month: 67B

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

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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.)

Called to Sing (Part 1)

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(The following is adapted from a Sunday school class I led at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Franklin Square, NY, on May 24, 2015.)

The thoughts I’d like to share with you today don’t arise from academic degrees or decades of experience in church music. They merely arise from watching, listening to, and participating in Reformed worship over the past several years. I’d simply like to encourage you through this class to think more deeply about why the church sings and how it can sing better.

Right from the beginning I want to encourage you not to raise the objection, “We’re just not a musical church.” True, many factors may help one church sing much better than another—a big congregation, good acoustics, a large number of musicians, and so on. My home church doesn’t enjoy many of these blessings; maybe yours doesn’t either. But that’s okay.

As an example, I want to point you to the congregational singing of churches in the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, one of which I attend at college. Every Sunday these Christians gather together and sing psalms a cappella as a congregation, and the heartiness and quality of their singing would put most of our churches to shame. Yet they probably have no more musicians in their congregation than we do. The difference is that they have developed a church culture that fosters a love for strong congregational singing: they teach their children psalm-singing from their youngest Sunday school classes, they encourage even non-musical people to learn to sing in four-part harmony, and they let the words of the psalms they sing penetrate their lives outside of worship as well. The results are truly impressive, and I believe denominations like ours can strive for that goal as well—but we need to start now. While I don’t know of many churches that can sing like this, I know of no reason why any church can’t sing like this.

That’s my encouragement for you. Of course, there is a challenge as well: to think about why you sing in the first place. As a little diagnostic, ask yourself what you think about while you’re singing on a typical Sunday morning. I know I’m often disgustingly distracted: the pastor’s tie is crooked, the pianist is playing too slow or too fast, or some other thought is floating through my head preventing me from honestly engaging in worship. Occasionally this distraction is caused by circumstances outside our control. But more often, our attitude towards corporate singing reveals a deeper apathy in our hearts.

To correct this perspective we need to return to Paul’s command to the churches in Ephesus and Colossi to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Yet for the Christian, singing is more fundamental than a command. Throughout Scripture, we see singing as a natural reaction of gratitude in response to God’s work of deliverance. One of the earliest examples of this pattern is found in Exodus 15, where Moses composes a song for the people of Israel to sing after the Lord brings them through the Red Sea. We see numerous other songs of deliverance throughout the Old Testament, sung by Miriam, Deborah, Barak, Hannah, David, Hezekiah, and others.

In the New Testament, the pattern continues with the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon. And in Revelation 15 we are told that the multitude standing by the sea of glass “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (v. 4). I’ve often wondered what it means that these saints sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. I’m no theologian, but I’m starting to wonder if the point of this verse is that the two songs are one and the same. The story of salvation sung about by Moses at the beginning of Scripture is the same theme taken up by the glorified believers around the throne of God in Revelation!

As those who have been redeemed by Jesus from sin and death, we too have a part in this eternal song. Singing is a natural reaction to God’s work, and if “we are his workmanship” singing should be fundamental to the Christian’s identity as well. If this is the case, how dare I stand there on a Sunday morning before the living God who has redeemed me from my misery and called me into his presence to receive my worship—and I’m thinking about the pastor’s tie?! Such hardheartedness is ludicrous, and yet I have to be reminded of it daily. Christians, we should need no command to sing. It should already be on the tips of our tongues!

Incidentally, not only is singing fundamental to the Christian’s identity, I want to suggest to you that it also distinguishes the church from the world. What other institution exists whose members (musical and non-musical alike) sing regularly and heartily? Maybe two or three generations ago, this would not have been such an uncommon spectacle. But today, as the church becomes more and more countercultural (or as the culture becomes more and more counter-church), its singing becomes more remarkable as well. We sing in response to the work of God in a way that the world cannot. That realization should be awe-inspiring!

(To be continued.)

–MRK

May’s Psalm of the Month: 113A

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

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O’er all nations God alone,
Higher than the heavens His throne;
Who is like the Lord Most High,
Gazing down on earth and sky?

By and large, this setting of Psalm 113 will be new to URC and OPC members alike; the tune MONKLAND appears only in the Trinity Psalter and the gray Psalter Hymnal, not the blue Psalter Hymnal, the revised Trinity Hymnal, or even the Book of Psalms for Worship. However, this regal tune, combined with the eloquent praise of Psalm 113, could easily become a new favorite.

This tune is beautiful any way you sing it, but its majestic aura is best brought out in four-part harmony. Look for places where the rise and fall of the musical lines complement the poetry—for example, “From the dust He lifts the poor” in stz. 4 aligns perfectly with the glorious rise in the melody line, echoed by the bass part under “And from ashes those forlorn.” Especially bring out the psalm’s interjections to “Praise the Lord!” or its Hebrew equivalent, “Hallelujah!” As you sing, let Psalm 113A express your own experience of God’s greatness and his particular goodness to you.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees; see also Psalm 113 in the Trinity Psalter

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 113

  • Who should praise him? (vv. 1-3)
  • Who is like him? (vv. 4-6)
  • Whom does he bless? (vv. 7-9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 113

The psalmist’s exclamation “Who is like the Lord our God?” (v. 5) is due not only to the knowledge that he is “seated on high,” but particularly to the fact that he stoops to look on the heavens and the earth from that immeasurable height (v. 6). The Lord’s condescension (literally, “coming down”—not haughtily but compassionately) is revealed throughout Scripture, and above all in the advent of Jesus Christ.

In her song of praise, Mary rejoiced in this merciful condescension in words reminiscent of Psalm 113 (Luke 1:46-55). The apostle Paul powerfully summarized it in these familiar words from Philippians 2: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 6-11). What cause for praise!

Applying Psalm 113

  • Who are the Lord’s servants (v. 1, cf. Ps. 116:16)?
  • How are you poor and needy before God (v. 7)?
  • How might v. 9 apply in contexts besides physical barrenness?

The Psalm is a circle, ending where it began, praising the Lord from its first syllable to its last. May our life-psalm partake of the same character, and never know a break or a conclusion. In an endless circle let us bless the Lord, whose mercies never cease. Let us praise him in youth, and all along our years of strength; and when we bow in the ripeness of abundant age, let us still praise the Lord, who doth not cast off his old servants. Let us not only praise God ourselves, but exhort others to do it; and if we meet with any of the needy who have been enriched, and with the barren who have been made fruitful, let us join with them in extolling the name of him whose mercy endureth forever. Having been ourselves lifted from spiritual beggary and barrenness, let us never forget our former estate or the grace which has visited us, but world without end let us praise the Lord. Hallelujah.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 113:9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

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


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