Posts Tagged 'God'



February’s Psalm of the Month: 8B

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

Sunrise over the Beaver River

Lord, our Lord, in all the earth
How excellent Your name!
You above the heavens have set
The glory of Your fame.

In addition to preserving the two beloved versions of Psalm 8 from the blue Psalter Hymnal (#12, 13), the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal Committees included in the Psalm Proposal this excellent setting from The Book of Psalms for Singing. Explore the use of dynamic contrast as you sing—perhaps strong and joyful for the first and third stanzas, hushed and reverent for the second. Render the rousing 1742 tune AMSTERDAM with excitement that befits worshipping in the presence of such a majestic God.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 8B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 8 in the Trinity Psalter and the ARP Psalter.

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 8

  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 1)
  • Wondering at man’s lowliness (v. 2)
  • Wondering at God’s providence (vv. 3,4)
  • Wondering at man’s privileged place (vv. 5-8)
  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 8

If Psalm 8 refers only to the first Adam in his original state, its praise is dampened by the reality of the Fall. Humanity’s crown of “glory and honor” (v. 5) has been dragged through filth and mire. In our sin we abuse our dominion over the works of God’s hands (v. 7), and the whole creation groans as a result (Romans 8:22).

However, according to the apostles’ interpretation (cf. I Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), Psalm 8 points us to Christ, the Second Adam, who promises restoration and reconciliation for our fallen world. The author of the letter to the Hebrews directly interprets Psalm 8:4-6 in reference to Jesus: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:8,9). In awe of this Savior, we can well exclaim, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Applying Psalm 8

  • How do the mouths of babies and infants reveal God’s strength (v. 2; cf. Matt. 21:16)?
  • Why does God care for you (vv. 3,4)?
  • In what ways has sin corrupted the “glory and honor” of mankind (v. 5)?
  • Why is it comforting that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet (v. 6)?

The sum of Psalm 8 is this: In creating man, God demonstrated his infinite grace and fatherly love towards us, which should well amaze us. And although that happy condition has been almost entirely ruined by man’s fall, yet the traces of God’s free gifts to us which still remain should be enough to fill us with admiration. True, the proper order which God originally established no longer shines forth in this mournful and wretched overthrow, but the faithful whom God gathers to himself, under Christ their head, enjoy fragments of the good things they lost in Adam—enough to amaze them at God’s incredible grace. While David here focuses only on God’s earthly blessings, we must rise higher, and contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which he has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love for God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not allow ourselves to become lazy and negligent in celebrating his praises.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 8:7-9

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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Psalms for a New Year

Sunrise on Bridge

“The Smartphone of the Soul”—that’s how Reformed Presbyterian minister and blogger James Faris describes the Book of Psalms. Drawing a fascinating parallel between the physical versatility of a smartphone and the spiritual versatility of the Psalter, Rev. Faris comments:

God has given us the whole Scriptures for our aid. But, God created the human heart to respond in special ways to his word set to music. In song, the word of God penetrates the soul. In song, we experience union with Christ. In the throes of life–the crisis moments–it is words set to music that first come to mind. In those moments, we can’t always run to the desktop, but we should have the smartphone of soul embedded in our hearts.

In summary, Rev. Faris says, just as for every task “there’s an app for that,” for every occasion in the believer’s life “there’s a psalm for that.” His original post and related sermon is worth your time. But along the way, consider these psalms that relate especially well to the coming of a new year:

  • Psalm 1. “[The righteous man] is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Have you found your righteousness in Jesus Christ, so that as the years pass you will continue to be refreshed by his living water? Do you possess a heart of grateful obedience motivating you to yield the fruits of the Spirit with the changing seasons of life?
  • Psalm 37. “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” In 2015 the doom of God’s enemies will be nearer than it was in 2014. But those who trust in him “shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.”
  • Psalm 49. “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Will you enter 2015 pursuing the worthless things of this world, or seeking the things that are above and looking to your reward in heaven?
  • Psalm 56. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Even if 2015 proves to be a year of trial and testing for you, be sure that the same God who knows the hairs of your head knows the afflictions you suffer, and will save you to walk before him “in the light of life.” “This I know, that God is for me.”
  • Psalm 66. “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” What did God do for you in 2014? How have you seen his steadfast love at work in your life? Tell others!
  • Psalm 90. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In light of the frailty and brevity of your own life, look to the Lord, “our dwelling place in all generations,” to establish the work of your hands.
  • Psalm 102. “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” Remember that God holds the power to roll up heaven and earth, and compared to the glory he has prepared for you, all tribulation is but light and momentary.
  • Psalm 145. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” Do you worry about your future? Are you anxious about what tomorrow may bring? Look to God, who satisfies “the desire of every living thing.” Praise him for his provision!

In summary, as we look forward to the start of a new year, what better way to do so than with the “spiritual smartphone” of the Psalter in our hands (and our hearts). Equipping us for days of prosperity and days of adversity, times of sickness and health, the Psalms are an incredible gift from God for our spiritual walk. In the wisdom and comfort they provide, we can advance confidently into 2015 knowing that “the LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 148:10).

Happy New Year!

–MRK

Forget Not

Yesterday Twitter dropped a little note in my email inbox that mentioned “Thanksgiving–the day we express gratitude for family, food and football. (But mostly football.)” After rolling my eyes and muttering something about how Thanksgiving has become a symbol of America’s cultural decline, I tossed the email without further thought.

College Hill RPC CornucopiaReflecting a little more deeply, though, what are we called to be thankful for, and how do we show it? We Christians may be quick to protest that Thanksgiving Day isn’t mostly about football, but is it really about family or food either? My pastor made a convicting point this morning: American Christians gladly accept the state’s invitation to participate in a nationwide day of giving thanks. But what we should really want is to invite people everywhere to participate with us, not in a day of thanksgiving, but in a life of thanksgiving. And thanksgiving for what? For all of God’s benefits, as the psalmist teaches us in Psalm 103—forgiving, healing, redeeming, crowning, satisfying, and renewing us. We thank God for his righteousness and justice, his mercy and grace, his “steadfast love toward those who fear him,” his compassion to his children, and his throne established in the heavens. Not only are we to exert our utmost effort in blessing the LORD, we are to call people everywhere to do the same.

Psalm 95 sheds more light on the believer’s motives for giving thanks. Our gratitude is framed not in vague terms of “family, food and football” but rather in the salvation wrought for us by our God (v. 1). We praise him for his sovereignty (v. 3) and his creation (vv. 4,5), acknowledging that we belong only to him. “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (v. 7 ESV). Throughout Psalm 95 we find concrete reasons and exhortations for giving thanks to the Lord.

But the second half of Psalm 95 strikes even closer to home. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” warns v. 7. In the middle of this passage the voice shifts from the psalmist to that of God himself, who reminds the worshipers of “when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (v. 8). This section of the psalm is so ominous, we may even be tempted to skip over it. But the implication is clear: giving thanks isn’t an option, it’s a command. Thanksgiving arises from hearts that recognize God’s blessings, and the absence of thanksgiving is a telling sign of spiritual hardness, of “a people who go astray in their heart” (v. 10). It’s no wonder that the Lord swears in his wrath that such people—people who respond to his manifold mercies with a shameless shrug—“shall not enter my rest” (v. 11).

The key question is not how much God has blessed us (the answer, of course, is “abundantly”), but how much we acknowledge it. Will your Thanksgiving Day be filled with joyful kneeling before your Maker, or merely loading up on turkey and getting ready to hit the stores tomorrow? It’s sad enough that the unbelieving world can’t even finish a day of gratitude without the encroachment of gluttony and greed. But are we Christians, in our living, working, and worshiping (and yes, feasting) proclaiming the glory of “the rock of our salvation” to everyone around us?

Thanksgiving Day is many things to many people—family, food, and football considered. For the Christian it is so much more. To a people whose natural inclination is always to forget, Thanksgiving Day offers an opportunity to “forget not.” Today we can hear his voice, sing his praise, and remember all his benefits.

–MRK

A Look at Liturgy: The Benediction

Pews

Today’s post brings us to the conclusion of URC Psalmody’s series on the liturgy of the Dutch Reformed tradition. We’ve examined the historical background of our churches’ worship structure, and we’ve progressed through some notable aspects of a typical Sunday morning service, like the votum and the reading of the decalogue. After the call to worship, confession, prayer, preaching, singing, and responses, one distinctive element remains: the benediction or parting blessing.

Meetings of many kinds end with a note of farewell, and almost any Christian church would ordinarily conclude its worship service with some kind of dismissal. But you may notice that the benediction in the Reformed worship service seems to bear some kind of added significance. In fact, if you pay very close attention, you’ll notice that only ordained ministers—not elders or seminarians—are permitted to administer the parting blessing with outstretched hands. Why are our churches so particular? What does the benediction actually represent?

The Psalter Hymnal Supplement comments, “In Reformation liturgies, the dismissal is more proclamatory than petitionary—more of a means of grace than a prayer” (113). We believe the dismissal carries the full weight of a direct promise of God. “The apostolic blessing is the proclamation of God’s gracious intention: it is rooted in the Gospel promise and, therefore, in God’s desire to give grace to His people” (114).

The benediction often takes the form of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (vv. 24-26 ESV). But whether the minister uses these words or others, he is not just expressing a wish or a prayer. He doesn’t qualify the blessing with “ifs,” soften it with “mays,” or generalize it by replacing “you” with “us.” In delivering the parting blessing the minister speaks with the authority of God himself, declaring the Lord’s lasting favor on those he has reconciled to himself. God’s blessing is not something we have to repeatedly beg for or anxiously await; it is guaranteed us as his people. The benediction assures us that God’s good favor will rest upon us through the coming week until we gather to worship him again.

The Liturgical Committee notes, “[T]he customary gesture of the arms stretched and palms down, carries the ancient symbolism of an endowed blessing. The minister does not conclude the service by wishing his parishioners well. He concludes by summoning them to receive the parting promises of God’s mercy and peace” (114).

This, in a nutshell, expresses the beautiful pattern of Reformed, Biblical worship. We could summarize it in the glorious terms of Psalm 118: God has opened to us the gates of righteousness, that we may enter through them and give him thanks. He has answered us and become our salvation. Christ, the stone that the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone of the temple he is building for himself—the church. We stand in awe at the Lord’s doing, marvelous in our eyes. And we go forth from his courts believing and rejoicing that “the LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us” (v. 27).

What cause for celebration!

–MRK

Note: Several churches in the United Reformed Churches in North America have created explanations of their particular liturgies and worship practices. Here are a few helpful summaries:

A Look at Liturgy: The Decalogue

The Decalogue

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at some characteristic elements of the Reformed worship service. Today’s post brings us to perhaps the most distinctive feature of Dutch Reformed liturgy: the reading of the Ten Commandments (decalogue, “ten words”) in the service.

In theory, there is a basic theological rationale for the use of the decalogue in worship: “it testifies to the Calvinist respect for the unity of the covenant” (Report of Liturgical Committee, Psalter Hymnal Supplement 100)—though even Calvinists do not always agree on the nature of the covenant. In practice, however, this justification leaves some questions unanswered. For instance, why do the Ten Commandments not appear in the worship of other Protestant churches that uphold the unity of the covenant of grace?

The answer to this question is mostly one of history and tradition. It was John Calvin who “planted the decalogue in the liturgy” without leaving much explanation why, and it had come to be a fixture in Dutch Reformed worship by the time of Abraham Kuyper in the 19th century. “By that time,” the Liturgical Committee comments, “the law seemed liturgically inexpendable, and liturgically undefined.”

In West Sayville’s liturgy the Ten Commandments fall under the heading of “God’s Will for Our Lives,” and occasionally they are replaced in the worship service with another Scripture reading that urges us onward in “the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new” (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 33, Q&A 88). Following the reading of the decalogue or an alternate passage, our pastor offers a prayer of confession and reads another text as the “Assurance of Pardon,” and then the congregation sings a penitential psalm or hymn. Presented as God’s will for his people, the reading of the decalogue prompts us to confess how drastically we fall short of its perfection, but also to recognize Christ’s fulfillment of the law and go forth in grateful obedience to him.

This use of the Ten Commandments in worship, which I have to assume is fairly typical in United Reformed churches, reflects all three of the functions of the law listed in the Liturgical Committee’s report:

  1. “It could serve as a catalyst to confession.…It is the holy finger of God pointing to ‘me’ as the one who fails in his life to reflect the character of God.”
  2. “It could serve as a summons to the life of gratitude.”
  3. “It could also serve as a reading from Scripture…[that] consistently stresses instruction in the obligations of the Christian.”

While it is important to pinpoint the purpose of the decalogue in worship, the Liturgical Committee also provides an important qualification: “[W]e must remember, of course, that the Lord is free to use His law, at any moment, to achieve whatever purpose He wishes. If He wills to use His law of a given Sunday morning to convict one worshipper of sin, summon another to obedience, and at the same time inspire another to a grateful hallelujah, no liturgical definition of the law’s function will inhibit him.”

So should Reformed churches keep the decalogue in their worship services? In my experience, at least, the weekly reading of the Ten Commandments helps to anchor our worship in the blazing light of God’s holiness. If it is to have this effect, however, the decalogue must never be separated from the message of the gospel. Apart from confessing our sin, rejoicing in Christ’s salvation, and filling our lives with grateful obedience, the Ten Commandments become a highway to moralism and works-righteousness. Treat the decalogue as a checklist or one of those ubiquitous online quizzes (“I scored 8/10 this past week!”), and your life in Christ will wither. But respond to God’s law by confessing your natural misery and taking refuge in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and the Ten Commandments will spur on what the Catechism so beautifully describes as “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Q&A 90).

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

–MRK

–quotes from the Psalter Hymnal Supplement are from pp. 100, 101


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