Sunday Worship Thoughts: Rejoice with Trembling

The following quotation is part of this weekend’s devotional as found in Tabletalk, which I find appropriate for our worship today. It is based on Psalm 2:11 – “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

…It is important to remember that the Bible does not in reality offer us a ‘normal’ experience of God We never get used to the majesty of the Being who has called us into existence, that is, and called us to Himself. Psalm 2:11 is one biblical text that makes this very plain…. Life lived unto God is not the equivalent of spiritual elevator music. It is the equivalent of a roaring symphony, an exhilarating performance of holiness.

It is only when we ‘rejoice with trembling’ that we fully grasp who the God of Scripture is. He is the one who has made us and who has brought us to Himself in fulfillment of His covenant promises. Because of this, He lifts our burdens. But our consciousness of His love never leads us to forget the magnitude of His perfections. We are always delighted to be His, but also aware that He is a great and terrible God.

Our modern minds resist this kind of double-sided testimony. We would rather focus on one concept, not two. But Scripture pictures God as a resplendent king. He roars over His creation, claiming it all (see Isa.45). As Christians who have fellowship with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are subjects of the most powerful sovereign imaginable. We are able, by the kindness of His grace, to enter His court, and to dine at His table, and to see Him smile at us with love. But we never forget whose kingdom this is; we never lose sight of how majestic is the King. We always rejoice to be with Him; we always tremble before Him, for He is holy (Dr. Owen Strachan, p.51).

Standing to Confess the Apostles’ Creed – Rev.C.Griess

SB-Feb1-2015-coverAnother profitable article found in the February 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer is the latest installment from Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC, Hull, IA) in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”, a series dealing with the public worship of the church.

At present he is treating the various elements of Reformed worship and is up to the church’s united confession of faith usually found in the evening service. We refer to the saints’ recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Rev.Griess titles this article, “The Church Confessing Truth: Reciting the Apostles’ Creed” (this is the first part of two).

Interestingly, pastor Griess ties together the reading of the law in the morning service with its “replacement” in the evening service, the Apostles’ Creed. I will only quote a portion of that section where he treats this connection, but hope that you will certainly read all of it on your own.

Here he explains part of the significance of what the congregation is doing when it recites the creed together:

What drives the church to confess her faith in the evening is the overwhelming grace of God that she has experienced already in the morning. And she comes together in the evening, then, and stands up (that is great practice)! She arises to confess the truth that has liberated her and that continues to guide her in all her life.

To stand up and confess indicates commitment, a certain passion in the soul. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘stand up’ to tell people to hold to a conviction: ‘Stand up for freedom. Stand up for rights.’

When we confess the faith, we are standing up for God and all His truth. We are arising, in the face of all the world and its untruth, and saying, ‘God, this is what we believe about Thee, and should the world come into our building tonight and try to stop us from confessing truth about Thee, they will not stop us. We are redeemed by this truth, and we have experienced that again this morning; therefore Thou dost have our full allegiance’ (208).

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing – Randall Van Meggelen

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing by Randall Van Meggelen | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Jan-2015While the theme of this month’s Tabletalk is the gospel (“The Good News”) and there are many good articles on this, I always enjoy and profit from the special rubric articles as well.

Under the rubric “Heart Aflame” musician and professor of music Randall Van Meggelen (see below) penned a nice piece on what to do “when you don’t feel like singing.” We have all experienced this reality in our lives, whether in public worship or private devotions, whether because of sadness, or depression, or just plain unspiritual attitudes.

To help us sing anyway, Van Megglen offers seven (7) doctrinal and practical points (all starting with a “p”). I give you the first two here and encourage you to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

PURPOSE

God saved us to proclaim His praises (1 Peter 2:9). He seeks true worshipers (John 4:23) who express their worship in song. Singing is an important means of glorifying and enjoying God. Singing expresses our covenant relationship with God and submission to His will. It demonstrates the unity we enjoy in God with His people. We sing to offer adoration, praise, and gratitude to God for His name, perfections, Word, and works. Singing helps us remember and celebrate God’s past saving deeds, rejoice in His present goodness, and rehearse our future heavenly worship. Singing is also a command, gift, and spiritual discipline that is formative not only for what we believe, but how we live. Therefore, proclaim God’s praises.

PASSION

Worship rightly evokes feelings, but it is not chiefly about how we feel. Our feelings must be informed by God’s Word and subject to Christ’s lordship, not to the whims of personal preference. Scripture commands us to rejoice in the Lord. Singing enlivens our minds, wills, and feelings in ways that words alone cannot. When we engage our whole selves by presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), He does not despise our worship, but is pleased to bless our obedience with a greater hunger for and joy in Him. Therefore, sing even when you do not feel like it.

Randall Van Meggelen is chief musician at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and adjunct professor of sacred music at Reformation Bible College.

Always Changing? – William W. Goligher

Always Changing? by William W. Goligher | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Nov 2014 TTAs I finished the final articles in the November Tabletalk yesterday, I realized there was another good article on the theme that I wanted to reference here today, even though it is now December and time to break open the new issue.

That is the above-linked article by Dr.William Goligher, senior pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his piece under the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective”, he applies the motto semper reformanda especially to the realm of worship, an area where he is (properly) critical of those who wish to see the church change her style and content to adapt to every whim of society’s so-called “seekers.”

What he has to say is a fitting follow-up to our Re-formed worship on the Lord’s day, so we post a section of his article here. To read the full article, use the Ligonier link above.

We have seen this notion gain traction in the last few decades. Church leaders and members agitate for “change” as a sign of “integrity” or an essential element in being “relevant” in today’s generation. There are pleas for new forms, methods, and structures for the church. Most calls for innovation are driven by the godless culture around us and by our rebellious hearts within us. We want to modify the message to appeal to society; we want to make church more “user friendly” for the outsider, rather than see it as the solemn assembly of God’s covenant people.

This has also affected the use of the word worship. In some circles, it is applied only to music—whether of the classical or contemporary variety—and it has created with it a new role in the church—“worship leader.” Others want to drop the word worship altogether, arguing that worship applies to “all of life” and not to the assemblies of God’s people. So the Lord’s Day is like any other day; liturgy is replaced by “user-friendly events”; sermons become “Bible talks”; and the focus of Sunday “meetings” becomes fellowship or evangelism rather than a covenant assembly and corporate worship.

These innovations run counter to the example of the Reformers, who denied that they were change-mongers who were interested in change for change’s sake. In the strict sense, they were pushing for a return to the radix, the “root” of biblical Christianity. They were accused of fostering change by their opponents, but their defense was that, in fact, they wanted to drive the church back to the Word of God. They envisioned reformation not as our doing the changes (active) but as our being changed (passive). In other words, when we talk about reformation, we think of the Lord who reforms us and the Scripture that is His means of reformation.

P.S. For TODAY only you can get a subscription to Tabletalk for only $12 – their Cyber Monday deal!

Grace for Giving: Rev.C.Griess – Nov.15, 2014 “Standard Bearer”

StandardBearerIn the most recent issue of the Standard Bearer Rev.Cory Griess continues his fine series on the elements of Reformed worship under the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.”

He has started to treat the element of the offering (or offertory), and in his first installment he has this to say at the outset:

The approach of these two articles [on the offertory] must be to address the subject with both law and gospel. The command to give must not be neglected, and the gospel of grace which primes the hearts of God’s people to let go of all other security and trust the good way of God’s law must be made plain. This is necessary because the giving of alms, as all aspects of worship, is a heart issue. Our depraved hearts tend to make us idolize and trust in money. And it is not until our hearts are captured by the sovereign grace of God that we worship God as He commands and our hands let go of our money.

The basic issue in this element of worship is not how much money we make or do not make. It is not how much we can give or cannot give at whatever stage of life we are in. The basic issue is the heart that knows the grace that God has given to His people, and therefore desires to honor the Lord with money. Grace alone will motivate us to follow God’s command and give with willing hearts in worship (86).

A Lord’s Day Morning Prayer

Psalm27For our Sunday morning devotional we turn once again to the book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett (c.1975). This one is taken from section VIII, titled “Service and Ministry”, and is called “Lord’s Day Morning.”

It is a beautifully fitting prayer for us to make as we enter our Father’s sacred house of worship today. May God bless us according to our desires as expressed in these words.

To view other prayers and devotions from this work, visit the Banner of Truth’s website.

O MAKER AND UPHOLDER OF ALL THINGS,

Day and night are thine; they are also
mine from thee —
the night to rid me of the cares of the day,
to refresh my weary body,
to renew my natural strength;
the day to summon me to new activities,
to give me opportunity to glorify thee,
to serve my generation,
to acquire knowledge, holiness, eternal life.

But one day above all days is made especially
for thy honour and my improvement;
The sabbath reminds me
of thy rest from creation,
of the resurrection of my Saviour,
of his entering into repose.

Thy house is mine,
but I am unworthy to meet thee there,
and am unfit for spiritual service.
When I enter it I come before thee as a sinner,
condemned by conscience and thy Word,
For I am still in the body and in the wilderness,
ignorant, weak, in danger,
and in need of thine aid.

But encouraged by thy all-sufficient grace
let me go to thy house with a lively hope
of meeting thee,
knowing that there thou wilt come to me
and give me peace.
My soul is drawn out to thee in longing desires
for thy presence in the sanctuary, at the table,
where all are entertained on a feast of
good things;
Let me before the broken elements,
emblems of thy dying love,
cry to thee with broken heart for grace
and forgiveness.

I long for that blissful communion of thy people
in thy eternal house in the perfect kingdom;
These are they that follow the Lamb;
May I be of their company!

New & Noteworthy in the Seminary Library

Today we will highlight five titles that have recently been purchased for the Seminary library and which will be of interest to our broader readership, I believe.

From-mouth-of-God -SFergusonThe first is a basic study on the place of the Bible in the life of the believer. It is titled From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible (Banner of Truth, 2014), and is written by Dr.Sinclair B. Ferguson, professor of systematic theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX and teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries. This looks to be a fine, practical book on how to view and study the Word of God, designed for the “person in the pew”. The three main sections cover the sub-title of the book: Part 1 is on trusting the Bible, taking into account the inspiration and authority of the Bible; Part 2 is on reading the Bible, covering the different types of literature found in the Bible and giving the basic principles of interpreting it; Part 3 is on applying the Bible, teaching the purpose of the Bible and how we take and use God’s Word in our daily walk. Appendices in the back of the book include a bibliography for further reading on the doctrine of Scripture and a daily Bible reading plan. Recommended!

 

Worshipping with CalvinThe second is by Terry L.Johnson (pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA) and titled Worshipping With Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism (EP Books, 2014). The publisher provides this description on its website:

In the ‘worship wars’ which have marked recent times, many aspects have been considered but rarely is the issue of truly Reformed worship addressed.  In this pertinent work, Terry Johnson effectually fills a void – countless books have been written about Calvin, but to date there has been scant material on Calvin and biblical worship.  The vital historical context is presented, and the practical ramifications for Reformed biblical worship today are explored.’

There is a revival in Calvinist thinking across a broad spectrum of the church today. As he takes notice of that, the author suggests that, in order for Calvinism to thrive, attention must be given to the ministry and worship that will sustain it. The belief is advanced that Calvin would not separate theology from worship and that the new Calvinism of today needs to take seriously the liturgical reforms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not merely the theological.

Terry L Johnson takes note of the revival in Calvinist thinking that is evident across a broad spectrum of the church. But, he notes, for Calvinism to continue to thrive, attention must begin to be paid to the ministry and worship that alone will sustain and perpetuate it. The new Calvinism must take seriously the liturgical reforms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not just the theological, if today’s dynamism is to endure. Calvin would not have approved of the separation of theology from worship. . . . Reformed theology determined Reformed worship; and conversely, Reformed worship was the nurturing womb from which Reformed piety and practice sprang. Theology, worship, and piety are inseparably linked, neither thriving without the supporting presence of the other. This is by no means a polemic against one or two forms of worship. Terry Johnson makes a strong historical and biblical case, so that whatever the readers preferred style of worship, this book will inform and challenge.

 

Theology of WestStandards-FeskoThe third book is another brand new one: The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Contexts & Theological Insights by J.V.Fesko, academic dean and professor of systematic theology and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California (Crossway, 2014). Crossway provides this brief summary of this significant work:

For centuries, countless Christians have turned to the Westminster Standards for insights into the Christian faith. These renowned documents—first published in the middle of the 17th century—are widely regarded as some of the most beautifully written summaries of the Bible’s teaching ever produced.

Church historian John Fesko walks readers through the background and theology of the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism, helpfully situating them within their original context. Organized according to the major categories of systematic theology, this book utilizes quotations from other key works from the same time period to shed light on the history and significance of these influential documents.

Medieval Bible-Van LiereThe fourth book relates to the church history period being studied this semester in our Seminary (Medieval) and to a recent lecture given at Calvin College by one of its history professors – the author of this book, Frans van Liere. An Introduction to the Medieval Bible (Cambridge, 2014) is a fascinating look at the history of the Bible during this age of the church. Topics covered include the Medieval canon (which included the Apocrypha), the text of the Medieval Bible, Medieval hermeneutics, and the Bible in worship and preaching. Cambridge offers this description:

The Middle Ages spanned the period between two watersheds in the history of the biblical text: Jerome’s Latin translation c. 405 and Gutenberg’s first printed version in 1455. The Bible was arguably the most influential book during this time, affecting spiritual and intellectual life, popular devotion, theology, political structures, art, and architecture. In an account that is sensitive to the religiously diverse world of the Middle Ages, Frans van Liere offers here an accessible introduction to the study of the Bible in this period. Discussion of the material evidence – the Bible as book – complements an in-depth examination of concepts such as lay literacy and book culture. This Introduction includes a thorough treatment of the principles of medieval hermeneutics, and a discussion of the formation of the Latin bible text and its canon. It will be a useful starting point for all those engaged in medieval and biblical studies.

Augustine-Preaching-SanlonAnd finally, related to one of the most significant fathers of the ancient church and to the most recent issue of the Standard Bearer is the title Augustine’s Theology of Preaching by Peter T.Sanlon (Fortress Press, 2014). We find this brief statement on the book at Fortress’ website:

Scholarship has painted many pictures of Augustine—the philosophical theologian, the refuter of heresy, or contributor to doctrines like Original Sin—but the picture of Augustine as preacher, says Sanlon, has been seriously neglected. When academics marginalize the Sermones ad Populum, the real Augustine is not presented accurately. In this study, Sanlon does more, however, than rehabilitate a neglected view of Augustine.

How do the theological convictions that Augustine brought to his preaching challenge, sustain, or shape our work today? By presenting Augustine’s thought on preaching to contemporary readers Sanlon contributes a major new piece to the ongoing reconsideration of preaching in the modern day, a consideration that is relevant to all branches of the twenty-first century church.

Stop in to browse these new titles and many others in the PR Seminary library! And, don’t forget, our on-line library catalog may be found on our website.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 150

Psalm 150On this final Lord’s Day of September we come to the end of the book of Psalms in our Sunday worship preparation devotionals, as we take a brief look at Psalm 150.

And while the Psalms are indeed a spiritual biography of the children of God, allowing us to see into the souls of the saints as they go through all of life’s experiences and express themselves with regard to these varied experiences, the Psalms are not really about God’s people. The book of Psalms is about God – all about God. God and His glorious character; God and His glorious works. God and His majestic work of creation. God and His sovereign work of providence. God and His might acts of salvation. God and His mercy and grace and faithfulness to His people in Jesus Christ and for His sake. Yes, God is the heart and soul of the Psalms!

And so the Psalms are all about praising this glorious God. This is a book of “Hallelujahs” – “Praise the Lord”. And as we have been seeing, this theme is coming to a climax at the end of the book of Psalms. Once again I quote from the Nelson Study Bible as it aptly describes this last psalm: “Psalm 150, a psalm of praise, is a development of the Hebrew word hallelujah, meaning ‘Praise the Lord.’ How fitting that this book of praises – the meaning of the name of the Book of Psalms in Hebrew – ends in repeated commands to praise the Lord” (1029).

Psalm 150, like Psalm 148, is a call to universal praise. That is, the psalmist calls for all creatures to praise the Lord – from those in heaven to those on earth – everything that has breath. And he calls for them to do this using all the means God has given, especially instruments of music. So that this too is a call to worship the Lord – in the sanctuary of His creation and in the sanctuary of His church.

As we prepare to enter that sanctuary of God this day, let us hear this call to praise our glorious God. Let us think on God and His glorious character. Let us ponder His mighty works – around us, as well as for us and in us. And as those who have received breath from God – even new breath from the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ – let us respond with glad and grateful “hallelujahs.”

Psalm 150

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “A Summons to Praise” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
In His temple God be praised;
In the high and heavenly places
Be the sounding anthem raised.

2. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
For his mighty acts of fame;
Excellent His might and greatness;
Fitting praises then proclaim.

3. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
With the trumpet’s joyful sound;
Praise with harp and praise with viol,
Let His glorious praise abound.

4. Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah,
With the flute His praises sing;
Praise Him with the clanging cymbals,
Let them with His praises ring.

5. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All that breathe, Jehovah praise;
Let the voices God hath given
Joyful anthems to Him raise.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 149

Psalm 149As our glorious Savior and King calls us once again this day to worship Him in “the congregation of saints”, we may prepare ourselves by considering the fourth “Hallelujah” psalm, Psalm 149. As you read through this portion of God’s Word, you will find it to be a joyful summons to praise the Lord, and as such, fitting for our public worship today in God’s house with His people.

In fact, v.2 specifically enjoins us to praise the Lord in public with our fellow saints, a point the Nelson Study Bible points out nicely: “One of the primary emphases in the Book of Psalms is that the praise of God is to take place in the center of the worshiping community. Praise unites the people of God (33:1-3)”.

Yes, and what a blessing it is that we are still able to do this openly and unhindered in our land! Let us not take this for granted, but thank our God for it. And let us gladly take advantage of every opportunity to gather with God’s people in praise our God! This Lord’s Day again affords us such opportunities.

The call to praise and worship the Lord, also as we have it here in Psalm 149, includes the fact that we must do so in joy. Notice that element too as you read this psalm (especially vss.2,5). God will not have us stand before Him with grumpy spirits, offering up grudging praise. He will not have us sing a new song with an old man soul, nor dance before Him with dragging feet and drooping hands.

No, He is the God of joy, the happy and blessed God, and in our worship He will have us match what He is, in spirit and in behavior. So let us rejoice and be joyful in our singing and dancing and playing (of instruments) this day (vss.2-3). Let us skip and sing, from renewed and thankful hearts. Why? Because God takes pleasure in us (Can you imagine that?!)! Because He will beautify the meek with salvation (v.4)! Yes, be clothed with Christ and you will have joy, boundless and endless joy!

You will also notice a “twist” in Psalm 149. The worshiping people of God go from joyful praise to swinging a two-edged sword and executing vengeance and judgment on the heathen (vss.6-9). What is going on? Why this? Because the church of Christ is at all times in this present world also the army of God. Always she is surrounded by her and His enemies, who hate and oppose her and Him. And against these foes she must do battle, fighting in the Lord’s name. As she marches into her holy warfare singing God’s praises, she is also to swing His sword of judgment.

While in the OT that warfare took on a physical form, with real swords and literal vengeance (as in the church’s conquest of Canaan), now the NT church swings the sword of the Lord’s Word, chiefly the preaching of the gospel among the nations. Yet, also when we sing God’s Word (as in these psalms!), we are wielding the “sword of the Lord” and executing His judgments against unbelieving enemies.

Let us be mindful of that too as we worship today. Worship is serious and dangerous business. Not only because we stand in the presence of the sovereign, all-glorious King of heaven and earth. But also because we are the instruments of His judgments on the wicked. May that humble us, so that we sing God’s praises and swing His sword only under the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 149

Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

2Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

4For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.

5Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;

7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;

8To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron;

9To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “The Promise of Victory” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

 

1. O praise ye the Lord
And sing a new song,
Amid all His saints
His praises prolong;
The praise of their Maker
His people shall sing,
And children of Zion
Rejoice in their King.

2. With timbrel and harp
And joyful acclaim,
With gladness and mirth,
Sing praise to His Name;
For God in His people
His pleasure doth seek,
With robes of salvation
He clotheth the meek.

3. In glory exult,
Ye saints of the Lord;
With songs in the night
High praises accord;
Go forth in His service
And strong in His might
To conquer all evil
And stand for the right.

4. For this is His word:
His saints shall not fail,
But over the earth
Their power shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations
Shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory
And praise Him for aye.

The Congregational Prayer: Our Responsibility

StandardBearerFrom the September 15, 2014 issue of The Standard Bearer:

The congregation has great responsibility as well with regard to congregational prayer (After treating the duty of the pastor who leads the congregation in prayer. ~cjt). First of all, our responsibility is to pay attention and not let the mind wander in the prayer. Truly to be led in prayer is hard sometimes. The congregation is called to take the words that are being said and make them their own in the prayer – to enter into the prayer. The congregational prayer is not a time to sleep, or to daydream. It’s not break time where we check out. This service is meeting God face to face after all. Prayer must be offered from an attentive and pious heart as we make the prayer our own. Strange it must be to God that people are here to meet Him and then in prayer this one is thinking about football, and that one about what she has to get done tomorrow. It is a struggle, and all of us know is. It will help if we focus on what we are doing, communing with God Himself.

Besides this, the congregation must help the minister to know her struggles and difficulties and joys and praises. Especially the elders should speak to the minister of things he should pray for on behalf of the congregation. But there is a place, too, for the whole congregation to express needs and joys that the minister should bring before God in congregational prayer.

Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC), “The People of God Humbled and Healed: The Element of Prayer (8b)” in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”