Our Central Focus Upon the Lord

Reflections on the Psalms: Our Central Focus

By Paul A.

The Book of Psalms is situated in the very middle of the canon of Holy Scripture, just as worship of our Lord is to be the central focus of everything in our lives. The writers of the Psalms express a wide variety emotions and sentiments that range from worship and adoration of the Lord to laments and seeming despair to imprecatory prayers calling for God’s judgment against their enemies. But regardless of my current emotional state and the content of the individual songs, I have found the Psalms to always provide the same things – peace, encouragement, and focus from our worldly woes and cares put back upon the Lord where they belong.

In the Psalms we also discover that the Lord has provided the means for our worship to be found in the same place; the center of His revealed Word to us. Coming from an evangelical background where everything from hymns to contemporary songs were sung along with organs, pianos, and every form of sensual engagement from coloured spotlights to smoke machines, I find the simplicity of singing the Psalms with only the voices of His special beloved creatures stands in stark but beautiful contrast. Scripture says that nothing good comes from us, that all our deeds are as filthy rags. Pondering that, how can we possibly manifest worship to Him that would not only be pleasing to Him, but be authentic and orthodox, without stain or blemish? The answer is to use the gift that He has given us – His special revelation, which reveals Himself, His mind, His ways, and His very nature of being. When we sing the Psalms back to Him, we are absolutely certain we are singing truth, devoid of any theological error, imagination, or man-made presupposition. If we truly believe Scripture is sufficient to equip us unto all good works, then indeed God’s Holy Songbook is all we require to sing His praises. Just as the crowns awarded us will be cast down to Him before the throne, we likewise cast sacrifices of praise to Him by reflecting back what we know to be Holy. When we sing the Psalms, we come confidently to His throne with the only sacrifices of praise worthy of Him – His very Word.

2018 Report to the Congregation

By the Lord’s grace, we were blessed with another year of life together as a congregation. We celebrated milestone birthdays and anniversaries. We rejoiced in the birth of Preston Johnson and the arrival of a number of new regular visitors and we welcomed the Tarons into membership. We were encouraged by the LORD’s Word in the weekly worship services and special services which were held.

Gerald Epp was ordained as a deacon to serve in our congregation. Our pastor preached from the Gospel of Matthew, the Book of Psalms, and a whole host of other passages from Scripture. Pastor Norm’s series through the books of the Bible gave us an overview of how the various parts of scripture fit together and how we can profitably read from the various parts of God’s Word. Our elder Hugh Fraser preached a number of times from the book of Kings. We also had a number of guest preachers who filled in while our pastor was away including Rev. Tom Aicken, Rev. Cameron Fraser, Rev. Patrick McNeely, Rev. Fletcher Matandika, and Rev. Gary Zekveld.

We completed a study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and began to study the Heidelberg Catechism. We studied church history using the excellent video series by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey and we hosted seven nights of Christianity Explored as an outreach effort at the Cityview Church. We had visitors join us from the Philippines, Mexico, Ireland, Scotland, England, Malawi, the Netherlands, and Brazil along with an array of Canadians. We were blessed with a number of fellowship meals at the Frasers’ home and enjoyed a great summer picnic in Langley with the Brhanu family and others from the Chilliwack Heritage Reformed Church. Some of us hiked in Squamish and Seymour and some participated in several events at the Union Gospel Mission and the Ride for Refuge.

We were thankful for the relationship that we have with Cityview Church and for the ability we have to use their facility for our weekly services and for additional gatherings. The building itself is centrally located for our congregants and we have seen a number of visitors come who have been able to make use of the public transit system.

We purchased a hearing assistance system this year in order to make our services more accessible for those who are hearing impaired. We provided copies of the APC News, our denominational magazine, to our members and also made a number of purchases of quality Reformed literature for distribution in our congregation. We paid for study guides for the Church History video series and for the Christianity Explored materials. We provided a budget for our pastor to continue to build up his pastoral library and he didn’t find it difficult to spend it.

We covered the costs for our pastor to attend a conference and a refresher course at Westminster Seminary California in January 2018. He was also able to attend the March 2018 meeting of the Pacific Coast Presbytery of the RPCNA in Phoenix, AZ as an observer in order to learn more about the RPCNA and to witness the ordination exam of Rev. Patrick McNeely. We also sent our pastor to the Synod of the APC in Inverness, Scotland in May 2018.

We are thankful to the LORD for the sustained and generous giving that has been a continuing characteristic of our congregation. Donations, small and large, are instrumental in keeping our ministry in a healthy financial state. This allows us to be prepared for new initiatives when the need arises and it gives us capital to share with other like-minded ministry causes.

This year was another very good year for donations considering the size of our congregation. We thank the LORD for cheerful giving and pray that He would be glorified through the labours and charity of His people.

All in all, we were blessed to see the LORD’s hand of kindness upon us.

On the Wisdom and Value of the Creeds of the Christian Church

Dr Michael Horton asks an important question over at the Core Christianity website:

If the Creeds of the Christian Church aren’t infallible (being without the possibility of error), then why on earth would we use them?

His answer is illustrative in many ways! In particular, Dr. Horton writes,

“I just believe the Bible” is no defense against cults, superstitions, apostasy, and heresy, since nearly every sect for the last two thousand years has claimed the Bible for support. The answer is not to make the church’s teachers infallible interpreters of Scripture. Nor to ignore the church’s teachers, but to have the humility to recognize that “iron sharpens iron” and that it takes the wisdom and insight of many interpreters over many centuries to help us to see our blind spots. Only a fool would ignore the accumulated wisdom of nearly twenty centuries.

Are the creeds infallible? No, but the universal confession of the whole church since its beginning, despite other divisions, is that the Bible clearly teaches that the affirmations we find in the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds are essential for our salvation.
— Michael Horton, Core Christianity

Visit the Core Christianity website to learn more!

Photo by Gustavo Belemmi on Unsplash

The Psalter and its Counterparts in our Culture

Writing in the New Yorker, James Wood offers us an interesting take on the contemporary place that the Book of Common Prayer has in our society.

The words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone. A loss, one supposes—and yet, paradoxically, the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago. All at once, it seems, they are full and empty. They comfort, disappoint, haunt, irritate, disappear, linger.

The whole piece is worth a read here but it got me thinking about the ways that the Psalter (the 150 Psalms) are similarly looked upon in our contemporary culture. Certain phrases and snippets are printed onto mugs or used in funerals or on condolence cards but our neighbours (Canadian society more broadly) have largely left behind the beliefs which undergird and enliven the Psalms.

As with the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, the Psalter in particular has had a profound impact on the literary and artistic culture that we have inherited. Nevertheless, it is increasingly a foreign and off-putting text which is, in the memorable phrase of James Wood, “full and empty”.

When we faith-full-y sing the Psalms in public worship and read the Psalms together, we are brought into a liturgy of sanctification that transforms us.

While our congregation has never made use of the Book of Common Prayer in a formal manner - and many would be quite unfamiliar with it - the theological content and the manner of expressing our heartfelt repentance for sin, our profound awareness of God’s glory and majesty, and our faithful reception of the mercies of God shown to us in Jesus Christ all find beautiful expression in the phrases and responses of the Book of Common Prayer. And the BCP derives much of its scriptural basis from the 150 Psalms. And where the Word is present, the Lord’s work is continued in us!

Thanks to Denisse Leon for the cover photo on Unsplash

Psalm 22 and the Judgment of History

This particular sermon on Psalm 22 was incredibly moving to me as I meditated on the text of the Psalm, prepared to preach its life-giving message, and then actually preached it!

Our flock was fed from a choice portion of God's Word yesterday - may the Lord bless our hearing of His Holy Word! 

For it’s the gospel (good news of salvation) that we find in Psalm 22!

And this gospel must fill our hearts and transform our lives – it is good news concerning the One who Trusted in God – and who now calls you and me to trust in God.

We must be confident of this: He has not hidden his face from you, but has heard, when you cry to Him! (vs 24, the heart of this psalm)

Jesus has undergone the judgment of God which was suffered in the flesh and blood of man.

He has undertaken the payment-in-full of the debt of sin for all His people!

Sermon: Psalm 22

Plus: A textual outline in the stanzas of lament and response can be found below. I make mention of it in the sermon.

Psalm 22 Handout - Stanzas of Lament & Response

What makes the doctrine of Definite Atonement so indispensable?

“Did Jesus make salvation possible for all or did he actually save his people from their sins?”

That is the profoundly important question that Dr. Michael Horton took up in his plenary session at the 2019 Westminster Seminary Faculty Conference in Escondido, CA on January 19, 2019.

Watch Dr. Michael Horton's plenary session from the 2019 Faculty Conference here: https://wscal.edu/resourc…/a-real-atonement-for-real-sinners

I (Pastor Norm), was in attendance at this conference and was tremendously blessed in my heart and soul by Dr. Horton’s message. We were richly fed from the Word of God concerning the Lord’s eternal plan of salvation for his people and the indispensable nature of the doctrine of the definite atonement.

This doctrine, contained in the teachings of the Christian church throughout the centuries and featured in our Reformed and Presbyterian confessions, is also known as the doctrine of the limited atonement (focusing on the actual # of the redeemed who have been bought with a price by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ).

May the LORD nourish your heart and soul through His glorious ministry of grace and kindness to you in Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep.

Thank you to Westminster Seminary California for making this video available for the building up of Christ’s Church!

Thank you to Mingheras Cosmin on Unsplash for the most appropriate photo!

Our Exodus Bible Study Schedule is Ready!

We are launching our new Bible study this week and the assigned readings for homework are all outlined below. We’d love to have you join us for this time of meditation and reflection on God’s Holy Word.

study schedule - exodus

As Dr. Bryan Estelle of Westminster Seminary California sums up the impact of the exodus in the Bible,

“The exodus motif is the Bible’s grand narrative, and it is one of the best stories because it encompasses all the major aspects of God’s work of salvation through Christ: redemption from sin, suffering, and the tyranny of the devil (the exodus from Egypt and Pharaoh); bringing us into the very presence of God (represented at Sinai); wilderness wanderings (pilgrimage toward a special place); and possession of the land of Canaan (ultimately symbolizing entitlement to the world-to-come; cf. Heb 4) in order to be a unified, holy people in a place where they might worship God perpetually.”

Bryan Estelle, Echoes of Exodus, pg 5

Finding Peace for Our Hearts in a Tumultuous World

Our hearts cry out that there is a gap between what we need to make us feel at peace and what our actual circumstances are.

This is the chasm that keeps us up at night – or brings us down during the day.

What we need to make us feel at peace seems at odds with what our actual circumstances are on any given day.

As Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down.”

The Lord Jesus Christ knows well that we are weighed down by anxieties and fears of many kinds. He speaks with Kingly authority and Shepherd-like tenderness in Matthew 6:24ff to teach us how to find peace in a tumultuous life.

Join us this Lord's Day as we meditate together on God's righteous care for His holy people.

Where's your head at when you sing the Psalms?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter",  asks a great question for us to consider together as we worship the Lord and draw upon the wondrous resources found in the Psalms.

He asks a personal and pointed question: “What mindset should singers have as they sing a particular psalm?”

In reply, he writes:

As we sing a particular psalm, we should have a mindset focused clearly upon heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. We should be consciously lifting our souls to the Lord and praying for the strength and guidance of His Spirit, who enables us to turn away from sin, to rest in God’s abundant provision, and to walk in the ways of righteousness. (p 51)

I don’t know about you but I certainly can attest to the fact that it can be a challenge to adopt this proper mindset while singing the psalms or even in the time leading up to our singing. It’s easy to be distracted (even by the mechanics of singing!) and we can lose sight of the great wonder of bringing our songs before the very throne of God in praise of His Holy and Glorious Name!

May the Lord bless you as you sing!

What happens when you sing the Psalms?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter",  insightfully expands on this question:

“Where does the Psalter move our attention as we sing?”

The Psalter moves our attention in a variety of directions as we sing.

It teaches us to focus upon the triune God and his mighty works, to ponder the condition of our own hearts and our affections, to consider the character of God’s people gathered in worship, to behold the nations in their rebellious unbelief, and above all, to cherish the good and sovereign reign of the messianic King. (p 51)

We know intuitively that we generally have a lot on our minds during each day. Nonetheless, in the singing of the psalms our attention is spiritually refocused on these wonderful realities that we are participants in!

Lift your voices and be renewed in your hearts and minds through the praise of His Holy Name!