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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.

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

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!

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!

Christians are called to love where they live

A great read by Adriel Sanchez over at Core Christianity about a topic that resonates with any Vancouver or Metro Vancouver resident wrestling with the dynamics of change in our neighbourhoods and the inflow/outflow of folks in our neighbourhoods.

If you have a few minutes for a thought-provoking article, give this a read:

https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/dear-christian-love-where-you-live

Or for an immediate dose of reality, read Proverbs 11:11-12:

By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

(Proverbs 11:11-12 ESV)

(Thanks for the photo, Kyle Ryan on Unsplash)

"Christ's global garden grows in local plots"

One of the recent trends that has spread rapidly among evangelical Christian churches has been the 'multi-site model' of setting up a single congregation with numerous locations for gathering. Michael Horton highlights some of the issues inherent in this approach in his excellent book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World

"One example of the tendency to shift our focus from the ministry to the ministers, I believe, is the proliferation of multi-site churches. I am not in any way suggesting that those who favor a multi-site model of ministry are guilty of reckless ambition. I take it for granted that they are motivated by mission and would agree heartily with much else that I’ve argued here. My concern, however, is that the model is more susceptible to a greater focus on the minister than on the ministry.

Regardless of intentions, the medium ensures that he can never be the pastor, but only a celebrity teacher. By being the “pastor” of many churches, he is actually the pastor of none. Furthermore, it is his board that has the last word. This model seems far more hierarchical than the others it rebelled against.

Christ’s global garden grows concretely only in local plots."

(Kindle: location 1931)

How should the majesty and ancient authority of the Psalter shape our services?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter", quotes from William Binnie to answer the question posed in our title. 

Question 140:

How should the majesty and ancient authority of the Psalter mold worship services?

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Answer 140:

"In the Church of Jesus Christ, where the prayers are free, it is of utmost importance that services of worship should be molded in the forms of ancient authority; and surely the best possible mold is that which the Holy Spirit Himself gave by the Psalmists, which has left its divinely guided lines on the Church for these three thousand years."

I'm struck by that phrase, "divinely guided lines", and the compelling suggestion that this is the mold that we are to see impressed upon our services of divine worship. As I continue to grow in my understanding of and appreciation for the Psalms, I'm amazed at the ways in which the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit's inspiration becomes more and more evident in these sacred compositions. 

What do we currently have in our repertoire that bears the majesty and ancient authority of Holy Scripture? 

The Ornamentation of the Preached Word

The letters to the churches in Revelation feature the refrain “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3:22). This is no accident.

The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, explains “ the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2Ti 4:17).

The same Paul asks “how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:14)

The congregation called by the voice of God gathers in expectancy, waiting for the sight of Christ to be revealed to them as they hear the shout of the archangel and the blast of a trumpet (1 Thess 4:15-17) on the Last Day.

Until that day, the Christian church is defined by the way in which it is to receive the Word: audibly through the preaching of the Word (Rom 10) and visibly/tangibly in the administration of the sacraments.

The ornamentation of the preached Word rests on the communion table that sits in the front of the House of God.

The visual enhancement of the preached Word is contained in the cup and the bread in this period of waiting for the return of Christ (Acts 1:11).

The adornment of the preached Word is the fruit it bears in the hearts and lives of believers in all stages of Christian maturity.

 

Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash