Why Sing Psalms?

January 27, 2014 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
James 5:13 (NKJV)
13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”
James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries.
Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When joyful, James tells us, that which should first come out is the psalms.
But as you think about the psalms, you will perhaps remember that some of the psalms are expressions of grief and longing for God’s presence – how do they fit with James’ theme of thanksgiving? It is here that we are directed back to James’ command to pray when burdened. James’ exhortation to pray also directs us to the psalms – for the psalms embody for us what despairing cries to God look like.
Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of the people of God. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms to sing? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?
I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms. And so, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. And one of the things that we do every month to enable us to fulfill this duty is hold a psalm sing. The psalm sing is specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.

Confess Your Sins to One Another

January 20, 2014 in Atonement, Bible - NT - James, Bible - NT - Romans, Confession, Ecclesiology, Meditations
James 5:16 (NKJV)
16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
As human beings we frequently endeavor to put on a front in order to prevent others from knowing who we really are. Fearful of rejection, we hide our struggles, we hide our doubts, we even hide our fears because our standing with others is based on our own performance, our own worth. So we often live painfully alone.
But Jesus frees us from this loneliness and fear. In Jesus we behold the love of God reaching out to us and rescuing us even though He knows exactly who we are and what we’ve done. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Our standing with God is not based on what we have done, what we are doing, or what we will do – but solely on the righteousness of Christ who has given Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed.
Consequently, Jesus empowers us to be honest with others, particularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be honest, we can avoid putting on a front, we can seek help and accountability and encouragement because we know that God accepts us, God is on our side, God loves us – not because of our deeds but because of Jesus’ deeds. So freed from the paralyzing fear of what others think of me, I can confess to my brother in Christ, confess to my sister in Christ – I need your help.
And if that brother or sister looks at me and says, “My god! What kind of freak are you!”; if that brother or sister refuses to help, rejects me, then I can rest in the knowledge that God is still on my side. “I have sought God’s forgiveness in Christ; so even though my brother has rejected me, God has not.” And in the knowledge of God’s favor I can approach another brother or sister for help, for encouragement, for accountability.
But as Christians we often fail to believe the Gospel, fail to believe that our standing with God really is dependent on Christ’s work and not on ours, and so we begin erecting fronts once again. We are fearful of confessing our sins to one another; fearful of seeking help; “Everyone else seems to have it all together,” we say to ourselves. “If I tell them my struggles then they might not speak with me any more.” And so we erect a stunning façade but inside we’re becoming increasingly empty and lifeless.

James exhorts us, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In the knowledge that God has forgiven us, that we are right with God because of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement, let us confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed, that we may grow in righteousness, grow in our ability to please the Lord who has loved us. Let us cease hiding; cease erecting facades, cease playing at following Christ. Let us pray for one another so that the joy on our faces, the delight in our eyes, the comfort in our souls be not merely a façade but reflect what is truly reality. And let us begin by confessing our sins corporately this day.

The Public Reading of Scripture

January 12, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - James, Bible - NT - Revelation, Lord's Day, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God, Worship
1 Timothy 4:13 (NASB95)
13
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between our traditions and God’s commands so that we are able to evaluate our traditions in light of His commands. Nothing is more deadly than imagining that we don’t have traditions – for this is the first step to subverting the Word of God with our traditions.
Among the traditions which we have as a congregation, one of them is reading various passages from the Word of God each Lord’s Day. Apart from the sermon text, we read Old and New Testament passages. Why do this?
The passage today answers this question. For while many of our traditions are simply applications of biblical principles, the public reading of the Word of God is the implementation of a biblical tradition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Likewise, John in the book of Revelation pronounces his blessing on the one who was to read in worship the book he was composing. Reading portions of the Word of God each Lord’s Day is not simply a church tradition – it is an apostolic tradition.
Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach it? First, how ought we to read the Word of God? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. We ought to read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. We ought to read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense (Neh 8:8). We ought to read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, we ought to read with discretion – giving due attention to the tone of the passage – whether it is pronouncing doom upon the unrepentant or comfort to the afflicted; tone matters.
Second, how ought we to listen to the Word of God? We are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first and primary obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the Word of the living God. Our ears should be attentive to His message; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself. Taking every thought captive, let us hear what the reading is announcing to us today.
And, having heard, let us not be like the man who looks at his face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of person he is. No, rather let us not only give ear to the Word but as God uses it to poke and prod us, let us give heed to in in the alteration of our attitudes and actions.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.

Preference vs Principle

February 1, 2013 in Bible - NT - James, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification

James 1:22-25 (NKJV)
22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
It is imperative for us as the people of God to distinguish between being men and women of preference and being men and women of principle. The text before us today provides the basis for this distinction and so let me explain it briefly.
A man or woman of preference is one who would prefer things to be a certain way but who can’t seem, for one reason or another, to accomplish his objective. He would prefer to be sexually pure, but he just can’t seem to resist looking at pornography. She would prefer to be respectful to her husband, but he’s just so unworthy of respect. He would prefer to succeed in his schoolwork well, but his friends invited him to a party this weekend. She would prefer to live a life characterized by joy and gladness, but what her parents did to her when she was young is just too much to forgive. He would prefer to have obedient children, but the children God has given him are difficult and his wife just doesn’t do a good job with them. She would prefer to be content, but all her friends have so many more clothes than she. He would prefer to make it to church each Lord’s Day, but it’s simply too hard to get the whole family ready ahead of time. She would prefer not to gossip, but she’s just so lonely she needs someone to talk with.
Contrast these scenarios with a man or woman of principle. He knows it is sinful to be sexually impure, and so he does whatever is necessary to shield himself from temptation. She knows that she must respect her husband, and so she begins honoring him with her words and actions, praying that her heart attitude will gradually change. He knows that all hard work, including school work, brings a profit, so he skips the party to study for his exam. She knows that God commands her to be joyful, and so she confesses her sin of bitterness and refuses to listen to her own sob story. He knows he is responsible for the state of his children, and so he asks his wife’s forgiveness for failing to train them and then he sets about to make them obedient. She knows that contentment is not an option, and so she meditates on the Word of God and rejoices that God is her portion in the land of the living. He knows that his family needs to be in worship every Lord’s Day, and so he organizes everything Saturday evening so they can make it. She knows it is a sin to gossip, and so she confides her loneliness to the Lord and looks for ways to praise others with her words.
What kind of man or woman are you? Are you a man or woman of preference or of principle? If the former heed the warning of James –
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Reminded that we often fail to be men and women of principle and that we make excuses for our disobedience, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.

Caring for Widows and Orphans

November 8, 2012 in Adoption, Bible - NT - James, Meditations

James 1:27 (NKJV)
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Today is National Orphan Sunday and so I thought it would be appropriate to read today from James’ exhortation to visit orphans and widows in their trouble. The word “visit” is connected to our English word “bishop” or “overseer.” It means to visit so as to care for and relieve suffering – not just to say, “Hi”, but to minister and assist them in their needs.
James insists that this type of care – serving the needs of those who are suffering and in trouble, those who are weakest and most vulnerable to exploitation – is an essential component of pure and undefiled religion. Pure – clean, holy, distinct, the real thing; and undefiled – not soiled or painted over to cover some impurity or fault; religion – worship, service of God – is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble – their oppression, affliction, hardship, burden.
In other words, James is insisting that an integral part of our faith must be caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, those who are suffering or hurting or who are being mistreated by those in power.
What this means is that we as individual Christians and as a church body need to consider how we can assist those in distress. How can we put James’ admonition into practice? Happily one of the ways some families have done this is through adoption. Praise God for these opportunities to extend the grace of God to these kids in need through adoption. And thank God that you all as members of the same body have assisted with the financial burdens of adoption and welcomed these adopted children into our congregation and made them to feel one with us. May God continue to shower us with such grace and multiply such opportunities.
But the duty of serving the poor is too central to be left to the impulse of individuals – and so God ordained deacons in the churches to facilitate the service of the poor. As Calvin writes, “the care of the poor and the distribution of alms were committed to the deacons.” Given the centrality of this duty, is it not worthy of our attention and a cause for some distress that we have still only one man serving as a deacon in our congregation? So this morning let us kneel and confess that we need yet more of God’s grace that we might be able to minister more effectively to orphans and widows in their distress.
Our Father,
You have been gracious and longsuffering toward us. You have rescued us from our sin and folly, delivered us through Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus. Yet we have often proved unmoved by the sufferings and hardships of others, particularly widows and orphans. God we ask you to have mercy on us and forgive us. Grant us grace to reach out in love and care to those who are suffering. Add to the number of our deacons so that we might more effectively coordinate such care. And grant that hereby your Name might be exalted in our congregation and in our community. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Rampaging Bulls

September 24, 2012 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Sanctification

James 1:19-21 (NKJV)
19
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Excuses, as they say, are a dime a dozen. At no time do excuses range more freely than when we are angry. Like cattle freed from the stockade, when we are angry excuses start pouring out the open doorway of our lips and become a stampede trampling down any hapless victim who happens to confront us for our sin. But as the stampede makes its way precipitously forward the excuses confront the granite wall of James’ declaration – the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. And when the bovine excuse finds itself charging the wall it has two choices – veer out of the way and continue its rowdy course into the distance or hurl itself against the wall and die.

And so what of us? Are we pouring out excuses for our anger? That kid just won’t listen. My boss is too damn hard on me. My wife won’t have sex when I want to. My husband didn’t lead family devotions yesterday. My mom and dad spoke harshly to me. And so our anger rises, the blood boils, the face becomes red. And then our Lord places before us the granite wall – the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God – now what do we do? Do we veer out of the way, avoid the word of God, and continue in our rampage? Or do we instead crash headlong into the text and let it kill us? Let it kill our anger? Jesus declared, “He who desires to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow after me.” Let him die.

Have you been a disciple of Christ this week? Have you killed yourself on the Word of God? Slain your excuses for getting angry and sought forgiveness for your sin? Or have you avoided the Word of God instead and offered up your litany of reasons why it is just for you to get angry? Let us kneel and let us confess that we are often quick to anger and more foolish than a rampaging bull.

Reciting the Creeds in Faith

May 10, 2011 in Bible - NT - James, Creeds, Meditations

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19


In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is Eastertide and we have once again shifted the version of the Creed we are confessing – singing now the Apostles’ Creed – and so it is always good to remember why we do what we do.

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess–we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith–we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the green revolution. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.

While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? This morning we’ll have the privilege of witnessing a baptism and reaffirming our faith in God. But the same basic reaffirmation is made each week. Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.

Centrality of the Psalms

July 9, 2010 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Singing Psalms

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. “Lord, I don’t understand; God help me; Father, lift me up; My God, my god, why have you forsaken me, why are you so far from my groaning?” When we are suffering it is not simply a good idea to take our pain to the throne of God, we are commanded to do so. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries. And where do we find examples of what faithful cries to God in sorrow look like? In the psalms.

Balancing this imperative comes James’ imperative for times of joy. When we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When we are joyful there is only one proper response in James’ mind: praise. And where do we find examples of what faithful praise to God in joy looks like? In the psalms.

Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of God’s people. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray the psalms. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing the psalms.

So here’s the question for us – do we know our psalter well enough to fulfill James’ exhortation? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalter. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. We have psalm sings every month so that we can learn them, we sing the psalms in our corporate worship together so they become intwined with our corporate life, and we are hosting again our Savoring the Psalms BBQs this summer to revel in them. All these things are specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.

Mindless Repetition

July 29, 2009 in Bible - NT - James, Creeds, Meditations

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is always good to remember why we do this, so consider just a few reasons:

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess–we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith–we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the
universe. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.

While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship each week in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.