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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rediscovering the Indescribable Beauty and Depth of Psalm Singing!

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Excerpts from Rediscovering the Psalms by Joe Holland

Psalm singing is experiencing a renaissance. A national worship conference being held this year is entitled "Rediscovering the Psalms". Websites are providing resources for people who would like to learn more about psalm singing. Churches are making strategic plans to train their members in psalm singing. Blogs and internet bulletin boards buzz with excitement over the Psalter. It is undeniable that the church is waking up to that which once marked it--the passionate singing of psalms. I am a child of this movement...

...First, what benefits should you expect from psalm singing?

When you sing psalms you literally sing the Bible. 

The hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" is a moving meditation on the cross of Christ. No hymn matches "For All the Saints" in its contemplation on the communion of the saints. But neither of these hymns are the actual words of the Bible. They are reflections on it. Forgetting for a moment that we are not singing the psalms in Hebrew, we are still singing the very words of God. The versification, themes, and content of the psalms are the inspired word of God for his church in every age. When you sing a psalm you sing the Bible.

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When you sing the psalms you interact with a wealth of theology. 

Martin Luther said of the Psalter, "that it might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended." The 150 psalms cover the span of theology. To learn the psalms is not just to learn a specific topic of theology. It is to learn about every area of theology. Anthropology, theology proper, a theology of Scripture, Christology, soteriology, eccleisiology, and eschatology are all covered in the Psalter. Take for example Psalm 19 and its two part contemplation of God's revelation in creation and in the Bible. Or consider John Calvin's observation of God's attributes in Psalm 145, "in which the sum of all his powers is so precisely reckoned up that nothing would seem to have been omitted." The psalms provide a thorough exposure to the fullness of theology.

When you sing the psalms you are memorizing Scripture. 

An important part of Christian maturity is the ability to recall passages of Scripture at need. Educational circles have long advocated the use of music to aid memorization. Music has a way of impressing truth into the mind in ways that reading alone cannot. This is no accident; it is the providential hand of our Creator God. He wants you to memorize his word and has provided a mnemonic for easy memory--the Psalter as Scripture set to music.

When you sing the psalms you guard against heresy. 

Andrew Fletcher said, "Let me write a country's songs, and I care not who writes its laws." He was on to something. Songs drive information deep into our hearts. However, this power can be used for ill means. As long as the church has existed, songs have been used to inculcate heresy. There is an assumption that if you can sing it then it must be true. How shall we guard against sung-heresy? Sing psalms.

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When you sing the psalms you engage a collection of songs that address the full range of human emotions. 

Godly anger, heart-wrenching sorrow, dark depression, effulgent joy, honest questioning, and exuberant praise are just a sampling of the emotional range covered by the psalms. Most churches sense the burden of teaching their people how to think. Very few consider their responsibility to teach their people how to feel. Christians do not struggle with feeling. Feeling just happens. But our feelings must be trained by the gospel as much as our minds must. The psalms serve as the class room of our affections.

When you sing the psalms you praise the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

One of the most ignorant statements a Christian can make against psalm singing is, "I don't sing psalms because they aren't about Jesus." Too many evangelicals--having unwittingly drunk deep of the Marcionite heresy--have ceased to see the Old Testament, and especially the psalms, as a masterpiece of redemptive history telling in types, shadows, and rituals the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

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When the earliest Christians wanted to sing praise to God for the redemption wrought by Jesus' atoning death they turned to the psalms. It is sheer biblical ignorance and chronological snobbery to assume we can write better songs about Jesus than are provided in the psalms through the lens of the New Testament. To sing the psalms is to sing of the person and work of Christ.

When you sing the psalms you are training for spiritual warfare. 

As my Peruvian friend insisted, the psalms are militant. They are filled with images of war, divine conquest, and righteous triumph. Are those themes no longer needed in our day? As we watch men leave the church in droves dismayed at the feminization of worship is their no need for masculine, militant spirituality? As we watch Satan and his legions pillage congregations and hold Christians captive in doubts and error do we not need songs of war? J. C. Ryle understood this crucial element of Christian worship when he said, "true Christianity is the fight of faith." What songs will the armies of God sing to steel courage and embolden spiritual warfare? When we sing the psalms we sing the songs of war against sin, the world, and the devil.

When you sing the psalms you are engaging the communion of saints. 

The psalms were composed over a certain period in Israelite history. But they are not relics. They have been sung by the covenant people of God in each successive generation up to today. They will be sung until Christ's return. This touches on the doctrine of the communion of the saints. There is a solidarity in Christ for all who have been bought by his blood. That solidarity extends across cultures and generations. The psalms are rooted in the covenant identity of all God's chosen race. To sing them is to confess the communion of saints.

Why I love to read and cherish the Exclusive Psalmody Debate


I love to read the debate on Exclusive Psalmody or the use of musical instrument because of several reasons;

1) These controversies touch on the bones of Christian worship.
2) Both sides are seriously pursing the biblical worship according to the Scripture.
3) These debates have been with us more than 500 years!

In any serious and sound Christian controversy, I think we can learn precious truths not just from the results/conclusions, but rather from the discussion process itself

When two serious Bible-believing Christians disagree on a certain issue and that that particular debate has been discussed well over the centuries, then, it might be wise to guess that there must be some vital, unignorable arguments on both sides of the debate. So, it is worth investigating it! 

Upon this, Dr. Vern Poythress, a professor of NT hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary wrote an impressive remarks;


  "Until now, “hardline” representatives have been tempted to regard people in the opposite camp as unenlightened. The opposing views seem so absurd that it is easy to make fun of them or become angry and cease even to talk with people in the opposite camp. If you, dear reader, consider the opposite position absurd, let me assure you that people within that position consider your position equally absurd.  
  Of course, in the dispute,,, not everyone can be right. It might be that one position is right and the other wrong. It might also be that one position is mostly right, but has something to learn from a few points on which the other position has some valuable things to say. So it will be important to try to listen seriously to more than one point of view, in order to make sure that we have not missed something.  
  Suppose after our investigation we conclude that people in one camp are basically mistaken. That still does not mean that every aspect or concern of their theology is mistaken. Still less does it mean that we cannot learn from the people involved. People are important in other ways than simply as representatives of a theological “position.” More is at stake than simply making up our minds."
from Understanding Dispensationalists, chapter 1

Now, regarding the issue of Exclusive Psalmody, I came across a compassionate, profound and highly convincing article recently and I want to share it with my readers.

By reading this, you can understand that many vital issues are involved in and around this particular theme indeed and that no serious Bible-believing Christians can dismiss the arguments of Exclusive Psalmodists in a light or scoffing way. No way!

* And I recommend this site as well. You can dive into a beautiful world of Scottish Metrical Psalter (1650) with online congregational singing!
The Psalms of David – Sung a cappella

* Let us incline our ears to both sides of the arguments with both sympathetic hearts and with critical minds. 

1) Exclusive Psalmody? ----YES! It is biblical.

2) Exclusive Psalmody?----NO! It is not biblical.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Deeps: Puritan Prayer

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Lord Jesus,

Give me a deeper repentance,
a horror of sin; a dread of its approach;

Help me chastely flee it, and jealously to resolve that 
my heart shall be thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust,
that I may lose myself to find myself in thee,
the ground of my rest, the spring of my being.

Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself
as Saviour, Master, Lord, and King.

Give me deeper power in private prayer,
more sweetness in thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth.

Give me deeper holiness in speech, though, action,
and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee.

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Plough deep in me, great Lord,
heavenly Husbandman,
that my being may be a tilled field,
the roots of grace spreading far and wife,
until thou alone art seen in me,
thy beauty golden like summer harvest,
thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no Master but thee,
no law but thy will,
no delight but thyself,
no wealth but that though givest,
no good but that though blesset,
no peace but that though bestowest.

I am nothing but that though makest me,
I have nothing but that I receive from thee,
I can be nothing but that grace adorns me.

Quarry me deep, Dear Lord,
and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

Heavenly Tranquility

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Lord of all tranquility,
O incline to us Thine ear;
Hide us very privily
When our cruel foe draws near.

Steady Thou the wills that stray;
Purify our penitence;
Move in us that we may pray
And rejoice with reverence.

Fold our souls in silence deep;
Grant us from ourselves to pass;
Lead, Good Shepherd, to Thy sheep
To the fields of tender grass.
Where Thy hush is in the air
And Thy flowers the hedges dress,
Cause for us to flow forth there
Waters of Thy quietness.

-Amy Carmichael

Hush, O hush, the moon's alight

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Hush, O hush, the moon's alight, 
Pale the stars, and few and faint;
Lilies red and lilies white
Stand each like a haloed saint.

See the shadowy, dreamy trees
Bathe in pools of silver air;
Hear the whisper of the breeze
Murmur softly like a prayer.

Hush, o hush, 'tis holy ground,
Moon-washed, clean as driven snow, 
Meet for Him the moonbeams crowned
In a garden long ago. 

Moonbeams, crown Him once again;
Lilies, ring your sanctus bell:
King of Love and King of Pain, 
Thou art here--Immanuel. 

--Amy Carmichael

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A tiny flower in the remote forest

To my dear sister in Christ,

I happened to find a tiny, little flower in the remote forest.

My dear, I know that you are living 
in a small, obscure and restricted place.
<Yes, and I don't have freedom to move.>

You are barely standing,
by your little, sensitive root
and your slender, delicate stem.
<So, I plead you, o rough winds, stay away from me.>

O, how beautiful you are!
Your whole tiny presence is a living reflection

of the indescribable beauty of our Creator.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Let's go back to the basics of Christian Worship! : The beauty and simplicity of the Regulative Principle of Worship

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                                    "Gospel" Hula Dance

From when has our holy altar been degraded into a mere human theatrical stage? 
Who has robbed the glory of God in the midst of the sanctuary where only and only He is to be worshiped and paid attention to? 
Lo, paganism invasion! O impudent human-centeredness! 
O, may God give mercy upon us!

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Kevin DeYoung, THE FREEDOM OF THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE @ The Gospel Coalition(source)

Even though I grew up in a Reformed church, until seminary I was one of the multitude of Christians who had never heard of the regulative principle. It’s not been at the core of my identity. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate the regulative principle more and more.

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Simply put, the regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. 

The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” At its worst, this principle leads to constant friction and suspicion between believers. Christians beat each other up trying to discern exactly where the offering should go in the service or precisely which kinds of instruments have scriptural warrant. When we expect the New Testament to give a levitical lay out of the one liturgy that pleases God, we are asking the Bible a question it didn’t mean to answer. It is possible for the regulative principle to become a religion unto itself.

But the heart of the regulative principle is not about restriction. It is about freedom.

1. Freedom from cultural captivity. When corporate worship is largely left to our own designs we quickly find ourselves scrambling to keep up with the latest trends. The most important qualities become creativity, relevance, and newness. But of course, over time (not much time these days), what was fresh grows stale. We have to retool in order to capture the next demographic. Or learn to be content with settling in as a Boomer church or Gen X church.

Where are all the young people, Yoido Full Gospel Church?
a youth gathering at a certain mega church (source)

2. Freedom from constant battles over preferences. The regulative principles does not completely eliminate the role of opinion and preference. Even within a conservative Reformed framework, worship leaders may disagree about musical style, transitions, volume, tempo, and many other factors. Conflict over preferences will remain even with the regulative principle. 

But it should be mitigated. I remember years ago at a different church sitting in a worship planning session where people were really good at coming up with new ideas for the worship service. Too good in fact. We opened one service with the theme song from Cheers. Another service on Labor Day had people come up in their work outfits and talk about what they do. Everyone had an idea that seemed meaningful to them. The regulative principle wouldn’t have solved all our problems, but it would have been a nice strainer to catch some well-intentioned, but goofy ideas.

3. Freedom of conscience. Coming out of the Catholic church with its host of extra biblical rituals, newly established Protestant churches had to figure out how to worship in their own way. Some were comfortable keeping many of the elements of the Catholic Mass. Others associated those elements with a false religious system. They didn’t want to go back to the mess of rites they left behind, even if by themselves some rites didn’t seem all that harmful.

This was the dynamic that made the regulative principle so important. Reformed Christians said in effect, “We don’t want to ask our church members to do anything that would violate their consciences.” Maybe bowing here or a kiss there could be justified by some in their hearts, but what about those who found it idolatrous? Should they be asked to do something as an act of worship that Scripture never commands and their consciences won’t allow? This doesn’t mean Christians will like every song or appreciate every musical choice. But at least with the regulative principle we can come to worship knowing that nothing will be asked of us except that which can be shown to be true according to the Word of God.

4. Freedom to be cross cultural. It’s unfortunate most people probably think worship according to the regulative principle is the hardest to transport to other cultures. And this may be true if the regulative principle is mistakenly seen to dictate style as well as substance. But at its best, the regulative principle means we have simple services with singing, praying, reading, preaching, and sacraments–the kinds of services whose basic outline can “work” anywhere in the world.

5. Freedom to focus on the center. Usually when talking about corporate worship I don’t even bring up the regulative principle. It is unknown to many and scary to others. So I try to get at the same big idea from a different angle. I’ll say something like this: “What do we know they did in their Christian worship services in the Bible? We know they sang the Bible. We know that preached the Bible. We know they prayed the Bible. We know they read the Bible. We know they saw the Bible in the sacraments. We dont see dramas or pet blessings or liturgical dance numbers. 

So why wouldn’t we want to focus on everything we know they did in their services? Why try to improve on the elements we know were pleasing to God and practiced in the early church?” In other words, the regulative principle gives us the freedom to unapologetically to go back to basics. And stay there.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Longing for Heaven: Puritan Prayer



I live here as a fish in a vessel of water,
      only enough to keep me alive,
  but in heaven I shall swim in the ocean.

Here I have a little air in me to keep me breathing,
  but there I shall have sweet and fresh gales;

Here I have a beam of sun to lighten my darkness,
  a warm ray to keep me from freezing;
 yonder I shall live in light and warmth for ever.

My natural desires are corrupt and misguided,
  and it is thy mercy to destroy them;
My spiritual longings are of thy planting,
  and thou wilt water and increase them;
Quicken my hunger and thirst after
    the realm above.

Here I can have the world,
  there I shall have thee in Christ;

Here is a life of longing and prayer,
  there is assurance without suspicion,
    asking without refusal;

Here are gross comforts, more burden
    than benefit,
  there is joy without sorrow,
    comfort without suffering,
    love without inconstancy,
    rest without weariness.

Give me to know that heaven is all love,
  where the eye affects the heart,
    and the continual viewing of thy beauty
    keeps the soul in continual transports
      of delight.

Give me to know that heaven is all peace,
  where error, pride, rebellion, passion
    raise no head.

Give me to know that heaven is all joy,
  the end of believing, fasting, praying,
    mourning, humbling, watching,
      fearing, repining;

And lead me to it soon.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall stand and rule and grow forever!

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1. The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall hallow now our rest.

2. We thank Thee that Thy Church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

3. As o'er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

4. The sun, that bids us rest, is waking
Our brethren 'neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

5. So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth's proud empires, pass away:
But stand, and rule, and grow for ever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.


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by John Ellerton (1826-1893)

Monday, April 17, 2017

O GOD All-Sufficient! : Puritan Prayer


Thou hast made and upholdest all things
      by the word of thy power;
  darkness is thy pavilion,
  thou walkest on the wings of the wind;

  all nations are nothing before thee;
  one generation succeeds another,
  and we hasten back to the dust;

  the heavens we behold will vanish away
    like the clouds that cover them,
  the earth we tread on will dissolve
    as a morning dream;

But thou, unchangeable and incorruptible,
  art for ever and ever,
  God over all, blessed eternally.
Infinitely great and glorious art thou.

We are thy offspring and thy care.
Thy hands have made and fashioned us.
Thou hast watched over us with
    more than parental love,
    more than maternal tenderness.

Thou hast holden our soul in life,
  and not suffered our feet to be moved.
Thy divine power has given us all things
  necessary for life and godliness.

Let us bless thee at all times and forget not
    how thou hast
  forgiven our iniquities,
  healed our diseases,
  redeemed our lives from destruction,
  crowned us with lovingkindness and
    tender mercies,
  satisfied our mouths with good things,
  renewed our youth like the eagle’s.

May thy Holy Scriptures
  govern every part of our lives,
  and regulate the discharge of all our duties,
  so that we may adorn thy doctrine

    in all things.