Category Archives: Worship

The Fourth Commandment

From my earliest memories I knew about the Sabbath. Both of my parents came from generations of ancestors who kept the Sabbath, Seventh Day Baptists. When I grew up I was puzzled by the seeming lack of honor for the 7th day Sabbath (or the “Lord’s Day” Sabbath as well) in other Christian communities. As time went on, and I did not normally live where I had access to Seventh Day Baptist churches, I grew accustomed to worshiping in church for an hour or so on Sunday, and nodding to Sabbath by trying not to shop or clean my house on that day. I wouldn’t say, now, that I kept the Sabbath holy.

This week I was surprised to hear Alistair Begg, who is not a Sabbatarian, preach passionately on the Sabbath and the fourth commandment. From the sermon:

Now, there are two things that mitigate against any good understanding of this commandment, and they are these: on the one hand, an almost complete lack of conviction about any notion of the abiding significance of the fourth commandment—and we’ll address that in a moment—and on the other hand, almost total confusion concerning the nature not only of all the Ten Commandments but peculiarly of this one day.

Now, we can highlight this in a number of ways. Let me do so by quoting from the Civil War. I think it’s the Civil War, isn’t it? Stonewall Jackson? General Jackson is a legend in American history. Any of you who have read of Jackson will know that he was a man of extreme principle and character. At the very heart of this was his conviction of faith in Jesus Christ. And his extreme rigorous character attached itself also to the observance of the Sabbath. And writing in his biography, his widow says,

Certainly he was not less scrupulous in obeying the divine command to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” than he was in any other rule of his life. Since the Creator had set apart this day for his own, and commanded it to be kept holy, he believed that it was … wrong for him to desecrate it by worldly pleasure, idleness, or secular employment, as to break any other commandment of the decalogue. Sunday was his busiest day of the week, as he always attended church twice a day and taught in two Sabbath schools! He refrained as much as possible from all worldly conversation, and in his family, if secular topics were introduced, he would say, with a kindly smile, “We will talk about that to-morrow.”

He never travelled on Sunday, never took his mail from the post-office, nor permitted a letter of his own to travel on that day, always before posting it calculating the time it required to reach its destination ….

One so strict in his own Sabbath observance naturally believed that it was wrong for the government to carry the [mail] on Sunday. Any organization which exacted secular labor of its employees on the Lord’s day was, in his opinion, a violator of God’s law.[2]

And so his life was marked by a rigorous obedience to the law of God.

Now, loved ones, here’s the question: Is this quote from Jackson an anachronism? In other words, if Jackson was right, where does that leave us? ’Cause if we’re right, most of us, he was wrong. But one thing is for sure: we’re not both right. So we need to go to our Bibles, then, and determine who approximates to the instruction of God’s Word closely. Is it us, in our libertine rejection of the Lord’s Day, or is it Jackson, in his rigorous obedience of it?

You can read the transcript, or listen (which I suggest) here:

https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/holy-day-or-holiday-pt1/https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/holy-day-or-holiday-pt2/

Life Changes

Having grown up in the Church, I have been church singing all my life, often in a choir. I have been singing in my current church choir for over ten years now. Right after I joined, and after I had left for the summer, the choir director/organist left the church, and I still don’t fully understand why. But when I returned from my summer hiatus I discovered the choir was reduced from probably 25 members to 8 or so. And the recent choir members left the church as well. I was shocked.

We had a wonderful interim organist/choir director. He was serious about singing good music, annunciating well, and doing what was necessary to aid worship. In retrospect I see that he also encouraged us to become a cohesive group. I listened, and in my own way I did what I thought I could to do to help that effort. Then our Mary came. Mary is an incredibly talented pianist and musician. If you heard her play the organ you would think she was also trained in organ as well.

I don’t think Mary had much education in choral music, but her husband did, and he came to ALL of our rehearsals. (Both of them graduated from Julliard). They were quite the team! Tim was focused, but also had a wonderful sense of humor. Mary, was just steady and amazing in her accompaniment and also directing. I could not fathom how she could play some of that complicated accompaniment and yet lift a hand to give us a cue. Mary is shy and quiet, and Tim had a dry and quick sense of humor. Tim also came to all of our bell rehearsals, and taught all of us how to play the dang things.

In the last 5 years or so Mary was the recipient of numerous and frequent complaints about music choices, speed of hymns, and even suggestions that she not play the organ any more. But we kept singing, often singing classic worship music almost no one sings any more. It was such a blessing to me, and I hope to others as well. I sang so much music I had admired, but never imagined I would ever sing.

Mary is leaving in two weeks. She and the family are moving back to Florida. I, and my choir members (all 5 of us) are devastated. I plan to go back to Georgia for our last rehearsal and worship service. I don’t know, but I think probably this will be the end of our choir, and the end of the organ during the service. I am sad, but also very grateful.

Take Away Our Bent to Sinning

Intentional memorizing has always been difficult for me. But sometimes when I lie awake during the night I remember the words to hymns, quite often all of the words. Last night it was this one that came to mind. It must have been a favorite of my father because we frequently sang it in church. Like many hymns it is best when sung in its entirety.

The phrase I first remembered last night was “Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; End of faith as its beginning; set our hearts at liberty.” Newer hymn books have substituted “Take away our love of sinning” for “take away our bent to sinning”. I don’t like it. It does not mean the same thing. “Bent” reminds me that I am by nature twisted away from purity and truth, and I need help getting straight before I understand sin at all. Important also, when I remember I lean toward sin I can be proactive and preventative. Not all sin I commit is directly caused by my “love of sinning”.

Below is the tune and text I remember.

True Worship

“…true worship is biblical worship, that is to say, it is a response to the biblical revelation…the reading and preaching of God’s word in public worship, far from being alien intrusions into it, are rather indispensible aspects of it. It is the word of God which evokes the worship of God.”

“The Living Church” by John Stott, IVP 2007, pp.35-36

In the Rooms

The church I regularly attend has recently adopted several changes, including a name change (formerly Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, now Skidaway Community Church). We were told the church is still Presbyterian, but the hope is that the new name will attract more worshipers. I still am not sure what I should think about this.

We also are in the early stages of searching for a new minister, and like most everyone else, feeling the disruption caused by COVID, social distancing and abbreviated services.

We still include corporate confession and assurance of pardon every week (although sometimes the assurance is applied narrative rather than scripture), but we are no longer reciting the Apostle’s Creed, or another statement of faith. I think it is a mistake to omit it. We need to bear witness exactly to what we believe.

C. S. Lewis, who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  (Mere Christianity, 1980).

Each Most Rare

This morning, on my usual walk I was struck by how different familiar vistas look on each viewing.  After the heavy rain last night everything looked so fresh and alive and I noticed the contrast between various clumps of grasses.  And I thought about the uniqueness of each created thing.  Awesome.

            A Short Ode

All things then stood before us
as they were,
Not in comparison,
But each most rare;
The ‘tree, of many, one,’
The lock of hair,
The weir in the morning sun,
The hill in the darkening air,
Each in its soleness, then and there,
Created one; that one, creation’s care.

Edmund Blunden, A Hong Kong House: Poems 1951-1961 (Collins 1962).

Thanks to Stephen Pentz.

Singing “The God of Abraham Praise”

The past 15 years or so I have been worshipping with a Presbyterian church.  During that time I’ve been introduced to some old hymns that I really like.  One of them we are singing this week, “The God of Abraham Praise.”  It sounds so Jewish to me, which makes sense because, according to the hymn book, the tune was adapted from a “Traditional Hebrew melody.”  And the subject is praising God, who was also the God of Abraham, and the Jewish people.

I love how hymns like this remind us of timeless truths about God and the Church.  Much of the phraseology comes straight from the Old or/and New Testaments.  They are based on scripture and truth and promises, not at all focused on ourselves, but rather on God.

Isn’t it a glorious song!

 

Worship: About God and For Us

Written by  “an amateur musician who spent decades in the Contemporary Worship movement before abandoning it completely to search for a life of sacramental worship”:

I have argued, via my guest articles and comments on Jonathan’s blog over the last few years, that worship is formative, not expressive. That worship is about God and for us. It is about God in that God and God alone is the subject and object of our worship. It is for us in that worship is intended to be formative, not expressive and is meant to transform us into the likeness and character of Jesus Christ.

The Contemporary Worship movement claims that worship is all about emotion and enlists passages such as the story of David’s dance to reinforce their faulty presuppositions about the goal and purpose of worship. I do not intend to diminish the role of emotion in the Christian life. God created us as rational, volitional, and emotional beings and all these components should help propel worship forward its intended telos. However, a worship philosophy that makes an emotional response the primary metric of successful worship is flawed. So long as emotion remains the goal and metric of worship, the church deprives itself of a God-given means of grace through which we are transformed, individually and corporately, into the Bride of Christ.

Read it all here.

Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode

I found this in the hymn book from the first Presbyterian church I attended, First Presbyterian Church North Shore, Ipswich, Massachusetts.  It is so reassuring, and based on scripture.  I don’t remember ever singing it before.

Here are the lyrics from my hymn book (with a few pronoun changes from the recorded version):

Who trusts in God, a strong abode in heav’n and earth possesses;
Who looks in love to Christ above, no fear his heart oppresses.
In you alone, dear Lord, we own sweet hope and consolation:
Our shield from foes, our balm for woes, our great and sure salvation.
Though Satan’s wrath beset our path, and worldly scorn assail us,
While you are near we will not fear, your strength shall never fail us:
Your rod and staff shall keep us safe, and guide our steps forever;
Nor shades of death, nor hell beneath, our souls from you shall sever.
In all the strife of mortal life our feet shall stand securely:
Temptations’s hour shall lose its pow’r, for you shall guard us surely.
O God, renew, with heav’nly dew, our body, soul, and spirit,
Until we stand at your right hand, through Jesus’ saving merit.
I love the tune.  It is so singable.  And I would prefer to sing the older pronouns, but that is not important.

 

By Thy Grace Our Souls Are Fed

Bread of the world, in mercy broken!
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed!
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead!

Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed,
And be thy feast to us the token
That by thy grace our souls are fed!

 

   I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

Here are the other verses, not here included:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

3. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise
And all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I’ll walk
Till traveling days are done.