Posted in encouragement, theology

Grace IS Amazing

By Elizabeth Prata

palm sunday

My favorite doctrines are Grace, followed by Providence.

Grace that is extended by our loving God is shocking and amazing and wonderful. I was saved later in life and I remember what it felt like to live a sinful life in rebellion against God. It was confusing and upsetting, most of the time.

I read a lot, and enjoyed historical books and the world’s myths. As I read books, all the world’s made-up gods were capricious or unloving or dismissive of humans. That seemed right to me. Even when I read of the Founding Fathers and learned about their deism, that god also seemed right to me. The deist god created everything – including humans – but then retreated from humankind’s affairs and let us wind down of our own accord.

Grace given by a loving God was foreign to me and unthinkable. Because that would mean He was involved with humans, lovingly. Weird.

But that and only that God is the one true God.

He came in the form of a baby who grew to be a man-God, teaching and loving and performing miracles. He died for our sins and absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf.

Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound
It was not a sweet sound to me then, but it is now.

That saved a wretch like me
I used to close my mouth if I happened to be at a Church service, like at Christmas, and this hymn came on. I wasn’t a wretch!, I’d utter. And close my mouth, refusing to say the lyrics.

I once was lost, but now am found
I didn’t know I was lost and I didn’t know I needed to be found.

Was blind but now I see
I didn’t know I was blind. Revelation 3:17 applies here:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

That the Lord of All would stoop to save a wretch like me, covered in mud and dwelling with the pigs, like the Prodigal, is amazing. That He would walk into Jerusalem, knowing the cries of Hosannah! would turn bloody and hateful a week later. That He went toward his kangaroo trials, his scourging, and his death, even death upon a cross, to save filthy sinners, is amazing. What grace!

Thank you Lord, for your grace!! How wonderful that even when we’ve been there 10,000 years, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun. An eternity praising You is not enough, but what grace that I am able to do so in the first place.

Was blind but now I see…

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

Posted in music, theology

Bring me a minstrel: Music in worship

By Elizabeth Prata

You know the quote, I’m sure:

Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
― William Congreve

Music does make a difference to our mood. King Saul used music to soothe him when his savagery arose in him, calling for David to play.

And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. (1 Samuel 16:23).

It seems that music does have charms to soothe the savage breast, literally. In another case, Elisha had a hard decision to make and prepared to consult the LORD by asking for music.

Then Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD of Hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not for my regard for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or acknowledge you. 15But now, bring me a harpist.” And while the harpist played, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha. (2 Kings 3:15)

The John MacArthur Commentary says of the 2 Kings 3 verse,

The music was used to accompany praise and prayer, which calmed the mind of the prophet that he might clearly hear the word of the LORD. Music often accompanied prophecies in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says

bring me a minstrel—The effect of music in soothing the mind is much regarded in the East; and it appears that the ancient prophets, before entering their work, commonly resorted to it, as a preparative, by praise and prayer, to their receiving the prophetic afflatus.

Music does have the ability to alter our mood, change our state of mind, even relax us (else why have so much New Age music in spas?), and alternately music can also excite us (else why have a ‘warm-up band’ before the main concert attraction?)

The long “music wars” in church began when millennials wanted more “contemporary music”. War is an apt name for this tussle over which music to play in church, because as we’ve seen from scripture, music is important in worship, and it can alter our mood and thinking. It’s important to ensure that the music we play isn’t for the purpose of altering our emotions without also engaging the mind. Music can alter our thinking because music lyrics are doctrinal. Songs aren’t neutral, lyrics present a way of thinking about God.

Music in church needs to be delivered in a biblical way and a practical way. Biblical as mentioned, because of the doctrine the songs contain (or don’t contain). Practical, because many ‘old songs’ were easier to sing corporately with laymen and many ‘new songs’ aren’t written for the laymen and are just hard to sing.

There are many new songs which exalt the Lord and/or are solidly doctrinal. There are many old ones that don’t and aren’t. The issue isn’t new vs. old, the issue is whether the song is biblical and practical.

My favorite hymns/songs are Amazing Grace, written in 1779, 240 years ago, and Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor, written in 2015, just 4 years ago.

Now where is that minstrel?…

harp

Resources on Music in the Church

John MacArthur with an overview through a Q&A with Phil Johnson-
Contemporary Worship: Civil War in the Church

This Federalist author has a strong opinion. Essay is from one day ago-
Why Churches Should Ditch The Projector Screens And Bring Back Hymnals

Musician Bob Kauflin with an essay asking the question. BTW there are many other good essays on music in worship at Kauflin’s site.
What does a Worship Leader Do?

Posted in encouragement, theology

Grace IS Amazing

By Elizabeth Prata

palm sunday

My favorite doctrines are Grace, followed by Providence.

Grace that is extended by our loving God is shocking and amazing and wonderful. I was saved later in life and I remember what it felt like to live a sinful life in rebellion against God. It was confusing and upsetting, most of the time.

I read a lot, and enjoyed historical books and the world’s myths. As I read books, all the world’s made-up gods were capricious or unloving or dismissive of humans. That seemed right to me. Even when I read of the Founding Fathers and learned about their deism, that god also seemed right to me. The deist god created everything – including humans – but then retreated from humankind’s affairs and let us wind down of our own accord.

Grace given by a loving God was foreign to me and unthinkable. Because that would mean He was involved with humans, lovingly. Weird.

But that and only that God is the one true God.

He came in the form of a baby who grew to be a man-God, teaching and loving and performing miracles. He died for our sins and absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf.

Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound
It was not a sweet sound to me then, but it is now.

That saved a wretch like me
I used to close my mouth if I happened to be at a Church service, like at Christmas, and this hymn came on. I wasn’t a wretch!, I’d utter. And close my mouth, refusing to say the lyrics.

I once was lost, but now am found
I didn’t know I was lost and I didn’t know I needed to be found.

 

Was blind but now I see
I didn’t know I was blind. Revelation 3:17 applies here:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

That the Lord of All would stoop to save a wretch like me, covered in mud and dwelling with the pigs, like the Prodigal, is amazing. That He would walk into Jerusalem, knowing the cries of Hosannah! would turn bloody and hateful a week later. That He went toward his kangaroo trials, his scourging, and his death, even death upon a cross, to save filthy sinners, is amazing. What grace!

Thank you Lord, for your grace!! How wonderful that even when we’ve been there 10,000 years, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun. An eternity praising You is not enough, but what grace that I am able to do so in the first place.

Was blind but now I see…

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

Posted in encouragement, theology

Praises and Encouragement

By Elizabeth Prata

Have you had a good week in Jesus? I have. I wrote a praise poem recently, thanking Him for His manifestation in my life of His patience, (through loving kindness from fellow church members), His sovereignty as Creator (the full moon so beautiful over the silvery lit pastures), and His providential care (even the smallest needs do not escape His notice.) His involvement in our lives is thorough and constant. The more I walk with Him the more I see this, and I praise Him. But the more I praise Him the more I see His faithfulness and His constancy. It is a glorious circle, one that will never be broken.

It is good to begin with praises, because, as we know, the news in the world is not so good, but we are not of the world. If you walk closely with Jesus the news of the world will affect you only in that it helps you see and understand God is sovereign and everything He does is good. Actually, it is awe-inspiring because the closer I walk with Him and the more news I read that lines up with what He said would happen, it makes me feel more humble and grateful that a God such as He wants to interact on a personal basis with His people.

No matter how serious the news is, His constancy, His sovereignty, His plan, and His ways are Good. Even if you feel you do not have much to praise Him for, you DO! Seek ways to thank Him. He is active in our lives to the n-th degree. Nothing escapes His hand, from the most high work of salvation of souls, to the smallest sparrow’s needs. How much more, then, are YOU valuable to Him? (Matthew 6:25-26).

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
Psalm 34:1-3

collage verse 4

Posted in theology, worship

Songs of praise, looking up

By Elizabeth Prata

jerusalem from scopus

Jerusalem from Scopus

‎We have no means of knowing whether Joseph and Mary entered Jerusalem on their way to Bethlehem. They certainly passed in sight of the Holy City. Scopus, from which our view is taken, is to the north on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We will assume that they saw Jerusalem from this point. It was not the same Jerusalem we saw for the last time, as we made our way to the north on May 2d, 1894, but Josephus has left on record a description of the city as it existed in the time of Herod, and it is possible for us to construct in imagination the city of that time.

The framework is the same to-day as it was in the year 5 B. C. The same hills are there: Zion, Moriah and Acra. The same valleys are there: Hinnom, Tyropeon and Jehoshphat. The Temple of Herod, which was eighty-three years in building, had been in course of erection for fourteen years. From Scopus where we are standing they could have seen the ground plan of the temple, within the same enclosure of thirty-five acres, where we now see in the distance the Mosque of Omar.

Source: Earthly Footsteps of The Man of Galilee, being three hundred and eighty-four… views and descriptions of the places connected with the earthly life of Our Lord and His Apostles … By Bishop J.H. Vincent, etc. – 1894. This striking photographic journey throughout the Holy Land illustrated with no less than 384 b/w photographs taken in 1894 by R. E. M. Bain in order to document the expedition to Palestine headed by clergyman James Wideman Lee.

You can see that Jerusalem sits atop the mount, and the road leading up to it ascends. That is likely why the Psalms between Psalm 120-134 are named Psalms of Ascents. Though no one is quite positive about this, it is believed that these particular Psalms are gathered into a little hymnbook inside the larger body of Psalms because they were meant to be sung as the Israelites ascended the road to Jerusalem in advance of the several feasts and celebrations they were required to attend under the Law. The previous bunch of Psalms are called the Hallel Psalms, hallel meaning songs of praise, you can see we get the word hallelujah from hallel.

Phil Johnson explains it all here, in The Song of a Truly Blessed Man:

The position in the canon is significant, I think. They are grouped with Psalm 119 and the hallel Psalms. Most commentators nowadays believe these 15 psalms were sung by groups of pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for those three pilgrim festivals—the same holy convocations where the Hallel psalms were sung.

So it’s my conviction that the “Psalm[s] of Ascents” were songs for the journey. These are songs for pilgrims as they ascend to a higher place. You know that Jerusalem is situated on a high elevation. The Temple was built at the very top of Mount Zion, and the city itself was the highest populated place in Israel. So no matter where you were coming from, it was always up to Jerusalem. Every journey to Jerusalem was a pilgrimage to a higher place—and those annual pilgrimages therefore made a perfect metaphor for spiritual growth.

Whether your church is up a mount or down a valley or on even ground, sing praises as you look UP today to the highest of the High, the exalted and lifted up Jesus.

By common confession, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was proclaimed among the nations, was believed in throughout the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

May your Lord’s Day be blessed.

Posted in encouragement, theology

Gratitude abounds, the LORD is so worthy to be loved and praised!

By Elizabeth Prata

From electing love to glorifying love, you are loved by God. You were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. He loved you in Christ before time began, and He will love you in Christ when time is over. The committed love of God for His people is as eternal as God is. There’s no time with God. He doesn’t learn anything. He doesn’t arrive on a new idea. He doesn’t come up with new people to redeem. He has always loved His own as long as He has existed. ~John MacArthur, Remembering All His Benefits

gratitude 2

This is an incredible sermon about the praise and gratitude of Psalm 103. Psalm 103 has had more music sung about it or from it than any other (except perhaps Psalm 23). The only name mentioned in the Psalm is YHWH. There is no historical note or context. It is pure praise and love and devotion toward Yahweh.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3 Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4 Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5 Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

6 The Lord performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
17 But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.

19 The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
22 Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
(Psalm 103)

He has forgotten all our sins! Let us always remember Him and all His kindnesses toward us, each day. Please take a look at the 16 items that come in just The Salvation Package. And the LORD gives so much more.

Then please take a listen to this sermon that will no doubt ignite your gratitude and cause singing from the wellsprings of your soul. John MacArthur upacks Psalm 103 and in so doing makes God’s love toward His people real and devastatingly poignant. And then,

[N]othing more clearly demonstrates our remaining sin than the ease with which we forget such staggering love and blessing.

This sermon will help you remember all His blessings, and gratitude will flow and praise will come and worship will happen. I promise.

Sermon:

Remembering All His Benefits

Lord, May there always be a fountain of praise and worship from my soul to Him!

Posted in hymn, theology

O for a thousand tongues

On this Lord’s Day in hopes that this sweet hymns of praise might refresh your soul, I offer this song of praise to our Redeemer. I pray you have opportunity to attend a loving and doctrinal church, meet with the saints and love the Lord through hearing His word, prayer, song, and fellowship.

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Written in 1739 by Charles Wesley. Based on Psalm 35:28. Information from Wikipedia

“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is a Christian hymn written by Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns, many of which were subsequently reprinted, frequently with alterations, in hymnals, particularly those of Methodist churches.

Charles Wesley was suffering a bout of pleurisy in May, 1738, while he and his brother were studying under the Moravian scholar Peter Boehler in London. At the time, Wesley was plagued by extreme doubts about his faith. Taken to bed with the sickness, on May 21 Wesley was attended by a group of Christians who offered him testimony and basic care, and he was deeply affected by this. He read from his Bible and found himself deeply affected by the words, and at peace with God. Shortly his strength began to return. He wrote of this experience in his journal, and counted it as a renewal of his faith; when his brother John had a similar experience on the May 24, the two men met and sang a hymn Charles had written in praise of his renewal.

One year from the experience, Wesley was taken with the urge to write another hymn, this one in commemoration of his renewal of faith. This hymn took the form of an 18-stanza poem, beginning with the opening lines ‘Glory to God, and praise, and love,/Be ever, ever given’ and was published in 1740 and entitled ‘For the anniversary day of one’s conversion’. The seventh verse, which begins, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’, and which now is invariably the first verse of a shorter hymn, recalls Böhler’s words, ‘Had I a thousand tongues I would praise Him with them all’. The hymn was placed first in John Wesley’s A Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists published in 1780. It appeared in every (Wesleyan) Methodist hymnal from that time until the publication of Hymns and Psalms in 1983.

Congregational singing (Shepherds’ Conference)
Grace Community Church – Sun Valley, California

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
2
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.
3
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
4
His love my heart has captive made,
His captive would I be,
For He was bound, and scourged and died,
My captive soul to free.
5
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
6
So now Thy blessed Name I love,
Thy will would e’er be mine.
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
My Lord, they all were Thine!

Posted in encouragement, theology

A Beautiful Interlude: David’s Exultation

By Elizabeth Prata

During the summer several of our regular Thursday night discussion groups disbanded. In their place, the elders instituted a Tuesday night  class going through the first 8 chapters of Romans. It has been a wonderful study. In the hour before the class starts, the elders are also raising up younger men by allowing them to select a short text and teach it to a smaller audience. Though the period is jokingly referred to as The Inferno, the men receive comments and encouragement after, not criticism.

This week, one of the younger guys taught through several texts centering on the concept of Christians being sojourners. That concept is worthy of a lengthier study and I’ll be doing that later this month. But one of the texts he mentioned was from 1 Chronicles 29 and it is beautiful.

To set the context, the Israelites have been repatriated. The building of the temple is commissioned. The kingdom is transitioning Israel from warlike kingship (David) to Solomon and the ongoing worship at the newly built temple. The people had gathered incredible offerings in exultation of this fact.

David’s Prayer

So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, “Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and ever. “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth;

Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. “Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. “Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.

“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.” (1 Chronicles 29:10-14 NASB).

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says of the 1 Chronicles passage:

10-19. Wherefore David blessed the Lord—This beautiful thanksgiving prayer was the effusion overflowing with gratitude and delight at seeing the warm and widespread interest that was now taken in forwarding the favorite project of his life. Its piety is displayed in the fervor of devotional feeling—in the ascription of all worldly wealth and greatness to God as the giver, in tracing the general readiness in contributing to the influence of His grace, in praying for the continuance of this happy disposition among the people, and in solemnly and earnestly commending the young king and his kingdom to the care and blessing of God.

The fact that God is sovereign, and delivers all that we have, without Him we would have nothing, reminds us of the verse in James 1:17,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

And Jesus reminded Pontius Pilate that he had no power in himself,

Jesus answered him, You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. (John 19:1a).

Let our life and prayers be infused with a warm and effusive gratitude for not only the things God has given us (from common grace all the way to salvation and adoption) but a gratitude for being allowed to worship Him in spirit and in truth. What we have to give him, comes from Him. Our tongues to utter prayers, the air filling our lungs, the tithes and offerings from our work, all of which He has given us.

But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? Who am I? Indeed, a sinner, redeemed by His grace, and who are the people? a Body of worshiping, forgiven sinners united in knowledge that apart from Him we can do nothing. All that we are and all that we have is from Him. He is GREAT! And worthy to be praised- and thanked.

praising god

Posted in poetry, Uncategorized

Kay Cude poetry: Risen and Ascended

Resurrection Sunday is past, the day we mark as the day to specifically celebrate Christ’s resurrection. However, Christians know that each Sunday in attending the gathering of the saints, hearing the preaching, singing the praises, giving cheerfully, we celebrate the resurrection again and again. Just the gathering is signal that we know and believe that Christ is alive, on His throne, hearing and receiving praises and worship. His glory and power are to be wondered at and praised.

Here is a beautiful work by poet Kay Cude. First, her Artist’s Statement:

I had begun this piece several months ago with only Spurgeon’s one quote, “Tis all my business here and below to cry, ‘Behold the Lamb!’ We are to point sinners to Jesus – all the while looking at Him ourselves, and praying that they also may look to Him, and live.” I was captivated by the image of the radiant glory of Christ in His transfiguration and subsequent ascension, but couldn’t settle on what I needed to say to complete the message, for it is directed at the unregenerate and the redeemed of Christ.

 

Thank you for your piece, “The Power of the Resurrection vs. the Stupidity of Easter,” for within it I found John MacArthur’s “The Power of the Resurrection” and within it another Spurgeon quote that completed the intent the first quote and Acts 1:10-11.

HE IS RISEN AND IS ASCENDED

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Praises to God for Spring and Beauty

It’s been a long spring here in north Georgia, but a very cold one. That’s OK, the forsythia, crocuses, robins, dogwood, buds, and grass are all growing pleasantly nonetheless.

I hope this fine spring time has offered you beautiful glimpses of God’s creative intellect and His wonderful power. We always enjoy the march of the seasons. “He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.” (Psalm 104:19, KJV). Wherever we are in the world, we see and understand the times and seasons. We look for the robin, the crocus, the ladyslipper. The orderliness and consistency of the seasons since His ordination of them is a comfort. Yet even in Jeremiah 8:7 it is said of the seasons, meaning HIS season, “Yes, the stork in the heaven knows her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.”

In the natural history of Israel, Barnes notes explains,

“Jeremiah appeals to the obedience which migratory birds render to the law of their natures. The “stork” arrives about March 21, and after a six weeks’ halt departs for the north of Europe. It takes its flight by day, at a vast height in the air (“in the heaven”). The appearance of the “turtle-dove” is one of the pleasant signs of the approach of spring.”

Spring is a time of renewal, refreshing, and new life. There is a bird who builds a nest in my living room windowsill, and soon enough, babies will come along. They chirp so cute, they grow bigger, and then one day they will be gone, and a strange silence will come over the living room.

Is it wonderful to contemplate that the LORD knows the comings and goings of each bird in the world?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29).

How much more does He care for His own children. How great that He upholds the march of seasons, their orderliness and beauty. The unfurling of a bud, the flowering of a leaf, the business of the insects feasting on the pollen and nectar. How much more should we enjoy His creation, praising Him for all He is and all He does to maintain this beautiful world for His children.