Happy Tuesday! For those of you who are new, welcome to our Weekly Worship blog! Here we look at what you can expect in the coming Sunday's worship service so that you can begin preparing your heart and mind for worship throughout the week, and we also talk about different aspects of our worship, to give you a better understanding of what we do at our church and why we do it. For the past few weeks, we've been breaking down each of the sections of our liturgy, and the symbolism and significance behind them. Last week, we looked at why we read from both the Old and New Testaments each week, as well as what purpose the Hymn of Praise Serves. And I'll remind you once again that our liturgy is a constant cycle of Proclamation and Response. We left off with us responding through singing, so let's keep moving through the liturgy.
After our Hymn of Praise, one of the church elders prays a Prayer of Adoration and Invocation, and the title alone is fairly self-explanatory. He prays on behalf of and with the congregation for God to feel the praise and adoration of His people. It's yet another instance where we glorify God by proclaiming and thanking Him for who He is. An invocation is a request for God to recognize that we have gathered because of His call to worship Him (see our second blog post where we talked about that), and to respond by blessing our gathering. This is followed by a short song by the choir, called the "Gloria Patri." The text of this mini-doxology has been around since the 2nd century, and is used as a way to praise our Triune God. Just as a fun fact, the choir uses two different versions of the Gloria Patri, one for "standard use," and a different one that we use on Lord's Supper Sundays. They are both in the Trinity Hymnal, and are numbers 734 and 735, respectively. 
I have also talked about how our liturgy is a weekly retelling of the gospel. First, we recognize that is is God who calls us. Then, this causes us to acknowledge and praise Him for His power, His might, His holiness, and so on. However, being before a holy and perfect God only brings our own sinfulness and separation into sharper focus. He is perfect, and we are not. And so, we need forgiveness, to avoid coming under His righteous judgment. So, we come to a time of confession. First, we have a Corporate Confession of Sin, where we read a verse or two from Scripture together that expresses our need for forgiveness. We do this because it is important that, as a church family, we stay honest and accountable with each other about our need for forgiveness. It's easy so much of the time to put up a front of everything being okay. Oftentimes, we are unwilling to open up to our fellow believers and church family and admit that we are not perfect, that we mess up, that we still need forgiveness. So, we ask for the Lord's forgiveness together. This corporate act also reminds us that we are worshipping God together. We don't come to church to have our own private time alone with God. We are here as a body of believers, who are family in Christ, and who have gathered to worship Him together. After this, we have a few moments of silence for Silent Confession of Sin. This allows us a few moments to confess our sins to God, since as Psalm 51 reminds us, even when we sin against our neighbor, we are ultimately sinning against Him.
However, God does not allow us to wallow in our sin. As believers, we are under no condemnation, because God has imputed Christ's righteousness to us. So, we recite a verse or two from Scripture together that proclaims our Assurance of Pardon in Christ. This is such a short moment of the service, but it is one of my favorites. See, the gospel is not just for unbelievers. In our worship each week, it can be easy for us to think that we are merely remembering what God has done for us in the past. We are doing that, but we are doing so much more. We are acknowledging and proclaiming that although we belong to God, we still sin, we are "prone to wander," as we sang last Sunday. However, just as God reached down by His sovereign mercy and made us alive in Christ, so the gospel reminds us who believe that we have been forgiven! So, this part of the service is both something that we commemorate, as well as something that we are still living out. I need the good news that God has rescued and redeemed me from my sin now, just as much as I did the day I became a follower of Christ.  We follow our Assurance of Pardon with a Hymn of Rejoicing, where we rejoice in our forgiveness, salvation, and right standing with God. I like to pick songs here that focus on the atonement, the work of Christ in our justification, or redemption.
I hope you are enjoying our walk through the liturgy, and that it is helping and enhancing your worship each week. For now, let's turn to this coming Sunday. Pastor John will be back in 2 Peter, looking at Chapter 2, verses 17-22. Over the last few sermons in 2 Peter, we have been looking at false teachers and then the punishment of the unrighteous by God, which in turn can be used to save those that belong to Him. This week's passage goes even deeper, to talk about the power that sin has over the unrighteous. This is a heavy topic, so I wanted to choose songs that will have us mindful of the weight and the consequences of sin. A phrase that immediately comes to mind when I consider that is "it was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished." The consequence of our sin was that God, in His love, sent Christ to die the death that we deserve. So, I thought "How Deep the Father's Love" to be a perfect fit. For the Hymn of Rejoicing this week, I decided to choose "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood," as it talks about the need of sinners to be cleansed by the blood of Christ to find forgiveness and release from the condemnation from sin in their lives. The Psalm once again ties in nicely with the sermon, and will be the first nine verses of Psalm 37. In it, the Psalmist admonishes us to avoid being envious of those who work evil, because they will fade, as opposed to the way of the Lord, which will endure forever. 
Sermon: 2 Peter 2:17-22
Old Testament Reading: Proverbs 26:11
New Testament Reading: Romans 7:21-25
Hymns:   Song of Ascent - "Behold Our God;" you can hear a recording here.
                Hymn of Praise - Psalm 37 (verses 1-9). The tune for the Psalm can be heard here.
                Hymn of Rejoicing - "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" (Trinity Hymnal, 253 - vs. 1, 2, & 3; you can hear a recording here.)
                Hymn of Response - How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (you can hear a recording here)
In addition, the handbell choir will play a lovely arrangement of "Be Thou My Vision," and we will be celebrating our four year anniversary as a church! It will be a special day in the life of Covenant.
I love that in the providence of God, we took a look at the Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon on a week where we will be looking at the topic of sin in the sermon. I hope you are encouraged as you prepare for worship this week. Let us meet on Sunday, ready to rejoice that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Last week, we began looking at the different elements of our weekly liturgy, and if you missed it, I would encourage you to check it out. We discussed how vital the role of the Call to Worship and Song of Ascent are to our gathering together to worship corporately. So, let's move on to the next portion of the service.
As I said last week, in remembering and proclaiming the gospel every week, our liturgy is a constant cycle of Proclamation and Response. So, after we respond to the Call to Worship with a song and acknowledge that it is God who calls us to worship Him, we then hear His Word proclaimed to us by hearing a Reading from the Old and New Testaments. This serves more than one function: first of all, it is symbolic in that after we acknowledge who God is, we are then enabled to hear from Him, to hear Him speak. And since the way that we hear Him speak is through Scripture, it is the natural follow-up to our singing of our readiness to hear from Him. It also serves to show that the Bible is a unifying message. Christ and the gospel can be found in the pages of the Old Testament as easily as they can be found in the New Testament, and hearing two passages back to back that go hand in hand with each other helps reinforce that idea. The third function is more practical, but not any less important. The passages are chosen to reflect or tie into the text that will be preached from in the sermon. Whether it gives historical background on the sermon text, or is a passage that is referenced in the sermon text, or else has truths that tie into what will be preached on, both passages help us to fix our minds upon what will be preached later in the service.
 As a part of our constant Proclamation and Response cycle, after we hear God's Word read, we respond by singing a Hymn of Praise. This is a song wherein we praise God for who He is, what he has done, his attributes, his creation, and a host of other things; there is literally no end to the things that we could praise God for as a part of His being. This is oftentimes done to an extent in the Song of Ascent, but here, the focus is not so much on us acknowledging these things, as much as it is to give us an opportunity to praise and thank God that He is who He is. We acknowledge first, and then we thank and praise Him. Think of it this way: when I acknowledge that a friend has helped me with an issue, my main concern is just that they get the recognition that they deserve. But when I "praise" or thank that friend for helping me, there's a different purpose; it's more personal. It's saying, yes, you did this, and I am so grateful that you did. It's the same with God. First, we acknowledge, for instance, that he is King, or that He is creator of the earth. Then, we thank and praise Him that He rules over our lives, or that he created us. The difference can seem subtle, but they are two distinct and vital aspects of worshipping Him. If I can, oftentimes I will try to find a song that ties into one of the Scripture readings, or the sermon, just to help us direct our praise to a specific aspect of God that we have just heard about. 
So, as you prepare for worship this week, or as you sit in the pew on Sunday morning,  listen intently to the Scripture readings. Listen to what they tell you about God; listen for ways in which they tie into the sermon passage. And then be ready and prepared to thank God for who He is. Next week, we'll move into a more sobering section of our liturgy, but for now, let's look at what we can expect on Sunday.
This week, we will be having not just one, not two, but three believers' baptisms this week. Usually, Pastor John likes to preach a special sermon on Baptism Sundays, so he will be taking a break from 2 Peter and will instead preach from Psalm 1, and the promises that are given to the "blessed" that is referenced in verse 1. Since our passage is Psalm 1, we will sing selected verses from that psalm as well, and I placed it as the Hymn of Praise. Since the passages read before then will tie into the sermon, I thought it fitting to reinforce their connection to the sermon text by singing it after they are read. And although on the surface, it speaks more to man than to God, we know that our righteousness is not within us because of our works, but because of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us, so we are still able to praise and thank God that we are able to be considered blessed.
As for the Song of Ascent, it may not directly or explicitly tie in with Psalm 1, but it does reference that God "will bring low the proudest foe that him disdains," which is similar to certain parts of the psalm. It also talks about how we "are his own," which will be unpacked as we look at the idea of being blessed in God. The Hymn of Rejoicing refers to God as the "Fount of every blessing,"and his "streams of mercy," and as this will be a Baptism Sunday, the imagery seemed appropriate. I think you will also be able to see how the entire message of the hymn can be tied to many of the ideas within Psalm 1. For our Hymn of Preparation before the baptisms, I chose a song that we sang for the first time last month, when we had another baptism. It is a beautiful hymn that reminds us of the benefits of being within the blessing of God, which ties into the sermon, but it also will help us to remember the promise that is "for you and for your children" that Acts 2:39 talks about and that will be proclaimed during the sacrament of baptism. We then have a lovely Hymn of Response that we sing after every baptism, that will help us respond to the sacrament that we have just witnessed.
Sermon: Psalm 1
Old Testament Reading: Proverbs 3:13-18
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Hymns:  Song of Ascent - "You Holy Angels Bright" (Trinity Hymnal, 18: verses 1, 3, & 5; you can hear a recording here.)
               Hymn of Praise - "Psalm 1 (verses 1-2, 5-6); the tune for the Psalm this week is "Amazing Grace," and you can hear a lovely arrangement here.)
               Hymn of Rejoicing: "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Trinity Hymnal, 457; you can hear a very powerful arrangement here.)
               Hymn of Preparation: "Children of the Heavenly Father" (Trinity Hymnal, 131: verses 1, 3, & 5; you can hear a recording here.)
               Hymn of Response: "Wonder of Wonders, Here Revealed"
One other note: this Sunday the choir will be singing a hymn out of the hymnal, that will likely find its way into a service in the near future. So, be listening to not just the words but the music as well, so you will be able to sing along whenever it is introduced. Also, John always encourages us to look back on our own baptism whenever we witness someone else's, so in your preparation this week, I hope you will begin to prepare yourself to witness this sacrament, and that it will be used in its proper place as one of the ordinary means of grace in our lives. We look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Welcome! This is Brandon Bolin, Director of Music & Media here at the church, and I am so happy to welcome you to our first weekly worship blog post!

 The purpose of this blog is twofold: the first is to give you some insight into what goes into planning the service each week. Each week, there are elements of the service, from the songs, the passages of Scripture, and other elements, that all tie in with what Pastor John will be preaching about in his sermon. Often, however, there isn't time to explain all of this during the service, nor would it be appropriate when our hearts are to be focused on worship. This weekly blog will help give you some insight in order to achieve the second (and more important) goal: so that you can begin preparing your heart and mind to worship our Triune God before you even step into the church. Each week, in addition to giving you the rundown for the coming Sunday, I will explain a little about the format of our service, the function of the songs and liturgical elements in the service, my process of song selection, and a host of other things. You'll get something new each week that I hope will help enrich your worship each Lord's Day.

 To that end, one thing I would encourage you to do is to purchase your own copy of the Trinity Hymnal and the Trinity Psalter to keep at home. This will enable you to familiarize yourself with any upcoming new songs, to see how the songs tie into the larger theme of the service, and as a bonus, give you another tool to use during your personal quiet time or family devotional. What better way to respond to your reading of God's Word or to open a family devotion time than by singing a hymn of praise to God? You can find the Trinity Hymnal (in a variety of colors, no less!) here, the Trinity Psalter here, and an online free version of the Trinity Hymnal here.

 Now, for this Sunday.

 Since this coming Sunday is the first Sunday in October, we will be observing the Lord's Supper. That means that Pastor John will be taking a break from our sermon series on 1 & 2 Peter, and will instead preach a text that will help us prepare for the taking of the Lord's Supper. His sermon this week will be taken from Psalm 2 and will focus on the Kingship of Christ. This theme gave me a host of hymns to choose from, so I had to find some other way of narrowing it down. I started with our Psalm. We sing at least a portion of one of the psalms every week, as a means of singing the Word of God back to him in praise, and this week was admittedly a bit of low-hanging fruit: any time the sermon is from one of the Psalms, I try to incorporate that Psalm into our singing, so that we already have the text on our minds before we even hear the sermon. Once I figured out where to put it (as the Hymn of Rejoicing), I moved on to the Hymn of Praise. Our Old Testament reading this week will be Hebrews 1:1-5 and 10-13. This passage is referenced explicitly in the hymn "Rejoice the Lord is King," and since it also explicitly mentions Christ's Kingship, it was a clear fit.

That left the first song and the Call to Worship before it, because I like the two to tie in together, if they can. I have a list of hymns that work as appropriate Songs of Ascent - songs that call the congregation to an act of worship because of who God is. "Crown Him with Many Crowns" is on that list, and I thought what better way to call us to acknowledge Christ as King than by being called to adore Him by proclaiming his kingly attributes in the form of crowns? So I picked a beautiful passage from Revelation that speaks to Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords that John will read to call us to corporately worship Him. As I noted above, this is a Lord's Supper Sunday, so I chose a hymn of preparation that will prepare us to take it after the sermon, and we will sing our post-Lord's Supper Benediction that we sing every month.

So, without further ado, here is the rundown of the main elements of Sunday's service:

Sermon: Psalm 2
Old Testament reading: 2 Samuel 7:12-17
New Testament reading: Hebrews 1:1-5, 10-13
Hymns:   Song of Ascent: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (Trinity Hymnal, 295) - verses 1, 3, & 4 (you can hear a recording here)
                Hymn of Praise: "Rejoice, the Lord Is King" (Trinity Hymnal, 310) - verses 1, 2, & 5 (you can hear a recording here)
                Hymn of Rejoicing: "Psalm 2" - Tune: "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing (Trinity Hymnal, 420; you can hear the tune here)
                Hymn of Preparation "Come, for the Feast Is Spread" (Trinity Hymnal, 480; you can hear a recording here)
                Hymn of Response: "Benediction" (Trinity Hymnal, 730)

In addition, we will be using the historic Apostles' Creed as our Affirmation of Faith, and the choir will be singing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by Bach during the offertory. I encourage you to take time this week and to prepare your heart and mind to worship on Sunday. Read the passages of Scripture that will be read and preached on; read (and maybe even sing!) through the lyrics of the hymns we will sing together; begin to pray that God will enable you to worship Him in spirit and in truth before and during the taking of the Lord's Supper. 

I look forward to having you back here week after week. If there is any specific question you have regarding the week's service or our liturgy in general, feel free to let me know. And, as always,

 Soli Deo Gloria!

Now that we're off and running on the blog, I thought I'd spend the next few weeks talking about our weekly liturgy. You probably know by now that we are a liturgical church, but you may not have ever stopped to think about what titles like Song of Ascent or Hymn of Rejoicing mean, or why we have our corporate Confession of Sin or Assurance of Pardon where we do in the service. I hope to make those things clearer over the next few weeks. 
In short, our liturgy proclaims the gospel story week after week. And before you think that this means that we are explicitly a "seeker-sensitive" church, let me remind you as I have to remind myself, that the gospel is just as much for those of us who believe in Christ as it is for the lost. We have to remind ourselves both who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. While our first and primary goal in worship is to glorify God and to please Him, we do this by reminding ourselves that we have been redeemed by the unmerited grace of God. A second attribute of our liturgy is that it is a constant cycle of Proclamation and Response. As we hear truth about God proclaimed, this leads us as a congregation to respond corporately with praise.
So, first, we have the Call to Worship. Just as it is God who calls us to Himself and enables us to worship Him, so also on Sundays, we hear a call for us to worship Him, and we hear this call from His Word. Oftentimes, I pull a passage from the Psalms, because being an Old Testament worship text, it has many great passages that proclaim the might, goodness, and righteousness of God. His attributes are proclaimed aloud. Sometimes, we do this in the form of a responsive reading. I'll take a psalm and divide it into sections for first the pastor and then the congregation to read. So, in this instance, you are hearing God's Word proclaimed, and you respond by also proclaiming God's Word. However, sometimes I will have Pastor John read the Call to Worship himself. As our minister and our worship leader, it can be a natural fit for him to read a passage, while we listen and let the words that he reads call us into the presence of God in worship.
In either case, the next way that we respond to God's Word calling us to worship Him is by singing a Song of Ascent. As I mentioned last week, I have a list of songs that I have that make appropriate songs in this category. They will usually contain titles or phrases in them like "come," or "gather," or "worship;" they are songs that speak to the fact that we are meeting to worship our Triune God. Oftentimes, they will also tie in to the sermon in some way, as well as the time we are in on the liturgical calendar. So, on Sunday, as we sing the Song of Ascent (or as you are preparing for worship this week), notice how the Song of Ascent does these things.
Next week, we will move on to the next part of our liturgy, but for now, let's look at Sunday's service.
Pastor John will be back in 2 Peter this week, as he continues his sermon series Encouragement for Exiles. The passage this week is 2 Peter 2:4-10. This passage deals with themes of God punishing the unrighteous and protecting the righteous, even as we might sometimes have to go through trials. So, I used "We Gather Together" as our Song of Ascent this week, because, in addition to the obvious theme of gathering for worship, there are specific references to God's protection and defense of His people, and an appeal for us to "endure through tribulation."
Our second song is called "God, All Nature Sings Thy Glory," and it is one that I love to sing. It reminds us that God has created us and given us gifts, that we have "spoiled" His image, and that He sent a redeemer. Again, compare that to the sermon text, and you can begin to prepare yourself for a sermon about God's protection for His own, and His judgment on those who reject Him. We will then resume our singing through the Book of Psalms by concluding Psalm 36. Through the providence of God, this psalm, which we would've sung anyway, also speaks in beautiful language about the grace of God, the benefits of salvation, and the folly of those who oppose Him. And as our Hymn of Response, we will sing "Thy Mercy, My God," which is a lovely song that illustrates the work of God in redemption.
So, the full rundown for Sunday is:
Sermon: 2 Peter 2:4-10
Old Testament Reading: Genesis 19:23-29
New Testament Reading: Colossians 1:11-13
Hymns:   Song of Ascent - "We Gather Together" (Trinity Hymnal, 363; you can hear a recording here.)
                Hymn of Praise: "God, All Nature Sings Thy Glory" (Trinity Hymnal, 122; you can hear a recording here.)
                Hymn of Rejoicing: Psalm 36 (vs. 6b-12); the tune for this will be "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," and can be heard here.
                Hymn of Rejoicing: "Thy Mercy, My God" (you can find a recording here)
Another note: This week, the choir is singing a song called "Christ Is Our Rock," and it will feature a guest soloist. We will have Carol Sikes playing clarinet with the choir this week, so I hope you will make her feel welcome.
May you enjoy preparing for this week's service. As you continue to learn more about our liturgy, I hope that this will keep you mindful of what we do and why we do it. Nothing that is done on Sundays is done just for the sake of doing it, for the sake of tradition. Everything that we do has meaning behind it, and a purpose both in glorifying God and reminding ourselves and proclaiming to the world Christ's amazing story of redemption. May He be pleased with our offering of worship this week. And as always,

Soli Deo Gloria!