Archive | Theology of Worship

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Songs and Thoughts from Together for the Gospel

The Together for the Gospel conference, held Apr. 12-14 in Louisville, KY, is an every-other-year feast of insightful Bible teaching, passionate singing, and rich fellowship. It’s the fruit of a friendship between Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and my good friend and senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney. That fruit has blossomed to encourage thousands of pastors faithfully serving their local churches. I had the joy of leading the music again this year. It’s a unique experience. A guy at a piano joined by ten thousand voices singing theologically rich, gospel-centered hymns, old and new. We’ve produced two albums from previous T4G conferences …

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Loving and Worshiping the Lamb of God

This past week churches throughout the world remembered and celebrated what is at the heart of the Christian faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Songs, sermons, and liturgies reflected the fact that Jesus laid down his life as the Lamb of God, the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of all those who would trust in him, and three days later was raised from the dead. It’s worth noting that in the post-resurrection scenes of Revelation, Jesus is still referred to as the Lamb. In fact, of the 34 times Jesus is called the Lamb in the New Testament, 29 are in the book of Revelation. It’s a striking and unusual choice. …

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Why a Synthesizer Isn’t the Holy Spirit

In recent decades ambient sounds have become omnipresent in church gatherings. Meetings start with a synth swell and every song after that is connected to the next with musical glue. Synth pads play softly behind prayer, Scripture readings, song intros, communion, and in some cases, the preaching. If you don’t have someone who can produce the necessary sounds, no worries. “Worship pads” in every key are available for purchase to smooth out the transitions. Which raises the question: what’s going on? Music and God’s Presence We often see a connection between music and the Holy Spirit’s activity in Scripture. Long before he was …

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What’s So Special About Singing on Sundays?

People sing. Everywhere. In their cars. In the shower. In choirs. At football games. At birthdays. At weddings and funerals. At rock concerts. In musicals and operas. When there’s sunshine. When it rains. When it’s stormy. In the morning, afternoon, and night. But when the church gathers on Sunday morning (or Saturday night, etc.), our earthly voices join the choirs of heaven and the singing is like no other. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been moved as I added my voice to the beautiful, engaging, powerful, awe-inspiring, robust singing of a congregation. But sometimes our sound is halting and weak. Out of tune and out of …

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Who Would Have Dreamed?

Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we could hold God in our hands? That question comes from a song I wrote last year with my good friend, Jason Hansen, called “Who Would Have Dreamed?” for our album Prepare Him Room. We were trying to express the amazing miracle of the Incarnation. Theologian J.I. Packer says the Christmas event of Christ’s birth is where the “profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.” Nothing in fiction is so fantastic. That means stories of Santa Claus, elves, Grinches, sugar plum fairies, and …

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Seven Myths of Contextualization

A wise missionary knows that preaching the gospel to a different culture requires contextualizing your message. The words we use don’t automatically translate to a new culture that lacks the associations and experiences we’re familiar with. We need to find new ways of communicating the old, old story, ways that can be understood, ways that “speak the language” of those we’re ministering to. But even on a local scale, we have to deal with contextualization. That’s because music and liturgy are a language. They can mean different things to different people. In the past few years, much has been written, advocated, and modeled to help us understand …

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How I’m Using the Songs from Our New Album

Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God is the latest offering from Sovereign Grace Music. On each album we record we try to strike the balance between creative production and accessibility. But at times it can still be difficult to tell what songs might work best for a congregation. So I want to save you some time here and explain the content of each song and how I’ve led or plan to lead them. 1. Sooner Count the Stars A joyful, mid-tempo, straight ahead song that seeks to capture the “unsearchableness” of God. While this song doesn’t address God as Father, Son, and Spirit, it helps us understand though we only know …

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One Good Turn Doesn’t Always Deserve Another

A few years ago I attended the Sunday gathering of a church that primarily sang traditional hymns. The voices carried the songs and there were few, if any, instrumental breaks between verses. The congregation sang robustly and the sound was beautiful. But at the end of the meeting I was exhausted. Not only were the hymns in higher keys than I was used to, my voice never got to rest. I knew my experience was partly due to the inherent differences between singing hymns and contemporary songs.  But because there were no musical interludes, I also had less time to reflect on the truths we were singing. I was reminded that instrumental turns …

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What God Wants Pastors and Worship Leaders to Know

Recently I posted on What Pastors Wished Their Worship Leaders Knew and What Worship Leaders Wished Their Pastor Knew. Today I’d like to finish by suggesting a few things I think God wants both groups to know. These points certainly aren’t everything that can be said, but they might be helpful to keep in mind as we work together to serve our churches and bring glory to the Savior. 1. The church belongs to Jesus, not us. (Mt. 16:18) Rivalry and disunity contradicts what Jesus came to do – make us one (Jn. 17:11, 21-22; Phil. 2:1-2). If we think the other leader is taking away “our” time, the primary problem is the way we view …

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Only One Week Away from Sooner Count the Stars

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, we’re releasing the newest Sovereign Grace Music album, Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God. We’ve been thinking about producing an album focused on the Trinity for some time. I have to admit, the depth of the topic has made it a bit daunting. But in one sense, every album of congregational songs should be Trinitarian, expressing praise to the God Who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. As theologian Herman Bavinck said in The Doctrine of God, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion. Every error results from, or upon deeper reflection, …

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Planning Sunday after an Unexpected Tragedy

Last Thursday at 10:06 AM, Brian Chesemore, a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, texted me and the other pastors. He informed us that one of our members, 42 year old Wade Stephenson, had been in a “very bad car accident” and was on his way to the hospital. An hour later Brian simply texted: “He’s with the Lord.” I wept uncontrollably. Wade was a gentle, grateful, generous, godly man, a musician and leader who was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. He left behind his dear wife Rebecca, three young daughters, and a soon to be born son. The tragic news spread quickly throughout our three year old church plant …

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How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?

Not too long ago a friend who leads the music in his church mentioned to me that his pastor wanted their meetings to be more exciting. Webster’s says exciting means “causing great enthusiasm and eagerness.” Certainly, nothing should cause greater enthusiasm and eagerness than meeting with the church to recount what God has done to save us from his wrath through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All our sins are forgiven! We have been adopted into God’s family! Jesus has triumphed over sin, death, and hell! We are new creations! We are part of God’s  unstoppable, unchangeable, unrelenting plan to have a people on earth who …

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A Call for Musically Gifted Pastors

In 2008, I suggested in Worship Matters that the title of “worship leader” needed to be defined to be helpful. So I defined it this way: A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory. I still like that definition, but I’m less sure the term “worship leader” is serving us. It’s taken on a life of its own and continues to be associated with stardom, predominance, the spotlight, good looks, hipster-ness, and in some cases, …

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How Michael Reeves Helped Me Love God More

Through the years I’ve been grateful for the many books God has used outside of Scripture to expand and deepen my relationship with him. In the late 70s my wife, Julie, gave me Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount for my birthday. As I read through it, my eyes were opened to the necessity of humility in the Christian life and the profound effect of expository preaching. In the mid-90s I read Desiring God by John Piper for the first time. It rocked my world. In fact, as a recovering legalist, the book didn’t make sense to me. I thought that my actions only pleased God as they were displeasing to me. I couldn’t …

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New Song from Keith & Kristyn Getty (& Graham Kendrick)

Not too long ago I was in Nashville with Julie and we stopped by to see our friends, Keith and Kristyn Getty. While we were there Keith asked me if I wanted to hear a song they had been working on with Graham Kendrick. Of course, I said. He played “My Worth is Not in What I Own.” I immediately thought, I want to sing this song and I want other people to sing this song. Now we can. But you can hear it for yourself. Col. 3:16 says that songs are meant to teach and admonish us while enabling the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. This song definitely accomplishes both goals. Here are the words: My worth is not in what I own; …

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