Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suffering and our Songs


We don't hear much talk about lamenting these days do we? Why would anyone lament? Shouldn't we be reading Your Best Life Now or Become a Better You or 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when life smacks us in the face? Hasn't the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God been given so we can quickly read or listen to the how to's of our time and pull ourselves out of our proverbial pit?

I recently viewed a You Tube video of an interview of John Lennon after the breakup of the Beatles. The British interviewer was asking John to recount some defining moments that aided in the breakup of the group and John shared a story about a 1967 visit the band made to a lecture given by the famous Maharishi in Wales. Following the lecture, the group was informed that Brian Epstein, the band's manager, had died. John recounts, with come colorful language, the absurdity of the Maharishi's insistence that the band just move on saying, "O forget about happy." He says that they all went along with it, but moving on never allowed them to conquer the sense of futility they felt, or addressed the significance of losing a close friend, much less the significance of death itself. They just moved on. They just smiled. John Lennon, looking back some years later sees the balderdash that this advice was. He recognized the insufficiency of that type of outlook and the toll it took on the four friends' relationship.

Now, I am fairly certain that anyone who would read more than the header to this blog has probably never sat at the feet of a Hindu Brahmin or a Yogi, and probably doesn't want to! However, can't we all think of Christians who have a similar outlook on suffering, pain, and death. I have heard Christians speak as if the key to overcoming the pain and frustration of miserable circumstances is simply to sing along with the Monty Python song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

The problem is that this type of flimsy and un-biblical thinking catches up to you. Yes, Paul did say that he learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in. Yes, we are called to a ministry that commends itself to others by the joyful way we undergo persecution, slander and various types of suffering. But this isn't the same as ignoring our circumstances. It isn't the same as the lesson the self help gurus sell: that we can just tweak a habit here, think positively there and voila, we will find ourselves in complete joy and happiness. After all, the contentment that St. Paul found in the midst of jail, beatings, shipwrecks, hunger, and cold didn't come from within. It came from God. It came from a strength outside of Paul, given to him by his maker and redeemer.

So, the question really is, how do we imitate a man like Paul? What did he do in the midst of suffering that strengthened him and was a conduit for the power of God to manifest itself on Paul's life?

One clue is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas are seized, brought before the local magistrates, are stripped of their clothing and are publicly flogged. They then were then thrown in a Roman prison and were chained by the feet. Not knowing whether their death was imminent, not knowing if they had more beatings in store, not knowing what their future held, these men, suffering, beaten, and cold were found singing and praying.

They worshiped.

They did not run and hide from God. They did not sink into a self-loathing depression. They did not decide to wait till they got out of the situation to sing the glorious truths of the faith or to remind them of the sufficiency of God. They worshiped God by praying. They showed attitudes of complete dependence by casting their cares at the foot of the Lord who promises to hear and respond to His children.

Lament, in the bible, is not a word that means, "complaining." It is properly understood as the expression of fear, doubt, doubt, regret, mourning and sadness that is used to WORSHIP GOD. Take your sorrow, your pain, your heartache and brokenness and magnify God through these times. If we learn to worship in the midst of our trials, we will find that we can do all things through Christ, who gives us strength even to sing in the midst of life's prisons.

More on this subject later

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Can You Worship with your Pain?

Now there was a day when his [Job's] sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job isn't made up. Job really did this.

After hearing that a combination of natural disasters, terrorism, and war took everything he had AND his progeny, he blessed God.


This isn't a flippant passage of scripture.

This isn't the the kind of thing you get in southern gospel songs.

This is real.

This is a level of devastation in a life to a greater degree than, likely, anyone I've ever heard of has experienced, ever -- much less in a period of 5 minutes.

What did he do? He worshiped.

What do I do?

What do you do?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Worship Matters

"God is seeking worship leaders who make Jesus look Great."

"Being a worship leader isn't meant to be a hobby or a way to fulfill my musical aspirations, it's an opportunity to proclaim that I am a great sinner who has been redeemed by a great savior and to invite others in to celebrate that reality"
- Bob Kauflin

I have read several books on worship since coming to seminary. In the future, I hope to point those interested to some of the best resources I have been exposed too regarding worship. One such resource is the plethora of lectures, sermons and songs of Bob Kauflin. Bob is the Music Director for Sovereign Grace ministries and leads Covenant Life Church in worship weekly. I have linked to his blog (Worship Matters) in the sidebar. On top of the free resources Kauflin has produced by way of blog posts, advice columns, lectures, sermons, FREE SONGS and FREE CHARTS, he has now written a book on worship. I received a copy at this year's T4G conference and am anticipating devouring it soon. I have read excerpts from several chapters and it looks like it's gonna be a great read. You may want to think about buying this one! Watch the video below.

If you aren't familiar with Bob, or Sovereign Grace Music, or Covenant Life Church, watch this video and check out his blog and Sovereign Grace Ministries website where you can search for his sermons. As always, you can download some lectures Bob has given to the students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Institute for Christian Worship HERE.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Commission Stories: The Art of Braving Bullets

Every Sunday, prior to our offering, a member of our congregation reads the Missionary Moment which is a short biographical blurb about a NAMB or IMB missionary who is on the field. While this may seem like a non-traditional inclusion to a worship service, it serves many purposes.

The first of which is to remind ourselves weekly to pray for missionaries and to long for the Day of the Lord by asking that God will mightily bless the Gospel that is being proclaimed in our own public worship but also around the world wherever the truth is proclaimed. This exhortation also allows us to take time in worship to explain the importance of giving as Southern Baptists. Every few weeks, one of the presenters will make sure to explain that a portion of the offering given will go directly to the mission sending agencies through the Cooperative Program. We make it clear that this missionary family we are praying for is also being supported by our tithes and offerings. Thirdly, we have a built in time to mention special mission projects within our church family and special offerings like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering along with various state and associational offerings we support.

I serve in a mission church (a church re-plant). We are making our way toward constituting as an autonomous church but we have benefited through the CP financially and because of this, even with a tight budget and a lot of penny pinching, we manage to give 10% of our budget to the CP. But this sacrifice is realized when we hear the stories of persecuted missionaries. When we hear stories about John and Jane Doe (the missionary moments always says, "not real names") trying to reach particularly militant Muslims in Indonesia or dangerous natives in the upper Amazon with the gospel, we see how important it is to hold the ropes here, to give and to be attentive in our prayers for these missionaries.

One such missionary that we can all take time this week to pray for is Eric Reese. Eric Reese is the Strategy Coordinator for the urban poor of Rio De Janeiro, and his team of Brazilian nationals are taking the Gospel to the most violent and dangerous slums in all of Latin America, called favelas. You can see how God is allowing him to minister in a tumultuous environment by going HERE. This video is a call to prayer and a call to the gospel.

Here's how Eric sums up why he's serving: "The gospel got to get to them."
It's as simple as that.

As we are all focusing on the cross of Christ this Holy Week, remember to pray for our missionaries who are braving bullets and much worse for the Glory of Christ and the spread of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the reconciliation that was bought and sealed on that first Easter morning. And lets make a point ourselves to tell this great, true, life-changing story to as many as we can. At the end of this video, Eric says that when people ask him if he's afraid doing what he's doing, he can't help but respond that he would be more afraid if he were not doing what he knew he was called to. May we all be encouraged to live how we're called: to be making our own commission stories.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Transforming Power of Proper Perspective

Perspective is very important. Here's a good example:

Dear Mom and Dad:

It has now been three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing this and I am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. YOU ARE NOT TO READ ANY FURTHER UNLESS YOU ARE SITTING DOWN. OKAY!

Well then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed now. I only get those sick headaches once a day.

Fortunately the fire in the dormitory and my jump were witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the fire department and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital and since I had nowhere to live, because of the burned out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It's really a basement room, but it's kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to be married. We haven't set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.

Yes Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the love, devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has some minor infection which prevents us from passing our pre-marital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him. This will soon clear up with the penicillin injections I am taking daily.

I know you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind and although not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours, I know your often expressed tolerance will not permit you to be bothered by the fact that his skin color is somewhat darker than ours. I am sure you will love him as I do. His family background is good too, for I am told that his father is an important gun-bearer in the village in Africa from which he came.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or a skull fracture. I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged. I do not have syphilis and there is no man in my life. However, I am getting a 'D' in History and an 'F' in Science and I wanted you to see those marks in the proper perspective.


Your Loving Daughter

I don't know if you have heard this joke or if you have received it via your email inbox. I know I have more than once. But I recently heard this read as an illustration in a message by C.J. Mahaney given to the Acts 29 network's Resurgence Conference in February. You can download the message by clicking HERE.

Mahaney's message has been a wonderful blessing to me. Preaching from I Corinthians 1, he shows how genuinely Paul shows personal love toward the Corinthian Church in the introduction to his letter, but also has them in the right perspective. Despite the moral failure and the lawsuits, the drunkenness and abuse of the Lord's Supper, the sexual immorality and failure to expose public sin, the misuse of spiritual gifts and lack of love, Paul writes that he is thankful for this church. Paul writes that he prays for this church daily. Paul writes (authoritatively mind you) that they have been enriched in every way (v.5). He claims that they lack no spiritual gift (v.7). He even calls them sanctified (v.2), perhaps the hardest for us to imagine.

How can Paul say these things? How can he call this bunch of misfits sanctified? Mahaney shows that it is because Paul has the proper perspective on their salvation. Paul goes on in the letter to give stinging rebukes of their sin, so he is by no means sweeping their evil behavior under the rug. But because he is confident in Him who began a good work in them and promises to complete it, he can heartily show love and affection for this people. He can pray for them fervently and wish to come see them again.

As ministers of the Gospel and servants of the church, it is imperative that our minds are in tune to this reality. I am a "pk" and have been in church from day one. I have heard so much disparaging talk about the church from ministers, leaders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and various brands of modern-day pharisees. I have been one in the past who is willing to write off those in the church because their progress wasn't sufficient to my standards. But this isn't Paul's attitude. God is Holy and the bible is clear that he HATES sin. But His grace is such that he is working in our hearts and lives, conforming us to the image of his son and He has poured the righteous wrath that we deserve onto Christ, who bore our penalty on the Cross. He is chastising his children and disciplining in love while showering us with blessings through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

May all of us who serve and minister to the church always remember who is at work and the great love shown to desperate sinners and the lengths to which Christ himself went to serve us and to call us brothers. Paul loved this church at Corinth and longed to be with them in person, but Christ humbled himself, came in person and gave up His heavenly crown for a time to take on a Crown of thorns. Paul sent a letter, but God sent his Son.

Friday, February 15, 2008


While perusing my normal list of blogs at work tonight, I came across a wonderful and hilarious post linked from the IX Marks website. There linked was documented the fantastic discovery of an entire chapter of I Corinthians that, until now, has been missing. You must read it. I will repost it here. But make sure to check out Kelly Randolf's blog and read many of his insightful posts after laughing and emailing this to all your church friends. He is now linked to in my links menu to the right of the text as Ecclesiophilist.

Chapter 17

Now concerning announcements, I do not want you to be ignorant brethren. When announcements are given, let there be only two or three and let them be given in order. Let the announcements be brief. Otherwise, those who are new worshipers and unschooled in the way of announcements, will they not say you are mad? It is better if announcements are written down and submitted to the church office so that the staff may make them. Are announcements more important than congregational singing or preaching? May it never be! Therefore, use your announcement time wisely and thus maintain a suitable balance in the service.

Let him who gives an announcement be careful lest he fall into temptation and a snare. Truly each one who gives an announcement considers his information to be holy. When giving his announcement, a spirit of rambling may overtake him and he may begin speaking in an unnecessary tongue. Let every man who makes an announcement pray that his announcement may be brief and to the point. Such announcements are edifying to the church.

Earnestly desire such announcements, but especially that you may read the bulletin. Announcements are of some value but the bulletin is greater. For now we announce in part and we know in part. But the bulletin gives full and detailed information so that your knowledge of ministry happenings may be complete. One who makes an announcement edifies a particular ministry. But the bulletin edifies the whole church. So then my brethren, listen to the announcements but do not neglect the bulletin.
Now this is all in good fun and I certainly am not trying to anger anyone who's thinking about quoting me the end of Revelation. Kelly Randolf, the man who wrote this, admits that this is part of his imagination, as he has a "pastoral daydream" which would correct an "announcement problem" that would have been an issue at Corinth. Then, presumably, we could use it to address OUR announcement problems in our churches! So my question to you is. . .

How do you deal with the problem of announcements at your church?


How do you WISH your church handled announcements or other areas of service planning not directly related to the preaching of God's Word, the commanded singing of praises to God or any other explicitly commanded and mandated functions within our worship services?

Feel free to comment with your thoughts and suggestions!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Desiring God Conference for Pastors

I have just finished listening to the audio from the Desiring God conference for pastors and God has blessed me immensly through the teaching and encouragement in the messages brought.

The conference is an annual conference offered through the ministry of Pastor John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you are unfamiliar with John Piper's books, then I suggest downloading some of the audio from his many conferences. They are given free of charge, which is a rarity among many large ministries today.

The conference is entitled The Pastor as Father and Son. If you are a minister, then I suggest taking the time this week while in the car, or working around the home or office to give the audio a listen. But I would also exhort those who are either fathers or sons to give ear as well. I think you will find it a tremendous blessing.

You can stream or download the audio or video HERE.

The speakers include Don Carson, Crawford Loritts, Greg Livinstone, and John Piper.

Friday, February 08, 2008


After hearing that Mitt Romney has stepped aside, I realized that I haven't had much to say about politics lately. I used to be a political junkie, but I think that I have moderated a bit and that is a good thing. So, as a tribute to all the Ron Paul fans and the Duncan Hunterites, all the those hoping that this was the year for Kucinich or the lovely locks of John Edwards this is for you. After months of TV debates, it's nice to look back at what was...

{ht:Locust & Honey}

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Incarnation and A Song

The incarnation of Christ and His work on the cross is the center of human history. Period. All of history and revelation prior to this miraculous condescension of God pointed to this event. All of the subsequent moments and seconds look back to that time, in groaning anticipation of the second coming and final consummation in time of the realities of that work. Christ, through the incarnation, death on the cross, Resurrection, and Ascension have purchased finally and completely all the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20) and the final victory that we await as pilgrims in these "last days."

This is the theological framework and backdrop that we often think about when we talk about the incarnation. It is the factual and real culmination of God's work. In heaven, we will be around the throne singing glory and honor to the lamb, who was slain and has bought for himself a people to praise Him forever and ever (Revelation 5:9-10). All true! All gloriously true. But no one could possibly read through the Gospels (much less the OT law and prophets) and miss the fact that the coming of the King of Kings would have social ramifications as well as theological ones. Jesus came feeding the hungry. Jesus came healing the sick. Jesus came and touched leapers - unclean, unholy, unfit. Jesus arrived and said that he came not to be served, but to serve AND give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

I have a tendency to glory in the last half of that statement. I sing with vigor and my heart wrenches in pain as I contemplate the agony of the sinless dying to ransom many, but I rarely wrench in agony and distress when I think of the multitudes of desperate, sick, and hungry around me. I have little affection for the emerging church or for the liberal protestantism in our country today, but I do see that they have one critique of the modern evangelical church that is apropos. It is our reluctance to get dirty to serve the poor. We have megachurches building massive buildings with bookstores and coffee shoppes, all in the name of Christ. Christ tells us to lay up treasures in heaven and not here on earth, but we have a decadent and misguided streak in the American evangelical church that believes that as Christians, our communities are to be established to care for ourselves and promote an ease in our lives that is found nowhere in scripture. We are commanded to remember that we are pilgrims and strangers in this land and we are awaiting, just like Abraham a far greater city that God has prepared for us (Hebrews 11:16). We are "just passing through" as the song says. Hebrews tells us that this is the reason that Abraham lived in tents all his life. He, different than other tribes at the time, never built homes and walls and fortifications because He was waiting for the heavenly city.
It is time that we make our ministries look more like Christ's own and less like Six Flags, or the local mall.

The hymn text below draws these two great truths together. Beginning with his life and ministry in the first verse, we contemplate the compassion and physical ministry of Christ. In the second, we are directed toward the great truth of Christ's accomplished work on the Cross. And in the second, with resolve, the hymnist proclaims submission to Christ by imitating his life and praying for the power and Spirit to not shrink back from carrying our cross, even if it ends in death just as Christ's did. It is a serious hymn. The refrain is a prayer for Christ, incarnate and eternal to captivate our hearts that are so prone to wander and prone to complacency toward the other half of Christ's mission.

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2002 Thankyou Music

With a prayer You fed the hungry,
With a cry You stilled the storm;
With a look You had compassion
On the desperate and forlorn.
With a touch You healed the leper,
With a shout You raised the dead;
With a word expelled the demons,
With a blessing broke the bread.

Love incarnate, love divine,
Captivate this heart of mine
Till all I do speaks of You.

As a sheep before the shearer
You were silent in Your pain;
You endured humiliation
At the hands of those You’d made.
And as hell unleashed its fury
You were lifted on a tree,
Crying ‘Father God, forgive them,
Place their punishment on Me.’

I will feed the poor and hungry,
I will stand up for the truth;
I will take my cross and follow
To the corners of the earth.
And I ask that You so fill me
With Your peace, Your power, Your breath,
That I never love my life so much
To shrink from facing death.

This hymn is written by Stuart Townend of How Deep the Father's Love For Us and In Christ Alone fame. He lives in Brighton, England and works in the music publishing industry. He has 3 children and is involved in worship leadership at Church of Christ the King in Brighton.

To hear Stuart Townend speak about the challenges of writing Modern Hymns and Worship Music, see October 5, 2005 HERE.

For purchase a recording of this song see HERE.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


In 1991, the Southern Baptist Convention press, now Lifeway, gave us the Baptist Hymnal. This hymnal is the one my church uses today. Lifeway is currently working on the New Baptist Hymnal, scheduled to be released July 1, 2008. This new offering will contain around 650 songs, only a few less than the prior version. Lifeway is also supplementing the pew version with an online resource and database of 1000 songs that will be available to churches in various formats: a multimedia database of texts, a recorded database for churches without musicians and, orchestrated accompaniments for larger churches. Lifeway is hoping to add 100 songs per year to this online database, giving churches access to new songs as well as all the old standards that many baptist churches love to sing.

The aim of such an online database is to provide a centralized resource for worship planning and to confront some of the problems of hymnal publishing that are unique to our digital age and to put better tools into the hands of worship planners, giving more options than the standard pew publication provides. It also shows foreword thinking for those on the mission field and small churches who may be worshiping where musicians are not available. Granted, the idea of playing an MP3 recording for my congregation to sing to is not exciting to me, but considering that most of our convention's churches have less than 100 members, with limited budgets for paying accompanists, it appears that Lifeway is truly seeking to help churches where they are.

The printed hymnal will be dually titled The Baptist Hymnal and The Worship Hymnal. Both editions will be available hardbound in order to market the hymnal to non SBC churches who may share our hymn tradition and theological perspectives but may be of another denomination and aren't interested in many of the "changes" to texts that many other published hymnals of the past few decades have indulged, such as gender neutrality and theological tweaking to take away "unhelpful" themes like "sin" and "judgment" and "eschatological triumph." Many denominations today find these as unnecessarily provocative and harmful to the christian message and have changed traditional hymn texts accordingly.

The publishers say that they have found that most Southern Baptist churches use around 300 of the hymns in the 1991 hymnal. They have retained these baptist standards and are supplementing these with over 200 new songs that have been published in other hymnals but have been absent from the Baptist Hymnal. They also will debut over 100 hymns that have never been published in any hymnal to date. Maybe this will include modern hymns like "In Christ Alone." I'm crossing my fingers.

Oh, in one article, they explain that "I'll fly away" will make it back into this edition. That will make my church family glad!

For more information, check out for news and updates on the new hymnal project.