Archive for November 2011

November 28, 2011

‘Tis the on!


Advent has begun, Christmas is coming quickly.children’s programs, hanging of green services, Living Christmas Trees, Christmas Eve services, musical productions, etc., etc.  Here we go.


Although I realize we have all been working on Christmas for some time already, I want to request your attention for a moment here at the front end of the carrying out of those plans you have; plans to lead your people through these weeks of Advent into the full-on celebration of Christmas.  My appeal to us is an oft-repeated caution regarding the excesses of the season – too much production (the big Christmas show) or too much cultural saturation by which we will presumably attract or please our American congregations.  Lest the brief discussion seem solely based on the negative, my appeal to you is to saturate the season’s worship with God-centered, Christ-pointed affection.  Love pointed toward all that is Christmas – God’s mercy and grace, affection toward God Himself and our neighbors as ourselves.


In this season we certainly re-tell the story, some use allegory, some try to be historically accurate, some place the birth story in the larger Gospel framework – something I hope we all find ways to convey clearly as part of our Christmas worship.  My appeal to you is that we will allow room for songs to tell more than just factual truth of a child born in a manger, but that they will express affections of the redeemed whose lives have been changed.


Is there some way to help believers recognize their part in conveying our common love of Savior in each corporate expression of praise and thanksgiving?  Sadly, a frequent practice is for us worship leaders to spend the month of December looking to re-warm the spirits of those who should already be white hot with passion, who should be simply looking to us leaders to guide toward those familiar words and tunes upon which will ride their vocal expressions of “Glory to God in the highest!” and “Hallelujah!” Perhaps during our time of greening the sanctuary we can rehearse the congregation to capture the proclamation and spirit of carol-singing.  What if “O come let us adore Him” was not a plea for church members to sing along, but was a raucous invitation by a unified voice of the church for others to see this Christ, the Lord to whom all glory is giv’n.  This is a time of year when there are more visitors who slip into worship than any other time of the year.  Yes, they may come to hear the music, see the production, or just attend in order to be with family.  Regardless, let’s give them the Gospel – not only the facts, but the evidence of faith gleaned from lives affected by the change that occurs in lives who sing with heart as well as voice in declaring “Joy to the World!”


Our friend, Keith Getty, wrote a blog regarding Christmas carols that is well worth reading.  In it he states,


Today carols continue to be one of the few remaining conduits that allow us to express our faith in the public square.  Amazingly, they’re heralded on secular radio, used in advertisements and sung on television throughout the holiday season.

See full article at


Just imagine, people are hearing carols sung in these places, and upon stepping into our churches they can experience the songs from those who testify to have been changed by the Christ whose birth they proclaim.


Let all within us praise His holy Name!


Hymn of Grateful Praise

November 24, 2011
An often-overlooked Thanksgiving hymn is For the Beauty of the Earth.  Perhaps it is passed over because the 19th Century text does not actually contain the word, “Thanks” in it anywhere.  Perhaps it is because the straightforward hymn is more closely associated with a standard Sunday morning hymn of praise.  Regardless, it is a song lyric that strikes me today as a great expression of personal and potentially corporate praise rooted in a deep sense of high praise, or praise rooted in a deep sense of thankfulness – works either way you look at it.  It speaks for me important words of worship today as I have been recounting blessings for which I am so very thankful, which causes my heart to burst into praise for the blessings of the Lord, and perhaps most importantly, for the Lord Himself (see stanza six).
A centerpiece of worship is remembering.  We do not gather, personally or corporately, to focus on our worship, or on how committed we are to worship. The core substance and content of Christian worship is found in Who we worship and what He has done – the Gospel of God in Christ.  One of the reasons our worship must be Word-driven is that the Bible tells us what God has done.  It tells us over and again.  Even the long genealogies of Matthew 1 reflect God’s sovereign hand at work to bring us Jesus.  Gospel – good news!  Remember.recount.rehearse.
These last few days Ebbie and I had an opportunity (aka “made” an opportunity) to be together in Florida – just to get away and reflect and enjoy some time.  Morning walks for me were times of recounting.rehearsing.remembering rich blessings.  The more I recall the more my heart sings.  “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”  Of course walking along the Oceanside helps, even in the morning rain, to recount the beauty of the earth. It also brings floods of memories with children and grandchildren and offers hope for more thanks to the Lord’s healing hand.  “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”  Healing and close calls bring to mind again the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night – every one a precious gift.  “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”  Family . through all of life.what a gift!  The joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.”Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”  The church..the pangs of difficulties fade to black when recalling so many wonderful relationships, the priceless opportunity to be a part of peoples’ lives who are brothers and sisters in Christ.  The hope of eternity spent with the One body lifting holy hands above.  “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”  O the joy of ear and eye, the heart and mind’s delight and this time of year especially for mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight.  My mind is full of flashes of memories of TLC and/or TMC singing ministry before Tennessee church bodies, before those in foreign lands, before brothers and sisters in other states.  It is gleeful to think of the sounds and songs being sung week after week led by the hearts, minds, and hands of you leaders.  “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”
I find that if I give thanks long enough there is an eruption of spirit that follows as naturally as exhaling follows inhailing.  It is an eruption of praise. The same is true when the body is gathered and we remember.recount.rehearse.  That praise is not only appropriate because of all the listed blessings, but also because the Giver is with us, Incarnate.  It is the remembrance that offers proper perspective to all remembrances.  It is the Gift that encompasses all gifts including the very spirit of giving itself.
            For Thyself, best Gift Divine! To our world so freely given
            For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
            Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving recounting memories of blessings, life, regeneration, renewal, and relationship.  Please know that as our family gathers and recounts our blessings, I will be giving special thanks for you.

Giving thanks and praise,

Those Who Know It Best

November 11, 2011
  I know this Christian stuff really well.  I have been at it practically my whole life. I was coming to church nine months before I was born. Many of the people who read these weekly ramblings are the same way.  You have been singing, listening to preaching, partaking in ordinances, trying to witness your faith to others from time to time, studying the Bible, and engaging in church fellowship over and over again for a long while. Seems like we would all just be bored to tears after years and years of the same old story, the same old song.  The truth is that if we are tired of it, we must not be speaking of the same “it.”  If you really let it sink in yet again, whether for the 40th or the 400,000th time, it is once again an astounding truth beyond compare – beyond anything we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams – that God, the Author of all creation, the giver of everything that is good, would come to dwell among us in the form of a man, Jesus, born of a virgin, crucified that we might be forgiven of our sin, buried and raised again conquering death and hell once and for all, and coming again in a moment we cannot know, yet a moment of which we can be certain and therefore live in brilliant hope of eternal victory.  It is profound beyond description, though history has been spent trying to describe it through the works of the greatest artists, greatest musicians, greatest theologians, greatest writers, and greatest leaders who have ever lived as well as through the most coarse simpletons and through the most meager of means.  The beautiful truth is that the Gospel still captures our imaginations.  The Gospel remains the one truth that still trumps all other axioms of life and living!  It is still to be the constant tone of our worship!  I can still hear Robert Webber’s tone of voice proclaiming it, “Christus Victor!” Christ is triumphant in ultimate victory over all evil!  My heart cries, “Amen!”
As longtime followers of Jesus we can still be surprised by the shekinah glory that may surprise us in the middle of a song, during the reading of God’s Word, as we observe a new baptism, partake of the bread and cup, or just hear a whisper in the still moments of worship.  Then again the Lord may surprise us with an overwhelming sense of His presence in a hospital room, on a morning walk, or playing in the yard with a child. When those surprises occur they become part of our spiritual memory.
Whatever glory moments may occur that thrill our soul, they are rooted in the story.  Illumined by the Holy Spirit we love to hear it, speak it, sing it, and live it.  It is the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The old gospel song says it well:
            I love to tell the story
            For those who know it best
            Seem hungering and thirsting
            To hear it like the rest
            And when in scenes of glory
            I sing a new, new song
            ‘Twill be the old, old story
            That I have loved so long
            I love to tell the story
            ‘Twill be my theme in glory
            To tell the old, old story
            Of Jesus and His love.
          Katherine Hankey
  Lest you think these moments only occur during times of high celebration (a disposition some pastors and worship leaders seem to think is the only point of Spirit visitation), consider the circumstance surrounding the writing of this great gospel song.  In 1866, Katherine Hankey was recovering from a serious illness when she wrote a two part poem of 50 stanzas based on the life of Christ.  Part one, “The Story Wanted,” was dated January 29, 1866, and is the source for the hymn “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.”  The second part, “The Story Told,” was completed on November 18, 1866.  “I Love to Tell the Story” was drawn from this second part.  In her physical suffering she recounted the story of Jesus as one of those who know it best.
Next week our Tennessee Mens Chorale will be singing this great old hymn with Travis Cottrell at our annual meeting of Tennessee Baptists.  We will sing it interwined with a video testimonial presentation of a pastor and church who saw nine people come to Christ as a result of their ongoing telling of the story.  The pastor and those new believers will be physically present as well.  We pray this will be a moment of Spirit presence in our midst and convictional motivation for all of us to faithfully tell the old, old story that is blessed to repeat.
Overwhelmed by His grace,

Worship Leader Roundtable Reflections

November 2, 2011

  Each Fall for the past eleven years I have conducted roundtables for worship pastors/music ministers across our great state.  I have come to look forward with great anticipation to these gatherings of fellow musician – ministers for many reasons.  The fellowship is always encouraging, and every year it seems I see some new faces – some who are new to our state, and some who have just been unable to participate in past days. It is just good to gather again with familiar faces and to welcome new friends to this sweet fellowship that is Tennessee Baptist Church Music and Worship Leaders.  It is also beneficial to share with one another those experiences of blessing and challenge that take place in our individual ministries.  My prayer is that this time spent together encourages each participant through understanding of that common bond, as well as through the gain of new insights, new resources, new ideas, and the reminders of foundational truth upon which we build our ministries of worship leadership.


This year’s focus of discussion and sharing was congregational song with a preliminary invitation for those gathering to share a song or two that is meaningful in their congregation’s worship, and to tell why they believe those songs are effective in that regard.  Since I attended all of the roundtables I was interested in both the variety of songs and in the repetition of certain songs and composers.  While the day of walking into most any Baptist church and expecting worship singing to be about the same is long gone, I was both interested and encouraged that there are common expressions, old and new, among our churches.  We discovered that we are using a variety of hymnals in those churches where hymnals are still used, and that we are using several various resources for new materials, whether these are supplement to the hymnals or the sole source for those who project words on a screen.  Next week I will actually send the list of songs and resources mentioned in these roundtables – (NOTE: if you were unable to attend, but would like to respond with a couple of songs that are particularly meaningful to your congregation’s worship, that they sing well, feel free to reply and I will add them to the list).  For now, however, I want to simply list for you some of the characteristics that we noted in the songs mentioned in the roundtable gatherings.




Carries the message of hope

Doctrinally sound

Theologically rich

Good poetry

Scripture references

Simple – singable

Quickly learned

Dramatic contrasts

Can become their own expression

Includes the big picture

Lets the congregation tell its story – express their hope

Written for the congregation rather than platform personnel

Dynamic refrain



Really says something

Facing the storms


Fits the moment


Applicable to Christian season – year

Strong melody

Can be adapted to various styles

Somehow captures what we are wanting to express



It should be obvious in reading this list that some of these characteristics contrast with others to some extent, and others are similar, though stated in different ways.  Of course that is a reflection of both various congregations represented and various songs listed from each.  We were reminded through these gatherings of some balances that we, as worship pastors, are called upon to bring to our people:


Trinitarian emphasis – Father, Son, Spirit

Singing to God – singing about God

Singing to one another – singing with one another

Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs

Familiar – new

Celebration – Lament – comfort

Ministry to all generations

Encouragement – prophetic challenge

Spiritual formation

Freedom of expression – guided thought

Individual – corporate expressions


I was grateful, though not really surprised, at the depth of reflection among our worship pastors, and the commitment to give of their best.  I believe there was a strengthened realization of the challenge that is congregational leadership in singing.  Our discussions took us from the highly practical issues of accompaniments, distribution of music, and technical issues to the profound theological implications of worshiping in the presence of the cloud of witnesses and heavenly beings as we sing.  There was plenty of laughter and a few moments of silent pause as these ministers conveyed special moments of ministry with the congregations they love and serve.


I am so grateful for the spirit among our worship leaders!  It is surely a gift of the Holy Spirit.


Blessed again,


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