Sojourn: ‘Over The Grave’ sees the glorious God behind the music

Over The GraveSojourn Church, based in Louisville, Ky., is another one of those groups (like Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music) who take old hymns and refresh them. A few years ago they did the wonderful Advent Songs album, which was a great way to prepare for the Christmas season and the birth of Christ. They have produced another effort that sounds worth at least a listen called Over the Grave. According to the Sojourn Church site, the new CD is the “first installment of the Isaac Watts Project: songs inspired by and adapted from his hymns. The record was written and performed entirely by musicians from Sojourn Community Church — 35 in all. It is our hope that this project, like Watts’s hymns, will point us beyond the music and lyrics to see the glorious Savior who inspires them.”

Justin Taylor, at his blog, has posted one of the songs, Only Your Blood Is Enough, along with the lyrics. Give it a listen and see for yourself the fine work this group of musicians is doing.

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Stepping aside for a time: John Piper is at war

Today, it was announced on the Desiring God site that John Piper — with the approval of the elders — will take a leave of absence from May 1 to December 31 this year. It was a remarkable letter in that he was very open and humble about the concern he had for the ministry at Bethlehem.

I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

You can read the complete letter here. We can do no better than to do what he asks and remember the Pipers, Bethlehem Baptist and the ministry team at Desiring God in prayer. And, like Piper, we need also to continue daily to go to war with our owns sins.

Hopeful harmony: Salve for the weary soul

I love to sing, and I love to hear good singing. While it is always a blessing for me to sing with other believers in church, it is especially sweet to hear those who sing harmony. A couple of weeks ago, I stood next to (we stand when we sing at my church) my wife at church and enjoyed singing while also listening for the sweet sounds of her harmonizing with the songs. She usually sings with the worship team and so I don’t always get to experience that.

Sadly, it is a sound that is going away it seems because fewer and fewer people sing harmony. I would point to the increasing use of PowerPoint and the decreasing use of hymnals as one theory. I don’t want to go down the path of arguing against the use of PowerPoint because we can still lift our voices and sing and praise God. But when you don’t see notes, you may not think of different singing parts and therefore little harmonizing happens. I miss it.

Thankfully, I had my spirits raised this morning by a wonderful clip that Robert Cottrill posted on his Wordwise Hymns site. On this date composer Joseph Philbrick Webster was born. Among many compositions, he wrote the music for Sweet By and By. I nearly cried when I heard this  — for the beauty of the words I was hearing and because it had been a long time since I had sung in a group that way: people singing parts with no accompaniment! I just savored that. Today, it was a salve for me as I live between two worlds.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

By Thy Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic is almost here

By Thy MercyOne of my favorite groups of artists, Indelible Grace, is just about to release its fifth album, called “By The Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic.”  To hear the title track, you can go here.

If you have spent any time here, you know that I deeply appreciate the work of these artists. The group’s stated purpose is “to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace.

Kevin Twit, who is the campus pastor at Belmont University and is the founder of Indelible Grace, writes on the group’s Facebook page some of the background of the group and more of its goals:

Indelible Grace Music grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We saw many touched by the gospel, and gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.
But actually, this is not really a “new” movement at all! Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was common for people to compose new music for each generation for many of the hymns that they loved. There is no rule that says each hymn can only have one musical setting, and in fact, hymnals are designed for you to be able to mix and match words and music — that’s why they have a metrical index. But unfortunately, we lost this tradition and got stuck in a more modern traditionalism of associating one particular tune with one particular hymn. I am reminded of an incident a few years ago at the national meeting of our own denomination after a worship group had played a new version of Wesley’s “And Can It Be” (the one that is on our 1st CD by the way.) Many were upset by the new music and one gentleman stood and protested the new music saying that Wesley had written this hymn to majestic music and that he must be turning over in his grave. At this point, the organist for the convention rose and told the man (correctly) that the critic had probably never heard the music Wesley wrote the hymn to (if he even did write it to music when he composed it), and that the tune the man thought was the original was actually a bar tune!
Our goal is not change for change’s sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and to invite many who would never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words. We believe that we are impoverished if we cut off our ties with the saints of the past, and that we fail to be faithful to God in our own moment of history if we don’t attempt to praise Him in forms that are authentic to who we are.Read More »

Seven reasons why we need small groups

This was not the main part of the message, but it was nonetheless a great point that John Piper made this past Sunday during his message at Bethlethem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. That is, seven reasons why we as believers and members of the church need small groups:

He has given pastors to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.

1. The impulse avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.

2. The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.

3. Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.

4. Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.

5. Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.

6. Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.

7. Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.

Don’t be a hater: Get to church

Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, who teamed up to write “Two Guys Who Are Not Emergent” and the just-published “Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion,” recently wrote an article for the On Faith section of the Washington Post. For two young guys, they sound a chord not heard often in this culture. That is, the church is important in our society:

Here’s what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won’t tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel’s Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).

Now, these guys are not naive. They know what churches can be like and how they have received a reputation for not being the most loving places in the world:

We’ve been in the church our whole lives and are not blind to its failings. Churches can be boring, hypocritical, hurtful, and inept. The church is full of sinners. Which is kind of the point. Christians are worse than you think. Our Savior is better than you imagine.

But the church is not all about oppression and drudgery. Almost every church we know of visits old people, brings meals to new moms, supports disaster relief, and does something for the poor. We love the local church, in spite of its problems, because it’s where we go to meet God. It’s not a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk and look just you do. It’s a place to hear God’s word spoken, taught and affirmed. It’s a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It’s a place to be challenged.

Their new book “provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be a part of the body of Christ and counteract the ‘leave church’ books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs.” I know that there are many of us who have in the past gone through or currently are going through difficulties with your fellow believers in the church. Don’t despair — and don’t leave the church.

Download the study guide to go with the book.

Calvinism: The thing people fear in their churches

What is the most detestable thing a person can imagine happening to their church? A disregard of the scripture? A lack of mission? Triviality or a worship of culture? Moral corruption among church leaders or an unloving attitude? A lack of worship?

No, it seems that a great many fear the teaching of Calvinism. That is, the five points of Calvinism. The doctrines of grace. These things:

  • Total depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the saint

That is, you believe that:

  1. We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.
  2. Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.
  3. Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
  4. Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.
  5. And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.

Radical stuff, that Calvinism. Goodness knows where that could lead.

Not sure? Here are some things you could read to maybe give you a better idea.

And now, some words for the nonrevolutionaries among us

Ted Kluck, by way of coauthor Kevin DeYoung’s blog, has some words for you in an excerpt of their latest great book, Why We Love the Church:

A search on a popular Christian bookseller’s Web site revealed no less than sixty-two items with the word manifesto in the title and hundreds containing the term revolutionary. There are revolutionary books for teens. Ditto for stay-at-home moms. There’s a book about how Jesus was a revolutionary communicator, and how you can use His revolutionary communication skills in your home/business/church. The question then becomes, If we’re all revolutionaries, are any of us an actual revolutionary? Being a revolutionary used to mean that you overthrew a government; now it means that you’re a courageous enough visionary to have church on a golf course or in someone’s living room.

My point in all of this is not to make not-so-subtle jabs at revolutionary culture (maybe a little bit); rather, it is to encourage the scores of nonrevolutionaries in our midst, of which I am one. I want to encourage those of us who try really hard to pray for our families and friends, try to read our Bibles consistently, and share the gospel with those around us. Those of us who aren’t ready to chuck centuries worth of church history, and years of unglamorous but God-glorifying growth in the name of revolution.

I’m also a part of the generation that has produced more memoirs before the age of thirty-five than any other in history. We’re crazy about Christian narrative nonfiction, especially those “on the road” stories, no matter how trite or contrived they may be. We’re journeyers. We’re wanderers. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. Jack Kerouac’s (or Donald Miller’s…or Lauren Winner’s) wayward children are all over the Christian book landscape.

These narrative titles all follow a similar pattern, in that in them experiences are had (a cross-country road trip, a self-finding excursion through Europe, a documentary chronicling the lameness of American Christians, a chronicle on how the author dropped out of church and subsequently “found” Jesus), and then those experiences are shared in book form. Many of these books are supposed to tell us that “community” is the answer, and individualism is bad, but at the end of the day these books are largely about the individual and his or her discoveries.

I am looking forward to this book. Both Ted and Kevin have a great way of getting right to the point in a helpful way. Don’t go find yourself. Find God and love the church.

 

Hold your twittering, please

TwitterphoneJosh Harris posted some good thoughts about how his church recommends that worshippers not to use Twitter during services. John Piper agrees. Harris brings six points, which I think are helpful. This one is particularly good:

The most important thing I can do while I’m sitting under the preaching of God’s word is to listen to what God is saying to me. I need to actively engage my heart and mind to receive. Twitter, takes the focus off of hearing and receiving and and makes it broadcasting and sharing. So instead of my mind being engaged with thoughts of “What is the Word of God saying to me?” when I start “tweeting” my focus becomes, “What do I want to say? What do Iwant to express? What am I thinking?”

Along those lines, Piper adds these thoughts:

There is an assumption that Josh and I share, which is not understood or embraced by all. Preaching and hearing preaching are worship. Preaching is expository exultation. The preacher is explaining the Bible and applying the Bible and EXULTING over the truth in the Bible. The listener is understanding, and applying, and joining in the exultation. Hearing preaching is heart-felt engagement in the exposition and exultation of the Word of God.

This is a fragile bond. The fact that an electric cord is easily cut, does not mean that the power flowing through it is small. It produces bright and wonderful effects. So it is with preaching. Great power flows through fragile wires of spiritual focus.

The point is, we already need to battle the temptation for distraction when we are worshipping. It isn’t just twittering. Before Twitter ever came along there were myriads of things that come before us to break the focus on what God is revealing to us through worship. Don’t add another one.

And, finally, when it is over both men make clear that then yes, by all means twitter. Tell people what you have heard. Share it. Exult in it. But get the message first, that’s all.

Bad idea: Trying to fit God into the American Dream

Over the last few days over at the Desiring God blog, Paul Tripp has been answering questions. It’s been a great series, but I thought this one was particularly good:

What is the greatest hindrance to cultivating community in the American church?

The first thing that comes to mind is frenetic western-culture busyness.

I read a book on stress a few years back, and the author made a side comment that I thought was so insightful. He said that the highest value of materialistic western culture is not possessing. It’s actually acquiring.

If you’re a go-getter you never stop. And so the guy who is lavishly successful doesn’t quit, because there are greater levels of success. “My house could be bigger, I could drive better cars, I could have more power, I could have more money.”

And so we’ve bought an unbiblical definition of the good life of success. Our kids have to be skilled at three sports and play four musical instruments, and our house has to be lavish by whatever standard. And all of that stuff is eating time, eating energy, eating money. And it doesn’t promote community.

I think often that even the programs of a local church are too sectored and too busy. As if we’re trying to program godliness. And so the family is actually never together because they’re all in demographic groupings. Where do we have time where we are pursuing relationships with one another, living with one another, praying with one another, talking with one another?

I’ve talked to a lot of families who literally think it’s a victory to have 3 or 4 meals all together with one another in a week, because they’re so busy. Well, if in that family unit they’re not experiencing community, there’s no hope of them experiencing it outside of that family unit.

We have families that will show up at our church on Sunday morning with the boys dressed in their little league outfits, and I know what’s going to happen. They’re going to leave the service early. Now what a value message to that little boy! Do I think little league is bad? I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s great. But they’re telling him what’s important as they do that.

You can’t fit God’s dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It’s a radically different lifestyle. It just won’t squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that’s left over.

Read the rest of Tripp’s answer here.