October 15, 2014 by
Jeff Purswell, our Director of Theology and Training, recently preached a message from Hebrews 12:1–2, and the Sovereign Grace staff thought it might encourage and strengthen you.
This message, called “A Steady Pace and a Fixed Gaze,” is available for audio listening or download as well as video. We’ve also included the video at the bottom of this post.
Below, we have included some highlights from his sermon with the prayer that God would speak to you through the preaching of his Word:
The very essence of our existence as believers—as followers of Christ—is that our life is a race. The Christian life doesn’t call for fast starts or flashes of brilliance or trigger-fast reflexes. The heroes of the faith aren’t muscular sprinters. They don’t “strike a pose” to celebrate their victories. Rather, following Christ calls for a steady pace, a wise and thoughtful strategy executed, not in seconds, but over time. No character quality is more important to our lives than endurance.
But there is a finish line. There will be fruitfulness—fruitfulness you’ve never dreamed of! The effects from your labors and prayers and serving and giving will baffle you. Your rewards from God will humble you. The text says, “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have shown for his name in serving the saints!” (Hebrews 6:10). God knows your every step, every blister, every pain, and every disappointment. He waits at the finish line with glories in his presence that we’ve never even imagined. God himself laid out your course. He fashioned you for it. He designed it. And he did so to shape you, to use you, and to make you more like Jesus.
Therefore, we are to take off and lay aside every weight or burden or impediment (Hebrews 12:2). We must cast off anything and everything that would impede or burden or distract or hinder our race—our pursuit of Christ, his glory, and his purposes. We are to evaluate all our activities and our resources in light of their effects on running the race. This takes supernatural wisdom. It calls for counsel from others who are running the race with you. But that’s the call of this text: If anything hinders your race—if it robs you of faith or passion for Christ or love for others or a burden for the lost or the use of your gifts in the local church—then it might be a weight.
Some hindrances impede us; but sin entangles us. Other hindrances weigh you down; sin will bring you down. You can’t run the race and cherish sin. You can’t run the race and cultivate sin. You can’t run the race and indulge in sin. You can’t run the race and be apathetic toward sin. That’s why we need the local church. Look around and you will see that there are runners everywhere, ready to help. Earlier the author of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25). Do not take the body of Christ for granted.
Christian, you’re not just floating through life—you’re in a race. You must trust in the promises and faithfulness of God. Entrust yourself to God by desiring not what the world has to offer, but what God offers you through His promises. And remember that you are not alone. You are part of a noble company. There are many powerful examples of those who trusted in God’s promises and faithfully endured (see Hebrews 11). You are upheld by the same God as they were.
Therefore we look preeminently to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Just as an athlete concentrates all his energies upon his prize, marshaling all his resources to capture that trophy or cup or medal, so are we to fix our gaze entirely on our Savior. We look to Jesus first because he’s the founder or pioneer of our faith. Christ blazed a trail before us, showing us the way. He endured shame and hostility from a world opposed to God. And he did so because our salvation—and the vindication of his Father’s honor—was his joy. As the founder of our faith, Jesus opened the way for us to enter the presence of God. He fully accomplished what was required for us to be forgiven—to draw near to God.
Because Christ finished his race, we can finish ours. The Christian’s fundamental call is steadfast endurance, with our gaze fixed on Jesus. While we run this race, Hebrews 12:1–2 wants Jesus to dominate our vision. He ran the ultimate race. He guaranteed our forgiveness and access to God. He is our source of power to persevere in the race.
Race photo from Shutterstock.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
October 14, 2014 by
Categories: Interviews | Music | Resources
We recently announced that there is a new Christmas album from Sovereign Grace Music called Prepare Him Room. In that post, we said that there are some other exciting resources accompanying the album (by the same name): a family devotional and a classroom curriculum.
Marty Machowski wrote the devotional and curriculum while Bob Kauflin partnered with him by overseeing the creation of the album. So, I took the opportunity to ask these men some questions to give you a more behind-the-scenes look:
How long does a project like this take?
Marty: For some writing projects, I get an idea, plan out a schedule, and start plugging away. Most of my writing projects have taken six months of intensive study and writing. Prepare Him Room didn’t follow that pattern, and each of its three components came together a bit differently, over a longer period of time.
The short Christmas story “Bartimaeus” that I’ve included in the devotional was first written for my children. Later, I passed it along to our homeschool ministry who turned the storyline into an original Christmas musical. After the musical performance, I decided to rewrite the story to see if I could polish it up enough to have it published. I probably rewrote that story three times over two years.
The devotional began as a project for our church family at Covenant Fellowship. Jared Mellinger asked me to write an Advent devotional for folks in our church to use. Most of that came together in one blessed day when I got the idea to connect the Christmas prophecies in the Old Testament with the New Testament fulfillments. It was that devotional which became the framework for the Advent devotions in the Prepare Him Room devotional.
I wrote the companion curriculum last of all to bring the same truths of Scripture into the Sunday school classroom. That took about a month to write working about an hour and a half each day, or about 50 hours.
Bob: From Marty’s first email, the project took about 15 months. We actually started writing songs in January of this year and finished in early April. The recording took about six weeks.
How did you end up partnering with each other on this project?
Marty: I’ve known Bob for 27 years—ever since he first spoke at a Covenant Fellowship singles retreat in the 90’s. Bob is such a gift to us and I love his heart for God and his gifting in writing music. So when the idea came up in conversation with New Growth Press to put together a Christmas album highlighting the themes from Prepare Him Room in song, it was a no-brainer to contact Bob.
With all Bob has going on, I thought it was a long shot—and a dream. Having Bob on the project would be getting the best. What a joy to have this work out. In the end, Bob was excited by the prospect of doing another Christmas album, and we were able to work together to create a grouping of songs that work amazingly well with what I’ve written.
When Bob sent me the first rough-cut video of “Who Would Have Dreamed,” it took my breath away. The lyrics were amazing, and his daughter, McKenzie, killed it!
Bob: Marty sent me an email in June of 2013 asking if I’d be interested in having Sovereign Grace Music produce an album to accompany his children’s Advent curriculum and devotional. I had been thinking about recording another Christmas album the past few years, since Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man came out back in 2006. This provided the perfect opportunity to pursue that impulse.
Why are you releasing the CD album, the devotional book, and the curriculum together?
Marty: Jesus was born to the chorus of angels singing to the shepherds in the fields. Christmas isn’t Christmas without songs celebrating the coming of our Savior. When I developed the Prepare Him Room curriculum and devotional, I wanted to include singing as a part of what the children would do.
This Christmas album stands alone, as does the curriculum, but when you put them together, you have a wonderful Advent program in study and song that we hope will be a blessing for families and churches partnering together to bring the gospel to the next generation.
Bob: Partly because of the way the project came about. The album really is a companion to the devotional and curriculum. I think we would have come up with a different album without Marty’s materials. The specific Scriptures caused us to focus on the particular themes of each lesson and gave us more diversity than we would have had otherwise.
What audience are these resources meant for?
Marty: The target audience for the family devotional and curriculum is preschool through elementary age children. I wanted to provide a gospel-rich set of activities families could use to build Christ-centered family traditions that will last. While Prepare Him Room is written for 4–10 year-olds, the rich biblical theology I’ve included is material for people of any age. I remember first discovering the truths of biblical theology well into my adult years and marveling at some of the very same prophecies we teach in Prepare Him Room.
Bob: While the curriculum and devotional are intended for 4–10 year-olds and their families, the album is for all ages. We aimed for a specifically “Christmas” sound that is timeless, rather than trying to produce a pop album with Christmas lyrics. We were really pleased with the result. One person described it this way: “The album as a whole has a depth and movement about it that is both sobering and hopeful.”
How can I order these resources, and what are the most strategic ways I can use them?
Marty: Go to New Growth Press for both the curriculum and the devotional.
I am hoping churches 1) purchase the curriculum to use the four weeks prior to Christmas and 2) encourage their families to use the companion family devotional. The goal of these two resources is to bridge the gap between church and home and to serve as a tool for pastors and families to use together.
It brings me great joy when I think that families can also be singing Christmas hymns and songs at home along with the album Bob put together and then singing those same songs on Sunday. I’ve made it my mission to provide resources that help parents bring the life-transforming message of the gospel to their family.
I honestly can’t think of a more comprehensive Christmas program that teaches children the true meaning of Christmas through word, deed, and song. I hope churches and families in Sovereign Grace (and beyond) take advantage of this program and see the gospel proclaimed to a new generation who we trust will carry the torch of the gospel when our days are complete.
Bob: Marty explained how to get the curriculum and devotional. The best place to get the album is the Sovereign Grace Music website. From there, you can purchase it from a number of retailers or websites.
Every Christmas, we’re bombarded with voices from our culture trying to tell us what is most important about the Christmas season, whether it be gifts, parties, family, or traditions. This album, combined with the devotional and curriculum, will be a huge help to parents who want to take consistent time to focus not only on the birth of Christ, but also its purpose. Jesus was born to save us from our sins. That is the greatest miracle to celebrate at Christmas or any other time for that matter. And after sitting down to go through the devotional together, families can reinforce and deepen those truths anywhere and anytime as they listen to the songs on the album.
Marty serves as a pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church and has written numerous resources for children and families.
Bob is the Director of Music and Worship for Sovereign Grace and serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
Every single time the living, active Word of God addresses us, it is powerful. His truth shapes us and changes us.
However, I can look back and pinpoint particular instances where I had a unique encounter—where, as I sat there listening to the preached Word, it seemed as if God was singling me out of the crowd, speaking personally, directly, and specifically to me. These are holy moments. Humbling moments.
This was my experience at the 2013 Pastors Conference, as Jeff Purswell addressed us from Isaiah 40. Even from the opening prayer, I knew God was addressing me. I was keenly aware that he saw me—my struggles, my concerns, my weariness.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Jeff opened his message describing weariness. Not just physical weariness, but soul weariness. “Weariness is not resolved by sleep or vacations or leisure.…Weariness is a persistent fatigue of the soul that has lost sight of a better future.” I found myself soul weary as I sat in the auditorium at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando last October. And as Jeff unpacked the definition of a despondent heart (v. 27), I saw myself in that definition. My way is hidden from the Lord. Does he see me? Is he aware?
Jeff went on to explain that the “weary heart rarely stays stagnant, the spiral goes downwards. ‘My right is disregarded by my God (v. 27).’” Does he hear my prayers? He’s not answering. Does he care?
I found my heart resonating with these descriptions of a weary and despondent heart, and again, it was as if Jeff was describing me. “Here is where weariness can take us: It can lead the heart to despondency, even to despair. It can lead to those two fundamental questions the exiles asked: ‘Does God know?’ ‘Does God care?’”
Only a renewed view of our majestic God can address our hearts. And as Jeff preached, fresh hope filled my mind and heart as I spent time reflecting on our glorious God. He is everlasting. He is the LORD. He is the Creator. I was reminded that God is not like me. He doesn’t run out of energy. He doesn’t start something and then not finish it. “This eternal God—this Creator God who made all things and sustains all things—he therefore doesn’t ‘faint’ or ‘grow weary.’ God never begins something and then realizes ‘this isn’t going to work.’ He’s calmly—inexorably—working out his purposes, neither hurried nor desperate. He’s the LORD. He’s the Creator.”
Oh, how I needed to be reminded of these truths! He is the Creator. He is at work in my life. And when I don’t perceive his activity, my perception is not the final word. The truth is that he is always at work. As Jeff unpacked the truth of God’s unsearchable understanding, I had a much-needed heart adjustment. I often assume I know what God is doing (or not doing) in my life. And I assess that work accordingly. In response to this inaccurate assessment, Jeff went on to say (referencing a statement John Piper has made), “We certainly know some things God is doing, but he’s also doing 1,000 other things you’re oblivious to! He’s present everywhere, at every point in space, with all of his being, working ceaselessly. And so there are two things we must never do: We must never doubt God’s ability. And, we must never expect to understand all his ways.”
Because of the greatness and goodness of our God, I can look to the future with hope. Personally, when trials seem to never end and waiting seems to be my new occupation, I can find myself growing apathetic. I’m just waiting on the Lord. As if that constitutes a lethargic biding of my time. Jeff’s unpacking of what it means to wait on the Lord has changed my paradigm and given me a very clear mental image of standing expectantly on my tip-toes, eagerly waiting on the Lord. The verb in this context of Isaiah 40 means “to wait expectantly, hopefully—to live with a confident expectation. Those who wait on the Lord live with a confident expectation of his action on their behalf. To put it in physical terms, you’re not slouched back in a chair drumming your fingers. Rather, you’re on tip-toes—watching, waiting, hoping, trusting.” This mental image frequently comes to mind, reminding me to wait with hope, not apathy or resignation—eagerly anticipating God’s activity!
If you find yourself soul weary, in the midst of an extended trial, or just in need of some encouragement, I highly recommend you give this message a listen or a re-listen. God has used it to profoundly alter the state of my heart—not only at the Pastors Conference, but many times since as I’ve listened to it again. He continues to use his words in Isaiah 40 to gently lift my gaze and to restore my hope.
Right-click and select “save target as” to download.
Summer photo from Shutterstock.
Melissa is the administrative assistant to the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and is a member of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
Note: This is the sixth and final post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Paul Buckley, who chairs Sovereign Grace’s Executive Committee, has contributed today’s post. We pray that God would use this series to strengthen your faith.
What is your reaction when you read the word “evangelism”? Do you get excited about seeing lives changed? Do you picture yourself as a missionary sharing the gospel with some remote tribe that converts in mass and immediately starts dancing and singing God’s praise? Or do you think of all of your failed attempts at sharing Christ using the latest method that have left you wondering if you ever actually could lead someone to believe in Jesus?
If you are like me, you probably vacillate between excitement at one point and discouragement at another, wondering if your experience of evangelism and mission to those needing Christ will ever change. I need help in this dilemma, and maybe you do too.
Ian McConnell understands our dilemma. Ian is a pastor and church leader who is experiencing God’s grace to successfully model and lead his church in a lifestyle of mission to those without Christ in inner city Philadelphia. His church is a place where believers are regularly involved in the life and needs of their neighbors, relating to and serving others while regularly sharing the gospel, and seeing people come to Christ. His church is also actively involved in reaching beyond their immediate locale through church planting. Ian and his church have a model and a message on mission worth our attention.
In this message from Mark 6:7–14, Ian unpacks some key concepts from God’s Word that can transform how we understand and practice mission. First and foremost, he teaches us that right practice of our mission of evangelism is rooted in our identity. Fundamental to our identity as believers is that we are both “saved by Jesus” and “sent by Jesus.”
To be a Christian means to live as a “sent one,” no matter our particular gifting or role in the body of Christ. If we don’t grasp our basic identity as sent ones, we will fail to live it out properly, just as we fail to live properly when we forget other key aspects of our identity such as our justification, our reconciliation with God, and our filling with the Holy Spirit.
Ian goes on to fill out this key truth by answering four questions from this passage:
- Who is sent?
- What are we sent for?
- How can we do what we are sent to do?
- Why are we sent?
He gives a biblical answer from the text for each question. These wise, scriptural answers can transform how you understand and practice mission and, as a result, how you feel and think when you hear the word, “evangelism.”
Do you feel the tension between desiring to be part of God’s mission yet often feeling perplexed about your feeble attempts? Take some time to listen to Ian’s message and don’t be surprised if you see yourself experiencing real change in this key aspect of the Christian life.
Download the message (right click and select “Save Target As”) or listen below:
Paul Buckley is a member of the Executive Committee of Sovereign Grace and serves as the lead pastor of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Peggy, have four children.
Note: This is the fifth post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Leadership Team will share why they commend each other’s resources to you. We pray that God would use them to strengthen your faith.
We live in a day when Christians readily toss out “gospel-centered” as an adjective to describe just about anything. Our songs, our sermons, our small groups, our children’s ministry, our counseling, even our blogs (like this one) are all “gospel-centered.” My fear is that the term is losing its power as a meaningful descriptor due to familiarity and overuse. We need a refresher on what the term means. More importantly, we need a compelling reminder of the gospel itself. And we need it regularly.
I recently heard a sermon that delivers this needed reminder. Rick Gamache’s sermon “We Are Gospel-Centered” is a passionate and inspiring explanation of the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15:1–10. The sermon launches a sermon series that Rick preached last summer called “Shared Values” in which he explores the seven shared values that unite Sovereign Grace churches. Rick shows how “gospel-centered doctrine and preaching” is the central shared value that joins us in a common mission.
Rick makes the point that it is easy for us to lose our grip on the gospel and slip into emotionalism, legalism, or condemnation. He explains how a clear grasp of the good news is a sure protection against each of these. Walking through the text, Rick highlights two of Paul’s emphases: the preeminence of the gospel and the power of the gospel. He skillfully opens up the passage, describing both what Jesus did for us and what difference it makes. The sermon concludes with a very practical application revealing how we can make gospel connections to real life issues.
With a relentless focus on Christ’s objective work and a real-world application of the text, “We Are Gospel-Centered” is an edifying sermon filled with the good news. Rick takes us beyond gospel labels and slogans to the reality of what is “of first importance” for our churches and our individual lives. I heartily commend this message to anyone from new believer to seasoned saint.
Download the message (right click and select “Save Target As”) or listen below:
Craig is Sovereign Grace’s Director of Church Development and the senior pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, Texas. He and his wife, Ginger, have four children and one grandson.
Note: This is the fourth post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Leadership Team will share why they commend each other’s resources to you. We pray that God would use them to strengthen your faith.
The songs we sing in church are a continual negotiation between competing interests. We sing in the musical language of our particular time and place, yet we mine the musical and lyrical riches of the historical church. We want to quicken in our congregations diverse and proper emotions as they worship God, yet we never want to manipulate an emotional response from them. We want to shout our praise, as the psalmist does, yet we want to do so reverently. We want to approach boldly the throne of our heavenly Father, yet prostrate ourselves lest we be consumed by a holy God.
These tension are not new. David knew something of them when he admonished the kings of the earth in Psalm 2 to “rejoice with trembling.” This is an emotion that the world knows nothing about, but one which we seek to engender weekly in our churches. And while an armistice of sorts appears to have been reached in the worship wars of twenty years ago (the rough terms of which seem to be that the millennials have agreed to sing traditional hymns as long as the old folks let them add a chorus, a bridge, and a smoke machine), one question seems to have been left unanswered: Why do Christians sing in the first place?
It is this question, among others, that Bob Kauflin goes about answering in his 2012 sermon Why Do We Sing? The title of the sermon gives away some of his methodology: By moving the discussion from “Since we sing, what now?” to the more fundamental question “Why do we sing?” we sidestep unproductive discussions of musical style. (Basically, he says, we all prefer the style of music we liked when we were seventeen—a sobering thought considering that when Bob was seventeen, The Steve Miller Band is what passed for good rock and roll).
But, more importantly, this approach functions etiologically, fashioning out of the whole counsel of God a kind of “Just So story” of how and why our churches do what they do musically. Don’t be confused by the coffee cups under the chairs and charismatic roots; Sovereign Grace Churches (along with every other church) has a liturgy, unwritten and casual though it may be. Why Do We Sing? is a kind of charter document for making sure the musical portion of it is biblical.
Colossians 3 does yeoman’s work in any discussion of worship in the age of the church. And while Paul’s admonition in that text to teach one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (verse 16) occupies a central place in Why Do We Sing? the sermon is not meant to be a strict exegesis of that passage alone. Instead what we get is a close look at Colossians, a backward glance at the Old Testament, and a forward glance at Revelation. In doing so, Bob answers the question of “Why do we sing?” with this three-part answer: 1) We sing to remember God’s word, 2) We sing as a response to God’s grace, and 3) We sing as a response to, and a reflection of, God’s glory.
We pick up the thread of each of these three aspects in Colossians 3:16, but when any one thread is plucked, we see it vibrate throughout Scripture. Paul understands singing is a component to letting the “word of Christ dwell in you richly”—a mnemonic device, in other words, to help us remember Scripture. Memorizing and recalling prose is hard. Memorizing poetry is easier. But a song? Just ask me to sing all the verses of “American Pie,” and I’ll show you. But this isn’t an idea original to Paul. In Deuteronomy 31:21, God himself teaches a song to the Israelites. Why? Because “it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed.”
Bob is also quick to relate each of these dimensions of corporate worship to practical issues of how we, as congregants, should approach corporate times of worship. Paul’s plea that the “word of Christ dwell in you richly” becomes an opportunity for Bob to pivot and remind us of what should be obvious (but often isn’t) that it is the word which is to dwell in us richly, not the music or the worship experience. Our worship must be rich in content and avoid the emotionalism of “striving for an emotional response regardless of where it is rooted.” But it is not emotionalism to have music elevate our affections to the place where our thankfulness for Christ’s atonement (the great subject of our singing) sensibly requires them to be.
Similarly, that we are to admonish one another in “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” speaks, at the very least, to the fact that the church is edified by a diversity of song. God is pleased by songs to him that are both simple and complex, ancient and modern, carefully planned and spontaneous, pulled straight from his word and original. Our churches should be filled with musical variety, not in an attempt to accommodate our culture’s shifting fads, but to represent to those within a particular culture the panoply of God’s attributes and to inspire within them the appropriate (indeed, commanded) response to God’s character and works. No one style is sufficient to capture all that God is or would have us to feel about him.
The idea that we sing in church for the benefit of one another is one that I have heard Bob explore in the past and it emerges, too, in this sermon. “Worshipping God together in song is meant to deepen the relationships we enjoy through the gospel,” he says. When the lights are dim and the band is loud, it’s easy to hear a statement like that and assume that the only relationship meant to be deepened in worship is each individual’s relationship to God.
But of course Colossians makes it clear that our time of corporate singing is not just about us and God. It is also about one another. Sing to the Lord, for sure. But sing for your brother, too. Sing loud so that the person in the pew in front of you can hear your voice, specifically, urging him on in faithfulness and praise. Lift your hands to God as a sign of surrender and sacrifice. But lift your hands, too, so that your children will see that their father cares more about worshipping his Savior than he does about looking respectable. King David says that those who look to the Lord are radiant and their faces are not ashamed. In worship, the heart matters, but so does the face.
These answers to the question of why we sing are, admittedly, a little earth-bound. What of angelic harps and Seraphs’ songs and mention of the God who rejoices over us with singing? Isn’t music more than just a memory aid and a pat on the back to the guy in front of you in church? Isn’t it, you know, important, in some cosmic, eternal way? Don’t be ridiculous, of course it is. But here Bob is commendably careful not to confuse music’s ability to reflect God’s glory with the misguided notion that music somehow adds to God’s glory. Nothing outside of God can ever add to God’s glory. To alter only slightly the words of Psalm 50, if God had need of a song, he wouldn’t tell you, for the world is his, and the fullness thereof. And yet...and yet, he loves our song anyway. He receives it as the sacrifice of praise.
The corporate song of praise on earth and in heaven reflects God’s glory in its expression of the unity that Christ died to bring us. We are each individuals, yet we sing the same song. The timbre of each voice is unique, but the melody is the same, just as our Savior is the same. Our songs of worship reflect, too, the singing that God himself engages in (Zephaniah 3:17) and the song that will continue for eternity around his throne.
Music is, in a way, the boiling point of our emotions. As Christians, we have a responsibility to make sure that those emotional boiling points are produced (to stretch the metaphor nearly to the breaking point) by a godly flame. God’s common artistic gift to all humans grants us the freedom to enjoy any music that inspires righteous emotions. For our record collections to shelve Stravinsky, Mingus, and Dylan alongside the Gettys or Bach is not merely permissible; it is God-glorifying in nearly the same way that taking a walk through a garden is. At some level, we don’t much care whether or not the gardener reads his Bible.
But the music we sing in church is different. It exists for different reasons, for different ends, and we judge it on the basis of whether the music produced there can credibly be called an instrument for reaching those aims. A question perhaps even more fundamental than “Why do Christians sing?” is “What music does God like?” But Scripture provides no clear answer to this—only an answer to what God likes music to do. He wants it to teach and encourage. He wants it to exist as a unique method of discourse in which the languages of sincere emotion and verbal truth are uttered simultaneously.
And he wants us to sing for his own pleasure. He was the one, after all, who mysteriously and wonderfully created music, loves music, and has set up the world and redemption’s final culmination to reverberate with music for eternity (Revelation 5:9–10). Perhaps we can speculate that his relationship to music is like his relationship to wisdom—personified and pictured in Proverbs 8:30 as daily being his delight and having rejoiced at his throne before a single nail had yet been pounded for the earth’s creation. One imagines music to have been there too. It will be there, certainly, when all the nails of this earth are pulled up again.
Phil serves as the Director of Church Governance for Sovereign Grace. He is also the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church (Apex, NC). He and his wife, Cassie, have five children and 17 grandchildren.
June 25, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Resources | Worship
God cares about how we talk and text and tweet. Consider His supreme perspective:
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18–19)
Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36–37)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
In his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, Bob Kauflin lingers on this last verse in 1 Timothy 4. He wisely notes, “A leader’s spiritual life is never a private matter” (44). The following excerpt is from his section on how such leaders are to “Set the Believers an Example” specifically “In Speech” (44–45).
Every time we open our mouths, we’re leading others. Not just when we’re in front of people, but all the time. We’re counseling them. Communicating what’s important and what’s not. Letting others know whose words matter more—ours or God’s.
Of course, what we say in front of the congregation is important. But the words we use on blog posts, on church web sites, in articles, and in private conversations are equally as important. As a leader, every word we say has an increased potential to either confirm our example of genuine worship or take away from it. If our words are foolish, sensual, or sinful during the week, it’s hard for people to take us seriously when our mouths are suddenly filled with God’s praise on Sunday morning.
James gives us a sober warning:
But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:8–10)
He’s right. “These things ought not to be so.” But from the little I’ve heard and read, we seem increasingly comfortable with conversations that contain profanity and sexual innuendo. I’ve read blog posts by worship leaders that are slanderous and provocative. It could be an attempt to sound cool and relevant. Or it could be that we’re just being foolish.
God wants our speech to be sound, gracious, truthful, and edifying, no matter where we are or whom we’re with. That includes the way we speak to our spouse, our children, our team, our pastor, and anyone else we happen to be talking to.
That doesn’t mean there’s no place for appropriate humor or informal conversation. It does mean taking responsibility for our words, written or spoken, and understanding that they influence others to fear God or ignore him. Jesus said we’ll be held accountable for “every careless word” we say (Matthew 12:36). That’s why he wants us to set an example for others in our speech.
These are wise, penetrating reflections—especially in light of how easy it is to broadcast our words through social media and other technology. Too often we confidently (and foolishly) say things to others through our keyboards that we would never say to their faces. We may feel protected behind our computer and phone screens as we tear down and belittle others, but they can’t shield us from the all-seeing, all-hearing holy God.
In light of Jesus’s sacrifice that fully paid for our sinful words, we have every reason to guard our speech and use it in ways that build others up for God’s glory. So every time we talk, text, or tweet, may this be our prayer, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Smartphone photo from Shutterstock.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
Note: This is the third post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Leadership Team will share why they commend each other’s resources to you. We pray that God would use them to strengthen your faith.
In May of 2013, my 18-year-old daughter and I attended the Transfer conference and heard Jeff Purswell preach on the importance of God’s Word. Since that time, I’ve observed the effects of that message many times over in my daughter’s life. It’s reminded me that, as a dad, there are few things more encouraging than seeing my children respond wholeheartedly to preaching. That encouragement is amplified when the message is actually about God’s Word.
Jeff’s message was a clarion call to embrace the sufficiency, authority, and power of Scripture in an age when the Bible is viewed as old, boring, and irrelevant. Expounding on Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10–17, Jeff helped us see that the most decisive factor for a faithful future is adherence to God's Word. He drew a sharp distinction between the insignificance of our Facebook age and the enduring value of God’s Word, based on its origin, power, and purpose.
A few choice quotes:
Devotion to God’s Word makes you clear-eyed, courageous, and counter-cultural. Conforming to the culture makes you irrelevant.
The Bible is an instrument not only of information, but of fellowship and relationship.
It’s only the Word of God and the gospel it testifies to that God promises to accompany with transforming power.
Scripture was given to reveal God, to bind us to God, and to make us like him.
Jeff’s message not only had a powerful effect on my daughter. His message also shaped the way I think about Scripture. These few quotes continue to remind me that devotion to God’s Word is of utmost value and entirely worth my time. If you want to know, value, and obey God’s Word more, I highly recommend Jeff’s message.
Download the message (right click and select "Save Target As") or listen below:
Bob serves as the Director of Music and Worship for Sovereign Grace and as an elder at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He and his wife, Julie, have six children and a ever growing number of grandchildren.
June 20, 2014 by
Tomorrow is the first day of Summer. This time of year is a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy God’s creation, and work through your piles of books.
As one who enjoys recommendations from others, I asked our leadership team to share with you what they hope to read this summer and why they’ve picked those books. Here are some of their responses:
Mark Prater, Executive Director
- God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World by David Wells — Jeff Purswell said it’s an important book to read, especially in our culture today.
- From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race by J. Daniel Hays from the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series — I’m preparing to teach a class at Covenant Fellowship Church entitled “What does the Bible say about the issue of race?”
- From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective edited by David and Jonathan Gibson — I’m interested in this compilation of work and authors.
- Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst — I want to better learn how churches and denominations have drifted from mission in the past so that Sovereign Grace doesn’t repeat those mistakes and drift from our primary mission.
- A Life of Gospel Peace: A Biography of Jeremiah Burroughs by Philip Simpson — My friend, Bill Patton, recommended this book to me.
- If I have time, I want to read Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections by Sam Storms.
Bob Kauflin, Director of Music and Worship
- What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman — I plan to read this because I know Matt is a productivity ninja and I would love to learn from how he applies the gospel to productivity.
- Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger — I don’t consider myself a scholar, but I do want to pursue excellence—biblically defined—in my life. This book will aid me in that pursuit.
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace — As an artist, I’m inspired by the consistent fruit of Pixar. This book reveals some of the philosophy behind their ongoing success.
- God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World by David Wells — Jeff Purswell said this was one of the most important books that had recently been written. That’s a good enough reason for me.
Phil Sasser, Director of Church Governance
- Fiction: Moby Dick by Hermon Melville — It’s a classic that I've never read completely (I’m presently about halfway through).
- Biography: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup — It’s a fascinating biography to read before seeing the movie.
- American History: Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick — It scratches my history itch.
- Theology: The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation by Vern Poythress — It’s an eschatological summer.
- Theology: Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative by Sam Storms — It’s really an eschatological summer!
- Christian Ethics: Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications by Robert Rakestraw and David Clark — Ethical issues come at us every day.
- Christian Ethics: Biblical/Medical Ethics: The Christian and the Practice of Medicine by Franklin E. Payne, Jr. — Likewise, medical issues come at us every day.
- Cultural Criticism: God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World by David Wells — Wells is my favorite cultural critic.
Ian McConnell, Director of Church Planting and Mission
- Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer — I want to read this book for three reasons. 1) I want to grow as a preacher of the gospel. 2) It’s short—only 187 pages. 3) Here is what Tim Keller says about it: “Alec Motyer has had a profound, formative influence on my preaching. In this book he puts his decades of wisdom on expository preaching at the reader’s fingertips.”
- Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places by Tim Keesee — God has used the “Dispatches from the Front” DVD series to stir the hearts of many of God’s people to rejoice in the hard things done in hard places for the sake of the gospel. Tim was my History of Civilization professor in college and he has traveled the world journaling the needs of the nations and drawing attention to the activity of God. I want this book to provoke me. I know the stories in this book will simultaneously move me to rejoice and to repent. I need that.
- Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis — I want to read this because these guys are older men who have a storehouse of missional wisdom. They stir me to think long and hard about how to best advance the mission of the gospel by multiplying disciples & churches in ordinary ways in dependance upon the Holy Spirit.
- The Works of George Swinnock by George Swinnock — I came across this puritan pastor and was captured by his passion to pursue his satisfaction in the glory of God. Reading him feels like I'm reading Edwards, Lewis & Piper! He says, "God is the happiness of man because of his suitableness to the soul. A hungry man finds his stomach craving. Give him music or honour and he is hungry still. These are not suitable to his appetite. Give him food and his craving is over. So it is with man's soul. Give him honour, profits, and the pleasures of the world, and these cannot abate its desire; it craves still. Set God before it just once, and let it feed on him; it is satisfied, and its inordinate, dogged appetite after the world is cured."
Book photo from Shutterstock.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
Note: This is the second post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Leadership Team will share why they commend each other’s resources to you. We pray that God would use them to strengthen your faith.
Every follower of Jesus has faith. But not every follower of Jesus has the gift of faith. It’s a Spirit-enabled confidence that all God has planned will surely come to pass.
One of the many reasons I love serving under Mark Prater’s leadership is his pronounced gift of faith. Mark has a contagious confidence that all that God has planned for the churches of Sovereign Grace will surely come to pass. Or as Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”
The effect of this kind of faith from this kind of leadership is that, despite present hardships, you are given a deep gratitude for the past and a resilient hope for the future.
If you want to get a taste of what I’m talking about, then I highly recommend that you take some time to listen to Mark’s message from the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference last fall entitled, “Hope for Our Family of Churches.”
In this message, Mark unpacks three reasons we should abound in hope from 1 Corinthians 15:1–13.
- The God of hope will encourage and unite us.
- The God of mercy will use us.
- The God of hope is with us.
This glorious thought still resonates with me: “We serve a God of hope who loves to impart hope to his people. How does God impart hope? He gives us hope by pointing us to Jesus Christ. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.”
Be encouraged! We serve a God of hope who loves to impart hope to his people by fixing our gaze on the accomplishments of Jesus Christ. If God did not spare his own Son to meet our greatest need, how much more can we have hope that he will meet every other need.
If you need greater gratitude for the past and greater hope for the future, then I trust you will give Mark’s message a listen.
Download the message (right click and select "Save Target As") or listen below:
Ian is Sovereign Grace's Director of Church Planting and Mission. He also serves as the lead pastor of Grace City Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ian and his wife, Rachel, have three children.