Music for EFCA Theology Conference 2021

I’m looking forward to leading the music for this year’s EFCA Theology Conference! While I’m sad we won’t be in person (there’s something fun about joining with 400 pastors from across the country to sing LOUDLY together!), I’m thankful that we can continue meeting and singing despite a pandemic preventing us from all being in the same place. I try to use this conference to equip pastors with a couple ideas. First, that you don’t need a giant band every week. We can sing praises to God with just a piano and our voices, and sometimes just our voices! Second, I hope to gives pastors some ideas of songs (old and new) they can take home and teach to their congregations that are biblical true, easy to sing, catchy melodies, and will help move the head knowledge to a heart knowledge where we can take the things we’re learning and apply them to our lives. This year, I thought I would add links to where all the music can be found.

All Creatures of Our God and King

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (Praisecharts)

Speak, O Lord (Praisecharts)

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death (Praisecharts)

Jesus, Strong and Kind

Only a Holy God

King Of Kings (Praisecharts)

He Leadeth Me

Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

Yes I Will (Praisecharts)

I’ve also compiled on these songs on a Spotify playlist that you can find HERE. Because of the theme of this year’s conference, I’ve also put together an additional playlist that is various musical interpretations of various Psalms, which you can find HERE.

April 2 Devotional

Today we’ll be looking at Psalm 1:
 
Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.
 
This Psalm sets the stage for the rest of this book, which means it’s crucial that we get this Psalm right to correctly interpret the rest of the book! This Psalm paints a picture of 2 men, one who is blessed, and one who is “wicked.” We begin with a look at the blessed man.
 
This man has nothing to do with sin! He runs the other direction. Just as Joseph fled the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, the blessed man won’t even stay in the same room as temptation. Notice the trajectory of this fall into sin. You begin by walking with the wicked, then your walk slows down as you become enticed by their rhetoric so you stand there with the sinners, then you finally take a lot off and sit down with the scoffers. It’s a slow but natural progression. Instead, the blessed man focuses all his attention and energy on the law of the Lord. Instead of being tempted he fixates on how he can be obedient to God and follow in his path. Because of this, he is like a tree that is planted by water. Notice the intentionality of that! It’s not like the Amazon jungle where trees are haphazardly scattered about, this is intentional. God ensures that the blessed man will have rich soil and deep roots so that he will have what he needs (think of Job!). Because of this foundation, everything this blessed man does prospers. Once again, this is not material blessing, this is God’s economy at work! We serve a different king and a different kingdom than the world! 
 
On the other hand is the wicked. The wicked are tossed to and fro by the wind, unable to have their roots sinking deep into the soil in which they find themselves. This is the person who chases after all the latest trends and ideologies of the day. They are always chasing after the latest and greatest ideas and are thus changing their opinions as often as they change their clothes! But we know the outcome of this kind of person: perishing. Apart from God miraculously intervening and bringing their dead souls to life, they will continue down the path of wickedness. And it’s true for all of us as well! So we need to do our best to cling tightly to Christ! Then we will be blessed and prosper in all we do!
 
SONG:
Today’s song is from one of my wife’s favorite singers Audrey Assad! The song is called ‘Even Unto Death.’ You can listen on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
 
FREE STUFF:
One of my favorite authors has just released a new book on church history, and released one of the video episodes for free! You can watch it HERE.

April 1 Devotional

Happy April! Today we’ll be taking a look at Romans 8:26-30:
 
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
 
As I was reading through this this morning the first sentence struck me. I’ve been thinking through the implications of God being three persons who are co-equal, which means each of the three person of the Trinity is God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and Spirit is God. So when we come to a text like this, we’re reminded that GOD HIMSELF helps us in our weakness. And God himself indwells us as His people. And God himself will fight for us until the day we die or He calls us home. And because God himself is helping us, we can trust that no weakness will overtake us that we cannot endure. 
 
How often do you not know what to pray, or how to pray, or feel like you don’t have the right words? Yet this passage reminds us that even when we don’t know how to begin praying, the Spirit intercede with us and prays for us. This is the reminder that we have 2 intercessors: the Spirit and the Son (who again, are both God!). So, because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can then get to one of the best known passages in the Bible. God causes everything to work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. This only happens because of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that we can then have hope. If the Holy Spirit isn’t at work in your life, then nothing will work out for good. 
 
Paul then ends with what is referred to as the golden chain of salvation which goes: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Again, because it is God’s work from beginning to end, we can trust that He will bring His work in our lives to completion! That is working everything out for good! So everything we’re experiencing today is for our ultimate good, being confirmed into the image of Jesus Christ!
 
SONG:
Today’s song is a little different than any previous one as there are now words! The piece is Claire De Lune by Debussey, which was one of my favorite songs to play on piano back when I was taking lessons! It’s a wonderful piece of music to listen to as you pray through the things that are going on around you, and meditate upon God’s Word! You can listen to it on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
 
FREE STUFF:
A friend of mine sent me a link to his blog yesterday with a list of 10 documentaries to watch during this time. I’ve watched a number of them and found them really enjoyable! You can find them HERE.

March 28 Devotional

Today we’ll be looking at Psalm 78:1-7:
 
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
    incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
    so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments.
 
This Psalm contains one of the longest historical summaries of Israel’s history in the Psalms. If you continue reading beyond what we will look at today you’ll see the repeated summary that Israel did not believe, that they forgot about what God had done, and that in the midst of that God continually forgave them, blessed them, and continued to work for their good. One of the things we see in the midst of this Psalm is the command to teach God’s truths and God’s ways to our children and our children’s children.
 
The primary point I want you to take away from this Psalm to wrestle with and think through today is: what kind of memories are you instilling in your regular family rhythms to help you, your kids, and your grandkids not forget the works of God? The ways He was worked in your family. We’ve talked about these at church before, the need to regular build some form of an Ebenezer, as in the song ‘Come Thou Fount’ where we sing “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” What we’re saying is we’ve built an altar of remembrance so that we do not forget how God has provided for us. In times like we’re in now, it seems to be easy to forget all the ways God has worked in the past to provide for us, to ensure our safety, even the fact that we’re alive today is because of His grace! So your assignment today is to find some way to build regular patterns in your life for you to remember how God has abundantly provided for you! I’d also encourage you to read this entire Psalm and see how God provided for His people in the past, as an encouragement that He will continue providing for us today!
 
SONG:
Today’s song  is an updated version of the hymn ‘Come Thou Fount’ sung by Chris Rice! The second verse contains new words that I love! You can listen to it on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
FREE STUFF:
I’m not the only one who’s enjoying all the free things people are giving away during this time! One of my favorite bloggers has an ongoing list of things he’s found that you can access HERE.

March 27 Devotional

Today we’re going to take a look at the the beginning of Hebrews 11:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Most people when they hear faith detach it from anything grounded in reality. In fact, even some Christians I know separate their faith from from fact. Think of the song from the show Oklahoma “O what a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful FEELING, everything’s going my way.” What is that feeling based in? Not in reality or facts! Yet for many of us, we can use those two words interchangeably. But the author of Hebrews is here reminding us that faith is true, and assured. We know from 1 Peter that we were born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), and thus our faith is grounded in the reality of the empty tomb. Now it’s true, we didn’t see it, and it’s also true that we won’t see the complete ramifications of that until Jesus’ glorious return, but we also have evidence to back up our faith.
It’s also true that we’re not the first generation of God followers to need faith, as the next verse reminds us everyone at every time in human history has either been commended or condemned for their faith. Which leads us even further back in history to the very FIRST thing, the creation of the world! It is faith that reminds us and gives us the encouragement we need to trust that God is in complete control of everything we see. All of the created order bows its knee to him. Now, we don’t currently see that reality (see Romans 8:20-22), but we know that someday our faith will become sight. So my encouragement for you today is to take some time to think about your faith. Thankfully it’s not dependent on you, as Hebrews will go on to remind us, our faith is as assured as long as Jesus is on his throne (spoiler alert, that’s forever), so we can trust that He is continuing to work all things out. Trust in Him!
 
SONG:
Today’s song picks up that very theme of the need to cling to Jesus, it’s an older song by a guy named Rich Mullins that you should go check out, it’s called ‘Hold Me Jesus’ and you can listen on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
 
Don’t forget, I’ve got all the songs together in a playlist HERE.
FREE STUFF:
One of my favorite ways to listen to the Bible has been through a new app I found last year called Dwell. They have different translations, different readers, with different options for background music to listen to too. You can also do plans, listen to a verse repeatedly to help you memorize it, or do themed plans. They are giving away 60 free days to anyone interested, and I’ve signed up our church HERE. If you like it, I’d encourage you to get subscribe to them to help them continue releasing new content, and if you don’t like it, then it was free 🙂 Let me know what you think of it!

March 21 Devotional

For today’s devotional, we’re going to look at one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 19! David writes: 
 
The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
   which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I love the way this Psalm begins, because it’s a reminder that everything we see should point us back to God! Creation itself is the canvas upon which God painted his creation, which He described as good way back in Genesis 1. As I’m writing this it’s pretty foggy out, so I can’t see either the sky or the mountains that I love seeing so much, but I know they’re out there! And the fact that I know that reminds me that God’s love and faithfulness will similarly always be there. The fact that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow points to the consistency of God. One commentator stated “If you are a believer, God has surrounded you with a hymnbook. Wherever you are, day or night, you can look up and see the majesty and power of your God. And you can praise him.” (James Johnston, Preaching the Word: The Psalms Volume 1) As of now, we’re not confined to our houses, so if you’re able to, I’d encourage you to take some time today and walk outside (keeping at least 6 feet between anyone you run in to!). But don’t ignore them or pretend they aren’t there 🙂!
 
But that’s not the only thing God has given us! The Psalm tells us that we have two things that point out the grandeur and goodness of our God to us: the skies and the Scripture. David says “The law of the Lord is perfect.” What word! Perfect. Yet all around us we see things that aren’t perfect. We see the brokenness of sin, we see the way today that this virus is running rampant around the globe. A tiny little virus that we can’t even see is completely changing the way we function. Yet over all that, God’s law is perfect. This was one of the first theological truths I remember being taught as I was growing up! God’s revelation has 2 parts: general revelation and special revelation, and this Psalm has both of them! General revelation is the created order, which this Psalm tells us points us to God, but it’s not enough for salvation (Rom. 1:20). That’s where special revelation enters the frame. Special revelation is God’s Word, and the Word became flesh (John 1:14). This special revelation is so critical to the life of the believer that it is described as “reviving the soul,” but not just the soul, the body as well where David goes on to compare God’s Word to be more desired than your favorite desert! (Mine isn’t honeycomb, I prefer a delicious cake, but that’s besides the point!) Jesus even reminds us that we don’t live by bread alone, but by God’s Word. Therefore, if we aren’t spending time in God’s Word we’re anemic Christians, missing out on a feast the Lord has given us. During this time of social distancing, Pastor Ben is having his students read a chapter of Hebrews a day and use the SOAP method to study the Bible. SOAP is an acronym that stands for: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. If you’re a normal human being who struggles to dig in to God’s Word, I’d encourage you during this time of a forced new schedule, to commit to reading through a book of the Bible. Hebrews is one of my favorites, but the Gospels are another great place to spend time, particularly John! And as you’re reading, if you have any questions, please let me know! I love learning more and studying the Bible together!
 
Today’s song expresses gratitude for how God has created everything we see, it’s called ‘All Shall Be Well’. You can listen to it on YOUTUBE or on SPOTIFY.

March 20 Devotional

While there are no passages of Scripture that specifically address COVID19, there are some passages that give us great comfort and strength no matter where we find ourselves! We’ll begin our devotional looking at Philippians 4:4-7:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Joy is one of the unique markers of Christians. It’s even included in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5! Let’s think about where Paul was when he was writing this exhortation. He wasn’t (as I am!) sitting in a comfortable chair at his house drinking a delicious cup of freshly brewed coffee. No! He was under threat of persecution, not knowing if or when he’s be killed for his Christian faith. Yet in the midst of that, he exhorts Christians throughout the centuries to be JOYFUL! How joyful are you right now? As you perhaps wrestle with your kids at home 24/7 now, or with trying to figure out what “social distancing” looking like, or worrying if you’ve got enough toilet paper stocked up, are you able to rejoice in God’s goodness?
 
Paul goes on though, and his second exhortation is “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Another way of translating that is gentleness. This is another marker of Christians! Being gentle no matter how people may malign you! What do you think being gentle looks like right now? Maybe it’s bringing your extra toilet paper over to a neighbor. Maybe today it’s shoveling their driveway or sidewalk! (Yes, I realize it’s heavy!) But look for ways that you can be gentle today!
 
Next, we see a pretty short phrase that I don’t want you to miss! Paul said “The Lord is at hand” God NEVER has to practice social distancing! We’ve seen that a couple times as we’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke together on Sundays. Jesus didn’t have to distance himself from anyone, his cleanliness abolished the uncleanliness of those he came into contact with. Now, I’m not advocating we then run into places where the COVID19 is known to be affecting people, that would be foolish! But we trust a God who is sovereign even over viruses, so while we’re being careful, wise, and obeying the governing authorities God has placed over us, let’s pray that God will bring an end to this current global crisis. 
 
So with these three things in place, we then can read the rest of these verses. We’re commanded to not be anxious. If there ever was a time I’ve lived in to start being anxious, this is it! My retirement accounts are NOT doing well. I can’t find paper towels anywhere (I’ve looked at 4 stores so far!). People are holding toilet paper, some states are even forcing people to stay in their homes! Yet in the midst of that, we don’t need to be anxious! Instead we can pray! God is with you and will continue guiding you.
 
Then, the outworking of that is a sense of peace that the world will never know. We have peace because God has saved us from spiritual death, which means death no longer holds power over us! The Lord has numbered our days from before we were born, thus we can trust Him implicitly! 
 
An almost brand new song I’ve been listening to gets to this hope we have in Christ. It’s called ‘Christ Our Hope in Life and Death’ and you can listen to it HERE.
And if you’d like to hear the story behind the writing of this song, you can listen to it HERE.
I’ve been posting songs regularly on Facebook and Instagram as a way to encourage people during this time, I’ve been compiling them into a playlist on Spotify that you can listen to HERE if you’d like!

Mist and Fog

Howard Hendricks, quipped, “If there is a mist in the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pew.” As far as I know, this wasn’t a comment about flatulence from the pastor, but instead is referring to unclear teaching. If the pastor is uncertain about what he’s teaching, and thus unclear in his delivery of the message, the congregation will completely miss the point of message. But this applies not only to the sermon, but also to the music and liturgy of the day. So how can we be sure our services are clear and communicating what we want them to communicate? Here are 3 ways we can ensure we’re not creating a fog in the pews.

  • Be Clear

I had a professor in seminary who said of preaching there’s four rules: be clear, be clear, be clear, above all else be clear. Walk your congregation through what you’re doing and why. This allows you opportunities to teach the importance of regular habits and disciplines in the Christian life, and also gives you an opportunity to model how other believers can carry out some of their own practices at home. We get to demonstrate to our entire body how we pray, how we think about God, how we sing about God, how we taste God (through the celebration of communion), and how we worship God through our whole lives. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 ring true here “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Is your example clear enough that people can imitate the right things?

  • Explain What You’re Doing

We celebrate communion differently at our different campuses, so we get to explain them a little differently each time, but each way gives us an opportunity to explain the importance of communion, why we practice communion, and a time to encourage everyone to examine themselves before taking of the body and blood of our Lord. Bob Kauflin encourages music leaders to think through their services and explain what needs to be explained. So do you need to explain why you’ve chosen a specific song that day? Or how one song ties into the next song you’re about to sing? Or how a specific passage of Scripture is illuminated through a refrain you’ve just song? Or maybe how multiple songs point us to the main theme of the sermon or passage of Scripture that has just been sung? All of these things are opportunities to demonstrate to the congregation what we’re doing and why.

  • Don’t Assume

I had very influential Sunday school teacher teach me the value of never assuming, because it will make an a– out of you and me! When we’re the ones planning our services it can often be easy for us to assume everyone will see what we’ve worked so hard to communicate! We’re also often very closely attached to what we’ve carefully curated so it can be difficult to see areas that may need some clear communication. I’ve found that it’s far better to OVER communicate than to UNDER communicate. This way we can know that people are making the correct connections and understandings of the various aspects of our service.

So how do you make sure there isn’t a fog in your pews during your service? Have you ever thought through more specific ways we can explain why we do what we do on a Sunday or is just the way it’s always been done?

Passively Engaging with God

One of the most difficult aspects for me during a worship service is to be actively engaged with what is happening. Someone moving down the row from me, or someone coming in late, or a child crying or a funny joke all distract me from the primary purpose I’m there: to commune with the family of God and to spend time in awe of who God is. It takes a concerted effort to be engaging with people and with everything that happens during the service. This is the difference between being an active participant and being a passive participant.

Being a passive participant means I expect everything to go my way, for the music to be my favorites that I enjoy, for the sermon to be perfectly applicable to me and relate to me. This leads to both an entertainment model of church and a me-centric model of church. Church is all about me and what I get and want from the weekly services.

Being an active participant means I look for opportunities to serve those around me. Instead of wanting the music to be my favorites, I look for the ways these songs can serve us as a whole. I actively listen to the sermon and think through ways I can encourage the pastor for being faithful to the Word, ways I can grow as a believer, and support those around me.

This is part of the reason I ask for people to stand when we sing. By standing people are forced to be more engaged in what they are doing. Not to mention, it’s much easier to sing with correct posture, like you have when you stand.

Instead of looking for ways that we can get something, I hope we as a church can look for ways that we can engage with the Word of God and allow that to change our lives and the ways we interact with each other.

Worship in Adversity

We began a new series this week at Grace on the life of Elijah titled ‘Adversity.’ As I confessed during the beginning of the corporate singing, it was pretty tough to find songs that we know that deal with this important issue. This week I found a blog by a pastor at New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs who asked the question: how many minor keys are we singing at church? Looking at the 104 top CCLI songs from the past 25 years, there were 7.

Paul in Romans 12:15 tells believers, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In my experience, we tend to do a great job rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly, even if inwardly we’re jealous) while a poor job at mourning with those who are mourning. It seems that we want people to mourn for a short time and then move on to being happy. Instead of actually mourning we offer poor platitudes, while not actually relating to any seen or felt needs.

This is also true of some songs that deal with our response to difficult situations. In trying to find songs that related to this theme, one of the first that came to mind was Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He wrote that right after 9/11 when he realized that many of the songs the church sings don’t have any aspect to dealing with difficulties. Yet that song is still in a major key and resolves in a hopeful statement.

I introduced a new song to the church this week, ‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship that hopefully helps put words to how we as believers can deal with difficult situations that arise: through faith. Hebrews 11 talks about the faith that many people have demonstrated throughout history. My hope and prayer as we go through this sermon series is that we can  pray for the faith to trust God even when our lives feel like a mess.