Just Some Indie Electro-Pop Neo-Anglican Meditations on the Great Litany, that's all

I am currently listening to an impossible sound. It's a beautiful collision of two things that don't normally go together: liturgy and pop-electronica. Charles Wesley would probably have no categories to what has been done with his "Hymns for Our Lord's Resurrection" from 1746. In it is a nine-stanza hymn, "Jesus Show Us Thy Salvation," which Cardiphonia describes as Wesley's riff on the lengthy Anglican prayer, The Great Litany. Cardiphonia has chosen to set each stanza apart in its own song, creating a nine-track record of meditations that aren't meant to be sung by congregations but heard and pondered. The album is called, To Heaven Restored: Songs for the Great Litany.

The production is marvelous, and the songs are creative and diverse. I hear tinges of Sufjan ("7. By the Pomp of Thine Ascending"), Odelay-era Beck ("6. From the World of Care Release Us"), 8-bit Nintendo jazz ("8. Glorious Head, Triumphant Savior"), Postal Service ("3. Unkempt Untempted," "9. By the Coming of Thy Spirit"), and then many other things that defy categorization and association. 

If you're looking for a different angle on preparing and nourishing your heart this Holy Week (or any time, for that matter), go get Cardiphonia's latest gift to the Church. If you're just streaming it on bandcamp, you'll notice that they're releasing a new song every day of Holy Week, but you can get the whole album immediately just by purchasing it there or in the widget below.  And go read more about it over at Cardiphonia!


Album Roundup: Kristen Gilles, Sovereign Grace, Summit Worship

Spring is evidently the season for killer new worship projects...

Kristen Gilles, Parker's Mercy Brigade

Sometimes, in the circles I float in, we can do a lot of "musical theology" in the realm of abstraction. But Kristen's new album is far from abstract. Parker's Mercy Brigade is a psalmbook-like collection of tunes, largely dedicated to processing a very real period of suffering in Kristin and Bobby's life. This album is what it looks like when sufferers honestly and faithfully sing their suffering to God. One of my favorite songs is "Chase Away My Unbelief," because it is both desperate and hopeful. The songs are singable and congregation-friendly. Kristin has done a good job pairing these songs with the Church calendar year, for those more liturgically-minded folks. Parker's Mercy Brigade is a needed offering to the church, both as a model and as a provision of modern lamentation and deep worship! Check out a promo video and get all the resources you need for the album here.  The album is available on iTunes, Amazon, and on Kristen's site if you'd like to order a hard copy. Even cooler is that half the proceeds go to Nadus Films, which sheds light on issues of social justice and worldwide need.

Sovereign Grace Music, 30: Three Decades of Songs for the Church

This is an incredible project, both for what it is and what it represents. Sovereign Grace Music was pioneering the intersection of passionate modern worship with theological depth before most of us were a blip on the radar. They were plowing hard ground before anyone else was there. This collection of songs functions as a kind of "greatest hits" of Sovereign Grace (though they really have too many outstanding songs to boil down to one album). The influence of Sovereign Grace is shown on this album by the all star lineup of artists willing to re-imagine these songs on this record: Paul Baloche, Glenn Packiam, Kristyn Getty, Aaron Keyes, Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, to name a few. I hope and pray that this very fresh and beautiful project will re-give these songs to the Church and inspire more to sing them. Here it is on iTunes and Bandcamp. Get all kinds of free resources on their site, too.

Summit Worship, Our God is Unstoppable

Releasing today is Summit's newest offering. My friend and kindred spirit, Jonathan Welch, is the understated leader of this outfit, overseeing some very talented worship leaders, songwriters, and recording artists (e.g. Matt Papa), and this latest record from Summit is full of beautiful songs for the Church which are rich in Godward theology and gospel-saturated expression. Something remarkable, too, similar to my comments about Journey Church's Songs from the Book of Ephesians, is its diversity. "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" is a beautiful, groovy pop-gospel number, with great vocals and an infectious beat. The final song, "Dios, Ven" (God, Come), is a Spanish rock ballad with explicit Trinitarian theology and a high view of God's glory. Go get it on iTunes today!


How Worship is a Murderer

Many of us struggle to see gathered, corporate worship as helpful to our spiritual growth and vitality. And even if we find it helpful, we might lift an eyebrow at anyone who might say that it is instrumental or (dare say it) necessary. The irony for those of us who take lightly the weekly gathering of the people of God is that the spirit which rises up within us that says "I don't really need this that much" is the very same spirit that worship intendeds to kill. If worship had a Twitter profile, its brief description would have to include "Murderer." Worship was built by God to be a blood-thirsty attack dog with a keen appetite for something very specific in us. My favorite worship theologian, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, explains:

To declare that [worship] is optional, that it is not necessary to the continuation of God's work of salvation, is to despise the source of grace. ... By worship, if not by worship exclusively, the Church keeps open the wound which the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit have inflicted on the self-righteousness of the world, and in this way too the process of salvation is continued.*

God designed worship to slay our self-righteousness.

We human beings are "bruised by the Fall" (Philip Bliss) in such a way that we are hell-bent self-justification machines. We know no other pattern than to hide our weaknesses and manufacture pseudo-strengths. Our instinct, when accused of wrongdoing, is to deny and defend. Our default, when we do the right thing (no matter how much we say it's "for the glory of God") is to pat our spiritual selves on the back and believe that God is more happy with us because of what we've done. When the Holy Spirit applied the work of Christ to us, God the Father delivered the mortal wound to the beast of our self-righteousness. But the beast, while bleeding out this side of eternity, is still snarling, clawing, lashing, biting, and lunging. It is this disgusting creature that Paul is talking about in the latter half Romans 7, when he finally cries out, "Wretched man that I am!" This tormenter of souls rises weekly, daily, hourly within us.

But we're not without hope. God has equipped a warrior to unsheath his gospel-sword every week to deliver another thrust into the thick flesh of our self-righteousness. That warrior is worship.

What von Allmen meant was that worship, rightly done, takes us on a needed weekly journey where we are reminded that we must come to the end of ourselves before we can fully see, appreciate, appropriate, and drink in the gospel. The beginning of worship should cast such a vision of God that we are blinded by His glory and leveled by His perfection. Worship gives us a picture of God's holiness that is so high and so "other" that we are jarred out of any sense of being able to attain it. During the week, our amnesia begins to set in, and our eyes go blurry, such that the mountain of God's glory starts looking like a gently-sloped hill. "I can climb that," we think. ("I can avoid these pet sins for a few days." "I can please God by being faithful in my devotions and Bible reading." "I can be a good mom and not lose my temper." "I can avoid those channels and sites.") We think, "God must love me more this week, because I've been pretty good."

And worship grabs us by the collar, slaps us in the face, and says, "Wake up, man!" It yells, "You're far worse than you ever imagined, because, look, look at God!" And, once again, the scales fall off our eyes and the placid, green, hills-are-alive peak you thought you were looking at is really a hulking Himalayan cliff. And there it is: the moment of impossibility, where God's gracious sword enters the beast yet again. Worship is God's gracious murderer.

But God is in the business of killing precisely so He can make alive again. However, instead of reviving our self-righteousness, He gives us an alien organism--His very Self, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. This is the moment in worship where, after we have seen God's glory and confessed our sin, God delivers the word, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The gospel is good news, indeed.

Worship should be that epic...every week. 

*Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice (New York: Oxford, 1965), 115-116.

Album Roundup: Songs from the Book of Ephesians, The Journey Collective

I'm very, very excited about this collaborative project from the folks at The Journey Church in St. Louis.  First off, I'm excited to see more projects like this--whole albums centered around books of the Bible. We saw this with the Gospel Coalition's wonderful Luke album and with Sovereign Grace's killer Romans album. And now we've got some Ephesians-based material! Beauty!


The production on this album is polished and inspiring. To my ear, many of the songs are not only singable but recorded in singable keys (which is an admirable practice that I don't even adhere to!). Musically, what I love most is its diversity. Volume 1 is colored in a nice pop-rock style, and Volume 2 takes a different turn with some very swanky sounds (nice job, Russ Mohr and Taylor Webb!). "Wondrous Love" is the classic folk hymn "What Wondrous Love is This" is set in a spanky blues-gospel style. "A Son of God" is a kind of soulful gospel swing with some nice horn parts, and "Now in Christ" is a more straight up R&B tune. It's nice to hear a worship album that helps to stretch the sonic palate of evangelical worship music. I admire the artists' ability to traverse so many different styles with integrity and artistry. I should also mention that they embody the spirit of Ephesians' message by making it so collaborative a project. They illustrate what it means to be "the Church" (a major theme in Ephesians) by having so many different vocalists and musicians involved in the project. 

Theological Content

This album is off the charts when it comes to Grade-A theology. First, I must mention the intentional structure. Stephen Miller has talked about Gospel-shaped worship structure in his fabulous book, Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars (check out my very favorable review here), and it's encouraging to see worship leaders and songwriters take their thinking so seriously and to apply what they believe in in such tangible ways.  Check out the structure:


1. To Praise Your Glory - Call to Worship
2. The Love of God - Song of Adoration
3. Wars Within - Song of Confession
4. As Your Own - Song of Assurance
5. To Him Who is Able - Song of Mission


6. Wondrous Love - Call to Worship
7. A Son of God - Song of Adoration
8. Anchor Our Hearts - Song of Confession
9. In Our Place - Song of Assurance
10. Now in Christ - Song of Mission

 Wonderful, powerfully shaping gospel structure, through and through. ...And then there are the songs. One of my favorite songs, "To Praise Your Glory" is full of lofty yet tangible theology about God's glory. It sings:

Verse 1:
With grace and peace You've welcomed us
To bless Your name, O God of Love
And in Your will, predestined us
Before the world to praise Your glory 

Our highest praise cannot contain
The glory of Your holy name
With all we are we will proclaim
Jesus the name above all names 

I stand by previous statements when I say that fast, more energetic call-to-worship-type songs are the hardest to write. This is a great one. Another great song moves into the important territory of the theology of adoption, which is surprisingly hard to find in both old hymns and new music:

Verse 1:
I lie down and rest, 'cause I work no longer
I breathe in, refreshed no more soiled in disgrace
I look up at Him to whom I am kneeling
And I see delight there in my Father's face 

I'm a son of God, and love is my freedom
And can ask anything of my Father the King
I'm an heir, I'm adopted, and my Brother is Jesus
I'm a Son of God and my soul is at peace 

Wow! I've never heard a song quite like this. "Sonship" and "Daughtership" is an underserved facet of the gospel in worship music, and I'm glad The Journey Collective is pointing it out.

Really, all the songs on this album commend themselves to us as Christians and to the Church as meaningful additions to our sung vocabulary of praise.


You can go get the album here, and you can download a full PDF songbook here!


Album Roundup Week: We Will Proclaim, Live Worship with The Falls Church Anglican

This week I'll be highlighting a few albums that have come my way over the last few weeks and months. First up is We Will Proclaim: Live Worship with The Falls Church Anglican, a project overseen by my friend and fellow worship leader-blogger, Jamie Brown

This album is a true "church album"--ecclesiastical and communal from top to bottom. It runs like one, beautiful worship service. It is highly collaborative at every level. Lots of musicians and minds contributed to it, and songs are pulled from all over the church music spectrum...everything from Matt Redman, to Bob Kauflin, to old hymns, to original material. The music and production are both beautiful and human!  The album is gospel-shaped, deeply "liturgical," and full of heart. Many moments (even the first track, which is just an extended Call to Worship) have ministered to me and brought me to tears.

I want to draw your attention to one particular song that I think is powerful, beautiful, and needed in the Church, which happens to be the one exclusively written by Jamie: "Father Open Our Eyes." Here is the text:

Infinite grace and mercy,
tenderness deep and wide
A strong lion for our defense,
a humble lamb as our sacrifice
How can we take Him for granted?
How can our hearts become hard?
Oh, that again we would run to our friend,
embraced by the grace in His arms

Father, open our eyes, help us to savor Jesus Christ
Father, level our pride, show us the one who gives us life
Help us to love Your Son

Innocent, perfect beauty,
met by our wicked sin
The King eternal becomes the judged,
His enemies to be made His friends
How can we take Him for granted?
How can our hearts become stone?
Oh, that today we would fall on our face,
undone by the love He has shown

Come, Holy Spirit. Lead us to Jesus. Help us to worship.

Several things about this song are noteworthy.  First, it is beautifully Trinitarian. It embodies worship to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Notice that the chorus sings to the Father, while the goal is His aid in opening our eyes in order to savor the Son. The bridge gets at the "how": it is really the Spirit that the Father and the Son send to "lead us to Jesus." Second, it centers us on the finished work of Christ, rather than our subjective experience. The only good news we can perpetually find in worship is located outside ourselves in who Jesus is and what He has done. As I've said elsewhere, the best, most biblical "Spirit-filled worship" is that which makes much of the Son, placing the triumph and victory in Christ, not in our own fleeting whims. It reminds us that worship's Object is not a warm feeling or a renewed sense of zeal for God's cause, but Christ Himself.  Thirdly, it contributes to the language and vocabulary of invocation, which we need. Churches that engage a more formal liturgy are familiar with this, but we evangelicals who are used to a block-of-songs-then-sermon format may fail to remember the power that comes from Invocation: asking the Holy Spirit to be present and to work in the worship service. Moreover, when we ask the Spirit to what He loves, which is to showcase the Son, the invocation becomes that much more powerful. Beautiful!

Overall, especially as a live album, We Will Proclaim is a stacking of stones of remembrance to God's faithfulness in a church community that is on the move and has been through a lot! I'm appreciative of the pastoral heart that is obvious throughout the project, from singable keys, to simple yet elegant production, to theologically rich songs mixed with deeply passionate engagement. 

You can listen to and buy the album here!


Eminem the Theologian

I recently posted over at LIBERATE on Eminem's brilliant new album, The Marshall Mathers LP2. Art historian and cultural analyst at King's College, Dan Siedell, has encouraged me of late to more honestly listen to the way art deals with dark themes. And Andy Crouch, who spoke at this year's Liberate Conference, encouraged much of the same.

I was blown away by the artistry and poignancy of the first song on Eminem's album, and I quickly realized that it was a kind of umbrella to the themes explored throughout the rest of the record. I encourage you to go hear what I have to say!

Read the post HERE.


Check Out My Interview with Worship Links

On Monday, Worship Links published an interview with me which I encourage you all to read. Worship Links actually has a lot of great resources, acting as an online clearing house for good worship thought. Several of my friends and fellow worship pastors have been interviewed (including Bobby and Kristen Gilles).  

If you only read one thing, make sure you read my most embarassing worship leader moment. It's quite humiliating and 100% true. Check out the interview here!


Worshiping Our Way Out of Sin

For much of my Christian life, I thought sin was primarily fought on the flesh-level, where battleships fire their guns and jets launch their missiles. Recently, I’ve come to realize that the true action is where submarines do warfare. I used to think that, to defeat sin in my members, I must engage things like spiritual disciplines to in a sense “suffocate” the sin out of my flesh. Lust problem? Fast a bunch to teach yourself how to deny cravings. Mouth problem? Practice silence to bridle your tongue with some self-control. And while those things aren’t without merit, I began to realize that sin goes much deeper; that it is the “fruit” of the deeper “root” of idolatry and unbelief. Our sin problem is, primarily and essentially, a heart problem. Therefore, it makes sense that the most tactical and strategic warfare against sin shouldn’t take place on the level of the flesh but on the level of what Jonathan Edwards called “the affections.”

It’s at this point that Timothy Lane has a valuable insight about worship as it relates to sin:

We do not behave ourselves into sin; we worship ourselves into sin. If I am angry, then I have already been worshiping something that is not God for many moments, minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Perhaps I’ve been worshiping my comfort and my “right” to feel good. When you get in the way of my comfort, you are not witnessing an impulsive response of anger. Instead, you are impeding a heart that has, over time, given itself over to something other than God. This is the very nature and dynamic of remaining sin in every believer. This is the same process by which someone becomes addicted to drugs, gambling, or pornography. It is not merely our behavior that has to be corrected, but a heart that needs deliverance from its sinfulness. We worship our way into sin and we must worship our way out of sin.*

When we think about all of this from the vantage point of the worship leader, we begin to realize that the worship leader has a powerful pastoral card to play in the church’s mission of disciple-making. And this actually goes to the core of how true Christian growth happens. We don’t ultimately grow by doing or striving, but by beholding Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV):

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Growth is the work of God, and it happens by our beholding Jesus’ glory. If we desire the growth of our brothers and sisters; if we long for the unshackling of our addictions and unburdening of our sin in increasing measure, the best thing we can do for the people of God is plan worship services that climax at the moment of beholding the Lord Jesus in His incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and seated splendor. We ask questions like, “How can I shape the music and liturgy to climax, theologically and emotionally, at the moment where the good news of Jesus Christ is sung, remembered, preached, and proclaimed? How do I shape contexts for beholding Jesus in worship?” These are the questions a worship pastor asks.

Three concluding tips to help the people of God worship their way out of sin by beholding Jesus:

  • The gospel shines brightest when it is set against the dark backdrop of our sin, so find places in your worship services to sing, speak, or pray your confession. And give the people words to help expand their vocabulary of confession beyond the superficial (the Book of Common Prayer’s most common confession prayer is a wonderful guiding tool).
  • One step before that: Our sinfulness is amplified when God’s glory and holiness is made much of. So begin your worship services, more often than not, with Calls to Worship and songs that highlight God’s glorious attributes. In this way, we open up the people of God to hear God’s important “first word”—the Law. And when the Law is heralded, it crushes, kills, and prepares the soil for the most honest confession.
  • See how you can assist in making the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism more dramatic in their proclamation and illustration of the gospel. Lend your aid to the baptism musically, either before, after, or during, in ways that guide the people of God to cherish Christ in the moment. Explore the ways that the Lord’s Supper can be practiced to enhance how the gospel is felt and apprehended.
*Timothy S. Lane, “Godly Intoxication: The Church Can Minister to Addicts,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 26, No. 2: 11.

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