On music and nostalgia

A strange phenomenon happened to me recently

On two separate occasions, I started to listen again to singer-songwriters I used to listen to more than 10 years ago, but have not really since — Damien Rice and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Both times, I listened to familiar tunes from back then — tracks from the albums O (2002) and Corinne Bailey Rae (2006). (How awesome is Spotify by the way?)

And in both cases, I was magically transported back in time to my adolescent years. Not that I was somehow having vivid visions of past events, but rather that I felt familiar emotions from that period of my life. At times these emotions hit me really strongly, almost as if I had imbibed a potent potion.

There was a real sense of nostalgia about these songs.

I have heard it said that one often clings to the music they’ve listened to and grown to love in their adolescent years, because those are the years when one is going through the most emotionally significant moments in one’s life (what with hormones racing etc.). Music in those moments helps one to channel (or express) their emotions, and those songs end up leaving an indelible impression on the individual.

Isn’t it just uncanny how music is able to do that? It helps you to feel what the songwriter has put into the song, which I suppose is the straightforward bit; but it also helps you to channel your feelings into the song itself, such that together with your emotions these songs become part of your person.

And I guess that’s what happened to me these past two weeks. Those songs from the past reacquainted me with emotions from before, almost from a past life: past emotions which I had forgotten about, or perhaps even suppressed.

But more than that, those songs also helped me to channel the emotions that had been bottled up within me. Those songs from the past granted me the vocabulary to express the suppressed (negative) emotions of the present, which was a somewhat cathartic experience.

As someone who is rather emotionally unintelligent, I find myself utterly fascinated by the power (and danger) of music in this regard.


A brief coda to this blog post: these past two weeks have also served to cement my view that the state of music has sorely declined in the last 10 years. I think this is true generally of all “pop” music, but Damien Rice and Corrine Bailey Rae are good cases-in-point. Their later albums have some good stuff (“The Greatest Bastard”, I’m looking at you) but nothing quite like the brilliance of and Corrine Bailey Rae. (But yeah please feel free to write this last paragraph off as the rant of a grumpy old man against the younger generation…)


Oratio, meditatio, tentatio

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

I have recently finished reading John Piper’s short and superb little biography, Martin Luther: Lessons from His Life and Labour (free to download here). Piper focuses on the significance of Scripture to Luther’s life and ministry, drawing out certain lessons to exhort those in gospel ministry.

Many of the points from the Luther story are largely expected — the importance of keen study of the Scriptures; original languages as the key to understanding the text; the necessity of prayer and utter dependency on God; and so on.

But the bit which caught me off guard, and which left the deepest impression on me, is what Luther called the “touchstone” of understanding Scripture: trials.

Reflecting on Psalm 119, Luther said:

I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself […] The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119 […] Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial).

Oratio, meditatio, tentatio. Prayer, meditation, trial.

And trials Luther called the “touchstone”, for they

teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme.

And Luther again, reflecting on his own experiences, said:

For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you and will make a real doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself […] owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they should have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached.

The language of “trials” or “afflictions” feels so foreign to many of us who live in the developed world. More so if we are in our 20s and 30s. Most of us have yet to encounter any real suffering; many of us still view ourselves as invincible.

And so it is for me, someone who lives a relatively comfortable life in 21st century London.

Lately, though, I’ve been going through quite a difficult period. I’ve been forced to strip away many things I held dear and placed my hope in. It’s been humbling and painful.

But in each painful instance, Jesus has welcomed me with outstretched arms, saying, “I’m enough for you; if you have me, you have everything“.

Much like when Eustace is “undragoned” by Aslan in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this pain is the necessary restorative work of turning me back to my loving Saviour. Or much like Luther (above), this trial is teaching me to know my Lord Jesus more deeply. Indeed, I am becoming a better theologian.

By no means am I holding myself out to be an expert or “holier than thou”. I don’t even think I’ve fully come out of this trial as yet. And in any case, my pain does not even begin to compare to the ordeals some of my brothers and sisters in Christ have endured, let alone to the anguish my Saviour suffered.

But I can testify that in my state, His Words bring me great comfort. They are sweeter, truer, lovelier. He is the living water who truly satisfies my deepest thirst; he is the bread of life who truly satisfies my deepest hunger; he is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?

His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in my weakness.

He has a plan; He is sovereign and will bring it to pass; He who promised is faithful, He will surely do it.

Dear brother or sister, if you are going through a similarly difficult situation, don’t neglect the tentatio which God will no doubt use to deepen your knowledge of Him. May this fiery trial bring you closer to Him and fill you with inexpressible joy.

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

NY Times, “The Words Men and Women Use When They Write About Love”

A fascinating piece by the New York Times highlights the different ways in which men and women write — and therefore, think — about Love.

When writing about love, men are more likely to write about sex, and women about marriage. Women write more about feelings, men about actions.

The article is worth reading on its own, plus it’s short and the results are accessibly displayed on a rather swish graph. But some of the findings are that:

Men’s words tended to be more active: “bomb,” “hit,” “strike,” “punch,” “battle.” Women were more likely to describe feelings: “resentment,” “furious,” “agony,” “hurt;” they were also significantly more likely to use the word “feel.” Men, meanwhile, didn’t write about different emotions than women – they just mentioned fewer of them.

The authors are candid about the limitations of their study, which examined the last 4 years of essay submissions to the NY Times — in particular, the words used and whether the relevant essays were published.

But despite this highly unrepresentative sample, it corroborates other trends to be found in other studies. For example:

Other studies have shown that females are more likely to talk about emotions than males are, and parents are more likely to use a larger emotional vocabulary with girls and to tell boys not to cry.

This is largely consistent with my own experience too. I find myself (as a guy) to be rather emotionally unintelligent and unable to process my emotions coherently, or to “describe how I’m feeling”.

Ultimately, guys and girls are different. Different despite what modern secular individualism tells us: that we can be whoever (or whatever) we want to be by the sheer force of our personal sovereignty (or autonomy). Indeed, the authors note:

Even as gender roles have merged and same-sex romance has become more accepted, men and women still speak different languages when they talk about love […].

Some lyrics are just “too true sometimes, to sing all the time”

“All you need is love” is a lie ’cause
We had love, but we still said goodbye
Now we’re tired, battered fighters

And it stings when it’s nobody’s fault
‘Cause there’s nothing to blame at the drop of your name
It’s only the air you took and the breath you left


And I know it was me who called it over, but
I still wish you’d fought me ’til your dying day
Don’t let me get away

‘Cause I can’t wait to figure out what’s wrong with me
So I can say this is the way that I used to be
There’s no substitute for time
Or for the sadness

Split screen sadness

Stay – Jimmy Needham feat. Lizi Bailey

Hi there, it’s me again.

It’s been a while; 658 days since I last posted anything, to be precise. I’ve been going through a really difficult period lately and thought blogging again might be a helpful catharsis.

May I ask you a question? Have you ever felt that momentary sense of joy in Jesus? It’s often just a fleeting moment — like the soft landing of a butterfly on a flower petal only to take off again — but it’s no less real or tangible.

I wanted to share a song with you, which I think captures this feeling so well. The rapture of knowing God; no, better than that — of being known by God himself.

Have a listen here on Spotify (or a short stripped out sample on YouTube). The rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you’ve listened to the song. Here are the lyrics (the post continues below):

You lead me like the dawning of the day
You lead me like April leads into May
You lead me like the stone you rolled away
You take my hand and we will run… away

Just like a child I rest upon your knee
Just like a song, your love, it sings to me
Beside your arms I find a symphony
You take my hand and then we run… away

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay… here

Remember all those years ago we met
All I recall are days of past regret
And you felt so far but I had never left
Just wanting you to take my hand… and run

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay
If only I could stay

In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper
In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
Linger forever
If only I could stay
If I could stay… here


I could wax lyrical about this song: about its acoustic quality, about the lovely harmony between Jimmy and Lizi, about many other musical features.

But I just want to focus on how perfectly it captures the momentary sensation of rapture that the soul experiences when it is full of the joy of being known by God. It is like being transported “to the place where my fears have no voice at all / The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call”. That moment is frozen; and you know that it’s you and the Lord Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, who has poured His love into your heart by the Spirit (Romans 5:5).

In the words of St Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

In those moments, your heart has found this rest.

Sadly, though, we know only too well that these moments are ephemeral, fleeting, temporary. You would “linger forever” if you could. But it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a bit like the Apostle Peter on the mount of transfiguration, yearning for Jesus, Elijah and Moses to stick around (Mark 9:2ff).

Thus the wistful tenor of the song: “If only I could stay…”

It’s what C.S. Lewis called an “inconsolable longing”; a “lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside” (the Weight of Glory).

But it’s not all bad. Captured so well in the third verse of the song is the great encouragement that the Holy Spirit is with us always as believers. When we are despondent, the Spirit (represented by Lizi in the song) says to us, “Remember all those those years ago we met?” Remember that moment when you knew it was Him? It may have been the night when you prayed to receive Jesus; it may have been that awe-full sense you had while meditating on Scripture; it may have been when you were on your knees singing in praise; indeed, it may have been in all of these moments.

How often do we think that God isn’t with us, just because that fleeting sense of joy has faded away! How easily we slip into thinking, “all I recall are days of past regret.” But the Spirit says, “You felt so far but I had never left / Just wanting you to take my hand.”

Indeed, he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And so we do not lose heart (cf 2 Cor 4). We take courage and wait on the LORD, thanking Him for these moments of pure joy along the way, but longing eagerly for His return to rescue His bride.

And when He does, those moments of rapture — of pure joy — will no longer be fleeting. For we shall be with Him forever. He shall wipe away every tear from our eyes.

C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

You can read this absolute gem here: http://www.theelliots.org/Soapbox2008/OntheReadingofOldBooks.pdf

Worship God UK – Some final reflections

I have in previous posts written synopses of each day of the conference (see Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 for more details!). In this last post I reflect more broadly on the WGUK 2015 conference as a whole. In particular, these are four things arising out of the conference which I thank God for.

1. “Beholding the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”

“Christ-centered” and “Gospel-centered” are labels which are often bandied about in evangelical circles without much thought; indeed, sometimes we use them as a kind of non-heresy indicator for a particular speaker/book/conference!

But when I say that WGUK 2015 was truly Christ-centered, what I mean is this. From start to finish, from every song that was sung to every seminar taught, from each speaker to every member of the worship team, there was a tangible emphasis on the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the phrase above — “beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” — was a slogan that was oft-repeated by every speaker at the conference. (2 Cor 4:6)

This is perhaps something that — to our shame — one may not always associate with a conference on worship! Too often there is a focus on techniques (e.g. “how to mix the sound well”) or experience (e.g. “how to encounter the Spirit in our worship services”). That is not to say that these are unimportant things, but they pale in comparison to the glory of the gospel. If our worship services do not emphasise the glorious work of Christ in ransoming sinners, why do we bother with corporate gatherings at all?

To quote the Apostle Paul:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)

The power is in the gospel: the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Our corporate gatherings must be drenched in this good news. Seekers who visit need to hear it to be saved. And believers must be reminded of it so that we may repeatedly behold the glorious grace of our Saviour and be turned more into his likeness (2 Cor 3:18).

2. God’s Glory is Revealed in God’s Word

A second thing which I was so thankful for was the commitment to Scripture’s authority as the Word of God. The songs we sang were drenched in the richness of Scripture and the teaching too was heavily anchored in Scripture.

In particular, we were exhorted to delight in Scripture. Tim Chester said it really well: “The Spirit at work in the hearts of the Bible writers is the same Spirit at work in the hearts of Bible readers, ensuring that the words we read are the Words of God.” Though the daily reading of our Bibles seems unglamorous, even mundane, it is far from it — when we do so we are communing with the very Creator of the Universe Himself, the one who created all things just by speaking His Word.

Indeed, we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ when God speaks to us by His Word. During the Q&A, Tim Chester pointed this out which I found so insightful: when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face was shining not because he saw God, but because God had been speaking to Him (Exodus 34:29). And we present-day Christians under the new covenant can expect to behold even more glory than Moses, as we have seen Christ by the power of the Spirit:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:7-11)

3. Love for the local church

Thirdly, I was so encouraged by the love that the speakers in general had for the local church. Much of the teaching, especially in the small group seminars, was aimed at equipping pastors and leaders (and volunteers!) to serve their local congregations better.

Often after the spiritual high of a conference, one dreads returning to the “real world”. During the Q&A, however, it was emphasised by all of the speakers that no matter how beautiful the worship could be at a conference like this, it cannot compare to the worship at your local church. Why? Because it’s in the “real world”, in the grimeyness of real lives, that God’s glory is displayed all the more. To borrow an example — when you see a single mother whose child is stricken with cancer continue to sing of God as her ever present help in times of trouble, you see the greatness of a true and living God up close.

4. Fellowship of the saints

Finally, I was so thankful to meet and spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ from across the world. As the only participant from my church, and not a naturally outgoing person, I arrived with the apprehension of a schoolboy on the first day at school (“will I make any friends?”). But I didn’t just make “friends”; I found saints whose company I will enjoy in eternity.

Saints’ Selfie (left to right: Tom McConnell, Andy Rouse, me)

I was also deeply encouraged by the passion of my fellow brothers and sisters for the kingdom of God. We might hail from different churches with different backgrounds, but we were united as one body around the beautiful gospel. God is really doing a work in His church here in the UK. (Please Lord continue to deepen our love for you and our boldness for the gospel!) In particular, I was so encouraged by the number of songwriters passionate about writing songs to serve their local churches — not for their own fame or hits on Spotify, but the fame of Jesus’ name.

Last words

In short, I was really refreshed at WGUK 2015, and captivated once again by the glory of God. In many ways the teaching was exemplified by the conference itself — not only were we taught to “behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, but I believe that we have left having beheld this glory in the wondrous cross of our Saviour. May we never be the same.

Thanks for reading my posts. To be honest when I started blogging about the conference I didn’t think anyone would read my ramblings. I hope that they have encouraged you, and maybe I’ll see you at WGUK 2016!

Soli deo gloria.

Worship God UK – Day Three

Today was the last day of Worship God UK 2015. Like most Christian conferences, it was difficult to leave — we want the spiritual “high” to be prolonged as much as possible. It is similar to what the Apostle Peter felt when he saw the transfiguration of Christ — he wanted to make three tents to house Moses, Elijah and the transfigured Jesus, because he didn’t want them to leave! (Mk 9:5) In the same vein, we can’t bear to go because we’ve savoured something so sweet; but if we do not go out, we will never fulfil God’s purpose for us to serve the church and the world.

Which is why the themes of today’s sessions were so timely and on point. The first main session was on “Gathering to Edify” led by Nathan Smith, and the second was on “Gathering to be Commission” led by Rick Gamache.

Gathering to Edify

Nathan’s main point was simple and clear: “The finished work of Christ in the Gospel calls us together as the church to live a life of faith, of endurance, and of mutual edification for the glory of God.”

From Hebrews 10:19-25, he noted 3 exhortations, with 2 motivations behind them. The 2 motivations:

  1. We have confidence to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus; we have a way to God by the flesh of Jesus (through the curtain).
  2. We have a great high priest — a mediator — who grants us permission to draw near to God.

We have this remarkable access to God by the sacrifice of the sacrificer, our great High Priest whose name is Love. In light of this:

  1. We are called to faith: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (v22)
  2. We are called to endure: “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (v23)
  3. We are called to edify: “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.” (v24-25) 

Our local churches should be communities of faith, endurance, and in particular, mutual edification. Nathan poignantly pointed out: “you can find better preaching than the pastor of your local church on the internet; you can find better music than the worship team of your local church on iTunes; but you cannot find the mutual encouragement that you need on your own.” Are we consumers or contributors in our local churches?

Cultivating a fruitful life in God’s Word

In between the two main sessions, I attended a smaller group seminar with the above title, led by Tim Chester.

Tim exhorted and encouraged us to see the Word of God as more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). I found three things particularly helpful.

First, I was so struck by Tim’s candour. To paraphrase Tim: “Don’t you think the Bible is a weird book? If you or I were writing a book, we certainly wouldn’t structure it this way! Why are there all these histories and genealogies? And then we gradually make our way through the Bible and all of a sudden we get to Proverbs — what are we to make of Proverbs?!” Tim really identified with how I often feel about reading the Bible — it is hard work, and it’s often difficult to see how a particular passage is relevant to my life. Which is why the next two points were so helpful.

The Spirit at work in the hearts of the Bible writers is the same Spirit at work in the hearts of Bible readers, ensuring that the words we read are the Words of God. So when we open the Bible to read even the most obscure of passages, we can trust that God is speaking to us through His Spirit. Think about that — God’s Spirit was at work in the writer who wrote the words thousands of years ago; and these words still endure today.

Thirdly, reading the Bible is not about information acquisition, but about communion with God. Tim introduced a very helpful analogy with marriage (or any intimate human relationship). In a marriage, not all our communication is going to be “fireworks” or “candle lit dinners”. A lot of it is going to be ordinary, even mundane. But it is about spending quality time and listening to the other person which deepens the relationship.

So it is with communion with God as we read his word. The Bible isn’t primarily a doctrinal book — it’s a covenantal book. “Just like the voice of a father to his frightened daughter who wakes up in the middle of the night, so the voice of our Father in the Scriptures is the reassurance of His presence with us.

The marriage analogy was particularly helpful when thinking about the practicalities of day to day quiet times. When we’re talking with our spouses, we don’t consciously ask ourselves, “Am I communing with her/him right now?” Likewise, don’t fret about whether or not you’re “communing with God” during your quiet times. Just pray, read, and trust.

This second illustration was even better. Say you’re away from home from Thursday to Saturday and you promise to call your wife every night. So you call her on Thursday, but on Friday you’re completely swamped and aren’t able to call her. On Saturday you manage to call her. After talking to her for a while, would you ever say to her, “Hey give me a moment, I’m going to hang up and call you back, so I can call you twice today to make up for yesterday.” No! In the same way, we shouldn’t be enslaved to our plans for bible reading — it’s not about ensuring we read X amount every day, and catching up on the days we’ve missed; it’s about communion with God.

Gathering to Commission

The final session of the conference was a clear exposition of the letter to the church of Philadelphia in Rev 3:7-13. Like the church in Philadelphia, we have received a similar commission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus — an “open door” to do ministry (cf Acts 14:27; 1 Cor 16:9; Col 4:3).

But also like that church, we need a distinct reminder of who Jesus is and what He has promised us, if we are to withstand persecution and trials.

Our local churches are outposts of the kingdom of light interspersed throughout the domain of darkness. And even though we seem so small, and the odds so overwhelming, Jesus says:

Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

We may be weak, but we have a great God. He promises to vindicate us (v9), protect us (v10), and to hold us fast and secure in Him (v12).

And what a wonderful note to end the conference on. We are fallen and weak individuals, but we serve an awesome God who chooses to display his manifold wisdom through our feebleness (cf Eph 3:10). We are powerless, but He is powerful. And He will one day put all things under the feet of Jesus.

Isn’t that something worthy of our worship?

Isn’t that something worth singing about?

Worship God UK – Day Two

If I could summarise the conference thus far in one song lyric, it would be hard to find a more suitable line than this: How sweet the sound of saving grace — Christ died for me!

The line is from the bridge of Now Why This Fear, one of the songs which we sang to open the morning session. Indeed, it has been so so sweet to hear the sound of saving grace resounding throughout this conference — in the sound of the saints singing and admonishing each other with songs of God’s great salvation, and in the sound of the gospel message of God’s goodness and grace being preached.

Gathering around the Word

There were two sessions of teaching in the morning. First, Kevin DeYoung encouraged us from Psalm 119 to treasure and delight in the word of God. Kevin started by reading verses 129-136 of the psalm, and noted 131 and 136 in particular:

I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments. 

My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.

When we read these verses, do we feel embarrassed at the unadulterated exuberance with which the psalmist displays his seemingly heady love for God’s word? Do we feel cynical — maybe he’s just engaging in hyperbole?

No, this should be the ideal to which we strive. Indeed, if the Bible, if the Scriptures are the very words of God, then how can we not delight in them; how can we not feel indignant at their rejection?

Gathering to Rehearse the Gospel

The second morning session was a brilliant, soul-stirring exposition of Isaiah 6 by Jeff Purswell. Isa 6 is one of those passages that churchgoing Christians tend to be (overly) familiar with. But this usually means that said Christians — myself included — don’t really understand it all that well! So I was very grateful for Jeff, who by the illuminating power of the Spirit, helped us to see more clearly what Isaiah saw in that glorious vision of God.

I was particularly struck by Jeff’s observation in verse 1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah sees the thone of God, but immediately afterwards he notes this interesting detail — the train of his robe filled the temple. Did Isaiah not notice anything else? No; rather, our God is so big that when we catch a glimpse of Him we can only see the train of his robe. (cf Exodus 24:9f where Moses and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel” — the sapphire pavement under his feet!)

Jeff helpfully pointed out that:

  1. All Christians at some point have a vision or glimpse of God;
  2. When we see his utter holiness, we realise that it can only be an act of mercy that can bring us into His awesome, terrible presence. For Isaiah, it was the burning coal which touched his lips, and the pronouncement that his guilt and sin were atoned for. For us on this side of the cross, it is the loving sacrifice of God’s own son which atones for our sins.
  3. We then respond to God’s grace. “When we are captivated by God, we are then unleashed into worship, and into His service.”

True worship is a response to the grace of God, with adoration for God, and service to God.

When we gather in our churches, do we gather to rehearse this great gospel? That we have a great God who forgives great sinners? That we have a God who cannot tolerate our sinful rebellion; that in His great wisdom He sent His Son to take our rightful place on that cross of Calvary; that because of his death and glorious resurrection three days later we can have been reconciled to Christ?

If we don’t rehearse the gospel in our “worship” services, we are really worshiping ourselves or the world. If we do not magnify the gospel, we will inadvertently either magnify ourselves (and our self-righteousness) or belittle our great God.

Afternoon seminars

After lunch we broke into smaller groups for seminars. I attended “Cultivating Godliness in Musicians” run by Bob Kauflin and “Encountering God’s Presence” by Nathan Smith (of Grace Church Bristol). Both sessions were really practical and helpful. However given that this post is getting quite lengthy so I might share what was taught some other time. I shall instead post a photo which I am quite happy about:

Gathering to Sing

The final teaching session of today was entitled Gathering to Sing. Bob Kauflin posed the following question: “Why do we worship God in song at all?” Now, given that we were at a worship conference, I thought this an important question worthy of extended meditation. Why do churches all over the world gather together on Sundays to sing praises corporately to God?

From Colossians 3:12-17 (especially vv16 and 17), Bob explained that the imperative “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” was to be accomplished by these two means:

  • By teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom
  • By singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs

Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our minds. Somehow, humans are wired to remember truths better when combined with music — singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another is a form of teaching and admonishing one another.

Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our hearts. Bob quoted Jonathan Edwards, who said: “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections.” What a great gift God has given us, that through singing we might fan the flame in our hearts which burns for Christ.

Singing engages our minds and our hearts; doctrine combines with devotion, intellect with emotion. The best songs, therefore, contain both truth and tunes.

Finally, we ended the night just how we started in the morning — singing praises to our glorious King. To quote Calvin (who was in turn quoted by Bob in the afternoon):

We should consider it the great end of our existence to be found numbered among the worshipers of God.

How true indeed! Lord, we long for the day when we finally unite with the saints throughout all generations, in the glorious new city of our God, where we will finally see you face to face.

Worship God UK – Reflections on Day One

Phew! What a way to start a conference!

So I’m at Worship God UK, “A conference to equip pastors, worship leaders, service leaders, musicians, singers, songwriters, tech people, and anyone who wants to grow in worshipping God.” (see website here) While I guess I’m primarily a musician, I think I am best described by the last clause — I just want to grow in worshipping God. The conference will span three days, and I hope to write some reflections at the end of each day.

The conference kicked off today with just a wonderful time of worship led by Bob Kauflin and the team from Sovereign Grace Music. I have been so blessed by the songs of Sovereign Grace over the years, and was especially moved when Bob led worship at New Word Alive in 2011. He is just so astute at making the truths of God’s word and God’s character come alive in music and in song, and tonight was no exception.

We started by reading the first 9 verses of Ephesians, and sang the anthem Come Praise and Glorify which is based on that passage. It was such a strong reminder that our salvation, the fact that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, was to the praise of His glorious grace! We also sang my favourite hymn, which speaks of the assurance of our salvation because of our great High Priest:

When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there, who put an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me

Mike Reeves then kicked off the teaching at the conference with his talk entitled Gathering to Behold. He preached on 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. What really struck me was his explanation of 3:18, which I don’t think I’ve ever read this way before. The text reads:

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.

To be human is to be created in the image of God. When we behold Christ, we are becoming truly human, for are being transformed into his image. Our minds, our faculties, are only made truly right — what they were meant to be — when we behold Jesus.

Mike, in his typically contagious way, urged us to making the beholding of Christ the centre of all our worship/music ministry. Behold the God who died to embrace us! God displays His glory by forgiving great sinners – so don’t try to steal his glory by covering up our sins by human effort. Let Him prove Himself as the glorious redeemer.

Musician, worship leader, pastor — stop casting shadows, step out of the way of the light of Christ’s glory. 


Finally, I also attended the a pre-conference “intensive” for songwriters — essentially a condensed songwriting workshop run by Steve and Vikki Cook. I have to say I was just so blessed by them. (Incidentally this was when I found out that they were the ones who put the lyrics of Before the Throne of God Above to the modern tune which we all sing and love!)

They went through some practical steps on songwriting, and I find myself really inspired to get started writing some stuff. I have some ideas floating in the ether, so lets see how that goes.

What I found most encouraging from that session though, was the amazing contributions from some of the other workshop attendees. God is doing a work in the local churches in the UK (and Denmark and Austria too), raising up men and women on fire to “sing to the Lord a new song”, to write truth for their local congregations. I am indeed privileged to have met and befriended some of them.